Gonna Party Like It's Yer Birfright (Part 2): Gerry Alanguilan talks 'Superman: Birthright'

Thu, August 14th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

"Superman: Birthright" #1
In Part One of CBR News' focus on "Superman: Birthright," Mark Waid spoke about writing the acclaimed series for DC Comics. Along for the ride with him are a tremendous creative team and one of those members is inker Gerry Alanguilan, who puts the final touches on artist Leinil Yu's art. The inker found time to speak to CBR News about "Birthright" and about the place of inkers in the industry.

"I had been inking Whilce Portacio almost exclusively on 'Stone,' 'Tales of Darkness' and 'X-Force,'" explains Alanguilan of his career before "Birthright." "But once in a while, I help out inking a few pages of 'Wolverine' and 'Uncanny X-Men' pencilled by Leinil Yu when they had to meet a deadline really quick. I got to work full time with Leinil on 'New X-Men Annual 2001' and on 'High Roads' for Cliffhanger/Wildstorm. We find that we work really well together both professionally and personally (we're both good friends), that it seemed natural that I continue to work with him on Superman.

"Superman is a project that I just can't say no to. He's the one that started it all, the ultimate super hero. I don't consider working on Superman as a job, I consider it an honor. I can scarcely believe I'm actually involved in this. I really didn't dream of working on Superman when I was a kid. I dreamt of drawing Wolverine and Iron Man and Conan. That's because I knew that through hard work, I could probably do it. But Superman...I didn't even think of it. It was just too impossible. Too unthinkable. But now that I'm here...Wow!!"

Part of the reason for Alanguilan's enthusiasm is that he is a big Superman fan, like many of the people involved with this project, and feels the character offers a great ideal for people to aspire to achieve. "Superman will always embody an ideal that I would always aspire to achieve. That would entail ultimate goodness, honesty, integrity, bravery. Such concepts may appear too boring to some, but not to me. The world is such an ugly place already with all the troubles we've been having. As humans we swim through all that muck everyday. It can get really depressing and you could lose yourself if you allow yourself to. Superman is like an anchor, the one you think about that cannot be touched by all this hate, this anger, this fear. You read his adventures in comics and somehow you feel hopeful because despite of everything, he still strives to do what is right and what is good."

As he said above, working on Superman has been an honor for Alanguilan and previous to working on the character he found it all a bit intimidating. "Superman hasn't been a dream project to me because I felt that it would be too impossible for me to achieve. If I dreamed of it, then I would have been considering myself worthy enough to be part of telling his story, which I wasn't. I felt so totally unworthy. When I started working, I was slowly able to work on characters I actually did dream of doing like Wolverine, X-Men, New Mutants (who were going by the name of X-Force by the time I worked on them), and Fantastic Four. Although I was a fan of Superman, it really didn't occur to me that I could actually work on one of his books. Now that I'm here...it's just been exhilarating."

While Alanguilan does realize that Superman has a ways to go before he connects with fans like he did in times past, he also realizes his role on the book leaves him little room to help that process along. "As an inker, my scope of influence is somewhat limited, so there's really nothing else I can do job-wise except to do my best work, as I've always done, and if it's possible, give something more," explains the inker. "But then outside the job, I can always promote the book on my own like what I'm doing on my site. I'm glad for the chance to promote that book whenever I can."

Conjuring up a Superman like altruism, Alanguilan says he has one major goal on this series and frankly, it's not about him. "I came in with the sole purpose of making Leinil Yu's pencils come alive in ink and make him look good. Leinil's pencils evolve with every project, and I need to evolve along with it. His style has become more simpler but more elegantly composed. It's both easier and harder to ink. Easier because some pages don't take that much time to finish. Harder because you really have to think about every line because there's not that many of them, and ensure that each line is correct and looks good."

It's not often that you see a comic book inker interviewed these days- Jimmy Palmiotti and Keith Champagne are two of the more common ones- but that's not something that bothers Alanguilan. "The lack of inker interviews doesn't bother too much, as I really believe our work, if done well, doesn't stand out and attract attention to itself. Our work should help the penciller tell the story, and as such, inkers should help the penciller's work reach its potential. But come to think of it, I really would welcome more inker interviews. Inking is such a misunderstood part in the process of creating comics. A lot of readers seem to have a mistaken belief of what inking is all about and because of these mistaken beliefs, inkers are attacked erroneously. If more inkers get interviewed, a much broader understanding of what inkers do may well result and we don't get so unfairly trounced for things we aren't responsible for."

