Master of Comics: Whilce Portacio

By Mark Avo

To the co-founder of Image Comics and 30-year veteran of the comicbook industry Whilce Portacio, having “trolls” is a good thing. During the “Masters of Comics” panel at Salt Lake Comic Con 2014, Whilce imparted a truth on each member of the audience: he told everyone that the trolls are a very real thing now; they’re not just creatures from stories that live under bridges. Having someone troll you, Whilce would tell the crowd, means that people are paying attention to your work.

According to Mr. Portacio, an “Internet troll” is someone who craves the limelight and will harass only if it results in attention for him or herself. Whilce is a creator with a storied history who wants to teach and is ready to see what the next generation is bringing to the world of storytelling and illustration.

When Whilce started in the comicbook industry 30 years ago, the industry wasn’t exactly a well-known job and wasn’t seen as a career people could do for a living. Whilce went ahead and followed his passion anyway and would go on to have an incredible career.

Mr. Portacio was attracted to comics because of the stylized redesigns “uncle” Neal Adams brought to comicbooks from the commercial art space and because of the visual imagination of Jack “The King of Comics” Kirby.

Whilce said that Neal Adams brought the “extraordinary” to comics. Adams insisted that a medium that had gained a stigma for being only for children was, instead, a medium to tell stories to people from all walks of life. Whilce was inspired by the way that Adams fought for artists’ rights and helped to create a healthy comicbook industry. Whilce and fellow Marvel Comics artists of the ‘90s would eventually build upon that industry and, ultimately, change it forever.

Whilce told an enthralled crowd that Jack Kirby’s art opened up the doors of imagination to a generation of storytellers both in and out of the comicbook medium. Kirby was the king of fun and action, but never violence. Kirby taught the world “iconification” and his model of storytelling influences all forms of sequential art to this day.

Whilce broke into “Uncanny X-Men” through his work on “The Punisher” by playing by his own rules. He would quietly suggest to editors that he was the right guy to draw the X-Men through talent and trickery. Every art board he would turn in – because art boards were physically shipped to editors at the time – would have the assigned “Punisher” panels on the front and intricate “X-Men” illustrations of Wolverine and the other Marvel mutants on the back. The result was not a page of panels an editor would look at, rather a spectacular picture on the back of the board that assistant editors would not stop talking about.

Soon after “The Punisher,” he was placed on the lead “X-Men” book. During his first week as the penciler for “Uncanny X-Men,” Whilce was approached to create a new character that would ruffle the feathers of the other team members. So, together with John Byrne and Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio created the character of Bishop.

Bishop was a super-powered mutant from the future sent to the past to save the X-Men from a traitor. Bishop’s strength challenged that of Colossus, but he also had a softer side which was displayed by the crush he had on his team leader, Storm. Bishop added the perfect amount of drama. He was exactly what the editors wanted, still has a huge fan following and is still ruffling feathers in the Marvel Universe today.

Artists at Marvel Comics in the early ‘90s realized that their art was what was driving comicbook sales. They would create ashcan comics – small art proofs – and give them away at conventions, only to later find the same books selling for up to $100 dollars. They all realized at that point that they could draw anything, anywhere and their fans would follow them. It was then that Whilce, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, Marc Silvestri and Rob Liefeld broke off from Marvel Comics and created Image Comics.

The seven co-founders of Image Comics shook the comics industry and are, in a very real way, partly responsible for the huge surge of independent comics and unique storytelling going on today. Many popular books and TV shows, such as “The Walking Dead,” owe their lineage to creators like Whilce.

Even with so much success, Whilce was not one to rest on his laurels. Shortly after founding Image, Whilce used his childhood memories of growing up on Midway Island as a Navy brat on his creator-owned title at Image called “Wetworks.” Over the next decade, he would go on to have great success on his own with his other creator-owned titles like “Stone” and “Non-Humans.”

Today, Whilce still returns to write or draw the occasional book over at Marvel or DC Comics. He told the crowd that even with 30 years in the industry he will not rest and that he will continue to create and to teach the next generation of comicbook greats.

Whilce Portacio is a passionate creator with a love for teaching and exuberance for the future storytellers. He stressed that there has never been a better time for artists to create than now and encouraged every audience member to draw, to write and to create art. The secret to creation, he said, is that the creation has to work inside itself. That’s a way of saying that an artist has to believe in their art and put their experiences, their passions and their hard work and grit into everything they do.

Mark Avo is an Official Salt Lake Comic Con Blogger. Check out his work on Twitter and!

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