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The Outhouse Interview: Adrian Alphona

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Tuesday, November 29 2011 and posted in Features

The fan-favorite artist stops by The Outhouse to talk about where he's been, what he's been up to, and what he will be doing in the future!

Canadian artist Adrian Alphona appropriately gained a cult following as penciller of the similarly appreciated Runaways series for Marvel, written by then-newcomer Brian K. Vaughan.  Featuring fun, distinctive character designs and an easy-going, laid back style, Alphona's work on the title is fondly remembered by Runaways readers.  He's been out of comics for a few years, but he's working on some projects now, and is still a fixture at comic conventions.  The quiet, reserved artist spent much of New York Comic-Con sketching in his book while sitting at frequent collaborator Christina Strain's table in Artist's Alley as they sold copies of their new artbook Sweetness. Alphona recently spoke to The Outhouse (via e-mail) about his art, his relationships in comics, and something terrible that happened in his hallway.

The Outhouse (OH):  First of all, it's been a while since we've seen your art in comics.  Where have you been?  What have you been up to?

Adrian Alphona (AA): Hola Nonesuch! Before the past year, I had been sticking to small jobs, little fashion stuff. Little commercial stuff. A couple things I don't know how to categorize. But it was fun. Kinda exploring things a bit. For the most part I was just working on my own art. I took a few art classes since I had never been formally trained before. Didn't pay much attention back in high school art class.

OH:  All told, how long did it take for you and Christina Strain to get your artbook together?  What inspired the art we can see in there? How can people get a copy for themselves?

AA: A few months? Christina had coloured a couple of my random sketches earlier in the year and we thought to make prints of them.

They did pretty well at TCAF [Toronto Comic Arts Festival] this past May, with quite a number of people asking about an artbook. I called Christina and said "Oy! Artbook?"
and she said, "GIMME ALL YOUR SKETCHES, SON." She really deserves a lot of credit for putting it all together while I took naps.

With a few exceptions most of the art in the book was done in the past year and a half, before I had any thought of putting them in a book. The only challenge was finding sketches and drawings that were unattached to any job. Usable stuff. A number of sketches "didn't make" the book mostly due to time restraints in colouring them, so we're off to a start for a follow up book. Yays.

It's a crappy answer for what inspired them, but I don't know? They're just drawings of whatever felt like good ideas at the time. Most of the time it starts with a simple thing, like a girl eating with chopsticks. Then I just add whatever I feel like, which is usually fat animals or more girls. That's about as profound as it gets. I don't know. They're sketches, so things tend to be pretty organic.

We'll have the books available online and in stores mainly in LA and Toronto, where we're based out of.

OH:  How did you first get started in art, and in comics?018_color

AA: I took graphic design at George Brown College in Toronto after realizing I was ok at art things but pretty crappy at everything else. I was actually pretty intent on becoming a graphic designer for a while, but eventually straight illustration was what I fell in love with.  Drawing comics was not really on the radar at first for practical reasons. I didn't think it was realistic to find work.

I joined a comic studio in Toronto, but was admittedly more interested in potential design jobs at the time. It took until a year or so later for me to seriously try my hand at the comic bookery. The first few months of 2003 was all about drawing and more drawing on the side to put together a decent portfolio for Wizardworld Philly, where I went with a couple studiomates.  It was there I met C.B. Cebulski, who gave me my first shot.

One of those studiomates I went with was Valentine de Landro. Just cos' i like to namedrop.

OH:  Your work always boasts unique and distinctive fashion designs.  How do you approach designing the look of a character?

AA: Thanks!

I try to think in simple terms. Like a single trademark for a character and go from there. The intent for the Runaways characters, for example, was to try for each of them to have a trademark. Their 'thing', beyond facial structure, so they can still be recognized when they wore different clothes or when drawn by another artist. Molly's hats, Nico's spikey hair, which didn't seem to carry...Chase's gloves, which got destroyed... Dammit. Stuff like this.

In general, I also try to overdo a design at first. Just because it's easier to take away from it and bring down to earth in the process than to try to add to it if you start off short.

021_col_printOH: If you were to look at it objectively, how would you describe your art style?  How did you develop your style?  What kinds of art influences did you have?

AA: Yeah. Other than it being a clear or crooked line style, and I like drawing women and fat animals.  I don't know, I've always tried to do things my way, even if I wasn't sure what my way is or was exactly. I do know that at this point I don't think about art style when I draw.

What got me drawing was Mad Magazine, Archie comics, Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes cartoons. I mentioned in another interview about a french language book in elementary school that had illustrations that had a lasting impression on me. The art was heavily influenced by Bob Peak. So him too and whoever the french book guy was. Alphonse Mucha as well.

OH: Looking back at your Runaways run, how well did you accomplish the goals you had set for yourself when you started?

AA: Well the film, or talk of a film, was never a goal. Nor have the reprintings. So in that sense the book far exceeded any goals. My only thoughts were to not continue to suck while Brian was putting out fantastic scripts. I still remember not being familiar with his work when I started and after reading the first script all I could think of was, 'Oh man this is good. He's gonna hate me when I screw this up. What is Marvel thinking?'

I did want the Runaways and just about every side character to easily be recognized well beyond Brian and me, over various artists. I don't know. I thought we did ok.

OH: When we interviewed Christina Strain, she jokingly referred to you as heramaina_color "comic book husband." Talk to us about the relationships you've formed in comics, and how they came to be.  How close did you become to the people you worked with?

AA: Ha! Yeah, the comic book wifey and I practically grew up in the industry together. Our careers started at about the same time and at this point we're just about attached at the hip. She knows what I like and vice versa, so look for us to put out more things in the future.

The Toronto art and comic scene in general is pretty busy, pretty friendly. Everyone seems to know or know of each other. And there's a lot of us. It's pretty cool.

OH: Are you reading any comics now?  What titles stand out to you right now?

AA: Um. At the moment I haven't picked up much in the last couple years. I've been so out of it, it's kinda embarassing.

OH: Is there any chance of you returning to comics someday?  Is that something that's in the works?

AA: Already back, sorta. I have a couple of creator-owned projects on the go. Both more of the romantic type.

OH: Is there anything you'd like to talk about that we didn't ask?  Any major revelations or scoops you can give us?  This is your chance to have your voice heard!

AA: Umm. Sure! The hallway in my building smells like shit. Like, literally shit. My guess is that someone just unloaded the very second he got in his door with his bowels assuming he had already reached his bathroom.

I hope everyone reading this is having a better day than that guy!

Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch

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