Category Archives: Interviews

We Talk Scarlett Couture with Des Taylor

sc004Although relatively new in the field of comics, Des Taylor has already turned heads with his creator driven series Scarlett Couture from Titan Comics. Focusing on both the worlds of espionage and fashion, it features a compelling heroine in an unconventional role.

Graphic Policy: Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for the series and the characters? She is a bit more than just a female James Bond.

Des Taylor: The Idea for the series came in 2005 when I was working as a freelance illustrator for a fashion magazine. During one of their annual summer parties in a swish club in London, I noticed over at the VIP area some guys were trying to gain access to see someone ( As I recall it was Joe Cole – England Football Player) and the security weren’t letting them in. Soon after a group of 5 girls walked up and Security ushered them over to him.I started to vision in my head a scenario. “What if that was some sort of Billionaire Criminal… and the CIA needed to gain access to him to plant a bug? What better way than a group of Supermodels that can placate his ego… and at the same time plant the device on him?”

GP: You mention that this series is sort of based off of the appeal of supermodels, so are there specific supermodels that Scarlett is based off of?

DT: I based Scarlett’s look on a mishmash of Alessandra Ambrosia and actress Minka Kelly. They were the most stand out of the bunch ‘cause they look deadly in the eyes and really confident. I felt that was really important to have a mental image of the character’s face when putting pencil to paper.

GP: On that note why do you think that there are no red haired supermodels?

DT: Oohhh! Lily Cole and Cintia Dicker may have something to say about that LOL!

GP: Did you have to educate yourself a bit more than the average person about fashion?

sc003DT: I’ve always loved fashion since I was a teenager and constantly bought Vogue. I obsessed over Cindy Crawford, Nicky Taylor and Christy Turlington. They were my faves. I think I had every photograph and book made by Herb Ritts back then…and I got a lot of stick for it from my mates.

I think I got the fashion bug whilst watching my mum sew fur and leather coats for a living when I was a kid. Inspired (Hey, my surname is Taylor after all ) I went on to study textiles at school. Unfortunately, I was the only guy in the class and all I ever did was help design outfits for the girls and never did much practical work. My teacher knew I was destined to learn Graphics and pushed me into art and design instead. I later went on to illustrate for fashion magazine’s like More! Company and Cosmo in London and then on to higher brands like THEO FENNELL and PINK. Through this experience I’ve learned a lot more than your average person about fashion and have used that knowledge in all of my comic book projects.

GP: Comics have the tendency to deal with modern trends which can make the comics pertinent to the readers but also to get outdated fast. As fashion also gets outdated quickly did you consider this when writing the series?

DT: Yes! It’s also the reason why I tend to adorn my characters in timeless 60’s inspired outfits and give everything a slight retro look. You can see this sort of style coming back in TV properties like MAD MEN, PAN AM, THE PLAYBOY CLUB and more recently THE MAN FROM UNCLE movie.

It seems that fashion has come to a full circle in this decade with no definitive trend to define it. Today people wear what they want, unlike in the 50’s ,60’s 70’s 80’s and 90’s people pretty much wore whatever the current trend was.

GP: The world of fictional espionage is one of international intrigue, but it doesn’t necessarily match up with fashion hot-spots. How do you choose locales that fit both?

DT: Oooh.. I don’t know about that.

New York, Paris ,London and Milan are the the main fashion cities and you can find a metric ton of fashion hotspots that serve for great locations for a spy to work. Off my head , the Open air cinema during fashion week at La Villette in Paris is a great place for a hitman to secretly take out a target. Franks Cafe in London is a bar at the top of a multi-storey car park in London. Perfect place for a meeting, swap of a brief-case and get-away. If I had the chance to write a Scarlett Couture novel I would go to town with great locations for clandestine work.

GP: Part of your approach seems to be taking the supposedly shallow world of modeling and giving it a bit more depth, for instance hiding a cypher on the glamour shot. Do you find it hard to give more meaning to what society considers to be shallow?

DT: I have quite a few close friends that model for a living (just see my Facebook page). They all have to live with that label that comes with being a professional model, you know the “All she does is stand still for a living, that’s not real work” or “All model’s are airhead’s” which isn’t the case. The models I know are ambitious,thick-skinned, constructive people. That’s why I thought the world of fashion would be the best place for a spy to operate and use the image society places on models to their own advantage.

sc002GP: There has seemingly been a rapid evolution in how female heroes are represented in recent years in the medium. How do you go about writing a female character that is both feminine and heroic?

DT: I try to make my female heroes relatable and try to write the character on how I THINK a woman wants to be represented. Whilst being sexy is the norm in comics and sci-fi for women, being cunning and tactically aware in adverse situations is not. I’ve tried to change that sort of thinking with Scarlett. If she is to work in the field effectively on her own she would need to be able to make the same decisions a male agent would react to in real time… but use women’s intuition when her backs up against the wall. Historically the best spies were women. Churchill knew this, that’s why he created the SOE (SPECIAL OPERATIONS EXECUTIVE) and if you read some of the tales about these courageous women you’ll understand why they were so deadly.

