Friday, September 25, 2009

The Surfing the Bleed Interview: Joe Quinones

Joe Quinones may not be a household name yet, but give it time. The artist on DC's Teen Titans GO! and most recently the man in charge of bringing Kurt Busiek's Green Lantern to life for Wednesday Comics, comics' new Joe Q. brings Silver Age style to the modern age. Surfing the Bleed was lucky enough to get Quinones to sit down for an interview. The results are fun and beardtastic. Enjoy!

Me: Hey Joe! Welcome to Surfing the Bleed. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for the fans!

Joe Quinones: Anytime.

Me: Could you give the readers out there a quick recap of who you are and what work you've done in the industry thus far?

JQ: Well, my name is Joe Quinones and I'm a freelance artist and educator living just outside of Boston. Over the past two years or so, I've been slowly breaking into the mainstream comics scene with work for DC comics, Marvel, Boom! studios and Devil's Due Publishing. Also, I really love Star Wars.

How did you first get involved in art? I saw some of your "long time ago" blog posts. It looks like you've been interested in art for quite some time. That's a pretty frightening rendering of a T-800, by the way.

JQ: Oh, thank you. Believe me, there's far more terrifying and embarrassing drawings I have from that era. But yes, I've been drawing for some time. My mom has a closet full of my scribblings dating back to before I entered the public school system.

I know at times artists have to battle against the impression that their life's goal is frivolous or unrealistic. Did you encounter that at all as you grew up? Was your family supportive of your artistic goals?

JQ: I was really lucky in that regard, actually. My folks were always extremely supportive of me and my art growing up. I think they recognized an ability in me early on, and did everything they could to encourage me to strengthen that skill and ultimately pursue a career in it. I was constantly entering this art contest and the next, taking extracurricular art classes and so on. For me, it was never a question whether I would be an artist when I grew up, and I owe that completely to the ol' madre and padre.

Was there, do you recall, a specific class or a specific teacher that really pushed you to pursue art and convinced you that you had a really special talent that you should work to develop?

JQ: Totally. My high school art department was really strong. Specifically, my AP Art teacher Mrs. Fitchett went to great lengths to book representatives from various art schools for portfolio reviews and slideshows. She, as well as my drawing and painting teachers, Mr. Massa and Mr. Winter, were very much instrumental in my forming a portfolio of work strong enough to get me into a good art school. They're the best.

Talk a bit about your college education. You went to the Rhode Island Institute of Design, correct? I'm assuming you studied illustration while you were there. Did they offer any courses directly geared toward the creation of sequential art and did you know at that point that you wanted to be a professional comics artist?

JQ: Yup, I ended up going to the Rhode Island School of Design, or RISD as it's sometimes known. There I majored in Illustration and had a wonderful time. RISD creates a really proactive atmosphere, where all of the students and teachers thrive off of one another. Challenging each other to work harder, do better. A built in network of constructive criticism and positive energy. It was a great experience. As far as sequential art goes, it's something I had always had an interest in pursuing, but by the time I got to RISD it certainly had faded into the background as a notion for a career path. However when I took David Mazzucchelli's Comics course that all changed. David taught a class that stressed clarity in storytelling over all else with an enthusiasm and love for the medium that was contagious. He really made me fall in love with comics all over again. I can't say I took his class and instantly knew I would then go into comics, but I certainly wouldn't be where I am today, or know what I know about comics had I not taken his class. It was really invaluable.

This seems like a good time for my favorite question. Do you remember your first comic book? What sort of an effect did it have on you?

JQ: Um... I can't remember exactly... but it was definitely a Batman story. It was either a weird oversize comic about Batman and the Man-Bat, or it was a comic about Batman discovering and stopping a kid from swiping the wheels off the Batmobile... Yeah.... Maybe it was Jason Todd? Yes. It was Jason Todd. Thank you, internet!

Definitely the superior Robin origin story. Chuckle.

How did you get discovered? I know that you've been a regular contributor to Dean Trippe's Project Rooftop contests (Batman, ftw!). Did your contributions to that site help you find work? What was your first professional gig?

JQ: Oh thanks! Glad you dug the Batman redesign. That site is so much fun. I know Dean's a busy guy, but man oh man I wish running that site was his job. I'd love to just endlessly click through my favorite artists drawing up their own takes on my favorite characters. He's a saint for running that site and keeping the awesome coming.
As far as work goes, I don't know that any of my redesigns for the site ever directly led to a job, but they certainly brought me a lot more visibility and I'm grateful for that.
My first mainstream gig was working on Teen Titans GO! for DC's kids line. Mark Chiarello landed the job for me and I remember beforehand while I was sitting with him in his office, he was flipping through my portfolio and mentioned seeing my Wonder Woman redesign from P:R online - so there you go.

