Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Looking Back With Armando Gil

"He's one mysterious Dominican." With those words of wisdom Dave Simons introduced me to the world of Armando Gil. Hailing from Santa Domingo, Armando Gil is a name known to virtually every collector of original comic book and any fans of comic books in general. He forged a career at Marvel with one of the most distinctive inking styles seen - at times his art looked like molten steel, fluid yet firm and strong enough to hold up against anyones.

When asked inker Bob Almond had this to say about Armando, "I always thought he looked best over Michael Golden like in Avengers Annual 10 and The Nam, but I recall some impressive work over others as well like how much he enhanced Ron Wilson's work on the Superboxers graphic novel...and while he didn't do many long runs at Marvel, some issues stick out even to this day like his efforts inking Ron Frenz on a good run on Kazar, a shorter run with Pat Broderick on Micronauts, and an issue over Gene Day on Master of Kung-Fu. He wasn't a good fit on everyone and he had a strong style that could overwhelm a penciler...but that's the case with many inkers so he was no exception there. We definitely would have been better off to see more of his work over the years."

Norm Breyfogle also chipped in with a few thoughts. "Like a cross between Bernie Wrightson and Michael Golden but with a flair all his own," Norm says, "Gil's work is tremendous! His animals and monsters are breath-taking, as is everything else he draws."

Without any further ado, in conjunction with the launch of his first ever web-site, here's Armando Gil!

DB: I'll get the obvious question out of the way first, do you have any original pages of art left?
AG: Oh no, I don’t have anything left, it’s all been ransacked. [laughter] Various people. I’d get the work in and either I needed the money or I’d say to someone “You can have a couple of those,” and they’d go, “Oh really!" can I have this one or that one?” An old buddy one time asked if he could have a few pin-ups and we were kinda drunk that night so he went ahead and took ten Conan pin-ups. A few years later I went into a comic store and was told how this guy came in off the street and was trying to sell them to them. I thought he was taking them as a gift because he really liked them. Oh well I guess he needed beer money. I don’t do that anymore. NOT!
DB: So where do you come from?
AG: Santa Domingo, that’s in Dominican Republic, it’s in the Caribbean.
DB: Dave Simons describes you as being ‘One mysterious Dominican’.
AG: [laughter] More like crazy. [laughter] They have a cigar called ‘Wild Dominican’. That’s me.
DB: When did you come to America?
AG: Back in 1963. That was right during the Cuban Missile time. There was a revolution going on there because they’d assassinated President Trujillo the year before. He was quite a dictator. I was recently doing some research on him and found out that for quite a while he was doing what they call ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the Dominican Republic because I guess the people from Haiti were trying to move in and he was killing them all off. So they didn’t like him all that much, the people there, because he was killing a lot of their friends and families, so they killed him and the revolution started so my dad got us out of there before we got killed. There was a lot of shooting in the streets. My grandma stayed behind thank God she made it through that time, but during the revolution she had to put mattresses up at the front of the house so the bullets wouldn’t get through. So we ended up in New York.
DB: What is your art background?
AG: I attended the High School of Art & Design in midtown Manhattan, but, not the same building or location but the same institution that Neal Adams, John Romita, Ron Wilson, Joe Rubenstein, Joe Jusko and Dennis Cowan attended. Quite a lot of comic book artists went to Art & Design. Joe Rubenstein was a grade up from me and once and a while I would hang out with him at Neal Adam's studio. Dennis Cowan also would come up there with me. Marvel Comics at the time was I think located on 57th street and Park avenue it was just a few blocks away. My friends David Yee and Randy and I used to walk past there on my way home from school. Atlas Comics were around there to at the time. I started in tenth grade submitting samples to Marvel comics every week. I’d take in a stack of drawings that I would stay up late at night to complete .Marvel comic's artist Ron Wilson took an interest in my work and took me under his wing. I would go to school then after school to Marvel and Ron would teach me comics. Stan Lee was still the publisher at Marvel and I would see him walking around up there. Boy he’s a fast walker. One time I followed him just to see what he was like, and he just looked like he was a hurry to get somewhere. [chuckles] There was a big storage room in the back of Marvels office that a few artist made into a studio, so when Marvel closed for the day, Rich Buckler, Ed Hannigan, Ron Wilson and myself would be up there drawing away sometimes late into the night, other Artist people would come in and out once in awhile like Craig Russell, Howie Chaykin, Keith Pollard and a bunch of others that I probably didn’t recognize. We’d stay there until around 10 at night sometimes later, Rich Buckler then took interest in me as an assistant so I would go over to his house and tighten up some of his pencils, some superhero stuff for DC comics he was doing, he would do it really loose and I’d tighten it up and he’d charge the full rate for a finish pencilled pages, I’d get around $25 per page [chuckles].

