Category Archives: Interviews

Fan Expo Interviews: Karli Woods

Fan Expo Toronto will be taking place this year between September 3rd and 6th, and Graphic Policy had the opportunity to talk with a few of their featured guests before the beginning of the convention.  Karli Woods will be attending the convention not only as a featured guest, a seminar presenter but also as a cosplayer.  She joined us to talk to us about what to expect.

Graphic Policy:  I think that a lot of people underestimate cosplay, thinking that cosplayers just pull on premade costumes.  Obviously it is not the case, as the costumes are usually self-fabricated by the dedicated cosplayers.  What is the creative process that you go through for costume design?  And how do you decide on a concept or theme?

gg_peach4Karli Woods:  Once I have decided on a new character to cosplay I draw up a quick sketch of the costume. I then go through my materials and see if there is anything left over I can use. Then I draft the pattern and figure out exact measurements and what fabrics, materials etc. I need to buy. Then I come home and sew! I usually give myself a month or so to complete a costume, just because I am so busy with keeping up to date with social media and filming for my YouTube Channel. I like to plan out a rough schedule of when I am going to start certain pieces, and have them finished by. It definitely helps to book a photo-shoot for the costume in advance. That way you have a deadline to work towards.

GP:  What skills do you consider to be most your most useful when creating a costume?

KW:  I have a couple really good friends who are super talented make-up artists, so I feel like they have definitely rubbed off on me a bit. I really do enjoy the hair and make-up process of cosplaying, so I have been filming quite a few make-up tutorials of my existing cosplays for my YouTube channel. It honestly makes such a difference, and completes the costume. Besides the hair and make-up I also really enjoy creating the accessories and weapons for costumes.

GP:  Are there any costumes that you made in the past that were very labor intensive but didn’t get noticed as much as you might have liked?

VelmaKW:  My battle armour Princess Peach cosplay was all made out of worbla and it was extremely labor intensive. This was only my second time working with the material. I want to re-do it when I get a chance now that I am more familiar with worbla.

GP:  Who do you think is a character that could catch on as a common cosplay costume?

KW:  It really just depends on the time and what’s popular. Elsa was super popular last year after Frozen came out, and I think we are going to see a lot more Harley Quinn cosplays this year because of Suicide Squad.

GP:  How come there are more Velma cosplayers than Daphne cosplayers?

KW:  I think people just are drawn to us nerds! Smart is sexy!

GP:  Are there any noteworthy people that you have met that you never thought you would have the chance to?

KW:  I have had some amazing opportunities to interview some incredibly talented people. A few that stand out to me are Stan Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, and Max Brooks.

IMG_0911-Edit8GP:  If you had to be trapped on a desert island with another cosplayer who would you choose?

KW:  Nicole Marie Jean because she would keep light of the situation and entertain me.

GP:  Tell us a about your featured costume for Fan Expo 2015.  It is Karli plus Harley to create Karli Quinn?

KW:  Yes that is correct. I like to name all of my costumes, and this one was very fitting. I am excited to wear this cosplay as I am really happy with the way it turned out. I love all the details I put into it!

GP:  What do you look forward to most at Toronto’s Fan Expo?

KW:  I love the FanExpo team! Toronto is also my hometown, so I am excited to see all my fellow Canadians.

Fan Expo Interviews: Robert Bailey

Fan Expo Toronto will be taking place this year between September 3rd and 6th, and Graphic Policy had the opportunity to talk with a few of their featured guests before the beginning of the convention.  Robert Bailey has had an amazing career in the art world, one which has taken him from oil paintings from the Second World War, to superheroes and Star Wars.  He joined us to talk about his career and what you can expect to see from his work.

Graphic Policy:  You have recently moved away from oil panting to pencil to do your art.  Do you find that it changes your approach to art, in what you choose to depict? Are there characters that better fit in one and not the other?
Robert Bailey:  I retired from oil painting about four years ago, due to a shift away from World War II subjects, and  because of market changes. I find pencil to be of course much faster and fluid. Large oil paintings can take up to a month, and a $25,000 painting is tough to sell. So the pencil drawings fit most budgets, being smaller and much quicker to do.
bailey004GP:  Are there any characters that after having worked on them, changed your appreciation of them?
RB:  The character I appreciate most from drawing her over and over again is Natalie Portman. I never tire of depicting her face in pencil. I would crawl ten miles over broken glass, just to kiss her feet.
GP:  Your favorite characters from Star Wars are C3P0 and Yoda.  What is it about these characters that are special for you?
RB:  C3PO and Yoda are opposites to depict. One being mechanical and the other living flesh. C3PO is very funny, and always amuses me when I am drawing him. Yoda is very quick and easy for me to draw, and he has many facial expressions. Fans love him, and he is the number one seller.
GP:  Do you have a favorite Star Wars movie?
bailey001RB:  My favorite Star Wars movie is The Empire Strikes Back. The Hoth battle scene really presses my buttons. Love it.
GP:  What is your impression of the next wave of Star Wars movies?
RB:  The next wave of Star Wars movies are very promising indeed, and I anticipate plenty of action. But of course this series is now fan driven, and they will decide if they are successful or not. But Disney appear to know what the fans want, and they will deliver.
GP:  The depiction of superheroes can be quite different from other art.  Does working with Marvel change your approach to the rest of your artwork?
bailey003RB:  Marvel….I don’t think that depicting their characters has changed my overall outlook on the other work I have done. Generally speaking, Avengers take longer to draw, because they are all human and faces and bodies slow me down, so three or four in one scene takes a while. Spiderman is the hardest to do….all that webbing. It can be discouraging.
GP:  The Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed both movies and comics.  Do you think that it is now as iconic for movie fans as Star Wars or Indiana Jones?
RB:  The Marvel Cinematic Universe…..well, there are enthusiastic fans of that, and many are Star Wars fans, too. But from what I have observed so far, both on the screen and with fans, is that Star Wars still rules. Of course, that could change. We will have to wait and see. Indiana Jones….well, it’s like Sean Connery is the original James Bond and Christopher Reeves is the original (well, almost original) Superman. I feel that subsequent actors playing an iconic character are battling uphill. Newer generations of fans are more accepting, but the old school prefer the original actors. That is what I have heard from fans.

