Last Friday, during a busy afternoon at New York Comic Con, What’cha Reading had the opportunity to speak with Paul Azaceta, the popular artist behind the unsettling visuals of Robert Kirkman’s latest title – Outcast. The already year old comic by Skybound and Image is soon to be a television series on Cinemax; its only added to the intensity of fandom that the New Jersey based and Cadence Comic Art represented artist has encountered. So, on this crowded and more attended than SDCC event, we found Paul Azaceta at the Skybound booth and spoke to him about everything from his experience at this year’s New York Comic Con, to the visual development and approach to his work, and just how you could obtain one of his original pieces of art.
What’cha Reading: Paul, it’s been a little while since we last saw each other. New York Comic Con 2014, Royal Collectibles…
Paul Azaceta: Was it? I can’t remember. They’re all a blur to me. I remember you, but I can’t remember if you asked me where and when.
What’cha Reading: Sure. Well how is New York Comic Con 2015 going for you?
Paul Azaceta: It’s going really well. It’s only the second day and its been so crazy already. Usually like Saturday is the real crazy day and it kind of builds up, but yesterday, the first day, I came in and it was packed and I was like “Man, I can’t even walk.” It just seems like it’s getting bigger and crazier every year. My brain is mushed already and I still have two more days to go.
What’cha Reading: There’s a massive turnout. Do you find that going from last year’s comic con to this year’s that there is a difference in fan reception, in particular to you and your work?
Paul Azaceta: Last year was the debut of the book and I know there was a lot of attention. There was a lot of excitement and nice people saying nice things, but more just with anticipation. But this year there’s been 12 issues now so a lot of people are coming up now and saying “I love the book. I loved it.” There are more people who have read the book and fans of what the actual book is as opposed to those that say “This looks pretty cool.” Now its real kind of fandom because they’re reading along and they can’t wait to see what’s next. It’s a really cool other level of readership, I guess.
What’cha Reading: I think to be involved with this book, one that had such a presence at this past San Diego Comic Con, especially with the show, that must be exciting.
Paul Azaceta: It is exciting because we’re going to do a show and we have all of that. It’s been amazing. There are no complaints and I can’t say anything but good things about this amazing kind of ride into Kirkman’s world. I really appreciate what he’s done and how he’s given me the opportunity to do the book. We’ve known each other for years and he didn’t have to think of me for this book, but he did and it’s been great. I wish I had a more interesting answer.
What’cha Reading: I remember last time we spoke you were four or so issues in.
Paul Azaceta: Probably yeah.
What’cha Reading: That was during the Royal Collectibles signing.
Paul Azaceta: Yeah, I was probably up to four. At least a whole issue ahead. So I was probably on issue four.
What’cha Reading: How far into it are you currently?
Paul Azaceta: Right now I’m going to start issue 15. 12 came out a little while ago and then the trade for the second arc just came out. Taking a little break between arcs helps me to get ahead because deadlines starts mounting so by having those little breaks it helps me get ahead again. It’s a vicious cycle of deadlines.
What’cha Reading: I could imagine. Now I believe you have a lot of freedom when it comes to character design and creature development within the series. Do you find that affects deadlines at all in the sense that there are certain aspects that you want to go full on with, but then maybe you have to reel yourself in on?
Paul Azaceta: The fact that our world that we created, me and Kirkman together, created from scratch is something that takes time. You know, you work on Spider-Man for instance and everyone knows that Spider-Man looks like Peter Parker and the Daily Bugle… Marvel, at this point, has design layouts and schematics of what they want it to look like. A lot of that thinking is already done and you go in there and make it cool…
What’cha Reading: Kind of like your work on Electro in the Spider-Man arc “The Gauntlet”?
Paul Azaceta: Yeah, yeah exactly. And that one too, the arc I did there, with the Daily Bugle there was a computer file, a community file that I could look at and see exactly what the Daily Bugle was supposed to look like. And even outside of that, New York City too. I could just look around because I live here. I actually live in Jersey, but I’m right across the river so all of that stuff there’s not a whole lot of thinking whereas with Outcast the book is based in West Virginia so that’s a place I’ve never actually been. So a lot of that is Google Maps and looking at books that Kirkman sent me. Again, with Outcast, a lot of it is designing it from scratch. When he says there’s a new character, a lot of that is then figuring out what does he look like? What is his posture like? I like to get into the acting and the character of it so I don’t just think “Oh, this guy likes to wear a red shirt.” That’s not enough. I like to think “Is he a very confident person? When he walks into a room, is his head held high? Does he lean forward? Is he very aggressive?” With Kyle, he’s very introverted so unless he’s trying to take an active role, most of the time he’s standing behind the character or characters. He’s never really standing up straight and so things like that you really have to think about. I love that stuff though because I really get into it, but that definitely eats time. It’s a little easier now because I’ve done 12 issues so a lot of that is established so it goes faster now. But in the beginning, there was a lot of that where I think it took longer because of that. Coming up with and creating his house, I drew a floor plan because I was going to be drawing it how many times throughout the whole series so I might as well draw a floor plan because it would make some kind of sense. I could go on and on. It’s the whole concept of world building. I guess that’s what they call it?
