Eduardo Risso: More Than Hundred Bullets

Eduardo Risso was born in 1959 in the province of Cordoba, Argentina. He began his career in 1981, and has worked for publishers in Argentina, Europe and the USA.

100 Bullets, published by Vertigo, was the work that brought him to the spotlight. This series written by Brian Azzarello won several  Eisner, Harvey and Yellow Kid awards.

He was in Portugal in 2003 for the 14th edition of FIBDA, Portugal’s biggest Comics Festival. I aproveitei this opportunity to talk with this prolific artist. The interview ended up being more extensive than I planned. It was one of the most educative conversation I had about comics.

I interviewed Risso in Spanish. Afterwards it was translated to Portuguese and later to English. I think nothing was lost in the translation.

Aleph Syn: How did you manage to get your first professional work?

Eduardo Risso: I had to travel to Buenos Aires where all the publishing houses were. I was born in a little village in Argentina’s countryside, and all the publishing houses were in Buenos Aires.  Argentina is Buenos Aires, the big city from where everything comes. So, I went to the publishing houses, but they sent me to work as an artist’s assistant so that I could learn everything. I had a basic idea of how to do comics, I had a drawing style but I still had a lot to learn. That’s how I started working as an assistant.

I have to recognize I learnt little as an assistant. Every artist had a different style, and none of them wanted to share their knowledge.

Until I was lucky to go to a six years course taught by the great master, Alberto Breccia. That course went for six months, but I didn’t drew much, in reality I drew very little.

All the others [in the course] drew, but I sat talking to Breccia. He opened his mind to me and taught me what I couldn’t have learned in all my life. From then on I started experimenting and creating my own drawing style.

At that time, I was already working for Columba. One of Argentina’s biggest publishing houses.

AS: You did several short stories for Columba.

ER: I started with a movie adaptation for Columba. After that, then they gave me a series, but I had to follow Mandrafina’s style. Because, the publishing houses would ask all the completely formed artists to follow the drawing style of someone they thought of as “star”. That’s how I started, [working] in Mandrafina’s style. Because I liked his black-and-white work; he was one of the bests at the time.

AS: Was Parque Chas, written by Ricardo Barreiro, the first big story yow did?

ER: No. I did Parque Chas for the Fierro magazine. [It was] edited by a publisher that sprung up in the 80’s, which presented an alternative to the Columba and Record publishers. Fierro was an island of liberty, both at the level of the story and of the art.

It was very hard to start working for Fierro magazine. Above all, because I was already working in a regular series for Columba, with the writer Robin Hood. And they [at Fierro] thought I would be doing work in the same vein, but… I managed to get there and ended up doing Parque Chas.

AS: What was the story?

ER: It wasn’t simple. The idea was to tell several stories with an element that would connect them, a reporter who would question the Parque Chas’ dwellers.

Parque Chas is one of Buenos Aires’ quarters. It has the particularity of having round houses; circles that close down in progressively smaller circles, all converging to the center. And all those houses have another particularity: if you take your car, you can only leave through the single avenue that cuts right through the middle of the quarter. It’s a very small quarter made by request of a man named Chas.

It gave us the opportunity to tell amazing stories, most of them  never happened.

In Parque Chas there were historical characters like Peron (the President of Argentina). We told a story about Peron building a tunnel that ended in Parque Chas. It was impossible, because it was too far from the House of Government. The tunnel was never finished because uncanny things happened inside it.

All things made up by Barreiro. He would pick up real facts  and add the uncanny to it, creating many interesting stories.

AS: What was it like to work with Ricardo Barreiro? Who was not only a writer but also already an acclaimed artist, at the time?

ER: Well, he was the one who called me to work with him. He had seen my drawings, and he liked them. It went along in the same fashion as when I worked with Trillo and now with Azzarello in 100 Bullets.
For me, as the artist, I have to show the writer that he can rely on me to do part of the narrative, the graphic part. That he can give me some room [to interpret the story]. It’s obvious that I have to make it clear they can trust me, so I can use the drawings to say what they want to write. That is, I believe that part of the script can be told with text and the rest can be told with the drawings.

