Laura Pérez, the woman who brings New York buildings to life in ‘Only Murders in the Building’

7 minutes
Written by: Marina López

The Spanish artist is the hand that wields the pencil in all the illustrations that appear in the Disney+ series

On July 17th, 2022 Laura Pérez got out of bed just as she did every other day. I don’t know if she had more trouble waking up on that day than any other day of the week because the stifling summer heat had kept her awake. If she put her hair in a messy bun before pouring herself a coffee or a green tea. Or if she listened to Pink Floyd, Caribou ou Sébastien Tellier a en prenant le chemin de la salle de bain.

What I do know is that she grabbed her tablet in order to start working on her pending jobs. That she opened Twitter to disconnect a bit and that she was met with an avalanche of notifications. She’d been nominated at the 74th Emmy Awards for Outstanding Main Title Design for ‘Only Murders in the Building’, the Disney + series she’d been working on for the last few years. 

It wouldn’t be the first award to grace her bookshelf: in 2020 she won the Spanish National Radio Comic Critic’s Eye Award in 2020 for ‘Ocultos’. In 2018, the National Comic Contest at the Biblioteca Insular of Gran Canaria, for ‘Juega’. 2016 was the year of the IX Fnac Salamandra Graphic Prize for ‘Náufragos’, and the list goes on. 

We chatted to her following this latest nomination and she tells us, with the humility so characteristic of people who carry the weight of being the best in their field, that there is ‘a certain stigma towards comics’. She says she decided to work in illustration because she never, ever stopped drawing, and tells us that she has a little notebook in which she takes notes: ‘So that when I’m a little lost I go back to these notes and something always sparks from there’.

You’ve worked in agencies, collaborated with media such as The Washington Post and National Geographic, and also in the publishing world, with your own books ‘Totem’ and ‘Ocultos’; do you think that graphic novels and comics are somewhat of a marginal genre in literature? 

Yes, there is a certain stigma towards this genre. In countries like Belgium or France, for example, it’s different. There is another culture of avant dessinée. They read comics from a very young age. In Spain, it’s more stigmatized because it’s associated with young audiences, which is wrong because many of these books aren’t just aimed at young people. 

In fact, there are all kinds of stories. I think that in the last few years there has been a turning point that has meant that as authors begin to tell stories with more adult themes, more people feel identified and inspired to tell stories that they hadn’t thought could be told in this genre.

I think that the prism is changing progressively and that little by little people will see comics and storytelling in a different light  

From the world of graphic novels and comics you’ve made the leap to audiovisual with ‘Only Murders in the Building’. I understand it’s the first time you’ve illustrated title credits, is the creative process very different?

Yes, it’s completely different. There are two basic ways of making comics: one, in which you have a story you want to tell and you rack your brains for a while to develop the script and give it the necessary coherence so that it takes the form of a book, through vignettes. You take care of everything. And another one, in which another person works with you on the book, either scripting it or drawing it.

However, audiovisual work involves more people. With the credits of ‘Only Murders in the Building’, there were about 6 of us, between director, animators, effects, etc.  

The dynamic is also different; they give you guidelines and you are subject to what other people need

Who would you say have been your role models? What inspires you?

It’s very varied. More than role models as such, I look at concepts. I take a lot from the world of cinema; I study the color palettes of Wes Anderson, for example, and many other filmmakers. I also look at silent films. By watching the classics, you learn to narrate visually without saying anything. I love cinema; it always gets me racking my brain to understand where each shot comes from. Hitchcock, Kubrick, Bergman, and so on. 

Literature, too: I take notes in a little notebook. What I read nourishes me with ideas. Literature influences me a lot and helps me to imagine things. If you take notes they can quickly translate into a visual image.

Comic books are a great source of inspiration; there are lots of authors I like. As well as visits to museums. All kinds of museums. Because they give value to the image itself and invite you to make your own reflection. I think it influences me quite a lot when it comes to creating symbolism. So do masks and ancient figures. And then the music, which emphasizes the altered state of consciousness.

I’ve read that Lisa Bolan, from Elastic studio, who are responsible for the credits for series like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Politician’, got in touch with you because of a drawing you uploaded to social media and you had discarded for ‘Totem’. How was that experience?

Unbelievable. I met Lisa in Los Angeles 7 years ago and the opportunity came up a while later. The work dynamic was such that I would draw, and then my colleagues would generate the digital architecture to bring it to life. All of that was orchestrated by Lisa, who was the one who had the ideas. 

It’s wonderful to have someone at the helm who is in control, with great taste and a wonderful sense of aesthetics and dynamics. You know that whatever you do, she’s going to put her spin on it, and that gives you absolute peace of mind. With Lisa everything blossoms and it was such a pleasure to work with her. She brings out the best in everyone. She has a great eye.  

In addition to doing the credits, you also do Mabel’s sketches; how did this come about?

Jess Rosenthal, the producer, got in touch at the same time that Elastic Studio did. He told me that one of the characters, Mabel (Selena Gomez), was an artist and that they thought her drawings should be in the same vein as the credits. That’s how it happened. 

In the first season, there was a lot more work than in this last one, but it’s been really cool. At first, there was talk of sending the illustrations by post, but I work with an iPad, specifically with the ProCreate program, so Mabel also draws with a tablet in the series.

Because of the pandemic, I couldn’t be there in person, and they were sending me photos from filming of how she was drawing, of the arrangement of the objects, etc, and based on these images I created the illustrations. 

I also drew the mural in Mabel’s house. In fact, when I saw the series I noticed that there had been some changes. Because I couldn’t be there, another colleague painted the mural with a brush and there are details, like some eyes and eyebrows, which are different (laughs).

I also read that for the credits you were inspired by the cover of the New Yorker magazine and the great Saul Bass; would you say that they also have a hint of some of your other works?

Yes, there are a lot of elements that are related. I was making my comics at the time. So, they developed in parallel, and, while I was working on the series, I was creating ‘Totem’, as well as working on the commissions I had.

I study the color palettes of Wes Anderson, for example, and many other filmmakers

You’ve also been working on a new book ‘Espanto’; what does this adventure have in store for us?

Espanto is the simplest book I’ve ever done. It all started with ‘Ocultos’, because I wanted to publish my first comic book that was fully created by me. The previous one had been ‘Náufragos’ and that was a joint effort between myself and Pablo Monforte. 

There are images in ‘Ocultos’ in black and white: more evocative, simple, and conceptual. When creating the book there was a mixture of color stories and some images that didn’t really match. I thought doing a book all in black and white would be really cool. 

While I was working on the series, books, commissions, etc, and I wasn’t thinking about making another book, I was drawing in black and white just to relax and disconnect. And I would upload those illustrations to Instagram, so I wouldn’t forget about them. They became very popular online. 

I kept making more and when I saw that I had about 40, I wrote to the publisher Astiberri to give it shape. I didn’t know how to do it because the idea wasn’t a comic book, it was a compilation of illustrations where strangeness is the common thread. They really liked the idea. I’m very excited to publish it and the process was such a breeze. Publishing a book without a certain amount of suffering is practically unheard of.

Have you seen the latest season of ‘Only Murders in the Building’ yet? Let us know what you thought in the comments. 

Marina López
Marina López
Writing works as a fight against chaos. Virginie Despentes
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