Artist Valerio Schiti on Growing Up in Italy and Illustrating 'Empyre'
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The roots of EMPYRE—an epic Marvel event that sees the Avengers and Fantastic Four take on a long-simmering star-set standoff starting in April—extend across a galaxy or two and go back several years. For Valerio Schiti, who will be illustrating the central EMPYRE limited series written by Al Ewing and Dan Slott, his road also began far away and some time ago.
Schiti counts himself as a proud native of Rome, Italy, born and raised in one of the world’s oldest centers of culture, where he came to appreciate art from a young age. “I always loved to draw since I was a little kid,” he reflects, “As soon as I learned how to hold a pencil, I started drawing all day long.” Early influences ranged from classic '80s cartoons to Italian comics featuring the likes of Mickey Mouse and others rendered by the likes of Dino Battaglia, Giorgio Cavazzano, Gianni De Luca, and Sergio Toppi. “At the time, I was more attracted by modern sci-fi stories," he notes, "but the pages of those amazing artists left an indelible mark on my imagination.”
With his passion now percolating, the young Italian began to dream of a career in comics, even penning essays in school proclaiming his intent to draw Super Heroes or, failing that, host a TV show. Schiti put his aspirations aside momentarily and pursued architecture professionally, but the desire never extinguished, and even while working professionally in design, he also attended class at the International School of Comics in Rome, studying under the likes of David Messina and Sara Pichelli. Schiti "learned a lot" from these mentors, and, he says, "They also showed me that a career in [the] USA was a real thing.”
Enter current Marvel Editor-in-Chief CB Cebulski, “At the time, CB used to travel around the world looking for new [artists] for Marvel,” explains Schiti. “I was still very rough when I met him, I was not ready at all, but somehow he saw something in my pages—he encouraged me [on] many occasions and offered me the opportunity to keep in touch with Marvel editors, great people like George Beliard, that sent me sample pages, answered my questions, and gave me a lot of professional advice. I really owe CB a lot.”
Valerio jumped onto JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY with writer Kathryn Immonen in 2012, a chance to spotlight the Lady Sif and show off his artistic chops with outsized Asgardian adventure. From there, the rising star hung out with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, illustrating Ewing’s MIGHTY AVENGERS (2013) as well as joining Jonathan Hickman for several issues of NEW AVENGERS (2013). However, Schiti’s biggest break to date at the time came in 2015 when he enlisted in Brian Michael Bendis’ latest iteration of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2013) for an extended run. This bridged into helping Slott to launch TONY STARK: IRON MAN in 2018, and now the opportunity to open up on EMPYRE.
“Since I joined Marvel, I almost never had a break, always working on something new, so I am always so busy that my pages are the only place where I can try new tricks,” the artist states. “I love to make characters show their feelings with poses and facial expressions. If you see my first works, my pages were very simple, I never ‘broke’ the panels, there was no space for huge, funny characters. Later on, things changed, I forced myself to do something more, something new, trying new layouts and using a free grid.
“It is a journey, a long process. As every artist will tell you, there’s not a moment when you say, ‘Okay, now I got it.’ I’m still trying to improve my storytelling and my style, to keep my layouts clear and funny, always looking for new ideas.”
Schiti credits collaborators like Immonen, Bendis, and Slott for helping him grow as a creator. He feels like he reached a new level of world-building during his recent stint on IRON MAN and hopes to extend that into EMPYRE and beyond.
For now though, EMPYRE does present the greatest stage for Schiti to date, something he finds both exciting and daunting given the expectations from readers. Fortunately, he has support: “When I feel insecure, I can trust in my wife’s help, ‘my pickiest editor’ as I like to call her. She’s very into comics, so she can check my pages, frankly pointing out what does and what doesn’t work.
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