"Superman: Birthright" #3, page 5
There are a number of misconceptions fans have of exactly what an Inker does, a fact that a certain Kevin Smith movie makes good use of for comedic effect, and Alanguilan was happy to set the record straight. "I was laughing my head off in the opening comic con sequence in 'Chasing Amy' where a fight breaks out between an inker and a guy accusing him of being just a tracer. It's funny, but I do admit it furthers the misconceptions that inkers are indeed just drawing over lines that the penciller has already drawn.

"If people do a little digging, they would realize that the best inkers in the business are some of the best artists as well. People like Kevin Nowlan, Dexter Vines, Mark Buckingham, Klaus Janson, Whilce Portacio, Al Williamson, and Jerry Ordway, fantastic artists in their own right, are also some of the best inkers we have had. I only say this because I truly believe that being a good artist is required for one to be a good inker. If you are not an artist to begin with, you can't even begin to know what the heck to do with that pencilled page in front of you.

"Another misconception is the belief that it's always the inkers fault that the penciller's work no longer looks good. I read too much feedback from readers where they say so and so penciller's work is wrecked because of this or that inker. This would be a valid opinion if the readers saw the original pencils to begin with. I really believe that nobody can justifiably assess the work of an inker vis a vis the penciller's work without seeing the original pages. Why a particular page sucks could mean many things, and not just because the inker sucks. It could mean that the penciller was pressed for time and had to finish that page in an hour and the inker just had to make the best of it. The penciller may well be having a bad day and just hacked out the page, or he was sick, or yeah, it just may well be that the inker himself is having a bad day. But the point is, beyond the penciller, inker and editor, nobody truly knows what the circumstances are that went into the production of a sucky page. Opinions assessing that page is at best speculation, and the sad truth of it is, the inkers are almost always the one who gets the short end of the stick.

"An example: I get feedback for 'High Roads,' and readers tell me how much they like Leinil's work better during 'Wolverine' because it looked grittier and darker and they blame me because Leinil's work no longer looks that way now. I get to tell those who do write me that it's just the way Leinil's pencils look like now and I'm just following his lead. But what about the rest?"

In the case of "Superman: Birthright," Alanguilan says that he is doing what he feels is best for inking and that if someone does "trace" pencils when they're inking, it's not wrong- to each their own. "It's not really a matter of right or wrong, but a matter of what looks good and what doesn't. Leinil's pencils are quite precise and all the information is already there. For me to add too much or remove anything too much would affect the work and take the finished page away from what Leinil intends. So I always keep in mind what he is trying to achieve, and help the pencils reach it with the inks. I really don't think of it as tracing, but developing what Leinil has done to its full potential."

There's been no major bumps in the road for the inker on "Birthright," but he says one change early on somewhat disrupted the flow of things. "The transition between editors at the start of the series gave us some problems, but they were easily worked out. I gotta say that there's really nothing hard for me on this series. This is Superman. I love what I'm doing. Everything becomes easy. This is due in part to Editor Eddie Berganza and Assistant Editor Tom Palmer Jr., who have been very accommodating and helpful. Like the rest of the creative team, I can feel in their correspondence that they really care about this character and that makes you feel really good about being part of this project."

"Superman: Birthright" #4
If a penciller or writer approaches a Superman project, it's easier for most outside the industry to understand how the creators might feel intimidated, but in the case of inkers, one has to wonder what kind of pressure they feel. "All I need to concern myself with is to alter my style to fit the penciller on any given project, be it Superman or be it another character. It was a little intimidating working on Superman, and I have to admit it took me a long time to get going on the very first page I got to ink. But after I have worked on some 10 pages, I got my rhythm and it's been a breeze ever since."

