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Gay teacher makes big impression in comic-book world
NUNN ON ONE: COMICS Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Jose Villarrubia is a teacher, colorist and illustrator in Baltimore with roots in Madrid, Spain. This openly gay crossover artist has photography that was featured at the Baltimore Museum of Art as well as in Latin America. He has taught at Towson University along with The Baltimore School of Arts. Recently, he won the Harvey Award for best colorist for his Cuba: My Revolution graphic novel. We discussed how Villarrubia has taken over the world of imagination.

Windy City Times: Tell me about you. Where are you from?

Jose Villarrubia: I am originally from Spain but I have lived here for 30 years. You could say I am from Baltimore by now.

WCT: How did you get involved in the comic world?

JV: I was always a big fan forever like you. I wanted to draw comics when I was little. What happened was that I gave up on it. When I was 17 I sent my work to Marvel and DC Comics. They didn't take it so I completely gave up on it. I went on to be a painter. Years later, I taught college classes. One of my students was a comic artist and he asked me if I wanted to draw comics.

Eventually, two separate friends asked to work with me. One asked me to color and the other asked me to do a Photoshop collage for a comic that he was doing. It was a graphic novel with mixed media. I did those two projects and I never stopped working in comics after that.

WCT: Who have been some of your favorites that you worked with?

JV: There have been so many. My own favorite project that I have done was not exactly a comics project but it was sequential. It was book I did with Alan Moore about the history of homosexuality. It was a love poem that he wrote called "Mirror of Love." I designed the book and illustrated it. It was very meaningful to me personally and artistically. It has been translated to several languages. I am very proud of that accomplishment.

The biggest thrill was working with the person that was my hero growing up and he still is my hero. His name is Richard Corben and he is one of the masters of the medium. I have been very fortunate to work with him for five projects.

WCT: Do you ever translate comics for Latin America?

JV: I translated "Mirror of Love" into Spanish. I do translations for students also since I am a teacher.

WCT: What do you think of the comic-book movies that came out this summer?

JV: I haven't seen any of them. I am a little bit of a snob when it comes to comic movies. The last one I saw was Batman Begins since I was invited to the New York premiere. I worked on the comic-book adaptation. Hollywood seems to be getting better and better at making superhero movies. I think it is very exciting what is happening.

WCT: Speaking of movie adaptations, did you read the Adventures of Tintin?

JV: Of course, everyone in Europe read Tintin before they read superheroes. The trailer is out for the Steven Spielberg movie. It is based on three of the graphic novels. We will see what they do because the story is very silly and really pushes the limits of imagination.

WCT: What do you recommend for people breaking into the comic-artist business?

JV: They need to be an artist first so they have to draw a lot. They have to work really hard at what they do. For anyone that wants to break into comics, don't do it for the money because it doesn't work that way. Some people do make a good living out of it but there are not that many positions. You have to be someone that is very happy drawing ten hours a day seven days a week. If you are not happy doing that then you are not cutout to work in comics.

Comics are extraordinarily labor-intensive. So be the best artist you can be and read a lot of comics. Coming to conventions like this one is very useful because they meet professionals and share their work. Everybody is super-friendly at conventions. It is a nice place and a wonderful social scene. People are here for comics and like-minded. We are different but have a lot of things in common.

WCT: When did you first read comics and who was your favorite hero?

JV: I first read children's comics when I was little. In Spain we had a lot of children's comics and I read all of them.

My first favorite hero was the Silver Surfer. He was drawn more realistically than the rest. He wasn't huge. He had the body of a swimmer or a dancer. Those issues were my favorite that John Buscema did in the '70s. They were beautifully drawn and the Surfer was a pacifist, which was unusual at the time. I also liked Howard the Duck. The movie was dreadful but the comic had topical humor and that was something that never happened in superhero comics at the time.

WCT: Any future projects coming out?

JV: There is a book that I work on once a month called Sweet Tooth that I really recommend for non-comic readers. There are two trades that have come out so it's much better to read it in this collection. It is the story of a boy that has antlers. It is wonderful, sad and touching—and freaky at times.

I am working on several of the character relaunches for DC [Comics]. I am doing a graphic novel called Amerikay with Colleen Doran. It is a big story with Irish immigrants in New York and has a nice gay love story in the center of it. I do colors on many projects so I keep busy that way.

WCT: Where do people find your work?

JV: It is only in stores. They would have to look on individual websites since I work for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Vertigo on a regular basis—also, Disney and few other publishers. My work is out there every month and people have to go to a comic-book store and ask for it or Google me, my goodness!

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