Interview: Paul Azaceta on Daredevil, Monkey Art and ‘B.P.R.D: 1946’
One of this year’s big additions to the Hellboy universe has been the series BPRD: 1946, which features Hellboy’s father-figure, Trevor Bruttenholm, as he investigates the occult legacy of the Third Reich.
I recently spoke with series artist Paul Azaceta, who discussed the ins and outs of playing in Mike Mignola’s sandbox. Azaceta also provided insight on his many other projects for Marvel and BOOM! Studios, and on the joys of drawing monkeys.
Though still a relative newcomer to the comics scene, Azaceta has churned out an impressive amount of books in the past few years. His future looks to remain busy, with the possibility of more B.P.R.D. and a mystery project for Marvel.
COMICMIX: How did you get your start in comics? I noticed that you worked on manga books a few years back.
PAUL AZACETA: Oh CPM, how I miss you. Those old manga books are when I first got into the business but not as an artist. Those were the good old days when C.B. Cebulski was the editor of a manga line and I was his assistant. I used to make copies for him and scan in manga art and other things I’m not too proud of. C.B. was a very loving boss.
CMix: How did you end up making the connection with BOOM! Studios?
PA: After doing a couple of small books here and there, I met [BOOM! Publisher] Ross Richie through a friend and it just so happened he was looking for someone to draw these two gritty-type books. When I heard that Mr. Mark Waid was behind one of those books, I jumped at the chance.
CMix: How did you develop your current approach to comics art?
PA: From my earlier work to now, I guess it’s the normal growth any artist goes through. I just keep trying to push my art in the direction that fits the stories I’m telling, and I want to tell in the future.
CMix: Whenever I hear someone talk about your art, they usually refer to it as being very distinctive. Take me through the process of putting together a panel. What do you do that sets you apart?
PA: Well I’m glad people think it’s distinctive because all I usually see are my influences. There are so many ways to do comics that I just do whatever gets the job done. First, of course, I read the script a couple of times and try to get everything in the panel that’s necessary to tell the story and move it along. After I figure out what I need, it becomes a matter of making it interesting. Those are my two main goals when doing any panel or page. First, be clear, and then be interesting. Finally, I just scribble around until it looks halfway decent and ink it.
CMix: Of the books that you’ve worked on for BOOM!, which are you happiest with? Any particular issues, pages or panels you especially liked?
PA: It’s hard to pick because what I like are usually really minor parts. Things like an arm here or an expression there. Sometimes even just a scribble in the background. If I had to pick, I remember there was a train sequence in Potter’s Field that I liked because Mark really let me play with that scene and I threw in random exterior shots. It was a fun thing to experiment with.
CMix: How did you end up making the connection with Dark Horse to work on the B.P.R.D. book?
PA: That, I feel, was just the luck of being at the right place at the right time. I actually met Mike Mignola at a convention, thanks to Ivan Brandon — he gets mad if I leave him out — and he mentioned he had a possible job for me. Who am I to turn down Mignola? I promptly e-mailed him and said yes before he even offered anything concrete.
CMix: How is working with Mignola? He’s known for a very strong attention to detail, so I’m curious if it’s been a challenge at all to take control of the material as an artist?
PA: He’s definitely a hands-on collaborator, but he’s also an artist himself, so he understands the process. We’d have conversations on the phone about what he was imagining for the book and I ‘d chime in with some ideas, too. When it came to the actual pages, he’d really let me fly on my own more than anything. I still feel really new to comics, so I welcomed any notes. His advice is usually spot-on anyway.
CMix: Another thing with Mignola and the Hellboy world is that Mike’s art is very unique, and fans have come to expect the same feel from books with his name. How did you balance that — of working in the specifically-styled Hellboy world — while also maintaining your own style?
PA: That was a bit tricky in the beginning. There are definitely a few spots where I felt I really needed to refer to his work and try and capture that "look." The good news is, he wanted something different for the arc Josh Dysart and I did, so I never felt too much pressure to do it the Mignola way. He hired me to do what I do, and in the end I tried to do just that.
CMix: The book is set in Europe in 1946. How heavily did you rely on reference material for things like uniforms, vehicles, buildings, etc.?
PA: I think there were times when it took more time to find the right reference than it took to draw the page. It was a bit of a pain, and I think I eventually found a middle where I didn’t have to look up every shirt and car. It is a book about vampires and mechanical gorillas, so not being 100-percent accurate is okay.
