You may not know the name Fabio Mantovani, but if you’ve read the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Fool’s Gold or Star Trek: Khan: Ruling in Hell comic book series from IDW, then you’re intimately familiar with his work. The Italian artist has also lent his talents to IDW’s Angel: After the Fall and Spike: Asylum, as well as many other titles in Italy. StarTrek.com recently interviewed Mantovani by email, and here’s what he had to say.
First, please introduce yourself to our readers. What is your background? How did you get into art and comics? How long have you been doing it?
Mantovani: I am 40 and I got my diploma in art when I turned 18. Since I was a child I always loved to draw images and characters and I grew up with a special attention on Gene Colan, John Romita, Jack Kirby and John Buscema stories. I also was heavily influenced by Japanese cartoons and also by several sci-fi TV series, among (them) Star Trek itself. Growing up, I added to my fave list many Italian artists like Sergio Toppi and Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri, and Vittorio Giardino and the great genius that was Andrea Pazienza. I have been hooked also by Argentinean and French artists. I also have a soft spot for illustrators like Liendecker, Remington, Rockwell and Rien Portvliet. I started working in the comic biz in 1995 on an Italian sci-fi series called Hammer.
What are some of the other titles that you've worked on that you've most enjoyed?
Mantovani: I have always been lucky and worked on stories I enjoyed very much. I worked for a long time in Italy and other than Hammer, I remember a series like Morgan and Arcana Mater, and then Lothario Grimm et la Cittadelle de Plumes, done for Les Humanoides Associes, plus another book called Tout doit Disparaitrè. I also enjoyed an 8-page story for Angel: After the Fall and the DS9: Fool's Gold and Khan: Ruling in Hell miniseries.
Take us through your process when working on a comic book, illustrating a story by someone else. Do you get your ideas from the words on the page? How collaborative a process is it, working with the writers?
Mantovani: The first thing is reading the whole script, and then looking for the image references. For instance, it was very hard to find material on DS9 because from the TV series the backgrounds were quite blurry. I had the luck to find on the web a plan of the promenade. The hardest part, though, was trying to understand how the Cardassian architecture is made. After finding the visual references, if the work is related to a TV series, I look at a few episodes to capture the mood and the angles; being a fan of Star Trek that has been a huge pleasure to me. Then I prepare some thumbnails, then some layouts and then the final detailed pencils. The process goes on with the inks and after submitting the pages to the editor I send the pages to the colorist. But often, being a colorist myself and a very demanding one, I check over and over again until the job comes out perfect. I try to respect the script as much as I can. For Star Trek, Scott and David Tipton have been quite clear and mastered the subject perfectly, (so) I didn't have any problem. They were always available and supportive.
When you do art for books based on existing properties -- like Angel or Star Trek -- in what ways does that affect what you can do creatively in terms of drawing the characters and the world they're inhabiting?
Mantovani: To work at my best I must be emotionally involved. That tickles my creativity and my inner capacity to put all kinds of things together. Then I adapt all my ideas to the characters and their world, adding whatever I can without affecting or altering the original concepts. It never fails.
You first entered the Star Trek universe with IDW's DS9 series Fool's Gold. How did you hook up with IDW and was it IDW that put you together with Scott and David Tipton?
Mantovani: In truth I had already worked on many Star Trek pages both as an artist and as consultant, as I’d lent a helping hand to a friend who was working on the series. I was having a lot of fun as a colorist on the Angel issues and covers drawn by Franco Urru, a dear friend of mine. He was offered the DS9 mini in the first place, but he couldn't do it because of the Angel and Spike deadlines, and so he suggested me as an artist to the editor. Right after the DS9 mini came Khan.
How big a fan of sci-fi and Star Trek are you?
What were you aiming for with the art in Fool's Gold and what were the challenges in getting it done?
Mantovani: I aimed to present the characters in the most recognizable way possible and get the right mood with each one of them, and even the angles. The challenges were that I had to adapt my style to a more similar Al Williamson storytelling. That was really great as I love Williamson's art a lot.
Which DS9 character did you find easiest to draw? Which was the most difficult? And why?
Mantovani: The characters I got easily were Commander Sisko and Quark. They have features that can be transported on a comic book with ease. I had more difficulties with Odo which changed several times, even series by series.
How pleased were you with the finished product?
Mantovani: I enjoyed very much DS9, even if I couldn't finish the last issue because of some health problems. By the way, the print was amazing
You teamed up again with the Tiptons for the Khan: Ruling in Hell series. Before starting on the project, how aware were you of Khan and how iconic a character he is?
Mantovani: I knew that Khan was a very important character in the Star Trek (franchise). There were books, and a movie. IDW did already the comic book (adaptation) of the movie itself. I think that the character has been wonderfully handled by the writers and I didn't have any problems coming up with it scene by scene.
Also, Ricardo Montalban is SO associated with the role. How much room did you have to play in drawing the character when you knew everyone would want him to look like Montalban?
Mantovani: The Khan character is divided into two different versions. Even if in the comic book series he remains virtually unchanged from the TV series, the character of the movie is visually very different. He is passionate and very charismatic, but the differences are there and I tried to make the passage between these differences as painless as I could. I did changes like let his hair forth and make him much more similar to the movie character and also the increasing fury he builds up slowly after the tragedies he and his people are the victim of.
Your real freedom must have been in creating the look of Ceti Alpha V. How much fun did you have doing that, and what were you eager to present?
Mantovani: I did have full decisional power over the look of Ceti Alpha V before it was destroyed. I had lots of fun creating the flora, the fauna and the environments. Even the lights, the mood and the storms had their impact on the narration. I loved it all.
You are Italian. English is not your first language. Your art is stark, daring, very European. How does all of that affect you as you go about working on the Trek books? And what do you think it adds to the reader's experience?
Mantovani: Star Trek has a universal language that goes far beyond any cultural differences. I didn't have the slightest problem working on it, and being a huge fan helped even more
Do you have any plans at the moment to do more Star Trek art? To work with the Tiptons again?
Mantovani: For the moment, no projects ahead on both the Star Trek series or with the Tiptons. But we will see.
What else are you working on?
Mantovani: I am working on a new project for another publisher, but it is a top secret one.
To learn more about Fabio Mantovani, visit his official blog at: http://fabiomantovaniart.blogspot.com/