It was 1976 During that time I used to go and hang out in the West Village around west 4th street Manhattan New York by the Waverly Theatre, and next to it was a comic store owned by Dave Miley a long haired hippy kind of a guy and he had a lot of cool stuff like a big Vaughn Bode art collection and a mess of EC Comics. I had access to Marvel artist pencils and would Xerox them any chance I got, so one day I brought in a bunch of Xeroxes of Frank Robbins Marvel stuff to show Dave Miley, so Dave says, “Could I hold on to them because I have a guy who loves Frank Robbins Art” It was Dave Simons. Dave Simons is a big Frank Robbins fan so I got to meet him as a result of that. We both knew a guy, artist Ken Landgraf, a Sheboygan Wisconsin migrant to New York trying to make it big in comics. Ken knew people like Jeff Jones, Bernie Wrightson and Mike Kaluta, Frank Brunner, Wally Wood, etc, etc. I had been hanging out with Ken in his apartment studio in the east Village. After that for years Dave Simons, Ken Landgraf and I hung out like a team of artists trying to get into comic books. Ken would pull in the work and we would do the work. Ken would take his cut and give us whatever was left over. [laughter]

Professionally I worked for DC first. Ken did do a little bit of work for DC, he did Nightwing and Flamebird. Ken really liked Gil Kane so a lot of his stuff was really heavily constructed so I’d have to take his pencils and tighten them up in a way that it was inkable. For a time that’s how I worked but after a while I stopped because I got better at it, so I did several issues of that. I forget the editors name, maybe Jack Harris, and I did some House Of Mystery stuff here and there. One of them was the Numismatist, that’s people who like metal, I remember that one and I did a few others. I was still in touch with Ron Wilson and I always preferred a lot of Marvel stuff to the DC stuff although I liked the mystery stories and things like that. I went up to Marvel one day and Al Milgrom was editing the Micronauts. Before I went up there I was down in a comic store and I noticed Michael Golden’s Micronauts and I was really crazy about it. I loved the way it was inked but later on I found out that Michael Golden did not like Rubenstein’s inks on it at all. [laughter] In fact to this day I don’t think Rubenstein inked all of them, I think a lot of them were inked by a guy named Rick Brandt, but I don’t know that for a fact, but Rubenstein’s stuff is more bold and thicker and Brandt’s is more of a soft line. Anyway I went up to Milgrom’s office and he said, “Well, I can get you some work doing backgrounds for Bob Layton,” and I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a try,” but when I came back Bob Layton didn’t really want me because Bob likes to rule everything and is very mechanical and my stuff is more organic. Jim Shooter walked into the office and saw some of my samples and said, “Why don’t you give him a shot at inking?” Originally I wanted to pencil but I’d take any work [laughter] so they put me on the book over Pat Broderick’s pencils. We were doing really well there but I’ve always struggled with deadlines, physically and mentally I just get exhausted. I had done about five issues of Micronauts and I was doing it for Louise Jones, who was the editor on it, she was a great gal and really easy to get along with, and I was putting a lot of effort into those issues, doing all these zip-a-tone effects and overlays because I was competing against a really great artist in Michael Golden. I wanted the audience to realise that the book didn’t die just because he left it and I wanted to continue some of the Golden look so I could keep some kind of consistency. I thought Howie Chaykins work on Micronauts, even thought he’s a great storyteller, veered too much from Golden’s work. They took me off the book because they said I was having problems meeting the deadlines which I didn’t really agree with. I think I was maybe a week or two late though, but in business I guess that’s a lot. I thought, “Wow,” but they said, “We have something else for you to ink,” and that was the Avengers Annual. [laughter] In between it was still getting worked on and they said, “You’ll get to ink this book”. Before I got to ink it I got to do an issue of Master Of Kung-Fu over Gene Day and I used to talk to Gene a lot on the phone, he was a great guy, and I was so sad to hear he died. Then I got to ink the Avengers Annual which was a lot of fun and Rubenstein kept bugging me to ink a page. Michael Golden didn’t want him touching his stuff [laughter] but I gave him one page out of the book to ink.
