Ivan Reis may be known as an artist who can draw epic space battles, but this summer, he's helping DC combine iconic superheroes with a dramatic murder mystery in the summer event, Trinity War.
The event unites him once again with Geoff Johns — meaning the two have been working on projects together since 2006, combining their efforts with Reis' long-time art team of Joe Prado and Rod Reis.
But according to Ivan Reis, all the in-story drama and behind-the-scenes collaboration actually has one goal for him: Fun. And he says that's exactly what he's getting as he's been working on Trinity War.
Reis (who told Newsarama his name is pronounced "Ray Ees," although he'll answer to just about anything close) started drawing comics professionally when he was only 14 in his home country of Brazil. Five years later, he debuted in American comics with Ghost for Dark Horse. Over his career since, he's worked on comics for various publishers, including Marvel and DC, but really caught the attention of fans in 2005 with the epic space battles he drew in the DC mini-series Rann-Thanagar War.
Not soon after that comic finished, his run with Geoff Johns on Green Lantern started with issue #10 in 2006. During his almost three years on the title, Reis designed the look of the comic's expanding universe, leading up to his work on the DC events Blackest Night and Brightest Day.
The artist then helped launch the surprisingly successful Johns run on Aquaman in 2011, until leaving that series earlier this year to take over another Johns comic, Justice League.
Now that the artist is one third of the artistic team behind Trinity War, Newsarama sat down with Reis to discuss his approach to the Justice League characters and this summer's event.
Newsarama: Ivan, now that you have been drawing some of the most important books at DC, what challenges you as an artist?
Ivan Reis: Working to keep these series relevant is challenging enough. Thank God I share the responsibilities with Geoff, Joe [Prado] and Rod [Reis]. If anything goes wrong, we can blame Brian [Cunningham], our editor on the series! [Laughs.]
Well, now seriously, I never think about this kind of thing as a challenge, but as a new opportunity to keep having fun while working.
Nrama: So is that your most important goal? To have fun?
Reis: Yes! For me, it’s the most important thing to keep my energy level high for years and years.
Nrama: We've talked before about how you approach a page, saying that you work hard to make sure it's easy to understand what's going on in a scene, even before there are colors.
Reis: I always keep in mind that each book that I draw can be somebody else’s first comic book ever.
So yeah, I try to keep the storytelling and the page layouts as clear as possible, without loosing the energy.
Nrama: So you're balancing energy and storytelling?
Reis: Yeah, and I try to balance things... making my style “classic” enough for the old fans, and modern enough for the new generation of fans. And... well, I don’t know, really! Tough questions! Bottom line, the work should flow naturally.
Nrama: You've been drawing Justice League for a few months now. What's that experience been like, particularly as you've been introducing these new characters?
Reis: Geoff is a master in constructing characters, and the new Justice League is no exception. It’s very cool to be able to participate on the “construction” of new characters like the new Atom in Justice League.
Nrama: Although you have an identifiable look to your work, Green Lantern, Blackest Night and Aquaman each felt different. Since we talked during each of them, I know your approach was a little different for each project. How would you describe the overall style and tone you're using on Justice League and Trinity War?
Reis: Summing it up in one word... epic! It’s a story that involves a lot of things happening, and visually, it demands a lot of dynamic shots and impact. But at the same time, it has a lot of dramatic scenes. So no doubt, it’s one of most complex works that I’ve ever done. I’m putting everything that I’ve learned throughout the years into this story, and it has been very rewarding for me as an artist.
Nrama: How would you describe Superman as you're drawing him?
Reis: He should stand out among the other heroes, and not only physically. The challenge for me is to make his magnetic personality visible.
Nrama: What about Shazam? What's your approach to his character?
Reis: He’s big and heavy. My biggest challenge is to have him acting like a kid in the body of a "big guy." So I try to work with his facial expressions a lot, especially the eyes.
Nrama: How about Batman?
Reis: Always shrouded in darkness, covered by his cape, always watching things happening. He has no superpowers, so he has to be prepared for everything, and that is his weapon! No one ever knows what kind of weapon or gadget he’s carrying. So, I always avoid drawing him very visible.
Nrama: How would you describe Wonder Woman as you're drawing her?
Reis: She’s a warrior, so she has a muscular (yet feminine) body and a slightly square jaw. So I try to keep the balance between a warrior and also a symbol of femininity and beauty. For me she can’t be over-sexualized, but she also can’t be very brute, like a warrior would be. The trick is to keep that balanced.
Nrama: Do you use references for the faces of these iconic characters? Or do you just know them?
Reis: Nope. I Just do it! I don’t worry about using known faces, or friends as references. I always try to find my own way of drawing each character.
Nrama: During Trinity War, you're getting to draw some new characters. What's your approach to the newer characters on the team?
Reis: It’s trial and error for me. I try to define them as we go forward. Geoff’s scripts are always super helpful because he gives me exactly the way I need to go, and gives me the details I need to find my own way to draw them.
Nrama: Can you name a few and talk about how you're drawing them?
Reis: Element Woman is a character that I always try to portray as a young woman, super-excited to be among her favorite people in the whole world, the super-heroes. She’s a die-hard fan of all of them. She’s like Kung-Fu Panda among his heroes.
Firestorm is also young, but more relaxed and is used to the whole superhero thing.
Atom is a Latin-Girl. Big hips and big attitude like Latin women. She’s the geek of the whole bunch. Always sitting on somebody’s elbow, relaxed, almost like she doesn’t want to be noticed by the rest, but ready for everything.
Nrama: What character has it been most challenging to portray?
Reis: Truth to be told, I’m having no difficulty in portraying anyone in particular. Every character has it’s own challenges, but that's not a big problem for me.
Nrama: That's coming through in the work. But you mentioned earlier the importance of working with Joe Prado and Rod Reis. How would you describe your working relationship with the two of them?
Reis: We are great friends, always hanging out together. We chat every single day, and being friends makes everything so much easier for everyone involved. We trust each other a lot, and everyone has space to pitch in during the creative process.
Joe, besides being my personal friend for almost 20 years, he’s also my agent. We talk every day — sometimes about work, sometimes about movies, cartoons, our dogs, or... well, life! Both of our wives always say that we are a pair of two old hags gossiping on the phone! [Laughs.]
Nrama: OK, but how would you describe the working relationship with Geoff? It's tough not to notice that you've been working pretty exclusively with him lately.
Reis: Geoff is a great personal friend. Although we don’t speak every single day, we always exchange emails and messages. And when it comes down to work itself, the whole gang pitches in. The chain-emails go up to 100 replies sometimes. Everybody included: me and Geoff, Joe, Rod, Brian, Kate (Stewart, our assistant-editor). The first five emails or so are always about work; the rest... well, the rest is one making fun of another or telling jokes... like good old friends. That takes a lot of the pressure off the work, trust me on that.
Nrama: No wonder you're hesitant to break up the team. Then to finish up, Ivan, is there anything else you want to tell your fans about your work on Justice League and Trinity War?
Reis: It’s going to be epic! When you think things are bad... they will get worse. Stay tuned!