Jerome Opena has spent the past few years becoming one of the industry's most critically acclaimed artists. His work on Uncanny X-Force was meet with nothing but rave reviews, and Renaldo had the pleasure of chatting with him.
CBNAH: How did you get into art? What age and did you attend art school, if so?
Opena: I've always enjoyed drawing and it was one of my favorite hobbies (aside from blowing things up with firecrackers and watching G.I.Joe cartoons) as a kid. My two brothers and I always used to draw together when we were younger and that's probably how I got into it. I think there was a bit of sibling rivalry when it came to doing art and we were always trying to be the one to draw the coolest ninja or viking massacre scene and I think it was that competition that kind of fueled me to keep drawing past my childhood. I attended art school when I was 20 years old and did the 4 year program and all. It was fun some of the time, but I think the best thing about it was meeting a lot of like minded people with whom I'm still great friends with today.
CBNAH: When did you realise you wanted to draw comics for a living? How did you break into mainstream comics?
Opena: I honestly don't know when I realized that I wanted to do this for a living. I kind of fell into it because I didn't know what else I wanted to do with my education. Most of my friends were all working in the video game or film industry and making great livings, but I kind of wanted to do something different. I floated around for a few years after art school and did a lot of odd jobs here and there and the occasional illustration or concept art job as well. Comic work, at this time, was still something I was doing off and on and I didn't really start full time in the industry until around 2005 when I met Rick Remender. We've been collaborating together ever since and it was actually, Rick, who brought me along with him to Marvel and got me my start doing a Wolverine short story a few years ago. Rick has always been one of my biggest supporters and my career wouldn't be where it is today without him.
CBNAH: Who were your greatest inspirations family-wise and art-wise (your artistic icons/heroes) growing up and entering the industry?
Opena: As I mentioned earlier, my biggest inspirations family-wise would have to be my two brothers. Later, when I attended art school, all my friends (who are all amazing artists) were a major influence on myself as well.
As far as art that has, and still does, inspire me, I think that list would go on for days. There are just too many name. Hahaha! But, off the top of my head, I would say growing up, I was a huge fan of artists like: John Romita Jr., John Byrne, Bill Watterson, and Jim Lee. As I got older, I got into the art of Gustav Klimt, Jamie Hewlett, Phil Hale, Kent Williams, Dave McKean, Odd Nerdrum, and Egon Schiele. Some of my favorite contemporary comic book artists are: Frank Quitely, Skottie Young, Sean Gordon Murphy, and Eric Canete.
CBNAH: Was it easy breaking into the art/comic illustrator business? What was your first job like and how pivotal were your friends and family in supporting your career?
Opena: I don't know if it was easy, but I think I had a lot of luck along the way. My first paid gig was a short story for Metal Hurlant. I just remember being really dissatisfied with the work I did and being uncomfortable most of the time. It didn't have anything to do with the job itself, but I think it was more just being very insecure about the quality of the work I was producing. Also, prior to that, I was always just drawing my own comic books so I could do whatever I wanted to do. Working for a client is obviously the polar opposite of that.
Both my friends and family were, and have always been very important to my career. Whether it be words of encouragement or simply going out to buy whatever it is I've been working on, they've always been there to support me and I'm very lucky in that regard.
CBNAH: What’s your favourite piece you worked on? (book-wise or client-wise etc) and also, your favourite moment ever as an artist?
Opena: I think the answer to that would have to be, Uncanny X-Force. I was able to team up with Rick again and it was the biggest thing we'd both worked on up that point. The fact that it's been so well received makes it even that much more special and satisfying.
My favorite moment as an artist? Hmm... that would probably have to be when I did this drawing of the video game, Contra, when I was around 12 years old. I had the two main guys shooting a bunch of aliens and I even colored it with colored pencils so it was a real illustration. Hahaha!
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.
Opena: I read the script all the way through, first. While I'm doing that, I start to visualize how things will look or how panels might be composed. It's really just a general thing because I'm seeing many things in my head as I'm reading. After that, I start doing thumbnails. I don't thumbnail the whole book all at once, but rather, I go one page at a time. My thumbnails are very very rough and I don't think anyone could make any sense of them. They're even sometimes confusing to me! Once that's done, I take a few reference photos where needed and then go ahead and start drawing. I rough everything out in non photo blue then finish it with a mechanical pencil.
CBNAH: What is your favourite character/place/thing to draw?
Opena: I really enjoy drawing ninjas, robots, and old people. Ninjas and robots, because they're cool and old people because their faces tell a story.
CBNAH: What would be your artistic dream project or collaboration to work on, if you could pick anything in the world?
Opena: Batman has always been my favorite character, so I guess if I Rick and I could work on anything Batman related, that would be pretty amazing.
CBNAH: Do you practise alternating styles in your art? How would you describe your main style?
Opena: The way I draw for my personal work is quite different from what I do for Marvel, so I guess they alternate in that sense. I've always enjoyed all sorts and styles of art, so I think I made a conscious effort to kind of change up the way I usually draw when I started working in comics. Part of it might've been a way to challenge myself, but honestly, I think it was mainly because I was afraid my personal style of drawing wouldn't translate well into superhero or sci-fi comics. I've been trying to find a happy medium between the two for years, though, and I feel like I'm slowly getting there.
If I had to describe my comic book style, it would have to be somewhere between cartoony and realism.
CBNAH: Is there much more pressure doing Marvel books as opposed to Fear Agent or Star Wars for 'smaller' publishers?
Opena: There's pressure with every job I've taken, but, to be honest, I would have to say that there's slightly more pressure with Marvel books. Part of it is the popularity of these books and characters, but also, there have been so many great writers and artists that have put their stamp on these books in the past that when it comes time for you to work on them yourself, you're just hoping you can measure up to what's already been done and, hopefully, not be the one to drop the ball.
CBNAH: Do you like that violent, dark and gritty style as seen in Punisher, Moon Knight, Wolverine and your Deadpool forays? If need be, would you be willing to do a lighter, 'poppier' book?
Opena: Yeah, I do like all that dark, gritty stuff and I guess it fits with how I draw. But, I do like the idea of trying something lighter at some point. I think it would be a real challenge and would force me out of my comfort zone and I think that's really important for every artist. It's the only way you can keep improving and that's ultimately what I try to do with every project I'm on.
CBNAH: What advice do you have for upcoming artists, especially in a country as my own where the norm and focus is on medicine, engineering etc and where art doesn’t thrive as an industry?
Opena: I know it's been said plenty of times, but if pursuing a career in comic books is your dream, then by all means, go for it. Just know that it's a very difficult and demanding job as well as not always being the most financially lucrative career one could pursue, but if you know all this and still want to do it, then you should, at the very least, try for it. Life is too short, right?
CBNAH: Future plans – art-wise? Which further books will you be working as 2011 rounds off to a close and 2012 begins?
Opena: I took some time off after I finished my last arc of X-Force, so I've just been doing some covers, as of late, to try to get back into the swing of things. I'm not sure what my next project will be, but if it's not more X-Force, I just hope it will be something that will be equally as enjoyable.