Artists on the Verge: Eric Canete

Mon, August 27th, 2001 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Keith Giles, Staff Writer

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All this week, CBR will take a look at five artists who are poised to make some serious waves in the comic book industry for the coming year.

Our hope with this feature is that you may discover a few artists whom you've never heard of previously, or perhaps learn more about a new artist whose work you've already come to appreciate.

The artists spotlighted in this feature are by no means the only artists who deserve recognition. There are many other artists who are on the verge and you can be sure that we'll feature them at CBR in the days ahead.

We've chosen five artists turning out some astounding art and we feel you should know more about.

Today, we kick things off with an artist whose work on the Wildstorm book "Cybernary 2.0" has turned more than a few heads. Then be sure to drop by tomorrow to read our next in a series of interviews spotlighting "Artists on the Verge."

[Cybernary 2.0 #5]
The cover to Cybernary 2.0 #5, coming November.
Eric is twenty-seven years old and comes from a little place called Cebu City in the Philippines. The first thing you notice about his artwork is the European flavor of his lines. His harsh, angular pencil stroke invokes a sense of the mysterious and the dynamic all at once. In fact, most comic fans out there have probably been exposed to his work and not even realized it. That is, if you've ever watched a show called "Aeon Flux". In fact, it was his work on that animated television show that launched his comic book career.

"When I was working for Peter Chung on 'Aeon Flux', he asked me to move to San Francisco." Canete told CBR News. "When I got in that place, there were so many people who knew 100 times more about animation and design than I did. So I picked everyone's brain about why this technique worked better than another technique, what makes for a good storyboard and pacing, and which designers inspired them to draw what they drew. It was such a helpful experience for me, and it allowed me to really open my eyes since all that I was exposed to back then was Jim Lee and his (work on) comic books. I had a very limited scope. After 'Aeon' is when I decided to really change things up stylistically from what was going on in the mainstream based off of the things I had learned and the new aesthetics I had become exposed to. From there it was just a matter of picking up work that attracted me.

"I look for things outside of comics and dissect it to see if its something I can use for this medium. Every book I pick up is an experiment and a newfound wealth of knowledge that I can perhaps apply to my own work. I'm learning new things all the time. I don't think I would have left that field if I didn't have such a passion for comic books."

But Canete didn't exactly jump straight from "Aeon Flux" into comic books. "I haven't really been (working) at too many places as far as comic books are concerned," says Canete. "I was working professionally as a designer for various animated television series before I broke into comics. I was freelancing the comic book jobs as they came along, but it was only a matter of time before I realized that I wanted to explore the comic book industry full time. I figured if I was going to get anywhere in comics, I needed to concentrate on it more than I had in the past. Wildstorm was very accommodating to my decisions in that they promised me as much work as I could handle as long as I worked with them. From there it just naturally turned into an exclusive working relationship. I'm very grateful they have that much faith in my to bring me into the studio full time.

"The majority of the projects I have worked on have been for Wildstorm, such as 'Mr. Majestic' and 'Ladytron'," continued Canete. "I have done some fill-in work for DC and Marvel on titles like 'Deathlok' and 'Superman'."

But one day the opportunity came to work on a book that most Wildstorm fans had forgotten. "Cybernary was being put together as I was finishing up my commitments on Ladytron. I had the good fortune of knowing its original editor, Eric DeSantis (who just happened to be the editor for 'Ladytron as well), before he moved on to other professional ventures. Wildstorm genuinely believed I was the right fellow for the job and they had asked me to do studies and sketches representing my take on the character," he says. "When 'Cybnernary2.0' finally got the green light to go into full production, my responsibilities to Ladytron had ended. It was just a natural fit schedule-wise."

Canete's style is already turning a lot of heads and he's excited to be working for Wildstorm. "I've said this in the past, and it still holds true now. From my understanding, Wildstorm is patiently trying to revive their universe so there is some semblance of a cohesive continuity. As long as they'll let me participate, my goals are to contribute to that rebuilding," Canete said. "That was one of the many aspects of Cybernary that attracted me to the project. We would be revisiting a character as well as rebuilding the foundation of a universe that everyone believes to be abandoned. So there's no specific character or book right now that stands out in my mind, but as long as it contributes to Wildstorm's future I'm all for it."

Not only is he loyal to Wildstorm and their vision, but Eric also agrees with Dirty Harry that a man's got to know his limitations. "I am not currently involved with any other projects outside of Cybernary. I'm just not fast enough to be dipping my fingers into too many pies. My work suffers greatly if I even try. So I try and remain focused on the project at hand and finishing it up in some timely manner."

So, even though Canete won't be leaving Wildstorm to pencil Batman or Superman anytime soon, he still has a great love for some of those characters that go back a long way.