Fan Expo Interviews: Craig Yeung

Fan Expo Toronto will be taking place this year between September 3rd and 6th, and Graphic Policy had the opportunity to talk with a few of their featured guests before the beginning of the convention.  Craig Yeung joined us to talk about his accomplishments in the medium and who he might like to draw one day.
Graphic Policy:  Who are some of the comic artists of the past that inspired you and your artwork?
yeung003Craig Yeung:  Am I limited to comic artists? haha. I derive a lot of influence from all over from Bouguereau to Bob Peak, Terada to Robert Mcginnis, Mucha to Coby Whitmore. I’m kinda all over the place. In terms of comic art, I guess I was initially influenced by the Image founders, that’s kinda the era that I grew up with. Artists like Jim Lee, Silvestri, Turner, but nowadays I like artists like Alex Raymond who did strips and had to draw without the benefit of color. There’s also a slew of incredible artists  working today that constantly raise the bar.
GP:  Are there any particular series, characters or stories that you have worked on that have been especially memorable?
CY:  Runaways will always be dear to my heart. We had an amazing creative team and management believed in the project from the get go. It was one of those few opportunities where they let a new title grow it’s own following. You don’t see that often  with the big two.
GP:  You have worked on a lot of big name projects, but is there one that no one knows about that you think deserves more praise?
yeung001CY:  There’s a couple projects I’ve done recently that I’m particularly proud of. One is an anthology of short stories “Girls Night Out”, written by Amy Chu (Soon to be writing Poison Ivy League for DC and another project for Aftershock Comics) and colored by Juri Hayasaka-Chinchilla. It’s a slice of life story that revolves around an elderly woman with dementia. It’s a more down to earth story and relies on those quiet moments. Also adapted by Amy and colored by Laura Martin, I just finished a story for the Baltimore Museum of Art. It documents the life of Princess Miao Shan and presented by the Asian Art Gallery in the museum as an interactive comic to supplement the information about some of their artifacts displayed. It’s kinda cool seeing comics used as a teaching tool.
GP:  Among your recent works is the comic version of the Arrow television series.  Is it easier to draw when you have real life people to base your illustrations from?
CY:  For the Arrow series, since I was inking it, the heavy lifting was done by Joe Bennett. I did occassionally refer back to character screen shots, but Joe did an awesome job capturing much of the likeness. I personally find it easier to keep consistency with the work if I have real people to base off of.
GP:  When you draw a certain group of characters on a regular basis, do you find that you start to like certain characters more or to get an affinity for them?
yeung002CY:  I think this is definitely the case, although I think it comes down to how the character is built through the scripts that give you that affinity. For example, some of my favorites is Molly from Runaways and Felicity from Arrow.
GP:  Aside from characters is there a specific genre that you prefer?  Fantasy or sci-fi?  Post apocalyptic or dystopian?
CY:  I like them all, although anything sci-fi tends to be more intense when drawing because of all the tech. I’ve also been a huge sci-fi fan over the years, I think Syd Mead had a big influence on that. However, it’s difficult to find a good sci-fi story these days. I think it’s because we have such amazing special effects today, we expect so much more.
GP:  Are there any characters that you would like to get a chance to draw?  Or maybe one that you have worked on already and would to get more opportunity to draw?
CY:  I think maybe on a main Spiderman title. I’ve worked on a few offshoots before ( Marvel Age Spidermans), but I grew up reading Amazing Spiderman and Peter parker, the spectacular spiderman so I think it’d be cool to work on one of the main flagship titles.

Fan Expo Interviews: Lee Scion

Fan Expo Toronto will be taking place this year between September 3rd and 6th, and Graphic Policy had the opportunity to talk with a few of their featured guests before the beginning of the convention.  We got to talk to Lee Scion, an outstanding cosplayer who is one of the featured cosplayers at the event.  She will be showcasing new costumes as well as conducting seminars on cosplay.

Graphic Policy:  Can you tell us what your first costume was?  And how did it turn out?

lee003Lee Scion:  Though I had made myself Halloween costumes before, my first actual cosplay was Lulu from Final Fantasy X. It was hands down the largest project I had tackled at that point. I wasn’t sure how much time I actually needed, and truthfully I was really bad for procrastinating on actual construction because I grossly underestimated how long I would need.  Because of that some of the details I wanted to include (such as hand embroidered trim) had to be scrapped. I did however manage to completely hand make my wig, get the dress done and make my first corset. All in all I am proud of what I did for that costume with the time and skill set I had back then. However, I would one day like to completely redo the costume.

GP:  What skills do you consider to be most your most useful when creating a costume?

LS:  I am luckily very good with pattern drafting and sewing, so anything that is a fabric garment I am generally very apt at making. This comes in super handy as it is almost impossible to find suitable patterns for most costumes. I love projects that are sewing heavy and very structured pieces such as corsets and properly tailored coats, so having strong sewing skills makes those type of projects a lot easier!

GP:  Does being a cosplayer give you a different perspective on what life would be like for a superhero?

LS:  That is a tough one to answer, I am not sure I would say it does. On some level I can say I understand what it’s like to put on a costume and run around being someone I’m not in everyday life, however when it comes down to it I don’t have superpowers, I don’t change the world, and no one is trying to kill me (that I know of). I’m just me.. in a costume.

lee005GP:  Part of the illusion of cosplay is not only the costume but the setting.  If you could choose any real world setting for a photo shoot, where would you go and which character would you choose?

LS:  The place I think I would be most interested in shooting, could I do a photoshoot anywhere on earth, would be the Five Flower Lake in the Jiuzhaigou Valley nature reserve in Sichuan, China. The lake itself is shallow and perfectly clear with dozens of ancient trees sitting just below the surface. It has a very unearthly feel to it and one of my dream photoshoots would be recreating Aerith’s death scene from Final Fantasy VII in a lake such as Five Flower. Jiuzhaigou Valley is however a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve, so interacting with the lakes and other nature within the park is strictly prohibited. Meaning this is a dream photoshoot I know will never happen.

GP:  One of the biggest developments for comics in recent years is the resurgence of comic book movies.  Does having such lifelike looking characters on the big screen force cosplayers to modify their approach?

LS:  I wouldn’t say movie versions of characters force cosplayers to modify their approach. However, they do offer another version of their favourite characters they can create. Comic book characters in particular tend to have many different outfits giving cosplayers a wide variety of options for exactly what they wish to do. I always appreciate having the option of recreating the very detailed costume designed for comic book movies, but also having the option of creating something much more graphic and closer to the comic artwork.

When you are creating a garment that someone else has actually made you can look and see exactly how it was made: where the seams are, what materials they chose, how pieces attach. When you create something based solely on a drawing however you are often tasked with figuring out how things have to go together, as most comic book artists don’t have to consider how, or even if, their clothes will work in the real world. I find this gives artwork inspired costume a much more personalised feel than those of direct garment recreations.

lee004GP:  Crossplay is catching on quite a bit as well, but it is probably more accepting for the girls than the guys.  Any advice for the guys dressing up as their favorite female character?

LS:  My advice for men who want to crossplay as their favourite female characters is do what makes you happy! Cosplay should never be for anyone but yourself, so you shouldn’t worry about what other people think. There is always going to be someone who dislikes what you are doing, no matter how perfect you are, so just do what makes you happy!

Some crossplayers like to go all out, shave their legs, contour their faces to look more feminine and pad out their bodies to make a more womanly shape. There are many amazing tutorials out there for how to achieve this, and if you delve into the drag community you can find endless information and tips. That being said, I have also seen many amazing male crossplayers who have simply made their favourite characters costume and worn it as they are. One of the best male crossplays I have ever seen was a man dressed as Sailor Moon at Fan Expo who had a full beard and visible chest and leg hair.

GP:  What should we expect to see from you in Toronto?  Any special plans?

LS:  My costume plans are a little up in the air for Fan Expo Canada. However, I will be running six panels over the weekend ranging from wig working to armour making. There are several costumes I would like to make, but my panel prep comes first. The only costume I can say for sure will make an appearance is a classic Jem costume from Jem and the Holograms. It will be truly, truly, truly outrageous!

