Interview with Enrique Badia Romero: On Modesty Blaise and Axaby CRS-Funny Commics Show Festival on 01/25/2011
Hello, we are the Funny Comics Show Festival from Zagreb! In our country we call ourselves Crtani Romani Show, and we like it. We are glad to be exclusive bloggers on this occasion at Body Pixel presenting you the interview we did with master Romero, the creator of unforgettable comic book characters Modesty Blaise and Axa.
This interview has been made during audience talk with Enrique Badia Romero and with significant contributions from the audience. Funny Comics Show Festival says a big THANK YOU to all! (and Deborah said to add on her behalf this: AAAAAH, this is the last interview covering CRS 2010… it was a rather exciting edition, see you next year!).
How did you feel when the publisher of Modesty Blaise said to you that Jim Holdaway has passed away and you have to continue his work?
EBR: At the beginning it was hard. There were moments when I wanted to give up, because it was really hard to follow somebody else’s path. But then I’ve decided to take this as a challenge and I was persistent until I haven’t reached a perfect relationship with writer of Modesty Blaise – Peter O’Donnell.
Seems like at the beginning you wanted to draw in Holdaway’s style, but afterwards you have added your own touch? What was it like?
EBR: In the first edition that was half way finished, and because Peter and I didn’t know each other well, I adapted myself and concentrated fully on the main character. Afterwards and with some gained experience, Peter have realized that he can get maximum from me if he gives me freedom in drawing. This is something he had realized while working on the second booklet, and we simply continued our work on this way.
Jim Holdaway, Modesty Blaise
When Evening Standard were looking a comic book artist for Modesty Blaise, before they found Holdaway, mister John Burns was also in the game, but he was turned off because his Modesty Blaise hadn’t been enough sexy. According to the fact that Burn’s Modesty hadn’t been enough sexy compared to Holdaway’s Modesty, I think your Modesty is even sexiest than Holdaway’s (laughs).
EBR: (laughs) as Englishmen, Peter and John have drawn an ideal erotic woman with let’s say harder expression. They managed to do that by drawing Modesty’s lips with darker colours. I didn’t have such a vision of erotic woman, and I started drawing Modesty’s lips a little bit different, and that was a slight change compared to their work. Until then, these kinds of changes, I mean in a sense of stronger eroticism in comic books, weren’t very well accepted from fans who were stick to it from the beginning. No matter what, maybe first fans have forgotten eroticism on my way because I’m Latino, I’m Spanish (laughs), and somehow it all coincident at the end.
Modesty Blaise, Enrique Badia Romero (c)
I’ve noticed that Holdaway and Romero are great in drawing cars (laughs)… What are your personal experiences with wild cars? (laughs)
EBR: (laughs) Well, you have just discovered my weak point – fast cars (laughs). I have always liked fast cars. Today I’m driving Mazda MX5, but in my past I was driving lots of sports cars like Porsche. My sons have inherited the same tendency; one of my sons has sports Audi. We have always preferred sports cars compared to classical.
This is a sort of relaxation for me, when I want to break drawing. It’s easier to come back drawing after driving because of the adrenaline.
As for drawing, you aren’t right, because I hate drawing cars, planes and any details that aren’t characters. In fact, I find very difficult to draw cars, because I’ve always liked figures and characters. That’s the reason, when I’m drawing action scenes, the background scenery is more or less abstract. There are no details in the background.
When I was drawing a car for Modesty, Peter had sent to me a small model of this car he wanted in the story, so I could orient better. It was a very rare car. I find even more interesting secondary characters than cars.
What do you think how many autobiographical elements are present in your characters? Most comic book artists tend to draw characters based on their own image. Take a look at Esad Ribic for example; Loki looks exactly like Esad (laughs). Do you see through your characters your own characteristics, even physical? No matter, female or male characters…
EBR: All super heroes are based on me! (laughs) Once it happened without noticing that I was drawing a man who had to be a supporting character for Modesty Blaise. This character had to be in the car driving around.
