Glass House Graphics Brazil manager Rodrigo Monteiro flew to Fortaleza, Brazil on Friday, January 27th 2012 to be part of a Creating Comics Event with artist/painter/designer Al Rio at SANA (a pop culture festival) and to coordinate artwork for Al's various projects. Rod also conducted what turned out to be Al Rio's final interview….
Al, I understand that early in your career you did animation work for Disney and a kids' cartoony comic called Xuxa. Can you tell us about those?
Well, at the beginning I dreamed about being an illustrator. I knew it would be hard but it'd eventually give me pleasure because I've always loved drawing. I'm from Fortaleza, Ceará's capital and I'm really proud of being born in this land of hot waters. I've always watched animated series since I was born. Disney has always been one of my favorites due to its high quality, but the wonderful Hanna-Barbera's world has fascinated me due to the amount of shows that were aired. Hanna has always produced with a good quality.
So, apart from that, I read comic books and I have been fascinated by that because I love super-heroes and while I collected my favorite comic books, I took time off to draw the poses and scenes I most liked. I've always wanted to draw super-heroes, but we didn't have the chance in Brazil. Everything was very hard and we didn't have internet over here. I lived far away from publishers like Marvel and DC. Then, when I turned 20 years old, I decided to travel to the south of Brazil, to increase my chances as an artist and to make my dreams come true. I worked in São Paulo, Curitiba, Rio de Janeiro, among others, and I've met people that have helped me a lot in my career as an illustrator. That's when I worked for VW Studio and I drew Xuxa's comic book here in Brazil and then I felt things were going all right. I participated in a few animations for Disney (Aladdin, here in Brazil) that were released in video tape format.
Meanwhile, I started getting in touch with American comic book agents, where I was very well welcomed by Glass House Graphics (by David Campiti, to be exact), and I soon stopped my activities here in Brazil and I started working for the American market. I'm still in love with animation and comic books produced in Brazil, but the problem is that we can't make a living from art over here, since the culture differs so much from the foreign one.
What's Al Rio, the person, like? Tell us about yourself, your life, your wife, your children, your favorite things — music, food, movies, sports….
Talk about me? I'm a dreamer and I like to work a lot to reach my goals. One of my dreams was building an office in my house to be able to work and watch my sons growing up near me and I have it nowadays, thank God. My daily life is like this: I wake up at 5 in the morning and I run around the street where I live for one hour a day. Afterwards I take my two daughters (Isabelle, 10 years old; Andrielly, 12 years old) to the school and then I get back to work. Since my office is in my home, I can work and solve the daily problems the life offers us. My wife (Zilda) is a housewife and she helps me in the office, with bank stuff and much more. Andrielly, my oldest daughter loves drawing too. Isabelle loves dancing and both enjoy playing games on the internet.
It's hard to tell you the kind of music I like because I like all them, even though I rather working in silence. I usually stop working at 11pm and sometimes I go until 2am, but I always take a nap at midday (1 hour and 20 minutes nap, precisely).
My favorite food is spaghetti and lasagna. But I don't over-exaggerate because every illustrator that thinks of drawing comic books the whole day, has to have a good will and be physically prepared. Yes! Body and mind resistance. Being too fat brings us illnesses that hinder many other things.
I like all kind of movies. As well as every job of great production. That's because I know how hard it is to be a movie director or writer or comic book penciller.
I prefer running, but I also like soccer.
My studio stands in a room at one end of my house, which I transformed into an office. In the past everything was different, it was tighter and harder to work, but little by little I changed it like in a metamorphosis. To make a comparison, let's say that my old house was Bruce Banner and this new and modified one is Hulk, you know? My studio became bigger and more structured. I have a wood bookcase divided in blocks. There I have my books where most of them are about several subjects, all them with high quality illustrations and photography magazines and information. They are books about culture of many countries, animals, history, artists, painters, illustrators and many Playboy and Sexy magazines. They are American, Italian and Brazilian magazines. Of course these magazines occupy a bigger section of the bookcase hahahaha. I also have my action figures and statues. Small collection though, but I love them. And sections of the bookcase are filled with comic books with a now reduced amount of issues.
