LaRoque: Quick on the draw

The Baltimore Sun

Greg LaRoque, born in Baltimore and a resident in this area for all but eight of his 54 years, has been a top comic-book illustrator for a quarter-century. Name any DC or Marvel superheroes who've become movie or TV heroes and sure enough, he's drawn them: mega-stars like Batman, Spider-Man and The Flash, as well as Daredevil and Ghost Rider.

Several popular revampings of beloved comic-book icons came from LaRoque's hand. He illustrated the first issue of Web of Spider-Man: It contained the plotline about the shape-shifting black suit (actually an alien) that eventually became Venom and entered Spider-Man 3 right up to its climax in a bell tower.

LaRoque had one of his longest runs on The Flash -- his popular six-issue arc, Flash: The Return of Barry Allen, remains in print as a paperback.

And his time on The Flash has led to a job on a four-issue miniseries based on another super-speedy character: Velocity, a voluptuous yet still aerodynamic woman introduced as part of the Cyberforce superhero team back in the 1990s.

As he readies himself for Velocity, LaRoque will be giving lessons on illustration at a local comic shop, Super Villains Inc. at 4134 E. Joppa Road. He lives in Baltimore County with his wife, Rosario, his daughter, Charisse, and two sons, Justin and Ben. As he spoke about his experience on The Flash and ideas that might influence Velocity, he suggested how creative struggle turns comic-book illustration into art.

IN HIS WORDS --Velocity is a genetically engineered person who was subjected against her will to experiments that gave her super-speed. But she's actually a happy-go-lucky character, and now she's branching out on her own. Ever since Stan Lee's Marvel revolution, everyone expects superheroes to have angst and drama and personal problems, but if she had issues to deal with, it was mostly because of the identity Velocity had within Cyberforce -- her place within the team. She's already had one solo miniseries, and it may be that with this new one they're looking to expand on the more personal parts of her character.

THE FLASH'S LONG SHADOW --Here's the interesting thing: Right in the first e-mail, [top editor] Rob Levin told me that one reason he considered me for Velocity was that I drew The Flash and had experience with super-speed tricks and effects. Comic books are told in continuity, in panel sequences; the challenge is, how do you interpret super-speed in a static format? Rob knows it's trickier than most people perceive.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS --I did The Flash for about five years, 60-plus issues. And ... I would sometimes bang my head against the wall with things that were written and how they interpreted super-speed.

I never drew Flash as if he were running and taking steps, I drew him as if he were on ice and skating -- my theory was that at super-speed, he was propelling off his feet, for hundreds of feet. ...

But the way he had been presented over the years was taking a step every five seconds, so my ideas were often shot down. What you experience ... [is] very frustrating for someone who wants to put his signature on a character.

THEORIES ON SUPER-SPEED --One of my ideas was that the energy produced by The Flash could give him amazing things to do, as far as friction. We should have been expanding on what he could do with, say, sonic boom. ...

Now, I didn't want fantastic rays flying out his hand, but all the heat and energy he generated should have had an effect on the environment around him. All [The Flash] would have to do is snap his fingers at super-speed, and the sonic boom created by that would shatter walls. The heat he would be able to generate if he found a way to direct it would also be an enormous power, but it was never explored.

There have been stories about the inner vibrations that allow him to pass through walls, and if [The Flash] found a way to direct those through practice, that would also be a source of enormous powers. Showing him gathering and developing that kind of talent has never been done. I think of it as the martial-arts concept of channeling ... "chi."

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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