by Jarrod Jones. There are plenty of creators out there that push the boundaries of sensuality in the comics medium, but Maria Llovet is in a class all by herself. Her characters are cool as you like, relaxed, urbane. They prowl through widescreen panels, beautiful, looking at each other like they were just served dinner. Llovet pushes angles on us in her stories’ steamier moments, underscoring their kaleidoscopically febrile nature with the skill of a seasoned cinematographer. Her work is, in a word, incredible.
It was 2017’s There’s Nothing There that put her on my radar, but it’s what she’s doing now that just might deliver her rightfully to the annals of comics super-stardom. Flip through the last issue of Faithless, the utterly buzz-worthy new erotic thriller from Llovet and comics raconteur Brian Azzarello, and see if your eyebrows don’t spike. Follow the character Faith as she comes to her own magical, sensual, Sjöman-esque awakening and see the potential for countless new stories to be told in the mainstream. Comics are in a far better place for such material, light years away from the stunted days of the Comics Code, and yet there are still barriers in the American comics market in terms of sexuality. I bring this point to Llovet, and I use the word “prudish.”
“I’m honestly surprised to be working on something like Faithless,” Maria Llovet tells me. “I didn’t think that was possible. It’s great that something like this is being published in the mainstream industry. I wouldn’t have believed it if I’d been told I’d do a sexually explicit cover for the US market. The cover I’ve done for the issue #1 reprint is probably the most sexually explicit drawing I’ve ever done. This puzzles me.” She laughs.
“[I’m not] sure how much Faithless can push to change this kind of prejudice, but I’m happy to be part of a project that’s daring this way, ready to embrace sexuality as something natural and that can play a relevant part in a story.”
Just before Faithless #2 hits shops everywhere, Maria Llovet spoke with DoomRocket about the aesthetic charms of Faithless, the cinematic nature of her work, and the faces she makes when she’s drawing faces.
1. I’d like to begin with the genesis of ‘Faithless’. How did you come to work with Brian Azzarello, and how did the pair of you begin to shape the story?
ML: Our editor, Sierra Hahn, brought the team together. Brian and Sierra have been developing this story for some years. A colleague of hers mentioned my name when they were searching for an artist for the series, and she contacted me to see some samples of my work. They liked my samples, and I instantly loved what they shared with me about the story. I feel so lucky because it’s a project that fits me very well.
2. I’m curious about how you’re going to approach magic in ‘Faithless’. In issue #1, we don’t see too much of it, save for the ending, which occurs abruptly and seems to be in response to a catharsis on Faith’s part—a realized sexual satisfaction—but it’s visualized as tangibly as Faith or the bed she’s lying on or anything else on the page. (The cat being an especially nice touch.) In ‘Faithless’, how will your approach to magic change as Faith continues to… I suppose I want to say, “wake up”?
ML: Faith’s magic is waking up in many subtle ways. There are many small moments through the pages in issue #1, for instance, when she has contact with Michael, Poppy’s ex-boyfriend, that can make you doubt. It’s just this kind of thing that is not direct, an action that can have a consequence later. That’s why Faith’s not fully aware of it yet.
This kind of magic is tangible but abstract at the same time; the kind of experience that leaves you with the feeling of not knowing if what just happened was a coincidence or there was really something more.
3. You’ve said that character design takes shape through two crucial aspects: Expression and costume. Let’s start with costuming. It’s subtle, but the clothing sets Faith and Poppy apart, in that Faith’s clothes are fashionable but somewhat utilitarian, while while Poppy’s is more brazen, urbane. Whose designs inspire you? Whether it’s discovered through magazines, blogs, or simply walking through a crowded street, how do you filter fashion influences into something that belongs solely to you?
ML: Faith and Poppy’s character descriptions included some notes on the general style they would wear, and that was very useful because it helped pick a clear direction from the start. I also happen to like those aesthetics so much, and that helps, of course. I try to follow the fashion industry not only for my work but because I like it in general. So I basically follow fashion magazines online and try to stay up to date with the catwalks in fashion weeks, etc.
It’s difficult to say who inspires me because it’s such a changing industry, not all designers really follow a consistent line. And depending on what I’m drawing at the moment I’ll need a different source, etc.
Personally I tend to like things that are unusual or provide good material for drawing, like Vivivenne Westwood or Dolce & Gabanna. I’m loving what Alessandro Michele is doing in Gucci, even though you can argue, as an Italian friend of mine said, it’s nearly closer to a stylist’s work than a designer’s.
Now, expression. Your characters, no matter the situation, remain on-model, which makes them feel like real people. The faces they make, their hand gestures, a raised eyebrow, a bitten lip, their physical responses feel true. When you’re designing, how do character personalities take shape in your mind? How do you turn ideas into people?
