July this year, a books hits the stand that has the potential to be, as a former Crusader put it “the book of the year”. Mechanism created, written, drawn and lettered by Raffaele Ienco and is a sci-fi book having influences from a variety of sources including The Walking Dead and the Iron Giant. Following Comic Crusaders advance review (go check out the review section), CC caught up with Raff to get the low down on his storm soaked world:
CC: Raff, lets start at the top. For those who are not aware of your 20 years in the comic industry, would you mind giving a quick bio of your work please?
Raffaele Ienco: Well, I started in 1994 with my first published book, Stygmata #0 from Entity Comics. Entity Comics was run by Don Chin and his wife and they did a lot of Zen: Intergalactic Ninja and Parody Press books back then. Stygmata, whose main character was one of the hateful soldiers that put Christ up on the cross and was then cursed to roam the earth making amends for his past was also a creator-owned book. Really it was me trying to do my version of Spawn because I wanted to draw big capes, ha ha. I drew a few more books for Entity and then did a few books for Avatar Press. Then worked in video games for a decade doing Metal Gear Solid and Eternal Darkness games then came back to comics with a horror sci-fi OGN for Image called Devoid of Life. So it’s not really a straight 20 years of pure comics.
CC: Which have been your favourite characters to work on and why?
RI: I guess Mechanism has been the most fun because of all the different elements like robots, aliens, artificial intelligence’s, rain, broken society, walled cities and a starving population that I get to depict. I filled it will all the cool things that are fun to look at and tried to weave stories centered on how people feel about their lives and loved ones. Even during the worst of times people still endure many issues that they faced during tranquil times. It’s also full color digital paint which has a lot of advantages over just ink work.
CC: You have recently worked on the excellent SYMMETRY and have MECHANISM due out from Top Cow. In your mind, are companies like Image, Valiant etc. still classed as indie?
RI: I guess they are still indie companies because when you think of all the resources, money and power The Big Two have they are far and away much more cemented into pop culture and will always be that way. The Big Two have the iconic characters like Batman and Spider-Man which will still be around for hundreds of years like Robin Hood and King Arthur are.
Image is made up of its creators properties, subtract all that and you have a company that owns a logo. But that is why Image is so special and we creators love it- because it is not corporate, it is us.
CC: How was working with Matt Hawkins? Is he someone you can bounce your ideas off?
RI: I haven’t worked with that many writers since mainly I write my own books but after working with Marvel on a few projects I could see the advantage of just concentrating on the art and letting another person do the dialogue and plot. Matt is very easy to work with and really easy-going. I’ve mainly stayed away from advancing my ideas to Matt on Symmetry because I wanted to see where he alone would take the project and I didn’t want to be another cook in the kitchen, so to speak. You can only have one captain steering the ship on a book but I did put forth a few things I thought we needed. The Pacifiers were my idea since I knew we were definitely going to need some chase scenes and my question was who was going to do the chasing and I came up with the Pacifiers (Matt named them). I really liked the cops in the movie THX-1138, the Sandmen in Logan’s Run and the Agents in the Matrix, so the Pacifiers are a combination of those. But to keep things different from your regular Terminator movie, the robot Pacifiers are very polite and just want to help you. Yeah, the kind of help you don’t want though, that’s why you run!
CC: I loved the idea of the Sandmen in Logan’s Run, in that they out you to sleep. Very cool! Stereo-typically, Top Cow seem to enjoy putting out books with a tech feel. Was this part of the reason for you wanting them to publish MECHANISM?
RI: The creator of a project doesn’t always have the power to choose the destination for their books. Harry Potter was declined two dozen times before landing at its publisher. I was lucky to have Mechanism land with Top Cow when the wheel stopped turning, myself. And I hope to do more projects with Top Cow. Creating a submission package and then sending it out one by one and getting rejections is always disheartening. But Top Cow has had a lot of success in comics and other media and has a great pedigree especially lately so I’m very fortunate to have them embrace my Mechanism project. Yeah, it seems to fit into their world well, too.
CC: What are the challenges and advantages of being the writer and artist?
RI: Awesome question. The advantages of being both writer and artist are that your ideas are the ideas that are put into motion. The most bizarre worlds you imagine can be made real. It’s really amazing that I can thumbnail a scene and then make it real with art and dialogue. It’s like I’m a human movie studio. For me dialogue is the part that I like to take a long time with because it’s just as important as the art. In Mechanism you’ll notice very few caption boxes in favour of pure character dialogue. Sometimes when I pick up a comic I won’t read the captions and I’ll just read the dialogue.
Now the disadvantages are that you’re much slower to create a finished comic and you don’t have a second person helping to pimp the wares. A second opinion and pair of eyes are always helpful too.
Now I’ve come to learn, sadly, that a lot of artists don’t have the notion or motivation to write their own stuff. They’ve trained their whole lives to be good enough as artists to work in the industry and have never trained that part of themselves to write, which takes a long commitment as well, or just don’t want to and I think that’s a shame. I’ve noticed a dearth of writer/artists lately, haven’t you?
CC: I definitely feel there seems to be a lack of new writer/artists, especially in the Big Two. Still small press has a number of creators pulling double duty. Still, there is an ongoing debate around which is more important, writing or art. What are your views?
RI: Here’s some anecdotes — I was reading Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely and loving it until Quitely stopped drawing it and then just like that I couldn’t read the book anymore. My desire disappeared and I had no interest anymore. Maybe it was the art that was keeping me invested in a story that really wasn’t hooking me? On the other hand I’ve started reading some comics with awful art and I just couldn’t stop, it was so gripping. You really need both to hook your audience in comics. But in today’s industry climate it’s much more important than ever to write gripping and inviting stories because we can’t afford to lose our audience anymore.
CC: You stated, that MECHANISM takes it influences from The Walking Dead and The Iron Giant. Both elements have crossed media from comic to TV shows and book to cartoon film. From which media did you draw from the most?
RI: Actually, I noticed the influences after the project was done and needed to describe the project in a few words for the potential buyer. So those projects have some similarities. Mechanism deals with a robot that learns enough about humanity to make a decision about their nature and potential in a world that has become broken and desperate, but you’ll find the mix has taken on a very different angle in Mechanism.
CC: I love the look and feel of MECHANISM. Are the human characters faces based on anyone, if so, whom?
RI: Every character needs to have character and having realistic faces with emotion, helps bring that forth. It makes them feel more real. No, they are not based on anyone in particular.
CC: If you hadn’t broken into comics, what would you be doing, what was your plan b?
RI: I didn’t have a plan B, making comics was always my goal since I was 16. But the money just wasn’t happening back then and I fell into the video game business really by chance. The game industry is really a business of creating a story with 200 people, you become a small part of the process and end up making stories by committee if you’re lucky enough to contribute to the narrative in the first place. I had a lot of projects in me that I wanted to create so I had to leave and get back to makin’ the comics!
CC: What’s next for you and MECHANISM?
RI: Hopefully, it’s a hit and there’s demand for more stories beyond the first 5 books. I’m really pleased with the ending in issue 5 which creates a new world of amazing story possibilities that I’m very excited about. I love artificial intelligence stories. I guess it’s the notion that purity of mind uncluttered by being raised in a human environment will offer up incredible wisdom and insight. Even if that wisdom comes to the conclusion that man is its own worst enemy and that the Earth is really better off with less or even no humans around.
Thanks Raff, I totally appreciate your time. Good luck with the book.
As mentioned above, the first issue has already been reviewed, keep an eye on the review section for future reviews of subsequent issues.
Issue #1 will be released in July, make sure to ask your LCS to order you a copy!