The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 242 | Eduardo Risso: A beginner’s guide

Leaving Proof 242 | Eduardo Risso: A beginner’s guide
Published on Monday, October 6, 2014 by
Dark Horse’s recent release of a new English-language edition of Los Misterios de la Luna Roja inspires us to put together a guide to the work of modern master Eduardo Risso. ALSO: We talk about Cybersix and share an update on the development of The Last Devil.

redmoonhcp0Last week saw Dark Horse Books release Red Moon, a new English-language hardcover edition of the 1998 graphic novel Los Misterios de la Luna Roja by the Argentine comics creator duo of writer Carlos Trillo and artist Eduardo Risso (an English-language serial graphic novel version of the work was previously released for the European market by Slovenian publisher SAF Comics in 2005). For readers familiar only with Risso’s Eisner and Harvey Award-winning tenure as the illustrator on DC/Vertigo’s mature readers-oriented neo-noir comic 100 Bullets, the fantasy-themed Red Moon should be a revelation, a demonstration of his artistic and stylistic range in a context eminently suitable for audiences younger than those typically associated with his more well-known hardboiled crime and dystopian science-fiction material.

Anyway, Red Moon‘s release is as good an excuse as any to briefly discuss the merits of Risso’s art and to offer reading recommendations, both for those novice readers inspired by Red Moon to discover more of Risso’s work and those versed readers looking to deepen their familiarity with the work of one of comics’ modern masters.

Essential reading: 100 Bullets

Any discussion of Risso’s English-language comics work should rightfully begin with his marathon 100-issue run as the interior artist of DC/Vertigo’s acclaimed 100 Bullets. It’s career-defining by virtue of volume (Risso’s stint on the title spanned ten years from 1999 to 2009 and saw him pencil and ink something in the neighborhood of 2500 pages), the consistent excellency of execution, and the recognition and acclaim it has won Risso among fans, critics, and his peers the world over. His work on 100 Bullets has earned him four Eisner Awards (a Best Serialized Story award shared with 100 Bullets writer Brian Azzarello in 2001, the Best Penciler/Inker plum in 2002, and Best Continuing Series wins shared with Azzarello in 2002 and 2004), back-to-back Harvey Awards for Best Artist in 2002 and 2003, and a 2004 nomination for the Angoulême International Comics Festival’s Prix du public (100 Bullets would eventually lose to another great crime comic, Juanjo Guarnido and Juan Diaz Canales’ Blacksad). If there is one work that comes close to capturing a snapshot of Risso’s abilities as a comics artist in full flower, 100 Bullets is it.

An argument could perhaps be made that full-color comics such as 100 Bullets don’t provide the best forum for Risso’s strengths as an illustrator—his predilection for chiaroscuro, the elevated control of contrast and negative space, his preeminent skill in spotting blacks, the vibrant linework and the overall judicious rendering—but it is a testament to Risso’s abilities that all those qualities are unmitigated in 100 Bullets. For this, credit must be also given to long-time series colorist Patricia Mulvihill for exercising distinguished prudence in her coloring over Risso. It’s also worth noting that Mulvihill won the Eisner Award for Best Colorist in 2004 due in large part to her work on the title.

Risso’s work on 100 Bullets was great from the get-go, but he really started knocking it out of the park month in and month out beginning with issue #15 (“Hang Up on the Hang Low, Part One”), the issue where he was finally paired with Mulvihill on colors (an artistic partnership that extends to this day with the recently-concluded 100 Bullets: Brother Lono miniseries spin-off). Even as the comic’s overarching story started getting shaggier towards the series’ closing thirty issues or so—I’m personally of the opinion that 100 Bullets could have benefited from a more compact narrative—Risso maintained an elevated standard of rendering and storytelling quality all the way to the series’ conclusion.

DC/Vertigo has collected the entire 100 Bullets series in a set of 13 trade paperbacks, as well as five deluxe hardcovers.

The Risso/Trillo collaborations: Vampire Boy, Borderline, and Red Moon

While Risso is best known in North America and most of the English-language comics world for his work with Azzarello, in Latin America and much of Europe, his collaborations with compatriot Carlos Trillo enjoy a comparable level of name-recognition, if maybe not exactly a similar level of acclaim. Not all of their joint works have been translated into English—their first collaboration, the 1989 graphic novel Fulù, is an especially glaring gap in their shared English-language comics catalogue—but of the several Risso/Trillo graphic novels and short stories that have been published in one form or another in English, Vampire Boy, Borderline, and Red Moon provide readers with the best opportunities to see what Risso can do outside of 100 Bullets‘ urban crime milieu.

