Future Comic Rock Stars – Paul Azaceta

GroundedWelcome to my weekly column showcasing up and coming or undiscovered talent, bringing to your attention creators that I feel will be break-out stars in the near future. Some are already well on their way to super stardom, while some are just on the outskirts breaking in.

Everyone has a favorite comic book creator. One they’ve discovered recently, or maybe followed from the very beginning of their career. Some have so many favorites it’s hard to choose just one.

Every single one of those creators started somewhere, be it by producing photocopied mini comics to sell at their neighborhood comic shop, getting a table in the artist’s alley at their local comic convention, publishing fan fiction, posting images to deviantart.com, or doing commissions through the internet or at conventions.

Then came their break. Something they did got noticed, an editor got in touch, and they were on their way. A fill in page here, a small press book there, maybe a miniseries or one-shot for one of the big two. Something about their style catches fan’s eyes, and their star begins to rise.

Paul Azaceta first caught my eye with the six issue Image Comics mini, Grounded. That first issue cover instantly drew me in, a curiosity built up in me that needed to be sated. Who was this dead winged man, and why were these others so upset by his death? Azaceta really made me feel the anguish painted across their faces, their grief palpable under his confident brush. I was hooked that moment, and have followed his career ever since.

His accomplice on the book, writer Mark Sable must have seen the same in him as I did, as the two have worked together a few times since then, including the recent Grave of Empires series.

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He’s lent his brush to many of my favorite comics through the years, his art being the main draw every time. Talent, Unthinkable, Potter’s Field, and the aforementioned Grave of Empires became must buys as soon as I saw his name attached. Books, like Daredevil, I probably would have bought even without him on art definitely became even more anticipated with his participation.

XMEN39_02inkHis work has a confidence to it, belied by its looseness. His strongest suit is his ability to project emotion, of even the subtlest kind, onto the faces of his cast, through slight body language changes, little upturn of the lip, and the acute tension of the eye. His characters breathe, they live on the page, as real as you or I, and he effortlessly engenders us to feel everything they do. A good artist can tell a story without words, and Azaceta is one of the few working in the field today that I feel could accomplish this for an entire issue or more.

Background detail is another of his tremendous strengths, as he fills each panel with universal ephemera, letting no space be wasted. It’s the intricacies that make his worlds feel lived in, not just occupied. Azaceta places the most normal everyday objects throughout the panel, kitchen tables covered in junk mail, a fruit bowl with flies hovering over it on a counter top, a screen door with a slight tear in it, things we see in our own everyday lives, things that we accumulate over the years of living somewhere, things we can relate to.

bprd19462p3We may not even realize much of this as we read through an issue, but he puts it there anyway. Azaceta is a man of craft, and his craft is, many times, making the unbelievable believable through the tedium of commonality. And he’s brilliant at it. His work on B.P.R.D. 1946 must have taken plenty of research, because he nailed the look of the period due to that very attention to detail.

His panel arrangements are deceptively simple, yet what goes on within those borders is anything but. With a cinematographer’s eye, Azaceta knows how to accentuate the importance of a scene with the slight change of the angle, heightening the emotion with a close-up shot, or using a wide shot to establish the mise en scène. He wears a director’s cap as well, moving his characters about the panel, focusing only on what’s important in telling the story, and he does it masterfully.

Azaceta has just embarked on his latest artistic adventure, Outcast, with the mega popular Robert Kirkman. While he has worked for many years in the industry, this series is sure to be a breakout hit, proving to the rest of the comic world what I knew from that fist cover for Grounded, that Paul Azaceta is a future comic rock star! Next week I’ll bring you another.

You can see more of his work here, and be sure to follow him on Twitter.

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