When writing Scarlett I even went as far as researching the best martial art she would use. I thought ” If she is fighting in heels she would need to keep her movements to a minimum and use her attackers force against them.” That’s why I chose Aikido. Most attackers on women will grab first and get up close and personal- which is why I chose Wing Chun. Some writers i’ve seen would have their heroine trade blows all day with some big goon.
Those who have been in a fight know that you can learn all the Tae-Kwon Do you can but once someone catches you on the chin…..you’re going down. I also think a female hero is more heroic as they have more up against them and are not expected to complete the mission and win the day. Characters like Ethan Hunt, Jason Bourne and James Bond are expected to kick ass and win the day. Carrie Mathieson (Homeland) isn’t. Which makes her more interesting.

GP: Can you tell a bit about what to expect in the future for Scarlett?

DT: At this moment I’m writing down some ideas. After SDCC I spoke with the Titan editors about doing SC series 2. I have to admit, I didn’t see the book becoming so popular so now the handwork starts. I’d also LOVE to find someone to write a future series or even a full paperback novel. That would be a dream!

Radio of Horror Interviews Director Tom Holland

We interview the Director of Fright Night and Child’s Play, Tom Holland, and talk about the actor who shares his name that has been cast as Spider-Man. Tom talks with us about Worcester MA and Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales.

Radio of Horror Interviews Comic Book Writer Lindsay Moore

I’m happy to announced that the team from Radio of Horror has teamed up with Graphic Policy! You’ll see lots of their horror, game coverage, and more on the site in the coming days and weeks! You can check out their site, and YouTube channel to see what they’ve already done. Glad to have them as friends and part of the crew.

First up, the Radio of Horror team of Chris and Sophie interview writer Lindsay Moore a guest at the upcoming Hartford Comic Con.

SDCC 2015: Chris Warner Discusses Barb Wire

At San Diego Comic-Con, we got a chance to talk to Chris Warner about Barb Wire, the character he created! Barb Wire has returned to the world of comics courtesy of Dark Horse Comics!

What’s changed in the years she’s been gone? What can folks expect? How does gentrification play into it?

Find out!

Forgive the audio issues…..

We Talk Tales of Admonishment and Astonishment with Andrez Bergen

BC12SmAndrez Bergen, creator of Bullet Gal and Trista & Holt, is a writer/ artist with influences ranging from classic noir to classic comics. Graphic Policy catches up with Andrez to talk about the fine art of sampling popular music and popular culture, his favorite characters, fictional and real, the upcoming release of the new Tales to Admonish collection and the latest issue of Trista & Holt.

Graphic Policy: In the “modi operandi” at the end of Bullet Gal you write that noir is the “best genre construct there is.” What about it makes it the best?

Andrez Bergen: For me, noir is so open-ended. It might have a darker undercurrent and the finale may not be something that comes up roses, but the best noir has an interweaving sense of humour — dry or sarcastic or tongue in cheek. Cynicism reigns, a downbeat flip to heady optimism. Crime and suspense have their own parts to play within noir, as do the occasional detective mystery, but equally important — if not more so — are the oddball characters and cracking dialogue. Raymond Chandler was the master there. His dialogue slays me 70 years after it was written. Noir’s also great for infusing other genres too, like sci-fi and dystopia and occasionally horror.

Page_15GP: You’re originally from Australia and now that you’ve been living in Tokyo for fourteen years, how has being immersed in Japanese culture, particularly regarding art and anime, influenced your work?

AB: I was already into Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira Kurosawa and Mamoru Oshii before I moved to Japan, but since I arrived I’ve been able to interview and work with Oshii and Ryuichi Sakamoto (Y.M.O.) and discover and meet the late, great Satoshi Kon. I’ve done some odd jobs for Production I.G (‘Ghost in the Shell’) — and been able to hone in to some of the noir/suspense and darker elements at play here, from I.G’s innovative anime series ‘Ghost Hound’ and Shuichi Yoshida’s novel ‘Villain’, right through to older school manga by Kazuo Umezu and the Seishi Yokomizo gothic mystery ‘The Inugami Clan’… which is translated into English, by the way, really badly.
Embracing the whole culture, from the music, movies and art through to the food, history and architecture has been part of my experience living here — and residing in Japan also means you have to live not just with cherry blossoms but continual earthquakes. The big one three years ago helped shape my second novel ‘One Hundred Years of Vicissitude’ (2012), which is my homage to the country. In a roundabout fashion. I think Japanese elements filter through into all of my work. Lee is obsessed with the country in ‘Bullet Gal’, and Laurel’s grandmother is Japanese in ‘Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat’.

GP: Your comics feature many strong, action-oriented female characters such as Mitzi and her nemesis Brigitte of Bullet Gal, then there’s Trista and rivals Alaina Holt and Marcella Cornwall of Trista & Holt. Are any of these characters inspired by female noir characters you’ve come across in books or film, or are they totally original?