CMix: Anything from that series that was especially fun to draw?
PA: You always hear how everyone loves monkeys and how monkeys can make any comic better, and now I can honestly say they are right. I never really drew any monkeys or gorillas before B.P.R.D., and now that I have it’s opened a whole new world up.
Dieter the chimp was some of the most fun I’ve had drawing comics in my short-lived career. I’ve been trying to convince Mike to let me draw a Dieter the Chimp spin-off. One day, one day…
CMix: One of the thing’s I’ve noticed about the series is that, so far, it’s much more human-centered than a lot of series in the Hellboy world. Not a lot of huge monsters. Is there a challenge in making a book exciting when it isn’t as action-packed as some of the other Hellboy series?
PA: I think I’m much more of a human artist than anything else, so for me it wasn’t too difficult. It goes back to my process that I mentioned earlier — about being interesting. I firmly believe a good comic artist can make a story about a coffee cup interesting. It’s all in the presentation. Also, don’t be fooled by the slower first issues of B.P.R.D., because there’s plenty of fun stuff that goes on. By the end, it’s absolutely crazy.
CMix: Do you have any plans to work on more B.P.R.D. or Hellboy books? Any other Dark Horse projects?
PA: I keep reminding Scott Allie and Mignola that I want to do more, so hopefully they’ll bring me back. The professor Bruttenholm story doesn’t end with 1946, and if all goes well, Josh and I will have plenty of more stories to work on in the Hellboy universe. Getting to work in the B.P.R.D. world is amazing and it’s at the top of my list to get back there.
CMix: You just had the Daredevil book, issue #106, come out for Marvel. When did you get connected with that project?
PA: That all started with Michael Lark. He’s not only an amazing artist but he’s a really nice guy, too. I met him at some conventions through the years and he’s always been kind enough to check out my latest work. I believe the schedule was catching up with him on DD and when Warren Simons — DD‘s editor and another lovely man — decided he needed help, Mike mentioned my name. So I pitched in on a couple of issues and Warren seemed to take to what I was doing. He asked if I wanted to do a whole issue and I couldn’t say no. Daredevil is by far my favorite Marvel character and it was a dream to get to draw him professionally. Brubaker wrote an awesome issue and I just tried not to screw that up.
CMix: Will you be working on any more Marvel titles?
PA: I’m just taking a break from my next Marvel project right now to answer these questions. I think Axel [Alonso] might kill me if I spill the beans, so lets just say I’ll definitely being doing more Marvel work in the near future.
CMix: Had you been a fan of Daredevil before taking on that story? Any other Marvel (or DC) characters you’d like to draw?
PA: Like I said before, he’s by far my favorite. To me, he’s the perfect blend of gritty crime noir and superhero fun. Punisher, Moon Knight, Hulk, and Spider-man are top contenders. I’d love to try an Avenger comic or something like that one day. Also, any of the cosmic characters — just because it’s so out of my comfort zone.
CMix: Going from BOOM! to Dark Horse to Marvel, were there any changes you had to make to adjust to the different books?
PA: I think every book presents its own challenges and changes. Luckily for me, the progression was matched with where I was pushing myself as an artist. I find half the fun in making different books is finding something that works best for each book. That’s a reason I like contributing to anthologies. It’s a chance to just try something different. It’s usually only 7 or 8 pages, so even if it doesn’t work in the end, it was only 7 or 8 pages.
CMix: With so many different projects going, and all of them so different, how do you balance out your work schedule?
PA: Good question. Schedule is something that you never really think about when you’re daydreaming about being a superstar comic artist. That’s something I’m still learning to do, but I’m getting better at it. Now that I have more job offers I’m really going to try and limit them and plan out my year in advance so I don’t feel like I’m struggling to stay afloat.
CMix: Not that you aren’t busy enough already, but do you have any other upcoming projects you can talk about yet?
PA: With B.P.R.D. done and behind me, I have a couple of Marvel books I’m getting into right now. Too early to talk about, but I can say they fit right in with the kind of books I like to do. Eventually I’ll reconnect with Mark Sable to do a project, but I’m finding the time to be harder and harder to come by. I’ll also be contributing to a Western anthology later this year with Josh Dysart — which I’m looking forward to. That’s all for now, but it’s enough to keep me busy for a while.
Issue #4 of B.P.R.D.: 1946, featuring art by Paul Azaceta, is on shelves now. The fifth and final issue hits shelves next month, on May 14, 2008.