CW: You took a brief sabbatical in 2018 due to personal reasons, what would you say to fans excited to see you return to comics?
NP: I think I’m probably twice as good as I once was as an artist, if not three times as good. I drew every panel on its own 11 by 17 page of Bristol board for Ax-Wielder Jon. So a three panel page is three 11 by 17 pieces of paper. And on top of that, I’m back to inking with the tiniest technical pens on the market. So the detail, if you loved it before on my work, is just insane now. And the genre, the barbarian/western/sci-fi mash-up that Ax-Wielder Jon exists in, is made for an idiosyncratic style like mine. I’m really getting in the crevices and defining this world and it’s characters like never before. I think it’s the best work of my career and I look forward to getting even better.
CW: What inspired Ax-Wielder Jon? What are some influences on the story?
NP: With Jon, it was a number of things. Mainly, this is a comic I’d want to read. It has my love for Moebius, Master Of The Universe, Heavy Hurlant, masculine stars of the 80’s I grew up with, kind of all wrapped up in my own humor and aesthetics that I’m hoping will become my voice.
I first drew Jon when my daughter was in critical condition in the hospital (she’s fine now). The drawing sparked something in me. Jon showing up when my career was on pause and in a time of need meant something to me, and I decided when Lucy got better that I was going to take bringing him into this world very seriously. I was going to make him mean something in my life and honor all of those feelings I was having as a new father through him. He made me believe in myself as a creator, and for the first time, I felt like I had something to say as an artist.
CW: Is Ax-Wielder Jon a one off story? Will we be seeing more of him?
NP: Ax-Wielder Jon is going to be 5 (possibly 6) hardcover volumes. I made my own label, Karoshi Comics, and we’ll have a softcover imprint at a publisher announced sometime in the future as well. It’s a franchise. We have an action figure in development and I aspire to make Jon my avatar in the comics arena, much like how you can’t see Madman, Shaolin Cowboy, or Hellboy, without thinking Allred, Darrow, and Mignola. It’s going to be a wild ride and a hell of an adventure with as a book and as a creative venture.
CW: What does a creative day look like for you?
NP: I start my day when my girls wake up around 7:30-8 am. It’s coffee and usually I’m catching up on emails to start the day. I draw for a bit before my wife, Kelsey, goes off to the coffee shop to write. She writes between 10:00am-12pm, that’s when I watch the girls. Once she’s back I’m drawing from 12pm to dinner. Then back to drawing, I stop to help put the girls down for bed around 7:30pm, then I’m back to drawing again until around 9:30pm. That’s when I’ll try to spend some time with my wife, maybe watch a short show or some YouTube thing, then I’m back to drawing until about 12pm-1am. Usually, one of the girls has gotten out of bed by then and taken my spot in bed next to Kelsey (we’re working on that) and I end up watching YouTube and falling asleep on the coach. It’s been pretty steady like that while working on Ax-Wielder for the last two years.
CW: How much of your process on AWJ is writing compared to drawing?
NP: Writing and drawing Jon is two separate things for me. I knew the ending of the story before I started writing the first script. There are lots of twist and turns in it and I probably spent 3 or 4 months developing the story and doing character designs before actually scripting book one. It’s a whole saga and journey spanning Jon’s life. Drawing the first book has taken 2 years, so that’s really what my life is now, just drawing every day. There is stuff added here and there writing wise as I draw, but the bones are pretty much set in place. You have lots of time to brush up dialogue and tweak when you spend as long as I do on a single page.
CW: What would artist you say to writer you? Do you ever write things in then regret them when it comes time to draw them?
NP: I love drawing for myself, for my own stories. I think that’s what comics are meant to be. Every now and then I have to remind myself to really blow readers hair back, because as a writer I fall in love with the small gentle moments much more than the bombastic stuff. There’s a real pride when I hit a quiet moment and pace it out right, but I still get very excited when I’m trying to show off too. When I get a freelance gig I’m already known as a detail guy, so theirs nothing crazy that I ask of myself that I haven’t done for another company. I try to remind myself, that this is mine, that I love it, I’m doing it for me and my family, and if I was going nuts on the page for a shitty page rate, why would I be less impressive when it was done for something that actually matters. I think it’s the best of both worlds.
CW: How different is the process of drawing for yourself compared with working with a writer?
NP: I think I respect writer me much more than I have respected the writers I’ve collaborated with in the past. Meaning, I very wrongly treated other’s writing as my own playground. Making silly sight gags and what not that distracted from the intent of what I was assigned to draw half the time. I think the silliness in The Manhattan Projects is reflective of this. Pretty much working with me, if you were a writer, it became very obvious very early that the project was likely going to be best handled and viewed as “Marvel Style”. Which means the artist takes a bit more ownership of the story, receiving loose plots versus tight scripts. I think I draw with enough detail and was invested enough where the writer’s I’ve collaborated with just started trusting me and knew that it looked cool enough that we could get away with my ad libbing. When I write for myself, I’d say that Nick Pitarra the artist, the young artist, isn’t someone I would be very happy with. As the writer now, I have a much clearer vision for the final product that I want. If I worked with young me now, well, I’d fire young me after 3 or 4 pages. My apologies to to every writer I’ve ever worked with.
CW: What’s your favorite character to draw in AWJ?
NP: I genuinely love drawing them all. Jon is so fun to draw. Lord Fang. The Puzzler. Each shape and design and the juxtaposition of large and small figures and nuances of character movements starts establishing a visual language for the world. What the world can hold visually interest me most, and that’s what excites about drawing the characters and creating their designs.
CW: Where can readers pick up a copy of Ax-Wielder Jon?
NP: Ax-Wielder Jon : The Chirping Skulls Of Blackrock, the 168 page over sized hardcover, can be picked up NOW at www.AXWIELDER.com. The book is finished and all backers will get the PDF while we wait on printing and fulfillment to finish. I appreciate everyone’s support. I think you’ll love it.