“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.
To look at Maria Llovet’s portfolio is to see an artist channeling the international influences she was exposed to over her younger years into a unique voice of her own. Her two comics currently on shelves are themselves both as similar and wildly different as Maria’s whole oeuvre: Luna [BOOM! Studios], a psychedelic mystery involving a 1960s commune, and Eros/Psyche [Ablaze], a love story set inside magical girls’ boarding school.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Writer, artist, colorist, letterer
Your home base: Barcelona, Spain
Other sites where you can be found: society6.com/mariallovet
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: Over your career, you’ve done a variety of illustrations for books, animation, etc. What do you like about working in comics specifically?
Maria Llovet: What I like most about comics is telling stories through visual narrative. The “how” you tell the story you want to tell. Of course, this is not something specific to comics only — that’s why my main source of inspiration and learning are films.
And what I like about the medium of comics in particular is that I can tell the stories I want to tell without needing an enormous amount of time/money/people compared to other mediums like animation or live action films. I can do everything on my own; this gives the medium a freedom difficult to compare to.
KS: Growing up, were you exposed mostly to European comics or did you also get any American ones?
ML: Actually, it was all about manga for me. My parents used to read comics, and I grew up in a home where comic magazines and [Bandes dessinées] albums — mostly Asterix and Tintin — were something normal. They also took me to comic conventions as a kid in Barcelona, so comics were always part of my life.
Also, there was a lot anime programming here on the local TV through the 1980s-’90s, so my generation grew up watching Dragon Ball, Arale, Ranma, and many more; and after that films like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and all the classics of these years. At the same time, they started publishing manga, and I was all in. My faves as a teen were Evangelion and Utena, and a bit later authors like Ai Yazawa.
KS: Who were some of your favorite artists when you first started being able to identify different styles?
ML: It was when I was around 20 that I discovered Crepax, Moebius, Frank Miller, Dave McKean… and at that time I had also moved to a less mainstream taste in manga, with faves like Suehiro Maruo. [E]ven as a kid I would spend hours looking at history of art books, sometimes fascinated, sometimes puzzled about some of the things in there — like the Dadaists. With art in general, I loved the Pre-Raphaelites and, a classic, Gustav Klimt. Who wouldn’t?
KS: Was your household an artistic one? Did you make art from an early age?
ML: I always showed anything I did to my mother. She’s very artistic and I’ve always seen her paint, draw[, decorate] our home in imaginative ways, so it was very natural for me to search for her opinion. And she was always so encouraging, she’s still my number one fan. I remember lots of things at different ages that meant something, a step forward. I think I was always proud to create things, and I realize now how valuable this was, how important, because it takes a certain amount of courage to send your work to the world, it is scary.
KS: And did you know then that you wanted to pursue this professionally in some form?
ML: I knew I wanted to do art, but I didn’t really know what exactly. I first tried to enter into fine arts but got rejected. Then, I studied graphic design but left after a year because I realized that, interesting as it was, I wanted to be an artist, not a designer — they were very insistent as to difference between the two. Then, I studied a couple of years of fine jewelry, which was very nice. At that point, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do fashion design or 3D or comics. In the end, I went to a comic school in Barcelona.
KS: Which school was that?
ML: It’s called Joso school. I left after a year and a half, but this time was because I had my mind set… and wanted to start already and find my own path. Schools can be good if you have your head in place — which is unusual at a young age — but, in my opinion, every artist is a self-taught artist; you simply need to be once you’re out there.
KS: What was your first paid gig in comics?
ML: It was as a colorist, with my partner Jesús Orellana, of the BD Messiah Complex, published in France by Les Humanoïdes Associeés, written by Alex de Campi and drawn by Eduardo Ocaña. We got in contact with an artist that was searching for a colorist for his series —I think we got in contact through an online art forum — and made some tests. But in the end, we got this other series instead from the same publisher.
KS: Most American fans were likely first exposed to your work through Faithless. How did you get involved in that project?
ML: I think a colleague of our editor, Sierra Hahn, had seen some of my previous work and thought I could fit in for Faithless. Sierra contacted and asked to see some recent work, so I sent her the first pages of my graphic novel, Loud.
In these pages, there are two women having sex at a nightclub. I didn’t know anything about Faithless at that point, and I remember thinking, “Maybe this is too explicit.” But it turned out that was exactly what they were looking for.
KS: At the time of our conversation, you have two series currently in comic stores: Eros/Psyche and Luna. The first is a you revisiting an older project?