Personally, when I’m driving I have a ritual of wearing a cap and special clothes just for this situation. Automatically and non-intentionally I have drew this person with black mustaches and cap. When my grandson saw this image he said to me: Grandpa, but that’s you! Then I have realized that I really put myself into it.
Probably every comic book artist have to plunge into the story and character, at least I do it that way. I’m fully into the story and my characters. Therefore, without this, there wouldn’t be this chemistry. I’ve noticed that when I’m drawing something, I perceive the character’s adventures as being mine.
Modesty Blaise, Enrique Badia Romero (c)
Was it difficult to work with Peter Haldaway considering the fact that he has lived in England and you in Spain?
EBR: At the beginning of our collaboration I did regular trips to London in order to talk in person with him about details in plot and so. Unfortunately, we talked through the assistance of translator. Then, Peter would sent me material with additional explanations of the scenes, in order to help me the growth of the character, and after the translation phase I would sent him back everything. That’s the way we have functioned without problems.
So, everything functioned well without internet!
You started to work on Modesty Blaise during the seventies? What was the next period? In the meantime, you were replaced by Neville Colvin and Patrick Wright. Because you worked during two different periods on Modesty Blaise, did you notice some differences in your own style and expression?
EBR: Since I was happy that I returned again to this character, a character that really developed and practically became a part of me, I haven’t noticed any changes. Everything came out automatically. Meanwhile I was working on Axa. I don’t see any changes, I just continued my work.
Can you tell me something about your other characters, for example Rahan? What was your favourite character? Rahan, Axa or Modesty Blaise?
EBR: I’m fond to all my characters, but Axa is my favourite because it’s practically my own child. Modesty stands near Axa, very close to her. Rahan is slightly different, but also an interesting character, because I had complete freedom while doing it. I like all three characters on my own way, but Axa was always very special to me.
What are you currently working on?
EBR: I don’t work on comics lately. Recently I was invited by an American label to draw a comic. Lately some publishers have a tendency to publish stories based on one particular super hero, but he has to be drawn by many different comic book authors. They are doing it because of the market and its needs. It was a character in the kung-fu manner.
However, I’m still working nowadays on illustrations. I work a lot for my fans via web. Some people are sending me photos of their girlfriend and asking to put the body of Modesty with girlfriend’s head (laughs), and similar things.
Axa by Enrique Badia Romero (c)
How much of average time do you need to draw a sequence in comics?
EBR: Well, nowadays I’m more organized and, thank god, I don’t have problems with my sight or health issues. Especially in situations with no deadlines, so I’m more detailed. For instance, when I’m doing an illustration, first I’m making small sketches and looking at it a lot, very detailed. On this way I’m able to see immediate mistakes, but back then when I was doing comics, usually mistakes would be visible later. I think that’s an advance, to be more experienced.
What are your favourite comic book authors and comics?
EBR: From early childhood these people were my first idols, characters like Tarzan, Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, Phantom. So, these were authors most popular in that specific period of time. I think, I still have all originals at home. I’ve always liked comic books where the main character stands in the foreground. But frankly, I can’t single out my favourite character.
This is not something unusual, because these characters were created before and after 1930’s and to date they are alive because of the audience. Therefore, this kind of a character who is involved in every kind of adventure always attracted me the most.
In which countries is Modesty Blaise the most popular?
EBR: In Nordic countries.
What about the Chinese market?
EBR: Yes! I recently came across while surfing the internet and I was rather surprised when I have found it. I mean, I gave them rights. Actually, I’ve found it out last week (laughs).
What are the origins of Modesty Blaise?
EBR: I think that Peter, just like in this movie by Tarantino, had the idea of Modesty as a child abandoned during some war, but where? I really don’t know. Especially because Modesty has become so Anglicized during years, she turned out to be a completely English character over time.
How did you feel when you had to stop drawing Modesty Blaise?
EBR: Yes, I had to stop for two reasons. During this period I’ve started to come back to my character, Axa, so I had to leave drawing Modesty because of the lack of time. I was very sorry because I really liked Modesty and especially for Peter because I had to leave him in that moment.
