DCN Exclusive Interview: Álvaro Martínez Bueno – ‘The Nice House On The Lake’ Artist

by Steve J. Ray
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Álvaro Martínez Bueno is one of the most talented, original, and absolutely lovely people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and talking to. His style is unique, instantly recognizable, and gorgeous to look at.

This interview was something I’ve been looking forward to publishing for a couple of months, ever since sitting down with the artist back in November, at the astounding Thought Bubble UK Comic Convention.

I’ve been fortunate enough to review his work on Detective Comics and Justice League Dark for our sister site, Dark Knight News, and the stunning The Nice House On The Lake, for DC Comics News.

WARNING! This interview has HUGE spoilers for
The Nice House On The Lake issues #1-#6.
If you haven’t read them, do yourself a favor;
track them down, buy them/download them,
and devour them. The collected edition
will be released on March 1st, the
same day as issue #7 (volume 2 issue #1).

Álvaro Martínez Bueno

Steve J. Ray: The Nice House On The Lake… wow. I’ve said in my reviews…

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Which I’ve read. Thank you.

SJR: Thank you… that there are pages in this series where the collaboration between you, color artist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer, Deron Bennett (AndWorld design) is almost symbiotic, to the point where I don’t know who did what. The web pages/real estate pages of the house, the emails, chat threads, and conversation transcript pages, for example. It feels like the three of you, and James (Tynion) really are four people working as one.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: It’s actually really interesting, because the four of us probably talk to each other a lot less than you might think, or than we’d actually like. Everyone can see the scripts, everyone can see my layouts, so we’re all on the same page – quite literally. When I’ve finished my part, I don’t have to say anything to Jordie, she works her magic, returns her pages – which are always incredible – then Deron does his lettering over it all.

Apart from tiny changes; a hand that’s maybe been colored as a glove when it should’ve been bare flesh, for example, there’s rarely ever anything that ever needs fixing. We have an almost alchemical rapport and relationship. That’s the reason everything flows so smoothly, and we work together so well.

A series like this one depends on relationships like that because it’s so different; all the inserts, the text pages, the emails… those things working demanded a creative team that was united. Thank goodness, that’s exactly what we got. We have a team that’s so talented, yet so humble, that whenever things aren’t exactly right, we all know to fix them and make each other look better. There’s no ego here, which isn’t that common. We all work to put out the very best comic we can, and that makes all of us look great.

Without all that, this series wouldn’t be what it is.

The Housemates as teenagers by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

The Housemates as teenagers, by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

SJR: I was so used to seeing your art inked by Raül (Fernandez Fonts) that when I saw TNHOTL #1, the change was incredible. Seeing you ink your own work was one thing… but it’s more than that. It feels like you’ve darkened your style, and adapted it to be more “real” I guess, and less “comic book”. We’re now getting psychological horror, grounded in a real-world setting; cluttered bedrooms, books, characters sitting on the floor. I saw my college years, my friendships. I saw my own life.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: That’s so great to hear. The change of style also owes a lot because of the change to creating the art digitally, instead of it being hand-drawn.

SJR: What?!?

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: (laughs) I can’t draw the same way digitally as I would traditionally. It’s impossible. Back when I worked with Raül I had to make my pencils a lot more detailed, so he could work a lot more easily on them. He might argue that this made him work a lot harder because I really made them very, very, detailed… but they had to be, so he didn’t need to guess about, or re-interpret anything, just work his magic and add the final layers of depth and texture to make the art print-ready.

TNHOTL2 layouts by Álvaro Martínez Bueno pages 8-9

TNHOTL2 pages 8-9 layouts, by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

When I’m inking my own work, I don’t have to be so meticulous with the pencils or make every character or background detail so intricate, because I can finish it all myself. I can fix issues like shadows and contrast with a thick brushstroke, or a bit of digital ink… I can permit myself a few more little luxuries. I also tried brand new things, because I could.

