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Comic Book Artist Rich Perotta Discusses His Time at Marvel and New Project the Incantesi

26 August 21 words: Jamie Morris
illustrations: Rich Perotta

Rich Perotta was living out his childhood dreams as an artist for Marvel and DC – but now he’s decided it’s time to go solo. We speak to the Nottingham-based creator about his experiences in the comics industry and how not even cancer could stop him from launching his most personal project yet...

Rich Perotta has spent most of his career as one of the ‘unsung heroes’ of the comic book world. As an inker for titles such as Spider-Man, Iron Man and X-Men, it was his job to finish off raw pencil sketches with smooth, bold linework before each new issue was coloured in and sent to press. Recently, however, he’s taken the indie route and is releasing his own brand-new graphic novel, the Incantesi.

Rich’s origin story begins at four years old in Brooklyn, New York. His first ever comic was DC’s Firestorm – a gift from his dad – which awakened his drive to draw spandex-clad crusaders. “I don't know what it was, but I just took a piece of paper and a pencil and started trying to draw the superheroes the way they drew them in the comic books,” he explains. “When it came to drawing anything, I had a photographic memory.”

As a young adult, he joined an advert design programme at the New York City College of Technology and – despite convincing himself that he’d grown out of his Marvel/DC phase – continued to enjoy doodling superheroes. When Rich’s grade advisor saw these drawings, he offered him a life-changing internship at Marvel Comics.

You do all this stuff and then you reach that unattainable goal. And then you're like, okay – what's next?

“At the ripe old age of 21, I was like, ‘Come on, man. I'm too old for that stuff’,” he says. But Rich needed experience in order to graduate. “So I go to the offices and as the elevator doors open, I see life-sized cardboard cutouts of all the Marvel superheroes – and I'm a kid again. It didn't really hit me until it hit me.”

After a couple of months working on the massively popular Uncanny X-Men series, Rich was offered a year-long position at Marvel’s art corrections department under the tutelage of senior inker Keith Williams. This led to a long and fruitful freelance career at both Marvel and DC before Rich began to tire of tidying up the finer details of the same sets of capes and cowls. “You do all this stuff and then you reach that unattainable goal,” he muses. “And then you're like, okay – what's next?”

Rich figured it was time to put down his pen and become a penciller, allowing for more creative freedom. An editor at Marvel told him some new opportunities would be coming up soon, but as months went by without any news, it became increasingly clear that Rich couldn’t stay at the ‘big two’ comic book companies much longer if he wanted to advance his career. It was time to go independent.

“I decided, you know what, that's it. I don't care if I earn half of what I made. I'll just work twice as hard,” he reminisces. “It's a long road, but it's so worth it.” Rich honed his pencilling skills by illustrating lesser-known books in the indie market and studied film in order to boost his visual storytelling toolkit.

One of his main inspirations is Paul Smith, a comic artist and animator for Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings and American Pop. “He's an excellent storyteller,” Rich says. “That's what a comic book is supposed to be: telling a story with the few images that you have the ability to put down onto paper.” He also cites film directors Michael Mann, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Bay and Zack Snyder as major stylistic influences.

The main inspiration for the Incantesi came from an unlikely place, however. An Italian actress, Sofia Brocani, was watching one of Rich’s live drawing shows and asked if he could do a portrait of her as a sorceress. Rich had inadvertently created the perfect protagonist for his graphic novel – he just hadn’t realised it yet.

Rich went through several potential main characters – including his childhood creations and a semi-autobiographical design – before he finally landed on the right one. “I looked at my own characters and they were terrible,” he laughs. “I was rummaging through my desk with paper all over the place and came across Sofia’s drawing, then it hit me. The whole story just poured out of my head.”

They had to cut my neck in half. I had this big hellacious scar, which I thought was really cool.

Sofia became Cassandra, a young ballerina who discovers that she’s destined to protect the world from an ancient evil. “I had no idea about any terms for dancing,” Rich admits. “But I really love this character because it stretches my ability and forces me to do more research.” The first story is set to unfold over four chapters, but the creator promises this is only the beginning of a bigger adventure, “I'm going to give a little spoiler: it's not going to be a happy ending at the end of chapter four.”

But Rich had to win a battle of his own while writing and drawing the Incantesi. Four weeks after he arrived in the UK, Rich was diagnosed with cancer and spent most of 2020 braving surgery and radiotherapy treatment. “They had to cut my neck in half,” he explains, before waving an imaginary blade and reenacting a scene from the 1986 film Highlander. “I had this big hellacious scar, which I thought was really cool.”

Rich was declared cancer-free on Thanksgiving and has since finished the first issue of the Incantesi and raised over £2,500 for the project on Kickstarter. He’s now working on the second chapter and is gearing up to promote the book at Nottingham’s EM-Con on 28-29 August. Rich looks back on the journey so far with a proud smile: “If I can do all that while being operated on for cancer, I don’t think anybody’s going to be able to stop me at anything ever again in my life.”

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