In what amount eroticism in your work has been emphasized by you or the publisher?
EBR: Well, I think that this coincident, because when I was working on Axa my publisher said that this is not enough erotic and then they suggested me to draw her more erotic. As for Englishmen, they are at first more distant, but they like eroticism. The publisher of Modesty wanted that Modesty’s shirt of bra fall off or something, and I haven’t complained.
Cover of the book ‘History of Modesty Blaise
As for eroticism in the comics, what do you think about Japanese manga and the way Japanese treat hipper eroticism?
EBR: Personally, I think they are exaggerating a bit (laughs).
Is it a true that some episodes of Modesty Blaise have been censored because of this eroticism?
EBR: With all respect to Americans, they have managed to go from one extreme to the other. They had been first with this erotic vision of some characters, and after a while they started to put cloths on. I’ve experienced it with one edition of Axa, the first edition was all right, but then in the next edition they have asked us to put more clothes on her. But, it depends on the country and the way of thinking. I don’t like censorship.
I’ve always had in my mind this fact, and Peter was a real gentleman, he knew what level to include or exclude. He knew how to put a dose of eroticism with taste and with some limits, of course. And that’s something that attracts men and women. I think there is no chance for my character to become a pornographic character.
Do you collect Modesty Blaise in different languages?
EBR: There are so many editions around the world and it’s not possible to track them all. But, when I get the information that it’s somewhere launched I’m trying to collect it, from Nordic countries to America, Europe.
What do you think about the future of comics, what is going to happen and how do you see the development in the future?
EBR: There are two aspects. These legendary characters that live about 80 years, surviving all these years, I think they will stay alive as heroes. But, they will have to be presented in some better format, better package that is more oriented on modern trends.
TV and films have huge impact, so nowadays you have to keep up with trends. If I would be starting today a comic book career, that’s definitely the way I would personally follow. Tendencies in computing are nowadays more important, same as printing and distribution, and originality is not so important. Meaning, as in the past good authors had a classical character packed all in successful ambalage, or according to new trends, new characters go in huge distribution. So, following tendencies that are now modern.
Do you have information about possible movie Modesty Blaise?
EBR: Considering the fact that Peter has died, things are now rather different. It depends on his successors. I think that by losing Peter, the control of this character has been lost, too. Probably, Peter would be the best for picking up the most suitable director for the film.
Modesty Blaise and Axa, Romero (c)
You have sold out the rights to some American agency for film about Axa?
EBR: This collaboration started between me, one Swiss and one American guy, but since back then Axa was kind of dead, I wanted to bring her back. They tried for six years to make a movie, and after a while one of them has died and everything stopped. It’s all about the rights about film. Some studios thought that after releasing a movie they will afterwards get a distribution of comics, too. But, these rights for Axa exceeded.
Since Modesty is always surrounded with four sequences in three frames…Have you ever considered to changes you visual structure?
EBR: It always depends on the publisher. The way Modesty is structured is a classic way of publishing. I don’t have anything against changes, but it is always a responsibility of the publisher if they want to change concept and dynamics. BUT without influencing a drawing itself. In this sense yes, I’m for it.
Plastic form of the sequence is by all criteria more demanding than in ‘broken’ frames… because you can trick readers and shirk with drawing…
EBR: This is the most demanding way, yes. But no matter what, although people call it tricks, I saw some examples where you can use this broken frames and make it excellent. It depends on the market. For instance in Spain this classical way has never been accepted. They find it boring.
Do you think that Modesty Blaise might be less popular among younger population? Because Modesty is very popular among experienced older audience. Are you afraid that Modesty might lose popularity?
EBR: There is always some danger, but I think that this old values, that people like always to come back. I think England is a good example. At first, they stopped publishing Modesty, but recently they have decided to start publishing it from the beginning, the same goes for France. During 1930’s young people also existed, so I think there will be always existing audience for such a character.
Mr. Romero, thank you for your time!
(CRS – Funny Comics Show Festival is a co- blogger on Body Pixel)