Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.
In the meantime enjoy the show:
Alex Grand Interviews artist and co-founder of Image Comics WHILCE PORTACIO, creator of Bishop for Marvel Comics, creator of Wetworks Image Comics. Alex interviews While Portacio, comic artist influenced by Neal Adams, Jack Kirby and Alex Nino, grew up on a variety of genres in comic books especially Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Got his start at Marvel inking projects like Longshot in 1985. Discovered by Carl Potts and worked on titles like Punisher, X-Men and X-Factor before moving to Image Comics in the 90s. William “Whilce” Portacio is a Filipino-American comic book writer and artist noted for his work on such titles as The Punisher, X-Factor, Uncanny X-Men, Iron Man, Wetworks and Spawn. Portacio was also one of the seven co-founders of Image Comics, though he did not become a partner in the company.
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🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, ©2021 Comic Book Historians, Sound FX – Standard License. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders. Images used for academic purposes only.
📜 Video chapters
00:12 Childhood comic book inspirations
03:20 Childhood immigrant
05:38 How get into the comic industry?
08:23 Projects you working on
10:44 Comes superior story medium
14:14 Comics purely represent imagination
16:30 We storytellers are…
17:40 Wrapping up
Transcript (editing in progress):
Alex Grand: We’re talking to Whilce Portacio. Whilce, thank you for joining us.
Whilce Portacio: Hey, thank you.
Alex Grand: Whilce, tell the audience what were some of your childhood comic book artists inspirations growing up?
Whilce Portacio: During that time it was the big heavy influence still of the 60s guys. So I had like a trump of three.
Neal Adams at the time was coming in and so he was bringing illustrative stuff, so real anatomy and stuff like that, and I’m an anatomy freak, so I jumped on that stuff. And then, I got really, really got into Kirby, just for his imagination.
And then along the same lines, because I’m such a science fiction freak. Before comics, I started just devouring science fiction novels. Then I bumped into the artwork of Alex Niño, and he was pure sci-fi pure fantasy.
He was just, his hand would just go, and just create these weird worlds that you couldn’t right away understood, but then that made you look and look and look at his drawings more and more.
Alex Grand: So is that the DC and Warren stuff he used to do, in the seventies early eighties?
Whilce Portacio: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. And then also when Marvel started doing some of their black and whites. I remember being floored by Iron Fist with Rudy Nebres.
At that time, I don’t remember, he was doing some ink work and then he would put a gray wash on it, but he would do it in feathered, like he was inking, so it was like a double thing but with a nice contrast to it.
Alex Grand: He inked over Ditko too on the fly.
Whilce Portacio: Well a lot of those Filipino guys, they were just powerhouse work horses. They did almost anything and everything. You know, they could take chicken scratch and turn it into a full-fledged, fully rendered book, and you’d never know that it wasn’t. I think that’s why a lot of those guys were, the editors really needed these kind of guys, to get the job done, high quality work. Yeah. Yeah. Because the today’s standard, which has been a standard for a long time is a page a day, but those guys didn’t know that because as I found out talking with other people, before the Filipino guys came over here and worked for DC and Marvel, they were in the Philippines working for what was called komix with a K, and those were basically romance and horror stuff.
Well that standard was eight pages a week, penciled, inked and lettered by just the one guy. It’s a huge job. Yeah, it’s a huge job so when they came over here, again they were young artistic Turks that just wanted to prove themselves, so they didn’t know better they didn’t know to slow down.
Alex Grand: Yeah. That was the early seventies and there was a huge wave of artists, a huge wave.
Whilce Portacio: I was raised here, I’m 56 now, and I’ve been here since I was two years old. So I grew up absorbing this American culture, and I didn’t actually learn Tagalog, one of the Philippine languages until 10 years ago. My point is I was just fully absorbed in American culture, American art culture. So then when these guys came on the scene, it was a huge breath of air because it was totally different and then, because at the time a lot of the magazine work was just, was considered, “Okay, most people aren’t seeing that. That’s mostly a market for military servicemen,” and stuff, but the amount of work they did, the type of work they did, and effortlessly.
Alex Grand: A lot of them were inspired by Hal Foster. So they were putting in a high quality illustration.
