Valiant’s Secret Weapons miniseries introduces several new characters into their ever-expanding fold, and it's also serving as a proper introduction to two up-and-coming comic creators: Raúl Allen and Patricia Martin.
Working from scripts by Academy Award-nominated writer Eric Heisserer, Allen and Martin are amassing incredible praise for their work on the series, including at our own Best Shots team.
Allen, having already worked for Marvel and several magazine publications, and Martin, who has secured herself a commodity within Valiant, spoke to Newsarama about their artistic styles and collaboration process as well as any advice they have for aspiring or budding creators.
Newsarama: Patricia, Raúl has given you credit in the past as being an integral part of the designs for Secret Weapons. What was the collaboration process actually like?
Patricia Martin: Our collaboration is very organic and fluid; it is not that of a traditional penciler and inker. We work side by side and lean on each other all the time.
Raul Allen: Patricia is the first to work on the layouts for an issue, and she makes an interpretation of Eric Heisserer's script. This first pass is very thorough; once it’s done, we go over it together to make more defined breakdowns of the page, and to tighten the compositions and directions. We gather our reference material, which is usually a very fun part of the work – we shoot a lot of reference photos and work in 3-D for a lot of the scenery. Then I pencil the backgrounds and pass them on to Patricia to ink.
Martin: Since we work digitally, it is very easy to work on the same page at the same time. So while Raul is working on the characters, I can finish the backgrounds. This way, we can work on the flats very quickly. I work on the color palettes, and then Raul or our longtime collaborator, Borja Pindado, renders the final colors.
Nrama: How did you both end up at Valiant Comics?
Allen: I knew Warren Simons back when he was working at Marvel, from the time I worked on The Immortal Iron Fist with David Aja, Matt Fraction, and Ed Brubaker. At the time, I was mostly working as an editorial and book illustrator - I could jump from Playboy magazine to Rolling Stone, to the New York Times, to a young adult book, day in and day out - so my schedule and my process were very different back then. We talked about collaborating for a while, but it took some time until the opportunity presented itself. Warren has a very good eye for talent and the people he works with, so when things finally clicked, I was very happy to start collaborating. We started working on covers and interior art a year-and-a-half after that.
Martin: I come from a different background and used to work on design and editorial doing picture books, but I have always had a passion for drawing and telling stories. While Raúl was still mostly doing illustration, I had to jump in from time to time to help out. Once Raul moved onto interior art at Valiant, we really started collaborating together full-time: from the layout phase, to inking backgrounds, to picking up color palettes, and then lettering.
Nrama: Can you talk about both your influences with design and color palette?
Martin: When I was a kid, I used to tape music videos and ads from TV; I love music and the aesthetic associated with it. I am always looking at different color palettes from illustrators and film. I am very keen on pop and things outside of the usual color treatments.
Allen: I come from a very traditional fine arts background and have a love of cinema, so for me, color is about atmosphere and mood before anything else. We try to treat it as another character in the story and have it be an integral part of our work.
Martin: Design is a whole different story. It’s the problem-solving part of the brain, searching for different solutions to tell the story in a clear and compelling way, that I like the most. I think my background as a journalist and an editor, combined with my love for visuals, is what makes me approach the design process this way.
Allen: I studied graphic design right after I finished fine arts, so the problem-solving part is there for me too – but in my case, it’s more directly influenced by the classic comics I read growing up, from European to Japanese and American comics. It all comes down to the combination of influences.
Nrama:Where can fans see your work before Secret Weapons?
Martin: For Valiant, we did eight issues of Wrath Of The Eternal Warrior with Robert Venditti, (#1-4, #6-10), Bloodshot Reborn #5 with Jeff Lemire, and Ninjak #6 with Matt Kindt.
Allen: We also worked on Marvel’s Secret Avengers #18 with Warren Ellis and David Aja, Hawkeye #21 with Matt Fraction and David Aja, and several issues of The Immortal Iron Fist run by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja. Besides that, there is a ton of illustration work I have done over the years at places like New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, Playboy, GQ, Adidas, Folio Society, Penguin, Random House...
Nrama: How do you guys approach Eric's scripts?
Martin: Eric has changed the way he writes the scripts for us. He throws in some amazing visual ideas. but then leaves a lot of room for us to improvise, and I think that is what makes the book interesting. We all have a lot of respect for what everyone brings to the table.
Allen: Exactly. First of all, we want to as truthful as possible to Eric's intentions with the script, and then see all that we can incorporate into the story and the characters. Eric is amazing at building up the characters and at visualizing, which is what makes the characters instantly connect with the reader.
Nrama: What advice would you have for aspiring or budding comic artists?
Allen: The main thing is to be persistent and patient, not only by dedicating the time to hone your drawing and storytelling skills, but also by being better prepared for the business part of the profession.
As I mentioned before, things have to click between an editor and you, so you need to be able to handle criticism and take no for an answer every now and then. You have to understand that it’s nothing personal to be rejected, and that any piece of advice you receive from either an editor or another artist is very valuable information. This is a passion profession, so it’s only normal for you to put your heart out there. Just make sure you put your head to work as well.
Then, for the technical aspect, absorb every possible influence you can from as many sources as you can. The more informed you are, the better an artist you will be. Learn from your heroes, but understand where they come from. I see too many aspiring artists mimicking the work of an artist they admire, and that is something we all have gone through, but you have to see what influenced them and how they developed their style. Go to cons and events. Talk to professionals and learn from their experiences. And, as with any freelance profession, there are three things you should work on: be the best at what you do, make sure you’re always on time, and be nice to work with. If you cover at least two of those, people will be glad to work with you.