Vampire Boy, which originally began publication in the 1990s as a black-and-white Spanish-language serial in Argentina, has a millennia-spanning story that sees Risso depicting locations and eras as varied as Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, medieval Europe, modern-day New York and London, and mid-20th century New Orleans, and all manner of distinct faces and body types: If there’s one thing that Vampire Boy exhaustively demonstrates with regards to Risso’s art over the course of its 450+ pages, it is his outstanding range when it comes to drawing people, places, props and time periods.

Vampire Boy isn’t the best Trillo work that I’ve sampled from what I’ve read of his translated material, however—it reads like a half-baked comics adaptation of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles novels at times and can be an absolutely dreadful slog to get through at certain points—but as a single-work showcase for Risso’s visual storytelling and his ability to draw anything and everything, it just might be unparalleled in Risso’s bibliography. Vampire Boy was previously published in English by SAF Comics as a series of four trade paperbacks released between 2003 to 2004 and the most recent English-language edition is an omnibus trade paperback collecting the entire work, released by Dark Horse in 2010.

A 600-page sci-fi epic which originally began publication in Italy during the mid-1990s that was recently issued in English in four parts over four years by Dynamite Entertainment, Borderline does for Risso’s ability to imagine a future-gone-wrong what Vampire Boy did for his ability to portray a fantastical past. Risso’s vision of Borderline‘s dystopian future is at once more starkly beautiful and more grody than the ones readers may be used to seeing in the pages of titles like 2000 AD. As far as my own personal taste in comics art, Borderline might be my favorite Risso work as it has him focusing on visual storytelling and doubling down on the minimalist attributes that have always been a part of his distinct style—it’s brilliant stuff.

Dynamite trumpeted how closely Trillo worked with Borderline‘s English-language edition editor/translator Ivan Brandon in the lead up to its debut and the results speak for themselves. The succinct dialogue matches the spare nature of the art, giving it the space to breathe and tell the story in a way not seen in many other English-language versions of Trillo and Risso’s collaborations. It does make me wonder if the problems I’ve occasionally found with Trillo’s comics writing—the gratuitous exposition, the clunky grammatical constructs—might in part be due to lapses in the English-language editing, localization, and translation of the source material.

I’ve already discussed above the significance of Red Moon, but aside from being the rare all-ages friendly Risso work (thus making it the perfect gateway for younger readers to learn about his art), Red Moon also has the illustrator in the seldom-seen position of coloring over his own linework. Red Moon‘s rendering style also represents a marked departure from that seen in Risso’s other works—it’s more playful and whimsical as befits the subject matter and audience—but without compromising the power and impact of his inking and panel/page composition.

Early Works: Parque Chas and Cain

Risso’s very first published comics work of note was a collection of vignettes entitled Parque Chas, created in collaboration with the late Argentine comics writer Ricardo Barreiro and serialized beginning with the August 1987 issue of the Fierro comics anthology magazine—think of Fierro as the Argentine version of Heavy Metal. While the complete Parque Chas has yet to be compiled and released in English, three of the Parque Chas stories have been translated and published in the actual Heavy Metal comics anthology magazine as “Park Charles: The Call” (in Heavy Metal vol. 20, no. 3, July 1996), “Park Charles: Chimera” (in Heavy Metal vol. 20, no. 4, September 1996), and “Park Charles: The Reunion” (in Heavy Metal vol. 20, no. 5, November 1996). “Park Charles: The Call” was the very first Risso work to be reproduced in an English-language comics publication.

Beyond the novelty of seeing these earliest of Risso’s works, a reading of these stories also provide some insight into the evolution of Risso’s art style. The “Park Charles” stories in Heavy Metal all show Risso employing a stippling technique in rendering shadow and texturing skin and fabric that he seems to have all but abandoned later in his career.

Risso’s shift to a crisper, more graphic design-informed, and less textured approach to rendering is evident as early as 1988’s dystopian future sci-fi graphic novel Cain, which was also written by Barreiro. Save for visual storytelling that still had some room to grow and develop in terms of its clarity, dynamism, and staging, the art in Cain already shows the mature Risso aesthetic North American readers are familiar with from 100 Bullets, although it should be noted that Risso was already in his late twenties by the time of Cain‘s publication.

