Sketchy Conversations: An Interview with Butch Mapa
There’s nothing like a pandemic to make the world seem small. In this uncertain time, I started checking in with various friends and creative collaborators around the globe. One of the furthest away (with a literal 12-hour time difference) is Butch Mapa, whom I worked with on Hart Jeffers’s sci-fi comic SOL for Run Riot Media. Given Butch’s name has started to appear in Diamond’s Previews at an increasing rate, our check-in on Facebook Messenger quickly turned into an opportunity to also dive into his experience and insight for ShoutFyre.
STEVE: Hey Butch! Thanks for agreeing to talk shop with me for ShoutFyre. To start on a personal note, how are you doing in terms of the current pandemic? IIRC, you’re in the Philippines, is that right?
BUTCH: Hey Steve—hanging in there, all things considered. Yeah, anxious and difficult times for everyone here in Manila, but I’m very fortunate to be able to work from the house and to have that introvert-brain where I’m cool hanging out with my own thoughts all day. Stay safe indoors, everyone! Time to catch up on that game, TV show, or comic that you’ve been meaning to get to for the past year or two. Or eight.
S: Ha, agreed. The one silver lining of quarantine is that my lack of a social life has done wonders for my productivity. I just spent part of the weekend wrapping up a project a month ahead of deadline.
Speaking of projects, you seem to be very busy as of late. You’re doing an AVENGERS book at IDW, and I just saw you have a new indie comic BLOOM coming out later this year. What can you tell us about those titles?
B: Yeah, always staying on that hustle!
MARVEL ACTION AVENGERS 2020 is part of IDW’s all-ages line of Marvel titles. Each issue is a self-contained adventure featuring a pair of Avengers, Marvel Team-Up style. This is my IDW and Marvel debut, and I’m working off of Katie Cook’s (and later, Chad Bowers’) terrific scripts, so there was a little bit of pressure to start, but I’m flowing now! I’m going to be able to say that I drew an Avengers #1, which is trippy. The first issue of that should be out by the time you read this.
On the other end of the spectrum is BLOOM, which is a tense, horror-themed limited series from Ted Sikora’s Hero Tomorrow universe. BLOOM is the origin of Regina, a main villain of HT’s flagship character, Apama. The story follows a pair of characters as they explore the forests of Cleveland during the heyday of the 1960’s Flower Power movement. That one comes out in June, hopefully.
I’m also providing some artwork for a wrestling-themed game on IOS/Android called MODERN MANIA WRESTLING. It’s free, so if you’re looking to kill some time—who isn’t these days—you should definitely check that out!
S: You weren’t joking about staying on the hustle! That app sounds like a fun time-killer for sure, and a good way to spend some social distancing. And having an AVENGERS #1 under your belt must be a thrill. Knowing Chad Bowers, the two of you on a book sounds like a dream team.
A book like BLOOM sounds like the total opposite of an all-ages AVENGERS book, and they both sound very different from the sci-fi of SOL. As a creator, how do you approach such diverse projects? Do you find yourself treating each one differently?
B: Absolutely! As a freelancer, especially at the independent level where you’ve got new clients coming in more frequently, you have to be able to adapt your art so that you can take on more types of jobs.
I’ve toned it down somewhat in recent years, but I’ve always tried to picture what kind of art would fit into a particular project, and then change my style accordingly. BLOOM is retro-horror with a strong female lead, so I looked at a ton of old Warren magazines for the look I wanted. The works of Maroto, Ortiz, Auraleon, with the emphasis on realistic forms and moody atmospherics was something I attempted to tap into.
The style I used on SOL was pretty close to that, but with an emphasis on world-building, as Hart’s story takes place in the future. So we had to develop the overall look and feel of the pages. It was more of a collaborative effort between myself and colorist Lisa Moore, as we had more special effects in that comic.
With AVENGERS, I wanted a more open look, with clean lines that would appeal to a broader audience. As a humor comic, I really wanted to emphasize body language and facial expressions, so I leaned towards a mix of Disney animators such as Jin Kim over a base of Stuart Immonen, blessed-be-his-name.
