How did you start reading comics? Did you read mostly European or American comics?
I read a bit of everything. My dad was a comic collector and he collected Italian, European (Giraud, Hermann, …) and American comics. He collected the first Italian edition of American comics by Edizione Corno. He is a strange collector … I hated him because he would only buy the first 10 issues of a series and then stopped. He still does it today. He doesn't really care where the story goes after that.
I read a lot of different comics, and since the beginning I was in love with John Buscema's art. When I met him in an Italian convention, he was a very nice and kind man. Cool artist, cool person. Humble and available with everybody. I have never been excited about meeting celebrities, but I still remember the exact feeling when I met him. I decided that moment that, if I ever became a comic artist, I wanted to be like him. He was 65 years old but he was like a child in all the best ways: open to people, not arrogant at all, … Fantastic!
When we were children, things were very different for us. Now, with the Internet, you know the faces, you know what artists are having for lunch through the social networks. Before, everything was a surprise. Meeting your unknown comic god could leave a really good or bad impression.
Growing up in Spain, I remember meeting Neil Gaiman for the first time and he was incredibly nice. You hear horror stories once in a while, but most people working in comics are really really nice. Who else influences your work apart from John Buscema?
I have a lot of influences as an illustrator. I like doing sequential art, but I consider myself an illustrator. That's how I started, that's what I want to do.
Classic painters like Caravaggio or one of my favourite artists ever, Norman Rockwell. In my opinion, he's the best illustrator in America because he was an amazing artist and possibly an incredible man. All his work makes you feel good. It's something I try to do too. A lot of times I read comics or watch movies, and I get the feeling they are not sending a good message. As a father of three kids, I think we have a responsibility towards the youth. We have to transmit a positive message, a message that not everything is as crap as the media tries to make us believe.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, not Darth Vader. Nowadays kids want to be Darth Vader or Kylo Ren. I fear this is part of an anthropological metamorphosis. There's no more good and evil. There are too many tones of grays. I think it's a problem that society cannot give role models that are purely good.
It makes a lot of sense that Norman Rockwell's utopic view of everyday life is a favourite of yours. Taking a look at your early career, you did a lot of work for Germany when you were starting out …
The first country I visited as a Panini artist was Germany. I started working with Panini when, after showing them my portfolio in a convention, they called me to do some lithographies for Spider-Man, Wolverine and Spider-Man. I was really happy, it was my first official work for the comic industry. So they invited me to the Essen convention. I was 24 years old and the reason for my success in Germany was that I like meeting people and people were curious and recognized the passion I was putting into it. I spent the whole four days sketching for anyone who talked to me. People seemed to get my passion and started to let their opinions known at the forums (no social networks at the time) and this seemed to start a chain reaction. That's the reason why for the first 5-6 years of my career I worked for Germany and France. From 1998 until 5 years ago, I was invited by Panini every year for conventions in Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Now I have a family, I need holidays.
Then your first work for the US market, for the Call …
I did four covers for The Call. That was terrible. They asked me for 6 covers and when I was working on the 4th one, they called me to say the series was canceled. Thankfully, it was not because of my covers. They are really lucky in the US … (laughing) If there's an explosion in Italy everybody would be dead, in the US they get superpowers. They are incredible! The Call was a bit like that, every accident transformed people.
Haha, I think that could fly in the 60's, but these days, not so sure. There's a tremendous evolution in your work since those days. In fact, some painters seem to evolve up to a certain point, a comfort zone, and then stay the same. In your case, it seems there's a huge evolution from year to year. Your latest work for DKIII or International Iron Man specifically is spectacular.
I try to improve my art, not just for an aesthetic solution. I try to find something that gives me the right feeling in that moment in my life. For me it's not just a job. I NEED to paint, I NEED to tell people that I love them, I love my family, I love my life. I can do that only if I try every time to improve my art. It's not possible all the time … If they ask me for an Iron Fist cover, I will do it no problem, but it's just work.
Since January 2015 (after my exclusive contract finished), I take my time with every piece of art I make. Dark Knight III covers take me one week. Every day from 9AM to 6PM. They are like a work in progress of myself. I try to find new solutions, the right way to transmit the message. If you have respect for the past, I think you can do your job and, at the same time, move your life a step forward.
When DC asked me for the DKIII covers, I pretended to look at my schedule (while internally I was an explosion of joy), then agreed to do them. While looking for the right approach and scene to paint, I read Dark Knight Returns a few times. I tried to do something in my style that was respectful of Miller's work. He's a legend and most of his scenes are iconic. I know that people are loving those covers, and that makes me very happy.
Some process images for one of the DKIII Bulletproof exclusives taken from Gabriele's wonderful tumblr.
Sometimes, I need to work on autopilot because of the deadlines, but some works I take my time with. Same with the Star Wars covers. One week per cover, starting with the layout, the detail, … This time it was all about Drew Struzan, another one of my favorite artists. I want my art to evoke the Star Wars universe in the same way Struzan's art does. I tried to respect the canon, the actors, the robots, the aliens, the backgrounds, … everything has to be perfect Star Wars to get the same feeling from people.
And speaking about Star Wars, the new movie is awesome. I went to watch it by myself the first time and I was like “OK, it's good enough, but nothing explosive”. A week later I went to watch it again with my kids. On the drive back from the cinema, a friend and I were tearing the movie apart and after a while my 8-year old interrupted us to say “You adults think too much and don't enjoy yourselves at all. The movie was cooooooooool!”. That made me think more about it and I understood that JJ Abrams did something really risky because he tried to give the new generation what Episode IV did for us.
I think there are a lot of interesting differences in the characters. I checked with my kids, a big difference for them was that Darth Vader kills a lot of people, while Kylo Ren seems to destroy things. He's not completely taken by the dark side. I think the story arcs for the characters are going to be very different this time around. The movies will be very interesting in terms of characters.
I think Abrams did the right thing. It's a different audience. The original trilogy has a lot of slow scenes, there's no fight between Darth Vader and Luke, for example, it took its time to build the relationship up. However, the new generations have different expectations and Abrams did a great job responding to them. Yes, it is true, they are a little naive but finally the power came back to flow in powerful acting!!
OK, time's up! Thanks a lot for your time, Gabriele!