The artist known for putting a fresh spin on Ultimate Spider-Man has come to the Bat-office, and is getting his pen on DC's brand new Spoiler and Burnside Batgirl for July 29's Batgirl Annual #3.
A Spanish artist who now lives in the United Kingdom, David Lafuente was first mentioned to American comic book readers when he was among the talent discovered during then-Marvel Editor C.B. Cebulski's "Chesterquest tour." After working on a few titles for the publisher, Lafuente ended up taking over high-profile title Ultimate Spider-Man, followed by his more recent acclaimed work on All-New Doop with Peter Milligan.
Earlier this year, the artist was among the talent on DC's weekly series, Batman Eternal. For July 29's Batgirl Annual #3, he's among a star-studded line-up including Bengal, who'll be drawing characters from Grayson; Mingjue Helen Chen, who's uniting Batgirl with Gotham Academy; and Ming Doyle, who's drawing a story with Batwoman.
Newsarama talked to Lafuente about his unique approach to the motion in Batgirl, how his experience in Europe has informed his style, and what readers can expect from his story in Batgirl Annual #3.
Newsarama: David, in the preview image DC provided, one of the most striking things about the page is the way you draw motion. Can you describe how you came up with that approach, of visually portraying Batgirl running?
David Lafuente: Thank you. It is my attempt at representing the way we perceive movement in real life — which is probably telling of my general approach to drawing. I’m not about realism but believability. Or rather, a general feel of believability.
When you ride the bus and look outside the window, you see a blur passing by. The objects closer to you look undefined, while the stuff that are far away look sharp. In the Batgirl page, the chimneys are but a bunch of kinetic lines but the background is in focus.
I used to ink with charcoal and dry brush to simulate motion around the time I was drawing Ultimate Spider-Man. Now I’m using a cleaner technique, in an attempt to make the reading experience a bit more clear. I guess it’s a never-ending learning curve.
Nrama: I know we talked a bit when you were at Marvel about how you got discovered by American editors, but what's your background as an artist in general? How did you first get interested in drawing comics?
Lafuente: I can’t really remember the exact moment. I guess it was something that evolved naturally over the years. My family was into comic-books in a big way, so the reading material was already there when I arrived. My older brothers made comics for themselves. They drew in notebooks, passed the original art to the others to read, but never made a single Xerox or tried to get them published. It was very innocent and fun. Of course, I loved reading them and I started doing my own.
Writing and drawing comics was my pastime as a child but, as I grew up, it turned out to be infinitely fascinating and engaging. By the time I was in high school, I couldn’t remember anymore what I wanted to do with my future. And I realized it was making comics.
Nrama: So did you study art? And you started in European comic books, right?
Lafuente: I studied illustration in the Escuela de Arte de Oviedo, a school of arts and crafts near my hometown in Spain as I couldn’t afford to go off to college. It was the closest formation to comics that was available at the time and a couple of former students were already making comic books as professionals (Spider-Woman’s Javier Rodriguez and German Garcia). This was the year 2000. I began working as a freelance illustrator while studying and eventually left the course unfinished to work full time.
The very first jobs were quite bizarre and perfect for a newbie that needs to learn the business side of art. I illustrated children’s books, magazine articles, ad campaigns for web. Then I landed an ongoing gig making political cartoons for a local newspaper and that gave some financial security and left me more time to work on my comics.
My first published work were two short stories for the French publisher Semic written by Jean Marc Lofficier. And, slowly, I managed to get more and more comic books done until I finally could quit making commercial illustration.
Nrama: How did your background in Spain and England inform your style?
Lafuente: The more direct influence would be the culture available to me during the '80s and '90s, when I was younger and the impressions were more lasting. Spain has a few best-selling authors that made children’s comic-books, the French material was always available, manga invaded the market in the late 80’s, etcetera.
Authors like Jan and Herge are my all-time masters that really shaped the way I understand art in general and comics in particular. It’s probably difficult to look at my work and see anything that resembles them, but it’s there, buried deep.
When I moved to the U.K., I began reading in English in a big way, of course. Discovered a great deal of British creators unknown to me. Also that was when I began traveling more and living a bit in other cultures. All that feeds back into the work, again, more often than not in ways that are only apparent to me. Small details. Probably nobody but me can tell that a lot of All-New Doop was drawn during a trip to France.
Nrama: You mentioned the changes to your art since you worked on Ultimate Spider-Man. How has your style evolved?
Lafuente: It has become leaner. When I first began working for the American market — when you did my very first interview, Vaneta — I was throwing everything in. Working all the hours and trying all the things. I was accustomed to doing comics all by myself, from writing to lettering. With time I realized that I was stepping on the colorist’s territory by making grayscales. And experimenting with a lot of drawing techniques that, while interesting, were making the pages uneven at times.
I focused on making the style as coherent and solid as possible.
Nrama: Are there any techniques you use that you can point out? Do you work mostly digital?
Lafuente: It’s maybe weird in this day and age, but the only thing I draw in the computer are the panel borders because I don’t like rulers. Everything else is traditional techniques. I draw in non-repro red pencil and use a mixture of markers, brush and quill to ink.
In my first Marvel books, Hellcat and Ultimate Spider-Man, I used to draw in a very chaotic way — individual panels, different layers of art, computer brushes. I left all this behind slowly in my attempt to simplify my technique.
The oddest aspect of my work currently is that I draw my pages in two different pieces of paper, upper and lower half of the page, in landscape. That way the boards are a more manageable size and I can work almost anywhere as long as I have a computer/scanner near to send the final files.
Nrama: You drew Batgirl before, for the cover of #43. What did you think of the change to try your hand at drawing the new Batgirl look?
Lafuente: When I was asked to draw the Batgirl cover, I was caught off-guard. I didn’t have my take on the character; I had not even drawn her before. It was one of those cases where you play it by ear: Try something and see if it feels right. Batgirl looking fierce against certain death-by-tigers ended up working well.
Nrama: You're getting to draw Spoiler for the Batgirl Annual #3. How are you approaching her character? And what were your thoughts about the way you approached this story overall for the Batgirl Annual #3?
Lafuente: My scene was an accidental team-up, so I wanted to play up the comedy. Batgirl writers Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart’s dialogue was hilarious and I wanted to stress it.
Batgirl and Spoiler are approaching the villain problem in different ways and their reactions to the other are the source of laughs. Since Batgirl was the more experienced of the two, I wanted to make her a bit more the annoyed pro. Her poses are tiny bit more decisive, more super-heroic if you will.
Of course Spoiler is a great heroine as well. But since, in the story, she geeks out on Batgirl, I reserved the more exaggerated expressions for her. It was not without its difficulty. My issue of Batman Eternal was centered around her, yet the tone of the story was much darker. It took me a couple of redrawn panels to find a way to not draw her in the depressed state she was in that story.
Nrama: What do you think of the Batgirl costume and new visual approach to the character?
Lafuente: When I saw the announcement, I thought it was just a brilliant idea. The change in tone was so impressive. I’m very happy that the book has found its public, that it’s enormous and continues to grow.