AB: I grew up with a strong mother. She wasn’t always fair, but when the going got tough at difficult times in my childhood she really knuckled down and pulled us through. My parents also loved watching old black-and-whites, from dubbed Godzilla flicks to hardboiled classics starring Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum… alongside women who matched up to them despite the general gender imbalance at the time — people like Mary Astor and Lauren Bacall, Jean Harlow crossing wits with Clark Gable, and Katherine Hepburn being more than a match for Spencer Tracy. Thirty-five years ago, along came Ripley, the kick-arse only survivor in ‘Alien’, and more recently romps like ‘Xena’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘Firefly’ and ‘Buffy’ where the women were the truly strong characters. Over the past few years Ed Brubaker has fleshed-out female protagonists like Velvet and Josephine in ‘Fatale’. So I guess all these things have probably influenced me. In noir the powerful-woman trope isn’t exactly new — I just give it freer reign.

And while Mitzi (Bullet Gal) was original based around the look of the Fawcett comic character Bulletgirl from the 1940s, I think she has more in common with Will Eisner’s P’Gell or Sand Saref from ‘The Spirit’. Alaina Holt-wise, I think I was swayed to some extent by the characterization of the manipulative Lady Kaede from Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Ran’, and Marcella Cornwall has to have a bit of Martha from Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ decanted away inside her. I think Trista is the most unique because I initially modeled her on the legendary figure of Tristan/Tristram — reimagined in the 1970s. In a crime family. As a woman.

TH-4 sample 6GP: Who are some of your favorite writers?

AB: Top of the crop? Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, who I read on regular rotation. Otherwise Ryū Murakami, Isabel Allende, Angela Carter, Patrick deWitt, James M. Cain, Philip K. Dick, Richard Matheson, Gabriel García Márquez. For particular books? Joseph Heller (for ‘Catch-22′), Nicholas Christopher (‘Veronica’), Eugene O’Neill (‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’) — and Edith Wharton’s ‘The Age of Innocence’. That’s the fractured romantic in me. Comics-wise I’m heavily into Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, a lot of stuff coming from Kelly Sue DeConnick, Jonathan Hickman, Brian K. Vaughan, Eric Stephenson, classic Will Eisner, and older material from Alan Moore and Frank Miller. Manga-related? Otomo, Oshii, Kon, Umezu, Masamune Shirow, Hayao Miyazaki and Mitsuru Adachi.

GP: Who are some of your favorite characters, either fictional or real?

AB: Imaginary first, since they hold precedence: Philip Marlowe (‘The Big Sleep’), The Continental Op (‘Red Harvest’), Sam Spade, Brigid O’Shaughnessy & Joel Cairo (‘The Maltese Falcon’), Robert Neville (‘I Am Legend’/’The Omega Man’), Rick Deckard (‘Blade Runner’/’Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’), Velvet Templeton (the ‘Velvet’ comic from Image), Jonathan E. (‘Roller Ball’), Nick & Nora Charles (‘The Thin Man’), Harry Lime (‘The Third Man’), Clint Barton (‘Hawkeye’, in Matt Fraction’s run), Flora Poste (‘Cold Comfort Farm’), Captain America (in Stan Lee’s and Ed Brubaker’s runs), Ripley (‘Alien’), Sam Lowry (‘Brazil’), Buffy Summers (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’), both versions of Starbuck (‘Battlestar Galactica’), Carl Kolchak (‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’), Norma Desmond (‘Sunset Boulevard’), Professor Fate (‘The Great Race’), The Thing (in Jack Kirby & Stan Lee’s monumental 1960s run on ‘Fantastic Four’), Major Matoko Kusanagi (‘Ghost in the Shell’), Max (‘Where the Wild Things Are’), Corporal Agarn (‘F Troop’), Hugo Z. Hackenbush (‘A Day at the Races’), the masterless rōnin (‘Yojimbo’), Guy Fleegman (‘Galaxy Quest’), Tony Baretta, Starsky & Hutch, Zorro, Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Tristan & Iseult. There’re dozens of others I could slide in here!

Real life ‘characters’ I hold respect for? Creators like Akira Kurosawa, Lauren Bacall, Marcel Duchamp, Satoshi Kon, Cabaret Voltaire, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Man Ray, Toshiro Mifune, the Marx Brothers, Humphrey Bogart, Joss Whedon, Terry Gilliam, Ray Harryhausen, Vincent Price, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Christopher Nolan, and Raymond Chandler — chronic alcoholism and all — for creating Philip Marlowe. We could also throw in a hotchpotch of other people: Martin Luther King, Jr., Napoleon, Gough Whitlam, Emmeline Pankhurst, Ned Kelly, Elizabeth I, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Alexander the Great, Monty Python, and Hannibal.

GP: Your graphic novels and comics contain strong visuals and you do very innovative work in a visual medium, yet you’ve also published many short stories and prose novels. How would you compare the two methods of story telling, prose and comics? For example, do you enjoy writing description or do you like letting the pictures speak for themselves? Or does it just depend on the story and how it needs to be told?

