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Monday, July 22, 2019

Getting to know Richard Pace

Back in the spring of 2018, I visited the Toronto Comicon and managed to get an interview with the very talented and very charismatic Richard Pace. This audio was previously lost before it had a chance to be transcribed, but thanks to the magic of hard drive data recovery, DC in the 80s can present it for your entertainment.

Note: This interview took place in the good ole' days of comic fandom BEFORE #comicsgate exploded on social media. So if you're looking for #comicsgate drama, you won't find any here. If you're looking to hear Richard Pace talk about his trials and tribulations about how he came to be the artist he is, you've come to the right place.


Richard Pace -- Jazz Hands! (2018) photo by Samy Osman

Justin: It was actually Mark [Belkin, co-editor of DC in the 80s] who made me aware of you. "Do you remember The Vampire Lestat?" he asked me. Back in the day, when you'd flip through Wizard Magazine and check out the comic price guides in the back, The Vampire Lestat comics were worth quite a bit back then. It was quite a niche market...

Richard: It was like when Dark Horse and IDW both started doing Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics again, after the long lapse in the license. There was Buffy frenzy. That's what it was. There was a nice crossover between the comics market and fandom for Anne Rice. That was roughly at the time she was at her most popular.

Justin: Was that when the Tom Cruise movie came out? Interview with the Vampire...

Richard: The movie came out later, because at the time we were told, as artists, that Lestat had to look like Rutger Hauer. Everyone's thinking big, beefy Rutger Hauer and how it got to wee, tiny Tom Cruise. The story is interesting: the reason why Anne Rice wanted Lestat to look like Rutger Hauer had nothing to do with how she envisioned Lestat in her head. Rutger Hauer was very nice to her at a Hollywood party, and he gave her a little pin with a compass in it that said 'may you always find your way' or something like that. Which was sweet. She was so taken with him that she said "if they ever make a movie of my book, I want YOU to play Lestat" and at that time, and we're talking about Nighthawks-era Rutger Hauer, he would've been perfect. At the time Daerick [Gross] was penciling, and I was finishing his pencils, Rutger Hauer was already aging quite rapidly....and looking more like me. [laughs]

page from Innovation's The Vampire Lestat. Pencils by Daerick Gross, paints by Richard Pace

Richard: It was really just doing that [Rutger Hauer] face, and that was fun to do. Daerick was a good storyteller and he had much more experience than I did -- and I learned a lot from him -- but he had a very different approach to drawing. His Lestat almost looked like a character by way of Greek statuary, so he had a sense of Rutger. Meanwhile, I came from a more traditional, almost academic, portrait drawing background -- both due to my college education and stuff I took before I went to college. I honestly think that one issue I did where I painted over Daerick's pencils was one of the strongest issues, despite three quarters of the way through discovered that Innovation [Comics] destroyed artwork. Which was bizarre. No one else did that. They went "Oh! We can save money doing THIS? Then we're going to do that!"

Justin: Apparently Charlton Comics did that, too. They sold comic artwork as pulp.

Richard: Yeah. Comics has a long tradition of treating artists and creators as the same way America treats migrant workers. It's like "we need you... yeah, I guess we're going to have to pay you something... but we don't have to like you... and get the hell out when you're done".

Justin: So, at this point, you're also trying to get into Vertigo comics?

Richard: Oh, I was ALWAYS trying to get into Vertigo comics. My desire to do comics was largely hinged on the fantastic art of Frank Frazetta and understanding that he did comics before he did those AMAZING paintings. To my teen-aged brain, that was "oh, I guess I should do comics before I do amazing paintings".

Richard Pace's tribute to Frank Frazetta

Richard: I had friends who were really into comics at the time. I was into comics as a little kid, and my older brother was into comics, and I kind of fell out of it -- I fell in love with art. But, I had a bunch of friends saying "You're NOT reading X-Men?" and I'd reply "What's an X-Men?" Right off the bat, I was friends with these hardcore comics fans, more Marvel than DC -- we're talking early eighties, here -- so I got hooked on anything John Byrne and Walt Simonson did. While I was there, they were telling me I should be buying this super-hero stuff and that super-hero title, I saw a Bill Sienkiewicz Moon Knight comic and went "What the f**k is this?" [in awe]. And this was towards the end of his run on Moon Knight, and he'd already started to become very experimental -- looking at a lot of Ralph Steadman and Bob Peak and throwing it into comics -- and considering I was already looking at Bob Peak and Ralph Steadman and all these other guys, and seeing it in a comic, I went "whoa, this is amazing!" Which immediately started putting me in contact with slightly older comic fans, who'd say "Oh! You should be reading Swamp Thing. Oh! You should be looking at this, and this. And by the way, Bill Sienkiewicz is now on New Mutants." So I guess I'm buying New Mutants now.