Whilce Portacio: High quality illustration. So growing up as an “American kid” and then slowly getting into my Filipino roots and then to find out that in the sixties and seventies you had this migration of these, this phenomenal talents and then they took reign for a couple of decades. And then I come on the scene and I don’t know any other Philippine artists, but then I slowly start finding some. And then I go back home to the Philippines and I set up a school there, and I discover Leinil Yu
and Philip Tan. And now you have Carlo you have Mico you have Jerome. So we have another wave. So it’s cool that I’m now part of a tradition… but it’s very interesting that here in the Philippines, thousands and thousands of miles away, not only do we speaking, almost everybody speaks English, but we totally understand American culture and American comics. So them coming over here there is no learning curve. It’s just give them a plot and go. And that’s the way it is with me but then I was raised here.
Alex Grand: Tell the audience how’d you get into the comic book industry? Around when that happened, how that happened.
Whilce Portacio: There was film connection too, because I’m a navy brat. So my dad retired in ’79. I was 16 I think at the time, so he wanted us, because we were raised in the States, he wanted us then to experience the Philippines. So we went back to the Philippines, and after three… two years in the high, finish high school, then I went to college. I went to an art college over there, and art over there was really great, but it was about abstract painting and I’m not really an abstract, I’m a realist. So I got out of college, came back here, had an auntie and cousins in San Diego. My older cousin drags me over and pulls my portfolio together and says, “We’re going to San Diego Con.” And I go, “What’s that?” This was way back. So this is when San Diego Comic-Con was in the Civic Center.
Alex Grand: What year was that?
Whilce Portacio: That must have been ’85 yeah. ’84 or ’85 yeah, so it was way over there, but knock on wood, I’ve been very, very lucky in my life. So that year, my first year, I don’t even know what San Diego Con is. My cousin drags me over, with my portfolio, and every single Marvel editor was there looking for talent. So I get caught up in that and boom. It’s interesting too because I originally as a kid, I grew up in the ’60s, so I wanted to be an astronaut but I’m too short. My kneecaps would blow if I ejected out of the ejector seats because there’s only one size and my legs are too short. Then I got, like I said I got into science fiction novels. So then because, that I wanted to become a movie director, before that could happen and I was really set in my ways there. My cousin comes in and drags me over, and as you know that was the beginning of a lot of this. The birth of the X-office, not the birth of the X-office, but the expansion, the huge expansion of the X-office, and then that for us going into Image and then everything that we have right now.
So in what I thought would be just this, “Okay, let me explore this pond for a little while.” More than 30 years later, I’m still here, stuck in this pond and it’s still going. It’s still going.
Alex Grand: Great professional lifestyle and you have a great body of work behind you and in front of you. So what projects are you working on now?
Whilce Portacio: I’m in a very, very lucky position right now where I can do covers. So I’m going to do one more year of covers, though I did an issue of Major X of Rob Liefeld a month ago.
Just test my squeaking bones and see if I could do a monthly book again, an issue again and, and I could. So, but I’m in the sweet position where for more than 30 years I did the page a day. I did interior work month-in and month-out, where you get to the point after five, ten years that, you have to go to conventions so fans will bring up comic books and remind you of your work because you do page one and then you go on, you do page 20 and then you clap, go to FedEx or now you scan it and send it over and the next day you start on page one.
Alex Grand: Right.
Whilce Portacio: So it becomes this blur after a while.
Alex Grand: A grind and a blur together.
Whilce Portacio: Yeah, and so the professional part of that is actually being able to effortlessly do storytelling and doing drawing that will appeal, but without thinking about it, because you only have four weeks. So when they started offering me last year to do covers, where I could take up to a week, a week to do one image and then just, and then really think about it and not just let my instincts go, but actually exercise part of that film director desire in me, because I’m quite fortunate that even though my dream initially was to become a film director, doing comics is much better.
Whilce Portacio: You hear all of the big guys, directors complain that at the end of the project they’re like dead-tired because every day they’re answering questions like, “So what color shoelace would the Hulk wear?” They have to make decisions on everything and everything and make sure everybody is in that field to hit the mood of the project, and day-by-day to scene-by-scene. Me, if I want it to rain it rains. I don’t have to call up the fire department. I don’t have to ask accounting, “How much is 400 gallons of water going to cost me?” If I see a pretty girl on the street, she’s in the book. I get to exercise all of the artistic skill that a movie director does in casting, in acting, what directing the actors to act the way he wants, in deciding on production design for locations and everything, deciding the pace, deciding the choreography and everything. I can do that, but I can do it in a Godlike way where, if I want it to happen it just happens.
