I recently had the opportunity to interview legendary comic book artist Sam de la Rosa. Sam has worked for almost everyone in the comic book industry. He worked for Marvel on the Hercules: Prince of Power mini-series in 1982, as well as working on the groundbreaking series Venom: Lethal Protector. After that, he worked for Dark Horse on the very first Predator comic in 1989. Of course he as also worked for DC, as his first comic book credit was for DC's Action Comics #534 (1982), as well other DC titles such as Green Lantern, Firestorm, Star Trek, and Captain Atom. Sam is a wonderful person and such a pleasure to interview, it was a highlight of mine to be able to speak with someone I've been a fan of since I was a kid myself.
Sam de la Rosa (SdlR): Hello, this is Sam.
Matthew Henry (MH): Hey, Mr. de la Rosa, this is Matthew Henry with POP: Culture & Comics.
SdlR: Hey Matthew, how's it goin'?
MH: Good, how are you?
SdlR: Oh, good, I'm just watching the NBA playoff game, and getting ready for a show.
MH: Nice. What's the score of the game?
SdlR: Oh, Houston (Rockets) 17, Golden State (Warriors) 28. That's your team out in California, right?
MH: Haha, yep! That's cool.
SdlR: Yeah, I like to keep the game on while I'm still working, it should finish around 11:30 pm or midnight, and that's when I'll stop. And then I'll meet tomorrow morning in Houston for a big show there they call ComicPalooza.
MH: Oh, that's exciting!
SdlR: Yeah, just you know, kind of like a regular weekend, haha. For the most part.
MH: Awesome. Alright, well I've got about 10 questions for ya. My first question for you is: at what age did you know you wanted to be an artist and to pursue art as a career?
SdlR: Well, specifically, I knew in the 2nd grade, so about trying to be a comic book artist, I knew at age 7.
MH: So, at age 7, you just woke up and specifically went "I want to do comics!"?
SdlR: Haha, yeah by age 7 , that's pretty weird, huh?
MH: No, that's pretty awesome! Were your parents pretty supportive of your choice?
SdlR: Yeah, oh yeah, I was raised by a single mom who saw comic books as a positive thing. And you know, at that time, comics weren't as cool as they are right now.
MH: I know. Yeah, that's also something I wanted to ask, with your love of comics and when you were growing up in school, did you have kind of like a community? Because back then I know there weren't the big blockbuster movies like we have now. Did you maybe have a close-knit group of friends that would come to school and say, "Hey did you get the latest issue of such and such?"
SdlR: You know, I knew maybe 3 people in the scope of probably hundreds. It was grade school, so it was probably around 300 students, and only 3 of us liked comics. Just 3 people.
MH: Oh, so you were more like a lone wolf of sorts, haha.
SdlR: Hahaha. Everybody was back then. This was the '60s, early 1960s, so everybody was a lone wolf until you met another one.
MH: A kindred spirit.
SdlR: Yeah, well we had to hide our comics, you know, because kids would make fun. They'd tease you, "Oh, you got comic books." It was not a cool thing to have back then.
MH: You ever tell them, "Well, hey, the Beatles are comic book fans!"?
SdlR: You know, I don't think I knew that. I wasn't aware that maybe some grown-ups or some popular people liked comics. I didn't know that back then.
MH: Not until later?
SdlR: Well, yeah, now, you've got judges, police officers, doctors and so many others that are comic book fans.
MH: So, what was your first professional art job? Your first paying gig?
SdlR: You know, I worked for smaller publications in the '70s, but for Marvel and DC, I started in 1982 for both companies. I started at DC first, I did a few books. And then I met Bob Layton at a small Comic Con, and he liked what I was doing and he needed help on his book he was doing, so he let his editor know. They called me up and asked me to help on a chapter, and that got me started at Marvel. I mainly did a lot of Marvel books, because, well, the pay was the same, but Marvel's books sold more. And they had royalties just like DC, but because your books sell more at Marvel, you got more royalties.
MH: Do you still ink hard copy art boards, or have you converted to doing digital?
SdlR: Well, I not only inked comic books, but I penciled and finished them. When I got breakdowns and layouts, that means I would have to pencil it before I inked it. But I don't do anything other than commissioned artwork now. Well, I take that back, maybe once a year, I'll do an independent comic book cover. And I just did one that just came out this week, and the book is called White Widow #2. It's a variant issue that only one comic book shop has. Only them, and I myself have it, too. I mean, I could sell it to somebody and they could sell it to somebody, too, but it's not something that was distributed through many comic shops, but we have it and we are going to have it for sale at this Comic Palooza show in Houston. It is an homage to Venom Lethal Protector #2, and that's the cover that I drew. If you get a chance, check out my Facebook page @artistsamdelarosa, and it's there.
MH: We actually had a chance to interview the creators of White Widow last year. They're great.
SdlR: Yeah, Jamie Tyndall and Benny Powell. I just saw Benny at the Dallas Fan Expo, and Jamie Tyndall was there, too, but I didn't get a chance to see him. We were all pretty busy, but yeah, they are great!
MH: What are some of your fondest memories or personal career highlights of all the time you've spent in the comic book industry?
SdlR: You know, as a little kid, I not only liked the characters, but I was aware of the people who worked on the books. Who was the writer, who was the artist? Even the colorist and the letterer, and inker and finisher and all that stuff. I think I enjoyed most, besides working on the main characters, like I mean, who wouldn't want to work on Spider-Man or Superman or Batman, but it was getting to work with the people I enjoyed as a kid.
MH: So it was really like meeting some of your heroes?
SdlR: Exactly, yeah, because they were writing and drawing the books that I read as a little kid. Roy Thomas was Stan Lee's right hand man in the '60s, and he asked me to do work on some of his books, and that was pretty cool.
