Apr 12, 2013

Interview: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Last week saw the release of The Adventures of Superman: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, featuring, as far as I know, the first collection devoted to the man who's likely known best as DC's licensing/merchandising artist. (One of the things he's best known for is the 1982 DC Style Guide, and he still does some of the model sheets today.)

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez has always been one of my favorite artists, both in terms of drawing iconic poses and in terms of sequential interior artwork. So I grabbed that collection up, and it's some really good Bronze Age fun, with one of my favorite artists drawing one of my favorite versions of Superman.

So I decided to chat with Mr. Garcia-Lopez via Facebook and ask him some questions about his work, what he's proud of, the Superman collection, and of course, what's he's up to.

Comics Cube: You've drawn quite a number of characters over the years. Which one is your favorite to draw?

One of Garcia-Lopez's works
he's most proud of is
Cinder and Ashe, which he
did with Gerry Conway
JLGL: The ones I've created are my favorites for obvious reasons, followed by Batman, Jonah Hex, Deadman, and Wonder Woman.

As I'm sure many of your fans do, I think of you as the "face" of DC Comics due to your licensing work, which, by its very nature, doesn't explictly credit you. One of the comments I got most often when I wrote that article on your work a couple of years ago was "I've seen those drawings all my life, but I never knew who drew them!" Do you ever wish you got more recognition for this aspect of your work from more casual fans, or even from hardcore comics fans?

My comics production has been minimal and even less in recent years, so yes, anything that promotes my work in those licensing drawings are welcome for professional reasons.

What goes into an iconic pose? How do you pose, for example, Superman or Captain Marvel, and say, "Yes, that's it. That's them, and that's the image that should go on a kids' backpack"?

Most of these characters—at least the big ones like Superman, Wonder Woman,or Batman—were around before I was born, so we are not working in a vacuum. We already know what poses work better according to the characters' personalities. Anyway, the rules governing these pieces are different from the comic books. They are not directed to a regular comic fan but to a more general audience, one that is not familiar with the latest changes in comics and looks at these characters as something not different from a Coca-Cola logo, for instance. Usually I do at least three sketches for each pose, and the Art Director, Merchandising Manager, and a bunch of other people have the last word over what pose is going to finish.

An example of Garcia-Lopez's merchandising/pin-up work.
I've also noticed that some pieces of yours incorporate words. Does incorporating words or logos into a graphic take a different kind of mental process, or is it all part of the same kind of thoughts that go into designing?

The only pieces that I did integrating lettering and design elements were the ones I did for the first DC Style Guide in 1982. I presented those layouts as a whole and they were approved without any major alteration. Nowadays I concentrate only in the poses and then they are used with different backgrounds and graphic designs ,mostly digital during the last decade.

What is your penciling process like when doing a full story? While you don't do a lot of interior work, but your layouts and sense of composition are so dynamic without feeling cluttered. You break panel borders and do unconventional things (one of my favorites is the one where Wonder Woman throws Superman to a wall, and all the action is outside the panels — it really gives a sense of kinetic energy). I have to ask, how much thought do you put in when it comes to laying out a page? Do those storytelling decisions just come naturally or instinctively, or is it a more cerebral process?

There's nothing special. When I read the script or plot a couple of times, I can visualize right away the sequences and take note of references I'd need. Then comes the page layout. At the beginning I just concentrate in telling that story sequence in the best possible way. This is a very rough stage. When I feel happy with the way I can "read" the drawings, then I start playing with bigger or smaller panels or taking a character outside the panel lines to give more emphasis to the action. Everything is very intuitive. The basic rule here is no matter the way you do it, never betray the spirit of the script.

Garcia-Lopez is fond of
which he did with
Howard Chaykin
If you had to choose just one comic book that you've drawn that really defines your skills, which one would it be?

I have at least three books I consider my favorites for different reasons. One is Twilight, the others Cinder and Ashe and Road to Perdition. The first has a lot of visual tricks to enhance the some way complicated story, while the others are straight storytelling. No fancy layouts there. You just have to read the books and not being distracted with pin-ups or splash pages.

If the day ever comes that you walk away from DC Comics, what other iconic characters (it doesn't have to be Marvel) would you like to tackle? Would you be interested in creator-owned material?

I've never intend to do "iconic" characters. They just came my way, that's all. So, I'd be open to anything that may allow me to draw and tell stories.

Can you say a few words about the Superman collection that's coming out soon? What are your fondest memories of it? What is your favorite story in it? And how does it feel seeing it in print after all these years?

Well, it's a nostalgia trip showing "the ugly, the bad, and the good." I grew up as an superhero artist doing Superman, and the first works are quite weak, but thanks to editors like Julius Schwartz or Joe Orlando and their confidence on me, I could get, finally, a some way decent Superman. All stories are good, but my favorite is Superman and Deadman. Besides the great Len Wein story, I was more confident at that time with these characters and I think it shows in this particular work.

Garcia-Lopez is also very proud of
his work on Road to Perdition.
Are there any writers in particular you'd like to work with?

I've been lucky to work always with talented writers and if I tell you names I'd risk forgetting some of them.

What can we expect in terms of full comic book work in the foreseeable future?

Not too much, I'm sorry to say. I'm not good material for keeping a schedule in a regular book, so I concentrate more in licensing/merchandising stuff and in comics just one short story here and there. Nowadays I'm working in a couple of Western stories with a character named Madame 44.

Finally, I just want to say thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions. You've been one of my favorite artists since I was a child and I first read the Batman/Hulk crossover, and you continue to be. My friend has what he calls that "Garcia-Lopez Law of Awesomeness," which means that "As long as it's awesome, it's okay if it doesn't make sense," because I once said that I don't care if Batman kicking Hulk in the stomach is ridiculous — you just drew it so convincingly that I still buy into it. So thank you again.

Well, thank you!

Get Adventures of Superman: Jose Luis-Garcia Lopez on Amazon!

Get Cinder and Ashe on Amazon!

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