Exclusive interview: Livio Ramondelli

A chat with a talented artist, from the archives!

This interview with Livo Ramondelli was conducted at Comic-Con 2011, and originally posted at The RealmCast as an audio interview shortly thereafter.  The audio portion has also been included as a part of our second podcast episode, but we’ve now provided it here transcribed into text.

As explained in the interview, my friends at the RealmCast turned me on to Livio’s spectacular talent well before he was tapped by IDW to draw Transformers comics, and this chat occurred right before his first Chaos issue hit the newsstands.  He has since gone on to illustrate the digital comic Autocracy, and shows no end in sight.  Enjoy this early, “getting-to-know-you” conversation with the man, which we’ve sprinkled with a few of our favorite Ramondelli pieces – click the images to enlarge them.

Austin Welch: I’ve managed to finagle an interview with a big fan-favorite here at The Realm, artist Livio Ramondelli.  First of all, am I pronouncing that correctly?

Livio Ramondelli:  Yes, you are.

AW: Are you Italian?  What’s the background on the name, there?

LR: Yeah, my dad is Italian.  He came over when he was eight.  So he’s very Italian, and my mom’s just from Pennsylvania.  So, hence the name.

AW: Okay.  I just always thought it was cool, interesting-sounding name, and I just wanted to make sure I’m pronouncing it right.

LR: Yep.

AW: Now, we here at The Realm, we’ve known about you for a while.  I know, our editor George Cordero, and our assistant editor, Chris Eaton, they came up to me one time at a Long Beach – or maybe it was an Anaheim con – and said, “Austin, you have to check out this artist we’ve discovered.  He’s awesome, he does all kinds of cool stuff, but he does a lot of cool Transformers stuff.”  I’m the big Transformers guy at the website, so as soon as anybody sees something like that, they grab me and pull me by the ear.

LR: Nice!

AW:  And I gotta say, man – I was blown away by your stuff from day one.  And you’re super cool and humble about everything, and that just makes me a bigger fan of you.

LR: Thank you very much.  You guys have been great – you and George.  I really appreciate it.

AW: What we want to do here is kind of introduce you to the world, because we feel like your name isn’t out there, at least as much as it should be.  So we want to find out what your background is, and where you’re going in the near future.

LR: Okay.

AW: Obviously, you just got the gig with IDW to draw Transformers comics, and we’re really looking forward to that.

LR: Thanks.

AW: Let’s kind of start back at the beginning.  What were you into as a kid, as far as genre storytelling, in the way of comics, cartoons, movies, things like that – and what are you most into these days?

LR: It’s funny, because my answer is probably pretty similar.  What I loved as a kid, I love now.  I was really into Star Wars, Transformers…which is ironic, because now I get to draw Transformers [professionally], that’s been a dream come true.  I was a huge comics fan.  I was mainly a Marvel guy, I read a lot of Spider-Man and X-men.  Yeah, I would say probably Star Wars and Transformers were my two favorite obsessions as a kid.

AW: How about these days?  What are you most into?

LR: I mean, there’s all sorts of stuff, there’s still Star Wars and Transformers.  Everything from Breaking Bad to Game Of Thrones – I’m a big tv fan.  I draw a lot of inspiration from directors.  I love Ridley Scott and David Fincher, those kind of storytellers, the way they light scenes.  I’m really into that kind of stuff.

AW: Sounds like you maybe like things a little on the darker side.

LR:  Definitely.  Yeah.  I think I definitely do.

AW: When did you discover a love for drawing, and how did that talent develop?

LR: I think, like a lot of kids, I just drew all the time as a kid.  I think some kids eventually go find sports, or go outside, and I was one of those kids that just stayed inside and drew all time. [laughter]  It just kept snowballing from there.  I think a lot of artists have that same story, where they were that kid in class who could draw.  Just since I was a kid.

AW: Now if you would, tell us about about your educational background, and elaborate on how much a higher education may have helped you as an artist, especially professionally, and more specifically, in the comics and genre storytelling world, is that a huge factor – having an education – or is it more about just being a fan and being passionate?  Tell about your experience.