All photos are copyrighted to Lee Scion

Fan Expo Interviews: Ronn Sutton

Fan Expo Toronto will be taking place this year between September 3rd and 6th, and Graphic Policy had the opportunity to talk with a few of their featured guests before the beginning of the convention.  Up first was Ronn Sutton, an accomplished illustrator known for his work in noirish stories and sci-fi.  We got a chance to talk with him about his career.

smPg3printedGraphic Policy:  One of the characters which you have most worked on is Honey West.  What are the main challenges of working in the crime noir genre in terms of the design?

Ronn Sutton:  Honey West was a female detective that appeared in nearly a dozen extremely popular pocketbook novels throughout the 1960s. The concept was that Honey’s father was a Private Investigator who was killed during one of his cases. His daughter solved her father’s murder and then took over the detective agency. So the Honey West books, a short-lived TV series, and the comics are all set in the 1960s. This gave me a wonderful opportunity to recreate the time period in my artwork with the clothing, hair styles, cars, furniture, etc of that era. I love researching and drawing comics that are drawn in a specific time period because it gives you a chance to recreate an authentic world on your pages.

But the character I worked on the longest was Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Over a nine year period I drew nearly 50 Elvira stories for Claypool Comics. That’s about 800 pages I drew for the Elvira, Misstress of the Dark series. Many scripted by my partner Janet L. Hetherington.

GP:  On the same subject what makes for a great femme fatale and how do you give this quality to Honey West?

RS:  I was very concerned with making Honey look like she lived in that era. So I showed off the clothes of the period by having Honey wear as many as six different outfits in one comic, using the styles of the times: pencil skirts, fur pillbox hats, gaucho jackets and lots of leopard prints, etc. I was trying to capture the essence of mid-60s female movie stars like Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe. There’s something indefinable about the way those women stood, walked, and dressed with a real earthiness. I tried to analyze what it was and I think I caught much of it. For the last two HW stories I drew I brought in a model to help me and had her pose.

C5DraculasGuestGP:  Switching subjects, how do you feel about the use of horror in comics?  Some might say that it is not the best medium for the genre as it is harder to capture the same tension.  How can you compensate for it?

RS:  I’ve drawn a couple hundred comics, probably the largest portion of them were horror comics. When it comes to drawing macabre comics, its all about the atmosphere; choosing what to show and what not to show. Drawing in a lot of deep shadows and not revealing more than you have to. I have a 14 page adaptation of Bram Stoker’s short story “Dracula’s Guest” coming out in the next month or two in the 144 page horror anthology called Graphic Classics Volume 26: Vampire Classics. I rendered the artwork in full-colour on the actual artboards using markers, dyes, and colour pencils. It required a very limited palette to set a constant mood through out the strip. For the most part in the story, Dracula isn’t really seen. He’s more of a presence. So I had to concoct clever way to visually have him there and not there at the same time.

GP:  Do you think that horror relies too much on a single concept instead of reinventing itself?  For instance movie horror tends to recycle ideas in numerous sequels while comic book horror tends to be more original?

RS:  I think the only limits to horror comics and illustration rest with the person creating it. Horror can be claustrophobic or it can be otherworldly. It can invoke a single horrible villian or even hordes of demons. Comics have a long history of turning monsters into heroes. Horror comics are wonderful to draw because you can let your imagination run wild with pencil & paper creating vistas and creatures that even could be unconvincing in film, as well as being costly and difficult to manufacture.

GP:  You have also had the opportunity to work on some characters such as Sherlock Homes and the Phantom.  Both of these characters have managed to survive to the modern day with some popularity.  What do you think that it takes for some characters to achieve this same level of notoriety?

RS:  I think a character like Sherlock Holmes has been around for so long, and been adapted, re-invented and parodied so many times that everybody is familiar with the basic character, while few have actually read the original books (I have!). What is neat about The Phantom is the costume has been handed down from father to son for 21 generations creating the illusion that its been one single long-lived person for hundreds of years. Hence the reference to him as “The Ghost Who Walks”. I think part of  the appeal of both characters is they’ve both been around for a very long time; both have distinctive looks, and both are just regular people who rely on superior intellect and physical prowess (without any sort of “super” powers).

ronn001GP:  One of your projects was Lucifer’s Sword which involved a story focused on a motorcyle gang.  How hard is it to draw a convincing motorcycle?

RS:  I think the important thing to know about Lucifers Sword M.C.: Life & Death In An Outlaw Motorcycle Club is that it was scripted by Phil Cross, who has been an active member of the Hells Angels for nearly 50 years. The 96 page graphic novel was a slightly fictionalized autobiography. The Lucifers Sword graphic novel was set in the late 1960s in San Jose, California area, so in my drawings I was striving to accurately portray the clothes, buildings, cars and, obviously, motorcycles of the time.

When it came to drawing all the Harley Davidson motorcycles, my editor was an enormous help in identifying and supplying me with photo-reference of those rigid-frame bikes. As well, each bike had to be drawn unique to its owner since those motorcycles were all chopped and customized. So no two were alike.  So, on top of all this I was watching all the old Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, etc biker films that were so popular 45 years ago (like Hells Angels On Wheels, Angels Die Hard, etc). I collected up all sorts of biker books and magazines including biker tattoo magazines in an attempt to just get everything right.

I’m VERY happy that the biker community has embraced and praised Lucifers Sword M.C.: Life & Death In An Outlaw Motorcycle Club, and particularly that they cited in their reviews the accuracy in the drawing of the choppers. You can hear a CBC radio interview between Hells Angel Phil Cross and myself discussing our graphic novel here.

smColorSciFiGirlGP:  Are there any genres which you would life to get some more exposure in?

RS:  I LOVE drawing science-fiction strips. As opposed to historical stories I’ve drawn that require so much accurate visual reference research, with sci-fi you get to make up EVERYTHING! Which is both fun and a daunting task. So many of the artists that I admired as I was growing up drew some wonderful sci-fi comics.

I have a “side-project”, that I work on in between more pressing comic assignments, which is a graphic novel adaptation of The Citadel of Lost Ships. It was written by Leigh Brackett and originally published in  Planet Stories, in the 1930s. I work on it at my own pace and while I want it to be a ripping traditional heroic adventure, the designs of the costumes, starships and alien cities range from the type found in old time pulp magazine illustrations to futuristic hi-tech. So its a wild amalgam of styles. It will be a long time yet before I’m done, but it will be enormous fun to read I hope. You can watch for news update about this project, and others, on my website.

Victor Dandridge: The Hardest Working Man in Comics Tells All

20150821_172619I caught up with Victor Dandridge after a panel on independent comics and diversity that was a bit of a disaster. All of the other panelists were white men, and while they acknowledged the absurdity of their situation, they ended up sidestepping most of the issues that the panel intended to engage with. But Victor clearly had plenty to say about representing diversity: as an African-American writer, as the creator of black gay superhero The Samaritanand as the owner of Vantage: Inhouse Productions. We discussed his many projects, marketing to different age groups, and identifying with comics characters who don’t look like us. I started off asking Victor to talk about his work in general.

