The daughter of immigrants from Honduras and Curacao, Alitha Martinez is a comic book artist that has been penciling and inking comics for 18 years. Starting off as Joe Quesada’s assistant at Marvel, she hid behind a pen name for years so that her work would be taken seriously. Since then she’s worked on everything from Iron Man to Batgirland drew all of the interiors for Marvel’s Black Panther: World of Wakanda, written by TaNehisi Coates and Roxanne Gay. And she did it all while raising her biggest cheerleader, her son Michael.
But Alitha, like many mainstream artists, has also been working in indies and has recently drawn for Image and Lion Forge as well. (For a full list of her work click here). I got a chance to talk with Alitha about what it's like working on both sides of the fence before she joined us for Who Won the Week podcast #114. Check it out.
Do you remember when it was that you drew your first piece of artwork?
I've drawn my entire life. Since I was two years old. My grandmother had drawings of a girl jumping rope that I'd done that I didn't remember drawing. Coincidentally, I've been reading my entire life as well. I could read at age four. I don’t ever remember not being able to read. My great-grandmother taught me from the Bible.
How long have you been in the comic book business and what was the first comic you were paid to illustrate?
I’ve been in the business for 18 years. I count from 1999 when I was a true penciler. I'd been working in the business for two years or so before that as an assistant penciler and inker. And my first credited story was in the Cable Annual for Marvel. That was my first solo, my name on the book, gig.
You are the only Afro-Latina comic book artist that I know if that has been in the business this long. Who were your role models?
Unfortunately, there were no role models for me when I started. I had to blaze my own trail. I heard a million 'Nos’. "No, you can't do that", "There are no women artists.", "No, you couldn't have drawn that.", "Girls don't draw like that." "There is no way you'll become a comic book artist." I've heard that since I was in sixth grade. I had to hide behind a pen name, "Artiotstorm," which I now use for my company, Ariotstorm Productions LLC., just to stop hearing "no" all the time.
What other artists (no matter the medium) have inspired you?
Katsuhiro Otomo, Domu and Akira. Domu is my favorite manga of all time. It's absolutely perfect. I love a lot of detail and a good, sophisticated story. While Sensei Otomo is better known for the 2000+ page masterpiece that is Akira, Domu preceded it. Domu is a tighter, smaller version of Akira.
Everyone talks about your work on Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxanne Gay’s World of Wakanda series, but that's not your first visit to Wakanda, correct?
No. I inked Black Panther during the Christopher Priest run as well. When the Dora were wearing little impractical tops and little skirts while fighting with spears. Please tell your audience I’m sorry for that. I was young in the business and I inked whatever they told me to.
What's been your favorite book to work on, one that was really satisfying?
Only now am I able to answer this. The best book I've ever worked on was Lazarus X: +66, issue 4. (Image) I only did one book in the series; but, man, what a breakthrough it was for me. No more of that "I like it, I love it, now change it." I worked in my own style (which I didn't realize that I had!) on a title that played to a lot of my strengths. I used a lot of the same techniques on the X-Men Gold Annual #1. I mention that book because it's the first time that I've had the A-team behind me with a big company. My editor, Chris Robinson, a real up and coming talent in the industry, has an eye for putting people together. It was my most amazing experience working on a book.
You also have several works you’ve put out independently.
Yes. Foreign is a scifi action adventure story that I’ve written myself and is an ode to classic epic sci-fi that I love like Robotech. Most people don’t know that I write as well. And I also have Yumi and Ever, my superhero title. The first issue is actually entirely wordless as they battle an evil character and destroy a city, leaving Ever as the sole survivor where he meets Yumi who is actually a sleeper agent. I really only sell that comic at conventions because I write, draw print and bind it myself between my other work.
Because of current spotlight on diversity in comics, do people ever think you're new?
Oh. All the time. I'm considered a "brand new artist" at every convention I go to. People have no idea. And why would they really?
What’s one piece of advice that you would tell your younger self trying to break into the business?
That's a tough one. It's not that I did everything right the first time around, it's that I did what I had to do. It just plain hadn't been done before so I was groping in the dark with an absolute belief that had to be straddling the line of a pathology. If I could tell myself anything it would be not to be so shy. I see so many others who are able to like and promote themselves. I can't do that. I'm nothing but the work so I always feel insignificant because you can never work long enough or be good enough. You stay in a perpetual state of unworthiness and poverty. This me would beg that me to think about the woman behind the art once in a while.