Still, a reading of Cain can be quite the informative experience as it has Risso already incorporating in his work many of the elements that would come to define his later artistic identity. In Cain‘s pages, readers can clearly see the roots of Risso’s current style, one that is informed by influences like the Argentine master comics illustrator José Antonio Muñoz (perhaps the clearest and most obvious influence on Risso and incidentally, a huge influence on Frank Miller’s work on Sin City, as well), more senior Argentine comics contemporaries like Domingo Roberto Mandrafina and Sergio Mulko, as well as stars of the Italian comics scene such as Hugo Pratt of Corto Maltese fame. Cain is currently only available in English as a 2003 trade paperback published by SAF Comics—it’s apparently out-of-print and sells for as much as three or four times its original $9.95 cover price online, but if the recent history of Dark Horse working with SAF Comics to release Risso’s European comics work is a guide, it might not be too long before Dark Horse reissues a new version of the title for North America.

Superheroes: Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #4 and Batman: Broken City

Like many of the most successful artists in comics today, Risso has illustrated his fair share of superhero comics although most of those comics retain some ties with the crime comics genre Risso is most associated with.

Of these, perhaps the most notable is Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #4 (Marvel Comics, September 2001). The comic had Risso paired with one of contemporary comics’ great crime writers in Greg Rucka, illustrating an affecting tale entitled “Severance Package” about a loyal enforcer in the Kingpin’s organized crime outfit having to take responsibility for the fallout from a job spoiled by Spider-Man. Rucka’s story is by turns suspenseful, violent, exciting, hopeful, and heartbreaking, and Risso’s effective use of shadows, discreet lighting, and contrast reinforce the emotion of the narrative. For all of the plaudits Risso’s 100 Bullets run has received, Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #4 may very well be one of the best, if not the best single issue he has worked on to date as far as taking the reader through the full gamut of vicarious thrills and emotions within the then-standard 22 pages of a comic book. The comic was, in fact, nominated for the Best Single Issue award during the 2002 Eisners and was ranked number 31 in Wizard Magazine‘s 2008 list of “The 100 Best Single Issue Comics Since You Were Born” (yeah, I know, it’s Wizard, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and I think “Severance Package” is actually underrated in the list).

Also worth seeking out for the discerning superhero comics fan are Batman issues #620–625 (DC Comics, December 2003–May 2004), which comprise the self-contained “Broken City” storyline (the comics are also collected in the Batman: Broken City trade paperback). It isn’t a property-defining mainline Batman comics series narrative on the level of, say, Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One, but it is an exceptionally entertaining hardboiled whodunnit dressed up in capes and spandex that also has the distinction of having Risso, Azzarello, and Mulvihill all working together on a superhero comic at the height of their creative powers, feeding off of their shared and individual successes on 100 Bullets.

Other comics of note featuring Eduardo Risso on art

Video Noire: An erotic/psychological thriller written by Carlos Trillo and originally published as Video Nocturno in 1994, Video Noire was released in English in 2001 under the joint Dark Horse and SAF Comics’ Venture imprint. There’s an almost David Lynch-esque, absurdist tone to the whole thing, but it clashes with the steamy sex set-pieces, opening them up for what seems to be unintended comedy. As with Vampire Boy and Chicanos (see below), Video Noire‘s issues with the dialogue may have to do with something getting lost in the translation.

Chicanos: A crime comic featuring the (mis)adventures of A.Y. Jalisco, a Mexican immigrant who dreams of hitting it big as a private eye in her adopted country of the United States. The art is especially interesting as a proto-100 Bullets type thing, but the dialogue—translated from the original script penned by Trillo—is clumsy and awkward at times. Originally released in France and Italy in 1997, and later released in English as an eight-issue miniseries and two trade paperback collections by IDW Publishing.

Alien Resurrection: A two-part adaptation of the polarizing film of the same title, Alien Resurrection, published by Dark Horse in late 1997, was Risso’s first new work to be published by an American publisher (“Park Charles: The Call” appeared a year earlier in Heavy Metal, of course, but that strip was a translated reprint of almost decade-old material).

Jonny Double: A Vertigo-branded reinvention of a Silver Age DC Comics character, this four-issue miniseries from 1998 features the first ever collaboration between Eduardo Risso and Brian Azzarello. Competently executed and solidly entertaining, and offers glimpses of the creative chemistry Risso and Azzarello would develop on 100 Bullets.

Logan: A three-issue prestige format miniseries published by Marvel under its Marvel Knights imprint in 2008, it features a story written by Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, The Private Eye), although for my money, it isn’t a particularly memorable Wolverine comic—it’s Wolverine in Japan again, boning another yamato nadeshiko-style local lady and doing his foreign samurai schtick. Still, if you’re just dying to see Wolverine drawn by Risso, this will do you nicely.

