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Astonishing: An Interview with Simone Bianchi

Simone Bianchi, the "artist's artist" behind Marvel's ASTONISHING X-MEN, chats with Brent Sprecher and shares some never-before-seen concept art!
Simone Bianchi is on top of the world! The superstar artist from Italy is living the dream, working under exclusive contract to Marvel Comics on the critically acclaimed--and commercially successful--Astonishing X-Men with Warren Ellis, one of the greatest writers in the medium today.

Born in Lucca, Italy, where he still lives, Bianchi was an early starter. He began working for a local newspaper at the age of 15 and his work soon found its way into nationwide publications. A chance meeting with artist Claudio Castellini in 1994 would change Simone's life forever. The two became friends and Castellini became a mentor to Bianchi, a relationship that continues to this day.

Bianchi took his first stabs at working on Marvel characters in 1999, when he provided a cover for Fantastici Quattro (Fantastic Four) for Wiz magazine and the one-shot Conan il Barbaro (Conan the Barbarian) for Marvel Italia. That same year, Bianchi became a teacher at the Scuola Internazionale di Comics in Florence, teaching anatomy applied to comics and illustrations.

In 2004, Simone provided artwork for DC Comics' Shining Knight, with award-winning writer Grant Morrison. The following year, Bianchi was awarded the Yellow Kid for the Best Italian Comic Artist and Writer of the Year at the Expo Cartoon Convention in Rome.

Simone continued working for DC Comics in 2005, contributing covers for Batman and Green Lantern and providing the interior artwork for Green Lantern #6. Also that year, Bianchi began providing covers for Marvel Comics' X-Men Unlimited, which led into him signing an exclusive contract with Marvel in 2006. After an acclaimed stint on Wolverine with Jeph Loeb, the prolific comic book and film writer and executive producer of Heroes, Bianchi made the jump to Astonishing X-Men, which has given him even greater exposure and recognition.

BRENT SPRECHER: Simone, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions for your fans. You have been on my "short list" for quite some time.

SIMONE BIANCHI: Thank you so much for including me on this "short list."

BS: The pleasure is all mine. You're a very busy man, so I worried that I might never get the chance to interview you.

SB: I apologize for making you wait this long. It was not my intent, but so many things have happened lately...

BS: Hey, no worries. Thank you again. You were heralded as one of Marvel’s "Young Guns" when you made your debut on Wolverine, and you’ve certainly lived up to the hype. Are you still exclusive with Marvel?

SB: Yes, absolutely, and I’m very glad to say for 2 more years at least.

BS: Do you enjoy being under exclusive contract? That is, do the benefits outweigh any possible creative constraints?

SB: Good question. As a matter of fact, I do miss a lot doing my paintings and own creative characters work. Other than that, I couldn’t be any happier with these guys and I wish to stay with them as long as possible.

BS: You’ve received quite a bit of public praise from Axel Alonso, Marvel’s X-editor. He said, "Simone never cuts any corners…he leaves it all on the page." With a monthly book like Astonishing X-Men, where there are dozens of characters, costumes and environments to render in every issue, under deadline, how do you keep your energy and enthusiasm from waning?

SB: Well, I guess that after a whole life-time waiting to have a chance like this, it’s been easy to keep my motivations high. I mean, I’ve grown up reading these characters’ stories and now I draw them, so what more could I ask? I try to always keep in mind how lucky I am doing what I do for a living, even when deadlines kill any other aspect of my life.

BS: Anyone who picks up one of your books can see just how dedicated you are to your craft. The amount of detail, expression, motion and emotion you put into each and every one of your pages is incredible. Can you tell us a little about your process? You’ve said in the past that you use small sketches and photo reference to help with the layouts and lighting, but what’s going on when you actually sit down to complete a page? What tools are you using? How do you get into the frame of mind to draw?

SB: The tools I use I’m sure are pretty common to any other artist working in the business right now: HB pencils, stick and regular eraser, knided and hard rubber, white corrector. Other that this, my loyal inker Andrea Silvestri and I constantly use a hell of a lot of different inking and painting tools: graphite pencils, white corrector, white pencil, Staedler Mars rasor, black and white acrylics, 0.5/ 0.8 pigment liners, and to shade, a cut brush and our fingers.

BS: Your books look different than other comic books on the stands. As an artist, did you encounter any opposition when you were initially trying to break into the U.S. comic book market? Did you have to change your style or pacing at all to work at DC or Marvel?

SB: No, actually. I must say they have been really open-minded towards my style. There are a lot of artists coming from Europe, and from Italy in particular, working in the business at the moment and I see that their personal style tends to be respected. And this respect at both Marvel and DC is just one more element indicating their top level from any point of view.

