Conversations with Creators is a collaborative interview series designed to understand the processes and inner workings of the artist, their creations, and how their work impacts the comic booking industry. Each meeting is candid and personal, seeking to explore previously unexplored avenues of insight.
Ramón Pérez is the creator of online webcomics Kukuburi and ButterNutSquash and Eisner award-winning illustrator for Archaia Entertainment’s Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand. He has illustrated for both DC and Marvel Comics, and is currently penciling The Amazing Spiderman: Learning to Crawl and Hawkeye.
Stuart Warren: Thanks for meeting with me Ramón, it’s good to finally get a chance to meet you! I’ve had the opportunity of following your works for a while now.
Ramón Pérez: My pleasure.
Stuart Warren: So what got you interested in illustration growing up?
Ramón Pérez: In general, as in an appreciation of, or as a career potential?
Stuart Warren: As an appreciation. Like what drew you to it?
Ramón Pérez: Growing up the art that really appealed to me was either in the form of newspaper comic strips; that of Hagar the Horrible, Garfield, Frank and Ernest, and later, when it arrived, Calvin and Hobbes. Also there was the advertising and editorial art I would see in Reader’s Digest that really drew me in as well. I think, with the newspaper strips, it was the element of story and humor, the progression and result in a punchline. With the Reader’s Digest art, it was the compositions that attracted me. So the good art really stood out, while the duller pieces, I passed on unenthusiastically.
Stuart Warren: You are also restricted by space as well. So you really have to get it right in a concise way.
Ramón Pérez: Yes, there was an economical use of space and story; nothing was wasted.
Stuart Warren: I used to read a lot of Gary Larson growing up myself.
Ramón Pérez: I used to read a lot of Bloom County, and then his second series which I’m blanking on. Or hold it, was that Gary?
Stuart Warren: Gary was Far Side.
Ramón Pérez: That’s right!
Stuart Warren: Haha.
Ramón Pérez: Far Side I enjoyed, but wasn’t one I was excited by. I think the artwork of the other strips drew me in more, though I did enjoy Far Side more as an adult.
Stuart Warren: Well I look at the work of strips, like Mutts or Far Side and marvel at how stylized they are. Gary really seems to have the edge of an illustrator
Ramón Pérez: Agreed. I think the humor, as a kid, went over my head a bit.
Stuart Warren: So when you began drawing, did your work take on a simpler approach at first, sort of building off the fundamentals?
Ramón Pérez: When I first began my art was far simpler. I would draw things from life, but I also drew inspiration from these newspaper strips, as well as some European comics; a stand out was a Spanish one called Mortadello y Filemon. I recall around grade 5 or 6 doing my own “treasury edition” of my own cast of cartoon characters that I had created. One particular standout was titled “Spoof,” which was a strange combination of ALF and Garfield.
Stuart Warren: Haha! What was it about?
Ramón Pérez: If I recall correctly, it was some strange dog like character that was actually an alien, who was the pet of this human. The dog also had a mullet. HA! It was very weird. But this treasury edition that my friend and I created had probably the exploits of a dozen or more characters between us. I should really dig that thing up…Do a modern take, perhaps?
Stuart Warren: Yeah, I’d read it.
Ramón Pérez: Haha! Don’t make promises you won’t keep.
Stuart Warren: I wonder actually if it would be like Kukuburi? That follows a very strip like formula as well.
Ramón Pérez: Kukuburi is a whole other thing. It’s more of an segmented graphic novel. It’s more like ButterNutSquash, which was my first foray into the online comics world. It was strip format based, with a punchline style format.
Stuart Warren: Did you draw any particular inspiration from the strips you grew up with to write it?
Ramón Pérez: Not really. The time had passed between reading those back in my youth, to the time I created Kukuburi. A bigger inspiration for Kukuburi was The Adventures of Little Nemo in Slumberland. In regards to ButterNutSquash, I’d say the format of Garfield, and Calvin and Hobbes, was a big inspiration though. The economy of space and that punchline element was very important –utilizing each panel to its utmost—whereas with Kukuburi, I tended to draw things out more.
