Michael Calero is a comic book artist from the Bronx, New York who is currently based out of California. He began drawing around the age of 5 and never looked back. His first major artistic influence was the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. Michael was enamored with the massively popular X-Men run by artist Jim Lee. He poured over those pages again and again. He loved the storytelling and copied the pages numerous times. Another artist that influenced Michael’s approach to drawing was Joe Madureira. Joe’s style completely changed the way Michael thought about comics and drawing. After learning from Jim and Joe’s work, he began to come up with his own stories, characters and unique style. It was hard at first to break away from trying to draw like his mentors, but was eventually successful in doing so.
When drawing particular characters, Michael would think to himself, “how would this artist approach this?” Artists like Chris Bachalo and Mike Mignola come to mind when considering how to design characters. Being able to blend concepts and styles lead to Michael developing his own individualistic look. I had the opportunity to speak with Michael about his experience as a comic book artist and creator.
What projects have you worked on recently?
I recently worked on the X-Men Fleer Ultra trading cards and had that moment of realization that kid me would freak out. I was obsessed with the Fleer Ultra cards that Jim Lee did in the early 90’s. I could probably still draw all of the poses for each card.
That Jim Lee Fleer Ultra set is iconic. I bet that was a blast to work on. Did you work on the sketch cards for the Fleer Ultra X-Men set?
Upper deck has had me do the sketch cards for a few different Marvel card lines. That one felt special though. Doing sketch cards is equal parts fun and frustrating. I’d love to do something more print style with digital coloring for the cards, but I also like being able to sit down and just start sketching out characters. The size is the frustrating part.Trying to fit a detailed piece onto a trading card is no easy task. I just signed on to do their Marvel Masterpiece sketch cards which was another iconic card set that I collected as a kid.
How did you get connected with Upper Deck?
I think they found me through the conventions or maybe it was posting sketch covers on Instagram. I got an email offer from them out of the blue for their Marvel Premier card series. Couldn’t pass up on a chance to draw some of my favorite characters.
That must have been a great email to open up. Speaking of your sketch covers, what are some of your favorite characters to sketch, ink and color on blank comic covers?
It’s usually the odd ball characters that I don’t get requests for often. Recently I’ve been really enjoying drawing Ghost Rider and Nightcrawler. I think I’ve become known for doing X [Men] characters which I’m always happy to draw. Since doing the Fathom cover I’ve done a lot of Aspen commissions which has given me a new love for the character. It’s one of those requests where you know the person is a die-hard fan and will really appreciate what you create.
Any version of Ghost Rider in particular?
I usually draw the Danny Ketch version since it’s my favorite standard version of the character. I think my favorite to draw is the Speed Demon version from when Marvel and DC did their crossover event.
Is Speed Demon your favorite character from that collaboration?
Oh yeah. It was such a great mix of characters and the art was amazing. I think the JLX book was fun but the best executed might have been the Iron Lantern book. The mix was so seamless and made you wish it was a regular publication.
If you could combine 2 characters from any comic book company, who would they be?
I did a sketch recently of Green Lantern and Ghost Rider mixed together which ended up being a really cool concept. Doing the flames and chains in the glowing green lantern style turned out really cool.
Since you brought up Aspen Comics, I know you’ve done a cover for Fathom, are there any plans to work with them again?
I recently did a piece with Joe Weems that may end up in the upcoming Michael Turner tribute book that they’re putting together. It was really special getting to draw the character with Weems who did the inks on the original series.
Besides Aspen and Upper Deck, are there any other companies you’ve done work for?
I stay pretty busy with commissions, but I did a cover towards the end of last year for Dave Dwonch’s book “Infinite Seven” which is published through Action Lab. The characters are really fun and I did a little homage to a classic cover for it. I also did the artwork for an issue of Eben Burgoon’s B-Squad a few years back that looks like it may be getting a re-release.
If you could work on any current running series, what would it be?
If it was Marvel I’d have to go with Uncanny X-Men or Spider-Man. If DC, I’d have to go with Nightwing. Love that character and the bat family in general. I’d love to work on Hellboy. I love the world Mignola has built with the various Hellboy series. Working on anything Turtles [TMNT] related would be a dream come true.
Would you prefer to draw the classic Spidey suit or is there one you tend to favor more?