LR: Yeah.  Well, I think education, whether it’s formal, or you’re learning just from another artists, kind of like an apprentice type thing, is extremely important.  Yes, there are those rare guys that are just gifted artists, straight from birth, you know – really savants.  But I think most people really benefit from some education.  Like, for me, specifically, I went to two schools.  I went to Penn State University, for undergrad.  I got a BFA in drawing and painting, but that was a lot more like fine art, painting, figure drawing.  Then I went to graduate school at The Academy Of Art, which was a San Francisco school.  And that one was way more what I was into, like illustration, concept art.  It was an awesome school – I really recommend it to any young artist, because the professionals that teach there, they’ll work at ILM or Pixar during the day, and then come teach you at night.  So you’re really learning from people that know their craft, know the industry.  And then after that, Wildstorm was my first job, and I continued to learn, all through there.  I was there four years, I learned from the artists all around me.  Even now, every week, I learn something new.  So I definitely recommend education to everyone.  And then also, practice non-stop.

AW: Of course.  You gotta be putting the pen to the paper.

LR: Yeah!

AW: How did you get the gig at Wildstorm, and then eventually working on the DC Universe Online game?  I know you did some concept work for that.  Can you describe those two jobs, how you got them, and what kind of experiences you gained from those two gigs?

LR: Sure.  It was pretty random.  I finished school at the Academy Of Art in San Francisco, and I was applying for concept art positions.  I really wanted to work in movies or video games.  I really like the painted style.  I always loved comics, but I guess it just didn’t even occur to me that you could get, like, a full-time job in comics like that.  I remember, I used to check Wildstorm’s art blog, just as a fan – Jim Lee was one of my favorite artists as a kid, and he would always post sketches on there.  And one day, they just had a job posting for a concept artist.  And I applied, just through email.  I emailed my portfolio, and I got hired.

AW: Just that easy! [laughter]

LR: Yeah, that easy!  Strange.

AW: Well, when you’re as talented as you, of course, it’s just that easy. [laughter]

LR: Thanks, man.  But that was a blast.  Getting to work with Jim Lee was terrific, because he was an artist I always admired.

AW:  He’s an icon.

LR: Yeah, he’s an icon.  He’s absolutely an icon.  He was a great guy to work with.

AW: We’ve met him a couple times, at the Realm, at shows and stuff, and he just seems very down-to-Earth.  “Can we have a picture?”  “Yeah, sure!  C’mon, get in!”  He’s very chill.

LR:  He’s very friendly, yeah.

AW: That’s awesome.  Now, describe the events that caused IDW to discover you and eventually hire you for the Transformers.  Was it pretty much like an old-school Hollywood story, they just saw you at a convention?  Or did they hear about you through the grapevine, maybe through the Wildstorm/DC thing?

LR: no, it was exactly the first one, actually.  It was totally random.  I was sitting in Artists’ Alley – I think it was like an Anaheim or Long Beach show – and Chris Ryall, who’s one of the higher-ups at IDW just wandered by, and he saw some Transformers prints that I had, and he just gave me his card.  I remember, I emailed him some samples.  And then, like a week later, Andy Schmidt, who was the editor of Transformers, sent me an email, and asked if I wanted to do covers for the Best Of Megatron and Best Of Optimus Prime.  And I was thrilled; getting to do those two covers – you couldn’t ask for two more iconic characters to work with.  So I was like, if this was all the Transformers I get to do, then I’ll be thrilled, these two are great.

AW: You’re already coming out ahead.

LR: Yeah!

AW: Now how long after that did they decide that they wanted you to do some ongoing books?

LR: Yeah.  Andy seemed open to getting me to do more work right away, but at the time, I was still at Wildstorm, and they were really nice enough to let me do those covers.

AW: I see.

LR: But I had to wait, I think it was at least year, and then there was an announcement that DC was basically dissolving Wildstorm as an imprint, and we were all going freelance.  And I knew I wanted to do Transformers, and I loved working with IDW.  So I hit them up, and then luckily, the timing was perfect, because they had this series called Chaos coming up, which was their big event book.  It’s a culmination of a lot of their stories elements, and that was what they offered me, and I was thrilled to do it.

AW: Now, when you guys hooked up and said, “Okay, we’re going to be working together”, did they sit you down and explain what your role would be, or did your role sort of develop as the two parties got to know each other?  Did they already have you in mind for Chaos, or was it like, “We gotta find something for this guy to do, because he’s talented”?

LR: I think it was like that.  I had known Andy a little bit through doing those two covers, but I remember, I just asked him if I could swing by and talk to him at IDW, and I explained – it was real casual, Andy’s a great guy – and we were just chatting, and I told him, yeah, I’m definitely open to doing sequential stuff, I’d love to do more work with you guys.  And he had a couple projects that he mentioned, but I think, at this point, when I talked to him, it was still, I think at least six months before I left Wildstorm, but we knew Wildstorm was coming to an end at this point.  So this was just setting up seeds for the future, so he had mentioned Chaos, but it wasn’t a done deal.  And then I got a call from him few months later, and it was like “This Chaos thing is coming up, and I think you’d be a good fit for it.”  And I was really happy to do it.  It’s a great story, so I’m happy to be a part of it.

