Talking Comics with Tim | Paul Pelletier on ‘Aquaman’
Current Aquaman artist Paul Pelletier has a long and varied history in comics, dating back to the late 1980s. When I learned Jeff Parker would replace Geoff Johns as the series’ writer (beginning with Aquaman #26), I was pleased that DC Comics chose to leave Pelletier on the title (as opposed to switching to a new art team, as frequently happens). I enjoy Pelletier’s take on Aquaman, and I was surprised to learn he’s not well-versed in some of the character’s earlier runs (so readers, please be sure to share your favorite runs in the comments section, since the artist asked “which runs would the Aqua-fans recommend?”). It was a unique opportunity, prior to the October 23 release of Aquaman #24, to chat with the veteran artist as he transitions from collaborating with one veteran writer to another. Plus, I enjoyed hearing about Pelletier’s appreciation of basketball legend Larry Bird.
Tim O’Shea: Once you realized Arthur would be sporting a beard again, did you draw a couple of versions of beards (goatee versus full beard) or did you and Geoff always have one look in mind when it came to Aquaman’s facial hair?
Paul Pelletier: When Geoff wrote Aquaman with the beard, it was a result of Arthur being unconscious for six months, so I figured it wouldn’t be too stylized. A full beard that wasn’t too manicured made sense to me. Now if the beard was to remain, then we might have to think about something a bit more tailored to Arthur.
You’ve clearly had a blast collaborating with Geoff Johns, but how pleased were you when you learned that, while Johns was moving on, DC respected your impact on the book enough to want to make sure you stayed with the series as it transitioned to new writer Jeff Parker?
I was very pleased and kinda surprised. A lot of times when there is a change in writer on the book, there’s a good chance the art team will change, too. I was happy to hear that the editors were interested in keeping me on the book. I like the idea of having a decent run on this series, and it has been a lot of fun.
Rather than ask you about all the artists that have influenced your work, I wonder if there are any influences you have that you think might surprise most of your fans?
I would say that Larry Bird would fit that bill. I’ve been a huge Celtics fan since I was about 10 or 11 years old, and Larry Bird was “the dude.” The thing about him that later inspired me and influenced my approach to working in comics was the fact that Bird was not the most gifted athlete in basketball, but his drive and work ethic made him the player he was. He outworked his opponents and overcame any shortcomings with the force of his will power. I’m not the most skilled artist in comics, but I feel that my work ethic has been a big help in allowing me to enjoy 20-plus years of steady employment. There’s huge room for improvement in all aspects of my work, and the longer my career goes, the more I need to learn. It’s a never-ending process. Now, if only I had a sweet jump-shot like Larry!
In terms of Aquaman’s history, many legendary artists have drawn his adventures over the many years. Are there any storytellers in particular that informed how you approach the character or that otherwise stand out in your mind?
I’m embarrassed to admit that I was pretty clueless about Aquaman when I took on this assignment, so my knowledge of the creator history on this book is pretty limited. I definitely checked out the amazing work that Ivan Reis did with Geoff, but that’s about it. I really should go back and check out some of his earlier adventures. Which runs would the Aqua-fans recommend?
What are some of the biggest challenges and benefits to staging fight scenes underwater?
Depending on where the characters are, it can be difficult to get a sense of perspective, especially if they’re in open water. If they are on the sea bottom, surrounded by shipwrecks or deep sea cliffs and mountains, that can be fun. Fight scenes underwater are not that different from those in outer space — just a lot more bubbles!
How tricky is it to convey fast character movement (where they leave a wake or bubbles around them) without obscuring the background of whatever scenery you’re trying to convey for the sake of the story?
The bubbles can get tricky when it comes to covering too many backgrounds, but of course, so are word balloons! I always hope to establish backgrounds and settings in the panels where there’s not as much action going on. That way, I don’t have to worry about the bubbles covering up too much scenery. When big action is happening, I try to approach the use of bubbles the same way I would with speed lines … to convey speed and motion.
Before embarking on Aquaman, did you have to do some research in terms of aquatic life or underwater seascapes to prepare yourself?
Not so much before I started. A lot of the research I do is specific to what the plot calls for. When it comes time to pencil a scene that calls for a certain sea life, or deep-sea shipwrecks, or whatever else you can find under the waves, I will do some online research to get a feel for how to approach the art.
In certain scenes or aspects of a weapons/props, do you ever ask colorist Rod Reis to opt for specific colors, or do you leave those kinds of creative decisions solely up to him?
Unless it’s specifically called for in the plot, I usually leave the color decisions to Rod. It’s very rare for me to look at a page colored by Rod and think that something doesn’t look “right.” He’s got extremely good color sense, and I always feel that the art is in very capable hands when he’s doing his thing.
Other than the star of the series, of course, are there certain characters you look forward to drawing?
Mera is a great character. I also enjoy some of the newer guys I had a hand in designing like Murk and Swatt. And then there’s Topo. Ah, precious Topo.
Anything we should discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
I don’t think so! I just hope that the Aqua-fans continue to enjoy the book. It’s been a lot of fun working on this series, and I really am excited to see what Jeff Parker has up his sleeve for Arthur.