Artist José Ladrönn first made his mark in comics in the mid-90s with an acclaimed run on "Cable" at Marvel Comics alongside writer Joe Casey. Since then, aside from handling interior art for Richard Starkings' "Hip Flask" comics (for which he received an Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist in 2006), most of the work the Mexican artist has drawn for American publishers has been covers, for books ranging from "The Spirit" to "All-Star Western" to "Incredible Hulk."
In recent years, Ladrönn has been busy working on "The Final Incal." Written by Alejandro Jodorowsky, the book is a sequel to the book Jodorowsky created with Moebius, which is one of the most acclaimed European comics of all time. An intimidating job, the end result is the best work of Ladrönn's career-to-date, making pages make the case that he may well be one of the best science fiction artists in the world today.
With the three European volumes of "The Final Incal" now collected into a single volume, out now from Humanoids in the United States, Ladrönn spoke with CBR News about the project, how it came to be and what the future holds for him.
CBR News: You and Alejandro Jodorowsky had collaborated many years ago on a short comic, "Tears of Gold," but where did "The Final Incal" start?
Ladrönn: In Mexico, Alejandro Jodorowsky is very well known for his movies and his books, but also for all his other vanguardist works and performances as an artist and as a director. He is the creator of the Psycho-Magic and the Panic movements. Alejandro Jodorowsky is part of the Mexican soul. Like other Mexicans, I knew about him, but I saw him by first time at the San Diego Comic-Con, in 1997. He was there with Moebius. I approached him and said, "Hola, Alejandro!" "Do You know me?" he said, and I responded, "Yes of course I know you, I'm from México." He was surprised when I told him that one of my favorites books was "Panic Fables," a book written and drawn by him. Nothing happened in this moment, but I already had started to work for Marvel doing "Cable." Three years later, I did the "The Inhumans" miniseries. Humanoids saw my work, and they thought that the interior art and the covers that I did for that project had some potential to do something for them. We met during a Comic Con and I was asked to paint some covers for the US edition of "The Incal." On these covers, I could show some of the characters created by Jodorowsky and Moebius in my own style for the first time. This was the beginning of "The Incal" for me.
A couple years later, Jodorowsky was visiting Los Angeles and Humanoids arranged an appointment for me. This time, I met Alejandro as a professional. During this meeting, Alejandro interviewed me, and he asked all sort of things, he wanted to know about me. I think at the end of our conversation, he had a good idea about my personality. In that moment, we talked about the possibility to do something together, because Humanoids was launching "Metal Hurlant" in the US market and he was about to write some short stories for different artists. When the meeting was over, Alejandro said, "I already know what I'm going to write for you. You will get a story from me in a month." One month later, I got "Tears of Gold."
How did "The Final Incal" come together, so many years later?
I don't know all the details about how it happened. Jodorowsky did "After The Incal" with Moebius, but for some reason the project didn't continue. Alejandro wanted to finish the last part of the Incal saga, but Moebius was not in good health, or maybe he was busy doing something else and was not very interested about continuing doing the book, but Jodorowsky thought about me and he phoned me. During our conversation, he told me that one of the things he was thinking about we could work was "After the Incal," but it was a Moebius project so, in order to work with me on "After the Incal," he should talk with Moebius first and ask for his permission. "I will pay a visit to Moebius this afternoon and we will talk about it. I will call you tomorrow," Alejandro said.
The next day, same time, I got a phone call from him. Jodorowsky told me that he visited Moebius and during their conversation he showed the "Tears of Gold" story and then Moebius said, "Alejandro, Ladrönn could be the artist to continue the 'After the Incal' book." Jodorowsky was very happy with Moebius' approval about having me working on the book, but Jodorowsky had another idea. Instead of doing the next book, he decided to restart the whole series from the beginning, and he changed the name from "After The Incal" to "The Final Incal."
What is the collaboration like, between the two of you?
Alejandro and I have a very good working relationship. He is the most brilliant writer I know. He's someone that is very precise in what he wants, so if you are going to work with Jodorowsky, you need to be a close collaborator with him. On the other side, you also should know what Alejandro's taste for comics and movies. For me, this was not a problem because I knew about Alejandro and the things that he had done in comic books and movies, and I have always been a huge fan of "The Incal." I have read all the books.
When Alejandro and I started working on "The Final Incal," it was easy for me to understand what he wanted for the book. He took the story that Moebius had done before and he adjusted some parts of the story for me, because my artwork is different to Moebius' work. He adjusted and updated the script, and the story now was as he wanted. We talk frequently by phone and we also use video chat. Our collaboration is always good, always professional, always trying to find the best for the story.
When you two talk, are you just talking about how the comic is going to look? Or are you talking about other things?
Jodorowsky and I talk about many things, not only about comics, but at the end of the day we always try to focus on the work. We had a communication system which works for us. In order to achieve the best results, we use a video chat all the time to work on the pages in real time. This is because his stories are more complex than regular comic book strips since he always writes full scripts -- which is what I always prefer. Alejandro's scripts are not like a regular comic book script. He is a movie director, and he writes everything using the movie format. He describes the feelings and the scenes to detail. Also, he lets you know all the dialogues so you always know what the characters are saying.
After I read the script and understand perfectly the depth of the story, I start working on the characters and scenarios. When I have a question, I always ask him and take notes, then I start planning the book. I lay out every single page and I add the text balloons. Movies and comics are not the same thing; if the page needs an extra text to explain something, he writes it immediately. When everything is perfect and Alejandro and I are happy with it, I proceed to create the later pages.