Flashpoint: Batman, Knight of Vengeance: A three-issue, Elseworlds-style tie-in miniseries to the Flashpoint crossover that led to DC Comics’ (in)famous “New 52” reboot of 2011. I’ll be honest—I’ve never read this and don’t plan to do so anytime soon, even with the 100 Bullets team of Risso, Azzarello, and Mulvihill handling the creative side of things. For what it’s worth, this was supposedly the best-selling of the various Flashpoint miniseries tie-ins.

Spaceman: Risso, Azzarello, and Mulvihill team up again in this DC/Vertigo-published science-fiction miniseries set in Earth’s distant future, featuring a genetically-engineered ex-astronaut trying his hand at playing a private eye. A solid read and easily the most ambitious of Risso, Azzarello, and Mulvihill’s post-100 Bullets collaborations, although Azzarello’s attempts to forecast how the English language might evolve in the future makes for some very distracting quirks in the dialogue that will test the patience of some readers.

100 Bullets: Brother Lono: An eight-issue miniseries spin-off of 100 Bullets launched last year that has Risso, Azzarello, and Mulvihill taking one more whack at the property, it’s an entertaining appendix to the 100 Bullets saga but it’s also evidence that the team is probably more inspired these days by the prospect of working on other, non-100 Bullets projects.

Click here for the Comic Book Database’s (mostly complete) listing of Risso’s comics works.

On Cybersix

Digging through Risso and Trillo’s collaborations stirred up my memories of watching repeats of the Cybersix animated TV series on the Teletoon channel during the early 2000s. Cybersix was based on the popular comics serial of the same name, created in 1992 by Trillo and the late Argentine artist Carlos Meglia for initial publication in the comics magazine anthology Skorpio. While by all indications quite popular both in Trillo and Meglia’s native Argentina and Italy, the comic, as far as I know, never got picked up for official, licensed translation into English.

My first exposure to Cybersix was actually in the form of the animated series which simultaneously debuted in Canada and Argentina in the late summer of 1999. While perhaps not considered by anime fans as a true anime series, Cybersix was a joint production of Canada’s NOA and Japan’s TMS Entertainment and counted among its individual episode directors Toshihiko Masuda (a key animator for 1988’s Akira and later, director of Lupin III: Elusiveness of the Fog), Nobuo Tomizawa (who would go on to direct the Ramen Fighter Miki animated series, previously discussed here), and Hiroyuki Aoyama (who would later serve as animation director on The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, previously discussed here). The production’s anime heritage is clearly evident in the show’s direction and beats, even as the character designs remain extremely faithful to Meglia’s uniquely-styled Cybersix comics artwork.

CybersixDVDcover

Package art for the new Cybersix: The Complete Series DVD set.

Just as memorable as the show’s visuals and excellent direction were Cybersix‘s characters: I remember thinking it quite bold for a C8-rated show to address head-on the topic of gender fluidity—the eponymous protagonist Cybersix is biologically female and presents as a woman when in her superpowered persona, but poses as the androgynous-looking male high school instructor Adrian Seidelman as her civilian alter-ego. Making things even more interesting is that her male co-worker, the beefy biology teacher Lucas Amato, considers Adrian as a buddy and is also romantically attracted to Cybersix. (Despite some obvious similarities in appearance—Adrian’s transformation to Cybersix amounts to nothing more than taking off his glasses and slipping into a skintight black leather outfit—Lucas is apparently blind to the fact that Adrian and Cybersix are the same person… or is he?)

Discotek Media recently released a DVD set collecting all 13 episodes of the series with commentary from veteran Canadian voice talent Cathy Weseluck (Black Lagoon, My Little Pony, Dragon Ball Z), who played Cybersix/Adrian Seidelman for the show’s entire single-season run. I am, however, holding out hope that the Trillo/Meglia comics will eventually be picked up for translation into English by a North American comics publisher. Pure speculation here, but I would think that Dark Horse would have the inside track on such a project, given that it’s already published a number of Trillo-penned works. How about it, Dark Horse executive editor Diana Schutz?

An update on The Last Devil

Art development on my comic book collaboration The Last Devil has slowed down a bit, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost is the “there aren’t enough hours in the day” excuse, but part of the deliberateness of the development is intentional. We want to be absolutely sure that whatever look and design we settle on is one that we’ll still be reasonably happy with months, or even years from now, and one that we won’t get tired of looking at during the incremental process of part-time production. Anyway, the image below shows the direction we’re going for as far as rendering and coloring go:

macanayacolorsketchseptember2014

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