Victor Dandridge: Basically, with my work I try to – and this is one of the things I wanted to get into [on the How Independent Creators Can Help Solve the Industry’s Diversity Issues panel] but we didn’t get into, is I actually delegate my books based on age range. So I have all-ages with Wonder Care Presents: The Kinder Guardians, teen-friendly with Origins Unknown, young adult with The Trouble w/ Love, and adult with The Samaritan. So I’m actually one who aims to speak to age groups more than anything. That’s what’s important for me.

Graphic Policy: You’re trying to get a wide audience by segmenting and having them cross over.

VD: Exactly. I don’t want to be one of those guys that presumes the universal product. I know a lot of people that are like, “Oh, anybody can read my book.” Yeah, that might be true, but it’s made for somebody in mind. Like, there’s a certain audience that it speaks best to. I’m not one to openly say, I make black comics, but The Samaritan does speak as a black comic. That one is one. Is The Trouble w/ Love? Maybe not. Does that mean black people can’t get into it? Far from it. But that’s not necessarily who it seems to be marketed to, so that’s not necessarily who I would market it to directly. Same thing with Wonder Care. I know plenty of adults who love Wonder Care. It is kid friendly though. It aims to market itself to children. That’s the goal. So it’s one that says, yes, I acknowledge that this is who it’s for. Can other people get into it? Absolutely. But I definitely take into consideration that I am making things for certain groups of people that might not transcend to everybody. That’s legit, you know?

WC Issue 3 CoverGP: And there’s a place for that. I think you do run into that trap of, do you write for “everybody,” or do you market to a specific segment, or do you just write what you feel and just figure out who’s going to respond to it?

VD: As an indie guy, one of the things that I think gets me away from that is having multiple titles. I know a lot of people who only have one title, so they’re stuck in this place of saying, “This is my book, and it has to speak to everybody, because I only have this one thing.” I’ve been fortunate enough to have a diverse range and so I am effectively able to say, no. This is more for you. This is more for you. And people can say, “Okay, cool.” And I can accept that, and I can run with it. So it works out well.

GP: It’s fun to hear somebody say that when you do have most people who are very, very invested in one project. But I do want to hear more about some of the specific titles that you write. I’m really curious about The Trouble w/ Love, especially because of the anecdote you told [on the panel] about people not wanting to look at it.

VD: Okay, so The Trouble w/ Love is a young adult title, and it features a Superman analogue named Apex Prime. And he has a wife and a family, but then he falls in love with someone else, and years later his son comes to him and says, “Dad, what happened?” And he’s basically explaining how human he is despite all of his myriad superpowers and things like that. And it’s more of a true story. It is actually about my life, a little bit more than not. I had to actively decide not to portray the characters as African-American, because I didn’t want it to necessarily be this thing that is used as a stipulation against black people. I had to think that way. I felt like it would actually speak more universally if it had more roots toward the Superman archetype that it’s built off of. So that’s what I wanted. I already had an African-American Superman-level character in The Samaritan. No need to overpopulate, try to fill in quotas. Let’s switch it up! I don’t have to make him look like me even though this is my story. This could be anybody. Let that play out on the page. So he is definitely Caucasian. The woman that he falls in love with is Hispanic. We’re playing around with things. Not trying to hit quotas, but it’s just how the story worked. It worked for me that way. So that’s why I wanted to tell it. It just is ironic that I was at a show, standing behind a table for black creators, and this woman’s like, “No. I don’t want to read it because it doesn’t have black people.” And I’m like –

GP: It’s autobiographical!

VD: It’s about me! “Yeah, but it doesn’t look like you.” And I’m like, so? There’s lots of people that don’t look like me that speak to me. It is what it is. But people sometimes have trouble looking beyond themselves, which is sad. Forest for the trees.

GP: Are there characters who, growing up as a comics fan, you identified with despite the fact that they didn’t look like you?

VD: Absolutely. So I gave the “Great power, great responsibility” thing. My uncle was violently killed. He was one of the guys who was so behind my getting into comics, and I was eleven years old. Batman! I can get behind that! So the idea of me saying, at eleven, I want to make comics for a living in honor of my uncle, that is essentially my vow by candlelight a la Batman. I didn’t have to have Bruce Wayne look like me in order to have that understanding. Gun violence is something that is very typical in the black community. I can understand that. I don’t have to [descend] into being a gang member, I don’t have to run the streets. I can say, okay, this bad thing happened. I don’t want it to happen to me. I want to do something different. And this is something that we both had an affinity for. I’m going to do something in this vein for him. That’s what I got from Batman. Same with the X-Men as an entire concept. The idea of being hated and feared because you’re different! Yeah, that speaks! It wasn’t until 1975 that we actually had an African-American character in the X-Men, and she was female. I’m not female, so all the more reason to find something akin to who I am, or something about what I think, that is alike with these characters, and it not have to be this cookie-cutter flat-out mirror image of myself.

GP: I’m very much with you on that. People always ask me who my favorite member of the X-Men is, and I’m like, Beast, obviously, and then they look at me for a minute.

VD: I love Gambit. I wanted to be a charming guy, and I wasn’t that cool. I was kind of nerdy. So there was something majestic about how suave he was. I loved Gambit, and that was it. He wasn’t Wolverine, he wasn’t Cyclops. I didn’t need to be the leader. I didn’t need to be the most popular dude. I wanted to be the cool guy.

The SamaritanGP: And I wanted to be the one in the basement who was secretly solving everybody’s problems. Which is Beast. But I did want to talk to you about The Samaritan, which is the one of yours that I know, and didn’t realize was yours. So I’m putting a face to it, which is really cool. But what I love about it – I don’t know if you realize that whenever people talk about queer comics, this is one of the first ones that comes up as an interesting one because of the intersectionality of it being a comic about a black character and a comic about a gay character. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that intersection and how you’re twisting the Superman tropes?

VD: With that one, the main character, Smith, is actually homosexual. It’s not something that is widely talked about, because it’s not necessarily pertinent to what he’s doing right now. But it is something that I’ve built into this character, something that’s not going to be for a shock and awe reveal or anything like that. It’s something that I feel is pertinent to him. In fact, there’s a part in the fifth issue where Nita, who is – we’ll call her the prostitute, she throws an option at him, and he declines. That’s one of the first clues that you get, it’s like, he’s not interested in her because he doesn’t like girls. The figure [of Smith] himself is a strong, resolute figure. The idea that he’s homosexual does not make him weak, it doesn’t make him a pansy, sissy, any of the stupid, degrading adjectives that are thrown into anybody who is homosexual. Especially in the black community, it’s not something that is regarded as highly, or even respected as it should be. A person’s preferences, they’re preferences, leave it be. But that’s not the way the community as a whole operates. So that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to look at him that way, to showcase him as that type of figure. I think there’s nothing wrong with that, and that’s the point. I want kids to be like, “Yeah, I want to be Smith!” and have him be so cool, that even with the reveal that he’s gay, they’re like, “So? He’s still awesome. Yeah! I still want to be Smith.” That’s what I’m looking for.

GP: So he’s transcending, and also the idea that he’s still gay even when he doesn’t have a love interest.