Every four years I rebuild my collection and put more recent stuff there. Then I donate the ones I don't want anymore. I have my computer with a 19" monitor and my A3 scanner, a sound system connected to my computer and a big L shaped desk to put everything. My chairs are adjustable to each kind of backache I have. Now, my main equipment is my drawing table. I actually don't know if you're going to understand, but there it goes. I've already had maybe 30 drawing tables throughout my life, but as the years passed by, I created my own way to work. My drawing table is an office desk where I adapted in a way that when I want to work with a light box, I use a piece of cut glass and I put it over that. When I want a smooth table to make rendered drawings like the ones with 6B pencil, I put a piece of wood covered up with a black plastic. I have four different table tops and I use it as I need it.
I have my guitar that when I feel tired, I go to the backyard or to the back of my house and I play accompanied by my old and good friend, caipirinha. My movie DVDs are in its majority composed by action and superheroes genres. Several paintings decorate my studio and I painted a Black Cat on my whole door, in a very sexy pose. It helps me concentrate, heeheeheehee… just kidding. This is my studio.
Where do you find inspiration to work?
Inspiration is relative. I don't know if I have it. When we have to work and show the best of ourselves, the concentration is relative. The day-to-day and the obligations we have to accept in our lives make us always do the works on time. We are soldiers in a never ending war. I don't have time and I know that many others like me also don't have it. We have to meet the deadlines, delivering works in full quality and always on time. According to your ability and the available equipment to work with, we try to do our best. What you have is what you can offer, you'll be able to work and to make offers. But the most important thing above all is that there's no use all the hi-tech resources you may have, your knowledge and experience have to be updated. The secret of the inspiration is the need to succeed. If you keep yourself strong and face your worst problems, nothing can bring you down. And at last, you have to believe yourself and all your energy, that is our God. This will make you complete.
Can you run us through your work process a little; what you have to do to sit down at your art table to produce work? Are you useless without caffeine in your system, or do you stick to tea? Do you need music on while you work, or do you work completely in silence?
For I'm able to produce a lot and without any interruptions, I need all the equipment next to me, so that I can make the work on the spot. The mechanical pencils, pencils, erasers, paints, watercolors, pen nibs, pens and papers all have to be there to be used according to the requested work. I always start working well accompanied by cigarettes and coffee. I try to balance my daily consumption of both and I hope someday I'm able to stop. I like music, but usually here in my home, everything is always balanced. That's because we work as a house and an office: while I work, my wife helps me and play the housewife role. So we split the tasks depending on what's happening. But she helps me a lot. I only have to get out from my drawing table to make very hard and important tasks, for example when the mailman arrives, I welcome him or sometimes she does and so it goes. We are a team in everything and we keep learning how to work together. I only go out to do the bank tasks and other things I have to solve in downtown when she can't solve it all alone and she needs me. But she's a great woman and she's also very smart and tough. She knows how to face a fight when it comes, despite the fact she's short. She's a great partner.
What gets you goin'?
What keeps me going? That's easy: I'm in love with drawing. It runs blood with drawing cells through my veins. My DNA is made of: sketch, pencils and inks, heeheehee. This defines me, drawing is the most important thing in my life. It is my superhero power. The super and details freak AL RIO. Thanks to my good God, my mission here on Earth is drawing.
A geeky question: What drawing tools, inking tools, do you use?
To explain about inking: I use pens for almost everything I do and to spot the blacks I use brush, black ink and white gouache to make the special effects on the drawing stand out more.
Didn't you teach artists at various times? Do you still do it?
Yes, I've already opened two courses, each one two years long. It was a cool experience because I taught and I learned a lot with the students that have become my friends. But due to the little time, I closed the courses to do the works I had to deliver. Still today, many people ask me to open new courses again. Even though I love teaching, I always tell them that I'll open new courses someday, but I haven't defined when I'm going to do it. I think a good school strengthens our knowledge and gives us confidence to establish goals for a satisfactory future. Who are some of your favorite characters to work on and what is it about them that draws you to them? I like a little of everything I do. I think a person that defines things and chooses too much keeps itself away from feeling and acquiring different experiences in life. When I didn't have much experience, I chose certain things for me and kept myself away from experiencing a few things that later I needed and I didn't know how to react to that.
