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Strange Sketchbook: Emma Rios

We discuss designing doctors, demons and dark realms with the amazing artist of STRANGE

By Jim Beard

Artist Emma Rios represents the kind of fresh, new talent Marvel's made famous for decades and her impressive sense of design has already garnered rave reviews from pro and fan alike. Her current project, a limited series about former Sorcerer Supreme Stephen Strange written by Mark Waid, concludes this February 10 in STRANGE #4. The artist claims she's drawn the most inspiration for the story's images from classic Doctor Strange illustrators Steve Ditko and Gene Colan.

"Steve Ditko is awesome," says Rios. "He broke a lot of rules and developed a very unusual and magnificent storytelling ability that made Strange into something mystic. That, mixed with his visuals, his geometry and his imagination, became really unique.  

On the other hand, Gene Colan is a specialist on working with atmospheres. Atmosphere is very important for me; I always try to put effort into this when working on the backgrounds or playing with the fantastic. I think Gene is really a genius, very strong and expressive. Also, in my opinion, his vision of Stephen was the sexiest of all. And this was one of the points we were looking for in STRANGE from the beginning."

We asked Ms. Rios to delve into her sketchbook and pick out a few STRANGE images that illuminate her thought process on the series' look.


Rios: Facing up to Stephen´s redesign wasn't easy. One of the premises we started to work with was changing his deus ex machina attitude and making him look more human and attractive. Basically, I went back to his hair from the 1970's-80's, [which was] longer and cooler, and dressed him more casual and tried to keep his elegance at all costs.

I love drawing middle aged characters. This is nothing Freudian, it's just like what happens with actors: a few wrinkles and an experienced look can make a character deeper from the beginning. Despite the optimistic tone of the series, Stephen is suffering for losing his status. I really tried to enter into his mind and show his distress and feelings through his expression or corporeal movement when necessary.

When I did this pic, I started to catch the idea everybody was looking for. The idea of somebody who could bring some light to people. He is a wonderful character.


Rios: This was the first rough I did for Casey. My first idea was to do something physically opposite to Stephen's appearance. Short, blond, childish; of course there were some changes in the end-clothing, her hair became blue, glasses-but the basic idea is the same. I really wanted to avoid the super hot and cool Clea type and try something different to reboot the magical student idea.

Her design is not very original partly on purpose. She is a totally common girl who faces magic for the first time and gets her life all messed up because of this. This concept works great to combine Strange´s universe and the real world. That's why I really tried to draw her as natural as possible, just as if any of us could be in her place.


Rios: This was just to put Stephen and Casey together and see if they fit properly. I was also trying to handle some sensuality on her and starting to think about how I was going to draw the magic.


Rios: This one is funny. I don't know what I was thinking back then; probably it is a direct consequence of my obsession to mix reality and the fantastic when working on this kind of stuff. Nightmare doesn't appear in the series so far, but I needed to think a little about Strange's antagonists and naturally, he was one of my faves. The idea was based on the Spanish movie "La Niña Medeiros," which is really frightening. What I like about this one is that I used it to introduce myself in a way, like "Hi! I can handle evil like this; what do you think?"


Rios: These are the designs for the baseball demons that appear in the first issue. To be honest, I didn't have time to think too much about them so, it was something like,

Goat, bird, slug, frog, mantis-I really worked over the first ideas that came to my mind in that moment and tried to do something with them. Tul'uth was more important, and needed some more thought. I was thinking about drawing him faceless but he was a very expressive character and eventually I removed the skin, turned it into a toupee, and used his skinned face for introducing a little gore aftertaste.


Rios: I had to think about two more creatures that were going to play important roles in issue #3. One really evil and one not as much evil as the other. Using a satyr as a basis for the evil could be unpleasant on this one and I went for it. So, both demons turned into satyrs, same race but different style, because their supposed purpose was the same. Also, I put some clothes on them because they seemed to be in contact with humans, deals, contracts-social stuff.



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Emma Rios is awesome. One of my favorite new artists. Hopefully we get to see some more Runaways from her.