Pencil sketch panels of a page from The Rise of Itza shwoing where the speech bubbles go

13 Helpful Tips for Comic Book Artists from Mariano Laclaustra

We here at Drakha Press are ridiculously excited by The Rise of Itza, the first-ever graphic novel set in the Dragonbond universe. And as part of our celebrations, we managed to sneak some time with the artist who has helped to bring this vision to life.

Despite a heaving workload, Mariano Laclaustra took the time to answer a stack of questions about the craft of comic book drawing as well as sharing his top tips for comic book artists looking to break into the industry.

He even created a time-lapse video for us, showing how a piece of art goes from a rough sketch to a finished cover image. What a guy!

From imagination and creativity, the gorgeous final products.
Mariano, let’s start at the beginning. What were the first comic books you read and which ones do you read now?

ML: The first comic books I have a memory of reading were some X-men and Spider-Man comics, also some Argentinean and European anthologies and later Manga. Whatever I found in the nearby newsstands, really!

Now I read whatever catches my attention, from Manga to French albums to webtoons. There are great comics in all formats.

Which comic book artists have inspired you and influenced your style?

ML: Hmm, to name a few, I’d say these comic artists have all given me inspiration over the years:

  • Moebius
  • Katsushiro Otomo
  • Alberto Breccia
  • Travis Charest
  • Paul Guillon
  • Garcia Seijas
  • Akira Toriyama
What was the first comic book you drew?

ML: I used to draw short comics as a kid, with different subjects, depending on my interests at the time. In a more professional way, it was an indie dark superhero comic named Kincaid, written by Curtis Lawson and published in the U.S.

As an artist, at what point in the creative process do you start to engage with the other members of the creative team?

ML: I engage with the other comic creators from the beginning when the first story plot or idea comes to me. I start doing some sketching and going back and forth with the writers and editors. I try to keep everyone involved in the whole creative process.

As for colourists and assistants, when making comics it is the same. We discuss ideas, talk about art, layouts, composition, rhythm, colour.

I think working on a project like this is essential to have good synergy with everyone involved.

When drawing comics or graphic novels, how do you know how much room to leave for speech bubbles and other lettering?

ML: Balloons play a huge part in comic book page composition, so I always mark them from the sketch. The balloon sketches work as a guide for the letterer, in this case Andrew James. He will receive the page layout with the balloon guide and do the actual balloon, lettering and SFX on a different layer that will later fit the final coloured page.

Working with Andrew is easy, he is a great letterer and knows tons about comics. His work is a huge part of this comic.

The balloon sketches above indicate where lettering should go, with the beautiful final result below…
The Rise of Itza is the first-ever graphic novel to be developed for the Dragonbond universe. How did it feel to be part of this special project? And what were the unique challenges?

ML: It feels great to be part of this story. When I first saw the Dragonbond guides and artbooks, I was amazed at how rich, beautiful, deep, and vast the Dragonbond universe is. And as you get to know more of it, it gets even better!

I’m glad that I got the opportunity to draw these characters and have fun with this amazing universe.

Drawing The Rise of Itza was definitely a unique challenge. One of the most challenging comics I ever drew.

The script, which is great, was a challenge in itself! I really like how George uses the narrative possibilities of comic books, and how he pushes above and beyond the layout and story. His double-page spreads are always a challenge – a nice one, though!

Another challenge for drawing this comic was the complexity of the designs, architecture, fashion, etc. It was lots of information to absorb.

I got the constant support and feedback of the Draco Studios team, especially Pam, Will and Dan, who were in all the tiny details about this universe and kept me and the comic on track.

I’m very happy with this book, I think we were able to create a comic book that lives up to the high standards that Dragonbond has already set.

The initial sketch for the first page of The Rise of Itza issue 1.
Now with all line work inked in…
The finished page, with beautiful colouring and letter work.
As a comic book artist, do you help to develop story ideas? Did you influence The Rise of Itza story at all?

ML: It depends on the project. I really like to work with writers, and also to write my own stories, which is in what I’m currently working on.

In this particular case, I wasn’t involved in the development of the story of Itza. George and the Draco Studios team did incredible work with the story.

Although I wasn’t directly involved in the story, I did have an influence on some scenes, I did some small tweaks to the flow and development of those scenes. George is always open to new ideas and different points of view.

Do you have a favourite piece of art from The Rise of Itza issue 1?

ML: I have some favourite pieces, though some would be spoilers.

If I had to choose two I would say the DPS art where Reganna makes her entrance, and the page of the blood throne (shown above), which is an awesome design created by the Draco Studios art team.

Carlos Cabrera has done an incredible job colouring your drawings for The Rise of Itza. How much involvement did you have in this aspect of the comic book?

ML: I have been working with Carlos for several years, so we know each other pretty well. He is an amazing illustrator and colorist. We created Color-Ice studios together, a colouring studio in which we had the opportunity to work on different projects owned and freelance projects.

In this case, we worked together on issues #1 and #2, and I was more in charge of issues #3 and #4. We also did together the cover of issue #2.

As part of the team, we also have Mati Blasco, Fer Centurion, Seba Adano, and Julio Chacon, assisting on colors and art, they all did a wonderful job.

Here is a short time-lapse video of the creation of the cover for The Rise of Itza issue 3. The actual artwork took 16 hours to complete, over multiple sessions.

What are your best tips for any pairing comic book artists out there?

If I had to pick the most useful and helpful tips for anyone looking to be a comic book artist, I’d say these:

  1. Draw a lot
  2. Draw comics, read comics.
  3. Learn the basics of drawing
    • perspective
    • composition
    • anatomy
    • light and shadow
    • colour
  4. Have fun, enjoy your work
  5. Have self-criticism
  6. But don’t be too hard to yourself (especially when you first start drawing)
  7. Have discipline, be patient and resilient
  8. Showcase your work
  9. Look for good teachers and institutions
  10. Work and network with other artists, writers and colourists.
  11. Write your own stuff, do original stuff
  12. Try different styles – try colour, try ink, do both digital media and try painting with real paint.
  13. Explore comic book narration possibilities and explode them

There we have it…

HUGE thanks to Mariano for making the time to do this interview with us! It’s been super interesting to learn how this all works, and it’s fair to say that everyone who has been involved with The Rise of Itza feels very proud of it.

If we take Mariano’s insights alongside author George Mann’s scripting interview, it shows just what a staggering amount of work goes into creating comic books and graphic novels.

And for any aspiring artists among you, we hope you will get a lot from Mariano’s top tips. Follow him on Instagram to see his gallery of stunning art.