AS: The characters’ emotions, their expressions?

ER: No, the greater part of the story. With 100 Bullets, and now with Batman too, what happens is that Azzarello hands in the script to me. I read it and then I have enough freedom – from Azzarello – to place the characters in the place and environment I choose, as long as I don’t change the story.

For instance, if I think that the images of the story get boring when they’re seen, then I add an alternative story. I’ve always done that with Trillo, Barreiro and now Azzarello. For instance, there’s a conversation between two individuals in a room and it goes on for 8 pages. This gets boring for the reader. I’m saying this because I was a comic book reader, to me it was and still is about two characters talking all the time in the same place. Then you get to a point where you can tell what’s going on outside. And, [what happens] outside could be this great story for a graphic tale.

AS: You’re talking about a story that is not in the script, but that doesn’t depreciate it and that makes the page more graphically pleasant?

ER: Exactly! [I did] it in the 100 Bullets‘ fifth issue. The same way I did it in the first issue, I created a story where introduced a character that we had used in Johnny Double. [That series] ends with a character that runs off to Chicago with a great deal of the money. And since 100 Bullets starts off in Chicago… there was this scene between Mr. Graves and Dizzy Cordova that happens inside a train. I didn’t know what images to use, just showing the city would be boring. So, I took the other character and showed him being mugged and robbed of the money he had stolen. That wasn’t in the script. Azzarello was surprised and so was Alonso [Vertigo’s editor at the time]. And that’s how I managed to get their trust so that Azzarello may rely on me to do a great deal of the graphic narrative.

In issue five, there’s also a scene between Megan Dietrich and the barman who’s supposed to kill her. I added a story going on in another building, where a man was having some trouble with dealers and then a helicopter would show up to take him down. When Azzarello saw the penciled pages, he said “What a great idea to introduce Lono. He’s a character that’s going to show up in issue 8, but that can show up in issue five. This way we’re introducing the character from issue eight, without the readers expecting it!”

The readers think it was Azzarello’s idea, but creating an alternative story really was my idea. I do it all the time. When I see that the story is graphically boring, I get something to go on besides it – an alternative story – that may improve the final story.

AS: Going back a bit, before 100 Bullets and Batman, when did you started working with Carlos Trillo? And, how did you ended up working to Italy?

ER: With Trillo, he called me; but I had already started working to Italy, through some agents in Argentina.

I was working in a story called Azor that I would prefer to forget. It was a bad copy from a character named Henga, and they were publishing the story in Italy and Argentina. I was already well ahead with this story and then Trillo calls me because he wanted to do Fulù. It took us a year to start working on Fulù because I had that commitment with those people.

It took us a year to start working on Fulù, but it was done by us directly with Italy, without agents. It was my first work with Trillo, and from then on we managed a good symbiosis.

AS: With Trillo you made five volumes of Fulù. What was the public’s and the French publishers’ reaction to your work in Fulù?

ER: I never worked directly to France. I was never charged with doing something from France. Our work [Trillo’s and Risso’s], all the work we did was to Italy and then sold to France. It was all done that way.

AS: Even though you have books in France, they were all done for Italy?

ER: Yes. It was at the time that France charged me with Simon, Une Aventure Américaine from Glénat. The ideas was to do a series with  several color books. But it ended up being one single black-and-white volume… because, that was the time when the publisher crash happened [in France]- it was in 1992.

So… It was a disaster! Several magazines got cancelled and they couldn’t pay. Simon ended up as a single black-and-white volume and because we couldn’t sell it to France, [so] we produced it to Italy.

AS: Was it then that you started working for the United States?

ER: No. The United States happened much later, when I was doing Chicanos.