VD: Exactly. I recently saw something where they were talking about the notions of how bisexual individuals are portrayed in film, and how it always shows that they are either scandalous, or cheating, or things like that. And I was thinking, well, here’s the truth. The idea of you saying that you’re bisexual can only seem like it’s legit on paper unless you interject both sexes as an option. The only way that you’re really going to do that is to show somebody either being polyamorous, or they’re cheating, or whatever. It’s an unfortunate thing, but the truth is, you would be bisexual even if you’re with a guy and only a guy. If you still have an attraction to women, you’re bisexual. No one should have to prove it in order to claim who they are. And that’s what the point is with Smith. He doesn’t have to be actively seeking a male counterpart right now in order for him to truly be gay. Gay men can be single, too. I feel like that’s a crazy thing to have to say, but apparently we do.

GP: And I think you can get at that perspective by having him be an outsider in more than one way, and having his race something that’s not always commented on but is always present. And making the analogy between the two.

VD: Absolutely, and that’s one of the things that we ended up playing around with very decisively. We have him without a costume. The idea is that he’s wearing a simple hoodie. His aim is to fit into the neighborhoods that he’s walking around in. To just be who he is, and look like as many people as possible, function like anybody else that’s there, but actively be saving as many people as he can.

GP: Awesome!

VD: Thank you.

Ori Unk PromoGP: You are really proud of being an independent writer [and artist].

VD: Absolutely. I love it.

GP: What do you see as the advantages of going that route?

VD: I am free to do whatever style of storytelling that pops into my head. I don’t have to ask permission, I don’t have to see if it’s okay, if it’s going to fit somebody else’s demographic analysis, go through their marketing programs or anything like that. I can just tell stories. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I do have a story that fell short. It’s called The Villain. I’ve only recently started talking about it again because I was disappointed in it. But at the same time, I kind of revel in the sense that I was able to produce a multitude of titles, and only one hasn’t quite found the market that I was looking for. But in that sense, I can still say, hey, I did it! Nobody can take that away from me. I still put forth more work into this world. I put forth effort, and I learned stuff from it. As an indie guy, I am so free to do as many things as possible. It’s just really up to my whim, what I feel I want to do at any given time. And that’s the beauty part. I’m constantly creating. And I love it.

GP: Do you have any future projects, or anything you’re planning on?

VD: Oh, God, yes! The Trouble w/ Love actually has a follow-up. This is a one-shot, and we have a follow-up called Never Too Late. It’s going to be a four-part series that deals with some of the ramifications or repercussions of this story. That’s going to be coming out. We do have a secret thing with The Samaritan in celebration of the five-year anniversary of its first issue coming out. I don’t want to say too much about it. It’s going to be a surprise. We’re still continuing Wonder Care Presents: The Kinder Guardians. Issue four, ideally speaking, will be out somewhere around October or November. There’s lots and lots of things that are coming out that are all just about pushing ideas. We’re returning with Origins Unknown, volume two of that one. I’m very excited. Lots of cool stuff.

GP: You are so excited when you talk about your work! Don’t apologize – I love that.

VD: I love my stuff, yes, but I love comics as a whole. So it’s always going to be something I get excited about.

GP: If you were to go to the dark side and write for someone else, what character or series would you love to write or draw for?

VD: In the weirdest way possible, I openly state that I would love to write Youngblood for Rob Liefeld. I know! No one thinks that I’m serious when I say this, but I am 100% serious! I think it has such a unique cast of characters, and I would love to get my hands on them.

GP: I love the most left-field answers, because then I’m picturing it.

VD: Yes, you’re like, “So what would you do with it?” And I’m like, yes. Exactly.

GP: Everything! That’s what you would do with it.

VD: Everything. That’s exactly what I would do. I’d have so much fun with that.

GP: Pirates, aliens, cowboys, or ninjas?

VD: Aliens. All day.

GP: Why aliens?

VD: Aliens have the most promise. Like, we know ninjas, we know what they’re capable of. We know what pirates are capable of. There’s something about aliens that’s so far reaching and open. Yes. Give me aliens all day, every day. That’s what I want.

We Talk Zodiac Starforce with Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau

Both Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau are relatively new to the medium of comics, but with a bit of experience under their belt, they are both ready to make their mark with the new series from Dark Horse, Zodiac Starforce.  The series features a group of teenage girls who have magical powers but also a devotion to an ideal.  We got a chance to talk with about the creators about the new series and what their inspirations were.

zsf002Graphic Policy:  Can you talk about some of your inspirations for the series?

Kevin Panetta: Zodiac Starforce is definitely a melding of influences from both me and Paulina. I love ensemble teams and high school stuff like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Paulina is a magical girl fanatic.

Paulina Ganucheau: I love team books. And while I’m a big Buffy fan too, a huge influence was obviously Sailor Moon. But you don’t even really need to say that when you mention magical girls. She’s THE magical girl.

GP:  As is evident from the name, Zodiac Starforce involves both a sci-fi and a supernatural element, two inspirations that often clash with one another.  Why did you choose to incorporate both into this series?

KP:  The more sci-fi/cosmic elements of the story are heavily focused on mythology, so it all sort of just worked together to create big supernatural/fantasy universe.

GP:  An all-female superhero team is still enough of a rarity in comics, but there are also some changes underway in the medium, with more focus on more realistic female heroes.  What do you make of the recent changes?

zsf001PG:  I think all the changes in creating more female lead comics is incredible and I hope they just keep on changing. Actually, I KNOW they will keep on changing. There’s too many female lead books being created by amazing teams that are on top right now for it to go back. Spider Gwen, Squirrel Girl, Batgirl, Ms. Marvel, Black Canary, Jem and the Holograms, Bombshells… Sorry I could just keep going. There’s so many great new books.

That having been said, some might say that while the representations of female characters has improved that there are still some changes to be made.

GP:  What changes do you think need to be done that  female heroes can be both likable and more realistic?

KP:  I’m not actually sure that realistic women characters need to be likeable. I think every character has flaws and that’s usually the thing that makes them interesting. This has been true of male heroes in comics forever, so I don’t see why women characters should be treated any differently, in that respect. Basically, write PEOPLE not GENDERS.

GP:  Team books often use the dynamic of needing to get the core back together as a story element.  You use the same idea here, although somewhat differently, but why do you think that there is such an appeal to “original teams”

KP:  There is an appeal to a group of characters that have been through a lot together. Even though we don’t explicitly show it in this story, just knowing that these characters have a shared history makes their relationships more complex.

zsf003GP:  Can you talk a bit about the characters themselves?  Each seems to be from a somewhat different social circle, yet they are evidently also adept at working together.  Why did you choose these backgrounds for the characters?

KP:  When the story starts, the girls are all in different places and aren’t really friends anymore. A lot has changed for them since the last time they were heroes and because of that they’ve drifted apart. They were still a team once, though, so the old connection they have to each other is still there, which is why they can still work together so well when they need to.

GP:  Do any of the characters stand out to you?

PG:  They’re all pretty unique to me. If I wasn’t involved with the book I would probably be a hardcore fan because of this great group of characters. I have a big connection with Emma though. She’s a lot like me and I really identify with her.

KP:  I’ve been a very vocal Kim supporter from the very beginning. She’s so stubborn and she has a cool denim jacket and good hair. They all have really good hair. Zodiac Starforce is a comic full of good hair.

GP:  Can you give us a bit of an idea where the series is heading?