DB: That annual made you career.
AG: I don’t know if it made it because I didn’t know what kind of effect any of the stuff I was doing was having because I was too close to the eye of the storm, if you want to use that cliché. For example I was at a copy centre in California a little while ago and wanted to make some copies and the guy said, “Man, I love your stuff, what’s your name?” I said, “Armando,” and he said, “Armando Gil?” I didn’t know I had that kind of effect upon people.
DB: But you do. When I’ve spoken to people about your site they generally say, “Armando Gil? The Avengers Annual Armando Gil?”
AG: Yeah, that’s it, the Avengers Annual.
DB: That should be your name: Armando ‘The Avengers Annual’ Gil.
AG: Right, well [laughter] I really think that Michael Golden needs to be credited for most of that look. The guy really put his heart and soul into the pencils and all I did was try to be honest with it. I followed one little theory that Rubenstein imparted me with, because I used to hang out at Neal Adam’s Continuity studios, and he said, “An inker isn’t supposed to overwhelm the artist, he’s supposed to enhance the artist.” In some cases where you get breakdowns then it’s a different attitude. I just tried to stay as true as I could to Michael Golden’s work which is why I think Michael Golden asked me a bunch of times to work on his stuff.
DB: Golden is probably the one artist that you’re most closely associated with.
AG: Yeah, well I did The ‘Nam and the Jackie Chan thing. But each time I’m one of those people that will probably always be known as being not that very consistent. On The ‘Nam I was really enjoying working on that and I was in a relationship with a girl and right after the third issue we had a break-up and it just sent me into a big tailspin. The same thing happened when I was working on the Jackie Chan stuff. When everything was going really well for me something would happen and it would make it harder than usual to not be able to come through all of it. However my life now has been very consistent, I have a good relationship and I’m raising my daughter.
DB: Ka-Zar.
AG: Oh yeah, that’s another one. [laughter] Brent Andersons work was fun to work on and then when he left, or got taken off, they had an inventory of pencils that had been done and they decided all of a sudden, out of nowhere, to throw these issues in.

The issue were Belasco shows up, where they had the two balls on his forehead [laughter] which I think was the inspiration for Hellboy [laughter] there was a panel where I did a transparency overlay and I taped it to the page so the printers could use that as a colour knock-out, and somehow the overlay got lost so the first print run had a word balloon with no-one there. [laughter] That was funny, so they had to print it again with the panel. Then I got a chance to draw two issues, I pencilled and inked one issues of Ka-Zar, issue #27, Twisted Corridors, and I did the wrap around cover to it also and I really liked it and got a lot of good reviews on it. I started pencilling the second one and they said, “Armando, you’re having problems meeting deadlines, why don’t you get someone to ink it?” I thought, “Will who would be faithful?” I bumped into this young kid who was looking for work and I hooked him up with Larry Hama to see if I could get him some work, took him to lunch and I said, “Well why don’t you ask Mike Mignola to ink it then?” This was before Mike Mignola developed his more graphic style, he was doing this wispy Wrightson thing, and I thought he’d enhance the pencils but I was wrong.