AS: You started publishing in the United States with the comics adaptation of Aliens: Resurrection. How did the opportunity come about?

ER: I went to San Diego. In ’85 I went to the United States to… I’ve always renounced the United States – I must admit it – because I love the European market. I like what gets published in France. The way it gets published. It’s nicer to see. The workload is lesser; you have more time to work, in the French market. Doing a 48-page book in 6 months and doing a monthly series to the United States are two different things. The American market is much more dynamic, it has a higher production level.

I was lucky enough to work for Italy, where there was a very strong working rhythm. With Chicanos, for instance, I had assistants.

I started working with assistants in Boy Vampire, it was my first work with assistants and I don’t like it. Then I did Borderline and Chicanos; and I was doing 48 pages every month, with assistants.

I mean, when I got to the American market I had to do 22 pages every month; to me it was a child’s play!

Right now I’m doing 100 Bullets and Batman [Broken City] almost at the same time. But, to me, doing the 22 pages for the American market doesn’t mean more than six to seven hours of work from Monday to Friday; and that gives me a free weekend.

AS: You started your career as an assistant. How was your relation to your assistants, when you had the need for them?

ER: It was completely different. Because I had already suffered what it’s like to be an assistant, and I didn’t want my assistants to go through the same experience. When I started working with assistants, I was aware that I was in a stage where I could pass on some knowledge. I was in my late 30s. I was 34 and I said: “Dammit! Right now I have the condition to pass on this knowledge. How can I do it? So that, somehow, it doesn’t get lost but helps new artists tho have a better formation!”

Well… it happened a bit from necessity. Because I needed to have assistants and since I had assistants, I decided to teach them. And nowadays I have several assistants that have become professionals!

And I feel great for it! We’re friends. I believe you can do that, having assistants and forming them so that they’ll end up leaving you.

We don’t have to keep them because there is no career as an assistant. There are – professionally – careers for pencilers, inkers, colorists, writers. But assistants? It only exists for the assistants to end their formation.

AS: Marcelo Frusin (Hellblazer, Vertigo), Leandro Fernandez (Queen & Country, Oni Press) and Francisco Parozinni (Dead to Right, Dark Horse) were your assistants. Do you feel you’ve influenced them in some way?

ER: It’s inevitable that I influenced them. Because they worked with someone for so long. They’re not completely formed yet and they need to learn. And, if there’s someone at their side that can show them the way, then it’s inevitable that they are influenced.

But they’re smart enough to let go of it. I think Marcelo, for instance, is doing it; in the beginning he resembled me a lot, and now he’s becoming different, little by little, and I’m sure he’ll find his way.
The same thing happened to me! Nowadays, I’m told Miller has influenced me, for instance, but Miller himself has told me “I’ve learn the black-and-white from Breccia”.

AS: And Muñoz?

ER: And Muñoz. Basically, I was influenced by Breccia and Muñoz. I always say the same: I like Miller’s work, it’s incredible, and he’s a great master, but my influences were Breccia and Muñoz.

AS: When you got to the United States you already had your own style.

ER: Yes. And I had already gone through several stages, trying out lines and flecks. I created my own style. I learnt how to manipulate the camera, the storytelling, the page layout…

AS: After Aliens you went to DC, but you had to literally knock at Axel Alonso’s door.

ER: Yeah, I tell that as a joke. I knew that Alonso was looking for me. A colleague, Ariel Olivetti, told me “there’s a DC editor looking for you”. It was Alonso, but I didn’t have his phone number, nor his fax number, only another editor’s.

So I was sending Alonso faxes, and he was right there, but he never got them.

Six month went by and I said “I can’t lose this opportunity! If there’s an editor looking for me, I have to go see him!” and I went.

And I went knocking on his door.

Obviously, I made an appointment first. You can’t just get into a publishing house without making an appointment first.

AS: Was there any particular reason why Alonso picked you to draw Johnny Double and 100 Bullets, something that would link you to detective story comics?