Richard: At that point, I mentally transitioned and understood that comics aren't really a stepping stone, they're a THING. They were a stepping stone back when Frazetta was working on THUNDA and all that other crap that no one remembers other than the fact that Frazetta drew it.

Richard: Comics were coming out, and you'd look at them and say "Oh my God, they're so beautifully drawn!" I mean, the color was horrible. But then things like Dark Knight Returns happened, and I took a new, appreciative look at Heavy Metal magazine and seen what the Europeans were doing; Moebius and Jodorowsky. I was like "Oh my God, this is an art form into and unto itself." I became very aware that I had to work with Alan Moore in some way. So I went to art school, at that became the thing.
Batman illustration by Richard Pace

Richard: I went to Sheridan College, here in Ontario. At the time it was located in Brampton. Which is almost like a punishment. "I want to be an artist." Well, you'll have to live in Brampton to be an artist. Oh geez, that's wonderful. Suffering for art; you start early. There was a lot of sex in college. And I honestly believe that if you're having lots of sex in college, it's because you're in Brampton -- what else are you going to do? It was such a horrible place to live, what could you do? This was before the internet. I learned a lot. It was a very intense 3 year program. Now it's a 4 year program that's apparently still as intense, but offers paperwork at the end of it -- so that's good.

Richard: After college I decided I was going to fall into the incredibly lucrative career of colorizing old black and white Laurel and Hardy films. That was just a job I could get, and I hated it. It felt like I was sinning against cinema: I am colorizing black and white stuff that no one will ever want to watch. And the company went out of business while I was working there. It was really bizarre, we had over a month's notice that this company was going out of business, and they had no plans for these short films when they were done -- they had no outlet for all the work we were doing. During that time, I was pursuing illustration work at various -- I majored in book illustration. Advertising felt too bullsh*t -- the processes and everything. I didn't see that I could actually apply that to comics at all. Editorial was too ephemeral -- too "in the head" and trying to get the high concept across. It was very much about "the single image". Book illustration has a strong sense of narrative and design to it, which in relation to my career, I'd manage to pull on the most. So yeah, I ended up pursuing book illustration work with various publishers across Ontario. That was decent money for a little bit. But I was continually trying to pursue comics work, and I think one of the first gigs I got was at Innovation.

Justin: You do horror really well. I've seen your pen and ink illustrations. I've seen your Swamp Thing. I've seen your vampire stuff.

Richard: ...also covers for Imaginary Fiends.

Imaginary Fiends v1 #4. cover by Richard Pace

Justin: I'm imagining you would've been trying to submit material to Heavy Metal Magazine or even EC Comics' Creepy (if they were still around). Or Vertigo.

Richard: Well yeah, by the time I finished college, the Vertigo imprint was in existence. They launched with Neil Gaiman's Sandman and all that stuff. Everything was there.

Justin: It was pre-Vertigo in the late 1980s, and the imprint officially kicked off in the early 1990s...

Richard: It was Karen Berger's 'horror corner' of the DC Universe. When it became successful and viable enough, they decided to launch the Vertigo imprint. So it was like "Okay, THAT's where I have to work". So, I got to work at Innovation, and then I worked -- at an even worse company -- called  Millennium doing The Mummy/Ramses The Damned. That was a nightmare.

Justin: Were you just doing covers on that? Interiors? Inks?

Richard: They had some silver age Supergirl artist, and they had me paint his pencils. And that was a nightmare, because he pencilled for inks. So there's no understanding of three dimensional form in his pencils... so I was guessing. And then they had me paint an issue, and were like "Now we want you to paint a full issue in less than a month".

Justin: I tried to dig up those issues.. I could NOT find them anywhere...

Richard: ... oh please don't. They're best served as landfill. If they can be recycled into toilet paper they'd have a better use than what passed for art at the time. I mean, they paid next to nothing, and I had next to no time to do it, and it was Anne Rice's The Mummy -- it was a piece of garbage book. It was one of her first books, and it didn't sell until she became Anne Rice, and then you read it and think "Oh God! That probably never should've sold." It was bad. It was terribly bad.

Justin: You tried for Vertigo, and I guess that wasn't panning out...

Richard: Well it wasn't happening, yet. I'd send in samples. I'd do a Vertigo set, and then a superhero set -- bouncing back and forth.