I loved the 90’s redesign after the clone saga. The new video game design that’s coming out is probably my favorite redesign since. I’d want to draw one of those two. Or make something new to add to the legacy of the character.
Who are your favorite hero and villain character designs?
I love Kirby’s designs, especially Galactus. I used to think it was a bit silly, but came to realize the genius of it. As far as heroes I think Spider-Man is one of those designs that probably shouldn’t have worked, but has been perfect since day 1. Batman is another one that should be too silly to work but is amazing, especially when drawn by someone like Bruce Timm.
Who do you tend to get commissions of the most?
Deadpool and Harley Quinn are probably the most commonly requested characters. Usually the fan will have a very specific pose or concept they want realized. Some are really fun to make happen and others are head scratchers for sure.
What has been the oddest request you’ve had?
Deadpool having his pants pulled down exposing his burnt and scabby backside. Non Deadpool would be a mermaid with a school girl outfit. It was a slow show and I gave it a shot.
Those are definitely out there. What art piece of yours are you the proudest of?
Usually it’s whatever I do next. I’m usually proud of a piece until about a week after finishing it and I start picking it apart. It definitely helps with staying motivated to make new work.
You have a good number of mashup/crossover prints, how do you come up with those ideas?
Sometimes they’re designs that I’ve had in my head for years like the Contra (Aliens vs Predator) one and others are out of necessity of design. I wanted to do a supernatural art piece that had most of the cast, so I started thinking of famous covers that would work for that sort of design. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was the perfect choice to be able to draw a lot of moments from the show. Some have even been requests from friends that I couldn’t pass up on drawing.
You’ve had a decent number of commissions for Power Ranger covers, with the recent popularity in the PR comic series, what live action or animated show do you think would make a good comic series?
I think most of the ones that would make good comics have already been done. Supernatural had a short-lived comic series that was pretty great. I think that’s a show that might actually work better as a comic story wise because you could do bigger things without budget constraints. I think Buffy was the perfect tv to comic switchover.
What is your preferred medium/tools to create your art?
It really depends on what I’m working on. If it’s a commission it’s done completely traditional. I do a rough sketch with a blue pencil and then go straight to inking using Faber Castell Pitt pens after which I use Copic brush pens to color. If I’m working on something for print I do my sketch digitally using Photoshop and print out the rough sketch onto Bristol board. Then I pencil using a lead holder and scan in the finished pencils to be inked digitally. I use a Wacom cintiq for all my digital inking and coloring. It’s a long process but it’s definitely the process that I feel most comfortable with.
What advice would you have for someone starting out as a comic creator?
I don’t really think that there’s a clear path to making it in comics. I think that it’s been made incredibly difficult for new talent to really break out in the industry so you have to circumvent the obstructions and hope your work is seen by the right people. For some that’s doing a lot of social media work and for others it’s submitting portfolios to anyone and everyone who will take them. I think the one bit of advice that holds true no matter what is to work well and work fast. If you draw like Jim Lee but it takes you a week to complete a page, that may not be the best way to break into comics. And if you draw poorly but can knock out a book in a week, that time saved could have been better used with improving on the artwork.
Where can our readers buy your art and request commissions?
I try to be really accessible though social media for commissions and projects. Sometimes I’m traveling back to back weekends at shows and actually looking for me at a local con can be the best way to reach me. Either way, I try to make as many fans happy as possible with taking on commissions. If anyone wants to connect via social media the best ways are on Instagram and Facebook @michaelcalero. For bigger projects I always prefer good ol’ e-mail correspondence at [email protected] or my website www.michaelcalero.com.
What upcoming conventions will you be attending?
I’ll be at San Francisco Comic Con, Denver Comic Con, Fandemic Sacramento and Comic Con Honolulu between now and August.
Many thanks to Michael Calero for taking the time to speak with me. Whether it’s a great print or individualized commission, Michael’s got you covered. With his ability to combine concepts like Street Fighter with Dragon Ball Z or Doctor Who with X-Men, you are sure to bring home a unique piece worthy of immortalization on your wall. If you prefer comics to prints, bring a blank sketch cover to his booth for a piece your friends will be forever jealous of. Seriously though, Michael’s work is amazing. If you’re attending any of upcoming shows, stop by his booth and say hi. I dare you to walk away from his booth without buying anything… I know I couldn’t.