ER: Well, that’s like saying that Azzarello only writes detective stories, isn’t it?

AS: To France, Argentina and Italy you did different genres, but for those who only know your American work….

ER: Ah, OK, in the American market. Azzarello has written super-heroes, too. Right now, I’m doing Batman… Yeah! The story has a darker detective story feel to it than other writers’ stories, but that’s because Azzarello likes it that way.

I’m professional enough to do something different tomorrow, if I’m asked to.

I don’t like super-heroes because I don’t believe in them. I don’t believe in super-heroes, but I’d take the challenge to do Spider-Man or Superman.

AS: Was there any special reason for Alonso to hire you to do Johnny Double?

ER: With me, Alonso did something that editors usually don’t do, especially Alonso. With me, he overlooked steps. Usually, a new artist gets to do a short story, I mean, like a chapter or something, to see the artist’s reaction to the story. It’s a kind of adaptation, a way of introducing him to the works.

With me, he overlooked that step and gave me a mini-series (Johnny Double) because I showed him all the work I had published in Europe. He only knew my work with Aliens and some short stories for Heavy Metal. He liked my drawing, but when he saw all my work, he said “Dammit! It shows you’re a professional and you’re good for something more.” And so he gave me Johnny Double.

AS: What about your relation with Azzarello, did you get along right away?

ER: We got along right away because of what I told you before. I showed him, both him and Alonso, that I could do more than they asked me to; I could go beyond the script. I always go beyond the script, it’s more fun for me.

So I don’t know. I ask Azzarello not to tell me what’s going to happen in 100 BULLETS’ or in Batman’s next issue. With Azzarello I know the story, I have an idea, but I don’t like to know what’s going to happen.

AS: Aren’t you curious to find out how the series is going to end?

ER: No. Why? Because I feel more like a reader. I don’t read comics any more, nowadays. I mean I read and see what the authors show me, or my friends, or people related to my studio, but I don’t read it anymore.

I used to read a lot of comic books, but not anymore.

And since I don’t read it, I like to feel like a reader when I get down to drawing, and that’s a challenge.

AS: 100 Bullets was supposed to run for 12 issues, but now it’s going to run for 100 issues.

ER: Any new series has to have 12 issues, it’s a publisher’s rule. If the sales are up, it goes on; if it doesn’t, the title is dropped and you move on to something else.

AS: When did you decide that the series would have 100 issues?

ER: After a year we knew the sales were up and that it had a future.

AS: 100 issues mean six to seven years. Doesn’t the idea frighten you?

ER: No, quite the opposite; the idea of growing artistically with the series thrills me. It’s also a personal challenge. And besides, the possibility of the series developing and growing with me. Professionally, is also attractive, isn’t it?

AS: Broken City conceived as a OGN. Why did it become a monthly series?

ER: Because Jim Lee, who is both my friend and Brian’s friend, talked us into it. He likes our work and he talked us into going on with the series once he finished his run.

And then, well… Jim’s word has a lot of weight in the company, and he talked the editors into it; and when the editors asked us “You want it? Can we get it going?” Well it just speeded all the deadlines, and today I  have so little time that it’s almost too much to me. Before I came here [to Amadora, Portugal], I did 11 pages in just 8 days to conclude the 3rd issue. It’s too much!

But we were very late with 100 Bullets and Batman, because Batman was supposed to happen two years from now.

AS: Right now, how many pages do you do each month?

ER: 22 pages a month is something I do well and calmly. This month it was more, due to the deadlines. I never failed a deadline since I work in the United States. Azzarello’s the one who may be a bit late because he writes several stories, now that he’s signed a deal of exclusiveness with DC… but he also worked for Marvel, before that.

Since I was drawing 100 Bullets, I wasn’t interested in doing anything else, although I had many offers.