The creative team along with Alanguilan on this project have really made an impression on the inker and he says it's been fun. "I've been involved with some very high profile books in the past, but this is the very first time that I feel that everything just clicks. The story is very involving and exciting, Leinil is doing some of the best stuff he's done, and Dave McCaig the colorist is just blowing us away with every page. It actually took us a long time to find the right colorist for it. We had always assumed that we would be working with Edgar Tadeo, who had colored us so amazingly well in 'High Roads.' But he had to beg off Superman because of previous commitments. And for a long time we went through different colorists who wanted to try out but nobody worked out. There were some colorists that we wanted but they were unavailable.

"In our desperation we called up this artist who had been working on a local music magazine who was doing really cool innovative stuff. We met with him and although he seemed a little too weird, he was very talented and it if it worked out, we would have loved to have him aboard. When he turned in his samples man...Superman looked like he just stepped out of a psychedelic nightmare, colors shooting all over the place. Leinil and I both sat in our seats sweating. It looked interesting... but it would certainly short circuit our readers' minds and parents would be picketing us off the book. ha! ha! Thankfully enough, Leinil found Dave McCaig, whose work in 'Doom Patrol' looked really impressive to him. Personally, I just love Dave's colors and I tell him so with every opportunity."

The feedback for "Birthright," with the second issue already on stands, has been pretty much positive on CBR's Superman Forum and Alanguilan finds that it's much the same everywhere else. "I've been visiting many message boards and I'm glad to discover that the feedback has been generally positive. There is some negative feedback due to the confusion if 'Birthright' is in continuity or not. What's surprising to me is that the readers really care about the minutiae of everything and anything Superman. They care about where the 'S' symbol comes from, where the curl on Superman's hair come from, and other details like that. It only goes to show that people do still care for Superman, and that's a good thing."

Though he's a big Superman fan, Gerry Alanguilan says he's only watched one of the new television shows featuring the Big Blue Boy Scout. "Strange as it may seem, I'm not too much into animation, so I really haven't seen 'Justice League.' I do watch 'Smallville' from time to time. It was surprising to find out that Lex Luthor and Clark Kent are such good friends in this show. It fills me with dread to finally watch the show that would destroy their friendship and make them mortal enemies. It's also a pleasant surprise to see that the Lana Lang of 'Superman 3' is now Martha Kent. Plus, Kristin Kreuk is so super hot. Whew!! Forget Lois, Clark!! Lana is IT!! :)"

Besides "Superman: Birthright," Alanguilan is involved with other projects and is happy to let readers know where else they can see his work. "I do enjoy inking a lot, but I don't see myself doing it forever. I started in the industry with the full intent of drawing comics. Inking comics had been fun for the past few years, but I would like to start drawing as well. I've already been both writing and drawing comics here in the Philippines long before I started working on US comics. I've been contributing illustrations for various publications including 'Fleshrot Book 1' for Frightworld Studios and Graphic Classics (HP Lovecraft, Jack London). I recently finished pencilling and inking an 'Ochlocrat' one shot for Comics Conspiracy with writer Doug Miers, and I've just finished pencilling, inking and lettering a 17 page adaption of 'Bram Stoker's Judge's House' for Graphic Classics, out September 15. I've also contributed a couple of stories I wrote and drew for the upcoming 'Prophecy Magazine.'

"In my native Philippines, I was able to come up with several comics I've written and drawn, most notable of which is 'Wasted.' It's gotten favorable reviews from Steven Grant, Warren Ellis and the 'Comics International' magazine. It's so far just available here in the Philippines and I'm currently looking for a small distributor in the US. 'Wasted' is also currently being shot as an independent film for which I provided the screenplay."

Knowing how much fans always want to stay ahead of the curve, Alanguilan offers some hints for the future of "Birthright," but also says, he doesn't know a lot of what's to come. "In the issue I've just finished inking, fans of the first Superman movie will probably get the same rush when they read it. I really can't say much more than that. he.he.

"Coming into this project solely as an inker, it would be difficult for me to answer certain questions as they require certain information of which I am not privy to. Although I am working on the book, I wasn't involved in the thought process that went into the creation of the concept. In fact, I've yet to know what will happen in the next issue and how this will all end. I'm pretty much a fan, just like a lot of people, waiting for what Mark Waid has got up his sleeve month after month with this book. And like a lot of people, I can't wait!"

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