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An Interview with José Villarrubia, Part 2

An Interview with José Villarrubia, Part 2(2)


by SidSid Keränen
Copyright © 2004 Heart-Attack-Series, Ink!
Interview was made in mid-Aug. 2004.
Colorful photo arts by courtesy of José Villarrubia.

In the first session of this interview we talked about his past, projects, and his work with Mr. Corben in Max Comics “Cage”, and “Punisher”, and shortly in the end about Tom of Finland. [The first part of the Interview]

In this second session we go deeper into his fumettis, “Veils”, and “Promethea”, and maybe reveal some productional tasks Mr. Corben had to face with his own fumettis, “Ogre”, and “Doomscult”. We also pass to animation and the movies, and Mr. Corben’s Neverwhere [the Movie] (1968), and long time project The Fall of the House of Usher animation.

On a third page I linked all the other main interviews with José Villarrubia found from the Internet at the moment.


SidSid Keränen: Practically saying, to do the traditional comics you need only pen and paper. But if you want to do a really good job, you need a hell of a research, maybe photos and real or made-up props and environments. How do you see the difference between the traditional comics and fumetti, as a point of view of a photographer?

José Villarrubia: Well, fumetti is a lot more labor intensive, without question. The advantage of traditional comics is that you can draw anything, and it doesn’t cost anything to produce. When you do a fumetti, even if the photographs are computer manipulated, you have to do a lot of groundwork before you shoot as well as “post-production”.

Do you think that the traditional comic artists has got advantage to you on this field, or is it way around?

Oh, it is a lot easier to draw something that to construct/photograph it. Also the “acting” is an issue. In a traditional comic, the characters can make any facial expressions and it looks fine. When you photograph actors making faces, the risk of them looking fake, or even funny, is very high…

I found actors in Veils well choosen. The main character (wife) was interesting, as well as the oriental girl, who guided her in harem. The Grand Vizier was a bit of comical character, but I did not find it disturbing “funny”. I rather took it as his characteristic dimention.

Mr. Corben’s the most well known, maybe the best of all time, fumetti “Ogre” was printed in 1978 two times, in French Metal Hurlant #28 and in English 1984 #4. Story telling is the same, but for example page 8 has been altered (some frames are quite different). Do you think that fumetti is a difficult art form?

Oh, yeah, even Corben did not return to it more than one more time (“Doomscult”) and the second part of “Ogre” was done by hand and not in fumetti.

Have you seen both versions?

Yes of course. “Ogre” is a totally unheralded masterpiece. I have both versions, the American one and the uncensored one (printed in Spain on much better paper…).

You made your first fumetti as a full feature story in Veils (1991), incredible 90 pages (including 24 page traditional comic story part by Rebecca Guay). Who was behind this project?

Stephen John Phillips, a local fine art photographer, came up with the idea for the book. He had completed a ten-issue run of photographic covers for “Chiaroscuro”, a Vertigo series. He worked with Richard Brunning on those. When the idea for Veils was approved, he asked me if I was interested in collaborating with him, since I knew Photoshop and we were friends.

Stephen John Phillips himself made the photographing for Veils. Tell a little bit of working with him. Were you involved with the shooting session?

Well, the process went like this. First I received a detailed (Alan Moore-style) script. I then did fairly detailed layouts that the editor revised and approved. Stephen then shot the models in costume and I placed them in digital manipulated backgrounds. All the figures were photographed separate and in his studio, and I put them together digitally.

I was involved in some of the shooting sessions. Particularly the dinner scene and all the images of harem girls, where I did all the styling and supervised the hair and make up.

Do you have “unpublished” fumettis hidden in your desk (or harddisk) from the period before Veils?

Oh, no… It was way too much work. We did do a sample page to get the project.

How much of research you did on comics, before you started it?

The research that I did, did not involve comics. These I am very aware of. The research was mostly of 19th century Orientalists painters; since that is the aesthetic we went after.

There was some nudity involved in Veils. Was the amount of it under the question in DC Vertigo?

No, we had no restrictions, but Stephen decided to play it safe, so we would not have to censor it later…

Nude picture on page 5 (see pict aside) was good idea (I know that there was that kind of photos around in the early pornographic time).

That was Stephens’s idea. And I agree it is very clever…

It looks like among color photos you used pretty much of B&W photos (colored afterwards) during the process. Is that so?

Stephen usually does black and white.

I am a big David Lynch and Twin Peaks fan. Danish director Lars von Trier made his television series Riget or as they call it in English The Kingdom, some years ago (the first season in 1994, and the second in 1997). Though The Kingdom is complete different story, supernatural things in the old Danish hospital building, they used to remind the similarities between two. The series used to be called as “a Nordic Twin Peaks”. In your Veils story on page 37 the close-up of the old lady reminds me that Danish serial (see pict aside). The similarities must be accidental, but have you seen The Kingdom?

No, I haven’t. The only von Trier movie I have seen is Dancer in the Dark, which is pretty amazing…

I was interested if you’ve done any 3-D rendering, but in Veils was mentioned that Estonian animator Aleksey Zolotaryov did some for you. That prob. means you haven’t.

I have only done a little bit for that Promethea story using Bryce.

If I’m not totally wrong, his part was the entire bathhouse and interesting oriental trellis (see pict aside) in the end of the story, am I right? Why these scenes were not shoot by camera?

Yes, Aleksey designed the bathhouse, which is based on a painting by Gerome, and the screen. The lattice screen was designed in the computer because we did not have one that looked right or ANY budget to get one! Remember that these projects were done with 0 budget for actors, models, props, stylists, costumes, hair and make up or anything. Stephen and I called in a lot of favors and trades and paid when we had to out of our own pockets…

Do you happened to know which (animation) program he was using for it?

