As Blackest Night rounds the corner of the halfway mark, there's one thing that fans can agree on: Ivan Reis is drawing some of the best work of his career.
Reis 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.
Since his run on Green Lantern began with Issue #10 in 2006, the Brazilian artist has defined the look of the comic's multitude of characters and various settings. He and writer Geoff Johns guided the comic through the popular 2007 storyline, "Sinestro Corps War," and last year's "Secret Origin," which told Hal Jordan's background.
Now DC has tapped him to draw the publisher's premier event, as Blackest Night encompasses not only the Green Lantern universe, but most of the DC Universe as well.
Although Reis told Newsarama readers in February that he would be leaving the Green Lanterns behind after Blackest Night, he promised that there would be more projects with Johns in his future.
Newsarama talked to the artist about how Blackest Night is going, how he designed some of those two-page spreads, and whether he's still counting on that future project with Johns.
Newsarama: Ivan, the reviews of your art on this event have been outstanding. Do you read reviews of your work?
Ivan Reis: Yes. Always. I think it's important to read the reviews because that is a way to know what the readers are thinking about your work and to know what you need to improve upon, to find the best way to tell the story. And it is fantastic when you read that you got it right.
Nrama: Let's start by talking about the tone of this comic. How different is it to draw something so dark and scary? What does it require of you as an artist that is different from other work you've done?
Reis: It's a great challenge. I've been working to create the best tone for Blackest Night. Normally, in regular superhero stories, you draw things much cleaner. In this book, there is more darkness. The most difficult part for me has been to work with the shadows and black area.
Nrama: Have you spent a lot of time thinking about how to portray the zombie versions of heroes? How different is it to draw them as opposed to regular superheroes?
Reis: The zombie designs were done by Joe Prado. I just work them in the story. I just have fun doing them. I love the zombie heroes. You can't work them as regular zombies because they are a new concept to the zombie idea. They aren't regular zombies; they're not regular superheroes. So I can play with them in the way I want.
Nrama: Do you have a favorite Black Lantern?
Reis: I'm going to draw my favorite Black Lantern soon. I can't talk about him yet.
Nrama: Do you use a lot of references for this series?
Reis: I don't use references or pictures to draw. I see too much comics before to work. Just when it's a detail or specifics, I get a reference. When it's a detail about the characters, Joe and [DC editor] Adam [Schlagman], or even Geoff help me with reference when necessary.
Nrama: Looking at your work on Blackest Night so far, the layout is a little different for you, with wide panels telling most of the story. Was that your choice or something Geoff directed in his script? And why do you think that layout fits this story?
Reis: When Geoff gave me the script for Blackest Night #2, he asked me to do the most wide panels I can. And I thought I could do it to all of the series because it would give the story a characteristic. If you get the Sinestro Corps War issues of Green Lantern, the panels are a regular "hero" composition, with big panels and action. In the "Secret Origin" arc of Green Lantern, the panels are like an "old comic" with a kind of ingenuousness to the panel composition. And with Blackest Night, there are few big panels, which makes it feel more cinematic.
Nrama: There have also been a lot of two-page spreads. In Blackest Night #1, you had a whole lot of dead Green Lanterns rising from the dead on a two-page panel. How many characters did you draw in that? How long did it take you?
Reis: Wow, it would be masochism to count each one in the page! To draw them is enough. But I think it was more than 100. I spent three days working on the spread.
Nrama: You've gotten to draw a lot of live characters too. Which of DC's Earth characters have been the most enjoyable for you?
Reis: I love working with Hawkman, Batman, and the Martian Manhunter. It's always fun to work with them.
Nrama: How did you come up with your look for Barry Allen?
Reis: Geoff asked me to draw him as someone that doesn't ever stop. He's working in high-speed all the time, even to walk or to talk. The challenge is to draw this speed idea and to make that work on the page. He needs to be different from everyone else always, even in a simple movement.
Nrama: Mera is one of the characters who has stood out in the story so far. How did you come up with your look and style for this character?
Reis: Actually, I got her reading the script. I don't like to come up with the image for a character before the script. I like to let the story talk me how I need to follow to the character. It happened with Mera.
Geoff gave me an idea about how Mera needed to be drawn, and the story gave me how Mera needed to look.
Nrama: The Black Lantern JLA fight in Issue #3 was very visually dynamic. What was that like to draw? And how did you use the features of the risen Black Lanterns to make it even more visually entertaining?
Reis: Thanks. I love to draw them. Normally, when you draw a lot of characters, you use the colors to think the composition and the details. Here, you don't have the colors because everybody is grey but Hal and Barry. I used the JLA zombies to highlight Hal and Barry, and I avoided making the Black Lanterns too close to one another just to show all the visual from them better.
Nrama: How long did that two-page spread in Blackest Night #3 take to draw?
Reis: I spent two days to finish that spread.
Nrama: What were the directions in the script for that two-page spread? And how did you come up with that page design?
Reis: Geoff asked me to do that spread so it seemed like a rainbow, as was done before in DC #0. But it was a big spread, and I had worked with the rainbow design before, so I thought to draw a big Indigo, because it was her who explained the story in the page, and all the panels followed the Indigo design on the page.
Nrama We know there's a one month break in Blackest Night in January to make sure you have enough time to finish the event. Are the deadlines difficult?
Reis: For sure. Big events are always hard to work because you need a lot of references and more things happen than in a regular book. I've been working more than usual. But I love to work under pressure.
Nrama: Looking at the solicitations for future issues, it looks like you're drawing just about everyone on Earth, including every villain. Is there anything you can tell us about future issues and what you're getting to draw?
Reis: My God. I'm working on that book now, but until now, I didn't work that moment I'd have to draw it. Please, I prefer not to think about that until that is necessary.
Nrama: Not to look too far ahead, but you had told me in February at New York Comic Con that you are going to be doing a "great" project with Geoff after Blackest Night. Is that still true? Are you still planning to work with Geoff?
Reis: Of course it is still true. Wait for it!
Nrama: Hmmm... the characters you're going to draw in your next project -- have you been getting to draw them in this series?
Reis: Hey, I'm working on practically all the characters from the DC universe in that story. [laughs]
Nrama: How has it been working with Geoff on the Blackest Night series?
Reis: It is always a pleasure to work on Geoff's scripts. It's easier to understand and to draw. We usually talk by e-mail .I read Geoff's script when I draw, just for me to get the same energy as the reader when they discover an important thing in the story. I think that way I can find the right energy for the page.
Nrama: Looking at Blackest Night's tone, it seems so dark that your inker, Oclair Albert, must be putting in extra hours too. And it looks like you have more than one person working on inking. Do you work closely with your inkers?
Reis: Yes, he is working hard! Joe has been helping with the inks as Julio helped in Issue #2. Oclair and Joe Prado live close to me, so it is easier to send the pages and to talk about the Ideas for the inks.
Nrama: Have you been coordinating things with other artists too? Are you aware of their work on the Blackest Night tie-ins?
Reis: Yes. Adam has been sending all the books by other artists to help me to understand the story as a whole.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell your fans about your work on Blackest Night?
Reis: Please, read Blackest Night more than four times. [laughs] You will always notice a new thing in the story and the art that you didn't before.