AW: You seem like you know your Transformers history pretty well, you have a fantastic Shockwave piece, I believe, on your Deviant Art, where he’s standing, and there’s dead Autobots hanging, it’s kind of an homage, to, I think it’s issue #5.  When I saw that, I was like, “Obviously, this guy knows his stuff, he’s not just talented.”

LR: thanks, it is!  It is an homage to #5.

AW: Did you read the old comic back in the day?

LR: I did.  I read a lot of the Marvel comics.  I mean, I watched the G1 cartoon non-stop, I loved it.  And then I read a lot of the Marvel comic stuff, which is kind of shocking, because there’s a lot of, more violent stuff than there is in the cartoon.  But yeah, that Shockwave cover and that issue – I remember he has a tv on, and he’s listening to human shows as he has these dead Autobots hanging there.  I thought that was such a creepy environment.  But yeah, I definitely like the old comics.

AW: You got the gig on Transformers, and that’s fantastic, but if you could have one title to work on, if there’s maybe a certain universe that you would absolutely knock down somebody to get the chance to work on a comic, is there one in particular?  Is Transformers it, or is there maybe something else that’s a little bit more, maybe “your style” that you would love to take a crack at?

LR: Yeah, going back to my first answer, my first two loves have always been Transformers and Star Wars.  So I would say, if I wasn’t doing Transformers, probably Star Wars, you know.  I would love to do a painted Star Wars comic, or something like that.  Like, I don’t know, a clone trooper story, something really gritty.  Yeah.

AW: Let’s step back a bit, as far as how you work.  How much does technology figure into it?  Because these days, there are so many computer programs that can aid an artist and basically make you look better.  At the end of the day, is it pretty much, the pencil and paper, and then touch things up later, or let the other departments of, say IDW, touch it up?  Or do you use tools like light tables, do you mess with anything like that?  Is it pencil and paper?  Or both?

LR: It’s really both.  I mean, every single page of, like Chaos, is going to be hand-drawn on paper – just pencil and paper – but then I scan it in and then I color it all digitally.  So in my case, I’m lucky that there’s no inker, there’s no colorist, except for me; I get to really control the final shot.  So I really enjoy that, because lighting and atmospherics and texture are really things that I’m really interested in, and I get to control the way I want it to look.

AW: That’s awesome!

LR: Yeah! But yeah, I think technology is super important, [but] you can definitely lose yourself to it, which is why I think I like to draw them on paper first, because you get like a texture with pencil that will fight the computer’s smoothness.  So I like kind of merging the two.

AW: Okay, great answer.  I was curious about that.

LR:  Thanks.

AW: One last thing before I let you go.  Any advice for budding artists out there, particularly those looking for breaking into comics or maybe video games, or genre storytelling?

LR: Sure.  My advice would be, definitely don’t view it like, you are only trying to be a comic artist, you are only going to try to be a video game artist.  Those worlds have really merged in recent years.  If you’re a really talented artist, no matter what you want to draw, you can probably find work in all those things, you don’t need to commit to one path.  I think, in a way, you’re almost hurting yourself if you commit to one path.  I would say, seek out some education, see if you can get good at drawing characters and environments, because that will make you a great comic artist, a great concept artist…

AW: Sometimes people are strong at one, but not the other.  That make sense.

LR: Exactly, yeah.  Try and get well-rounded, because you’ll be more in demand.  The best way to get hired as an artist, is [to] be a talented artist.  [laughter]  The better you are, people will hire you.  And the way you do that is education and practice.  It sounds like a cliché, but that’s why people get hired.  And I can recommend the Academy Of Art…a plug!…[laughter]

AW: Are you getting a kick-back from them?

LR: No, I wish!  There’s great teachers there.

AW: Alright, fantastic.  I think that’s all we have for you today, we just wanted to kind of get to know you here.

LR: Okay.

AW: Maybe after a year, after some Chaos books are out, I might bend your ear, and ask some more specifically about that.

LR: Any time, dude – any time.

AW: We’re going to follow your career as it progresses, because we’re just big fans of yours.

LR: Well, thank you man.  Yeah, any time.  I’m happy to do it.  You guys have been great.

AW: Thanks a lot.

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