AB: Great question, and in a nutshell? While I love write dialogue between characters, esp. a rapid-fire repartee or some meaningful soliloquy, I’ve always suffered a wee bit writing the descriptions of space, setting, character expressions and nuance. They’re vital, but they don’t roll as easily for me. And to be honest, sometimes in other people’s books I feel that the descriptions are padding out the novel and I get tired and start skipping, looking for dialogue. Sometimes. Doing comics and graphic novels has liberated me here, since I focus purely on writing narration and dialogue between characters — when I’m doing the art. If someone else is doing the art, I have to explain the descriptions of the setting/backgrounds/character “look”, although sometimes I resort to pictures nabbed off the Internet to give the artist a feel of what I’m on about. You can’t do that in novels. But novels are still more challenging because of this; sometimes I feel like I’m on autopilot doing comic scripts, so I have to kick myself.

GP: One aspect of your art and story-telling that I find intriguing and quite unusual is that the characters are well-established in the narrative of the stories, but in some of your comics and graphic novels you use different images to represent them, including famous actors and actresses, photos from ads, and other artists’ interpretations. Are various images representing one character different facets of that character’s persona, evolving aspects of their personalities or just a fun way to portray them visually?

AB: You hit the nail on the head in terms of both. Fun, for sure — I really dig seeing the different ways in which diverse artists “see” the same character, and this comes I think from my music background, when me and mates were constantly remixing one another’s tracks. But I also think this alternate viewpoint adds depth to the character, as these are three-dimensional beings that, like us, are seen differently by other people — be it because of mood, interaction, or relationship. Characters are always developing through this process, so that we finally begin to see the sum of all his/her parts.

TTHVol1Crophe cut-ups/collages in the comics do hark back to my admiration and nostalgia for Dada, surrealism and Monty Python, but recently adapting famous people into the mix has enabled me to (a) pay homage to the old movies and actors I grew up with that helped shape my own mindset, (b) match-up their particular “image” with that of the characters they’re roped into playing, and (c) inserts another element of fun: can you place the celebrity faces?

GP: What can you tell us about the imminent release of Tales to Admonish? And what of the title—is it the characters who are being admonished or are these cautionary tales for us wayward readers? Or is it a playful nod toward 1950s comic titles such as Tales to Astonish?

AB: Definitely the latter — when Matt Kyme and I released #1 in 2013, with him as artist and me as writer, thereby starting IF? Commix — we tipped our hat to a mutual love of Jack Kirby in particular and classic Marvel comics in general from the early ’60s like, you guessed it, ‘Tales to Astonish’. I just altered it a tad to reflect the “dire-warning” cautionary yarns (often with playful tongue in cheek) that I’d grown up watching on TV such as ‘Twilight Zone’, ‘Outer Limits’, ‘Kolchak’, ‘Doctor Who’, and ‘The Evil Touch’. Our stories here are far from serious, verging more upon flippant, but there are messages I guess that greed isn’t so good for your health — but snappy dialogue helps.
Matt and I decided to put together the first three issues, along with six new stories I wrote by other artists, as a trade paperback we’re releasing in Australia in August. It’ll be launched alongside ‘Trista & Holt’ Vol. 1 at Eisner Award winning store All Star Comics while I’m briefly back in Melbourne on the 29th. The added stories are by a swag of talented new artists like Gareth Colliton, Asela De Silva, Adam Rose and Ken Best. They really capture the vibe of each tale, from noir to light horror.

GP: You DJ under the name Little Nobody. Did you sample selections from popular music in your performances the way you sample popular culture images in your graphic novels?

AB: You got it — I love cheeky sampling, and was a loud-mouthed exponent of the art as a music journalist back in Australia before I moved to Japan. But sampling is its own form of “art”. If you’re going to be cheeky and appropriate stuff from other sources, then have a sense of humour and make sure you change it enough so that it becomes a part of what you’re trying to create, rather than stealing a riff and riding on someone else’s sterling efforts. It should be a cog, not the foundation of what you are trying to do. That said, I nicked stuff from bods like Madonna, Black Sabbath, James Brown, Giorgio Moroder, Desi Arnaz, Rachmaninoff and Japanese kabuki musicians — but good luck picking it! On the side I’ve also not so legally remixed ‘Aquarela do Brasil’, George Sanders, and Jack Palance. Shhh.

GP: You’re a very prolific storyteller and artist, constantly producing new work. Can you tell us a bit about your process? Does the art happen alongside the writing, or is the writing ever inspired by the images and artwork that you create, recycle, or re-create?

AB: This proliferation has only really been happening over the past four years — I guess since I published my first novel ‘Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat’ (2011). At that moment I realized doing these things was possible after all, instead of half-heartedly working on manuscripts that ended up collecting dust under my bed. But for several years before that I’d been working as a freelance journalist, meaning tight deadlines, the need to be flexible at all hours of day (or night), writing quickly, and self-editing on the fly. Add to that fine-tuning the process of research to be as speedy as possible, without letting errors slip through, and it’s a great accidental training regimen for aspiring writers.

All the different projects I’m currently doing — regular process, comic scripts, art and music — have to be squeezed in between work and family responsibilities, so I tend to wake up around 4:00 a.m. most mornings, giving me a three-hour stretch to potter on stuff. Also Saturday mornings are pretty much focused on this. I do what a feel like at the time, if possible, but if a deadline’s pressing then I attune to that project. I think visuals influence all my work, even novels. Everything I’ve seen in this world — traveling, incidents, movies, pictures, photos, even advertising — crosses over into my headspace while I write, much of it subconsciously I’m sure. When doing comics, especially as writer/artist, I do the two things together concurrently, so that each page writes and visualizes itself… often surprising me along the way, because the story might detour. I love this process because it’s completely liberated and the end of each issue is often something I never imagined when I began.

