Creator Q&A: comic book artist Patrick Zircher

I was recently lucky enough to catch up with comic book artist Patrick Zircher to shoot the breeze about all things comics. Patrick is a veteran of the comics scene, first breaking into the industry in the late 1980s working for Eclipse Comics, before going on to pencil and ink titles for industry heavyweights DC and Marvel from the 1990s onwards.

Most recently, he has collaborated with writer Benjamin Percy on Green Arrow, with the first issue of their run garnering near-universal critical acclaim. Patrick is also an active member of the comic industry’s Twitter community, with followers enjoying his forthright style and deep insight into the comics craft.

I’d like to thank Patrick for taking the time out of his busy schedule to take part in this interview, and recommend you all check out the latest issue of Green Arrow if you haven’t already!

Captain America and Hawkeye by Patrick Zircher

Over the course of your career, you’ve illustrated most (if not all) of the iconic comic book characters at both DC and Marvel, including Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man and more. How do you go about approaching these classic characters in a fresh and exciting way, given the decades of existing artwork that already defines them?

My first goal is to tell a good story. I don’t worry much about what’s come before with a character. Some of them were created over 75 years ago and have been in thousands of stories and some of them have traits reflected in dozens of other characters.

So I’d rather focus on making a great comic, something in the here and now that the reader will look forward to each month. Fortunately, every artist is a little different, sees storytelling differently, approaches drawing individually with their own emphasis on form, light, composition. So the freshness, if artists are true to themselves and not obsessing over or imitating another artist, will be there.

Superman by Patrick Zircher

As someone who has worked for The Big Two, how would you compare working at DC to working at Marvel, and how does working in the mainstream differ from an indie gig?

They offer different emotional satisfactions and frustrations. There is a pleasure in working on famous characters, being paid well and dependably. I think the satisfaction in drawing an indie is greater for the artist that also writes because the allure there is freedom. There are “degrees” of freedom, but the fullest freedom for artists is illustrating their own story.

As far as day to day work and problem solving there is very little difference between drawing for DC or Marvel or an indie (which I’m doing whenever I have a rare spare day). It’s reading a script, breaking it down, layouts, rendering, re-rendering, finishing.

Editorial influence does exist but usually over small matters – and interference is exaggerated. In the course of drawing thousands of pages that hasn’t been the case every single time, but it is so often that any real interference is rare. I’m trusted to do my job.

Star Trek artwork by Patrick Zircher

What’s your advice for someone trying to break into the comics industry as an artist?

Be smart and love comics. All kinds. The more you take in (in comics and in art outside of comics) the more your “inner vision” of what you want to illustrate will be clear to you, the more you’ll learn and be able to apply.

Make comics your passion. You can’t casually become a comic book artist. The skills needed and the time it takes is too demanding for that. So make it your thing, study comics, read comics, talk comics, draw, draw, draw.

Be honest with yourself about how far you’ve developed as an artist and, when you think you’re ready, get your work seen through every avenue available to you. Keep putting your work out there, it may take years. There really is no short cut, just a lot of effort.

Having made the switch from traditional media (ie pencil and bristol board etc) to a digital creative process, what would you say are the benefits and disadvantages of both mediums?

I have fewer after-printing regrets with digital.

The ability to tweak the art until I’m more satisfied, when working digitally, is considerably greater. I’d say so much so it eats up the time-saving aspect of it. I’m always altering the finishes digitally until I absolutely have to send it off. Digital also saves space and upkeep. Maintaining the same physical brushes and pens would be maddening.

The disadvantage is not having the original art, those big original size pages are pretty impressive. It’s still a pleasure to hold that kind of art in my hand and look it over, whoever’s art it is. And you can, of course, sell them.

Green Arrow #41 interior artwork

You’re a huge fan of cinema, particularly the classics – what influence has this had on your comics work?

Nearly as much influence as comics have had. Not so much in the way I draw a figure but in the way I illustrate the story. I recommend reading books on cinematography to every comic artist. Movies are frame by frame stories and the solutions cinematographers and directors have found for making the story flow, impressing the audience with aspects of the story, are solutions that also work in comics.

Every comic artist should have an awareness of why they chose an angle, a full body shot or close-up, why they placed the figures where they have compositionally, what makes a good scene transition, which direction to have figures moving, and so on. Movies can teach that.

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