About the cover, I lived in the East Village at the time and I was surrounded by this new wave art, so I was getting into patterns, designs, nothing that the layperson would be interested in but it was a challenge of mine and I wanted the eye of the volcano to look like the sun and Ka-Zar flying with these Ka-Zar made wings with Sheena in front of it. I had his arms stretched up in this really cool way and I thought the cover was going to be great because the two other wrap around covers I’d done I thought were great. I looked at this and thought it’d be cool and they’d love it. Jim Shooter saw it and he had someone in the production department almost cut Ka-Zar’s arms off and bend them down with the wings and it totally looks like crap. I got emotional, I even cried a little up at Marvel and I thought that Jim Shooter even had it in for me. I asked him, “Why are you picking on me? It’s just a cover and it looks cool. People will like it, they don’t care.” I got kicked off Ka-Zar, not because of the cover but because of the deadlines. I don’t even remember what I did after that. I just floated around over to the Conan department with Larry Hama and Jim Owsely. Then he went on to something else and it was Larry Hama and Pat Redding. Pat Redding was going out with Dave Simons at the time so it was really cool. I got all the pin-ups I wanted to and did everything I wanted to do. I got to ink a bunch of John Buscema stuff and got to work with other people. There was one issue of Savage Sword Of Conan that I both pencilled and inked, issue #175, ‘Blade Of The Demon Slayer’. That one there are one or two pages in there that really showed what I was capable of if I had been allowed my time to work on things, but comics are a business.
DB: Let’s talk about What If?
AG: That’s another one. Half the book I spent a lot of time on, the last half I had to do in two weeks. Same thing with Blade Of The Demon Slayer, half the book I spent a lot of time on and the last bit they wanted it so bad I had to rush it, I had to knock it out. They’re like half efforts of books.
DB: You kind of vanished from comics. What happened?
AG: Vanished from comics. No-one was giving me work. Before I did Blade Of Demon Slayer I did a Dark Horse series with the Predator. Then again the whole deadline issue came up. I did the whole four issues. Now they gave me Evan Dorkins pencils. I didn’t want to let him down; I really wanted to let him shine so I spent a lot of time reworking a lot of what they gave me. I put a real extra effort into making those issues look as best as they could. The last issue I was running late, I think the deadline was three weeks late but the books hadn’t even been published yet, at least as far as I could remember. Then Diane Schulz sent me some kind of a nasty letter and I called her up and I left a real nasty message. I told her, “You’re one of the rudest, nastiest editors I’ve ever worked with,” so that blacklisted me from Dark Horse. I couldn’t get any work out of them for my life, they won’t give me work. They’ll give my cat work before I get it. [laughter] I did a lot of stuff over at Topps Comics when Jim Salicrup was publisher there. I did Jurassic Park, I did some Zorro stuff, all the movie licensed stuff, Xena, I think I did one or two issues of that.
DB: You’re credited on all three issues of the Xena/Joxer series.
AG: I didn’t do the last one. That one I definitely did not do. I was in Pennsylvania at the time, finishing up some work, and I realised at one point that Topps was going to close down. I couldn’t get any work at Marvel. I solicited them but nobody was offering work. At one point I was their hot little new inker and if I wanted to draw something then I’d get a chance to draw something, as long as I kept inking. But they wouldn’t give me work. DC wouldn’t give me work either. I got one little job out of DC. I did some Golden Age comics for Neal Pozner, all I did was ink that and I couldn’t get any more work there. Then I had been talking to Dave because Dave’s an old friend of mine, he’s like a brother, and I’d been helping him with some storyboard work that he’d been mailing to me from California, so then he told me, “Why don’t you come out here and see what you can scare up?” So I moved back to Cleveland and from there I left to California and started to get into the animation industry for around three or four years. The last year I was at Stan Lee Media working with Stan Lee in developing new shows for the internet and was even scheduled to develop a show that I had created and written, which I still have all the model sheets to, and the script, and I think it’d be an incredible success. It could have been pitched to software companies and they’d have definitely wanted Stan Lee’s name promoting their software. I still have the stuff, it’s still a do-able project and it’s still pertinent today. Then Stan Lee filed for bankruptcy, this is cutting a lot of corners in the story, but when they filed bankruptcy because of Peter Paul, he took a bunch of money when they were doing some investigating into insider trading at Stan Lee Media then there was a margin call and there was no money, so he took off with a bunch of money. Everyone was given a few minutes notice to pack their stuff and get out. Suddenly I was out in the middle of California with no work and right before Christmas when no-one is hiring because everything is going into post-production. I called up the people at Stretch Films in New York. I’d done a little bit of work for them. I was a background guy on the Courage The Cowardly Dog series. I had been doing backgrounds for them back in New York and had gotten a call from Jim Salicrup who told one of the production managers, “Hey, why doesn’t he come out to California and work for Stan Lee?” I’d have been better off with Stretch Films because they were more steady. So when Stan Lee Media fell apart I called them and they wanted me to come back out there and help John Vilworth develop a couple of shows for Courage The Cowardly Dog. I got the chance to help co-write one of the shows and storyboarded both of them. Again, emotional problems happened with relationships in my life, so I came back to Ohio to see if I could work it all out. Brad Raider, who is a guy I’d met in California, was trying to get into comics so I inked some of his stuff on Catwoman. I only got to ink one issue and I got it on time, but someone up there said, “Oh, I don’t want him inking that, I don’t like his stuff,” and they even got rid of Brad from the book too, so after that I wasn’t able to get any work at all, even though I had been soliciting. That’s with the big companies, there was one guy I did an issue and half, Mike Teirney, he had something he wanted done. My heart wasn’t in it at the time but I still tried to do the best I could with his stuff.