Justin: What did your superhero sets look like?

Richard: I'd do a set of samples for X-Men, Green Lantern... I liked Green Lantern as a kid. I love Green Lantern. I'd love to do a Green Lantern story, but it would be so unrelated to what they're doing with Green Lantern nowadays fans would go 'huh?'

Justin: On your Facebook feed, you had a poll about your favourite DC villains. And then you did the illustration with Two-Face, and you had all the heads in the background. I figured 'this guy really know his DC', because you had a few obscure characters mounted on the wall if I recall correctly. A few lesser-knowns...

Two-Face illustration by Richard Pace

Richard: When I decided that comics were going to be 'my thing', I started volunteering a lot at local comic shops, and that was before the modern age of ONE distributor, when every region had its own REGIONAL distributor. I became friends with people who worked at the distributors, I became friends with the people who ran comic shops. I had friends who ran multiple shops in Winnipeg (it's where I was from), and they told me how it worked from their end. I figured any information about how the industry works will only make it easier for me in the future -- hahaha. I knew full well I had to know the comics, I had to know what publishers were doing. I knew that being aware of obscure characters made it easier to talk to people who were looking to resurrect older characters -- because that was the carousel that was existing in the 80s and 90s. Something would lie dormant for two or three years, and then come back as a new thing. If you're coming back with Hawkman, what Hawkman characters do you know? If you're a big enough name, they don't care if you don't know -- but, if you're nobody, and they can't get a big name, they start caring whether you know the character or not.

Richard: You have to immerse yourself in whatever you're doing, and take seriously what you're doing, because otherwise the fans are not going to respond well to it. The commission was Two-Face with a bunch of heads, and the initial take was Batman, Robin and all the super-hero heads. And I said "Well, it's Two-Face"... and that's how that piece turned into half hero heads and half villain heads,and the room changing, and the weird reflective.

Justin: There's another great Batman piece you illustrated with Batman fighting Killer Croc in the sewer...
Batman vs Killer Croc by Richard Pace

Justin: So, from Millennium you got into Marvel comics?

Richard: Oh yeah, so I was trying to get Vertigo work -- I was going to New York City -- and...

Justin: Were they [Vertigo] just shutting you down? Like "no, no-no, no"...

Richard: Well... they looked over my stuff and said "You've got promise"... blah blah blah... "Your stuff's nice", so I went to Marvel and I already had contact with one editor there, and he liked my work enough that he gave me this book that was about to be cancelled called Terror Inc. It was ostensibly a horror book. And this was the first I'd hear, and I'd hear it several times again over the years, "Wow! You do horror really well! You should be working at Vertigo!" and I'd say "Well, I'd like to work at Vertigo, but they're not giving me anything." They replied "We'll HAPPILY give you a job until you get a job at Vertigo."

page from Marvel's Terror Inc #9 (1993). Pencils by Richard Pace, inks by Jason Temujin

Justin: Okay, so Marvel recognised you were great at horror and wanted to keep giving you work, so they put you on New Warriors? [laughs]

Richard: So I did Terror Inc, and then I did a few other small things here and there, and of course the whole time I'm talking to every Vertigo editor I can, and they'd say "Your work's kinda nice, but it's so pretty -- you should really do super-heroes". Right? And I go to Marvel, and Rob Tokar [editor of New Warriors] was looking for a new penciller on the book. Darik Robertson -- he's amazing and had a super strong run of New Warriors -- was leaving. Rob said "I have a bunch of artists I want to try on this book, you're a longshot -- I can't just GIVE you the series, but I can give you about two issues worth of work." He already pointed out the new favourites and said "one of these guys are probably going to get the gig". After I turned in my pages, he went "Wow! You should draw this book, but you should REALLY be working for Vertigo!" Somehow, I stole the job from the other contenders. This was also at a time when writer Fabian [Nicieza] was feeling like he was running out of steam on the book, and he wrote an issue specifically for me because he also said "Wow. You should really be working for Vertigo." At one point he said that if he was writing Doctor Strange, that's I'd be his first pick for Doctor Strange, but not for New Warriors. He wrote a very horrific issue of New Warriors just to take advantage of me being on the book -- it was actually my favourite issue in the run. There's a super-villain team called the Psionex, and there was a psychic guy and we had him go crazy -- so I got to draw that, and it was fun. It was a lot of fun to draw that issue.
page from Marvel's New Warriors #53 (1994). Pencils by Richard Pace, inks by Bruce Patterson

