From MaFest To Marvel – Mirko Colak

Emir Pasanovic talks to Mirko Colak for Bleeding Cool;

I met Mirko in Makarska in 2010… I was right there when he "sold" his portfolio to CB Cebulski on a rock concert in front of the café bar "Bety"! Ever since, I've closely followed his carrier in the United States and am happy to see all the reports about this (no longer very young :-)) rising star…

Mirko Colak was born on 10th December 1975 in Zrenjanin (Serbia), has a son Luka and a daughter Katarina, and has been drawing comic books since he was very little. He finished the Construction School in his home town and when he was supposed to move on higher, there wasn't enough money. Those were the miserable 1990ties after all…

Still, this enabled him to do what he loves: early on, he would go to Novi Sad (also Serbia), where he learned the basics of comic book creating. After Branislav "Bane" Kerac (Cat Claw, Tarzan, Kobra) politely thanked him for the interest in comic books and gently pointed him to the door, Marinko Lebovic (famous for Tarzan in Serbia and for Roel Dijkstra in Netherlands) was the one who showed him the business secrets, taught him how to think the comic way and so on.

After a few domestic comics, that didn't see much success outside of Serbia, Mirko managed to break into the French market and after a few years, started to work in the United States on some of the most famous Marvel Comics titles. This is what Mirko Colak says about all that…

  1. How much grief will the editor give you for going to the MaFest instead of staying home and working?

Heh, since there is a couple of them, there will be at least one who won't like it that I'm away… But what can you do… We can't miss MaFest, right?

  1. Of course not. :-) Can you tell us a bit about your beginnings in the comics and where did the interest come from anyway? There isn't a lot of information about your early years.

That's the time when I wasn't very productive and I showed my comics only to few of my friends and colleagues in order to get some pats on my back and maybe a free ice cream… As all authors [I know], I also got interested in comics early on. I quickly learned that I am the best artist in my apartment building, then in my neighborhood, my classroom… My first serious attempts at drawing comics were in the mid-1980s. I don't know why, but I never had the patience to do something to the end. A few pages and that was it… Then a new comic and another couple of pages… Authors get over this phase in time and start doing serious stories and comic books, but this didn't happen in my case. I always liked girls and beer better… Anyway, the result of all this was that for almost eight years (until 2001) I didn't draw at all. That's when I got married and realized that I can't do anything else but draw. With great support from my wife, I tried to draw comics again and the first results were DISASTROUS. My generation of artists … were already working abroad while I was getting over the "childhood illnesses". They were at least a class ahead of me! But, since I am very hard-headed, I didn't give up and just kept going, slamming it hard at the best of them! So I could soon see some results, offers and paying offers… And when I felt the money in my pockets, there was no going back… First, there was (the Serbian) Factor 4 (which I screwed up completely), then some porn comics, then the French, Glénat, L'affaire OIL series, and the rest is history.

  1. Going from France to America… Tell us something about the way you changed your approach to drawing comics, what was the biggest problem, what do you miss and what are you (still) looking forward to?

Uh, it's not easy, I have to tell you… I have such a style that is dangerously on the border between the European and American styles. Meaning, my composition is more like the movies and very speedy, so it's closer to the American comics; but my style itself is closer to the European school. I love realism and you have to admit that there aren't many such authors doing that "on the other side of the Pond"… with a few honorable exceptions…

When I got the Secret Warriors, I was afraid and screwed up again! The quality of those pages was ridiculous but, if I can offer any explanation, it was simply impossible for me to do any better at that time. The reasons were of personal nature. To my great surprise, instead of telling me "go home, little boy" or something like that, Marvel editors saw some sort of quality and offered me a Red Skull mini-series. Those who follow Marvel production know that a "beginner artist" gets an opportunity like that once in a life-time… I mean, having their own series is something most artists only dream about and never get to do.

But I'll tell you what I'm missing: the slowness of working for the French… Meaning, you can take as much as 5 days per page… You can't do that in Marvel… Twenty-two monthly pages, and the ones who can, do it and those who can't, drink beer ha ha ha…

  1. It feels like you're "steppin in" for regular artists all the time on some series… For the Secret Warriors you stepped in for Alessandro Vitti at the very end of the series; in the beginning of your run on Punisher, you stepped in for Marco Checcetto while he was preparing for the big Daredevil crossover… How much can you possibly be satisfied with work like that?

Hey, the money is great and the story ends there for me. I'm not one of those "running naked through the fields" artists, but a husband with two kids to feed… My work at Marvel is just work-for-hire and that's it.

Other than that, I won't comment on the Warriors, but as far as the Punisher goes, I accepted work on that title as a HUGE COMPLIMENT because I was in a position to step in for the best of the best, which in turn means that I do work on the same level as the regular artist, and Marco is a star over there. Every artist working on the other side of the Atlantic will tell you that the first years at Marvel are tough but that, in time, things "settle" to their rightful place and then the work keeps coming… I remember Marco telling me: "When I worked on Spider-man, I stepped in for the regular artist and got some bad rep. Who is this Marco? He's not bad but he has a lot to learn, and similar". And it's always like that. Regular artist is the no. 1, others are there to fill in the blanks that come from being too tired, from other obligations and similar… From all the greatest and most acknowledged critics I got the best marks and praise etc. There were some bad ones, of course, but generally, I am a very lucky author.

  1. Red Skull: Incarnate, as far as I know, is the first project you worked on with Greg Pak. How did you like that cooperation and what can we look forward to in the future?

I'm very proud of that series, I really am… There are many reasons for this, and one of them is that the likeness of the main character Johann Schmidt (Red Skull) is based on my son, Luka. I really enjoyed it and was very sad when it ended… It was very well received from the critics and the fans, it was nominated for a few awards, maybe most importantly the Eagle Awards. Unfortunately, at the last minute we lost the nomination for an Eisner. Greg Pak is a great guy, excellent writer and playwright, and he's also well versed in history. He leaves nothing to chance but allows the artist (i.e. me) to play and put in some solutions. We will work more in the future, I am certain of that…

  1. Are you working on something outside of Marvel?

I can't answer these types of questions, but there is something brewing… :-)

[Since this interview was prepared and published in Croatian here,  a new album by Mirko Colak and Jean Luc Istin was announced right here

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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