Wednesday, September 03, 2008

JM Ringuet Interview Artist Sparks and Transhuman

JM Rinquet was kind enough to do a second interview with us. I enjoy hearing JM’s views as I think what he has to say about commercial art and how it is changing is interesting and important. The digital age continues to change the way we do and look at everything.

JM is currently the artist on two books that I’m enjoying a lot and obviously his art work is a part of that enjoyment. To see previews of Sparks and examples of his work on that book go here. For a five page preview of Transhuman go here. Finally to see other work by JM check out his own website here.

Jim: JM, Sparks and Transhuman are both in the home stretch, have you completed work on both books?

JM: I've just started working on Issue #6 of Sparks which is jumbo sized, over thirty pages of noir drama and twists and flashbacks galore. I'm also starting on Transhuman Issue #4, so that's a lot of things happening at the same time but I'm used to it, and I'm always trying to work faster and better. I streamlined my process even more. Freelancing is all about streamlining.

Jim: Have you changed your approach or how you work during the course of these projects?

JM: Yes because I'm always trying to learn something, learning from my mistakes and what I could do better, more efficiently. For example I switched to doing everything digitally now (sorry about those original pages I won't be able to sell) which allows me more fluidity and more focus. Instead of having three distinct processes (penciling, inking and coloring) which was a bit artificial I now have only one long coherent process that starts in Photoshop with thumbnails and ends in Photoshop with a finished colored page. Only one space (one program) where everything grows more organically. Hopefully that will also make my pages look better.

Jim: So if everything is digital and you have no originals to sell does that impact on what a job is worth? And what is original art in the digital age?

JM: I don't think that it changes the value of the work because a comic page is made to be printed and read and then probably thrown away. Collecting original comic art is just a side thing that does not really bring anything to the industry in my opinion. I'm producing art to be printed so that's only what matters to me. More and more artists are moving to 'all digital'.

Jim: By going all digital in some ways it is returning comics back to how it used back in the early years. One last process question and excuse my ignorance as I'm not an artist, but I'm curious to understand how things work. You said that it is more of an organic process by doing it all digitally. Do you save your work as different files along the way so that if you decide to edit your work so you have early stages to start from? I guess I'm asking to give me a little more detail in how you would do a page of art totally on the computer.

JM:: It's not really about having multiple versions (and I really save only one version by the way), it's more about being able to do only what's necessary and nothing more. For example if I am penciling on paper I can have a tendency to draw things tighter that they are needed at the inking stage just because I want the penciled page to look good. On the computer I can start inking one panel even if the others panels are not penciled yet. Another example is if I make a size mistake at the penciling stage on paper I have to erase and redraw, on the computer I can just resize, move things around, change the framing very easily. That's how it makes creation more dynamic, more fluid. Nothing is ever 'set' when it's digital, it can be manipulated and adjusted to have the best effect.

I think pretty soon we're going to get very thin very responsive screen tablets that mimic drawing or painting on paper very closely and we will see all graphic artists, including comic artists, going digital. I think we are just starting to see how far the digital tools can go, it's a historical turning point of sort. When I was a kid people were still doing everything on paper, inking over graphite lines, erasing, painting with inks or watercolors, lettering with a pen... now it all seems a bit quaint. Comics are mass production entertainment, and I have to think of my art as production. A tool to entertainment people but
not an end in itself. It really makes sense to use all the available tools to be able to produce quality in the right amount of time. My advice to a young artist (if I can give any advice) is to study and master the digital tools.

Jim: As a freelancer you have to always be working towards your next job. With Transhuman and Sparks winding down, what is next on your horizon?

JM: I'm doing some coloring jobs, like Death and the Man Who Would Not Die for Spacedog and Top Cow, some concept art for videogames and music videos, and I'm preparing some pitches to submit soon (my own writing and my own art). I have some solid ideas I think, stuff that's different in many ways. And I have a handful of offers for work for hire jobs. I'm always looking for jobs anyway, there is always more time for cool projects.

Jim: You live in China now. Even with it being a digital world is it harder to get your proposals to the right people and are you focused only on American comics at this time?

JM: I can't really attend conventions, so that could make things more difficult for me, I'm not sure. I don't really meet publishers or editors face to face, and I don't have a lot of contacts in the industry. I'm sure it's easier for local artists to get contacts. On the other hand there are some really good open publishers like Image that always allow people to pitch ideas even if they don't know them and live half a world apart. I think that's one of the strengths of Image and why they keep publishing great original material: they accept unsolicited submissions and make the effort to find new creators. I regret that a lot of other publishers do not do the same. They just shoot themselves in the foot.