At the start of any project, I try to envision what I want the art to look like, and identify the individual pieces I need to achieve it. It’s a lot like being a chef in search of the right ingredients, you just hope you come up with something delicious!
S: That’s really interesting, how you morph your style to match the tone of the project, even drawing on different influences for inspiration. Yet, I’ll say you still have a recognizable style all your own. Maybe it’s because I spent all that time poring over your pages for SOL, but I definitely recognized your AVENGERS covers in Previews as your work, despite a clear variation in style. Do you have specific creators who’ve influenced you as a creator in general? For example, I see some Immonen influence in your SOL work as well (and understandably so, he’s a master illustrator and storyteller!).
B: Thanks! It’s very important to have your own distinct styles emerge from all the tinkering. Our lord and savior Stuart Immonen is probably the biggest influence, especially his cartoonier era from Nextwave and the Ultimate line. That’s something I dabbled with, trying it out on smaller projects before being confident enough to make samples in that style. I try to tap into the energy Joe Mad and J.Scott Campbell bring in their artwork, though the influence maybe isn’t too obvious there.
For the more realistic work, I always look at Ivan Reis, who is impossibly talented. He’s been making it look easy for decades. Silvestri and Opena, with their organic rendering. Bryan Hitch is someone I took a lot from in the past. Butch Guice is another one—just unfair how good he is with textures. (Great name, too.)
You just end up taking small pieces from a lot of artists over the years. Maybe it’s the way Epting renders hair with a brush; a particular hand pose that Weeks used; Cassaday’s low angle shots; Coipel’s cross hatching; a Benes panel composition. It goes on and on.
S: That’s a great and diverse selection of influences. Some real masters of the art form. And some less obvious than others at a surface level look at your style.
Along the same lines of approaching those projects as an artist, do you find the collaborations differ based on the team or project? For example, you mentioned the world-building of SOL, and I know you and Hart had a lot of discussions as that world evolved. Is that sort of collaboration typical, or does your mileage vary based on the project or writer?
B: It definitely varies—it’s a small part of the job overall, but with each project, you have to figure out what your collaborators want from you. Most indie jobs are set up like we were on SOL. The writer is also the guy funding the project, so they get final say. But I’ll make suggestions here and there, and try to gauge how receptive they are to my input, and adjust accordingly.
For example, Ted, my writer on BLOOM, has a background in theater and film. He has a strong idea of how he wants that story to play out visually. So after I send in my rough layouts, he will usually use that as a springboard to make final decisions on staging, which he will then send back to me for pencils. It took me a few pages to get used to that workflow, but it wasn’t really a big deal—it’s less work for me in the end!
On AVENGERS, I work directly under editor Bobby Curnow. But IDW’s a larger publisher, so the work gets looked at by other editors—and then gets passed to Marvel. So there are a lot of folks offering suggestions and catching my mistakes, which is awesome!
S: Sounds like you have your hands full, juggling all these projects. Any secrets to how you’re able to balance such a workload?
B: It’s definitely a challenge. When you’re on page 14 of your third issue on a series and deadlines are getting tough, things can seem like a grind. Change things up—I work outside at coffee shops to keep things fresh. You can’t avoid inevitable distractions and life’s hiccups, so don’t seek them out—but take care of them quickly when they show up. On each page, I bounce around, working on different things depending on my mood and energy level. At the end of the day, all you’re doing is putting down marks on paper/screen. So just make sure you keep making those marks, and you’ll finish even the toughest page. Oh, and this thought always works for me: “You can always waste time later.” And it’s true.
S: LOL. Great point.
Speaking of, I really do appreciate you wasting time with me for this conversation! You have a lot going on, and it’s clear you’ve worked hard to get where you are. Congrats with your success (seriously, an Avengers #1?!), and best of luck with all your endeavors!
Excuse me—always a pleasure, Steve.
Editor, Artist, Letterer, Colorist Steve is the long-running cartoonist at the Charleston, SC alt-weekly Charleston City Paper, where he skewers politicians and criminals (and criminal politicians) alike with editorial cartoons and police blotter illustrations every issue. Steve was best known his indie comic book (and subsequent webcomic) BOONDOGGLE