COMICS BEYOND ART, COMICS AS CONCEPT
The highly anticipated “Spider-man: A New Universe” arrived in theaters during the Christmas season. An animated film by Sony Pictures Animation dedicated to Spiderman ... or better, to different versions of the popular hero, as it has taken into account the many alternative realities born out of the House of Ideas during its many years of publication. At the center of the story, is not the classic Peter Parker, but one of his most popular alternate versions, namely Miles Morales, the young African-american Spider-man who appeared as the second Spider-man in the “Ultimate” Marvel imprint, which rewrote the stories to be fresher and more up-to-date for the public. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Miles Morales was co-created, by a proud native-italian, Sara Pichelli. A Roman artist, born in 1983, who after starting her career as a story boarder and character designer, found recognition in the Marvel family where she has worked on the relaunch of the Fantastic Four, the “superfamily” par excellence in the world of American comics. With the opening of “Spider-man: A New Universe” in theaters, another wonderful film to say the least, we met Sara Pichelli to ask her a little more about her career, her inspirations, and working in the most sought-after company, (by anyone who wants to enter the world of international comics) Marvel.
Sara you’ve been working in the American market for several years now, tell us what was your approach to your US debut?
My initial approach, I must admit, was subconscious. In 2008 I knew almost nothing about this world, or the comic strip and in part, this “innocence” saved me from performance anxiety. I started publishing with Marvel after becoming a finalist (along with 12 others) in the Chesterquest, a world competition held by Marvel, and named a finalist by C.B. Cebulski himself (now current Vice President of the publishing house). Ultimately, I cut my teeth on the job while trying to understand it. It was fun and scary at the same time!
What does it mean for an Italian cartoonist to work on American comic characters and, especially for you, to work on the Marvel superheroes?
Working on superheroes, especially for me not having grown up with them, is a way to challenge myself and get to know a slice of American pop culture. The notion of a man with super powers was invented abroad, and over time brought with it a cohesive and logical world in which these super men move and grow. It is a concept that expresses values, speaks of good and evil at all levels and ambiguities. In the end they are stories about human nature, in which we seek to find a sense of belonging that makes us feel less alone with our doubts and fears.
“The world of comics today does not just need good cartoonists, but new visionaries”- Sara Pichelli
Now that American comics have shown success at the movies, do you think these heroes and stories can maintain the same appeal as the originals?
The transition from one medium to another, inevitably will go through changes. Something will be lost in translation so that the film reaches those who do not know the story at all. I have conflicting feelings about this new trend of the so-called “Cinecomics” (Superhero movies). While I am happy that the film adaptation arouses new interest in comics, on the other hand, I fear that the freedom of sequential art is put at risk to make the comic more and more similar to the movies because, as you know, that brings in more money.
You, for example, what’s your attitude towards superheroes at the cinema? Are you satisfied with the direction taken by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or are you feeling a bit weary?
I admit that the last superhero movie I saw at the cinema was “Spider-man: Homecoming”. I do not mind the Cinecomics, indeed some I particularly liked. But in the long run, I realize that what I miss most is an authorial cut in the approach to the characters and their story. Many of the films about superheroes released recently felt like they were shot by the same person, in short, a rubber-stamp that sometimes makes the product predictable.
Let’s talk about Miles Morales, when he first appeared in Ultimate Spider-man. What reaction did you expect from the fans, being that Miles was a completely new character and African American?
When we were about to release number one, the pressure was off the scale. None of us, neither Marvel nor Brian Michael Bendis (the author of the stories) could imagine what the public reaction would be. We were sure that we would run into some controversy, but that was all. The only thing that made us hold strong was our conviction of having created the best of that story. We had put all of ourselves into the story with utmost professionalism, so in the end, we were impatient to introduce Miles to readers.
After having co-created the Miles Morales character with Brian Michael Bendis and having drawn the stories of the X-men and Guardians of the Galaxy, Sara Pichelli also took part in the Fantastic Four relaunch.
Why a new Spider-man?
Why not? The beauty of Spiderman is that he is a superhero not by birthright, but by chance. Stan Lee’s idea that anyone can wear that mask is the most beautiful concept he could give us.
So many Spider-men, many different stories that are not a mere facsimile of the original story, but an evolution, a passing of the baton and a legacy to the new generations.
This year you can see Miles in two different versions, first as a character in the “Marvel’s Spider-man” videogame, exclusively for Playstation 4, then as the lead in the latest animated film “Spider-man: A New Universe”. How does it feel to see one’s creation reach such popularity that it transcends the media on which it was conceived?
Seeing my debut creation on film and in video games has been exciting.
I still remember myself locked in a small room trying to find a face to that character, invent a way to dress it, to make it move. Knowing that the hard work it took to make Miles unique and the public care for him has made me proud of my work and of being able to contribute to the project.
Were you involved, or consulted, in these projects?
I was able to contribute to the film “Spider-man: A New Universe” collaborating with Sony Pictures Animation. Specifically, I designed one of the endings of the several acts which divide the film.
Are you satisfied with the way Miles is portrayed in the film? Think of the way in which Miles moves or
fights in contrast to the original Spider-man, do you find it in line with what you imagine every time you draw him in motion?
Sony has made a perfect product from my point of view. The did not betray Miles in the slightest while still making some changes. And yes, Miles moves exactly as I had imagined, the way I did it in the comic book.
From one iconic character to another, you worked on the new Fantastic Four. Did you feel the weight, or any responsibility, in designing the superhero family par excellence? What was the direction you gave this re-launch?
This time, probably because I’m older, the pressure was much lower.
I know that the first family of comics is in the hearts of many fans and they have been waiting for their return for years, and my approach is very respectful of the tradition as it is Marvels’ and writer, Dan Slotts’ wish.
Sara Pichelli started her animation career working as a storyboarder and character designer for IDW Publishing as an art assist for David Messina for the Star Trek comic book series.
You have always professed wanting to see your artistic designs in American comics, but recently the world of Italian comics has been greatly enriched,
and there are formats that seem to resemble a lot of the American scene, you think that the time is ripe for a drawing by Sara Pichelli in an Italian newspaper?
I do not know, it depends on the projects I’m offered, never say never.
The world of American comics is certainly among the most coveted for those who dream of becoming a professional illustrator or cartoonist. Who are the teachers you think the new generation should look to? But above all, what do you recommend to those who are taking their first steps today?
The heads of the sequential art schools are countless. To name or choose between any one of them would be boring and almost arrogant of me. Usually it is the heart that pushes you towards this or that teacher.
The advice that I give to the new generation has changed compared to what I would have given a few years ago. In the past I was urging the kids to read a lot of comics and to draw a lot. Now what I would tell those who want to participate in this world is to expose themselves to as many stimuli as possible. Not only artistic stimuli such as comics or artbooks. But allow yourself the opportunity to enrich yourself artistically through music, exhibitions, concerts, a good book, visit parks, new cities, etc. Increasing one’s experiential tool kit gives freshness to the vision of the world and art reflects it. In my opinion, the world of comics today does not just need good designers, but new visionaries.
Sara Pichelli’s career as a cartoonist, as a storyboarder and character designer at IDW Publishing and art assist for David Messina in the Star Trek comic series.