Readers may not have noticed, but a subtle change has been made to the title box on the hit Vertigo series American Vampire, since it began two years ago.
Instead of being "created by Scott Snyder," which is the credit originally used for the title, American Vampire is now created by both writer Snyder and the artist on the series, Rafael Albuquerque.
The switch is important in these days of arguments over creative ownership. After all, the original artist for The Walking Dead just recently filed a lawsuit over ownership of the project, and the title's original "created by" credit has played a central role in the disagreement.
Albuquerque has gotten a lot of attention for his work on American Vampire — particularly after Stephen King was involved with its launch — but the artist has been working on comics in both America and other countries for a long time. Before AmVamp, he drew DC comics like Blue Beetle and Superman/Batman, and worked for Boom! Studios on titles like Jeremiah Harm and Savage Brothers.
And the Brazilian artist had also done work in his home country – like his critically acclaimed Rumble in La Rambla (re-released in the U.S. as Crimeland. And he also drew several titles for AK Comics, the company that publishes comics for the Middle East.Now that Albuquerque has become a co-creator on American Vampire, the artist is being recruited by Snyder for his run on Batman, where he's drawing the back-up stories that begin in April's issue #8. The pair were also just nominated for an Eagle Award — the European comic industry's most prestigious prize — for the third arc of American Vampire. The series already won the 2011 Eisner Award for Best New Series.
In the first of a series of articles we're doing about the work of Scott Snyder, Newsarama looks at the collaborative output of Albuquerque and Snyder on American Vampire and how the artist has become an integral part of the comic series.
Newsarama: Rafael, I was just looking at our first interview, back in 2006, when you started drawing Blue Beetle, and it feels like you're a completely different artist in many ways. I know you change your style for the project, but you've been experimenting on American Vampire, haven't you?
Rafael Albuquerque: Indeed. Actually, I have always worked closely with writers, trying to suit my style to the best way best to tell the story, even before I started to work for DC. I did that in Blue Beetle, and Superman/Batman too, but the story in American Vampire allows — and actually encourages — a lot more experimentation in the art style, so for me, it is challenging but always a pleasure to start a new arc, because I know I can do something different. For me, that’s really important.
Nrama: Your work on this series reminds me of Crimeland, your graphic novel that was released in the U.S. through Image (after being published as Rumble in La Rambla). I pulled it out recently and saw a lot of similarity to the style you're using for American Vampire, but it seemed a little more noir, maybe less gritty. It's really striking.
Albuquerque: Thanks. Crimeland was my very first creator-owned work in the U.S. That story was perfectly suited to let me use a lot of moody contrasts and as much as it's very different from American Vampire, I can say that the appeal of taking on American Vampire was, somehow, a return to this "dark" version of myself. [It's] something I wanted to do for a long while.
Nrama: Do you think your experience creating that 96-page graphic novel was similar to your approach on American Vampire?
Albuquerque: Yes, very similar, because we were creating a new universe from scratch. It's always like that when you do a creator-owned project. You bring in your own references and do what you want. Drawing Batman, Superman or Green Lantern might be really cool, but you are always dealing with an established product. Designing something new - your own - is a completely different flavor.
Nrama: The inks contribute a lot to the tone of American Vampire, from the ink washes to the splatters you're using. Can you describe how you use ink to achieve the comic's look?
Albuquerque: I can't separate the things. I can't draw pencils only because, for one, my pencils are very loose (my editors can confirm) and no one else would understand what I drew. Secondly, I think the inking is the moment where the artist brings out the personality of the artwork.For me, the inking is like a signature and, as much as I know there are a lot of better inkers than me, I couldn't do it with someone else.
Nrama: I noticed a few fingerprints in those smoke clouds when the car crashed last issue. Along with your fingers, what other tools do you use as you create American Vampire?
Albuquerque: Two or three kinds of brushes. Black and white ink, and pens. I do a lot of digital fixings too, but I don’t like to rely on that.
Nrama: You mentioned the benefits of creating your own world, but you must also spend a lot of time designing everything. How much of your time on this series is spent developing and sketching the characters, researching the era and designing the settings -- before you even draw a page?
Albuquerque: Now it's easier, so we usually do that while the pages are being done, but when I was starting, it took about two or three months, of creation designs, and approvals for the first five issues.
Nrama: You've drawn a lot of different eras in American Vampire. Any favorite?