TH7CroppedGP: In the upcoming Trista & Holt #7, you collaborate with American writer Renee Asher Pickup, who scripted the story of Trista’s childhood and young adulthood while you supplied the artwork for that double issue. Was it at all helpful to have a female writer’s perspective on Trista’s youth?

AB: Actually, I never thought about it along those lines — huh. I just knew that I respected Renee’s writing, mentality and imagination, and when I decided to start this series based on Tristan & Isolde, she was one of the biggest vocal supporters of the concept. We chatted a bit about it, and then when I asked her to do the “origin” issue, she said yes — luckily. I knew I wanted the voice of Trista’s childhood to be a little different than the contemporary one I was writing, but still linked. Renee captured that and paid beautiful heed to the original legend at the same time. And you know what? She’s American, and therefore likely has more insight into the gun culture Trista is raised with than I do, having grown up in Australia. I just thought of that now. Maybe it’s of import. Maybe not.

GP: What advice do you have for new artists and creators of comics who may be just starting out? Was there anything you had to learn the hard way that you’d like to share? Any words of encouragement, caution or admonishment?

AB: You know the old expression about grabbing the bull by the horns? I’m going to cite that dusty nugget instead of resorting to Nike’s corporate “Just Do It” mantra — which apparently anyway was inspired by an infamous murderer’s last words. Where was I? Encouraging people? …Yeah, I suppose the important things to remember are that if you truly believe in what you’re doing, whatever the medium, and would like to share that with others, then you should try. Give it a shot. If it fails, well at least you gave it that whirl. If it succeeds, all the better. But don’t do it for the riches. There are none unless you’re the lucky 0.2% that may or may not be real people. Passion rules over purse, I swear. Finally, don’t expect others to shoulder the burden of getting your work out there. Do it yourself or work with kindred spirits as a democratic collective. It’s more fun, you need the camaraderie, and less of a slog.

GP: Have you ever experienced what could be called a paranormal, supernatural, metaphysical or spiritual event, or any other such psychic phenomena?

AB: Um… there’s an interesting question. I’m just trying to think. There was this one time, when I was about 11, riding my bike back from school. I was shooting down this hill in Caulfield, in Melbourne, the middle of suburbia, same as I did every day. Going toward a crossroads where I had right of way, and there was never any traffic. But for some reason I felt something telling me to slow down almost to a stop, before I reached the intersection — and then a truck shot through. It would’ve flattened me.

GP: One final thing–I know you’re a big fan of Patrick McGoohan of Secret Agent Man and The Prisoner in particular. What do you think is up with those big bubbles in The Prisoner?

AB: Ha Ha Ha… You’re spot-on, I’m a huge fan of McGoohan, but I haven’t seen ‘The Prisoner’ in years! My last McGoohan romp was a re-screening of ‘Ice Station Zebra’. Lemme think back to ‘The Prisoner’ — the balls/bubbles there kind of remind me of the omnipresent black spheres in this more recent Japanese manga called ‘Gantz’. But the ones in ‘The Prisoner’ were far more active. I just wonder if the scriptwriter’s or special effects supervisor’s kid had a bubblegum fixation…?

We Talk Shahrazad with Mike Krome

krome001Mike Krome is relatively new to the field of comics but he has already made his mark.  Working for a variety of companies he has proven his ability to make stunning covers, but perhaps his best work yet was on the visually impressive Shahrazad.  Originally from Big Dog Ink, this series was republished by Aspen after having purchased the rights.  This gave Mike’s art a second chance to shine.  We got a chance to talk with him about the series.

Graphic Policy:  Can you tell us your inspirations for comic book art?

Mike Krome:  They come from everywhere…mainly other great comic books I grew up with, but also just the infinity of fantastic art being pumped out all over the world in the form of graphic novels, game art, concept art, fantasy illustrations, etc. It’s hard to spend 5 minutes on a social network of other artists and not be inspired.

GP:  In the case of Shahrazad, the character is one based off of a variety of genres. How did you come up with the idea for her appearance with everything that she is associated with?

MK:  A lot of that was already planned out by the writers and creators, with the exception of some costume ideas. For that, you just sort of play around with the genre you’ve chosen until you have something that looks good, and also that you can easily draw multiple times.

krome003GP:  When you are drawing an already established character, what do you do to put your own spin on them? And is it easier to start with a pre-established character or to create a brand new character?

MK:  Both are fun…I enjoy creating stories and characters from scratch, but it’s a enjoyable challenge to bring someone else’s world and concept to life, too. That’s mainly what you’ll be doing anyway, when starting off in comics. I don’t really give much thought to “my own spin”…I just try to make the illustrations look as good as possible, and within that, like with most artists, eventually a recognizable uniqueness comes through.

GP:  Some of your female character could be said to be a bit over-the-top, but what do you do to make sure that you have not gone too far with them?

