Posted March 7, 2022 by Norby Ela in Comics

LET’S TALK COMICS: Nick Pitarra Is Ready To Die For Ax-Wielder Jon

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These days are slowly opening.  All of us can’t wait going. Out or in, we are again becoming. Beings as this Spring 2022 is coming. Pardon from the rhyming, FlipGeeks got to chat with comic book artist and now comic book writer and creator – Nick Pitarra, where we got to talk about how he got into the comic book industry, how he met and collaborated with superstar comic book writer Jonathan Hickman, his love of Frank Quitely, and his incoming fundraising campaign of Ax-Wielder Jon in ZOOP!  This is Let’s Talk Comics.

FLIPGEEKS: How did you decide to be an artist in the comic book industry? For all aspiring comic book artists, what tips can you give?
NICK PITARRA: Well I originally thought making comics might be too hard (they are) and to unreliable (which they are) so I got my degree in art education from the University of Houston. Luckily, I was discovered early on and have never had to teach in any official capacity beyond giving free lessons to kids interested in cartooning. I think my interest in drawing is an extension of playing with action figures. I loved action figures as a kid, and I hated having to give them up when I got too old. Learning how to draw 3 dimensional shapes and building figures on the comic page really brought back playing with my action figures again for me, but in a more socially acceptable form (as an adult). The best advice I can give to any aspiring comic book artist is to always do your best work. Ultimately, you can only beat yourself at drawing, not others. Every time you draw do your best, that way every time you draw you are raising your own bar of excellence. You can quickly get overwhelmed by comparing yourself to the millions of great artists out there, don’t do it, that’s not the game you are playing. The only way to get better is to be better than you were the day before. Never be satisfied with your work and keep striving for excellence. I think it’s a rather simple formula, the journey will be tough, but if you love drawing, it’ll also be completely rewarding in unimaginable ways. That’s my advice!

How much grind did you do to make a portfolio? And what is the perfect formula for making a great portfolio?
I did lots and lots of comic book sample pages to build out my portfolio, probably 50 highly detailed pages before I started getting small job offers and warm responses to it. And 50 pages for me isn’t just 50 pages, each of those pages might have been redrawn 4-5 times, figuring out the perspective and anatomy. I’m always learning as I work and draw, so I’m never fully satisfied with anything and always feel like I still have stuff to figure out. I think the perfect formula is to draw storytelling pages, show how you handle the character beats and little moments. My mind always gravitates towards how I’m going to show someone scratching their head in an interesting way, or what the perfect expression might be for a certain line. Let the story dictate to your imagination, then use your skills and craft as an artist to realize that on the page. Make a portfolio full of that stuff and you won’t be denied. And whatever you draw, do it better, push yourself. When others are satisfied, don’t be satisfied, that’s how you will separate yourself from the pack.

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From our research, you were discovered in CBR’s Comic Book Idol competition by acclaimed comic book writer Jonathan Hickman, from all of the years that you both worked & collaborated, did you get to find out and understand why he chose your portfolio?
Yes, I called Jon to thank him once I found out he’d requested me at Marvel after the Comic Book Idol competition. In the competition, one of the scripts was for Invincible, and Ryan Ottley (the artist on Invincible) was the guest judge, ten of us competitors had to draw the same script. The opening of which was Invincible having fun flying and needing to stop in midair when alerted to danger below. I drew Invincible flying and chasing a flock of ducks (my interpretation of having fun), then when he stops in the air , a duck hits him in the back. I did this to show that he had stopped in midair, just mechanically speaking the impact of a flying duck shows that Invincible has stopped flying, just like the script asked. BUT, no ducks were mentioned in the script, I added them. After Invincible saved the day, he catches the falling duck at the very end of the script. So some of the judges HATED that I’d changed the script. To me I hadn’t, it’s how I imagined it in my head when reading the words, I just let my imagination take over a bit. Anyway, the were completely confused by it. I got voted off. The next day Marvel wrote and offered me a job, I hadn’t submitted to them, so I asked how they’d heard of me. They said (then new writer) Jonathan Hickman requested me. I asked for his number and gave him a call to thank him. On the call he was laughing about how insane it was that I added the ducks to the script and I was clearly just being imaginative and totally into what I was drawing. He loved that, and we’ve gone on to have a fruitful creative partnership ever since. Jon, as a new writer, could have gone with a pro level guy, but instead he gambled on some crazy kid adding ducks to a random script he found online, I can never thank him enough for that.

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Hickman is known to be disciplined on writing huge universal story arcs on one or multiple (licensed) titles, design his own comic book covers, write his own comics, and maybe create his own graphic novel, what did you learn from him and how did his influence make you the comic book creator you are now?
Jonathan Hickman is a man’s man. Everything I’ll be in comics comes from him believing in me 15 years ago. Him believing in me creatively has given me the confidence to branch out on my own with Ax-Wielder Jon, my new series I’m writing and drawing. Creatively, watching him plot stuff out, finding the big tent poles and turns of a story, and then him using me to bridge those together Marvel style has given me a solid idea about how to approach story. Find some goal post, and have a blast getting there. It’s a perfect balance of organic storytelling, with a guiding light to make sure you don’t run completely off course.

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When will you and Hickman collaborate again for a project?
I’d love to do another arc on The Manhattan Projects in the newest version of my style, which I think is more refined and at least 3x’s better than how I used to draw. I’d love to revisit those characters. Perhaps when and if a TV show is announced, we can get the gang of crazy scientists back together. We will see!