KP:  All I can say is that the universe of Zodiac Starforce is a lot bigger than these four girls. I’m really excited for what the future holds!

Kiki Jenkins on Idolon, the Lesbian Crime Romance Webcomic You Should Be Reading

20150820_192532Of all the independent comics I previewed before heading to Chicago Comic-Con, Kiki Jenkins‘ Idolon is the one that made me binge read until I lost track of time. The two chapters of the webcomic posted so far are sweet schoolgirl romance – Azumanga Daioh meets Mean Girls with a sapphic twist – but Jenkins revealed in our interview that Idolon is about to take a sharp left turn, as we learn about several characters’ entanglement in a criminal underworld. In under a year, Jenkins’ memorable characters have brought her a passionate fan base, whose financial support has allowed her to produce a print version of Idolon.

Graphic Policy: Tell me a little bit about Idolon in general.

Kiki Jenkins: It’s about a girl named Cassandra. She’s been homeschooled for her entire life, very sheltered, by a very eccentric father. Her senior year of school, she gets a scholarship to attend a school with actual real live people. She meets Sam, who is sort of a girl like her except she’s very shunned by the entire school. [Cassandra] finds out later that the reason no one likes Sam is because no one likes her sister, Deanna. Deanna and her girlfriend Benny are part of this crime ring. So they’re hardened criminals, but they’re hilarious at the same time. So they’re not, like, horrible people. And [Cassandra] basically gets thrust into this life that’s completely foreign to her. But both of them learn from each other. Deanna learns to tone it back a little bit, and Cassandra learns how to come out of her shell – by living with criminals! And it’s also a love story, at the heart of that, as well.

GP: The high school and schoolgirl influences are really obvious, but also the crime story – what gave you the idea to bring those two genres together?

KJ: I just thought that would hit people really hard, that they would be reading this, like, you read the first chapter, and you’re like, “Oh, it’s a cute little schoolgirl story!” and then bam, you’re hit with these criminals, and I thought that would be a really fun juxtaposition. To explore Cassandra’s side, where she’s this schoolgirl, and also Deanna’s side, because they happen to be friends, and live in the same space, but they’re two completely different people. I didn’t get any inspiration from the criminal side from my life, but a little bit of the things they do from experiences that I’ve had. I just thought it would be really fun and really different.

test-3GP: You’re making the transition from web comic to print. How did you get that opportunity?

KJ: I got everything from my readers. I was really excited to find that I had more readers than I thought. I’m really blessed by having tons of loyal fans, readers who would be willing to buy a copy. So I did a crowdfunding for it – everything is crowdfunded. But even when it becomes published, everything will still be free, available online, because I think it’s really important that people get to read the story, and the story that I will present to people, for free. But having those loyal fans who have helped me print it, like, all of the preorders that they did, is what funded it, and I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

GP: That’s amazing, to get the fans so involved.

KJ: Absolutely, and being sort of new – the comic is only in chapter two, and to have that already is just incredible. My fans are everything. I owe everything to my readers.

GP: Are there things that the fans have suggested that you’ve put in?

KJ: Sort of. I think it’s more that they’ve guessed what will happen. People will say that they want to see Benny doing this, when that’s already planned for her. I think they’re reading, and they get a sense of who she is, and they’re like, “Oh, I hope this happens.” And it will. And lots of crazy things that people are going to expect are going to happen to all of the characters. The story is already completely planned out, but I still have room open for little suggestions, like for new characters, and things like that.

GP: One of the things that really spoke to me is this experience of young women coming out to themselves and falling in love for the first time. What is it you’re trying to put forth, especially to young female readers who might be coming out as lesbian or bisexual? What do you hope they get out of that in particular?

KJ: I hope that they see both sides of the coin. Cassandra, who hasn’t even come out to herself yet, and then Deanna, who’s just totally out there. She’s the most out person, and really blatant about it, same with Benny. I want readers to be able to see that no matter what their experiences, whether they’re a Cassandra or a Deanna, or somewhere in between, they’re not alone, and there’s always going to be someone there who has gone through it and will be able to help them through it, even if their family doesn’t approve of it. Because Deanna, her family has absolutely disowned her for it. I really want them to see that there’s different levels of being out. There’s being really out and there’s being not at all out. But whatever people are experiencing, they’re not alone. One of the characters is probably experiencing it too.

page-48GP: Since you’re self-published, you do all the writing and the art yourself. The positive side of that is, you get to do whatever you want, but the negative side is self-editing. Is there anything you thought of for the characters that you decided not to do?

KJ: So much. [Laughs] There’s so many parts when I think, oh, I’m going to do this storyline, and then I’m like, Kiki, you need to pull it back. I’ve already gone out on a limb with some of the things that Benny and Deanna will be doing that are very violent. Even then, I’ve had to have myself reel it in and self-censor myself a lot. But then when I take it to other people, like close friends that I share it with, they’re like, “No, man, you’ve got to go for it!” That’s the great thing about being self-published, and about being your own writer and artist, is that if you’re going to do it, you’d better, like, full-out, pull no punches when you do it. There’s going to be a lot of things that are really out there, but I hope it will be something that people haven’t really seen before because you can’t get away with nearly as much when you’re published by a publishing house or with someone else’s writing. It’s going to get really crazy really fast.

GP: If you could draw or write for any existing comic character or series, what would it be?

KJ: Ms. Marvel. Absolutely. I love Ms. Marvel. I love her relationship with Captain Marvel, and the fact that she’s so different from the superheroes that we see right now. She’s Muslim, she’s a woman of color, and that’s super important to me. And not only that, but she’s just like me! She writes fan fiction, and she’s super geeky, and she totally has no idea what she’s doing with her life, and she’s awesome. I’d really love to explore that. Plus, her character design is really cool. I love Ms. Marvel.

GP: I love it when somebody brings up one of my favorites. I’m like, “Yes!”

KJ: That or Spider Gwen. I love Spider Gwen too.

GP: Pirates, aliens, ninjas, or cowboys?

KJ: Ninja aliens.

GP: You only get one. Everybody wants to pick two! You get one.

KJ: Aliens. Aliens are way more fun. You’re not constricted by human experiences. You can make the craziest crap up and people will be like, “They’re aliens. It makes sense.” And that’s totally what I’m here for.

Staying “Awake” with Susan Beneville and Brian Hess

Susan and Brian

In their new ongoing series for Action Lab Entertainment, Awake, writer Susan Beneville and artist Brian Hess imagine a future where young people travel through space, saving planets in crisis – by talking to the planets directly. Susan and Brian told me all about the process of turning Brian’s fantastical vision into words and images, and how they collaborate to bring the world of Awake to life. They aim to make Awake accessible to a young adult audience but appealing to all ages, and they take pride in telling a story where compassion and cleverness are more effective than violence in solving the problems their characters face.

Graphic Policy: Just tell me a little bit about Awake.

