When your local comic store is The Isotope in San Francisco it’s hard not to look forward to Wednesday. There’s always a fresh stack of comics, an interesting conversation to jump into, or an unplanned surprise. This past Wednesday was no exception when I walked in and noticed a couple of folks sitting at the drafting table with people surrounding them. It just so happened they were Eisner Award winners Paolo Rivera and his father Joe Rivera. The focus of their visit was the conclusion of Valiant Entertainment’s The Valiant with the release of issue four, but fan activity revolved around all the work of these two gentlemen.
The energy around the duo was friendly as they conversed with fans and worked on sketches. Isotope owner James Sime was clearly pleased with the fairly impromptu affair and after a brief chat with him I was left amazed. It surprised me to hear that Joe Rivera’s first ever inking gig was his Eisner award winning work on Mark Waid’s relaunch of Daredevil, for which his son Paolo Rivera provided pencils. How had I not heard about this? What kind of stars align for that to happen? While Paolo finished up some sketches I had a conversation with Joe about how it all came to be.
It started with a phone call. In particular between Paolo and his mother. Having transitioned from his painted work to pencils Paolo was already at work on pages for Daredevil. But he had yet to find an inker for his work. “You should just have your Dad do it.” With the seed planted, from there it was a couple of Paolo’s samples to practice on and it was off to the races. This might sound improbable but not when you take Joe’s background into account.
Joe was always an artist and started out by working the caricature and quick sketch area at Six Flags AstroWorld in Houston, Texas. His success there let him make the move to Florida for the larger tourism market. During that time he and his wife also owned a small arts supply store, and Joe noticed other artists selling airbrush work along the town walkways. Having airbrushed since the eighties and a thought of “I can do that”, Joe got into airbrush work and custom t-shirts. Then in 1995 a motorcycle customization shop, Chris Cruz Artistry, with more work than it could handle asked Joe to help out. That has lead to nearly 20 years of custom paint jobs for motorcycle enthusiasts and a body of work that honed Joe’s eye. So it wasn’t like bringing up a rookie from the minor leagues, but calling in a seasoned pro from the bullpen.
Did the skill for noting highlights and shadow required in airbrushing aid in the transition to inking? At this Joe smiled and mentioned they did, but like an admiring peer he complimented Paolo’s tight pencil work making it easier on him. Joe does his work in the traditional manner with ink and brush that requires a confident hand, and a careful commitment to the line with no room for temerity. I equated it to pin stripers to which Joe equally holds in high regard for the confidence and skill required to pull such long clean lines.
Turns out inking came at a great time. With the economic downturn there was a decrease in the need for custom paint jobs for motorcycles. And with Paolo having plenty of work, comic books provided a more consistent pipeline for Joe. Paolo had finished his last sketch and mentioned, slightly surprised, that who would’ve thought it would be comic books to provide regular work. It must have been a nice moment getting that first infamous Marvel paycheck with the John Romita Spider-Man?
To this Joe recalled the moment when Paolo’s first check from Marvel arrived. Just as Joe’s comic venture started with a phone call Paolo’s did as well, so to speak. Paolo’s parents called him right away excited to let him know. That night they paid Paolo a visit for dinner on what was coincidentally his last night as a server at The Olive Garden. They left behind the check as a “tip.” “That was the check that let me quit my job.” Since then Paolo carved out a name for himself and since 2012 ceased being exclusive to Marvel. Thereby leaving Paolo to take advantage of various opportunities like cover art, The Valiant, and working again with his dad Joe (and hopefully some creator owned projects in the future). The work doesn’t keep them from being fans either.
I mention how I always liked Paolo’s classic art style. Joe notices how at times it seems Kirby-esque. Paolo notes the cover he did for Mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk. How his take leans more simian than ripped muscles, and how that’s why the Hulk was so great in the Avenger movie. I add how that makes sense since Mark Ruffalo based a lot of the Hulk’s movements and presence on gorillas. It was a mutual geek out. It’s always nice when creators are just as big of fans of the material.
All this great insight into the Rivera’s work because it was Wednesday and I needed to pick up my comics. Fortunately the Isotope’s vibe lends itself to quality interactions with creators much like Paolo and Joe. Joe might top them all when it comes to his humorous take on answering the ultimate fan question, “How do I get into comics?”
“Well, you have a child. You nurture and support them as they grow. And then in twenty or so years they get you a job in comics.”
Joe Rivera is an Eisner and Harvey award winning artist.