Comparing all of your early work to your work now, your art style and storytelling skills have tremendously evolved. If you’ll get to visit your younger self and hand out three comic books (single issues, TPBs or OGNs) from the future for him to read and learn, what would they be and why?
I’d reference all the same stuff. I give art lessons for free to kids and aspiring young artists that are interested. The book I’ve bought for them the most is Graphic Ink: Frank Quitely. He’s a master and you can chase him for a life time and never stop learning, he’s that damn good. I’d give them Shaolin Cowboy by my other favorite influence, Geof Darrow, to inspire them to do what ever they wanted, but do it at the highest level possible. I’d then probably give them Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampa, to remind them to be loose and have fun with their cartooning, something I always struggle with.

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You are a big Frank Quitely fan, and you are never shy when you get to purchase one of his original comic book art? How did this collection start? Which ones are your most precious ones?
Frank Quitely is the master of masters when it comes to art. Period. He can draw, cartoon, paint, spot blacks, character act, design, all at the top of the field. It’s so far beyond the top of the field that I honestly can’t comprehend it. He’s that damn good. The one thing that was a big advantage for me when learning to draw was coming across his work early in my development. The second I realized I could own the art in a comic I wanted his. I’d work all week or a few weeks saving up money serving fast food just to buy a page. My favorite pieces are the cover to Batman: The Scottish Connection, a piece I picked up from him in person over in Scotland. We have since become friends and he will always be my Scottish connection when it comes to the way I approach comics. I also own the cover to Flex Mentallo #1, which is my favorite comic book series off all time. Those two pieces mean a lot to me. But even more so, Vin (Frank Quitely’s real name) means the world to me, I wouldn’t have become a comic book artist if it wasn’t for him. I met my wife because of comics, we’ve had kids since, none of that happens if Vin didn’t put everything he had into the comics he made and inspired me to pick up a pencil. He’s a living legend, you’ll never meet a more humble or sweeter human being, the guy is an absolute rock star.

Ax-Wielder Jon is your new and current project. Tell us about it.
Ax-Wielder Jon is the story of a faceless barbarian cursed to fall in love with the heads of his many victims. He’s this ruthless killer in a world of monsters and mayhem that makes a precious discovery and learns just what he’s willing to lose to protect what he loves most.

I came up with AWJ when my first daughter was born and she was in critical condition in the hospital. We were with her for a few months in the NICU, living at the Ronald McDonald House, and things were rough to say the least. People would say that you have to trust the doctors or give it over to God, when it came to her getting better. And that was true. But a part of me wanted to make it better, just as a man. So I started doodling in my sketchbook, and I took that bit of helplessness and applied it to my own made up hero, what would a man do if he decided to do what he did best to fix the world’s problems? And what if that man was really good at wielding an Ax? It’s this big excuse for me to play with my He-Man toys again, and break them, and tell a story with some deep meaning to me. It’s an excuse for me to try and work through all of that wielding a pencil the best I can.

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We are launching when the book is COMPLETE. The book is available for pre-order on April 26th, please go to www.AxWielder.com to sign up to be notified of when we launch and to be entered to win cool prizes.


You’ve mostly done the Marvel way in doing comics. Now for Ax-Wielder Jon, as the writer and the artist, what is your creative process on this one?
A little bit of both. I have a rough outline and thumbnails that guide me, but the actual drawing I let play out on the page. Eventually, I had to tighten up the script, the project kind of started as a cloud and now has become super solid. This first over-sized hardcover is book one of a three part story. It’s a big adventure with the tent poles in place with lots of twists and turns. Book one is very sweet, full of graphic violence, but there’s some heart there. We get much darker in the later volumes, I can’t wait for everyone to see what we have cooking.

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Along with this project is the creation of Karoshi Comics, how did you discover that Japanese word?

KAROSHI COMICS is the brand I’m going to be publishing under for all of my crowdfunded campaigns, it means to die from over work in Japanese. I can’t think of a more honorable death than killing over at the drafting table, doing what you absolutely love, and I love making comics. I’m going to build the mailing list out for KAROSHI with each project, and hopefully invite other creators to join me under that label and bring their fans in to join with mine, we could potentially build a sustainable base for all of our projects where we don’t have to sell our IP to big publishers. I think it could be big.

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There’s Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and many other crowd-funding websites, why ZOOP?

ZOOP was an easy choice for me. I’ve always wanted a crowdfunding platform with distribution and support built in. They a very new to the crowdfunding space, and I know many creators are waiting to see what happens with them, but I’ve never been much of a wait and see guy. The ZOOP model is everything we need to bring our products to fans in the best way possible. They help with promotion, dealing with printers, ancillary needs, they deal with customer service, and do the shipping, literally everything we are worried about as creatives attempting to dip our toe into the crowdfunding space. There’s risk there for sure, and I had some offers from the other platforms to host and feature Ax-Wielder Jon, but I truly believe in this model. They need top notch products and creators to jump on board to make that happen, instead they got me, ha!

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You said in an interview: “If I were to do my own thing — which I will one day I imagine — it will basically be a formula that reads like “The Tick” times “The Authority” squared, plus butthole jokes.” Well, will we see some butthole jokes in Ax-Wielder Jon?

Haha! You’ve done your research. Yes. There is a monster that Jon fights in book one that is loving called ‘the butthole monster’ in the script.

Norby Ela

Now residing in San Diego, CA, I strive to work in art and further grow FlipGeeks around the world.