Susan Beneville: Awake is a story about a young girl and her brother who are part of an intergalactic race of people who have the ability to communicate with planets and to wake up planets. So when a planet’s in trouble, when a planet is about to go through a natural transition, it’s the job of these children to go down to the planet and wake up the planet’s consciousness and help it through these transitions. So in our story, Regn, the young girl, has to go to this planet, and she finds out that this planet is already in complete chaos – fires, earthquakes, and tornadoes – and so she has to figure out why there’s so much chaos on this one particular planet. It’s one of the things that I was really trying to do with the comic, writing it, was to really think about the idea that a planet has a consciousness, and so one of our main characters in the series is Gremon, which is the consciousness of the planet. The planet itself is a character.

issue_1_cover copyGP: That’s really neat because we’re used to seeing spaceships as characters, but a planet as a character is taking it in a new direction. What kinds of comics or novels that came earlier influenced you in this, if anything?

SB: I don’t think I, personally, had any reference. The original idea was Brian’s.

Brian Hess: I came up with this idea. I wanted to do something for kids, and I was reading a lot of young adult graphic novels like Doug TenNapel’s Rat Fist or [Kazu Kibuishi’s] Amulet. I was also watching [Avatar: The Last Airbender] and [Legend of Korra]. This started back in 2008, so Korra wasn’t even out. And the funny thing is, one of the characters in [Awake], Operi, is this big polar bear dog. And after Korra came out, I was like, “Oh no! What did I just do? Darn it!” A lot of people were referencing that, “Oh, you just copied Korra,” and I’m like, “No, this came out quite a while ago.” We spent a lot of time – way too much time – nurturing it, getting it where it’s at today. We started this, what, two years ago now?

SB: In earnest, yeah.

BH: Really got into it two years ago, and we’re really happy with where it’s at. I really had to get over the I just need to make this kind of feeling and stop reworking it. I did the first seven pages over, what, four times?

SB: Yes.

BH: Seven times? I stopped counting after the second one. But I wanted it to look like an animated film. That was my goal. Animation, Treasure Planet was a big influence on this, stylistically, along with all of those young adult books.

GP: How did you two start working together?

SB: My cousin and I, several years ago, were hired to do a custom comic book for a big hotel chain in the Bahamas. I was writing it, and my cousin was the creative director. We hired Brian to do the artwork after some really bad experiences with other artists. We landed on Brian and he was amazing.

BH: Thank God.

SB: Seriously. Then, in 2009 or 2010, he came to me because he had this idea for Awake. At that point, I would say it was more like a vision than a full-on plot.

BH: I had some basic text in there. Literally, the first seven pages are still in the book in some form. That she did that is kind of fun for me.

SB: To honor him. But then he said, “I need to bring in a writer,” and asked me if I would write it. We sat and we talked for three or four hours, and that’s when we really started to talk about, what is the story really about? What’s the theme going to be? Who are the key characters going to be? What is it that we want them to achieve? And then I went home and wrote a treatment that was, like, twenty pages long. He looked at it, thumbs up on both sides. I started scripting, and we initially self-published last year.

BH: September 2014. So it’s been a year now, almost a year to the day since we originally launched it. We’re relaunching it with Action Lab September 16.

Page 04GP: So you’re relaunching from the beginning?

BH: Yeah, but if you did pick up the original 700-piece run that we had, we split it up in two, so that’s the first and the second issue, and we added ten new pages to each, so if you did get [the self-published version] – if you were lucky enough to get it – you do get something new.

GP: Are you hoping to have this be an ongoing, with an open run?

BH: It’s an ongoing bi-monthly series. I’ve already finished the first arc, and I’m working on the second arc.

SB: He’s doing the arc right now on issue number 5, and I’m already scripting issues 6 through 8. We are fully intending this to be an ongoing. Action Lab is absolutely committed to it and has been super supportive. I’m never quite sure if we’re allowed to say this, but we’re actually the Action Lab free comic book.

BH: We are the submission for Action Lab. We are their Free Comic Book Day submission. I’ve already finished that.

SB: It’s so cool!

BH: We literally just finished it a week ago. And if we do get in there, it’s going to be really fun. It’s my favorite issue so far. But every issue that I’ve just finished is my favorite one. I become obsessed with every page until I’m done with it.

GP: I think that’s almost a typical artistic progression. You get that, “I love what I’m doing,” and then the “I hate what I’m doing.”

SB: I feel like that’s my personal challenge, to put something in each book that’s going to be new and exciting for him to draw. And then it’s also my personal challenge to throw in a couple pages that will make him tear what’s left of his hair out.

BH: No, but the fun thing is, the way we work is, like here [points to Awake art on display in the booth], we have these two characters in a buggy, and that was just something I came up with, and she’s like, “All right, I’ve got to find a way to put this in.” And so in the second arc, the buggy turned into an ice buggy. And I love it. I love that the first arc had the hover bikes, and the second one is going to have a lot more vehicles like the snow buggy. (That isn’t spoiling anything.) I have other ideas for crazy vehicles. There’s something for everybody, you know? The little girl who’s kind of learning and growing up, and finding out where her place is, and her powers, and how to take care of herself. You have her brother Picar, who’s learning, or relearning how to use his powers, and how to take on the role that he was meant to have. And then we have all this kind of fun stuff happening on the side. It’s so much fun to have kids come up, and they’ll pick it up on a Friday and come back on a Saturday and be like, “What happens next issue?” and I’m like, “You have to wait! I’m sorry! It’s on a schedule!” And we’ll have adults who will do the same thing. It’s really fun, it’s really rewarding to go to the shows and have that instant gratification of them reading it and giving feedback.

Page 02GP: You guys lit up when I mentioned the political angle of Graphic Policy. Are there messages or ideas that you’re hoping to get across, even under the radar?

SB: I don’t feel like it’s political.

BH: It’s not environmental, either.

SB: To me, it’s more like a spiritual thing, or an emotional thing. For me personally, my politics, I’m from the Bay Area, I’m progressive. But it really is this concept that things are connected, particularly within a planet, that it manifests what we put into it. So it’s this broader idea of taking responsibility for your world. Sure, the bad guys here definitely abuse the planet and take advantage of the chaos that happens. And some of my politics is there in terms of pollution and things like that. But it’s really focused on feelings, and extremely positive in that respect. One of the things we tried to stay away from – and it’s a hard thing to do in comics – is the real easy violence. I really struggle to make sure that the way that they resolve conflict is clever, and not just, how do I use my powers to punch that guy in the face? And it’s also the idea that if you have power, it’s not that easy to use it. You have to know how to use it. You have to have the confidence to use it. Particularly because our main character is a girl. I really wanted to show that she’s struggling with it. She’s fighting her comfort level with it. And she’s the only one who can do it for herself. She has a guide who helps her, but the first two arcs are really going to be about her getting that maturity level where she becomes completely confident in her powers. And that, to me, I’m really looking forward to that. That’s going to be a beautiful thing, when she actually has the ability to say, “You know what, I’m good. I’m really good, and I have this self-esteem and this confidence.” And not everybody in the book, like her brother, they don’t all have it.

BH: It’s a good balance, too. I mean, there are fistfights in the comic. You’ll see in the second issue that comes out in November. There are straight-up fistfights. There’s a bar brawl. But it’s to show how demeaning that can be to your character, and how immature it is. And then the only other time they really get rough is at the end of the first arc, when they are literally fighting for their lives. One of them is going to be kidnapped. And I really like that it’s not violent to be violent. There’s no bad language in it. It’s really clean, and every piece of dialogue is really thoughtful. That’s one thing I like about how Susan writes – everything has a meaning. It’s not just dialogue for dialogue’s sake. And everything is building an emotion and building on character.