Alex Grand: That’s a great description. So the vision is implemented right away, right there.
Whilce Portacio: It’s all just up to me. Whatever I can do, and that’s why I believe every genre, every field has to have their place. So for me what comics is, is if I can imagine, I can draw it. There’s no consideration of budget. There’s no consideration of, “Do we have fabricators that can do this? Or can we do this CG?” Right? It’s just up to me. So I believe almost all our stories should be epic. Should be as big as our imagination of the concept can be. Never tempered by any real world consideration.
Alex Grand: Like a Cecil B. DeMille movie, right?
Whilce Portacio: Yes, exactly. Exactly. And then in the inter-industry vein, we should be thinking, “Hey, is this story a story that… ” okay, Hollywood can do everything now, “but are they going to have a tough time doing this? Or are they going to need a 500 million budget to do this?” I think we should do that, because that then pushes the boundary of story and concepts, instead of trying to keep it in the realm of can we do this? Because again, if you ask that question, can we do it? Well it’s, can I do it? And most of us guys in the top level, we can do anything. That’s what the skill set is, you know? And so I think all our stories should be that way.
Whilce Portacio: I think, again because I’m a science fiction guy, yeah, everything based in some kind of reality or some kind of science in you keeping it strong, adherence and discipline to the rules that you’ve set, but let yourself go. There’s so much that still hasn’t been imagined. Imagination comes from limitations, from the unknown, and then us artists going, “Okay, maybe this explains that or maybe this is what’s really happening.” It’s fantasy, it’s conjecture but the non-creative people they don’t have the time to think about that.
Whilce Portacio: It’s life. I really am proud that I could take my field back to way, way, way back, Leonardo DaVinci and everybody, they did comics, but the definition of comics back then was, a lot of those guys back, the classical guys did like the Gods, the Greek Gods and stuff.
Well they couldn’t call Zeus and say, “Zeus, can you pose for me for a little while?” So they had to imagine that and then reading the stories of Waterhouse going to Egypt and then measuring what remained of the pyramids and stuff, and then copying down all the hieroglyphics so that he could get exactly.
So he was doing the same thing. He was taking mythos, a script, a plot, a fantastic one, and then trying to imagine it with his realistic style, imagine it for regular people, what it might have looked like, and hopefully from there inspire. And you take it even further where everybody back in the, way, way, way, stone age days or the medieval days, life was just too much. You didn’t have supermarkets or anything. You had to not only be able to hunt down your food, find food, process it, skin it, know what not to eat and then know what to do with the organs and stuff and then know how to cook it and know how to find salt if you’re lucky. Back then, almost everybody, 90% of the people I believe, had life to concentrate on.
Whilce Portacio: So when I come along and I’m too cowardly to fight any of the wars, because I don’t want to get killed or my back won’t be able to take the work of farming or anything like that. And so I’m just walking around and I bump into these guys dead-tired, six o’clock at night eating their dinner and I come in with this fantastic story of what if a lord and his knights were benevolent? Which is what they’re thinking, because everybody’s bad but what if there were these powerful people who were good? So I’m telling them this fantastic historic King Arthur, and it sticks because it’s not what they could imagine, but it’s what they hope could happen. You know?
Whilce Portacio: So us storytellers, us creative people, we’ve got a really long lineage and I don’t think we hark on that enough. We are really at the roots of society’s inspiration, society’s explaining what life is, what phenomena is. Is the sun going to come back? What is the sun? Again, most people don’t have any time to deal with that. They just, “Oh great, I have food now,” and, “Hey, that guy is coming.” Or, “Is that guy going to come around again? He could tell these weird stories. I don’t believe in them, but oh it’s fun listening to this stuff.” You know? And then okay hey, they offer me a little corner in the shed or in the barn and they give me some food. I can’t farm, I can’t hunt and so that cycle works itself and I think that happened throughout our history.
Alex Grand: I like that. So imagination, inspiration, hope and bringing that to people to enjoy. Whilce Portacio, thanks so much for joining us today. We really appreciate the talk.
Whilce Portacio: Oh, thank you. Thank you. This is fun and it’s great you guys are digital now. In the old days when it was taped I would always run out all their tapes so…
Alex Grand: And we love your passion. Really. Thank you.
Whilce Portacio: Thank you.
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Interview © 2021 Comic Book Historians