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?
Manuel 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?
MP: 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!
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?
MP: 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!