I made sure to sit down with another great artist at C2E2 this year and find out what ever I could about his methods, convention appearances and how working digitally has changed the way he does things.
Franchesco! (The ! is very like Elliot S! Maggin or Scott Shaw!) has become a regular face at comic conventions in the last few years, doing commissions, panel appearances and selling prints and sketchbooks. Like most in Artist Alleys at all of these conventions, there is a tough balance between meeting and talking to the fans and getting down to the business of drawing for them and selling his many wares.
Taylor: How many shows to you get to each year and what keeps drawing you here when it is easier to just stay home and work?
Franchesco!: Somewhere around five, maybe? I think that five is a safe number. There is the big shows like San Diego, Chicago and New York and there are some of the middle size shows that I really like.
(It should be said at this point that Franchesco! is wildly popular at the shows that he regularly attends. As we spoke there were several interruptions by fans and friends that cannot wait to get a chance to speak to him. He is one of the most approachable artists at these shows and always has time to say hello. So if at some point, we go off the rails a bit, that will be my fault, as it can be difficult to keep the thread going. But watching the way he interacted with people was every bit as telling as specific answers to questions. He truly enjoys meeting people.)
The sizes of the shows really exploded when Image came into the picture. The size of the halls had to increase and the crowds were out of control. At one show a Fire Marshall had to come in and close the place down, because the isles were not wide enough, so they increased the size of the isles, so now that this (referring to the width of the isles at C2E2, which seem much more spacious to me than at Wizard and other cons) is now the standard. So the fact that this is not enough is a testament to how much the hobby has grown. I assume that you and I have been doing this for more than a day or two, so we remember that there was a moment there that people were saying that comics are dead, it's over, its finished, so I would get the "so what am I going to do" flash. I love it so much and it was going to go away. Now things are as good as they ever were. Can you imagine if it was just the two of us that showed up?
Taylor: Well, we could have a wicked game of handball.
Franchesco!: Glass half empty, glass half full.
Taylor: I have watched you in recent years changing over from traditions all pencil and ink to a mix of traditional and digital techniques. Has that been a big adjustment of is there a steep learning curve?
Franchesco!: The switch to digital, the actual mechanics of it, is simple but I'm still trying to wrap my brain around it. For me I love, love love the idea of pencil on paper because that is how it has always been for me from when I first started. So that is where I imprinted on the process. When I started doodling, there was not option. Now I can see kids in grade school doing this digitally, they could do whatever since it is just the way it started for them. The Mechanics is not as challenging for me as the mindset. The technology has evolved for me, to the point where it mimics the same motion and feel that you get when you are drawing traditionally. The tool itself is not the issue, I just have a real love for traditional. I have a love for original art, as you know, I don't part with my original art. Most people sell their art, but I don't. I hold on to everything I do. The closest I come to parting with my original art is the sketches I do at conventions. So I find that digital streamlined the process to the point where it is much more efficient, much faster and it gives the client something they can use and hit the ground running as opposed to having to incorporate an additional step, like coming in and doing more prep work or preparing to make changes to a physical original. Just scanning the artwork alone, which doesn't seem like it should be a big deal, but you multiply that by how many pages and if it is a big publisher, they have to hire someone just to do that for all the projects, just to get the images ready for post production, so when you don't have to do that, it is a lot better for time and costs.
Taylor: So are you working from the start of something in digital more and stay there through the full process or is it always graphite, then digital?
Franchesco!: That is what I am doing for the Anarchy Girls project. When I started it was the way I had always done, with paper and pencil, then after drawing it, I would scan it and send it to my publisher. Then it got to the point where I was making so many changes to the image once it was scanned in that it seemed redundant to the process. The digital became an "and" to the process. Not so much taking stuff out, it was altering the artwork to where it needed to be to appease the client. The client has a certain vision and I always enjoy being able to make the client happy. So now when the evolution happens, it happens with one person whether it is my art director or my editor. But for this, I am not working with one person, I'm working with a team of people and you can please all of the people, all of the time…sometimes, but that is not always the case so even when everybody is happy, some has a requirement and says, "can we do this?" and the answer is yes with digital. Because you don't have to now take the artwork and erase and redo it traditionally and scan it in, which causes other issues, like never being able to get it to line up or match other parts of the project just right, so that impedes the outcome. If the changes can be done digitally, on a digital original, then everything is easier, matches correctly and the colors don't shift etc. So I realized that instead of doing the sketches digitally, printing it out and light boxing in for a physical original, I didn't need to take it out of the computer then change it and put it back in because, I could now do it all in there. Long story short, the computer has been a Godsend to the process. Sometimes it is not a perfect process.