Stuart Warren: I’ve noticed that as you’ve expanded, so has your work, as far as the space you are using. Tale of Sand, obviously due to its format seems to really play with the space. Was that a freeing experience to really cut loose and test your skills as an artist?
Ramón Pérez: Obviously you work with the canvas you are given. What I say about Tale of Sand, when asked in regards to that, is that, when working with Archaia and Stephen Christy, is that they gave me the opportunity to do what I do best, unhindered. I think, while working on Marvel and DC projects prior to that, I always felt inhibited by the script I was given,like I was having to work with a set of parameters. This could have been mentally self-imposed, subconsciously, as I was new to these companies and felt I had to adhere to the script set out by the editors and writers. But with Tale of Sand, I was creating the canvas I was to work on. So that confinement was lifted, I just fell into it naturally, and the schedule was so fast, I didn’t really have time to think. I went on instinct.
Stuart Warren: Jack Kirby, had to deal with the same issues when he was doing the Fourth World stuff back in the 70s.
Ramón Pérez: It’s an interesting scenario. Since Tale of Sand, I’ve only worked on “plot style” or the “Marvel style script,” which has allowed me that continued freedom. It’s amazing what you can do given free reign, but that said, I know a lot of artists in comics that don’t work well with the “Marvel style” script. For me, I think it was a return to form—my natural state—as I was creating my own comics, and webcomics, far before I began working for Marvel or DC.
Stuart Warren: The plot script, the Marvel style, seems to be more in favor of the artist rather than the writer. But do you still enjoy working with the writer to try and imagine what is in the writer’s mind during a particular scene? Sort of how a director of photography works with the director?
Ramón Pérez: I always enjoy the collaboration between the writer and artist. It gives me insights into different styles of storytelling, as each writer has his own methodology. But I think these days, comics have become writer heavy. The best comics come out of the true collaborations, where there is a communication and a back and forth within the creative team from the ground up. Being handed a script and being told “do this” does not, for me, lend inspiration. Being given a script, and being told, change what you need to in order to tell the best story we can, is a different thing all together. Better yet, is communication during the actual story development process. Now, I know, this can’t always happen due to the tight timeline and assembly line schedule of modern superhero comics.
Stuart Warren: What you’re describing sounds to me a lot like Joe the Barbarian, Sean Murphy and Grant Morrison’s pet project.
Ramón Pérez: Joe the Barbarian is a good example, where the writer, so inspired by what the artist was doing, expanded the story. Other great examples are Azzarello and Risso on 100 Bullets. Where Risso would take scenes visually in his own direction, to add excitement or suspense, and then Azzarello would riff off of them. This is where the character of Lono actually came from.
Stuart Warren: Oh really? I had no idea. So would you say, if you were to work with a big name writer like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, or Grant Morrison, that you might be reluctant to collaborate? Only because the writer’s presence would overshadow your work?
Ramón Pérez: I don’t think I’d be reluctant; It really depends on the freedom that would be allowed me. I’ve been spoiled. Aside from a project or two, I’ve been blessed with very talented, and collaborative, writers. Given the right subject matter, and story, I would gladly work on a project with any of the aforementioned writers. I would not work on it, just because it’s them. I would have to be into whatever the concept is from the ground up. I’ve enjoyed many of their works, but some have also done nothing for me.
Stuart Warren: I think that’s interesting. A lot of projects in the comics world are driven by the spectacle of a big name, but not necessarily a big idea.
Ramón Pérez: I’m more about the idea than the name. I’ve been offered batman stories in the past that I’ve turned down because the story didn’t interest me. And trust me, I’d love to work on batman!
Stuart Warren: So do you fancy yourself both a writer and an illustrator? Could you do both simultaneously and really take on a big project?
