Maria Laura Sanapo is one of the many Italian illustrators taking the American comics world by storm. I first saw her work on DC Bombshells and had the pleasure of meeting her and her mentor (and fiancé) Marco Santucci a few years ago at New York Comic Con. Since first meeting her, Maria has continued to grow as an artist and it was awesome to finally have a chance to sit down and talk about her career, interests and joys of sharing both her personal and professional ambitions with Marco.
Ciao Maria! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. As you know, I’ve enjoyed seeing your career unfold over the last few years and it’s a pleasure to expose more comic readers to your talents.
Ciao! Thanks so much to you for the chat, I’m very pleased to share my work with you and with your audience!
You’re relatively new to comics, in that your first credited work were a few covers in 2014. Give us your origin story. When did you first become interested in illustration and, more specifically, becoming a comic book artist?
Well, my experience is quite particular. I have always been interested in comics and illustration, I was born with it (I did this drawing when I was one) but at the beginning, I took another path. I graduated in 2011 with top marks, majoring in foreign languages. I was set to pursue that direction, but drawing comics was always in my heart…it never faded away.
After attending the Lucca Comics Festival and seeing that people were drawing for a living, I became enlightened! My parents didn’t share my excitement at first; they were terrified by the “new me” (or, from my perspective, the REAL me!). But my father encouraged me after he remembered he wanted to be an artist as well when he was young. I attended the International School of Comics in Florence for two years (but didn’t finish), and told my father I would give up comics if I didn’t have a job within a year. It took me one month to get my first comics gig! I have to thank Marco (Santucci), my fiancé, who saw my potential and became my mentor.
You’ve credited both Marco Santucci and Emanuela Lupacchino as your mentors, what are some of the things they’ve taught you that got you to this point in your career?
Yes, I was lucky enough to meet these two fantastic people (Marco and Emanuela). Both saw potential in me and taught me how to do this job and how to be professional. Marco and Emanuela have different styles, so I took something from each, which had been especially helpful for my apprenticeship. They demonstrated tremendous patience and dedication, and I am eternally grateful, they’re a special part of my life.
On a personal note, you and Marco are engaged to be married (congratulations!), is it easier to handle the busy convention travel schedule when you get to do things alongside your partner rather than leave them behind?
Thank you! The thing that allows us to be together is the dedication to our work. It’s absolutely our priority. That’s why we’re getting married, we share the same outlook and interests, and that’s why we work so well together.
Of course, we want our marriage ceremony to be great, and we are doing our best to organize the coolest event ever, but it won’t distract from our work. Spoiler: there will be comic artists at the ceremony!
I would be shocked if there weren’t other creators in the house! My invitation must have gotten lost in the mail, though (haha!). Let’s get back to your early roots. Were you a comic book reader growing up? What books were your favorites?
When I was a child, I was a comic book reader. I didn’t read as much in high school and during university because I spent a lot of time studying (yes, I was a space geek, OMG). I was particularly interested in American comics. I adored Jim Lee and his work on the X-Men. Everything he did was, and is, a feast for the eyes! I also loved Bruce Timm who influenced the design of the Batman animated series. I was literally addicted to that show. Mark Millar and Brian Hitch’s Ultimates was another series I loved. I also adored Millar’s Wanted (everything he writes is fantastic!); drawn by the great J.G.Jones.
Although you had done work for Big Dog Ink, Dynamite and Zenescope before DC Bombshells, it seems that project vaulted you to prominence among mainstream comic fans. How did you end up working on that project, and was it an enjoyable experience?
Yes, it was! Working on the DC Bombshells team is a joy! I want to thank Jim Chadwick, and Jessica Chen (the series editors) who believed in me and Marguerite Bennett whose writing style is both delicate and strong at the same time…it’s amazing!
Working for a major publisher like DC changes your life overnight. It’s a dream come true and after all the mailings, portfolio reviews and spending all the money I had to attend comic conventions all over the world to make myself known, I finally got my dream job.
