Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and friends made a big splash with their digital-first, pay-what-you-want series The Private Eye. But they always intended for the publisher they created, Panel Syndicate, to house more than just their stories. The first and to date the only other work to appear on Panel Syndicate is Universe! from cartoonist Albert Monteys. I interviewed Albert on the eve of the series’ newest issue. Plus you can find exclusive art from the fourth issue of Universe! at the bottom of the post.
What were you doing in comics before Universe?
I’ve been working in the comics medium for twenty years but my work has mostly been seen in Spain and Europe. 90% of my work has been for a weekly satirical magazine called El Jueves (kind of a Mad Magazine but with more sex and politics) which I even directed for a few years. This body of work would be hardly understandable for non spanish readers. Almost two years ago I did quit the magazine due to ideological differences with the owners and decided it was time to pursue my other passion: science fiction comic books.
Where do you draw your artistic inspiration, either inside or outside of comics?
My interests are so diverse I always find it hard to answer this kind of questions. In the comics medium I guess the strongest drive is my fascination with the raw strenght of old comic book stories, but I should also throw in artists as different as Bruce Timm, Moebius and Robert Crumb. My favourite director is John Carpenter and I’d like to think I’ve seen enough of his films to have learned a few of his tropes. When it comes to books I must mention Philip K. Dick and all those wonderfull short stories from the fifties by writers such as Richard Matheson or Theodore Sturgeon. When I see this interview on your website I’ll realize I’ve forgotten to name a few thousands artists that are very influential to me but that’s life, an endless series of missed opportunities…
How did you connect with Marcos Martin?
I had known Marcos for many years, from comics conventions (and we got to see each other every time The Divine Comedy had a show in Barcelona since we’re both big fans). When Marcos started thinking about offering the panelsyndicate.com project to another artist our mutual friend Javier Rodriguez (of Spider-Woman fame) dropped my name. When he proposed it was the best day of my life (I hope my wife isn’t reading this). I’m still amazed at how much he and Brian trust that I’ll do comics worthy of the path they’ve started with The Private Eye. They have my eternal gratitude.
The United States wasn’t very welcoming to more “cartoony” (for lack of a better word) comics until relatively recently. How receptive is Spain to that style of art?
The mainstream in Spain are humor comics, they still sell by the thousands weekly on newstands all across the country although, like all instances of printed media, they’ve seen better times. So I guess the Spanish public is very receptive to it. I think it relates about how every country sees itself. Spain has a satirical view of itself, with all the corruption, injustice and surrealism happening in the country we sure need satire. I think the United States have a more epic view of themselves, so the epic hero is the natural product of it mainstream culture. I hope to have enough of both worlds to create something new and interesting.
Do you draw traditionally or digitally?
I draw traditionally with pen and ink at my drawing table. I’ve been thinking about getting a Cintiq and draw digitally as most of my friend cartoonists do, but I really enjoy that time away from the computer doing something I’ve loved doing since I was a child. I listen to some music, or a good podcast and lose myself in that intricacy of lines and no window pops up warning me I have a new message, total bliss! After twenty years in the trade I have so many original pages I don’t know what to do with them but I don’t see me going digital any time soon.
You excellently use color to convey emotion. Did you have any training in color theory?
As in most cases when I work in comics I don’t have an established theory for anything. As in most artists’ case when I see something that moves me that works very well I store it in my head to use later in a different place. To that we must add, of course, the accidental discoveries. I only know what kind of color I don’t like. I want my colors to be almost impossible and I don’t go, as you have noticed, for realism. Color sets a tone to each scene and I usually find it by instinct.
What appeals to you about science-fiction, humor and merging the two?
I think science-fiction and satire have one thing in common, that wish to exaggerate something, take it to the extreme, to create a new thing that shines some kind of light on the world we live in. Actually that’s a rationalization, because my main impulse to mix science fiction and humor is that they’re both things that send a positive childlike rush to my brain. The sense of wonder of science-fiction, the good logical ideas, the creation of new worlds and strange beings, the aesthetic pleasure of futurism, all those I like very much. Humor is my natural language, I don’t think I’m able to do something outside of humor so when I decided to do science-fiction I always knew what the tone would be.
How difficult is it to maintain your voice in the translation of the Universe issues?
I translate it myself and since comics are a highly visual medium I think my voice is totally there. I have an American friend correcting my awful english but that’s all. I’ve been reading American comics all my life so English comes naturally when I do comics.
What has the response been like since Universe debuted on Panel Syndicate?
Amazing, I can only be grateful to all the readers that have been contributing to the creation of Universe, to all the great feedback I’m getting, the encouraging letters from old readers and new ones. The pay what you want system turns every sale into a small miracle. That there are so many of them has renewed my faith in human race (or at least in digital comic book readers).
A pay-what-you-want model is probably safer for Brian K. Vaughan than most people in the comic book industry. How is it going for Alberto Monteys so far?
Very good. Of course I’m under the umbrella of Brian and Marcos, and I believe that helps a lot. Anyway, I don’t believe the pay what you want model is that risky, what we are doing is giving away free samples. Fiction, if it’s good, has the power to bring the reader into it. You like what you read, pay what you can.
It’s still a ways away, but have you thought about what you want to do after Universe is completed?
I’d love to do a horror comic some time. But for the next few years I think I’ll focus on Universe.