Spider-Man, She-Hulk and Squadron Supreme—these are just a few of the titular superhero characters and teams that Roland Paris has inked for Marvel Comics.
Those same heroes and more have been elements of Paris’ life and the path to assisting in those projects is much longer than being skilled with a pen. Working for one of the biggest comic book publishers comes with time, dedication and sacrifice, a majority often forgotten when it comes to art itself.
In the ‘70s, Paris was just a kid in a New Orleans grocery store when comics really started working their way into his life. His mother didn’t want him to bother her while shopping, so Paris sat by the newsstand. Paris’ eyes darted to the comic as they told a deeper story with the images than the words printed on the page.
He had to have one and his mother obliged. When he got home, Paris read that comic and began trying to draw the images he found so mesmerizing.
“I knew from that moment that I wanted to be an artist,” Paris said. “There was nothing more that I could see myself doing and so I started to work on it.”
Pages were filled as were notebooks and sketchpads as Paris honed his craft. He continued to draw and practice his passion well after graduating college. While looking for work, Paris would take his drawings to comic conventions to receive critiques and advice from those he looked up to.
Eventually, that method of persistence paid off and he began to find jobs with smaller companies in need of artists and designers. At the turn of the century, a comic publisher called CrossGen came knocking at Paris’ door. The fairly new company was Paris’ first chance at truly doing what he desired.
He moved to Tampa, Florida, to work with the other artists, writers and publishers within the company. About three and a half years into his time with CrossGen, the company went bankrupt and would later be purchased by The Walt Disney Company in 2004. After that bankruptcy, Paris found his way back to the Boot, but planted himself in Baton Rouge for whatever came next. In a dream come true, Marvel had taken notice of his work during his time with CrossGen and brought him, as well as a few of his old co-workers, onboard to work with Marvel Comics.
Paris was brought in as an inker. Comic books are made by an assembly line of sorts. A writer will create the script for the issue. That script is then sent to the penciler who draws out the story. Once a few pages are done, those pages are sent to an inker who goes over the pencil lines with multiple tools to make the grey of the pencil solid black.
“Before anyone thinks it, we aren’t just tracing,” Paris said. “We take the lines and tighten things up—making corrections in anatomy and perspective. All the work we do is in black and white, but it provides the outline for what comes next.”
After Paris inks a few pages, they are sent to a colorist who colors the pages in using Photoshop. A letterer receives the colored pages and places word boxes in the necessary panels. While all of this is happening, each step is checked by an editor and again before being sent to the printer.
This entire process happens in about five weeks before it’s reset and done all over again for another issue. This is the cycle for most comic books, but despite the tight deadlines, Paris said he loves every minute of it and with the superhero genre standing atop the movie and merchandise mountain, he feels like a kid all over again.
“I’ve really enjoyed that [comics] have become more acceptable,” Paris said. “When I go to conventions, it’s not just a bunch of lonely guys who live in their moms’ [basements]. It’s everybody—kids, women, families—it’s great to see all of them there.”
When Paris goes to these conventions now, fans come to his table asking him to sign his work or discuss craft or even have him critique their work like he asked those before him.
It’s his chance to speak with people who are just like him and bring smiles to thousands of faces all while talking about his favorite works. In his list of favorites he’s worked on, Paris lists the “Marvel Adventures Spider-Man” series as a highlight because it was his first foray into working with Marvel Comics.
However, Paris admits that while inking for Marvel is a huge accomplishment, the work isn’t totally consistent. As such, he has a day job as a graphic designer to pay his bills while he does his work for Marvel on nights and weekends. Paris said there are a handful of misconceptions about artists and how much work actually goes into their craft, something he would like to see change one day soon.
“The biggest misconception people have about art is that they think it’s something we don’t have to work at,” Paris said. “If you want to be a good artist, you have to work at it. It’s just like being a good musician and practicing a lot or being a good scholar and studying. People don’t understand that we do this because we love it, but we also do it to get paid.”
He mentions the cost of materials, time and labor as factors that many don’t think about when it comes to art. Similar to a mechanic, there are plenty of intricacies that go into creating just one piece, ones many don’t see until they get the bill.
“We can go four or five months with steady comic book gigs and then the well can just run dry,” Paris said. “It comes and it goes, so we [artists] have to find ways to keep ourselves afloat through commission pieces and day jobs.”
At the end of the day, Paris said he’s grateful for the position he’s worked to be in and he hopes that fans of the genre continue to multiply. Every day, he gets to create and he says he can’t ask for much more than that.
“I’m blessed and I think people will come around to see art for how valuable it is,” he said. “I just hope I’m there to see it.”