MK:  Ha, depends on what I’m working on, or who it’s for. Be it Pin-up, Erotica, Book covers, or Posters, there’s not really any generic “female character”, but you do have to use your head and think about what it’s going to be used for and who you’re targeting. You get much more savvy at this as you go, learning to diversify your work too, because much as I enjoy them, everything cant be a curvaceous pin up. Aesthetically, I’m still very much learning too, so feedback from other artists and friends is valuable.

krome002GP:  You are also known for creating some eye catching covers. How do you approach cover design considering the story inside?

MK:  It doesn’t always relate to the story, but I prefer it when they do. I’ll generally get a loose description from the editor, and then come up with a bunch of thumbnail ideas. The ideas aren’t the hard part but picking one out of half a dozen definitely can be. I try to think of what would make me stop and have a second look if I saw that cover in a row of others.

GP:  If you know that you are designing a variant cover, does it give you more freedom in your choices?

MK:  Sometimes. Again, I’ll often get a loose description, as usual, but when the words “do whatever you like” are used, that can be fun.

GP:  Are there any characters that you would like to get a chance to draw?

MK:  Characters like Dejah Thoris and Red Sonja are a lot of fun to draw, and I’d love to do some cover work for them some day!

We Talk About Lettering Grimm Tales of Terror with Micah Myers

mm002 Micah Myers is relatively new to the field of comics, but he has already made his mark.  Working primarily for Zenescope he has lettered many of the company’s newer offerings and has already built up a portfolio of over twenty issues, including a quarter of the Grimm Tales of Terror issues.  We were pretty interested to talk him because we don’t usually get to talk to letterers and to see what goes on inside their world.  He gave us some insight as well as some of his own personal goals
Graphic Policy:  How did you decide to become a letterrer?  And what training did you receive?
Micah Myers:  I became a letterer after I realized I couldn’t draw, and the process of coloring comics was too complicated for me to figure out.
MM:  But really, I have always been interested in graphic design and typography. I enrolled in school to learn it after failing at a bunch of other careers. At the same time I was looking into lettering in comics. I had bought a few books about it, started following letterers on Twitter and asking them advice, and practicing as much as I could. After a year or so, I thought I had gotten good enough to apply for jobs, and after a while I started getting work.
GP:  How much input do you get into the layout of an issue?  It would seem that you would need to discuss with the illustrator and writer what will fit and what not?
MM:  For the most part, letterers don’t really have any say in the layout. We just get stuck for the room we are given and make it work. Most artists are smart and leave the room, but if not, then it is my job to make it work. That is why we get paid the medium bucks.
GP:  In certain cases the text changes based on who is talking (for instance with Keres in Grimm Tales of Terror.)  How is it decided how to represent this?
mm003MM:  For Keres, I am matching it with Jim Campbell’s previous work on the book. On other things, sometimes it is in the script that the writer wants a certain color or font style for a character. Other times, it is up to you. You get a feel for it. If a character has a big scary look, he would have a rough balloon and/or a black balloon. Mostly though, it is up to the letterer’s style choice. Goofy characters would get a silly font, robots would get a computer font, and supernatural characters would get a spooky font.
GP:  Does changing the tone and format of the text make it easier or harder to represent?
MM:  It makes it easier, but when it is overused, like for every character in the book getting their own lettering style, it makes the book look cheesy.
GP:  While there are sometimes very noticeable changes such as this kind of text, are there less noticeable ones that letterers will use?
MM:  I am not too sure. There is bolding the words for emphasis or yelling.
GP:  How much input does the letterer have into the actual text?  There must be times that the writer wants to say things that just don’t make sense for some reason or another?
MM:  There have been times when the artist has changed the character’s positions from the script. Like the character saying “Get off the floor” but the artist already drew the other character standing. I would say something to writer about it. Simple stuff like that. I don’t give any input on the dialogue quality-wise. I am not qualified to critique another person’s writing.
mm001GP:  Do you find that you get to like certain characters more than other after adding in the lettering?
MM:  I do feel a bit of pride for the comics I have done. When I see other people lettering the books after me, it is like someone else is playing with my toys. Even though, I have no ownership of the characters and play a small part in the comics.
GP:  Are there characters that you would like to get a chance to letter?
MM:  My favorite character is Green Arrow so I would love to be involved in a Green Arrow comic. Even more of a dream come true if Mike Grell was also on the book. I also would like to do the yellow balloons for Deadpool.

We Talk About the Gotham Inspired Cake Wars Winning Design with the Fabulous Cake Girls

Season 1 of the Food Network’s television show Cake Wars wrapped up this past Tuesday.  The somewhat unexpected theme for the final episode was DC Comics and Good Vs. Evil, with special guest judges Jim Lee, Dan Didio and Geoff Johns and .  The Fabulous Cake Girls from San Diego ended up winning with their Gotham inspired design and we caught up with them to talk about their experience on the show.

cake002Graphic Policy:  I guess the most obvious question is whether you guys are comic fans?

Fabulous Cake Girls:  From an artwork perspective, 100%. Graphic novels are beautiful and they inspire us to take our comic type cakes to another level.

GP:  What is the inspiration for the amazing design which won you guys the finale?