One of the coolest things about Bombshells is the message of empowerment as the heroines stepped to the forefront and were primarily written and drawn by women. Is being seen as a part of empowering a more diverse, balanced industry something that’s important to you?
That’s precisely one of the greatest things about drawing Bombshells. I have always been fascinated by “Girl Power.” It becomes stronger with the intervention of Marguerite Bennett. She manages to write super strong women who maintain their femininity. Bombshell’s heroines have insecurities. They take those insecurities and feelings and, through their power, turn them from weaknesses to strengths. By doing good deeds and standing up for themselves, they’re also standing up for all women’s rights.
It seems that you and some of the other creators involved in Bombshells have formed real and lasting friendships, as a result. Do you and Laura Braga and Mirka Andolfo and Marguerite Bennett stay in touch?
Yes, we stay in touch. Bombshells brought me a lot of positive things like discovering two great friends: the tender Mirka (Andolfo) and the lovely Laura (Braga). Unfortunately, Laura and Mirka live far from me, and we don’t have many occasions to see each other except at the conventions, but it’s always great to see them!
Let’s discuss your process. Do you work traditionally, or digitally, or a combination of the two?
Digital mainly, because I have to respect certain deadlines. It’s easier and faster to edit digitally. Sometimes I draw traditionally for collectors like you!
Yes, as an art collector I wish digital didn’t exist (haha) but I understand the advantages digital illustration offers you in terms of keeping deadlines.
Your newest project – Charmed – is based on the long-running TV show. These characters are closely associated with real-life actresses, which means you need to stick “on model.” Does drawing true likenesses increase the difficulty of the project for you?
Luckily I grew up watching Charmed, and I’m a great fan of the series and the actresses, so it was a pleasure rather than a suffering. It has been an opportunity to improve as a cartoonist. Honestly, this experience has been enjoyable thanks to Anthony Marques, the editor who was a pleasure to work with, and the amazing Erica Schultz, the writer of the series who described the Halliwell sisters perfectly!
As you look ahead, are there particular characters or concepts you want to draw? What about other collaborators? Do you someday aspire to write and draw your own stories?
Well, I’m not particularly fond of writing my own stories, I prefer telling stories with my drawing collaborating with great writers like Marguerite and Erica. In my wildest dreams, I’m the inseparable artist of Mark Millar!
How important are conventions professionally? Both regarding supplemental income from commissions and art sales, but also for meeting and networking with editors and other creators?
Conventions are a great part of our work. The important thing is to match them with your editorial work and your deadlines. Marco and I manage to do it quite well; we don’t want to leave it behind.
During conventions, you can interact with colleagues and editors. Doing your work from home is not enough because the people offering you jobs want to meet you face-to-face. It’s a sort of guarantee and a demonstration of professionalism. And as you noted, conventions also help us generate supplemental income which is not bad at all!
Your point about making sure you get out there and meet the key decision-makers is great advice. What other advice do you have for up-and-coming creators looking to break into the business?
Don’t quit! Do not stop if someone tells you that you’re not good. Instead, ask how can you improve? Turn your weaknesses into strengths. Don’t fear other people’s judgments; they are your potential future readers, their opinion is important.
Always listen to editors’ advice during portfolio reviews. They didn’t fly to a convention and sit down with you to take pleasure in telling you why you can’t do this job. Ask where you can improve and be always grateful even when all hope seems lost.
I’ve asked a lot of creators that question and the most common answer is DON’T GIVE UP. It seems that’s the one universal truth of becoming a successful comics creator.
When you’re not writing comics, I’ve heard you also sing opera, is that correct? How long has music been a part of your life?
Music has been part of my life since I was born. I have always loved opera, but I also sing blues and gospel, too! It’s magical.
Okay, well it sounds like we all need to hit up a karaoke spot at New York Comic Con! I’ll see you at NYCC, right? What conventions will you be attending this year?
Where can fans keep up with your work online?
The three easiest ways are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mlsanapoart/
- Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/MLSanapo
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mlsanapo/
This has been great. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat amidst one of the busiest times of your life! I’ll see you in a few months.
Thanks so much Jason, see you at NYCC!