At first I look at pictures of real people, because I really want to decide what kind of face they are going to have. Maybe an actor or a model, whatever I think it’s interesting. Also, the general idea of the character, not only the face, because the body posture is very important. It can be difficult to have this in mind all the time, but I think it really makes a difference. Poppy, for example, is very languid and looks taller than Faith even though they’re nearly the same size. Faith is shy so she tends to fold herself a bit more.
I’ve realized that, when drawing expressions, I need to make the face I’m drawing. [Laughs] It’s so uncomfortable sometimes! But I guess that takes me closer to the emotion I’m portraying, and that’s good. I just try to make them as real as possible, to add gestures that feel true to what’s happening and give them personality through the details. I just try to be empathic and make them react realistically to the situations.
I also like to make them do things with their hands, or take off a piece of their clothing, etc., that makes them feel alive because it creates the illusion that they’re doing things alongside what’s actually happening on the main line of action.
4. Sierra has stated that ‘Faithless’ could be an opportunity to break barriers in the American comics market in regards to sexuality, “to defuse our inherent American fear of sex and the female form especially”. Do you feel the American comics scene is a bit, oh, let’s say “prudish”? How do you feel ‘Faithless’ could contribute to this effort?
ML: That’s certainly awesome. I’m honestly surprised to be working on something like Faithless. I didn’t think that was possible. And the erotic variant covers, for example, it’s great that something like this is being published in the mainstream industry. I wouldn’t have believed it if I’d been told I’d do a sexually explicit cover for the US market. The cover I’ve done for the issue #1 reprint is probably the most sexually explicit drawing I’ve ever done. This puzzles me. [Laughs]. Though that doesn’t necessarily mean the sexiest or most suggestive.
Maybe here’s the point about prudishness; it’s not only about how explicit something is, you can be very intense without really showing a full nude. It’s the acting that can trigger people, in every direction.
Not sure how much Faithless can push to change this kind of prejudice, but I’m happy to be part of a project that’s daring this way, ready to embrace sexuality as something natural and that can play a relevant part in a story.
5. Let’s talk about Poppy, the vivacious cipher of ‘Faithless’. She has a captivating presence, she’s emotionally off-putting, and might be the most interesting character in the book so far. Without giving too much away, will Poppy seize even more influence over Faith’s story, or was the final page of ‘Faithless’ #1 exactly that: Final?
ML: Oh, there’s much more of Poppy to discover yet. Though she’s not the only character that will make an impact on Faith’s life, Poppy is now the ambassador of a new world that is both fascinating and a bit frightening (and with good reason).
Faith is absolutely intoxicated by her, and I understand why; she’s indeed captivating and her irreverence is like a magnet. In a world so used to keeping up appearances, someone who can watch her ex jump off a building and make a joke about it is someone who radiates rebellion.
Poppy also shares more than a passing resemblance to you. Was modeling her after Maria Llovet a conscious decision, or am I just reading too much into it?
No, that was certainly not the idea, I don’t think I look like her at all, but thanks! [Laughs] It’s weird because some days ago I was said to look like the girls I draw, but I assume that person meant it as in a general aesthetic (I like weird hair colors and piercings, etc.). But no one ever said something like this before now.
In his notes about Poppy, Brian told me to make her a bit like young Mick Jagger. That gave me a wonderful direction to follow. I think this is a big part of the aura that makes her so attractive.
I also looked at Dutch model and artist, Saskia de Brauw. She’s awesome.
6. Brian has said that he only writes things that not only push boundaries but push him as a creator, which in turn pushes the artists he typically works with. In this creative pairing, how are you pushing back? From script to printed page, in what ways are you pushing yourself and the writer?
ML: Well, I have to say that the mere fact of working in collaboration is pushing the boundaries for me.
But I’m not sure of what to say about this particular case. It’s so awesome to be able to work with Brian, Sierra, Paul Pope, and all the other artists making the covers.
But as overwhelming as all these names can be, I just do what I always do—approach my work trying to contribute with my strengths and my vision to the project the best I can.
Even though working with a writer is very different from working on my own projects, I don’t change the way my process works. It’s just a bit more difficult. That is especially notable when translating the text to images through the storyboard, yet in this case is easier than most of the times, because I feel a great affinity to the way Brian is writing this story.
7. I wanted to spend some time talking about your craft. You tend to use horizontal panels in your work, an aesthetic response to your passion of cinematography. What is it about the “widescreen” panel that conveys so much drama?
ML: I don’t know. Look at Kubrick, for example, he filmed most of his movies in 4:3 ratio and they are masterpieces. And yet, widescreen has this great cinematographic appeal for me.
Wide shots give you naturally more space for backgrounds, and I love to juxtapose those with very extreme close ups—very Sergio Leone-like. [Laughs] It’s like they’re perfect to create tension.
A good thing about using wide shots in comics is that the dialogue can be placed on the negative space that is not occupied by the figure.
I always think about where the lettering is going to be placed, even when I’m not the one doing it, like in Faithless, because it affects the composition, and it’s easy to forget to leave enough space for it. In wide shots it’s always easier, and can be very useful and beautiful in conversations with the shot/reverse shot dynamic.