I had to rethink the way I do things, but it’s really brought to light and re-educated me on my art, and who I am as an artist. I had to try new things and grow, and this book gave me that opportunity. It’s also allowed me to give a little more of myself and my personality. You know that I like to add little things to the art, touches, personal Easter eggs…

SJR: Dabuten…

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: (Laughs) Exactly… small touches that let you enjoy and experience the work on different levels… if you want to take the time to do so. This series gave me the perfect opportunity because it’s set in the “real world” so to speak, so I could put in little nods and winks, to things I love or enjoy. I’d add even more, but this is still a DC book so the legal team had to… shall I say “guide me?” a little.

Character designs by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

Character designs, by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

SJR: I knew it! I saw Watchmen and other DC books on the shelves with their correct titles, but Love & Rockets

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: “Love & Explosives” (We both laugh). There were a lot more examples of this than you might think. The script said that Walter made a library for the housemates, filled with all their favorite books, comics, etc… so I had the thought of asking the whole team what their favorites were; Jordie, Chris (Conroy – series editor), James… for their favorite books, plus any that they thought should be there, and some that would make sense to be there in relation to the story we were telling. They gave me their lists and I put them on the shelves. So those are all books the whole creative team curated for the library.

That’s part of the whole process that I absolutely loved, so it’s quite sad that legally I wasn’t allowed the name some of the actual books or creators we all thought deserved to be.

SJR: I know that sometimes with a limited series artists may have the scripts for multiple issues. Did you have all six scripts, or did you get them one at a time?

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Ha! All six? If only.

Living room design by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

Living room design, by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

SJR: So you went through the same emotions the readers did. People in a house? Nice. Idyllic location? Sweet. The world destroyed?!? WTF! Everything you could ever need, but no family, no loved ones, just a group of people; some you know quite well, some just barely, and others only by name.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Yes! Everything you could ever want to eat, drink, watch, read, listen to… but no love, no family. Everything you could ever wish for materially, but without the emotional connection, love, or any of the other things that really make life worth living, or give it real meaning.

In many ways, it’s just like the Covid years. Everyone’s been isolated, separated from their loved ones, and stuck in their own tiny bubble. It’s hard. I haven’t been able to see my parents, you haven’t been able to go to Spain, and millions of people all over the world are suffering the same thing. We couldn’t even meet on the street, or have a meal together… all things that give life meaning. This may look like paradise, but it really isn’t.

So, yeah… I get one script per month. I know what’s happening, more or less, I do know how it all ends… but how we get there…

Model sheet by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

Model sheet, by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

SJR: So in many ways, you’re reading it just like the fans are.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Yes. James manages to surprise me, just like he does the fans, with every new issue. Issue #6 blew my mind.

SJR: The final chapter of volume one.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Yes, which thankfully gives us a cushion of time, both to recharge slightly and to get ahead of the game for March, when the collected edition and the first issue of volume two are released.

SJR: The end of issue four gave me chills.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Terrifying. It’s like we said; on the surface, this house and everything in it are a dream come true. You see people writing lists for what they want, and they get all of it. Once they know the truth, though, they ask for razors to try to escape by taking their own lives, and they can’t even do that! There’s no escape, even in death, because they’re not allowed to die.

SJR: So many crave or wish for immortality, but without love, and like you said, the things that give life true meaning, immortality is just endless, living hell.

The entrance to The Nice House On The Lake by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

The entrance to The Nice House On The Lake, by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Spine chilling. It’s one of the greatest moments in the series, without a doubt. Not just that they can’t die, but the way they find out. Not just the physical horror, but the psychological side. Something that James is so good at.

SJR: This comic really is special. Like any great film or piece of literature… even once it’s ended, or you put it down, it stays in your head. The Nice House On The Lake does that too. It resonates. That’s got to be rewarding for all of you, right?