After a while, with all this drama and all, you’re feeling that this is not the kind of field that you could make a steady living in, you begin looking at this like a regular person and you get a regular job.
DB: It’s sad, because you have such a unique art style.
AG: My thing has always been, because there’s so many great artists out there, the only way you’re going to get any kind of notice or grab the attention of people is to focus on developing more of your imagination rather than your style, that way you introduce people into your own world. That’s why a lot of those Conan pin-ups are so freaky [laughter], it’s like, this is not right [laughter]. And they’re not all drawn that well either, but I allowed myself to be influenced as far as my imagination by a lot of different sources. I love John Martin, he’s an English industrial painter. I love Fuseli’s work, especially his Nightmare, I love William Blake, I love a bunch of different people.
DB: Fuseli and William Blake are not what you’d expect to hear as influences from a comic book artist.
AG: There’s a lot of people who can do beautiful work other than comic artists. [laughter] For example, Egon Shiel, he’s really incredible and a lot of artists these days are influenced by his line and style and he’s not a comic artist, so you find a lot of comic artists being influenced by a lot of Impressionists, people were into fine arts before any comic art was created. Gustav Klimt, all these people are out there, who you can learn from and be inspired by. There was one guy who drew for Heavy Metal, Philippe Druillet. Couldn’t draw a figure to save his life but he drew all this crazy machinery and detail. There’s a composition that he did of an alien banquet with all these buildings, it’s a complete, as far as composition, rip off of a John Martin painting, Belshazzar's Feast and no-one, unless they really like John Martin’s work, would ever put the two together.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit Armando Gil's web-site for some mind blowing art and information on how to get your very own commission from Armando.


Anonymous said...

Armando's website isn't working as of this moment. Any idea when it will be up?

Danny said...

It should be back up very shortly - am just ironing out some bugs.

Joe Rubenstein said...

Just for the record true, Golden didn't like my inking on The Micronauts. I don't know that he liked Milgrom's either, tho Golden did tell me he liked the inks on his Man-Bat job,which is how I got The M series to do.

I think he likes the inking of his new pencil commissions more (as I do)..You can see them at my CAF gallery and Michael Finn's and Gerry Turnbull.

Also for the record. Rick Bryant was my BG guy at the time, but I did all the figures.

One day Armando came up to me at Marvel's offices and told me he had been looking at my past issues of The M since he was now inking the series.

That was startling to me, because I had been looking at Al Williamson's work the night before, but it had never occurred to me that people were looking at my work.