Ramón Pérez: Very much so. I think in mainstream comics, I’m seen more of as an illustrator, because that’s the nature of the business. I fill in a segment of the assembly line process. I’m not being negative about this. I love that I do what I am able to do, and I am lucky to work with creators, writers, and editors, which have given me my utmost freedom. From Captain America and the first thirteen, to John Carter: The Gods of Mars, to Wolverine and the X-Men, then onto Learning to Crawl, and now on Hawkeye, it’s a thrilling experience. I love the sense of collaboration. My true self is a storyteller, the writer and artist, or cartoonist of yesteryear; Alex Raymond and the like.
Stuart Warren: I would of died if you had a guest appearance on Six Gun Gorilla, other than the cover variants obviously.
Ramón Pérez: Haha. I would have loved too! But yes, I could do both. I wrote and drew a graphic novel in 1999 for a rug company titled; machinations of doom… Sorry, autocorrect; Not RUG, but rather RPG. Tale of Sand, though working from a screenplay, was me adapting said work. Striping down the screenplay and reworking into a graphic novel.
Stuart Warren: Haha! I was going to say… You could do one for a vacuum cleaner called “Eat my dust.”
Ramón Pérez: A comic for a rug company, now that would be an interesting challenge. Haha!
Stuart Warren: Well, you are in good company. Jason Brubaker’s reMIND is a lot about what you’re talking about: an illustrator taking hold and having full control over the process. Being able to write and illustrate is very conducive for the indie world, which I’ve seen you able to thrive in.
Ramón Pérez: I’m not familiar with reMIND, but I’m officially curious…
Stuart Warren: It’s very good. I was actually introduced to your work through my friend Phil, who was really in to reMIND and found you through other online comic projects.
Ramón Pérez: Oh… so reMIND is online?
Stuart Warren: Yeah. It’s a two volume graphic novel that was syndicated online.
Ramón Pérez: And I’ve googled it… That’s essentially what Kukuburi is. What’s online is part 1, of three. I just was sidetracked with mainstream work, but have been working on the side, in order to return.
Stuart Warren: Would you consider doing any Kickstarter campaigns?
Ramón Pérez: No. I don’t like the rewards and accountability element. I know myself, and how life can go. It’s a lot of pressure to fulfill some of these Kickstarter campaigns. I’m not talking about the final product, but rather everything else promised in the campaign to get the funding. If I could hire someone else to take care of all that, then maybe, but I’d rather spend my time creating the initial work, rather than doing pinups, mailing packages, and so forth.
Stuart Warren: I’ve heard this from other creators actually. It’s a “swag” mentality.
Ramón Pérez: Yeah, not my cup of tea.
Stuart Warren: They feel that the final product is cheapened by the rewards.
Ramón Pérez: In my mind, the final product is the reward. You are donating to that. I’ve donated to a few Kickstarters and waived the gifts, and told the creators to send me the final product as that’s what I’m interested in.
Stuart Warren: I’ve also heard the approach that Brian K Vaughan did with his Private Eye comic, where you offer up your content based on donations.
Ramón Pérez: Interesting, haha. Once again, not familiar.
Stuart Warren: Brian is the writer of Saga.
Ramón Pérez: Oh! I know who he is… Haha! I’m just not familiar with his Private Eye comic. I’ve been reading, and enjoying, his work for years!
Stuart Warren: Haha. *Whew*
Stuart Warren: Well Ramon, you’ve been a good sport. I’ll let you go with one last question!
Ramón Pérez: Ha! Already? Time flies!
Stuart Warren: It does! I’m curious though, what would you like to hear god say to you when you get to the pearly gates?
Ramón Pérez: Haha…
Ramón Pérez: “Glad to see you had a good time.”
Stuart Warren: Thank you very much Ramon, it’s been great having you.
Ramón Pérez: My pleasure.