Richard: After that, Fabian left and a new writer came on board. He [the new writer] loved the characters in a way that I did not. The best way to look at super-heroes is to see them as plot devices. For example, Thor does certain things. so either put him in a story where Thor does what he does best, or put him in a situation where he's completely out of his element and a story gets generated from that, because you have an extant world where these pieces are already in place. I saw New Warriors as an ongoing concern of 'what can we do with these characters? let's put them in awkward situations'. The new writer that came on board, to me, had a very much 'fan-service' approach to the characters. He loved the characters too much. He loved this boy/girl team who were one character called Turbo -- horrible costume design -- and conceptually horrible as characters, as I saw, as a creative to work with. The new editor [Tom Brevoort] knew that this writer wanted this book for a long time -- he was stumping to take over from Fabian for ages -- and this was the situation at Marvel: you gave editors work because that was their income; they'd made more money from writing books than editing. So they got their editing job done, and then they wrote. So it wasn't totally decided if he was going to be the regular writer or not. I got his first script and it was pretty bad, from my standpoint. I'm sure it did what he wanted it to do. I'm sure Tom was happy with it. It was about the Rwandan genocide..

Justin: That's pretty topical...

[Interviewer's note: I was actually a big New Warriors fan and had been reading the title since 1990's issue #1. I left the title sometime around mid-1993, so I never got this far into this series. This was all new information to me.]

Richard: I felt that the significance of the situation -- putting super-villains in the mix of it as ANY of the cause of what was going over there was horrifically ill-advised, and it wasn't particularly well written, either. Basically he was putting super-villains to make sure that people in, essentially, a refugee camp suffered worse. So, they're already in a refugee camp, and super-villains show up and start beating the crap out of them. And they were the stupidest, stupidest villains... like Cut & Dry: one guy cuts everything, the other guy just desiccates things. I ended up drawing this one guy who had a massive, gigantic, stupidly huge fist. I think his name was 'Hammer' and the other guy was 'Anvil'. It was like weird team-up things. It was grotesquely stupid, on top of a badly advised excursion into that was already human horror.

panels from New Warriors #54 (1994). Pencils by Richard Pace, inks by Bruce Patterson

Richard: I mean, dammit, if you're going to do Fabian's New Warriors -- and I read the whole run to make sure I understood what the characters were about before I took on the book -- it was basically taking kids and saying 'super-powers don't make the world better, but we're going to try'. So here's a real world situation where NO ONE can make it better, and then you have American super-heroes show up and beat up American super-villains. Why? Because there's a bad guy. It's so asinine. So I quit after that issue. Through the script, I wanted to make sure there was no doubt [that I did not like this story], he kept on putting instructions that said "don't do like an Image book and put a big splash page", so I put in double-spreads, I made all the talking heads in tiny postage-stamped sized panels across the bottom -- I really had zero respect for what this writer did. Apparently he was incredibly upset with me for ruining his first issue of New Warriors, but I was thinking "dude, you ruined it on your own". It was abysmally bad. It was an insulting story. You could've used New Warriors to show how futile thinking one person could change something was. Absolutely. You could've had the New Warriors arguing different interventions and showing why there was a stalemate -- why no one was able to step in. You could've done that. The New Warriors had no problem getting in there. Okay? If they had no problem getting in there, then why didn't they fix it? Because there were super-villains there. What the hell?!?

Justin: Did you leave Marvel after that?

Richard: All at once, there was a whole bunch of things that ended up happening: I did some other work for Marvel, I started writing and drawing a mini-series about Vampirella at Harris comics , I also started working on The Invisible Man at Dark Horse. The whole [Dark Horse] Famous Monsters line got cancelled.

Justin: ...and then there was Pitt.

page from Full Bleed Studio's Pitt: In The Blood (1996). Art by Richard Pace

Richard: The New Warriors stuff paved the way for me. The work I did with Dale [Keown] is probably still my happiest work in comics. Dale trusted me -- and he let me do stuff -- when no one else did. It was great. It went from writing and drawing the one-shot [Pitt: In The Blood] to taking over writing the book [Pitt Crew]. That was really flattering -- I saw my job as "I'm going to give Dale fun stuff to draw". I saw that as my primary job: make interesting stories that are fun for Dale to draw.

Justin: Another project you worked on was the 2000 BatmanThe Doom That Came to Gotham Elseworlds book.

Richard: Yeah, that was one of the last things I did.

Justin: But you wrote that? You didn't illustrate it?

