Renaldo sat down with Artist and Agent X co-creator Alvin Lee to talk about his process, his style and influences. Over to you Renaldo!
CBNAH: How did you become grafted into the world of art as a young kid growing up? How and when did you realise this was your true calling and that you had to follow it in your life?
Alvin Lee: First off, thanks for having me! It was never a difficult decision for me in terms of art
because to put it simply, I was blindly passionate about it. My grandparents both painted so I was around it as a youth and I knew I was pretty good at it since I could draw better than the rest of the kids in my class. After I picked up my first comic book - I think it was Secret Wars with Spiderman on the cover - I had an overwhelming sense of inspiration, I somehow just knew deep down that if I worked hard enough I could be pretty decent at it. I failed many times in the process but I never let it deter me or keep me down. I just kept my pencil to the page!
CBNAH: Did you go to art school or are you self-taught?
Alvin Lee: I actually didn't go to art school but it's not something I would recommend! I had a strange and perhaps fortunate path into this profession as post secondary graduates were showing me their portfolios while I was still in high school. I just happened to be part of an up and coming studio at the right time so I decided to stay there after I graduated. A part of me still wishes I went to art school and I would never rule out the possibility of going back either!
CBNAH: Who were your greatest inspirations family-wise and art-wise (your artistic icons/heroes) growing up and entering the industry?
Alvin Lee: Growing up family-wise it was my grandfather, I was always in awe of what he could do with a brush. His watercolor paintings achieved so much with so little it still humbles me today. My grandmother was also quite supportive of my "habits" giving me plenty of allowance to buy comic books. However it was guys during the early to late nineties such as Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Mark Silvestri, J.Scott Cambell, Michael Turner and Joe Maduriera that really inspired me as a teen. Later it became the likes of Hiroaki Samura, Inoue Takehiko, Bengus, Akiman, Edayan, Kinu Nishimura and Diago Ikeno after I discovered the beauty of Anime and Manga.
CBNAH: Was it easy breaking into the art/comic/Manga/Anime business? What was your first job like and how pivotal were your friends and family in supporting your career?
Alvin Lee: Nothing was ever "easy" as I had to put countless hours into my work, I just hoped that someone out there would appreciate what I was doing and continue to support me. My first job was drawing backgrounds for a title that never even got published. So, I've definitely paid my dues and god knows my family has seen me fail but they never gave up on me.
CBNAH: What’s your best piece you worked on? (book-wise or client-wise etc) and also, your favourite moment ever as an artist?
Alvin Lee: Up to date I would say my best piece was for Marvel versus Capcom 3, seeing my work as the special edition cover of the game was extremely flattering and also monumental. I'm not saying it's the best work I've ever done but as a landmark piece I think it takes the cake.
My favorite moment as an artist was at the Capcom panel during SanDiego Comicon in 2005. My double splash cover of SF2 #0 came onto the projection screen to the applause of the entire hall filled with hundreds of people. I wasn't expecting that kind of reaction but at that moment I felt like, "I've finally made something of myself!"
CBNAH: How do you map out a job once you undertake it? E.g. Going from concept to sketch to finished product…especially on comics.
Alvin Lee: I first decipher what the client wants and then I decide what I want to do with it. It's a constant push and pull of how far I can take something while still keeping the client happy. I like do many thumbnails or concepts and then enlarge them onto an illustration board via light-box, where I put in all of the finishing touches.
CBNAH: What is your favourite character/place/thing to draw?
Alvin Lee: My favorite character to draw by far is Akuma, he's just so evil and menacing. I love exploring my dark side whenever I get a chance.
CBNAH: What would be your artistic dream project or collaboration to work on, if you could pick anything in the world?
Alvin Lee: I've achieved many moments in my career where I felt like I'm working on my artistic dream project, Street Fighter being one of them! I've just been very fortunate to be spoiled by content but you always want what you can't have. Right now I would love to draw Batman but I feel like that might just be a pipe dream!
CBNAH: What’s it like when you have to do a comic book for the North American audience if you have to adapt and retool your Anime/Manga style?
Alvin Lee: That's one thing I can say that I've never really done. I've never compromised my style for the sake of adaptation or fitting in, I always draw in a style that excites me personally. Love it or hate it, I put my heart out there and I think my audience appreciates that!
CBNAH: Is it difficult to switch or mix both comic and Manga style and have you ever practised altering styles or thought of a more permanent change in style?
Alvin Lee: I feel like altering styles comes with natural growth. Just like fashion you get bored with an old pair of jeans and you want to buy a new one after a couple years. Your preferences change and the same happens to me as an artist. I just try and take some new things and incorporate it in while staying true to the old.
CBNAH: Do you colour your work yourself or do you outsource digital colourists?
Alvin Lee: I can digitally color my own work but to be quite frank I'm just not very fast and not very good at it. I just let other professionals do what they do! Not to say that I won't eventually catch up, I'm just honestly not there yet. At least in my mind.
CBNAH: Which is your preference - Comics or Non-Sequential work?
Alvin Lee: Non sequential is where I'm at these days. It offers more creative freedom in terms of design and composition that often times are restricted by panel work in comic books.
CBNAH: 2 projects that bode endearing and quite pleasant are the ‘Schoolism’ and ‘Artists Help Japan: Toronto 2011’ initiative. Could you elaborate on these as well as ‘Jalvin Entertainment’?
Alvin Lee: Schoolism is an online course headed by the talented and savvy Bobby Chiu. He kindly asked me to be one of his instructors which subsequently led to Artist Help Japan. I just did whatever I could to help him and Japan since they've inspired me so much during my career. Especially due to my experiences as an event /party promoter which leads to Jalvin Entertainment. It's my best friend (and manager) Jeff Woo and I's independent venture due to almost a fluke success of parties that got way out of control. After a while we thought we could make a business out of it and we did! To date we have had some of the best DJ's in the world at our events with girls dancing with only their underwear on! Our biggest parties are often - No Pants Dance, a play on words during the summer but some people take it literally! Haha.
CBNAH: Comic-wise, Manga/Anime-wise, Client request-wise or Magazine-wise…what are the future plans for Alvin Lee?
Alvin Lee: I would love to expand my reach to different mediums such as fine art, graphic novels or maybe even animations and movies. Perhaps maybe even be the owner of my own studio or publication. I never know for certain what might happen next but I never rule out any possibilities. I just try and stay passionate and positive and things usually work themselves out!