ML: Eros/Psyche was actually my first graphic novel, and it turns ten years [old] this year. But the colors are new; I’ve done them for the US edition as it was originally in black and white.
KS: When going through your old art, was there any temptation to make changes aside from the coloring? Like redrawing, for example?
ML: I have a strong opinion against revising one’s work after time has passed. I only agreed to color it because it had never been painted before, and I recolored the original cover because the color had been done by the French publisher at the time, not by me. Apart from that, I am firmly against retouching anything. We can’t rewrite history; this work is what it is. I can dislike and even hate parts of it, but that’s what new work is for, to improve and keep moving forward.
KS: Luna feels so different from most comics on the stands. What were the seeds of that project?
ML: This was a very old project of mine that changed so much through the years that I really can’t remember what inspired the original idea. It was originally set [in] a Medieval castle in Europe, so you can imagine it really has mutated so much.
KS: Going back to your earlier comments about the advantages of working in comics, did you know all along that this was the right format to tell your story?
ML: [C]omics are the right format, because they’re the only medium in which I can do something quickly and freely. Animation takes too much time, and film takes too many people and money to even get started. I’d like to explore these fields more, but at the moment this is the right medium to go.
KS: Did you pitch it directly to BOOM!?
ML: Yes, I showed them my ideas and some designs, and after a while I sent them the first issue. They liked it and here we are. I’m very thankful!
KS: When you’re both writing and drawing a project, do you usually start with a script or with images?
ML: It usually starts with scenes in my head, popping and developing. But they’re both script and image, because they’re just ideas, but I “see” them. So, usually, I write down the ideas with something visual already in mind. Sometimes, I even write the visual idea with words.
KS: Do you like listening to music, or any other soundtrack, while you work, or do you prefer quiet?
ML: It depends on different things: on what stage of the process I’m in, or even the day. There are times when I need absolute silence, other times, I need music to keep going. Sometimes, I have the same song on repeat for weeks. I don’t really follow a pattern with this.
KS: Can you see the influence of any other artists when you look at your own work — either from comics or not?
ML: Sometimes yes, but it’s difficult for me to analyze this. In little things, it’s easier. For example, when I was a teen I drew in a more manga style. And I realized nearly any of the characters in Shôjo manga didn’t have nails. But then Ai Yazawa drew nails and prominent ears in her characters. So, I thought, “Ok, she does it. I have permission to do it, too!” It’s silly, but I still remember this when I draw nails and ears, and I love drawing both!
KS: I’ve talked to a few colorists in this series, but not one who’s also the primary artist on a book. When you’re looking at comics by other people, what do you appreciate about the coloring you see? Are there any techniques that really hit the sweet spot for you?
ML: I’m really interested in coherence, because that’s what I’m aiming for. What I really like to try and find or understand is what kind of coloring — both the palette and the application of the color — really suits a specific style of lines/inks, what is best for each case. Because the final result is a sum of both the art and color, and they should be really “meant for each other,” so to speak. Color is mind boggling; there’s so many aspects to it, I’m still trying to figure it out.
I’m also kind of obsessed about the use of white. I have the theory that if you use pure black ink in your lines there should be some amount of pure white in there, too. But I’m still struggling with this.
KS: What’s a hobby of yours totally unrelated to art? Something you collect, practice, study —anything that gets you away from the drawing board.
ML: Ah, I don’t think I have any right now. Because I love reading and watching films, but that doesn’t count as totally unrelated to art at all! For me it’s fun and work at the same time. And then, I have lots of things I want to do but never find the time. If it’s something artistic, I get obsessed and I want to do it properly, so it takes too much time. If it’s not artistic, I don’t have time either. I’m a workaholic.
As for collecting things, I try to do the contrary, to have less. I find this has helped me reduce anxiety, because I felt like I was carrying too much weight on my back, and getting rid of physical things has helped with the mental ones. I feel freer with less.
KS: To spread some love at the end, what’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration?
ML: Anything by Bastien Vivès I love. The way he uses visual narrative and the tone of his stories, I just adore them.
KS: Finally, tell us what you’re working on now and what we should look out for coming up.
ML: I’ve just finished the colors of Porcelain, another of my old graphic novels that was originally in black and white, that is going to be published by Ablaze in comic format starting in August. I’m also writing two new personal projects that I hope to bring to life in 2022. And in a couple of weeks, I’ll get back to working on Faithless III with Azzarello. I’m so excited to see how it ends myself!