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: It really is. I enjoy reading it and feel the same way. Just like our readers, I get those sensations and feel that same horror. I’m lucky enough to be one of the very first people to read these stories, but I feel it the exact same way as all the fans. That’s incredible… but then I have to draw it all.

SJR: Yeah, we get to enjoy that part.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: It’s a great feeling. I’m a comics fan and I feel the emotions everyone else does. That makes me feel closer to the audience, particularly when I get to meet you all. When people come to my table, and tell me what they felt, how they’re enjoying the story. How things scare them, make them laugh, or cry. It makes the work easier and makes me feel like I’m one of you. When people say they can’t wait for the next issue, I’m exactly the same! That part’s very rewarding.

B&W digital art by Álvaro Martínez Bueno side by side with finished page with colors by Jordie Bellaire and letters by Deron Bennett

B&W digital art by Álvaro Martínez Bueno, side by side with finished page, with colors by Jordie Bellaire and letters by Deron Bennett

SJR: I have to be honest. I thought the change in art style was purely down to you inking yourself and the fact that this is a horror comic and not a superhero book. The fact you’ve done it all digitally is a huge surprise. I honestly didn’t know.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Yes! I tried so hard! I really did everything I could to make it look as much like traditional pencils and inks as I could. I didn’t know if I’d totally pulled it off.

SJR: You did.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: There are so many artists I love who work completely digitally, and it was a real adjustment for me. I really love them and their work but didn’t know if I could do it myself. I still can’t achieve the beautiful, polished look that some of them do.

SJR: I humbly disagree… but for something like TNHOTL, I don’t think that style would even work.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Thank you. I came to the same conclusion, and if I’d continued down that road I would’ve ended up fighting and possibly sabotaging myself at the same time. So, I decided to go with my instincts and tried to make it look as hand-drawn as possible. I said let’s just go for it, and see what happens. What you have is what came out of that.

SJR: That leads me to your collaboration with James Tynion IV. When I first came across your work it was Batman: Eternal, which was co-written by James. Then Detective Comics, and Justice League Dark, also written by James… and now, The Nice House On The Lake. You’re clearly friends, as well as colleagues. That must form part of the symbiosis we talked about earlier?

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Absolutely, though I wish we got to actually see each other more. Different continents, a pandemic… those things made that harder. Thought Bubble’s the most time we’ve spent together in years! On a professional level, it’s an idyllic relationship. It’s the same on the personal side of things, but James is also a busy guy, a really busy guy…

SJR: No… really? (Laughing)

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Yeah, he writes a couple of other things too. The great thing is, as you said, over the years we’ve developed our own way of working and there’s a connection where we just know what each other’s thinking. Sometimes we don’t even need to talk or put it into words. We just know, it’s second nature. That’s invaluable, it’s priceless. If I was doing a great job on something, but working with someone where there was no trust, freedom, or understanding, I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t want to. So, I would definitely like the relationship to continue, and to last.

External view of The Nice House On The Lake, by Álvaro Martínez Bueno

SJR: In our last interview, back when you were both working on Detective Comics,  you talked about James’ scripts; their depth, layers, and complexity. Back then you said that after a certain amount of time the trust and the working relationship grew. Because of that, your storytelling was allowed to develop to the point where the scripts didn’t have to be so rigid and that you got the freedom to pace and develop action sequences and fight scenes yourself. Has that grown further with TNHOTL?

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: You’ve read the series, so you know that James’ scripts have a ton of character interaction and dialogue. That’s a lot of pressure for a writer, especially with a cast as big as the one in this story. This means that a lot of the characters’ expressions, the storytelling, and character “acting” can be left to me because that’s the easiest and most organic way to share the workload more evenly.

