Smash Pages Q&A: Joseph Galluccio

The senior art director for LEGO talks about his first comic, ‘Space is Cold: Escape Velocity.’

Joseph Galluccio is a newcomer to comics, but he’s far from an artistic novice. A senior art director at LEGO, and he’s had his paintings and other artwork shown in galleries in various states. His first comic, which is out now is Space is Cold: Escape Velocity. The story of Betty, her dog Donut and their kid-friendly adventures, which, as set up in the first issue, demonstrate that Galluccio has a lot more story planned.

Galluccio and I share a favorite coffee house, which is how we met, and we recently spoke about how making a comic required him to approach his work differently, his lifelong love of space and science fiction, and what he does at LEGO.

How did you come to art and to comics?

I alluded a little bit to my story of being an artist in the introduction. At a young age I was really taken with Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars. Anytime I could watch anything that was retro or space related, I would. My parents pushed me to go to art school, because that’s what I was interested in. I went to a fine arts school and took the illustration track, but my illustration teacher was a children’s book artist and he was more of a realist. He had recognized that I had more of a cartoon style in my work and he pushed me to do more with that. I dove into painting and was an oil painter for many years. I showed locally and in New York and Boston. I was more of a landscape oil painter which is quite a contrast to my creative interests now. I had worked at LEGO around the year 2000 as a freelancer for a short time. Around 2006 I went back to school for animation at the School of Visual Arts in New York. It was one of the best things I ever did for my artistic development. After I went to school at SVA, I accepted a job at LEGO. Everybody has fond memories of LEGO, so why wouldn’t I want to do that?

In your day job, you’re the senior art director at LEGO?

There are several senior art directors there. I work for the in-house agency and we handle all the creative needs in North America. Any kind of marketing or promotions or animation or development. There’s quite a bit that’s made globally for LEGO that we do locally here in the U.S. It’s really fun. I’ve had a really diverse career since I’ve been there. I started out there doing packaging and working on global campaigns, doing television commercials, working on animation for anything you would see on YouTube like stop motion or the 3-D animations shorts we would do. The last couple years I’ve been working on pretty much everything we do in the US for print, digital, social media, whatever. I’m working on LEGO Star Wars now, which is an awesome job.

On your website and blog, you have art for this going back years. Have you been working on this for years? What’s the story behind Space is Cold?

I hate to admit it sometimes, but I have been working on it for years. It started out with the character of the girl and then the dog came along. It was Betty and Donut and their different iterations over the years. About two and a half years ago I decided to start working on the comic itself. I had a lot of artwork and I had this storyline in my head so I sat down and worked on the story and developed it page by page and it just evolved from there. As far as the current visual style you see, I explored a lot of directions over the years. Because I am an illustrator there’s some posters and prints that I’ve made that I haven’t put online yet of the characters at different stages. It’s been a great development process – for me, anyway.

So over the years you were using the characters and experimenting with the setting and the tone and playing with different ideas?

Yeah – Why are they out here? What are they doing in space? Why is space cold?

The comic is called Space is Cold – which is a truism – but where did the title come from?

Space is cold. I don’t know. Just thinking of cold as a metaphor for loneliness. If you’ve read the comic you know that right now it’s just the two characters so I haven’t really developed the world yet. Is space really that lonely? They’re going to find out. I’ve always had a passion for space as I alluded to in the introduction. My dad worked on the Apollo missions and the shuttle missions as an engineer. Growing up I’d hear about all the different missions he worked on and all the stuff that they developed. When you grow up in that kind of environment, you have mission patches all over the place and pictures on the walls. My dad always likes to say that I was sitting on his lap when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. That shows you how old I am. It’s part of who I am. I’m a big science and scifi geek. I watched the SpaceX launch today. Well, the replay, because I didn’t get up at 2:30 in the morning. It’s still very exciting.

As far as the tone, how early on did you figure that out?

I did things a little bit backwards because this is my first comic. I had started writing and I realized, I’m missing a lot of parts to my story. I needed more backstory about how they got there and where they’re going. I started going back and writing it. Being an illustrator and visual artist it’s really difficult to do everything visually and sometimes the story will get lost. I should have known because I have a background in animation, you have to start with the story first. I went back and figured out what was happening and where they were going and who they might be.

So you had the characters and the concept, and it was a process of figuring out the story?

Exactly, and it’s something that’s evolving as I go. As I started writing the story and drawing it, I realized there was this comedy duo going on between the dog and Betty, and where Donut is the straight man. Sometimes you will see him act like a buffoon, but most of the time he’s got this deadpan look and setting up a joke.

After playing with the characters, it’s a different thing to make short work or images with a story than making a longer comic with a narrative.

That was an interesting thing, too. As I started doing the first few pages I got feedback from some friends of mine who are artists and they were saying, visually this looks a lot like your illustration style and it’s very detailed, are you going to be able to draw the whole book like this? I was always confident that I’d be able to do it and then I realized why it took me so long to finish.

Who are the comics and the artists you read and you like?

I started getting back into comics a few years ago. I saw Black Science and Matteo Scalero’s artwork is beautiful. My friends always laugh because I’m drawn to a comic because of the visual style of the artist – and if I like the story, I’ll keep reading. From there, I started reading the old Guardians of the Galaxy comics. I really like Scottie Young. I like his sense of humor and his style. One of the things I find interesting about the artists that I gravitate towards visually is that they’re very expressive and loose with their ink and I’m not. [laughs] I’ve always been that way. It’s interesting to figure out why I’m drawn to that. My style is clean and maybe by the time I’m making issue 5 I’ll loosen up.

You’ve done other kinds of artwork. When you sat down to do this, were you thinking, “I should try something different here, I should play toward my strengths here, I want to work differently in this aspect”?

I experimented a little. I would complete some pages and then I would go back and try to play with the style or different ways to color them. Nothing ever seemed right to me. I did a little exploration with heavy black ink where the shading would be and it just didn’t feel right for this character. As I said I’m a freshman to the comics world so it’s interesting to explore everything that’s possible.

Do you have this bigger story plotted out?

In very broad strokes. As I said, I probably should write that and figure that out to make sure that my narrative and story arc flows nicely and there aren’t missing pieces. When I was a visual artist doing one image or multiple images, your payoff is that visual right there. People can explore the story on their own, bring in their own subjective backstory to whatever that imagery is. With the comics story I want to make sure that it’s not just about the entertainment of the visuals but that people are engaged with reading the story.

Did you target the book to a certain audience? Because it’s all-ages and there’s nothing inappropriate about it.

I’m glad you noticed that. It wasn’t on purpose, but I think it’s working. It’s something that I have to recognize as the creator of the comic. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve read it to their young children and they really liked it. Being a freshman to the comics world, I never thought about writing “all ages” on the comic, but I’ve had a lot of adults ask me if it was safe for their kids. I had to think, “What do you mean by that?” But there’s a lot of comics out there with violent or inappropriate content or imagery that’s not suitable for kids. When I’m writing issue #2, I’ve had to look at my vocabulary. I had someone tell me that the word “hell” was inappropriate, which I understand. I wasn’t allowed to say it as a child.

Has the comic been out for long?

I officially launched it in November at Designer Con in California. I was out there with a couple friends who are artists and we shared a booth. It was a great opportunity and it was a really great experience, but it was not a publication show or a comics show. I’ll probably do Boston Comic Con and hopefully issue #2 will be done by then as well. I’m focusing on that right now.

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