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The thin black line: a Kevin Nowlan interview

by Antonio Solinas

Leggi l'intervista in italiano

Hi Kevin, you are one of the most respected comic pros, here in Italy.

That surprises me. Iíve been invited to conventions in Spain and France, but I seldom hear from anyone in Italy.

Do you want to introduce yourself to our Italian readers?

I was born in Nebraska, in 1958. Pencilled a fill-in issue of Dr. Strange for Marvel in 1982. Drew Grimwoodís Daughter for Fantagraphics, The Outsiderís Annual and The Secret Origin of Man-Bat for DC. More recently, I drew Jack B. Quick, Boy Inventor for ABC.

How did you first become interested in comics?

They were everywhere when I was a kid. The barber shop, the grocery store. Every kid in town had at least a small stash. I used to read my older brotherís books and the comic strips in the newspaper. When I was very young I would collect pop bottles for the 1Ę deposit and buy bootleg comics with the covers torn off.

How did you get your professional start?

I did several pieces of fan art for magazines like Amazing Heroes and the Comics Journal. Terry Austin saw some of them and volunteered to show my samples to a couple of editors at DC and Marvel. That lead to me pencilling Dr. Strange #57.

What are your influences? Are there any influences that people might not spot immediately?

You might not know from looking at my work that Iím a huge Bob Oksner fan. Neal Adams, Alex Toth, Berni Wrightson, Frank Frazetta, Gil Kane, Mike Mignola and Wally Wood have also had a big influence on the way I draw.

Although you are a well-respect artist, you often preferred the inker role, which a very underrated job in my opinion. What are the reasons for this choice?

Expedience. Also, itís a part of the job that I really enjoy. It also gives me an opportunity to work in another style, although there are people who would say I make everyoneís pencils look like my work when I ink them.

As an inker, you have worked with many different pencillers. Were there any cases in which you thought your stile was incompatible with a certain penciller?

Thatís happened a few times. Some that I didnít expect, like the second Superman/Aliens series that I did with Jon Bogdanove.

Do you have a favourite penciller to work with?

Gil Kane was my favorite.

And a dream penciller to ink?

Neal Adams.

When you work with pencillers, do you normally get detailed pencils or do you work on a little bit more than breakdowns?

Iíve done both. Sometimes on the same job. Itís not unusual for pencillers to run out of time and start turning in breakdowns instead of finished pencils.

Where do you draw the line between inker and finisher?

I donít. The editor does that when the rates are established.

You are also an esteemed cover illustrator. Ideally, if you had to choose, would you rather be a penciller, an inker or a cover artist?

I couldnít choose one. I like variety.

Your style is strong and distinctive, but flexible enough to range from comedic caricature to more conventional super-heroics (to quote Wikipedia). Despite this, your work has been seen mostly on superhero books. Would you be interested in drawing a Vertigo series, for example, or to work for foreign publishers that donít publish superheroes?

Sure. Iím very comfortable with talking heads. The work Iím most proud of isnít superheroes at all. Jack B. Quick is all about regular small town people. No bulging muscles or costumes.

Are you aware of the fact that you have been a very important ďrole modelĒ for some of Italyís top artists?

No. If thatís true it comes as a complete surprise to me.

Does it bother you that maybe you didnít get enough credit for what you did in your career, in terms of fan appreciation?

Not really too much. Itís a result of decisions Iíve made, to work on low-profile projects and short stories. A reader really has to do some digging to find anything that Iíve worked on.

You are an artist Ďs artist. Do you follow any comic creator in particular?

Mike Mignola. I also like the Hellboy spinoff series, BPRD by John Arcudi and Guy Davis. Other than that, I spend more time reading old material than I do looking at the new books. Lately Iíve been reading old Steve Canyon strips from the 40ís and various Peanuts collections.

What are your current projects?

I just did a Goon story for the black and white series that Dark Horse is publishing. Iíve done a few covers for DC and a Red Sonja cover for Dynamite. I just did an illustration for MAD magazine thatís in the current issue. Iím working on an old Man-Thing graphic novel that I started in the 80ís. Iím going to see if I can finish painting the last dozen pages so the thing can finally get published.

Do you know anything about the European comics scene?

Not enough. Iím aware of a few cartoonists.

What about Italy?

I like Guido Crepax, Sergio Toppi, Vittorio Giardino, Hugo Pratt and of course Bruno Premiani.

The trademark question we always ask: what would be the three comics a genuine comic fan should have on his shelf?

A collection of Peanuts strips, Maus and Fantastic Four #51.

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