The fact that the Aquaman movie is getting such good buzz speaks well not only for its director James Wan but to DC Comics creators Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis, whose work Wan often turned to for inspiration during filming. Earlier this year, Wan told SYFY WIRE that he was heavily influenced by the New 52 run of Aquaman, using ideas from the series for Aquaman’s armor and the look of Atlantis. Wan also brought Reis aboard to help the film with visual development and concept art.
Since his start at DC in 2004, Reis has helped spearhead some of the comic company’s major events like Blackest Night, Rebirth, and Infinite Crisis, and he's worked on dozens of books including Justice League, Superman and Wonder Woman. A multi-talented artist, designer, writer, and storyteller, Reis spoke with SYFY WIRE this week about working within the DCEU, his Aquaman artwork, and why everyone should go see the new movie.
Tell me about what kind of research you did ahead of the New 52 Aquaman reboot. Did you go back and read any specific comic books for inspiration or did you have something already in mind for Aquaman?
Before I started work on the Aquaman series, I had the opportunity to work with the character on the Geoff Johns’ Blackest Night and Brightest Day books. I noticed that [Aquaman] had a very powerful visual sense and one of the most beautiful universes in comic books. But at that moment, he was seen as a joke, riding seahorses and talking with the fishes. I believed we could change that and Geoff found the right story to tell.
We wanted to change the way the audience sees him and make him a viable hero with a viable mythology. We wanted to take the classic uniform to the next level, make it modern but also beautiful. Gold armor because he’s a king, a hero king. I also referenced classic stories to pay homage to what came before.
What does it mean to you that James Wan brought you in to consult for the art on this movie?
The fact that Paul Pelletier’s art and mine was referenced for the movie — it meant a lot. All of this is more than I thought that could be possible. When I was drawing the comic I never imagined it would be a big movie. Now that I see the influence of my art on the big screen, it’s something I will remember all my life. I have to thank James Wan and Geoff Johns for this opportunity.
When I had the opportunity to talk to Geoff about Atlantis before the book came out I thought about vertical Atlantis, fixed in the rocks. A lot of the time when you see an underwater city, it’s pictured as a dome. It was really cool to see that concept used on screen and I’m very happy.
Let's talk about Aquaman's character design for the new movie: What challenges did you face in helping design his suit?
Aquaman’s movie design follows the comics very closely, which is what I tried to do as well. My biggest contribution to the classic green and orange uniform was the idea that it was armor. I thought the idea of the gold and green armor would be great for the comic book page. It could shine and be bright. In different sunlights, it could reflect and produce that classic tone of yellow. I’m happy they picked that up that direction and worked it into the movie.
What's it like seeing your designs on screen?
The respect and care for the details and world we built in the comics was incredible. I feel like a 13-year-old kid. I’m simply honored. C’mon, I got to see the trench, something I created with Geoff and Joe Prado. It was unreal. I feel like a kid.
Aquaman lives in two worlds, in the ocean and on earth. The ocean serves a few different purposes in that it’s able to host different stories and bring up different questions about the problems of the planet, including environmental issues which are very important. He also lives with Mera, one of the most powerful women in the DC Universe. It’s amazing and fun reading about them and seeing their relationship unfold. It’s quite different from Lois and Clark for example, because Mera doesn’t need to be saved. They’re there to watch over each other and I think that’s lovely.
You've worked on Justice League, Superman, and a ton of other DC projects. What keeps you coming back to these characters?
I remember the happiness I had reading comics as a kid when I would come across new stories or just seeing the art of my favorite artists. I created a new world in my mind and harnessing this kind of energy is what keeps me moving. In some ways, I think it helps a new generation of artists and fans with their own worlds, while keeping the DC Universe moving forward.
Can you tell me a bit about your history as an artist growing up in Brazil. When did you first read comics or have superheroes pop up on your radar? Was being a comic book artist always something you wanted to do?
Since I was just two years old, I’ve had comic books around thanks to my father who would bring them home. I grew up with superheroes and I never had a Plan B for my life. I always thought I would be an artist. In Brazil there weren’t many options for artists. I started drawing horror stories and cartoons for kids. When I was 19, I had a chance to draw American comics and thanks to the internet I could connect with different writers. I owe everything i have to American comics because they’ve given me the opportunity to live my dream.
Having worked on the movie, what are some of the things that set this movie apart from previous DC films? It already seems more fun, colorful and adventurous from the trailer.
This movie is bringing something new and fresh to this universe and to superhero movies in general. The scale of the story and the crazy designs are something we’ve never seen before. Everything around Aquaman is unique and beautiful. Underwater, everything can be a surprise. This movie gives you enough to explore your imagination, it’s a different world and experience. I’m sure everyone will love Aquaman.