How long does it take you to draw a page?
That is a question I have been asked many times. It depends on the page. Some pages are more complex than others. I have done pages in two or three days, and I have done pages that took me three weeks -- which is a long time, but it was something with a lot of detail. It depends on what kind of page you are working on. Some pages are hard to do, but not because the details. There are pages that doesn't look very complicated, but they are, because of the composition. In this kind of page, you need to work the characters and objects in certain way that it helps to tell the story correctly, sometimes without a text balloon. Planning a page is not as simple as it looks; it could become a very complicated task.
Did you look at Moebius' "Incal" or did you have to put his work out of your mind entirely to work on this book?
It was a combination of both things, because you can't work on a book like "The Final Incal" without paying attention to what Moebius or Zoran Janjetov did before. That's a very hard thing for an artist, because Moebius was one of the greatest artists. What I did on "The Final Incal" was to see what Moebius did, but I did what I thought would be the best for the story I was working with. If I don't do that, I will be getting too much inspiration from Moebius. It will look like a Moebius book, and I didn't want that because this was a different story happening in a different timeline, Jodorowsky said to me, "This is not a dream any more, but reality." I understood and I did what worked best for the story.
You also worked on the coloring of the book, is that right?
Coloring is a very complicated issue for an artist. It's very difficult to find a good colorist. The book was very complicated to do, and I wanted to paint it, but it was really hard so, I decided not to be very involved in the color. But at the same time, I needed to work on the color if I wanted it looking great. I contacted a good friend who lives in Mexico. He worked with me in the past, painting some of the stuff I did for Marvel. I explained to him what I wanted for "The Final Incal," which was a very different color palette compared with the US comic book palette used in mainstream comics. I explained everything to my friend. The colorist prepared the pages with the basic colors and he worked it until certain level of detail, and after he finished his work, I started working on top of his colors. I always said to him, finish the most you can, but I will take care of the faces of the characters or I will put in the special effects, and things like that. Also, I will take care of checking the color continuity. He was trying to always keep the same color intensity and color level so I can work fine the final finishes. At the end of the day, the book could have the colors pretty close to my original vision. It was a good collaboration. We worked together on the three books.
The project you made before "The Final Incal" was "Hip Flask." I first got to know you and your work on "Cable," but I think of "Hip Flask" as the work where you established your voice and your style.
Absolutely, I agree. Those two projects are works that I did in a much more personal way, first "Hip Flask" and then "The Final Incal." The only difference is the amount of work that I had -- the "Hip Flask" work does not compare with the amount of line work I had with "The Final Incal." I won't say that "Hip Flask" was easy to do, but I had enough time to paint it. With "The Final Incal," it was a much more complex book, for that reason I decided not to get completely involved with color.
You've spent years on this huge project. What do you do after?
It was eight years of work, but it is done now. I could get some rest, because I was really tired, but right now I'm working with Jodorowsky in other things. We are doing a project that he wanted to do for many years, "The Sons of El Topo."
Would this be a sequel to his great 1970 film? He's spoken about making this story as a film in the past.
I think Alejandro has been trying to do the movie for the past thirty years, so he said that we could work on this together and I said, okay. Alejandro sent the original script to me to read. He still has the idea of selling the movie. What I'm doing right now is, I'm taking all these scenes from the original script and I'm doing illustrations for him.
We are doing this very different than what we did on "The Final Incal." As I said, he never writes comic book scripts as other writers, so we discuss what could be the best for this new adventure. Alejandro said that he would like to have his story illustrated by me, but he specified that the art should be like movie stills. I agreed with him and that is exactly what I'm doing now, an illustrated movie. He is quite happy. In some ways, he is directing me, and I'm trying to put his vision in these paintings so everything looks like a movie.
You've been focused on "The Final Incal" for years, aside from a few short comics and covers. Is there something you really want to do in comics or something else you'd really like to explore?
I like to work with Alejandro Jodorowsky very much and right now I'm very happy with this new project. I have a very interesting anecdote. When I first met Alejandro -- in that meeting in LA -- he asked me what I loved to draw. I said, "I love science fiction, adventure, spaceships, action," and then he wrote "Tears of Gold," a horror tale where, at the beginning of the story, a little kid receives the gift of crying tears of gold. Unfortunately for him, he has a very greedy family who, as soon as they discover this new situation, they soon start punishing him in all kind of ways to make him cry. When I read the script I thought, "What is this?" and phoned Alejandro to ask because the script didn't contain the kind of elements I loved to draw, but the opposite. Jodorowsky wisely said, "If I write something you love, like science fiction, it makes no sense because you're already good doing that. I want to see how you work facial expressions and feelings, so in order for me to get something new and better from you, I have to push you to draw something outside of your comfort zone."
For me, after "The Final Incal," working on "The Sons of El Topo" is something completely different. No spaceships and robots, now I need to draw horses, poor villas, human misery and many other disturbing things -- also, it is a incredible love story. Alejandro knew that this project was perfect for me, and I agree. This is a really good adventure for me and I'm growing as an artist as well.
I always think that things happen for some reason. If you ask me what could be my future project, I can tell you that I really don't know what I'll be doing next year or in ten years, but this new experience definitely will help me to create something much richer when the time comes. And if that is with Alejandro, it will be even better.