This means that he can describe the scene, how he wants it to go, and who’s in it, but the emotion and interaction that fits the conversations are left to me to realize with the art. So, I could get a script with a scene that has to make up a double-page spread, made up of 15 panels, with 8 people talking. One character, then another, then a third, and back to the first… it’s my job to make the dialogue and story flow, but in a way that isn’t just pages full of talking heads. It needs to be appealing and fun to draw, and also interesting and stimulating to look at.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: This can be done by making the characters stand, pick something up, move around the room… these are all things that I’ve tried to bring into the book with the intention of making long conversations more than just faces spouting dialogue on a page. I know that James is very aware and very conscious of that; he wants to write great comics, just as I want to draw them. That’s how we’ve come to that state of equilibrium, in an attempt to complement each other’s strengths.

SJR: I also remember you saying that something you didn’t really enjoy much was drawing double-page spreads. TNHOTL, well… you know where I’m going with this.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Ha! James loves double-page spreads. He’s crazy about them. He seems to live for them! I have to admit, though… they work. I think you’d need to ask him why he uses them and loves them so much, that’s more of a question for James.

SJR: Does he know you don’t like them?

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: The crazy thing is that now I know how and why they work, I’m actually learning to like them… as long as there aren’t seven or eight in a single issue! They’re a lot more demanding for an artist, in terms of structuring and page composition.

The wonderful thing about James is that if I tell him I think a particular spread would work better as single pages, he’ll listen. There’s no hierarchy or ego. He’s a very generous and open writer, not precious or the kind of person who says, “It’s my way or the highway”. That’s another great thing about working with him. Of course, if they do work better as double-page spreads, then that’s how I draw them.

SJR: I’ve always maintained that there’s no other art form that demands the kind of teamwork and collaboration that comics do. Not movies, not the stage… nothing. You need to have that kind of open-door policy.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: Totally. With a play or a film, there are units, front stage, backstage, actors, music. It’s almost more like a military operation. In those mediums, you can also shoot out of sequence, rewrite, re-record. With comics, it’s definitely a smaller team, and more close-knit, but there’s also a strict order of doing things. Script, pencils, inks, colors, letters… that’s the order, and it can’t be changed. Sure, there can be minor edits or corrections, but you can’t letter a comic and draw around the speech balloons. It’s a chain and a straight line, so it has to work and flow. That means collaboration is an absolute necessity. If the chain breaks, it’s a lot more evident in comics.

SJR: So, we know that you’re getting a bit of rest and then setting up volume two ready for the March release, but do you have anything else in the works, or any other projects coming up that you can talk about?

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: The Nice House On The Lake is my sole focus. As you can imagine it’s a lot of work, particularly as it’s layouts, pencils, and inks. It’s a project that I both want and need to put all my energy into. For now, there are six more issues to create, and then we’ll see what the future brings.

Layouts, side-by-side with finished line-art from TNHOTL #1

SJR: In that case, there’s just one more item on my agenda, and I don’t know whether to thank you or scream at you…

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: I thought we were friends.

SJR: We’ll see. Friends and colleagues who’ve read and enjoyed TNHOTL have started calling me Walter…

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: (After taking a good look at me laughs out loud) Oh, God… I can totally see it. Yes. Oh, I’m so sorry. Particularly with the new glasses, you didn’t have those before. If you changed them… oh, wow. That’s so funny. Go for round ones, or star-shaped. Go for a Harry Potter, or Elton John look.

SJR: I can promise you that my face won’t melt or turn into smoke, and I won’t destroy the planet. Instead, we’ll close with me saying that I can’t wait for volume two and that it’s been a joy talking to you.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno: It’s been great to finally meet you in person after all these years. Thanks to all the readers and fans for all the encouragement and support, it makes doing what we do possible, and so much more rewarding.

Álvaro Martínez Bueno is an incredibly talented artist and a phenomenal person. This interview was a long time coming, and a joy to conduct.

The collected edition of The Nice House On The Lake, and the first issue of volume two of the series, are currently scheduled for release on March 1st, 2022.

I cannot wait.

Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment, and Álvaro Martínez Bueno from his own files and archives.

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