SB: And one of the other things that we were really trying to do was to create a book that we felt was truly an all-ages book. Because there are a lot of books that I love that are really kids’ books, and the language is a lot more simple, the story is a lot more simple. For me, I really respect every one of our readers, and I think that a book that appeals to a ten-year-old can be just as appealing to a forty-year-old. They can all have that same connection to it. We really have focused on that in terms of the level of the art, the style of the art, and the language that we use.

GP: I’m a big proponent of getting things out of the “YA ghetto,” of saying things aren’t “less than” because they’re accessible to a younger audience, and they’re not limited to that kind of audience.

BH: Yes, like, the color palette, it’s super saturated. I did that on purpose, because most comics are so monotone or duotone. I’m not knocking them, it’s just that it wouldn’t fit our story. But every colorist I talked to – that’s why I ended up coloring it by myself. I did the penciling, inking, and coloring. Now we have a wonderful colorist, her name is Darné Lang, and she’s doing a fantastic job. She did clean-ups on issues one through four, and then she started doing the full-on color on issue zero, and she’s going to be with us from now on.

GP: I know you’re putting on paper your dream idea, but if you could draw or write any existing comics character or series, what would it be?

SB: Oh, for me, it would be Batwoman.

GP: Is there a reason for that?

SB: Number one, she’s a lesbian character, and I really identify with that. I like that so far, the book has done a really nice job of crossing over the supernatural and superhero/supervillain type of thing. And I just like that her persona is, to me, sort of scratchy and edgy, and she’s not very warm. And yet when I imagine her fighting, it’s just beautiful and graceful.

GP: Brian, what would you draw?

BH: I would love to draw Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s just right up my alley. Even before the movie came out, I was really into it. That would be my dream, to draw that: a cover, or an issue, or anything. A sketch card.

GP: Last and silliest question: pirates, aliens, ninjas, or cowboys?

SB: Pirates.

BH: Not pirates. Listen, it’s cowboys and aliens.

GP: Pick one!

BH: Cowboys.

SB: Pirates all the way.

GP: There are going to be, like, pirates and cowboys fighting in the third arc.

BH: [Laughing] That’s our next comic.

Illustrator Laura Guzzo talks Shakespeare, Princeless, and Dream Jobs

Laura Guzzo

Thursday evening at Chicago Comic-Con, I got to meet freelance illustrator Laura Guzzo, who has drawn covers for Action Lab Comics’ Princeless and full-page illustrations for Red Stylo Media’s anthology Shakespeare Shaken. She spoke enthusiastically about both past projects and ideas for future illustrations, all while rocking awesome pink boots. We started out talking about why she always makes time to travel to Chicago.

Laura Guzzo: It’s delicious. I always make friends here for some reason. Like, more so than any other town I’ve been in.

Graphic Policy: I hit record at exactly the right second, because I caught that. So, you work on Princeless.

LG: Yes, I got to contribute to that. And that one is my fangirl dream come true, because I was a fan of theirs before I got to do a piece for them.

GP: So how did you get to do a piece for them?

LG: It was absolutely being in the right place at the right time. I had been going around at a convention with my portfolio, and I usually have one day that’s my professional day, when I do that. And I took a break from visiting publishers to run over to the Princeless booth and be like, “I just read the PDF of the first issue, I’m in love with this, how do I get the rest of them?” And … as I was flipping through their stuff I was like, “Oh, yeah, by the way, I’m holding my portfolio, take a look! You want to see it?” And the person who was running the booth let me know that they were actually currently holding an open call for pin-ups, so I was like, “Oh, yes, I definitely want to be in on that.” And so I showed them my portfolio while I was there, and they were already looking, so I think that I reached out once I got home to remind them, and then I ended up working with Jeremy Whitley for that. And all of the people at Action Labs are so nice.

GP: Are you likely to do more work for that or is that kind of a one-shot deal?

LG: I would love to, but I think it was just a one-shot. I’m pretty sure.

GP: The other thing I have written down, which is the thing that’s most exciting for me as a total Shakespeare nerd, is Shakespeare Shaken.

LG: Yes!

lgHoratioGP: And I was wondering if you could tell me – so I know it’s an anthology, right? So tell me a little about which section you worked on and about that experience.

LG: So Shakespeare Shaken, for people who don’t know, it is an anthology of reimaginings of Shakespeare’s works. So everybody took a piece and took it in an entirely new direction. Some of them are genre shifts, and some of them are what-if stories. And most of the book is traditional narrative comic layout, but every once in a while there’s a full-page illustration that’s at the end. So I did several pieces for that, because my all-time dream job is cover artist, for comics or novels, I don’t care. I just love that kind of illustration, and so I did several pieces for them, I think four in total, including the one that went on the cover, and they were all twists on my favorite stories. So there’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream that’s a trashy romance novel cover, like with Fabio and his hair blowing in the wind, but it’s Bottom. And I did the last scene of Hamlet as a film noir sort of thing. I’d been playing a lot of L.A. Noire at the time and I was super into that aesthetic.

GP: I had actually had a thing in college with doing a film noir Hamlet that never happened. So that’s awesome.

LG: So when you’re reading Hamlet – I read it, I’d seen it in the theaters. But I hadn’t ever really understood it until recently when I got to see a version of Hamlet that was set in the 1920s and ’30s that was done by a theater located in Philadelphia, I think it was the Lantern. And it opened my eyes in a way that I’d never understood it on that level before. I don’t know what it was that was different about the way the actors were intoning it, but it really, it made a huge difference in my understanding.

GP: So what are you working on now?

LG: Well, right now, I’ve got a bunch of life shifts happening, so I’ve had to slow my roll and to take a bit of a break. I’ve been still taking on individual commissions, but I don’t have any big projects because I’m trying to get my feet under me.

GP: If there was any character or any series that you could do cover art for, what would it be?

LG: Oh, man, that’s such a huge question! My immediate answer is, I am so into the Dresden Files right now. I love that series! And the covers that they have now suit it very well, but if I could do Dresden art, it would be amazing.

GP: Yeah, I always want people to give me the knee-jerk answer, because those are always the most left-field and passionate.

LG: One of these days, I have this image in my head, I don’t know if you’ve ever read the books?

GP: Yes, not all of them, but I’ve read some.

LG: So Lea, his fairy godmother, I want to do a classic portrait of her with her hounds surrounding her. Oh my God, I think that would be so awesome! I can’t wait. Eventually that will be reality. I will make that happen.

GP: From your lips to God’s ears. You know, we’re putting it on the internet.

LG: So now I must do it.

GP: One last question that I’m asking everyone. Pirates, aliens, ninjas, or cowboys?

LG: I feel like this isn’t objectively the best answer, but my answer is absolutely pirates. I can’t help myself. You terrible plundering bastards, there’s just something terribly awesome about the aesthetic of the high seas. And I find it really fascinating that as awful and brutal as the life of a pirate was, people became pirates because it was preferable to being in the Navy. That was somehow worse than being pirates. Can you imagine how terrible the conditions of the British Navy must have been, for that to be liberating and progressive?

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