Interview with Luke Radl

Luke Radl is an artist that has a story appearing in this month’s Dark Horse Presents #11.  On April 28, Luke will also have some work appearing in the “Like.Comment.Share” exhibit at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center.  He is also working on a graphic journalism project that will take place in Chicago from May 14-24.  This week, Luke will be appearing with author Frank Barbiere at Forbidden Planet in New York City on Wednesday, April 18.  He was gracious enough to let me bug him with some questions.

What first got you interested in comic books? 

Definitely Spider-man.  I was a big fan of the cartoon back in the 90s.  I snagged Spidey comics whenever I could.  Mostly at yard sales and stuff.

What was the first comic you owned?

The very first?  I don’t know if I remember.  One of the earliest I remember owning was one where the Carnage symbiote took over the Silver Surfer and became Carnage Cosmic or something.  I remember thinking that was the shit back then.  I probably still have it somewhere.

What was it that made you want to do art in comic books?

Again, Spider-man played a big role.  My friends back in elementary school all would sit around and draw up Spider-man adventures.  It was just typical doodling, but I remember distinctly getting teased about drawing heads too big and swearing that I’d be better than all of them.  Over the intervening years I’ve grown less interested in super heroes though, and my passion for comics stems more from a love of the medium and the unique possibilities it offers.  (But really my art career is just a spiteful “Fuck you” to my second grade friends.)

Once you decided that you wanted to pursue art as a career, what was your next course of action?

After barely graduating High School (I took honors-level classes, but was a devout underachiever) I literally went to Google and put in “comic art college.”  I applied to the then-not-even-one-year-old Center for Cartoon Studies, and the Kubert School.  I ended up choosing the Kubert School because of the more rigorous art training they offered, and it just seemed like a better fit for me.

Have any advice for beginning artists, or advice for writers from an artists’ perspective?

My advice for artists would be to make sure to learn the basics of good composition, color theory, and storytelling technique.  Those skills will allow you to tell an engaging story even if your drawings aren’t at the level you’d like them to be.  Then, and always, draw your ass off – especially from life.  Carry a sketchbook and draw buildings, people in the park, subways, woods, whatever, and pay careful attention to your subjects.  The more detailed your own mental model of the world and objects in it is, the more you can pull out in your work to make your comics believable.

For writers, especially if you want to write detailed scripts, you also need to learn at least the basics of storytelling and composition.  You’re writing for a visual medium, and the better you understand it, the less your artist is going to feel compelled to change.

You said that you’ve grown less interested in super heroes, so what genres do interest you?

I suppose it behooves me at this point to stress that I’m not anti-superheroes in principle, there are definitely great stories out there, but I find it a useful heuristic for me when I’m deciding what to put my time into reading.  Conflict resolution rarely reduces to Good vs Evil fisticuffs, and I tend to prefer stories that reflect some of that nuance (and good superhero stories, in my opinion, can and do accomplish this).  I like thoughtful science fiction, realistic interpersonal and political drama, uniquely lored fantasy/horror, or anything that smuggles in an interesting social or class analysis.  Right now, I’m really interested in comics as a medium for journalism.

Have any other artists had an influence on your style?                                                     

Yeah of course, no artist operates in a vacuum, and the list of influences and inspirations never stops growing and changing.  Some of my favorite artists in comics are Goran Parlov, Sean Murphy, Tim Hamilton, Dave Johnson, Tommy Lee Edwards, Dan Panosian, and Gigi Cavenago but that list is far from exhaustive.  My RSS reader is full of artists I’ve found around the internet, from painters to concept artists, to animators.  I’d be remiss not to mention the influence of my peers on my work as well.

Do you prefer a writer giving you the exact details of what they want, or do you prefer to have the writer give you the important details and let you fill in the rest?

I really don’t mind whatever degree of specificity a writer wants to work with, as long as she doesn’t mind me honestly voicing my opinion about it.  In comics, there isn’t always a stark demarcation between writing and drawing.  As soon as a comics writer writes in terms of panels, she is making judgements about the artwork.  And if I think that a panel has too much going on for one panel to describe, or I think the emotional weight of a panel calls for a different angle than what’s been penned, I need a writer who’s willing to hear me out.

Could you summarize the process you go through to get from a page of script to a finished page of art?

First I read through the whole script so I know where everything is going, and to make sure there aren’t any glaring inconsistencies that might need revision later.  I’ll thumbnail all the relevant pages (basic panel layouts and crude compositions to figure out the storytelling and flow) and make sure all the actions make sense and read well.  If there are scenes that need expanding or contracting, this is where I would figure that out and confer with the writer.  Then I’ll blow up the thumbnails and tighten up the drawings (usually with the aid of reference photos – my own for people/poses, Google for locations/stuff).  I try to only put the minimum amount of necessary information in at this stage so the finishing process doesn’t end up too stale.  I work all digitally, and so far the only program involved is Photoshop.  Once everything is roughed in, I’ll take it into Manga Studio to do anything that needs ruling – MS has incredibly powerful perspective tools – and for comics this is the beginning of the inks.  Then I’ll finish up the inking in Painter – the Liquid Ink tools possess unparalleled dry-brush simulation that helps it feel less mechanical.  Then it’s back to Photoshop for the final touches and coloring.

What is the story you worked on in Dark Horse Presents about? 

The story for DHP is about an orphaned teenage girl in late-80s Moscow who is running deliveries for an organized crime syndicate to make ends meet for her and her brother. It’s sort of a tangential prequel to a larger narrative I’ve been developing with the writer, Frank Barbiere, called The White Suits, a political crime thriller centered around a gang of the same name.

How did this opportunity with Frank Barbiere arise?

I met Frank through a friend at school whom he had hired to work on a pitch.  They needed a colorist and my buddy recommended me.  After that I did another pitch with Frank where I did all the artwork, and then took over for the colorist that bailed on him for an indy graphic novel project.  Once I finished work on that OGN, we started developing The White Suits.  We had this momentum that we wanted to keep going, and channel it into something we both cared a lot about.

Frank’s a great writer to work with.  He really respects artists, and he understands the importance of wedding the material with someone who enjoys drawing in that setting.  Truthfully, I’m just as excited about the book he’s working on with Chris Mooneyham (another school buddy) called Five Ghosts as I am for White Suits.

Do you know where we will be able to read more of the “White Suits” story after this issue of Dark Horse Presents?

I do, but I don’t know what I’m at liberty to disclose.  There’ll probably be another short story on the somewhat immediate horizon.  If you follow me or Frank online, we’ll be talking about that as it solidifies.  You can also check out the first 12 pages of the first issue of the main narrative we’re developing on either of our websites.

Contact info for Luke Radl:  lukeradl.com twitter.com/lukeradl lukeradl.deviantart.com

Contact info for Frank Barbiere:  atlasincognita.com twitter.com/atlasincognita

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