When I started in comic books, I had to choose which comic book I wanted to collect because in the beginning I didn't have enough money for buying everything I wanted to. I chose Iron Man, afterwards I identified myself a lot with Spider-Man and Daredevil. Later on Fantastic Four and so it goes. Nowadays I try to do my best in any character. I think the good professional can't choose too much what to do, we need to take the chances God always offers us and give the best of ourselves. But nowadays I don't read comic books anymore because the lack of time. I'm updated about the news by my friends or by the internet. But my favorites are Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men and so it goes. You drew comic books pretty steadily for a full decade, working on some of the top American comics — GEN 13, DV8, VOODOO with Alan Moore, STAR WARS, LADY DEATH, LADY DEMON, even SPIDER-MAN and the X-MEN.
Then you quit comics for awhile, to become a full-time sexy pin-up artist for several years. Why? What were and are the worst, and best, things about working in comics? Was the pinup work more fun, more fulfilling?
Well, working with comics is wonderful. You feel like a director of a movie in Hollywood. Playing with the scenes, expressions, drama, suspense and lots of action is fantastic. But comics require a lot from the artists, it requires almost the whole time of your life to meet the deadlines to deliver the work. My main reason for getting away from the comics was to be able to revise my entire life as an artist and to show more to the people what I most like to do and to show my countless line and quality interpretations that I could offer to my clients and fans. With the pin-ups and commissions I could show more the other faces of Al Rio as a whole. I don't mind people tell me that my work is similar to the one of other artists, but the fact people constantly said I drew similarly to Scott Campbell restricted me a lot and in my work at the http://www.alrioart.com website I show the world my countless qualities and the versatility of my lines. So, working with pin-ups is surely marvelous as well as working with comics.
I don't have a life with much spare time, both kind of jobs consume the same amount of time and struggle due to the quality and deadlines. I ask to the buyer 40 days of awaiting for its order to be delivered, and payment in advance, seen that I was swindled many times at the beginning of this project. Terry was already my fan at the beginning of our friendship when I founded the school here in Brazil, and after meeting him personally, I invited him to be my agent, since at that time I didn't know how to work with eBay and other selling websites. He made my website and we started working together. We believed everything would go well. We prepared relative prices for the arts, but certain arts asked for higher prices. As the time passed by, we established ourselves and we got experience, so the number of clients increased.
I actually don't have one single dream project to tell you, but if this is a dream, I still hope my work gets on the top of the sales chart of the best-seller comics of the American market. I think this is like getting a gold medal in an Olympics. The complete satisfaction and the satisfactory recognition. But I believe someday I'll hold up this cup. Maybe it'll come from the book I'm drawing right now.
How many pages of art have you created since your first break into comics? How many commission and pin-up pages have you drawn over these past several years while you took a sabbatical away from comics? Any favorites you can share?
I don't know how to answer this question properly because I produced a lot while I worked with comics. In the beginning I managed to draw two comic books monthly. There was a time I needed to draw 9 pages in a day and a half for Image's DV8 comic book. There were many arts in comic books. In the commissions or pin-ups, I keep an average of 30 to 40 pages that I send via Fedex monthly, sometimes the number is higher. There are many arts I sell that I love. I'm going to make an attachment to show which ones they are.
Although Glass House Graphics is your agency for comics and other commercial work, they do not rep you for custom commissions.
That's right. My art rep is Terry [Maltos] at www.alrioart.com
Tell us about your commission business.
My work is going well — but what keeps me really busy, when I'm not drawing comics, are my regular commission clients. Some of my pages can go for thousands, which is nice. These ones are always asking for and scheduling works. I have some clients for covers, tags and other works for comic book agencies and other kinds of services.
Many of the old school artists have passed on like Kirby, Kane, Cockrum, etc..did any of these legends help inspire you to become an artist? Who were, and are, your inspirations now, and why? In the past, the artists that used to inspire me were John Romita Sr., Gil Kane, afterwards Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Stan Drake (Kelly Green). Nowadays, my favorites are Bryan Hitch, McNieven, Charest and many others. I currently enjoy a lot the realistic and detailed works, but for the pin-ups, I do what I can using the comic book standard. Due to the ever short deadlines I try to use the same features, but getting rid of a few details. I like the European styles like Manara and Moebius a lot. The details of their work are fantastic.