You're currently working on the ambitious (and awesome) Wednesday Comics for DC. It must have been such an honor to be asked to participate in this, and your Green Lantern strip with Kurt Busiek is creating some serious "Next Big Thing" buzz for you. Can you talk about what the experience of working on this project has been like and how huge it is to be able to draw a Kurt Busiek script?

JQ: Well, actually, I took so long to answer this interview, that Wednesday Comics is all done now.. (Sorry!) Anyway, I don't know about me being the "next big" anything, but it was certainly an honor to have been invited to work on the book. To be collaborating with Mark Chiarello and Kurt Busiek on top of that was like a dream. That they both wanted to work with me in the first place, is still mind boggling to me. It's really humbling to work with such giants.

Me: I've discussed what I'll refer to as the "DC Effect" with various friends and creators, and it seems to be a consensus that working in that universe just feels really natural. Almost like there's this steady flow of stories and all you have to do is tap into it. Do you agree with that sentiment? Do you feel comfortable working with such iconic figures?

JQ: Yeah, I'd say it's felt pretty natural. My first introduction to comics was with Superman and Batman, so certainly there was a nice familiarity there.

Were you more a Marvel or DC guy as a kid? Why?

JQ: Well, really I like elements of both of the big two. The flawed, more reality based characters of Marvel, and the grander, operatic characters of DC. I think what it really comes down to is classic versus cool. Of the two, in general, I was more often drawn to DC as a kid. Their characters were larger than life. Modern myths. There was less grey area there, and as a kid, I think that really appealed to me.

Me: Could you speak to your process for a bit? What kind of workspace do you have, what sort of environment do you find most productive? Do you prefer a more structured, detailed style of scripting or would you rather see a script from a writer that leaves much of the visual storytelling in your hands?

JQ: I draw at a boring old drafting table in my studio in my apartment. Generally I like to have some sorta background noise while I'm working - whether it be a podcast, music or an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (At this point, the interviewer would like to point out that Joe Quinones is his new best friend.) Working with scripts, looking at more structured and detailed versus something more loose, I'd say something somewhere in between. Where there is a some clear focus in the script, but I have a bit of creative license in figuring out how to illustrate it.

Me: Let's shift gears for just a moment. With each passing year, the comic book industry shifts more toward digital publishing. Could you give your opinion on where you see the industry headed during the digital age?

JQ: Meh. Certainly the digital world can not and should not be discounted as a valid forum to view and read comics. For me though, nothing beats the tactile experience of picking up and holding a comic in your hands while you read it. It makes the experience that much richer. Kindles be damned.

Me: The main point of these interviews is to get some perspective on "breaking in" from some of the industry's best young talent. What advice can you give an upcoming creator trying to make his way in comics?

JQ: Take your criticisms and rejections on the chin. Keep an open mind. Challenge yourself and keep drawing, keep drawing, keep drawing.

Me: Just for a bit of fun, is there any creator out there today that you'd really love to work with? I do offer cookies (or cupcakes, if that's more your speed) for anybody who answers this question with "Brett Williams." Ha!

JQ: Oh believe me, if there's one thing I don't need more of, it's cookies. Other creators... geez. Too many to name really. I love Ed Brubaker's work. Mark Waid. Would love to work with Grant Morrison. I don't know. Again, it was a dream to have worked with Kurt, and I would love to work with him again. There's another writer who is hero of mine that I'll be collaborating on a longer project with this year, but I can't give any details yet I'm afraid.

From one bearded creator to another, you have a pretty impressive beard, sir. How important do you think it is that comic creators finally shuck the clean shaven look and fully embrace their inner mountain man?

JQ: Oh thank you. I think it should be a prerequisite that all comic artists sport a beard at least of equal quality to my own. I'm kidding - what am I a beard-nazi? I mostly just have this thing because I'm lazy - and my girlfriend likes it. Actually she won't let me shave it. Anyway, I do appreciate a man that can grow a nice beard. Though I'm not beard exclusive. I have some friends that grow a mighty impressive mustache. I just can't pull that off. (The interviewer would like to point out that he can, in fact, pull that off.)

Me: Last but certainly not least. You grew up in New England. Red Sox fan?

JQ: NO. Actually I'm from New York originally, so if I had to be painted any kind of baseball fan it would be a Yankees/Mets one (sorry, Kurt). I'm not really a baseball fan though. If I follow it at all, it would usually just be during playoffs and by proxy of my Dad.

Me: Thanks again for your time Joe. Good luck with all your endeavors in the future!

JQ: Thanks! Beard Pride!

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