BS: You mentioned in a previous interview that you have been a fan of the X-Men since the early 90’s, when Jim Lee and Chris Claremont launched X-Men #1 into the stratosphere. Did the book make the same kind of splash in Italy that it did over here? I was a kid at the time, but I remember standing in line at the comic shop, waiting for it to open, and then buying two copies of each cover.

SB: Well, that explains why that book sold so incredibly well when it first came out. Everybody bought two or more copies of each cover and there were 5 or 6 of them, if I remember correctly. In any case, yes, it had an amazing reaction in Italy and in Europe as well.

BS: For those of us who may never have the opportunity to travel to Italy, can you tell us what the comic scene is like?

SB: There are two main publishing houses: Bonelli, which is the biggest one, and has its own characters, and Panini. Bonelli’s books have a high number of affectionate fans. Just to give you an idea, there are books like Dylan Dog that sell 200,000 copies and, if you consider the population, these are amazing figures!

Panini publishes DC and Marvel books; they are very productive and they do good quality stuff. Plus, there are, unfortunately, a lot of manga [Japanese comics]--I am not a great fan of this.

BS: You’ve been over to the States for conventions and other comic events. How does the fan community here compare to the Italian fan community?

SB: They are pretty much crazy the same way, thank God. Conventions can be bigger or smaller but the atmosphere is more or less the very same everywhere.

BS: When you were working on Wolverine, you said that he was your favorite Marvel character? Later, you said that you really enjoyed drawing Beast. What other characters, outside of those you’ve already tackled, would you like to work on some day?

SB: I’d like to work on Thor, Spider-Man, Daredevil and Inhumans.

BS: Are there any dream projects out there beckoning to you? Any specific writers you would jump at the chance to work with after your X-Men run?

SB: Frank Miller would be my wildest dream, of course, but knowing how busy he is with his Hollywood work, I know it’s not gonna happen for quite some time. He has been my living hero for a lot of time, at least the past 2 decades and when I had the chance to meet him last Summer at a small party in San Diego, I was shaking like a leaf when he finally came to shake his hand! Beside him, I have been enormously enjoying Mark Millar and Ed Brubaker. Of course, I would love to get back to work with Jeph Loeb to finish our Wolverine story arc.

BS: Do you have any plans to produce a creator-owned comic book down the road?

SB: I did, and it is actually coming out soon in the U.S. through a new, independent Publishing House based in L.A. The book is called Ego Sum and it’s a science fiction trilogy. I wrote the script and did (all of the) art myself. I painted each page myself; they were not colored in Photoshop, as you normally do nowadays. Plus, there are some autobiographical references in there, so I guess it’s easy to understand I really feel it in my work. It is the story of a man who loses his memories and, in a desperate search to find them, makes a long journey. In the end, (he) gets a totally different attitude towards life.
The last episode is still to be written and drawn and we’ll see how the U.S. fans will react to it.

BS: One of my favorite artists, Claudio Castellini, was an inspiration and mentor to you starting out. How did that relationship come about and are you still friends?

SB: Absolutely, yes, we’re still very good friends! I first met him when I was 20 and I still consider him one of the best artists who has ever worked in this medium.

BS: Who were some of your other inspirations starting out and why? Which contemporary artists do you admire today?

SB: Frank Frazzetta, Sergio Toppi, Alberto and Enrique Breccia, John Buscema, Moebius, John Romita Sr. and Jr., Travis Charest, Alex Ross, Geffrey Jones, Phil Hale, Jon Foster and Bill Sienkiewicz.

BS: When asked for some words of wisdom in a previous interview, you said that being instantly recognizable is a very valuable element to the potential success of an artist. Can you elaborate on that a little? Is this a concept you formulated after achieving a bit of success or did you consciously set out to stand out from the crowd from the get-go?

SB: It is something my father, Giampaolo, who is an artist himself, has always told me: when you have your own style, you can be liked or not but you have a plus anyway; you are not confused with others, it is your own mark. Therefore, I always wanted to emphasize the elements I have felt to be mine, more than the others.

BS: Do you have any other advice or words of encouragement you can offer today’s aspiring comic book artists?

SB: The first thing that instantly comes to my mind is stop going on the internet wasting your time on forums and produce some actual work! It is interesting and useful to read (others') comments and opinions, but some of them seem to spend whole days at their PC.

BS: Thank you so much for your time and thank you for helping to entertain and inspire so many of us with your art.

SB: My pleasure, Brent. It is always a joy to realize that an interviewer has really reflected about the questions to ask, like you have done in this case, so my personal congratulations to your professionalism.

BS: Wow, well, thank you for saying so!

Click HERE for Simone's personal web-site!

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