SDCC 2016: K. Zachopoulos & V. Balzano Talk About The Cloud, Working With Archaia

Cornelia Tzana ’17/Emertainment Monthly Executive Comic Books Editor
It is by pure lack that the two talented creators of Archaia’s The Cloud  found each other. Kostas Zachopoulos and Vincenzo Balzano tell the story of a boy and his winged wolf who chase the sun through a dying, poisoned world to find a mythical, forgotten object: a wish. The Cloud is a beautifully illustrated dreamy and otherworldly adventure about loss, love and sacrifice.
Emertainment Monthly talked to the creators of The Cloud at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con about the making of the story and art, their unexpected partnership and the mix of European, American and Japanese works that inspire them.
Emertainment Monthly: The Cloud was absolutely gorgeous both visually and in terms of the writing. How did you get into writing for comics and illustration respectively?
Kostas Zachopoulos: I think I was introduced by Vasilis Gogtzilas, a very famous artists from Thessaloniki, Greece. He’s my mentor. He’s the one that taught me the secrets of narration. I had the amazing luck of working with him for several years. We did some work for Image and Markosia, the British publisher. I went on working alone for Markosia and then I had this new idea. I had been searching for a new artist and it was pure luck that I found Vincenzo online. The last two years we worked together every day and met in person three days ago in Frankfurt, because we both live in Germany.
Vincenzo Balzano: I would graffiti and color the wall in my room and my mom was not happy! But I was. And I kept doing it. Later, in university I found many artists like  Bill Sienkiewicz, Kent Williams and Ashley Wood and I changed style. I started painting with oils and aquarelle. For this book I focused on work like Miyazaki’s as inspiration.
KZ: This book is the result of our mixed comic tradition. We come from Europe and the European comics exist in the back of our minds. Hugo Pratt, Manara, Moebius. They are a strange mixture with the American material that we love and we had the chance to read as children and adults. Also the Japanese creations that existed since we were young in Greece and in Italy. We had the chance to watch Nausicaa. I was eight years old. It rocked my world and changed me completely! It is amazing what these kinds of different pictures and ideas and stories can do to a child’s mind. We would like to create the same effect.

The Cloud artwork by Vincenzo Balzano. Image Credit: Archaia Entertainment.
The Cloud artwork by Vincenzo Balzano. Image Credit: Archaia Entertainment.
EM: How did you end up working with BOOM! Studios on The Cloud?
KZ: We started with the idea and we began evolving it, and when we had our sample ready we took the bold decision to send it only to Archaia, because we love their books. And then Rebecca Tailor, the editor. We sent everything by following the submission guidelines so we had no connection to the company on a personal level. So I really want to say for people who want to write books, who really like the work of Archaia and BOOM! Studios, go on! Go on, it works! So we got the OK and we began working.
EM: And how did you two find each other?
KZ: That was pure luck. We just found each other on Facebook. And for two years we were working together every day, talking every day.
VB: In the moment I was working for another book for marvel, Revenge.
EM: So how did the story come about?
KZ: I was truly and genuinely scared of flying and I am also scared of clouds because when you fly though them there is a lot of turbulence. So I was flying to New York for a convention four years ago. We were flying through the clouds, there was a lot of turbulence, and I was in continuous shock. And then we flew above the clouds and we saw the sun and we began following the sun. And I asked how would it be if someone would follow the sun? So that is how the sun chaser was born and then step by step new ideas gave birth to other ideas and we had the boy and the winged wolf. Then we began discussing with Vincenzo. He was sending me some original sketches after seeing the description, so for this reason we say that we are co-creators. Vincenzo creates amazing things, gives me amazing ideas, things that don’t exist in my brain. It’s amazing! And this is why we try to keep the procedure in this way. It’s beautiful as it is. Because you know a writer thinks with his words, an artist… I don’t know where they draw that inspiration, sometimes it’s scary. But it is wonderful. Because it has no boundaries.
VB: Kostas is the best writer. Kostas would send me two lines of writing but in those two lines I could see the world. I didn’t wait for the script to be definite. I would draw and then contact him saying “I have prepared this for you, is it ok?” And he would say “ok, send it to the editors!” Many pages in this book were created this way. For example, the disease. I created that before the script was finalized. It is a very freeing way of working. I would work on the story board and then Kostas would insert the dialogue.
KZ: We try to keep it so because we really have a chance to create something that has flow, that has groove, a story that is narrated through the images and not through the words. And what we promise our readers is that they will never read something that describes what they already see.
The Cloud artwork by Vincenzo Balzano. Image Credit: Archaia Entertainment.
The Cloud artwork by Vincenzo Balzano. Image Credit: Archaia Entertainment.
EM: The language is very poetic and metaphorical in many ways but that fits so well with the art style that has that a magic to it, the way it is painted. We never actually learn the names of the two protagonists, the boy and the girl. Why is that?
KZ: If we think that there is a world, and this world ends with the apocalypse, and thousands of years pass by, then we have some survivors that call their pasts the Great Before. They know almost nothing of it. People don’t have names, they don’t name themselves. This is a habit of the previous world that doesn’t belong to their own. They name their animals and this is why our winged wolf has a name, he is called The Cloud. Because humans don’t have names. They are afraid of giving names to themselves or their kids because they are afraid. The Cloud is a story about love, about loss, about self sacrifice. We don’t have the chance to be literal all the time. These are archetypal characters. They are archetypes of human behavior. It is the person that wants to change the past, and the person that wants to change the future. If somebody is in search of a rich character in this book, The Cloud is that rich character. The tragic figure of the mad king is a rich character. The boy and the girl, they are just like a coin, the two sides of the human nature.
EM: What materials do you use for the art? What is the process like?
VB: I use graphite, aquarelle, anything I have at my work station. I work on paper and then pass it onto the computer. I like working on paper because in the past I didn’t have a computer. In the academy I only worked by hand. The process is not the same every time. It changes for every moment in the script, every panel. I use the computer for changing colors and making the panels because it is very fast. And we are using many references.
KZ: Yes, we try to collect a lot of references. We search for images, for architectural monuments that we could use. Vincenzo tries to save some of the world monuments that are in danger. He has something amazing here.
VB: I really like the Mediterranean. [In the book] there is a temple from Libya. The situation in Libya is not good right now. It is not a good time for arts. Beautiful culture and architecture is lost in this moment. Same for Yemen. For the first city I reference Yemen. In this moment they are not in a good place and it is sad because it is a very beautiful country. They are losing their ancestral art. It is dreadful.
EM: How has your collaboration with Archaia been?
KZ: It is a very creative procedure, a very positive experience. Since the very beginning we wanted to show our work to Archaia because we are also fans of their stuff as readers. And it is amazing because the editors, and all the people who work for BOOM! Studios are very passionate. The people you don’t see in the books and you cannot imagine what a positive impact they had on our work. This is a huge thing because working with this kind of editors releases the most creative forces that someone has within them. We really trusts our editors and our publisher. They do their best. First and foremost they are comic book fans.They are readers.
EM: Any closing remarks?
KZ: We would like to say a huge thank you to BOOM! Studios and Archaia. A huge thank you to the people that work in the background so our book can come into the foreground. A huge thank you to the people that help us be better than we can. We are obliged. And also a huge thank you to every person that gives their hard earned money and time and comes and shakes our hand and gets a book. They make us really proud and very happy. It is amazing to share your creation with the rest of the world and see the world smiling.
The Cloud is published by Archaia Entertainment. You can read a preview of The Cloud below. See more of K. I. Zachopoulos’ work by visiting his website

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