DC Comics editor Eddie Berganza introduced Ivan Reis to an anxiously waiting audience at Comic-Con International in San Diego, with the popular illustrator bringing along myriad examples of his progression as an artist, from childhood comic book reader to the present day. Reis was aided by Joe Prado, who served as an interpreter of sorts, (but more often acted as comic relief.)
Initially, Reis talked about his earliest influences, showing drawings that he did at 11 years old. With strong echoes of George Perez and John Byrne, the signs of his future versatility as an artist were already in place. By 14, he began drawing his own horror comics. His first story was about death, and strangely he noted that ever since then, death has been a recurring theme in his work.
For Reis' first superhero story, at 14 he created "Fantastic Man." Since the company he created the comic for went out of business before they could publish it, the original artwork was thought lost. Luckily, they tracked Reis down and recently were able to return the work which the artist happily shared with the audience. At the time, one of his more dominant influences was the art of "Conan the Barbarian" and the hulking mass of the superheroes he depicted clearly showed that.
His first paying work was on a kids comic called "Monica's Gang." Working for the Brazilian comic book publisher Mauricio De Souza on this book, Ivan began to realize that drawing comic books for a career was going to work out. For the next three years, he continued working on all sorts of kids comics. It was around this time that he met Joe Prado who was interning at an agency where they would eventually both get their breaks into the American comic book industry.
When he started working for Dark Horse, Ivan Reis drew titles like "Ghost" and "The Mask," exhibiting a broad range of styles and learning his craft. When his first work for DC came out (a pinup of Wonder Woman in, as Joe put it, "a very '90's style") and he held it in his hands, it was an emotional moment. He talked about the impact of seeing his first DC work published, no matter how rough it seems now.
Soon after this, he was asked to pencil an issue of Grant Morrison's "Invisibles." It was his first comic book for DC and his first work with Grant Morrison. "It was a great story," he reminisced, and if you look, he noted that you can see Kevin Nowlan influences peeking out.
At this point, Ivan began to work regularly on "Lady Death," which gave him the time to experiment and grow as an artist. Eddie noted this point in Reis career as an important phase for editors like him, when Reis became more visible to them. "I was keeping an eye on him at this time" he remarked.
"The Supernaturals" was Reis' first miniseries for Marvel and it was an important landmark for him. He enjoyed that it was a mixture of chaos in the Marvel universe, and he recognized Greg Capullo as a major artistic influence at this time. Each issue had a Halloween mask, which Joe Prado mentioned collecting and keeping to this day.
In 2002, Reis had progressed to the point where he began working with Geoff Johns. Their first collaboration was on "The Vision." This was also when Prado began officially to work as Reis' agent. Geoff became an advocate for Reis' work, encouraging his editor Eddie Berganza to check out his work on "Lady Death."
As Reis began to do more mainstream superhero work, he had less time to spend drawing well-endowed women as he had done so regularly on "Lady Death." He laughingly told the audience that "When I started doing Superman, people said 'Where will you put the boobs on Superman?'"
At this point, the artist found himself working on a lot of one shots and miniseries. Of these, the "Rann-Thanagar War" was the most complex and challenging. Written by Dave Gibbons, Reis was constantly dealing with Gibbons' artist's eye, as he kept noticing tiny things. "You couldn't hide anything. There were constant corrections. Some pages had 400 hundred characters, and the writer insisted all of them." Reis had some fun on those epic scenes by sneaking in extra characters. Apparently, if you look closely, on some pages he snuck in Hanna-Barbera characters.
It was while drawing "Superman" #819 that Reis began working with Joe Prado, who helped him by taking on the Lana Lang scenes in order to allow Reis to focus on Superman's. This collaboration has continued as the workload has increased.
Reis then showed pages from "Infinite Crisis," which might only have been 12 or so pages of his own artwork, offered him an opportunity to work with people who'd so deeply influenced him in his youth. It was another landmark for him, seeing his name printed alongside people like George Perez and Phil Jiminez.