FCG:  We knew it had to be Gotham City. The darkness and mystery surrounding the history of Gotham drew us in and we went with it. The clock tower was such a cool, and detailed building to recreate and we wanted the cake to look like the cover of a comic or graphic novel.

GP:  Poison Ivy is an odd selection for the villain, seeing as there are more obvious bad guy in Batman’s rogue gallery.  Why did you choose her?

FCG:  Because she’s freaking HOT. We loved the idea of trapping Batman and Robin in her clutches and doing the creeping flowers and vines on the building. They told us Good VS Evil, but not who had to win ;)

GP:  How do you go about putting together a cake like that?

FCG:  Hours of planning! We build platforms and other structural support, dowels go through the cakes; whether they are tiered wedding cakes or 3D buildings. They also had to be lifted, moved and eventually delivered to the DC Comics Party.

cake001GP:  How did you guys get involved in cake design?

FCG:  Jennifer went to The California Culinary School in San Francisco, worked in restaurants, trained with incredible pastry chef’s in city and moved back to San Diego so we could open Cake. We contacted a ceramics guild, here in San Diego, a few years ago looking for raw talent in figurine and sculpting work. They referred the fabulous Sami to us and we have been a powerful team of talent ever since.

GP:  How did you get selected for the show?

FCG:  We are good friends with the pastry chef at The Hotel Del in Coronado, California. She got an inquiring email from The Food Network and immediately sent it to us. We had appeared on The Cake Challenge five years ago, so we wrote to them. They invited us to participate right away.

GP:  Were there some other designs which stood out for you on the show?

FCG:  We were extremely impressed with Aquaman. Honestly, until they announced that we won, we truly thought it could have been them

GP:  What does the future hold for you now that you have won Cake Wars?

FCG:  Total world domination.

We Talk Gronk with Katie Cook

gronk002Katie Cook is an accomplished comic book artist, but the project closest to her heart is that of Gronk, her webcomic series which has been collected in volumes by Action Labs.  We got a chance to talk with her about the world of webcomics and about her recently released fourth volume of Gronk’s Tales.
Graphic Policy:  For those unfamiliar with Gronk can you give us a quick introduction to this world?
Katie Cook:  Gronk is a story about a cute monster who has left the monster world for ours! She learns about our current pop culture and tech obsessed world through joining up with her new family.
GP:  Is it hard to come up with the ideas for the short stories that make up Gronk?
KC:  Not since I had kids. Toddlers seem to be an every ready source of inspiration.
GP:  A lot of comic creators can cite some of the all time greats when they describe their inspiration, but Gronk is more like a a newspaper comic than a comic book.  Do you have any influences from that medium that inspired you?
gronk003KC:  A newspaper comic is exactly what I was going for. I grew up wanting to be the next Bill Watterson. I read the comics section of the paper every morning while my mom got ready for work… Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Garfield and Foxtrot were my favorites.
GP:  Gronk is also noteworthy as it is a webcomic.  Do you think that it is easier for people to break into a field like newspaper comics through a webcomic?
KC:  I have seen a few cases of people with webcomics that were picked up by newspapers… but it’s a rarity! The newspaper comic is a dying breed, webcomics seem to be taking over.
GP:  You also have a lot of experience with other more whimsical properties like My Little Pony or Fraggle Rock, but does the experience help when creating Gronk?
KC:  I worked on Gronk way before I was approached for My Little Pony! Really, I think my work on my own comic is what got me some more “mainstream” work.
GP:  Is it hard to have your own distinctive style one place and have to draw in another way elsewhere?  Especially as Gronk is a project that is 100% yours from top to bottom, do other works seem like you are cheating your true nature a bit?
gronk004KC:  Nope! I tend to stick to how I draw with my projects. I haven’t had to “force” my style since my days working in a studio doing licensed work. That was years ago.
GP:  Astronomy shows up often enough in the adventures of Gronk.  Are you a bit of an amateur astronomer yourself?
KC:  I am a fan of just sitting outside and staring up at the night sky while I drink a glass of wine. It’s very technical and scientific.
GP:  Speaking of recurring themes, have you ever tried to take a cat for a walk on a leash?
KC:  I have tried. I do not recommend it.

We Talk About Wonderland with Manuel Preitano

Manuel Preitano is relatively new to the medium of comic books but he has already turned some heads primarily with his work at Zenescope.  His work has particularly been noticed in the pages of Wonderland, the sometimes fantastical and sometimes maddening realm of dreams and nightmares.  He joined us to talk about the series and its inspiration.

Graphic Policy:  Grimm Fairy Tales features Calie Liddle as its main character, and unlike many other characters in comics it has looked at her evolution from a younger age to being older.  She has undergone various changes in her appearance, but when taking on the role of the White Queen she evidently changed again.  How do you draw her differently to reflect the fundamental change in the character?