"I loved reading 'Superman' when I was a boy. He was the one character that made me say "Wow!" back then," admits Canete. "He still does, from time to time now. I love the pureness of that character and the simplicity of his motivations. He's a very cool guy. I love 'Superman', especially if he's written and drawn well. I haven't seen a Superman book that's gotten me so excited since Kurt Swan was drawing it. These days, with the likes of Bryan Hitch on 'JLA' and Doug Mahnke on 'Man of Steel', Big Blue has never looked better. I really like these guys' take on him. Also, I like reading fun comics that still have that superhero thing I crave so much. 'Gotham Adventures' gives me the entertainment value I look for in those types of comics. Very well put together and very good-looking."

Not only does he appreciate the comic characters and titles that he grew up with in the Philipines, but Canete has discovered a few new comics to love now that he's in the States.

"I love '100 Bullets.' As a genre and as a comic book as a whole I haven't read many books out right now that's better than this book," said Canete. "I think it's due time that people realize comics aren't just about superheroes, at least not the kinds were so accustomed to. Mind you, I'm not knocking the superhero genre (I just got through telling you how much I like Superman), it would just be nice to see our market catch up with the rest of the world. Japan, Europe and other countries have had non-superhero related titles in publications for decades now, the least of which are spandex related material. And as a byproduct, they've managed to catch the older demographic that allows them to be taken as a serious medium of storytelling and not just kids stuff."

But Canete is quick to qualify his statements about superhero comic books. "I would hate to think that the days of capes and masks are numbered. I am a huge fan of modern superhero fare. I think it's just a matter of variety. For a good while there, the only things the majority was exposed to were big biceps and big tits. Now the industry is diversifying itself to cover other stories. It's exciting to think of what may be coming around the corner. And hopefully, it will push publishers to explore subjects and proposals that they wouldn't normally touch years ago. And by doing so, it almost forces the rest of the comic buying public to look outside their normal peripheral. To make them see something new."

"Seeing something new" is really what Canete strives to bring to each page he works on. Even though he's working on only one main book right now, he does his best to make sure that what you see on the page is the best he can possibly provide. Therefore, he follows a very regimented schedule to insure that his work is tight and his deadlines are met.

"Monday, I go into La Jolla (from LA) and turn in the pages I've finished for the weekend," said Canete. "The rest of that day I layout and clean up as many pages as I can in these 5x8 panels that I will eventually enlarge on the Xerox and transfer onto the board.

"Tuesday, I continue to lay out and clean up the smaller versions of these pages until I have my weekly quota of five pages. I take them to the local Kinko's and enlarge them there, transfer them onto the actual 11x17 board. Normally, when I transfer the images, I don't incorporate any of the details, the black areas, or the line weights. The main focus in this stage is to merely move the images to the board. I save the finer work for later on in the week.

"Wednesday, I am transferring what should be the fourth or fifth page of my weekly quota. I have to have this step finished around or before one o'clock in the afternoon so I can take the rest of the evening to tighten up the transfers from earlier in the week.

"On Thursday, I am tightening up all of the pages. At this point I'm on automatic pilot because I've already done all the groundwork and now just adding the little nuances that will make it legible for the inker. And even though my inker is a mind reader, I try and leave as little to chance as possible. I pencil my pages as tight as I can with the time allotted.

"Friday is essentially the same as Thursday. I take breaks between each page for about an hour just so I can stretch my back and rest my hands. Sometimes I got outside and play with my dogs. Just anything to get away from the desk for a little bit. Carpal tunnel and bad back posture are such concerns of mine and when I sit behind a drafting table for too long I get nervous about those conditions. I always make time to rest up. It allows me to work longer when I do the pages during the day. I don't feel like I labored all day behind the table, you know?

"Saturday is more of the same. I'm working from home and I should be at the last or second to last page of my quota for the week. I get really nervous when I'm not because this day is full of interruption from people coming over to phone calls to everything else that could happen over the weekend. So I leave myself with as little to do work-wise on this day.

"Sunday is when I make sure I'm on pace for turning things in on Monday morning. Normally, I'll only have about of a page left to do and that's always a good sign. If it happens that I am on a good pace then I take the rest of the day off to spend time with my girlfriend and family and friends. It's a good thing I keep this time off on Sundays because people normally have work the next day and it prevents me from staying out too late."

[Gatchaman]
A "Gatchaman" commission piece.
While Canete strives to put out the best standard of art he can on "Cybernary 2.0" he draws from a wealth of inspiration.

"Well, I sit in an office with Jim Lee, Lee Bermejo, Ale Garza, Sandra Hope, Richard Friend, Trevor Scott, and my good buddy Dustin Nguyen. There's constantly great art coming in and out of that place. If that isn't inspiration enough, I don't know what is. All I need is a couple of books from Otomo and Nowlan and I've got enough fuel to keep me going for a while!"

Much of what Canete experiences as a penciller in the comic book industry is still very new to him and the excitement level is still pretty high. Working with a publisher that supports him and putting out the best work he possibly can are what he loves the most about working in comics.