The problem was that we started getting late, because Azzarello couldn’t hand in the script on time, and when Batman came up, we were very late! So the editor suggested that 100 Bullets should come out bimonthly.

And now I’ve suggested, to gain some time with Batman, that I should stop doing a very detailed sketch, because I can ink a simple sketch directly. The way I worked, I used to do a detailed penciled sketch to show the editors. But now they’ve accepted the idea of me pencilling and inking directly over the pencil. Now they only see the finished pages. They can’t see my pencil work, but since they know me, they know how I work.

AS: Is there any character from the Batman Universe that you’d particularly like to draw?

ER: No, I really just know Penguin and Joker. For instance, I had to draw the Killer Kroc, and I had seen Jim Lee’s Killer Kroc, who had turned him almost into a dinosaur. I made him a bit more gangster-like, more human, although I believe that, historically, he used to be more human-like. But I didn’t attach myself too much to other artists’ work; I always try to make my work influence the others. For instance, in issue 3 Ventriloquist shows up and… Well, my assistant was blunt, and told me that the Ventriloquist wasn’t like that, he was chubbier, fat. O.K., I see the character’s characteristics and then I make them my way. I thought “what does a mad Ventriloquist look like?” So I drew him more tormented, more arrogant. Because he suffers from his madness, I drew him more independently, without getting much attached to what had already been done.

AS: Did you change your approach to the page layout, your drawing, to do Batman?

ER: That was my idea. Somehow, when I start something new, to me it’s always a challenge, a new challenge, and since it’s a challenge I see if I can change something. But I always end up thinking about the reader, so I try not to be aggressive.

My idea is to please the reader, first of all, get to him and capture him. Batman’s readers are different from the 100 Bullet’s readers. So I try to get [Batman’s] readers first, to attract them to 100 Bullets.
Anyway, I think we have a different product from what Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb had been doing, and we are sure to lose many readers, especially the younger ones, because our Batman is a more grown-up reading. So it won’t be possible to keep all the title’s readers.

AS: In an interview you said that manga were more attractive to kids than the super-heroes. What kind of manga have you read?

ER: None besides Akira. It’s just that manga is more attractive to children, to youths, because it gets to them through TV first.

Manga gets to us first through the image [anime] and only then through comic books. Although it’s not much read in our countries, manga captures the kids, something that super-heroes used to be able to do. Nowadays super-heroes readers teenagers and older, but the kids start by reading manga, which is OK. I think that, when these kids grow up, they’re going to open their minds to other things and they’ll end up reading what we’re doing, 100 Bullets, which is for an adult public.

So, anyway, manga will attract more readers for comic books.

AS: Why don’t you draw covers?

ER: Because a cover has to sell, and that means it needs time to be done. Basically, I want to tell stories and that already takes much of my time and I wouldn’t, I couldn’t possibly have time to do covers. I’d rather have someone who has the time doing them, someone who will do them better. And there are many.

AS: Have you ever thought about writing your own stories?

ER: I never had the need; I always had many good writers. Besides, I like drawing. I’m sure someday I’ll write a story, and it will surely be drawn without any text.

AS: Do you prefer seeing your work published in color or in black-and-white?

ER: I work with the black-and-white without thinking about color. This is because, first, I come from a black-and-white school, the Argentine school. Second, the American market – where I now have a great colorist [Patrícia Mulvihill] who managed to see what are the right color to use with my drawing. In the American market you never know what kind of color you’re going to get: it can be great or it can be lousy. And if you don’t get a good colorist your work can lose quality because of the color. So I just think on a black-and-white level.

AS: What are you thinking about doing after you finish Batman and 100 Bullets?

ER: Right now I’m thinking about finishing Batman and continuing with 100 Bullets. I find 100 Bullets much more attractive. It has a very interesting story to follow, when you’re drawing, but mostly we think alike – both me and Azzarello – if we started it, we finish it.

This interview published for the first time in  Bizarro, a Portuguese e-zine, in 2003.


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