Smash Pages Q&A: Eric-Nolen Weathington on ‘Modern Masters: Paolo Rivera’

While Eric Nolen-Weathington’s Modern Masters Volume 30: Paolo Rivera was released late in 2014, this has been my first opportunity to chat with one of my favorite interviewers in the comics industry about his latest projects. Added bonus, I had no idea that Rivera was mentored by David Mazzucchelli, so that added another layer of enjoyment for this interview.

For fans of Jim Aparo, there is good news about the long-awaited Modern Masters edition. More immediately though the next Modern Masters subject will be J.H. Williams III.

Thanks to Eric for the interview.

Tim O’Shea: Who picked the cover choice and how was it selected?

Eric-Nolen Weathington: Paolo unfortunately did not have time to do a new piece for the cover. He was in the early stages of working on a commission at the time that we were hoping could double as the cover, a really nice Spider-Man piece. But it soon became apparent that the painting wouldn’t get done in time for the book solicitation. So, Paolo went through some of his previous commissions and found three that he liked enough to use for the cover. I did some sample layouts with each of the images, and it was clear that the FF painting worked the best, so that’s what we went with. Paolo’s wife, April, who is a graphic designer, then did the revised final cover that ended up on the book.

Did you know David Mazzucchelli taught him before starting research on this book. Am I right in thinking it proved to an enlightening topic?

Yes, I discovered in my research that Paolo had taken Mazzucchelli’s class at RISD, but I didn’t know the story of Mazzucchelli letting Paolo use his first job for Marvel as a class project, or that Mazzucchelli was critiquing the job as Paolo was working on it. I was just hoping for a little insight into Mazzucchelli’s teaching style, so that was a great bonus.

I would love to do a Modern Masters book on Mazzucchelli. I tried approaching him through a mutual acquaintance a few years ago, but I had no luck. He seems to be one of those guys who doesn’t like to talk about his work, at least not in that type of forum. I’ve run into that roadblock a few times unfortunately.

What Rivera treasures did he unearth that thrilled you?

I love looking at artists’ sketchbooks and thumbnails—the preliminary work where they’re either playing around with ideas, or fine-tuning a concept. There’s usually more energy in those drawings that what ends up on the printed page, plus it’s a look inside their creative process. I mean, that what the Modern Masters books are all about, really. For whatever reason, I really loved this silly Punisher sketch he did as a warm-up to a Spider-Man story. But I think my favorite of that stuff was this page of sketches he did for a Spider-Man/Sandman story he ended up not being able to do. His Sandman was soooo Ditko, and there was this little sketch where Sandman is sitting on a tiny deserted island, and he’s part of the island. The pose is both funny and sad, and it made me wish he could have drawn that story.

Also, being able to zoom in on a high-res scan of Paolo’s cover for Daredevil #10 was worth the price of admission alone.

Who looked more forward to chatting about H.J. Ward, you or Rivera?

Well, we hadn’t talked about him beforehand, so I don’t think Paolo knew we’d be talking about him. I’m a fan of the old pulp magazine artists, and Ward is one of my favorites, so I was very interested in what drew Paolo to his work. We probably could have gone at least a couple of pages talking about Ward, but I had to keep things rolling.

Were there any topics he was reluctant to talk about or was he open to any topic?

No, he was very open. He’s the one who brought up his breakup with his then-girl, now-wife, and how it affected his work and deadlines. Maybe that was easier to talk about since it all ended up positively, but no, there were no issues at all. Of course, I’m not digging for dirt in these books—that’s not what they’re about. But I do like to discuss emotional topics when they affect, either positively or negatively, the artist’s creative process, so I was very happy that Paolo didn’t downplay any of that.

Was it more critical to talk to him about the collaborative dynamics on DD with Waid or Wacker?

I think they’re equally important. I mean, when an artist is doing work-for-hire with Marvel or DC, they’re going to be working with both writers and editors—it’s unavoidable. And both can require the artist to make compromises in their work on some level. So, I think it’s worth discussing when those dynamics break down, and when those dynamics create a book as wonderful as Daredevil.

Did you dictate what topics that were covered or did Rivera have a say?

Paolo was familiar with the books, already owning a few, so he knew going in my general approach to the interviews, and we didn’t really need to discuss any of that beforehand. But I knew from his blog that Paolo is a process guy and likes to talk about that stuff, so I thought it would be great to take advantage of that and break down one cover in detail. I talked that over with Paolo before we started the interviews, so that he’d have time to document something if he didn’t have enough material like that on hand. Paolo was on board for it, and he picked the cover we used and wrote the text to go along with it, and it worked out pretty well, I think.

Any chance you know the backstory on the Madman (pg 125)?

That was a pin-up for Mike Allred’s Madman in Your Face 3-D Special that came out last November. Mike, another Modern Master subject by the way, likes to have other artists whose work he likes participate when he does projects like this. Mike asked Paolo if he could do something, Paolo was honored to be asked and said yes, and this was the result. Paolo also colored it, and for the Madmanbook, Christian LeBlanc converted it to a 3-D image. I don’t know if you’ve seen the book, but it was a cool little project. I thought it was a nice touch that Mike had Marcos Martin’s pin-up on the opposite page from Paolo’s.

Care to discuss your current design work, or whatever you work you have on the horizon?

I’ve always got more Modern Masters books in the pipeline, but none at the design stage yet. J.H. Williams III should be the next one up though. I’ve got two design jobs on my desk at the moment. One is issue #31 of DRAW! magazine. I’ve been the designer for several years now, and it’s been nice to work with so many different artists there.

The other project is a book written by my good buddy and sometimes collaborator, George Khoury, called Comic Book Fever. On the surface, it’s a love letter to George’s golden age, the mid-’70s to mid-’80s. He covers all, and I mean all, the things that made comics great during that period—the top artists, the coolest stories, and even the best of the ads, like Jack Davis’ “Street Ball” ad for Spalding basketballs. But when you look a little closer, the book is more than just a trip down memory lane. Although it’s not directly addressed, the book is also about how much the comic book industry changed in the ten years between 1976 and 1986. It’s been a blast to work on, but it’s labor-intensive. It’ll be out next spring, and I can hardly wait to get some reader feedback on it. I think people are going to love it.

And the long-awaited Jim Aparo book is getting closer to completion. We won’t be announcing a release date until the book is completely done, and there’s still a lot of work to be done, but the end is within sight now.

If you were to settle on a percentage would you say the Aparo book is 75% done? 

I’d say the text is about 80% done, but there’s also the design to do. I had done some design work for the two previous false starts, but I’ll probably end up having to scrap almost all of that.

Refresh my memory, why has the book had such a long journey.

For those that don’t know, the book is ten years in the making. It was started back when Jim was still alive, but he passed away just a couple of weeks before we were set to start the interviews. Needless to say, this required a complete retooling of the book. And during the process of figuring out what the book should become and how we could achieve that, more obstacles arose. I won’t go into all the details, but both myself and my then co-author were thrown into situations where we had no time to work on the book. It was through no fault of our own or of anyone else. It was just a couple of those curveballs life throws at you from time to time—the type of curveballs that get away from the pitcher and bean you in the elbow, and you’re not sure you can stay in the game. I think you’re familiar with those.

Anyway, long story short, for many years and a few different partners, we’ve had trouble wrangling the time and the material we needed to make a book worthy of Jim Aparo. But over the past two or three years, we’ve been able to get the book back on track, and we’ve been making slow and fairly steady progress, and now we’re finally to the point where the monkey I’ve been carrying on my back these past ten years is starting to loosen his grip and feel a little lighter.

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