I believe it was one in 3D MAX and SoftImage. He was featured in the SoftImage website. He also designed the snake and moths in Promethea.

In Promethea #7 (2000) you’ve got a 9-page fumetti. Was it Alan Moore’s idea?

Yes, he saw Veils and asked me to do the sequence.

Are you going to go on with fumettis?

I might, if the story merits it… They are a lot of work…

Do people ask more?

No. The only person who ever mentioned doing one was Mark Millar who made a proposal at some point for a Phantom Stranger story. That was it!

Stephen has gone to do two other fumetti graphic novels for Vertigo, but not with me!

In both Veils and Promethea lettering was made by somebody else, not by you, if I understood correctly.

I did the balloon placement and placed the parchment pieces in Veils. I had a little input in the lettering, but not as much as I wanted.

I like the idea of balloons to be semi-transparent, but in Promethea‘s case some of backgrounds (specially on one page) were too variegated and it disturbed the reading process. Strange they did not correct it in Promethea Collected Edition Book #2 (2001). Did you have any feedback of it?

You are the first one to complain! I asked Todd Klein to do them like that, and I thought they looked fine…

As I said they were disturbed on one page only, 7th page of your part. Where girls were walking thorugh moth imagery. All the rest were just perfect.

Was the fumetti artist earler on the story acted by yourself?

LOL! No, but thanks. A lot of people ask. That is my friend Douglas Baine, who was an actor and singer, but now is a schoolteacher. I guess he does look a bit like me.

In Promethea #12 (2001) you appeared as a painted colorist (see pict aside), but there was also another colorist Jeromy Cox. What kind of co-operation you’ve got with him?

Since I can paint, J. H. Williams, the artist, asked me to treat the bottom of each panel as a watercolor, which I did.

Was it Jeromy Cox who put together your painted parts and his part in that story?

Yes he did… This was a very difficult thing to do technically, but it is what J. H. wanted, and everyone was happy with the results.

J. H. asked me to do digital finishes over his pencils in two covers for the series (and homage to Maxfield Parrish and one to Dalí), as well as painting the covers of the hardback collections over his sketches. He also brought me back in to finish the series, doing “photographic” coloring and effects in issues #30 and #31. It was been an honor to be a part of the series that many, including myself, consider Moore’s finest current writing…

Mr. Corben makes clay models to catch the right form, lightning and “touch of his own” for his comic stories. Have you ever tried to work with clay?

I took sculpture when I was in school and quite liked it, but have not done it since…

Also as a painter, have you ever consider to draw/paint your own comic story?

Considered, yes. But I am not sure I would enjoy it. But you never know…

What do you think, as a painter, of Vicente Segrelles (The Mercenary) works?

Segrelles is a brilliant painter. I don’t think that anyone has painted landscapes in comics as magnificently as he has…

Yugoslavian Enki Bilal has made his most successful comic artist career in France. He is also been interested of the movies, and made some of them. Have you seen any of his movies?

No, but I have seen the trailers for Immortel Ad Vitem and it looks absolutely stunning!

How about his comics?

Love the art. He is a master of the medium. The stories are very imaginative and have some great moments, but overall, I don’t get them. I understand them fine, but their narrative structure seems random.

I like his pretty original drawing style, though his movies I’ve seen are not that much special.

Have you seen any of Mr. Corben many home videos or animations?

Only The Dark Planet video, which of course I own! I am dying to get a copy of the original Den animation [Neverwhere [the Movie] (1968)], as well as Fall of the House of Usher, film that he has been working on for many years…

Corben told me that he has been trying to film this story [Fall of the House of Usher] for years, and that it has had several incarnations: live action, traditional animation, digital animation, and that he hopes to one day finish it… I believe it is similar (in story at least) to his comics adaptation of the original.

Corben has done a dozen other digital animations in different states of completion… He has even shown some in a local digital shorts showcase… I asked him if there is a way to get copies, and he was a little vague. He is extremely modest regarding his efforts as an animator… Which is too bad, since I know that many of us would kill to get a copy of these!

I asked Corben if he would ever release [Neverwhere [the Movie] (1968)] (in a digital transfer) and he said that he doesn’t think so since the animation is too primitive by today’s standards…

Heavy Metal the Movie (1981) has a Corben character, Den, in it. Have you seen it? What do you think about it? Do you think that Mr. Corben has got extra “advertising” with it for his other projects?

I have never seen it, since I heard that Corben had little to do with it… I do love the Den poster he did for it, though!

I don’t think it brought him much popular attention. I think he got a lot more from the Bat Out of Hell cover, which all non-comics people seem to know…

Yeah. Actually Heavy Metal the Movie is advertised nowadays more for it’s musical values than artists. I found a brand new copy of it and there was no mention of artists. And they replaced Mr. Corben’s brilliant poster art with Taara.

Have you been involved with any movie or animation project? Would you like to?

No and yes! I would love to make music videos at some point. I met Michel Gondry earlier this year… He is my idol!!!

I’ve got a friend who is a photographer and he is using also a video camera. Actually he was the cinematographer of my first of two live action short movies (I’m going to digitally remaster my movies and propose later to the movie festivals). Do you think that there is a big help from one media to another (photographer vs. cinematographer)?

There is definitely a connection. Some of my favorite photographers have done stunning films, commercials and music videos. David Hamilton, Sarah Moon, Matt Mahurin, Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts, Mondino, Jean Paul Goude, Javier Vallhonrat, Matthew Rolston and many others have made that transition.

Thanks for your time for this interview. It was very nice time to share with you.

You are welcome!
José Villarrubia


Copyright © 2004 Heart-Attack-Series, Ink!
Created: August 20, 2004. Last updated: January 16, 2019 at 20:40 pm

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