Preitano_Wonderland_pinup1bwManuel Preitano:  I was lucky enough to approach the amazing world of Wonderland gradually: first with the five issues miniseries “Clash of Queens”, which focused on the four queens of Wonderland battling each other; then, the main series, with Wonderland #33-36, which was my first occasion to draw Calie. You’re right about Calie changing a lot, and I think that’s part of the fascination of Wonderland setting. Wonderland is an unstable world that changes the people who fall into it. If you remember, in the original Alice in Wonderland book Alice undergoes a size change as soon as she gets down the rabbit hole, so this is definitely part of the Wonderland mythos. What Calie keeps all the time is her humanity, so I tried to draw her as a human being who suddenly has to deal with a wider world than she ever imagined. I had the occasion to draw her in many outfits, and I really had fun making different versions of her White Queen attire. The winter one in my Wonderland #33-36 run was a special favorite!

GP:  Calie is the queen of a land of fantasy but also based in reality on Earth.  How do you depict the character artistically to make sure that both are believable while also being the same character?

MP:  It’s her continuously changing, but keeping her humanity at the same time. The script (written by Erica Jeanne Heflin) in Wonderland #33-36 made good use of this concept, I think. We had a good variety of real world scenes and fantasy ones. In Wonderland world she commands armies, she has great powers, she faces monsters and slays them with her sword… but in the real world problems are less direct, with the solutions coming from her relationships with other people. She has different approaches to different problems, and my approach as an artist tried to reflect that, with her body language, the way she poses and so on. I hope I did a good job!

GP:  How hard is it to draw Wonderland, the realm of madness?  Do you find yourself challenged to come up with increasingly weird things?  Or is it kind of liberating as you can do whatever you want?

man001MP:  I love to draw the contrast between the real world and Wonderland, as the former tries to explain everything with logic (and this reflects in the visuals) while the latter allows way more freedom and can really contain any setting you could imagine, ready to be drawn. It’s definitely liberating, yes! Erica had me draw some wonderful things (e.g. dragons, ghouls, pixies, etc.) in her story arc, and a big part of the story was set in a huge forest. I could work this contrast between real world cities and their geometrical shapes and fantasy woods with their organic, asymmetric designs. As a huge fan of Swamp Thing, I love drawing woods, swamps, and natural settings.

GP:  Wonderland has become a lot more oriented to big cats in recent issues, with the battle of cats occurring on numerous occasions?  Do you like drawing them?

MP:  Yes! I love cats, and I love drawing cats. It always relaxes me when I have a whole Cheshire Cat sequence to draw. I’m very glad there were plenty of scenes with the character on the Wonderland related comics I worked on! Vincenzo Riccardi did a great job on Wonderland #32, where the story was really, really focused on cats!

RedRabbit_concept1GP:  Wonderland as a series seems to be venturing out from the original books and taking on the fantasy genre.  Do you have any particular inspirations when it comes to this genre?

MP:  I like to study many references before drawing something, and that’s really easy when you love the genre. They come from very different places: many French comics have visually astonishing settings, so I went through them. Among other things, video games are also a good source of inspiration, and I always try to make a mix of contemporary and old school fantasy when drawing Wonderland. Works like Sandman: Overture have been a great inspiration for the unusual settings of Wonderland, as well; I try to follow the flow, checking both classics and more modern fantasy works.

GP:  Are there any characters that stand out from a design standpoint in the Wonderland series?

MP:  I like the White Queen design a lot, but there are so many to choose from. It’s quite a colorful world when it comes to design, as many of the characters have a very distinct style. I have a soft spot for the Queen of Spades in terms of design, as she really represents the archetype of the evil queen, so I hope to see her again at some point!

GP:  The depiction of Violet as the Mad Hatter is kind of similar to that of Harley Quinn, which according to cosplayers is one of the most popular looks from comics.  Why do you think that the female jester image is so appealing?

Torment-Concept1MP:  It connects to that tradition of ambiguous, antihero characters, where you see they’re not completely evil (or they’re just crazy, so not intentionally doing evil), but they’re not good either. Harley Quinn is moved by her mad love for the Joker, and who hasn’t done crazy things for love (but not as crazy as Harley, one hopes)? Back to the Jester figure, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance there were licensed fools, people who were allowed to act crazy and criticize kings or nobles. They were allowed to tell the truth in a world dominated by strict rules and etiquette, so—no surprises here—the truth teller remains a popular figure today. Visually, characters like Mad Hatter Violet and Harley Quinn (referring to her original costume here) have a very solid look and color palette, immediately identifying them in this tradition, and this surely contributes to their popularity. I can pick a Harley Quinn costume out of a crowd of cosplayers, let’s say! The asymmetric design of Harley hints to her madness, so it’s like everything in her look talks about her inner life, which is very important in character design.

GP:  Are there any characters from the Carroll books that you would like to see introduced or reintroduced into the ongoing stories?

MP:  I love to draw monsters, so having the opportunity to draw the good ol’ Jabberwocky would be lot of fun to me!
I’ve been given the opportunity to design some creatures for the ongoing series, like Terror, the Red Rabbit, the Grinner and so on, so I’m eager to see what they’ll make me draw next time!
For the rest, Wonderland is a world with so many possibilities, so I would love to see new writers inventing new crazy concepts for the series, following Carroll’s concepts but adapting them to new times. Wouldn’t that be really fun to see? It’d be a lot of fun to draw!

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