RAFAEL GRAMPÀ On Doing Comic Books & Movies On His Own Terms

"Romeo Reboot" image
Credit: Rafael Grampa (Axe)
Credit: Rafael Grampa (Axe)

Rafael Grampá became one of comic books top rising stars, but left that all behind when he segued to directing films. But now in 2016, he's aiming to do both -- and on a bigger stage.

After directing several live-action short films, the Brazilian artist is currently mapping out his first feature film -- while also returning to his long gestating OGN Furry Water & The Sons of The Insurrection. Newsarama talked at-length with Grampá about his long road pursuing the director's chair, and how he's finally found a way to balance working in both film and comic books simultaneously.

Newsarama: Easy question first: Rafael, what are you working on today? What is on your "to do" list to accomplish today?

Rafael Grampá: Chris, first of all, I would like to thank you for being the first one to showcase my work internationally, some years ago. It opened a lot of doors.

Today I already did some sketches to send to the concept designer that is working on some concept art for me. It's for the project of my very first feature length film. Now I'm answering your questions while I'm inking a comic book page - Yes, I'm still doing comics. And today later I'll work on the script of my feature length film.

Credit: Rafael Grampa (Axe)

Nrama: Our readers know you best as a writer and artist, but as of late you’ve been directing your own short films. Can you tell us about your endeavors into films?

Grampá: I started my endeavors into films in 2012, when I realized that I needed start my journey of filmmaking at that time. If not, it could be too late for me. So I stopped to draw comics to focus in screenwriting and study all the things I needed to know to make films. I wrote 15 scripts for films and I used one of these ideas to make Dark Noir, my first animated short film, in 2013. The short was sponsored by Absolut, that gave me all the freedom to create whatever I wanted. The short film was a success; it won a lot of prizes around the world. Also, Hollywood called me and now I'm represented by UTA - the same talent agency that represents big filmmakers like Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Anderson, Brad Bird and Alfonso Cuaron . After that, I've been making some branded content films, but all in live action. 

Credit: Rafael Grampa (Axe)

More than anything else, I see myself as a storyteller. And to be honest, for me, doesn't matter if I'm writing or drawing or directing. I'm interested in storytelling.

When I decided to make comic books, I was already thinking in making films. In my brain, it was all mixed together since the beginning. Back then, I realized that I could show my visions and style faster as a comic book artist, because I really love comics. And I can do it just by myself with paper, inks and imagination. 

But as a storyteller, I feel the need to work with time and sound too. In comic books, you can propose the time through the size and number of panels, page turns, but the reader has the control of the timing and we can't do anything about it. We can suggest or manipulate his experience, but is the reader that decides about the time and flow of the story. Also, we can transform the sound into some beautiful typography. We, comic book artists, have the power of turn the time into space and sound into image. And this is so cool, It's like magic, It's pure art. But sometimes, when I'm creating, I need more than typography and design to express my imagination, maybe more control of the story, and because of that I decided to hone my storyteller skills as a director too. 

Nrama: Your latest film is the 12-minute Romeo Reboot, How would you describe this film?

Grampá: Yeah, it's a branded content, part a publicity campaign of Axe. The idea was to recreate a very free and crazy version of Romeo and Juliet. The brand sent me an open brief like "a young man that doesn't want to live in a reality that doesn't respect his individuality decides to abandon everything to live his own adventure.” So, I wrote the story, designed the characters, storyboards, some concept arts for the art direction and directed the film. I had some creative freedom, but, you know, it's a commercial work. I created something that I knew that the agency would approve. They respected my vision as a director, but if was a personal film instead of a commercial one it would have been darker, with more violence and a crazy ending. 

Romeo Reboot by Rafael Grampá - English subtitles from Rafael Grampá on Vimeo.

The same process happened in my last film, for Fila. But I need to say that my goal is not to direct commercial films. Commercial films are a good medium for experiments. I'm happy that those brands are calling me to tell stories.

In certain way, I think that making a commercial film for companies like Absolut, Axe and Fila in the way that I'm doing, is very similar to make a comic book for Marvel or DC, for example. Those brands have their products like Batman or Wolverine, and so do these companies. And all those products have their rules and their own consumers.

Credit: Rafael Grampa (Axe)

Nrama: Even though these are films, you also did illustration work for several of these including Axe. Do you see filmmaking as an extension of your cartooning?

Grampá: Yes, I designed the poster for the Axe campaign and also I created the design of the monster for the Fila film. As I said, for both films, I did the storyboards too. I think it's a kind of advantage when the director makes the storyboards himself, because all the teal will understand exactly what your vision is. And, for sure, it will be and extension of my way to do comics. The way that I design the panels of a comic book are the same that I design the frames and camera movements of the storyboards. As I said, at the time of creation process, my comics and my films are created in the same way. But, of course, the production processes are very different. Making comics, for a very social person like me, requires an almost monastic, solitary production style, because I do everything alone. Making films is the opposite, the concentration and the efforts are collective. 

Credit: Rafael Grampa (Axe)

Nrama: What do you have planned next for your filmmaking?

Grampá: As I said before, I'm working on the script of my first feature length film. I need to be smart and try to write a low budget script that can turn into a really awesome movie, but it's really hard. But I think I'm going in the right direction: Strong characters, great and fun dialogues and memorable scenes.

Nrama: Going back to what you’re known for here, what are your ambitions going forward for comic books and graphic novels?

Grampá: I'm finishing the comic book that I announced some years ago - the one I stopped to making films. I also have some projects with two superstars Brazilian comic book artists that we are planning to work together in some creator owned stuff. In both cases, I'll be the writer. I'll return to appear in comic shops soon.

Nrama: That project you mentioned was Furry Water & The Sons of The Insurrection. Can you tell us more about that?

Grampá: I announced the release of the series five years ago, and since then, the fans still ask me about it. I see this in a positive way, people are still waiting, and I feel flattered. Of course I know five years is a long time to wait for a comic book, but my dreams come first and needed to make a decision for having the opportunity to choose a career between comic books and movies. Now, it's happening.

Furry Water is my most ambitious project and it requires total focus to reach my goal as a comic book artist. I must confess that it's not the most comfortable of feelings to having a project like this parked for so long. Obviously I can't wait to having people reading my comics again. Now I'm back to the table and I think I'm doing my best work ever.

Nrama: Do you feel as if your art style has changed or matured since Mesmo Delivery?

Grampá: Yes, for sure. Mesmo Delivery was my first attempt as an artist and writer. Since then, I already did some short stories for Vertigo, DC and Marvel and also lots of pages of Furry Water. I think I understood my style better, I'm faster, my style lost weight, left the fat behind. It's still crooked but this is the way I like to draw.

Credit: Rafael Grampa (Axe)

Nrama: You left a lucrative job in animation to become a freelance comic artist, and with some small exceptions have done your own projects. Do you get a lot of offers to work on company-owned projects, either comics like Marvel or DC, or in film? If so, how do you handle it and the guaranteed money they offer you?

Grampá: Yes, I received some proposals from Marvel and DC, but I didn't have room to make it. I have a big proposal for next year, but from a huge writer that creates his own stuff. The money that make directing these commercial films are great and I can save some money to focus on personal stuff if I want. 

I did some meetings in Hollywood with the biggest studios and, after that, I preferred to offer some projects to them. I think is better to start making a film with my vision before accept to direct a film that I don't have the total creative control.

Nrama: So in the works you have Furry Water & The Sons of the Insurrection and your first feature length film. Big picture, for you and your life and your dreams -- where do you want to be in five years time, Rafael?

Grampá: I want to be working with comic books and feature films, choosing what kind of art I want to do at the moment.

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