At the moment I'm only focused on American comics. The three big markets for comics in my opinion are the US, France and Japan. France has a rather inbred creator-rights unfriendly system that I don't really like. Japan is mostly closed to anything that is not culturally linked to Japan. The US comic industry is by far the best for any creator. The only problem is distribution. While successful creators in France or Japan can sell tons of books, it's still almost impossible to reach a big audience in the US if you're not Alan Moore or Frank Miller. If the industry can find a parallel alternative to the direct market through major bookstores (like in France) or magazine type distribution (like in Japan) it can become the best and biggest thing in the world. I think comic readers and comic creators in America are the most diverse and enthusiastic. America invented comics and modern sequential story telling, and there is more innovation happening with US indie publishers than anywhere else.

Jim: Vertigo is started a new line of Crime graphic novels. I have always felt that in a fair contest many independent projects or non-super hero books could win the sales war, but the direct market is an uphill climb for a smaller publisher. In a perfect world how would you promote your product to try and break through the barriers we have in the market place?

JM: My current opinion about this question (and this could change at any point in the future) is I think going through bookstores (brick and mortar and online) and comic shops at the same time in a graphic novel format (over 100 pages). Translated manga are popular because they are sold in big bookstores at a reasonable price. Sure there are other reasons they're selling well but I think they would never do as well if they were only available in small specialty shops (as most comic shops are).

So the way to do it would be for big book publishers to enter the comic market seriously, give advances to creators (like they do to any novel writer), not take too much of the rights and make a marketing push through bookstore chains so they stock up on comic titles.

The best way to publicize those books would be to put some chapters, or even the whole graphic novel, for free on the net. It has been proven that this work very well. Comparing the sales and the size of population with France for example (where all comics are sold in regular bookstores) I think the sales of independant non-superhero continuity titles could be multiplied by 5 or 6. So Matt Fraction's Casanova would sell maybe 30,000 or 40,000 copies instead of the criminally low numbers it's doing now.

I think what Vertigo is doing with that new line of graphic novels is a great idea. If they can push the books aggressively in regular bookstores I'm sure they are going to win over a lot of new readers. And frankly at that point in time what comics have to do is to gain more and more readers. It's not right that millions of people want to see comicbook movies but just a handful buy comicbooks. There is a real problem there that has nothing to do with the medium but the way it is delivered. Can you imagine if Stephen King was selling 5000 copies of each of his novels but his movies were making hundred of millions? That's just absurd.

Jim: It is absurd. I have a theory that the industry has almost created barriers against its own success. Hopefully with comic book movies making over $1.2 Billion dollars this year just to August we may see some larger publishers start to enter the fray and take US comics to a new level.

You said you have some ideas as writer and artist. It seems like a natural progression for you to go from coloring, to the art to writing as each one brings a greater level of control to the final product.

How has your experience with Sparks and Transhuman been different?

JM: Each book has a very distinctive flavor to it as Sparks is a film noir and Transhuman is almost a documentary.
I approached the books differently, especially for the art style.

For Sparks I wanted to do something a little bit reminiscent of the Golden Age, a rigid grid, no full bleed, no weird shaped panels, everything very classic. I opted for clear lineart with no inked shadows because I wanted to create all the light effects at the painting stage. I guess I could have gone with classic blacks like Alex Toth but the coloring would have looked different. I also made some choices with the writer to have a lot of rain, fog, snow, and overcast skies, nothing bright, to reflect the internal feelings of the main character.

For Transhuman I actually started with a style that was simpler, more Tim Sale and probably 'funnier', but reading the script I realized that it wouldn't work. So just before I started drawing the first issue I shifted to a more realistic style, an exagerated look, almost carricature. I also wanted the book to look like one of those late 70s documentaries on rather bad film stock, with a shift toward yellow, scratches and dirt on the lens. And I make sure to frame every panel as if it was shot by a camera, either on a stand or carried on the shoulder. Even on wide shots like in Issue 2 where we see a boat from a distance I put in the frame the rope that links the dingey where the 'camera man' is sitting in, being trailed by the yacht. I wanted the 'camera' to be a presence. I'm not sure a lot of people will see this though. I got a lot of complaints that the book look static even if that's the idea we were going for. It's pure mockumentary in comic form. 'The Office' also looks static because that's the concept. It's difficult to not rub people the wrong way with style. Introducing something new is always risky. As Todd McFarlane was saying when he started working on Spiderman everybody wanted him to draw like the previous artist, but when he left the book they wanted the new artist to draw like McFarlane. I'm not Todd but I try new things all the time.