What’cha Reading: It’s interesting because you’re dealing with subject matter that’s been explored in film and in literature and different mediums. And then you have Robert Kirkman who’s essentially this master of horror, character drama, and suspense. You’re dealing with demons and the devil and characters like that. How much of that was discussed in terms of the visual concept?
Paul Azaceta: Kirkman had very specific ideas on what he wanted to do with the people who were possessed and the demon and stuff. He wanted to do it in a way that I think that the horror and stuff that we like is more atmospheric and creepy and suspenseful. It’s not necessarily a giant monster jumping out at you or gore and stuff like that. With the possessed people, he didn’t want it to be with horns, but just where they’re a little off. We were talking about that and how he wanted that. It’s creepier that way. A weirdo standing on a corner staring at you could be 100 times creepier than some crazy monster. A crazy monster you kind of write off as “Oh man, that was crazy!” and then you tell your friends later on. But a creepy guy on the corner, later on you think about it and when you’re going to go to bed it really sticks with you more. So we talked about that kind of stuff and then with the demon stuff we discussed the idea of how it would be formless and how you kind of see stuff in it, but not really. It doesn’t really have its own thing. But we thought about showing the actual demon where we keep picking at it so when we get to the climax…
What’cha Reading: With out spoiling anything, could we expect anything with a form?
Paul Azaceta: I don’t want to spoil anything, but I can say that…
What’cha Reading: …that it evolves?
Paul Azaceta: Yeah, there’s an evolution of it. As we reveal more you see how they work and what’s going on and stuff. Why Kyle seems to be targeted so much and all the stuff like that. It definitely escalates. I was just talking about the next arc and how I’m having a lot of fun with it. Issue 13 is bananas with all the stuff that goes on in that one and then with the following issue there are so many turns with the characters because a lot of the first few issues was establishing stuff, but now we get to pay off on some of the seeds we’ve planted. We get to put them through the ringer and that’s a lot of fun. I don’t know. I’m excited.
What’cha Reading: I’ve been reading since issue 1 and I love it. I know there are many that are very interested in it and there are many that love owning and collecting original art. I know Cadence Comic Art is…
Paul Azaceta: Cadence Comic Art, that’s my art dealer. Paolo.
What’cha Reading: and that’s still the preferred way to obtain your work?
Paul Azaceta: I don’t get into selling my originals too much, but I do have some and he does have some of my stuff. Some of my Outcast stuff. I’m probably going to give him some more stuff. The other thing too is that I didn’t know if anyone was going to want Outcast and then we had a lot of buzz so now I think maybe they’ll want to buy the original art. I didn’t know if anyone was going to care so I thought maybe I’ll hold onto it in case something happens and if it does catch on. Everything appears to be going well so maybe now that people will actually want it I’ll give him some more stuff. It’s weird because it’s not being protective, it’s just more that since I create the art, the actual art is the printed comic book. I don’t know. I don’t have a definitive answer as to why not, but I do like to give out and try to sell some. I’ve got people asking so I guess I’ll throw him some more art.
What’cha Reading: So CadenceComicArt.com?
Paul Azaceta: CadenceComicArt.com and he reps a bunch of great artists and I’m one of them.
What’cha Reading: Yes, Paolo’s great.
Paul Azaceta: He is and he’s a cool guy and that’s why he reps me. If he was a jerk, he’d probably still rep me, but I wouldn’t like him as much.
What’cha Reading: Thanks again Paul for speaking with us today.
Paul Azaceta: No problem.
What’cha Reading: Thanks again and, we like to ask everyone this, so what’cha reading?
Paul Azaceta: I’m so happy to be a part of Image. The lineup they have is incredible. I’m behind on Deadly Class, I know that. That’s one of my favorites. The new Southern Bastards hardcover came out and I want to get that.
*What’cha Reading would like to thank Paul Azaceta for generously spending his time at NYCC to speak with us. We’d like to give additional thanks to Sommer Adams at Skybound Entertainment for helping arrange this interview. This would not have been possible without her assistance.
We strongly urge you to check out Cadence Comic Art and Royal Collectibles here and here; one of the largest comic and collectible shops in Queens, New York. They’ve been in business since 1992. It’s located in Forest Hills and would be the shop Peter Parker would definitely stop at after school and on his days off.