MH: Of all the Spider-Man series you've worked on, which one meant the most to you personally? Why have you chosen to work on multiple Spider-Man series,
and what about that character in particular speaks to you the most?
SdlR: Well, you know, Spider-Man is a guest star in Venom Lethal Protector, so I like that book. I like Venom Lethal Protector #1, not only does it have Spider-Man, but it's the first time Venom has his own book, so it's a win-win, and so that's my favorite right there.
MH: What do you feel was your break-out job?
SdlR: Well, that's kind of hard because the first job I got at DC comics was on Action Comics. Now Action Comics was around the longest, it featured Superman, and I got to work on it as my first job, so you can't beat that. Then over at Marvel Comics, you know after I worked on Hercules, it wasn't too long before they gave me some Spider-Man work, and I was just lucky and fortunate that people liked what I was doing. Artist, pencillers, and editors, they just continued to give me work. I appreciated that.
MH: I really liked the work you did on the first issue of Predator.
SdlR: Thank you, yeah, I was supposed to do four issues, so I worked on #1 and #2 with Chris Warner, and you know, the pages were a little slow in coming, and I had plenty of Marvel work, and I just tried to slip that in there because I really like Chris Warner's work and I really like the character of the Predator, but two issues was all I could do when I was supposed to do four.
MH: Who are some of the past or present artists you wish you could ink?
SdlR: Well, people I grew up as a kid admiring, you know, like Jack Kirby. I didn't get to work with Jack Kirby on anything that he drew as far as comics, but at a convention in 1983, I sat next to him and I got to talk to him all day long, and Jack Kirby, he didn't draw at shows like artists will do now, so it was very rare to see Jack Kirby draw at a show. He did do it, but it would not be like taking commissions from anybody at all. He might do one drawing for an auction, maybe because a little kid asked him, but he wouldn't draw like so many of the artists you see at conventions now. He'd sign books and talk to people, and I got to sit with him, and listen to him, and he actually did do a drawing for a little kid that day. So, that was cool. So, Jack Kirby, and then Carmine Infantino is another artist that goes way back. I got offered a big Batman Brave and the Bold job in 1982, and I was just worried that I would just mess it up, and so I turned it down, and years later I told Carmine this when I saw him at a San Diego Comic Con, he goes, "Man, that was just silly, you should have just done your best and I would have been fine with it, I'm sure." And that was very nice to hear. So there's those two guys, and other people like that, people that did comics in the '60s when I was first introduced to them, those are the people that mean a whole lot to me on an emotional level and also on an artistic level. I knew they were good then, and I was right as an adult as well!
MH: Which pencillers do you feel have been the best matches for your style?
SdlR: You know, I like to think that I can compliment any type of style. I didn't work too long on any one book. I did a few issues here and there because I liked the variety of working with a whole lot of different people and a whole lot of different styles, so I embraced all kinds of different styles, and I never got any negative feedback, I just got positive remarks from the artists and editors whose books I did and worked for.
MH: That's awesome. I've noticed looking through your work history, and you've worked for pretty much everybody.
SdlR: Yeah, I've worked for everybody and I've worked on almost every single character, other than Deadpool. And the reason for that is because
I was working on Spider-Man and Venom stuff, and that was more fun for me, and for me Deadpool was a minor character at that time, and he didn't have the
big appeal and popularity that he has now.
MH: Which pencillers were your favorites to ink?
SdlR: I would say that, if you're familiar with fanzines, they were amateur publications, and in the '60s people like Roy Thomas and Jim Starlin worked and produced material for fanzines, and I really enjoyed people that I saw doing fanzine work. Like Jim Starlin did comic book stories for a fanzine called Star-Studded Comics published here in Texas out of Dallas where I live now, and I got to work with him on Dreadstar for about year, he hand-chose me to work on his books. I also like Rich Buckler, another person who helped me immensely. At DC, if it wasn't for Rich, it would have been much harder to get into comics there, but he liked what I was doing and spoke up for me with the executive editor at DC and I got work because of Rich's faith in me. So, people like that. And I can't leave out Bob Layton. Like I mentioned earlier, he spoke up to the editor at Marvel, and I have Bob to thank along with the editor Mark Gruenwald, for getting me work at Marvel.
MH: With all of your time and experience in the comic book industry, how do you feel the future looks as a whole?
SdlR: Well, you know, I'm not sure that that popularity is extending to comics as it should. Comic books published now have a smaller print run, and it's much harder to compete with other forms of entertainment like, you know, movies and video games and other things we didn't have as much in the '60s, '70s, and '80s. There's still a lot of good artists and writers doing excellent material for comic books in all kinds of styles, you know, from cartoony to realistic to funny, all kinds of artists, and there's a place for them, so I'm glad to see that and I just hope that comics keep going. And with the conventions that I go to, I see that happening.
MH: So do you feel kind of like as much popularity as these movies are getting, the people just aren't going to their local comic book shops to find out about these characters they're watching on the big screen?
SdlR: Yeah, you know, just not as much. I've talked to some comic shop owners, and they get some people in, but say with the popularity of the Venom movie and the Avengers movies, you should get a lot more people coming into comic shops.
MH: Almost like there's too many options?
SdlR: Yeah, there's other things they can entertain themselves with in this superhero genre. But I enjoy the comic books, though I don't buy them as much because I'm so busy, I just transitioned to comic cons and doing commissioned art for people.
You can follow and engage with Sam de la Rosa on Facebook @artistsamdelarosa and on his website at www.samdelarosa.com where you can find his fantastic commissioned artwork and sketches. Be sure not to miss him at San Diego Comic Con July 17th-22nd, 2019!