After that came the work on Green Lantern, and as Reis says, "Green Lantern is the character of my life, he changed everything. I started 'Green Lantern' at #10 and watched him grow." Initially, Reis was slated to work on "Teen Titans," but much to Berganza's chagrin, Geoff took Reis with him to collaborate on "Green Lantern."
"Green Lantern: Secret Origin" came next, which Berganza noted as being a big visual influence on the upcoming movie. For Ivan Reis, he saw this is an important book, one which can stand on its own for the next decade and serve to enrich the mythology of the character.
Following this with "Green Lantern: Blackest Night" was hard work. The deadlines were much shorter than usual, but Reis insisted on keeping his high-standards. Once again, he enrolled the help of Prado, who designed nearly 200 Black Lanterns. At times, it was necessary to make tough choices and avoid more complex compositions so that the art would still be on time, and while Reis was uncomfortable with this, by the end of the storyline, even he could see that it worked out well.
Working on "Green Lantern: Brightest Day" now, Reis is taking it comparatively easy. While he does layouts, Prado does finishes because after the grueling schedule of "Green Lantern: Blackest Night," Reis needed a vacation. As Prado said, the artistic collaboration works so well because "after 17 years...we have the same influences and grew up together, so it works."
Concluding the journey through Ivan Reis' artist development, the panel was opened up to questions from the audience. One audience member asked Reis to share any creative difference or disputes that he might have had in collaborating with Geoff Johns on the recent "Green Lantern" events. Reis explained that, "It was really collaborative. It's very easy to work with Geoff Johns." Prado added his feeling that Johns has the ability to bring out the best of each artist he works with.
Another audience member asked how long it takes Ivan Reis to draw all of the detailed double-page spreads that were such a part of his work on "Green Lantern: Blackest Night." Reis explained that it can be anywhere from one day to four, depending on the complexity and the deadlines.
The next questioner asked if Reis had a favorite new Green Lantern character. While Reis had a preference for Mera, he clarified that for him "Green Lantern: Blackest Night" was about the whole, about heroes coming together. "The stories are good because [Geoff Johns] works with every character." He went on to say that his absolute favorite character to draw right now would be Flash. "I love the Flash. He's very cool to draw, you can make crazy situations. The effects of him moving all the time, that [visual translation] was my idea. The Flash never stops moving, even in a simple situation. Flash is my favorite."
With that, an audience member asked Reis what is next for him, to which there much deliberation before the gentlemen decided that, yes, it was alright to tell us that next step will be a graphic novel about Sinestro. While this has yet to be officially announced, Reis was vague about the details of the project and Berganza advised everyone to keep an eye out for that.
When presented with the question "What don't you like to draw?" Reis was almost non-plussed. "I like to draw everything. Kids comics, superhero, fantasy, naked…everything! Because what I like is the process, the opportunity to make something different...I have no idea what happens to the page…even when the story is bad, I like the process."
An audience member followed this by asking what Reis isn't influenced by, i.e. his least favorite style. The ever diplomatic Reis explained that "I love everything. All styles have something good [about them, there is always something] to learn. I think everything has worth and can be influential to someone."
Finally, when asked how he broke into the US comic market, Reis explained about the long hours he spent trying to play it safe, by working for a Brazilian company and DC at once. "After a year on 'Monica's Gang,' I couldn't give it up, I had the opportunity to do 'Ghost,' so for a month, I did both things. Wake up at 6am, work till 6pm. Then work from 8pm – 1am at home. I slept four hours a day for that month. I was so tired. But people liked the work and they gave me an opportunity to continue [at DC], so I couldn't keep doing both...I spent that month sleeping in the studio, eating canned food...it was terrible. Eventually I had to choose to take the risk of the American market. The owner of 'Monica's Gang' said it wouldn't happen, but look now, at how I've proved him wrong."
With these inspiring words for his fans, Ivan Reis' panel ended and the humble fan-favorite creator was swamped with people asking him to sign their well-thumbed comic books.