Albuquerque: I'm usually in love with the one I’m drawing at the moment. Right now, I’m drawing the new arc: "The Blacklist." It's going do be mind-blowing.
Be prepared. The Blacklist will change everything you know about vampires.
Nrama: Which era has been the most challenging?
Albuquerque: The early ones, because it was harder to find references. Old West, '20s and '30s were really tough. As much as it gets closer to our time, it gets easier.
Nrama: Looking back at the different types of comics you've drawn since the start of your career, do you think your experience in advertising contributed to your ability to draw different moods and adjust your style for different stories?
Albuquerque: Maybe. I didn't quite have a long experience in advertising. I have done some freelance with design and that's all, but, I believe, at this time, I was in contact with typography, design and different kinds of illustrations — more than just comics — so, I believe that influences me some now.
Nrama: Since we're talking about advertising, the current covers for American Vampire play on the old-time advertising of the '50s. How do you come up with the ideas for covers, and what's your process like doing them?
Albuquerque: I have to confess that Mark Doyle, my editor, deserves at least half of the credits for the covers. Every month, we brainstorm new ideas, bringing up our references and building it together.For the '50s, Mark sent me, by mail, an actual magazine from 1952, I guess, and flipping through that, I saw there were a lot of advertisings and they were really cool. That stuck in my mind. Mark wanted to do something that resembled '50s movie posters, but when I sketched the first one, with Travis, he dug it, then he came up with the ironic effect phrases.
Nrama: What's coming up in American Vampire? Any scene or specific artistic technique we might want to look for in upcoming issues?
Albuquerque: For the last arc, my main reference was Norman Rockwell. Now I’m studying Edward Hopper. That's all I can say.
Nrama: The title box for American Vampire changed recently. It used to say
"American Vampire, created by Scott Snyder." But now it says, "by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque." How did that change come about, and what does it represent to you?
Albuquerque: For me it’s a big honor, and I owe that to Scott, for recognizing my part of the creation. When I was approached, they were very clear about that, saying that I would be the artist, only, because the main idea was developed already. I came up with the visuals for the characters and Scott was really impressed with how much it added to the story (his words!).
I think being credited as creator or not, we have always had a really cool chemistry doing this book. Mark, our editor, is as responsible as Scott and I, and I can't praise his work enough. Its definitely a team work, and everyone in this team takes it really personal. That’s what matters.
Nrama: It's obvious you and Scott have a lot of respect for each other. What's the working process like with him on American Vampire?
Albuquerque: Every year, in [the Comic Con International] San Diego or New York Comic Con, when I go to the U.S,, we have the "AV breakfasts," where we discuss the ideas for the following arcs, target points to the characters and, you know, brainstorm the whole year. Scott, of course, discusses a lot of this directly with Mark about the details of the stories and all, before writing the scripts he sends me.I get them and do the layouts that I share with them all. Usually, they are good to go, but when they are not, they send me notes, and, in this collaborative way, we do the whole thing.
Scott has been really busy lately, but when it's necessary, we get together in a chat or something to discuss details of characters, stories or whatever.
Nrama: Your collaboration with him led to the work you're doing on Batman for the back-up stories. You said you change your art style for different stories. How would you describe the style you're using for the back-up stories you're doing for Batman?
Albuquerque: It's pretty similar to what I have done in American Vampire. Regular inking for the present story in issue #8, and then washes for the flashbacks in issues #9, #10 and #11.
Nrama: What's your approach to telling the story of the Pennyworth family and their connection to the Court of Owls? Can you talk about what your thoughts were on the characters as you developed them?
Albuquerque: It's situated at the end of '70s, early '80s, so I looked for inspiration in movies from these decades. I watched, again, Taxi Driver, The Candidate and others, just to get the feel that these movies have. Maybe the angles, timing and of course vestiments were inspired by that, as much as I could. For the Talon design, I just tried to follow the path that Greg Capullo has created.
Nrama: What does it mean to you as an artist that American Vampire has been successful enough to "spawn" more than one mini-series? And are you involved at all in the decisions made about those spin-offs?
Albuquerque: Sure. Mark, Scott and I are always talking about artists we love and think fit in the story. Guys we want to "bring to the family." As I said, it's a teamwork and that's why everybody loves so much working in this title. It's different than anything else I have done before.
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