(At this point someone handed him exclusive copies of a book for Zenescope with one of his covers on the front. He lit up like a kid on Christmas and was thrilled to see for the first time, the finished product of this book. The book was for the Grimm's Fairy Tales series and had a stunning cover of Alice in Wonderland, in the Franchesco! style and really was something to see. This caused him to recall a different, not so positive experience.)
Recently I had an experience with one of my pieces. It looked like it had been put through a meat grinder by the client after I handed it over, and I was like, "are you kidding me?" It was like someone kicked me in the nuts. There is always the need for interpretation. Some people see things a certain way, but this was just sloppy at best. What made it even harder to accept was the individual that I don't want to name, was surprised and shocked that I was upset. I was not used to that. Usually I work with top-notch people who do phenomenal work like this book. This is a joy to see! Thanks for making me look so good. I really enjoyed working on this and when we started, we were going to go in a completely different direction with what we wanted to do and this one image, done just for us for fun, is what we kept coming back to. This one, (as opposed to the other meat grinder experience) was a real fun one to do.
Taylor: Outside of comics there has been a lot of ad work like the Axe comic. It seems like it would be a little out of the ordinary for them and you. How did that come about?
Franchesco!: It was a kind of unusual thing to work on, sure. We know what comics are like and how they come about. You draw them, print them and go to the store and buy them. This project is available digitally and free. So it makes me feel good to put a comic out there in front of people who might not see them otherwise and say "check this out!" I love doing this with Axe, because it is everything that I love to do, but it allows me to be a kind of ambassador for comics. It sounds like a big word, but I hate the fact that we can trip over comic books anymore, We all discovered comics because we saw them on the newsstand spinner racks and that does not happen anymore. This project makes me feel good that people who would not normally set foot in a comic shop are going to get to see this, and hopefully say "hey look, comics books". The fact that the people I work with, love comics as well, and they are all doing everything they can to make it the best that it can be.
Taylor: One of the questions in these kind of interviews is the influences one. The answers are all fairly pat. So I want to come at with a different sensibility. If you art was the bastard love child of any two other artists, who would they be?
Franchesco!: (laughing) I love that question, but I think someone else would have to answer that because I'm too close to it, I don't see it. I always am wishing I could do better. I am never quite happy with it. I always wish I could draw better. I love lots of other people's work, but I am too close to what I do to look at it like that.
Taylor: Are there any things that you have done in the past that you would like back to do again now that you have grown and know what you know?
Franchesco!: The blank page is scary enough. It is easy for everyone else to be an armchair quarterback, with this suggestion or that and you want to ask them "where were you five minutes ago with your ideas?" There is a 101 decisions that you make with every line. Is the hand going to be this way or that way? Worm's-eye view or bird's-eye view? Every artist brings their own personal take, from panel layouts to vantage points, so it is always changing for them too. To answer that directly…every single piece that I have ever done. I never stop wanting to make it better.
A lot of artists are the same way and that comes from making it their own. The best ones, you don't have to look for the signature. You see it and you know exactly who drew that. It's a John Byrne or Art Adams. That is what I love about comics, the eclectic nature of the medium, that allows so many singular voices to come through.
I have not reached the point yet where the job gets old. One of the things that I am very fortunate about is that I haven't lost that lovin feeling. It doesn't feel like work.
Taylor: You have made a name for yourself with the "good girl" art.
Franchesco!: I wish I could say that was by design.
Taylor: What I would ask then is, do you ever think to yourself, "Man I wish I could just do a damn landscape!"?
Franchesco!: I've done that and people don't even recognize it. I love to draw, so if I had to draw paperclips all day long they would be the most fun paper clips I have ever drawn.
Taylor: Sexiest, boobiest paper clips ever!
Franchesco!: Right, they would have all kinds of curves! But it was not by design, I just enjoy drawing the way I draw, but when I draw women, people seem to sit up and take more notice of that.
Taylor: You said you don't sell your originals. What is it that is so different about the commission sketches that they can be let go so much more readily?
Franchesco!: That is because I know from the beginning that this is not going to be for me. Right from the beginning, before I even put pencil to paper that it is not for me. That is the only way that I can make the distinction and cut the umbilical cord, because it was not there to begin with.
I love that I am very fortunate that I can do what I love to do for a living. When I first got in, it was hard. I didn't know that I was not ready. It was like learning every step of the way. Portfolio review after portfolio review, and editors would say things that I shouldn't do, but that were still evident in the books they were publishing. It was a perspective thing. They were looking at things differently and had a set of skills that they were looking for. I had a lot of puzzle pieces that were missing. I'm still trying to figure them out sometimes!