Richard: Well I started drawing it, and I started writing it. I wrote an outline. I was supposed to do a Hellboy mini-series that I thought would've been better as a one-shot. Then Mike [Mignola] had too many people that said 'yes' to doing Hellboy one-shots, so he said 'okay, we're not going to do any of that.' We were still friendly and everything. So I had this idea, I was toying around with this Elseworlds idea of "What if HP Lovecraft had created Batman?" It was just an idea I had sitting there, not doing anything, so I sent it to Mike and said 'what do you think about this?' and he loved it -- and he pitched it to DC, and Archie Goodwin loved it and it was a 'go' project. I had outlined the whole four issue mini-series, Mike picked it up, he was going to write scripts for my outlines

Gotham by Gaslight Batman. art by Richard Pace

Justin: So was that your first DC work?

Richard: Nah, there was an issue of Starman I did. That was fun. James Robinson is probably one of the best writers I had ever worked with. Again, it's one of those things where I think I stepped up a bit -- this was after I did the Pitt one-shot -- where I got to ink myself in an extended way.

Justin: You also did Transmetropolitan in 2011...

Richard: That was just a pin-up. That was a fun pin-up to do, it was for the Hero Initiative (for the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund). I was very happy to do that. Warren [Ellis] and I had talked several times about working together. We had a few close calls at Caliber -- "the small black and white company that couldn't".

Justin: [laughs]

Richard: Well, y'know, they published a lot of books that didn't make any money.

Justin: I just thought it was a clever play on 'The Little Engine That Could'.

Richard: Well, I mean, they were the birthplace for a lot of talents that went out on to great things (i.e. The Crow, Big Bang Comics, etc...)   -- because they would publish ANYHTING. But because they published anything, there was not much there...

Justin: got a lot of crap among the gold, too.

Richard: Yeah. So Warren and I and had a couple of close call of working together, so I was very aware of Transmetropolitan and I was very happy to get in there.

Justin: ...and then you started illustrating covers for...\

Richard: Vertigo! Imaginary Fiends!

Justin: So you finally DID break into Vertigo.

Richard: Well, it was really weird... a little over a year ago, I met Tim Seeley -- I already liked Hack/Slash [Devil's Due/Image comics], I really loved Revival [Image comics], so I was glad to meet him... and he liked my work, and he had an Image project he wanted to place, and he wanted to know if I was interested [of course I was], but then he started working at DC comics. He got a lot of work at DC... I believe he's still under an exclusive deal with DC? So one of his ideas became a Vertigo pitch, so I was either up for interiors or cover... and they decided that they'd let me do the covers. And that was fun. So, I was FINALLY working for Vertigo, and I did those six covers for Imaginary Fiends.

Swamp Thing pen and ink illustration by Richard Pace

Justin: And so I heard through the grapevine that you might have another Vertigo project coming up in the works, but you can't talk about it....

Richard: ... I can't talk about it, but the details will be unveiled at San Diego (aka SDCC) this year. I signed a six-issue contract for a Vertigo project starting in the fall.

Justin: Have you read the script?

Richard: I have the first issue script, it's nuts -- in the best possible way. Nothing has been leaked yet. Initially I was told that I should be ready to start drawing right away, but I think they are moving it from late summer to fall. So, they bought themselves a month of me not drawing.

Justin: How excited are you?

Richard: I'm very excited! I'm working at DC/Vertigo, it's going to be a monthly book, and this will be my first monthly since New Warriors back in 1994.

Justin: So if it's DC/Vertigo NOW... then it's going to be all BRAND NEW characters?

Richard: Yeah, it's going to be all-new characters.

Interviewer's notes: The rest of the interview was me fruitlessly trying to guess what his new project would be about, while Richard gleefully dodged my questions and left me with more questions than answers. Ultimately, he was describing his new project with writer Mark Russell, Second Coming, which was revealed prior to SDCC by DC comics that summer.

Vertigo promo poster for a series that never happened.

Caving under excessive conservative pressure, DC comics dropped Second Coming at the 11th hour and the rights were reverted back to Mark RussellRussell and Pace took their series to AHOY comics, where it is currently being published.

I wanted to leave this interview on a high note, and post a few more samples of Richard Pace's amazing artwork. Richard is easy to talk to and always has terrific stories, so if you see him at a convention be sure to stop by and chat.

As always, thanks to the generous reps at Touchwood PR for allowing us access to the Toronto Comicon for these great interviews.

-Justin Francoeur

Death of the Endless with The Beatles. artwork by Richard Pace

Mr Freeze mixed media illustration by Richard Pace

Robin the Boy Wonder ink wash illustration by Richard Pace

Rorschach illustration by Richard Pace

Batman in the Rain mixed media illustration by Richard Pace

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