I also like to play with page composition. When all the panels are horizontal, it is easy to move the central figure in each panel to a position that creates a certain general line in the page, a diagonal normally, but it can be used to create interesting effects.
8. What about movement? In film, the camera can pan left and right, up and down, but in comics, the horizontal panel is a static image. Is this why we often find your characters breaking free from the panel lines and into the void-white margins? To add a third dimension?
ML: Ah, this is a very interesting subject! I tend to imagine my scenes in movement and then reality hits hard. [Laughs]
I did some experiments with movement in my graphic novel Insecto. One of the characters plays the cello, and I added many arms in different positions to try and convey the movement. I also made some kaleidoscopic images through the pages, a kind of “cubist” approach to the shot—you know, that idea of seeing an object from different angles at the same time.
I wanted the ending scene to be a revolving aerial shot of the two characters kissing. I know, it sounds crazy. In the end I ended up doing around 10 drawings of the kiss from different angles (in revolving order) and mixing them together in the same image.
In Loud I tried to start the story with a sequence shot, but it didn’t work at all so I changed it in the end. Someday I’ll have to assume comics don’t move. [Laughs] That’s why I’m interested in animation too. I’ve done some 2D tests and I really want to explore that field someday.
About the characters escaping the panels, I do it mainly for two reasons. One is that it gives more space to certain shots when I want to see more of the character but don’t want the shot to be further away. The second reason is that it gives more importance to certain moments and can make the page more appealing as it breaks the regularity given by the frames.
9. When I flip through ‘Faithless’ #1, knowing your appreciation for cinematography, I can see a synthesis of Raoul Coutard and Guido Crepax. What artists have inspired you in the past and changed the way you see the possibilities of story in the sequential format? Which comic artists inspire you today?
ML: Crepax has been a huge influence for me. I think I discovered his work at a crucial time of my development as an artist and it had a great impact. On the other hand, the foundations of the way I visually narrate or compose a page were already in place, so his influence didn’t touch that aspect much because I didn’t want to renounce the cinematographic nature of my work. Otherwise his beautiful compositions of panels might have affected mine deeper.
I love Raoul Coutard’s work; I really like nouvelle vague cinema, especially Godard. It’s weird how this kind of cinema is perceived when you don’t know it yet, the critics’ praise is so resounding that one tends to think it will be pretentious. But the truth is that is naïve in a way, is easy to watch, it has the honesty of the absurd. I love it.
Christopher Doyle’s work with Wong Kar Wai is awesome too. Wong Kar Wai is one of my faves, and Park Chan Wook too. Brian de Palma. Lars von Trier. Andrzej Żuławski. Yann Gonzalez. But also James Cameron, Tony Scott, and John Hughes. That’s what I love about cinema, I have so many favorites of all kinds, and the list keeps changing and growing.
As any artist, I’ve had many influences through time, but there are some early ones that I still can recognize in my work today. I read mostly manga when I was a teenager, and the Japanese authors that I still love the most are Ai Yazawa and Suehiro Maruo.
Then there’s Crepax, of course. But also, and specially talking about sequential art, my partner, comics author and filmmaker Jesús Orellana, has been a huge influence. He’s the author of the CG short film, “Rosa”. We met in comics school and we’ve both evolved and learned together. It is so curious that our works are so different (as different as can be I would say!) but we’ve influenced each other so much and share a very similar vision of what it is to be an artist, and about life in general. So I really find it very difficult to think how differently my art might have developed without his presence in my life.
As for who inspires me today, mainly cinema—old and new, mainstream and artsy—and sometimes literature. I don’t really read that many comics anymore. I still have my certain favorites, like Sin City or Black Hole, from the US market. I know, I’m not very original, but a masterpiece is a masterpiece. I find it very difficult to find titles that I like at all levels. I think right now the only ones I devour at once are Bastien Vivès’ graphic novels. I adore them.
10. Mirka Andolfo contributed an exclusive variant cover to ‘Faithless’ #1. Her book, ‘Unnatural’, shares thematic similarities to ‘Faithless’, and like your work her art is unabashedly sex-positive. You’re both heavily influenced by manga and European comics—could you see yourself working with Andolfo on a project somewhere down the line? If so, and I know this a big question, what do you think that project might look like?
ML: Why not, I don’t know? Her work is so beautiful, and I really like her sex-positive approach as you say. It’s awesome to see so many female authors and artists who clearly come from an early manga influence. Emma Ríos or Becky Cloonan come to mind, for example. And we have all evolved in many different directions when mixing it with other influences, etc. I think that’s very enriching.
‘Faithless’ #2 hits stores May 22. ‘Faithless’ #3 is solicited for a June 19 release. You can pre-order it now. (Diamond Code: APR191220)
Check out this 6-page preview of ‘Faithless’ #2, courtesy of BOOM! Studios!
Unlocked Retailer variant by Fábio Moon.
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