"I think the end product, when it's all inked and colored and lettered, and it's as close to my original vision, that's when I can say I've done my job," said Canete. "And that's what's great about comics, when I know I've done my job and the fans who read the book reciprocate and tell me it was a complete package. I mean, when it all comes together, like 'Cybernary' has, it's a great, great thing."

While most of the time Canete feels a strong sense of Optimism about the comic industry today, he does share a few concerns with many others in the business that the mistakes of the past need to be remembered. Even though the comic book industry is enjoying a nice shot in the arm currently, the upswing isn't a guarantee of blue skies ahead. "If it is on an upswing, it's on a very mild one," said Canete. "And I don't really know what it's up swinging to. I mean, are we striving for the craziness of the early nineties or the steadiness of the middle to late eighties or what? As far as what I think we can attribute this 'upswing' to, I think it's a matter of quality of product. Whenever I get nostalgic about how well comics used to sell and how (popular) I could have been if I had just broken in back in the day, I look back and realize that the 'shelf trash' (a term I use to describe the hundreds, even thousands, of books that were being produced back then) in comic book stores was selling like gangbusters. As an example, if the American automotive industry kept putting out bad cars, the general public will eventually spend their money on more reliable automobiles from other countries. People realized that comics were more concerned about putting out these lemons with short-term success in mind than having product with a little bit more longevity. They got burned and now they spend their money elsewhere.

"These days, the product is a little better put together and a little more thought out. The variety, in comparison to what was coming out back then, is leaps and bounds better and more diverse. And publishers care about the longevity of the titles they put out rather than it's initial success. The emphasis on good writing coupled with above standard art is what's important now, not like in previous years where art reigned supreme."

While many of Canete's contemporaries had the benefit of attending art classes, Canete didn't have that opportunity.

"I never went to school in the typical sense. I never went to a college of design or some graphic arts class," said Canete. "Everything I know now is from actually going in there and trying it or from people whom I have learned it from. I've been really fortunate since I've worked for companies who have tolerated me with some kind of learning curve or people who have been more than patient in teaching me what they know. Those places and those people were basically my schools and teachers. I mean, I know I could have learned the stuff I know now ten times faster (if) I had gone to a school aimed towards that kind of education, but I think it was better for me to learn and immediately apply the things I picked up. It was easier for me to understand it and retain the information for future use."

Even as Eric learned to sharpen his craft at the feet of other artists who were willing to share their experiences with him, he is always willing to talk to young artists who one day dream of sitting in his chair.

"Don't limit yourself to what you see as the hot style in comics right now to get you work," said Canete. "What I mean is, if you think this style or that style has a better chance of you getting hired, by all means, use it to get your foot in the door. But you have to realize that styles in comics belong to one guy, maybe two guys, only. The moment you don't start incorporating other things into the work to make it your own, you're going to have a really bad stigma of being just a clone of so-and-so."

As an example, Eric remembers when he was confronted with an artist he used to borrow from. "I've taken design elements from Dave Johnson's 'Super Patriot' work since as far back as I can remember. Now that Dave and I are friends I apologize to him for taking so much from his work. He says, 'I don't care, man. I've done that shit already! Now you're just going to be known as the guy who stole from me! The best thing you can do now, is take what I've done and make it better - take it to the next level that will make it your own.' That's the best advice I've heard in a while and I'd gladly pass it along to anybody looking for some direction in his or her work."

At the same time, Eric is very open about the art that does inspire him even today. "In comics my three main influences are Kevin Nowlan (ABC's Jack B. Quick), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), and Paul Smith (Leave it to Chance). On more than one occasion I have taken materials from Moebius and Otomo. Those two are such legends to me that I don't know how I can avoid incorporating their works into mine. I have four huge Moebius posters at work that I constantly take from and 'Akira' is a very influential manga to me. In animation, Peter Chung (Aeon Flux), Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), and Brad Bird (Iron Giant) are great influences to me. They have great pacing and story telling ideas that I try to incorporate into my work. It's very important to me that I bring my audience into the story, to really surround them with the atmosphere and the believability of the scene. These guys are great at that.

"I've always admired Ben Templesmith's work. At one point, when I wasn't very satisfied with what people were doing with the colors on my work, I was going to beg Ben to work with me on that level. His color sense as it applies to mood and scenery is very, very strong. But I don't think the guys in the front office would have gone for it. It was a long shot, but it would have been nice. I am a great admirer of his work and I'm glad he's getting to do some recognized stuff now. He's very deserving," he says.

"Steve Rolston is another guy who has praise that's a long time coming." continued Canete. "He was doing a bunch of independent work in the past, he had this online flash project called 'Jack n Tony' and I really enjoyed it. Now he's doing work for Oni Press and it looks amazing. It's called 'Queen and Country', written by Greg Rucka and its good stuff."

While currently offline, fans who want to see more of Canete's work can visit his Web site at www.hyperterminal3.com. Plans are being made to bring it online shortly with regular updates.

 
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