Chatting With Don Aguillo of InHiatus Studios

A few months ago, I got  a chance to do a review of  the first collection, from the up and coming Comics publisher, InHiatus Studios, which has well of talent from the Bay Area in California, I got a chance to talk to each of the creators,, the first one being Don Aguillo, who works on two of the books, one of them being Rise , below is a brief background on the book and my interview with Don, about the comic, his start, and what drives him:

Young Queen Zak, inheriting the responsibilities of the long-vacant throne of the kingdom of Pacifica, is guided by a reluctant band of individuals assembled to aid in her survival on the path to assume the mantle of queen, as a long-orchestrated struggle for power back home and a road ahead haunted by supernatural forces threaten her ascension to the throne.

Graphic Policy: What were your favorite comics growing up?

Don Aguillo: I grew up reading Uncanny X-Men and X-Men. Those were my go-to, only because they were the first ones that were ever gifted to me. It was only after I started reading that I began understanding just how relevant they were to my life experience and just how much my career and skill-development were going to be influenced by them.

GP: Is there a specific comics creator that influenced you?

DA: My original influences were Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Joe Madureira. These artists had really different styles but all influenced my take on figure-drawing and taught me how to bring the study of the comics medium and the conventions established in the industry to my work. Currently, I am absolutely in love with the work of Chris Bachalo, Simone Bianchi, Olivier Coipel, Greg Tocchini, Alex Ross and Mike Del Mundo. These guys are integrating the fundamentals and stylistic variety of traditional art media into the craft to establish this new-old modern aesthetic that helps galvanize comics’ relevance on the greater cultural scene.

GP: Are there any influences outside of comics which you draw upon in your art?

DA: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, by Francis Ford Coppola was a great film influence on my early painting work, as I was in love by its production design. The gothic beauty mixed with the romance of the period costume and the sickly-sweet color palettes splashed on these beautiful forms influenced by far eastern, medieval and modern aesthetic really moved me. I pull from ideas from my cultural background as a Filipino-American as well as my dance and martial arts experiences in terms of studying figure movement and action.

GP: What influence do your parents have on your work? What was their reaction, when you told what you wanted to do for a living?

DA: I threw a lot at them to keep them on their toes haha. Changing my major from pre-med to art, moving out of the house, leaving home so early, coming out, so many things. They got really used to being surprised by me, that acceptance was a big part of their lives by the point I had already galvanized my choice to follow this career path. But they’re so supportive and wished they knew more about what I’m doing, and it’s just so early in the development of comics as more of a culturaly-accepted medium in literature to be a vehicle for social change, political commentary, documentary, exploration of visual and literary expression that the greater masses don’t really have a good grasp of it yet, aside from what they get from, namely, the movies. My parents, though a part of that, are making great efforts to not only understand, but also enjoy what I do.

GP: How did you get started in comics?

DA: A lot of my early clients when I started out as a freelance artist, where aspiring writers who had comic ideas and needed to run Kickstarter Campaigns to boost production to bring them to life. These were early blessings, where I had people really interested in my work, wanted to pay for it, knew I could use it to practice my craft and use it in my portfolio! Project after project came and before I knew it, I started looking back on all my old comics not just as entertainment, but research material in a much-needed education on panelling, visual storytelling, understanding a shorthand, the essentials and foundations of visual storytelling and time management. And then came they day that I really needed to work on my own piece.

GP: When did you know working on comics would be your career?

DA: It’s actually a pretty recent development. It was only when the other company owners and I got together to say “let’s put a book out” that I thought maybe there was something there. But before we knew it, we had evolved into a company, and the rest is history.

GP: What lead you to form InHiatus Studios?

DA: As I said, the original idea was just to get these really creative people to put a book of collected short stories together. As we explored the idea, we realized the scope, a projected future and the profound potential of our concept couldn’t be contained in a single book. It was bigger than that, especially with so many of us working together on it.  We had organized and finalized the company soon after a really successful Kickstarter Campaign to fund the first anthology, realizing that what would result would need to be managed and produced professionally, because it was naturally going to spawn new, bigger projects, which it already has. We’re really busy right now, working on the independent series from the first anthology in individual comic issues (the first of each publishing over the course of the next couple months).

GP: What was your inspiration behind Rise?

DA: I work with a lot of kids, teaching martial arts and cartooning, locally in San Francisco.  In understanding the modern child and the world of responsibility on their shoulders (sometimes of their understanding, but usually not), their busy lives, growing up in such a distracting and noisy world, I can only imagine how fast growing up can be. Rise comes out of my trying to make sense of that, and throwing it into this laboratory of creating a world around that very idea.  I also think any creative work is wholly auto-biographical, and so I’ve rounded out this cast with a string of characters who all embody aspects of myself that I can visit, explore, venerate, punish, and acknowledge through writing them and placing them in situations that support the greater narrative and also help me maybe organize the din of noise in my own head.

