The Jail Crimes Division of the Sheriff’s Office in Mariposa County investigates crimes committed inside county jails. With a limited number of suspects who can’t escape, these are usually easy cases to solve-but not this one. As Detective Linda Caruso gets closer to the heart of the case, she discovers uncomfortable truths about her friends, her job, and herself.
Perfect for fans of crime and prison television, Dead Inside is written by John Arcudi with art by Toni Fejzula.
I got a chance to talk to Toni about the series and he provided some cool sketches and art for the comic series.
Graphic Policy: How’d you come on board Dead Inside?
Toni Fejzula: John offered me to work on this at the end of 2015. I was available so I didn’t hesitate. We’ve known each other since 2011–when he saw my blog and decided to contact me. Since then we’ve been talking about doing something together. Dark Horse hired me to work on Veil (with Greg Rucka) thanks to him, then came a Lobster Johnson one-shot issue with John (subtitled The Glass Mantis) and finally this. I heard that John had this idea a long time ago in his head, so I guess when he finally decided to realize it, he thought I was the right person.
GP: What about the series intrigued you that you wanted to work on it?
TF: The possibility to design realistic characters and develop them in a closed space and realistic environment, but even that doesn’t mean the approach needs to be entirely realistic. I love to feel that the characters I’m drawing have a real emotional background. As there are no fantastic elements here, you really focus on these people’s drama and you try to reflect it on paper.
GP: One of the things that stands out to me after reading the first issue is the diversity of the look of characters. When it comes to the design of each, how’d that come about?
TF: I always start emphasizing the differences between characters regarding their silhouettes, proportions or shapes. I make sure there’s no confusion between them so each of them has a unique form. I influenced by the mid-20th century modern painters (Lucien Freud. Francis Bacon, etc.), and some sculptors (Brancusi, Giacometti, Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, etc.) and they all had a very peculiar sense of volume that I tried to learn from. Sometimes, to set down the style for inking, I try to imagine that I’m carving on paper, for instance.
GP: A lot of your art that I’m familiar of has more of a horror tinge to it and this being a murder mystery there’s some overlap. What do you think the two styles of story have in common as far as looks?
TF: Technically speaking, the tools I’m using to create the oppressive and dense atmospheres in each type of stories are quite the same, therefore I don’t feel they’re distinct in that sense. I mean, a murder is something quite horrific too, so the main difference is that the terror is based here on something real, not supernatural. It’s stronger in many senses because it’s tangible.
GP: An aspect of the art I really enjoy is how grounded it looks, not just with the look of the world, but also the clothing everyone wears. It feels realistic. As an artist, are you looking at fashion and thinking through what they’d actually wear in real life?
TF: Oh, yes, when I imagined their clothing I tried to make them realistic. John helped me pretty much in that sense too. The only aspect that’s a bit old fashioned are those women’s jeans or trousers, they’re inspired from the seventies era because I like them far more then these that I see nowadays. I chose the orange prison dresses because they seemed like the right aesthetic to me, although I’m not sure these are really used in this kind of prison. For Linda, I chose a jacket I saw Rachel Weisz wearing in The Whistleblower, by the way.
GP: The issue takes place in a prison and morgue, locations we see a lot of in movies or tv shows. What type of research have you done as far as that? Have you mapped out where everything is in the prison?
TF: Although I watched many documentaries, John had a very clear idea on what environments he wanted to employ, so he’d send me huge zip files with many reference images before starting every issue. My notion of this prison is completely psychological. I draw the atmosphere and lighting on what each moment of this story needs dramatically speaking. I have a vague idea of the map of the prison because I analyzed a lot of them, but there are no fixed placements here.
GP: How long does it take you to usually complete an issue?
TF: Two months, that’s what we accorded when I started working on this. I’m still a bit slow for US market work, I know, but I’m working on that…
GP: Technology seems to have really changed how artists and writers collaborate and the artistic process. Generally, how do you work? Is it digital? Pencil and paper?
TF: My finished black and white art is usually pencils, inks, and paper because I love traditional inks. Although I worked a lot with computer art I never managed to reproduce the fluidness, precision, and manageability of traditional brushes and pencils. It’s also not that easy with layouts and pencils because I often change my methods. Sometimes I do digital pencils because these can be faster, but I control better the composition when I work on real paper. On the other hand, I love having originals …
GP: What advice would you give an artist trying to break into comics?
TF: I think that your art (because this industry is based on artistic values) is a game you must play very seriously. The game notion is about the idea that you should never lose your sense of joy and enthusiasm to discover new things in your work. The seriousness concept is referred to the idea that the only way to achieve the previous notion is through the strict professionalism and hard work.
Very hard work is the only way to get somewhere, I think. The sense of sacrifice and, most of all, the fight against your doubts are very important concepts, because you most certainly won’t have immediate compensations for what you’re trying to do. You must convince people you’re working with that you’re doing the best for the project. When you work on something that’s the only thing that matters. Do the best art you can, try new things and try not to be late. There’s nothing worse than the feeling that the person you’re working with isn’t really involved in what you’re creating together.
GP: What else do you have coming up in the new year you can tell us about?
TF: I confess I still have no specific stuff. There are some ideas and projects I want to do, but still nothing concrete, I’m afraid… I was so focused on Dead Inside since April this year that I had no time to work on new things.