One of the best-drawn comic books ever to come our of Image's central division was EXPOSURE, which you co-created. What was it like working on your own characters?
Still today, people ask me to draw the girls from Exposure, in their total sensuality. I really enjoyed making this project. And they have always inspired me for some reason. They are beautiful and charming girls. I think it's a good project, but when Dave and I finally return to it it and I get to draw it again, I'd do it in a more realistic and cleaner style. We're building a new group of readers for EXPOSURE. All my original series stories are up on exposure.keenspot.com, and I've created many new pieces for it and for the upcoming book.
Care to talk about the EXPOSURE revival?
Of course. The year 2012 marks our 15th anniversary from the date Dave and I came up with the ideas for the series. I'd told him I wanted it to be the sexiest supernatural story ever created, and I think we did that. We wrote and drew a bunch of issues at Image and elsewhere between 1997 and 2001 or so, and Dave has collected everything into a great hardcover and a trade paperback. It will be 200 pages and includes all the new pieces I've done as pinup. Dave suggested that we rebuild an audience for it by launching it on a website called keenspot.com, so we have hundreds of thousands of new readers — a new audience for my work. I'm excited and proud to have it all collected as a hardcover, which should lead to a new series. I hand-picked sexy artist Jinky Coronado to draw some new EXPOSURE stories for keenspot in the meantime, but maybe soon I'll draw the series again. It was certainly a pleasure to draw. I just finished signing some [tip-in] cards for an autographed edition. Have you heard of Kickstarter? We've put the EXPOSURE book up there [on kickstarter.com] to raise money for releasing it. I'm excited.
We understand that you have several other projects in development. Can you tell us about them?
The project taking up all my time at this moment is called FEVER MOON. It's coming out from Del Rey in the summer. It's written by Karen Marie Moning, a beautiful writer I hope to meet, and by David Lawrence, a great comics writer who is not so beautiful but I hope to meet him, too, heeheehee. FEVER MOON so complicated, I spent half a year doing over 100 pages of character studies. It's about 150 pages of work and is taking every waking moment.
Beyond that, I have three more books I'm working on with Dave. Everyone's asked me to do a book about drawing sexy girls, so of course I have to do that.
Then we are assembling my paintings and line arts and sketches for an ultimate SEXY ART OF AL RIO book.
And finally, I have seen actual space ships in my life, and they inspired me to do a series of drawing and paintings about aliens from space, in a style very different from anything you've ever seen from me, and I am making a book out of those, too.
What the most amazing thing that ever happened to you?
It was knowing New York, Spider-Man's city, it was amazing. The proof of this is that took 600 pictures, using a non-digital camera. It was a great experience.
The scariest thing I've ever seen was the fall of World Trade Center twin towers. It was very sad and scaring to everyone.
I want to, but that depends on a lot of things like getting FEVER MOON done in time. I also feel insecure due to the fact of not knowing how to speak English fluently. I'd need to hire someone reliable and with lots of patience to help me in the trips outside there. I've only been to the USA once, and that's when EXPOSURE first came out.
If you couldn't be an artist, what would you be?
If I wasn't an illustrator, I'd surely be a singer. I love singing and playing the guitar drinking a caipirinha or a vodka on my spare time. But life has took me to this path of art and I thank God for that.
The comics business in 2012 is quite a bit different from when you stepped away from it in 2004. How are you changing, adapting, growing with your artwork to deal with those changes?
Well, it's really getting harder to make comic books due to the richness of details, way of showing the works, line quality and amount of heroes and realistic details. Photographic adaptation, expressions and all this kind of stuff. I think the artists have to study more and exert more effort so that its work develop well. I think that's the reason why many artists have been giving up on comics to go to other areas within art. Comic book pencillers are going to other directions within art and I think that's because of the difficulty in making comics. You need to be confident and productive and, most important, you need to love what you're doing. Fortunately, with FEVER MOON and things like EXPOSURE, people love my art just the way it is. "The summary of all this is that I think when you want something, you need to believe it, fight for it, wait for it, have patience, be determined and humble to understand the difficulties. Only this way you'll be able to reach any goal in life. Believe yourself and give the best of you so that you feel happy. This is the greatest step."