On every project I work on I try to change the art style and adapt it to the story, from the lines themselves, to the way I ink, and then color the page. There are so many different graphic choices an artist can make to create an atmosphere. That's always my goal: find the right atmosphere to immerse the reader in a different world.

Jim: In fact the choices are probably wider with some much being available with it all being digital. How do you know when to leave it alone and say a page is finished?

JM: It's a matter of time. Comics are mostly about time: how much time can I spend on one page? It's a good way to limit the tweaking that could go on forever. I have to have a clear idea of where I want to go and when I'm there it's done. I can't afford to do and redo and try different things or it would take me weeks to produce a page and that's not good for anybody. The most important thing for a freelancer is good scheduling.

Jim: So I was checking out your blog site and noticed some Burroughs Mars stuff. First off I love that series and read that to me daughters when they were growing up and now they both still love it. Is that work for a project or what?

JM: I was reading the first 3 books of the John Carter series and I thought it was a bit difficult to picture the creatures from the story, and a lot of illustrations of the Tharks for example looked a bit silly. So I decided to do my own version, following really closely the description in the text, and since I do concept art from time to time I decided to do some nice finished pieces for my portfolio (I think Pixar should hire me to do the concept art for the upcoming movie, no really). I'm not the biggest fan of those books but they are very enjoyable and Burroughs had a wild imagination. I wouldn't mind working on some project based on the series.

Jim: Any advice for people trying to break in the business? And where will we see your work next?

JM: I think the main thing is that nobody really 'breaks' into comics. I think a lot of people have this crazy idea that they can draw some pages, show them to an editor at a convention and then bam! three weeks later they're drawing Wolverine or Batman and going to Comicon to sign autographs. It doesn't work like that. As an artist you have to draw a lot pages (and I say pages, not pinups) with your own style, your own sensibility, your own uniqueness and put them in front of people, maybe doing a webcomic, or some anthology, or even a fanzine if those still exist. Find a writer and do your own stuff, something you really like, something you have fun with. Then people will noticed it and slowly (or not so slowly) you will get some offers, you'll build up on them, you will get better and some day you will reach your goals.

It's a process, it's a process that takes a bit of time (but it's not that long if you are talented AND different), it's progressive. Like Rick Remender said it can take 10 years to be an overnight success. The main thing is you have to be original, you have to be different, in a word you have to be YOU. If you try to be like someone else, or as good as someone else, you will never go very far. Even if you want to draw Wolverine or Batman, editors will hire you because they want to see your take on the character, not because you can do a reasonable imitation of whomever is drawing them now. Paul Pope did a great Batman because he wasn't trying to do it in any other way than his own way. So to conclude, be yourself, be patient, be hard working, be passionate. If you're good at all that you will be working in comics for sure. Don't think about 'breaking in', think about 'working in'.

I'm not sure where you will be seeing my work next. Catastrophic Comics approached me to do another project so that's a possibility, and I'm also doing coloring for a variety of things. One of my future projects is called Supercharger, a hi-octane (litterally) chase accross the South-West with hotrods, hot girls, demons and rock n' roll action, a 4 issue miniseries that is not far from being signed by an indie publisher. I have some pages on my blog and I got some really nice comments from the likes of Matt Fraction or Ivan Brandon so hopefully it doesn't suck when I'm done with it.

I also have 3 more pitches almost ready, stuff that's pretty original (no ninjas, no zombies), different from a lot of things out there, packed, very dense, with a little bit of a subtext. Stuff that's good on the eyes but reads well, hopefully. I will be able submit those to various publishers very soon and maybe start on something in October for an early next year release. I am also open to do some work for hire. I would like 2009 to be a special year. Keep checking my blog at to know more.

JM thanks for all your time in talking to us and I will be looking for your name in the credits. I think we will be hearing a lot from JM in the years to come.


  1. Anyone who is a Princess of Mars fan is awesome in my book!

  2. JM RINGUET is a fantastic talent and he his art and direction is awesome!
    He's makes writers look much better than what they really are!