GP: What can you tell me about the world and characters of Rise?

DA: Queen Zakaiah (at 9) is an orphaned monarch, and inherits the great responsibility of running the Kingdom of Pacifica and caring for its people, in a projected, distant future of northern California, after a string of wars and natural disasters, past the technology age and thrown into an era of magic and supernatural forces. Lucas Balthazar, her guardian, is charged with the duty of guiding her through a set of trials in preparation for the throne, joined by mysterious warrior Senka Priahm, and commoner Frix Atilio. This entourage is thrown into an adventure across the future post-apocalyptic American landscape, threatened by a horde of vampire-like creatures called Soul-Thieves scattered across the land and a mysterious political upheaval in development back at home, both with independent agendas at play. The world will have aspects of the landscape from its glorious past, hinting at artifacts we are familiar with, but mixed in with a jumble of cultural interplay with both how the world had evolved in a millennia, as well as playing with some cultural diversity in influencing the supernatural elements that inhabit this world.

GP: Do you have any favorite comics you are reading right now?

DA: Low for its beautiful art and story of hope, and Saga for its wit, charm, and characterization, as well as visual simplicity.  Both are from Image.

GP: What do you think is most important when capturing a moment in time to render in a panel for the reader to take in?

DA: Emotion. It can be captured in the pop of color, the quietness of a scene, sparseness in detail, or a contrast with all that surrounds it. I think controlling the emotional journey in the reader through their empathy of characters we write and draw is really powerful. Sounds really manipulative, but it’s the ride the reader has signed on for.  And that’s what makes the work really personal. It’s the biggest challenge, but also the biggest thrill to make that connection with them!

GP: When was the first time, you identified with a character on TV/in the movies/ or between the pages of a comic book?

DA: Buffy the Vampire Slayer really spoke to me, and  I think it’s the way Joss Whedon realized and spoke through each character that really resonated with me. It’s brilliant, heartbreaking, hopeful, honest, humorous and human, his writing.  As a gay man, the X-Men always resonated with me, but early on, the emotional journey of Jean Grey through the Phoenix Saga and eventually the Dark Phoenix Saga hit me hard and showed me how comics could really understand and be a vehicle for more profound storytelling. It explored a duality in people and to put that kind of power in a female character at the forefront of a huge story was groundbreaking in this medium. I wanted to a be a part of something like that.

GP: How important is representation in comics to you as a creator and to your target audience?

DA: Though being inclusive to everyone is the current hot-button issue these days, I think just being honest and genuine to your own experiences is more important. There is no way for a creator to write from every perspective, but to add something real from their own world is enough of a contribution. I’ve woven my experience with kids and parental figures and being a member of the lgbt into my writing, but it in no way should influence who my target audience is. I think that anyone who picks up this book should find a character to anchor onto, anyone at least, who wants to explore questions about the meaning of our life’s work, the importance of the people in our lives and how much power we all actually have in influencing and creating real change.

GP: Are there any current artists/writers out there you admire and would like to work with?

DA: Neil Gaiman, if you’re out there, my life’s wish is to draw for your work at least once, haha. Scott Lobdell was also an early influence in emotional comic book writing, and I would love to work with either of these gentlemen as they were part of my formative years and it would just be an honor.

GP: What kind of reception have you had with Shards Volume 1?

DA: Shards Volume One, was a really pleasant surprise, as we went in with no expectations. We knew people out there were really adamant and solid on the big houses and what they already like, and we offered entries that weren’t known and didn’t have a huge reach, but were from the heart. We sold locally through the Bay Area’s network of Comic-Con’s and are going into year two with a huge schedule including some of the bigger events, with our second anthology as well as a second run of our first one and have ridden on this high of new fans really loving and receiving the work.  We’re so happy to just get it out there.

GP: What do you want our readers to know/or expect from Rise?

DA: Expect a deep influence of horror, fantasy, sword-sorcery and post-apocalypse all at once. Expect an adventure with an ensemble cast that is really trying to understand each other while on this dark road, forming a kind of family we’re all familiar with. Readers are going to be hit with a complex world with a lot of moving parts, indicative of the busy mind it’s coming from (this comic is sort of my therapy, a way of trying to organize and understand my own world) and are going to see that the characters we meet are going to be put through their paces and experience real change by the end of this journey. For better or worse? Time will tell. Not everyone gets to stay, and we’re not all good guys.

GP: When can we expect Rise?

DA: Rise Issue 1 comes out this December! Issue 2 is under production and should be out by March, projected as of right now. But go out and get Shards Volume One Trade to get Issue 0 which shows how they set out on this adventure! Thanks so much!

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