One of the most critically-acclaimed books this week was Dark Horse’s Ether #1, due in no small part to artist David Rubin.
Although Rubin has done work in comic books before, for many this new miniseries with writer Matt Kindt is their first exposure to his work – and if our Best Shot Reviewers’ twin “9 out of 10” scores are any judge – hopefully not their last.
Newsarama spoke to Kindt when news first broke about Ether, and now with the first issue on stands – and in people’s hands – we caught up with Rubin to talk about this “coming out” book and what it means to him.
Newsarama: David, my first question is an easy one - what are you working on today? What is on your drawing board?
David Rubin: I’m working at this moment on a fill-in issue of one of my favorites series of the moment: Black Hammer, with Jeff Lemire.
It is so much fun working with the amazing characters that Jeff and Dean Ormston created!
Nrama: But the book people are talking about right now is Ether, with you and Matt Kindt. The first issue debuted this week, and received two “9 out of 10”s from our Best Shots review team. How do you describe the book to people?
Rubin: Ether is a parallel reality, another world different from ours where everything is possible. A surrealist mix of Neverland, Wonderland, and William Burroughs’ Interzone; Somewhere very crazy where anything can happen, where jellyfish are used as taxis.
Nrama: Matt told me previously that this book is partly based on his own inability to enjoy magical or supernatural stories. How do you feel about that? Is there a genre that's hard for you to be interested in? If so, why?
Rubin: I like working in the magic or fantastic genre. It allows many possibilities, many ways to focus on different themes!
In other works I have worked with similar fantastic subjects, such as in The Hero, The Fiction, and even in the Aurora West graphic novels, but I had never done it as directly as in Ether. I had never gone as deep in this genre as I have until now.
I like working in this genre, yes, but I'm not a fan as a consumer. I prefer science fiction or drama to fantasy or supernatural genres, I think that's why Matt and I feel good working together, we know that genre, we respect it, but we do not work on it like a hardcore fan. We try to find other paths within the fantasy world and mix different genres with it, such as crime, science fiction, drama, and even comedy.
Nrama: Boone Dias - who is he to you?
Rubin: Boone is a very well-developed character: sometimes a hero, sometimes a coward, sometimes noble, sometimes a rogue, but, above all, he is human, feels and suffers, sometimes he’s wrong, sometimes right... Like you and me.
He is a lot of fun to draw and is complex and fascinating; full of mystery and questions that will gradually be solved.
He's like a mix of Doctor Strange, Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, and a very normal guy... just imagine!
Nrama: Reading the first issue, Glum really stuck with me. Who is this big purple gorilla gate-keeper to you?
Rubin: Glum is Boone Dias's Watson, the perfect counterpoint to a skeptical and somewhat vain character like Boone.
Glum is pure fantasy: a strange mixture between gorilla, goat, bear, and the porter of your building or that man who is always sitting at a table in the corner of the bar asking questions to only kill being bored.
But Glum has a great heart and is a noble creature. He does not possess a dark side, like Boone.
Nrama: Matt said that he originally intended to draw Ether himself but never could find the time to do it. How do you feel about working on a book with a writer who is an artist?
Rubin: Working with writers who are also artists is very easy and pleasant, since they know the two parts of the work, they know what it takes to draw a page or panel. It’s easier to establish a harmony this way - especially when you yourself are a cartoonist who also writes and draws.
I've always felt very comfortable with all the writers I've worked with, but it's true that when they are also complete cartoonists everything is easier, and Matt is not the first one I worked with, in the past I've done work with Paul Pope and right now with Jeff Lemire - all of them great complete cartoonists.
Nrama: I'm told you did reams of concept art for this. How does doing concept art help you?
Rubin: For me in this case it was very important. The world that Matt and I are building in Ether is totally new, and although it’s always good to leave some room for improvisation, I felt that it was necessary to create designs beforehand for what would be the architecture of some of the places that populate that world, like its capital; Agartha, for example, same for the inhabitants of the Ether, vehicles, and even utensils…
That gave us a clearer picture of everything we wanted to do in Ether, and even generated new ideas on Matt’s end as well as mine. I think this way the final result, the series, has been enriched and improved, acquiring greater depth and fun.
Nrama: For Ether you're doing the full art, including lettering. How does that help you in composing the page? Are their clear lines in what facet you work on first, or do you go back and forth between line work, coloring, and lettering?
Rubin: When I write my own scripts, or when I read the scripts that others write for me, I imagine the pages, the complete pages, with all their elements, I do not visualize the phases of the work separately.
It is of course more laborious to do the pencils, the inks, the colors, and the letters, but I think that, at least in my case, the greater control that you possess on the final aspect of the work benefits the series.
When I work on an issue, first I make a storyboard of the 22 pages, then draw the entire 22 pencil pages, then apply ink, then the lettering, and finally the color.
Nrama: Going from the micro to the macro, what are your goals for Ether?
Rubin: The main goal is to have fun and to surprise myself when I am working. To me, if that happens it is very likely that the reader will also have fun reading your work, which is the main thing that every comic book should offer: fun and new surprises every month.
Working with Matt on Ether has been one of the most enriching experiences that I have had as an artist to date. I have been aiming high and I have tried to give my best.
Now it’s in your hands, the readers, to judge whether I have succeeded or not.