Where did you study art?
“I actually didn’t officially study art. I grew up in a creative household. My grandmother was an artist, my mother was an artist, my sisters are artists in different ways, and I just had a natural knack for drawing and my mother encouraged it and taught me a lot as I was growing up. She taught me perspective and figure drawing and took me along to life drawing when I was really young.”
Was it always your goal to work in comics or did you have a different style or genre you wanted to do?
“I always drew superheroes but I didn’t really know about comics when I was growing up. They existed over here, but I didn’t really know most of the characters. If I’d see a comic there’d be maybe five or six on a rack and maybe half of them were Marvel characters and I just didn’t really know who they were. (laughs). Occasionally when I’d see a character I did know like Superman or Wonder Woman, they weren’t like the film or TV versions that I was familiar with and so I got confused, and I sort of felt like it was too strange and I couldn’t get into it.
The career that I was actually pursuing in my teens and my twenties was an acting career. That didn’t go anywhere. During those years I did sort of come across comic books properly and get an idea of them but I never quite thought of myself working in the industry. I gravitated toward them because I could draw and I drew superheroes and I loved superheroes. I was still a little overwhelmed by how many books and characters there were, the two different major universes—being DC and Marvel—and I’d pick up a book because I saw Wonder Woman on the cover but it was full of Green Arrow and Green Lantern and Black Canary and I would be thinking ‘Who are these people? I have no idea.’ (laughs).
Very slowly I was kind of building an idea of who these characters were, but again I still hadn’t considered it something I would do. It wasn’t until I had given up on acting completely that I was in my late twenties and I was trying to work out what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life. It really came down to ‘Well, I can draw; what can I do with that?’ because I really wanted a creative career. I tried to think of all the different ways that I knew that you can make a living drawing—none of which really appealed or seemed appropriate—I literally just had the thought of if I had to draw the same thing every day what would I want to draw? And as soon as I thought that I thought, ‘Oh, I wish I could just draw Wonder Woman every day. I love Wonder Woman.’
I thought that’s a job, that’s a real job that someone has. Drawing Wonder Woman every day. I thought comic books have superheroes you love superheroes, this is such a no-brainer decision, just shut up and draw comic books. That was really the first time that I considered it as a serious option. It was then that I made a serious effort to understand comic books. It took a while but I jumped in straight away. Within twenty minutes I was in a comic book store and I was buying lots and lots of stuff, and I kept it up until I got the lay of the land. (laughs).
I started drawing a lot. It took probably a year and a half before I had a proper idea of what I should be doing. It took me a year and a half to decide ‘I need to draw interiors,’ that means drawing everything other than superheroes as well—buildings and cars and the boring things (laughs). It took a year and a half to really start to understand what sequential storytelling meant and how it works and where it doesn’t. Not that I ever stopped learning, but that was the basics. Because I was really catching up with people who not only were ten years younger than me—because by this stage I was thirty—but they probably spent up to ten years reading comic books by this stage. I just needed to catch up, so I became a one-track-minded single-goal-oriented person for a really long time. And it paid off. I just learned a lot as quickly as possible.
I started by asking really dumb questions that got a little smarter the more I got to learn. I just had to have no fear of coming across as a little bit ridiculous. Having that headset and being older kind of meant that I wasn’t going to feel deterred if I wasn’t being encouraged and if I ever found myself actively being discouraged—which I only was once—then I just wouldn’t be deterred. I tried not to get too emotionally invested in this decision that I’d made but be really practical about it.”
Was it hard breaking into the comic art world?
“Yeah, because there isn’t really an industry in Australia. At the time there was one publisher and they had about two titles. The very first time I went to a convention here in Australia I took a portfolio along under the advisement of the guy that ran the comic book shop that I was going into, and I got a job the very first day, which was pretty exciting. It was one of the buzziest days that I’d ever had. (laughs). I was drawing covers for one of their books that was being distributed by Diamond—that sounded like a really big deal—and it was an anti-hero/superhero book. It was a very mid 90s/late 90s concept.
I came away from that feeling totally buzzed thinking ‘I just got a job in comics. That’s amazing. I think I just got the only job in Australian comics that someone can give me.’ Because I wasn’t really thinking like I would create books because I didn’t know that was an option. When I became aware that it was an option I thought, ‘Bugger that, I want to draw superheroes. I want someone to pay me.’ As soon as it had really settled in that ‘Okay, I think I just got the only job that I’m ever gonna get in this country. The only people who seem to make a living out of this business work in the American market—because at this time I really didn’t know about the Japanese market or the French market—I was like ‘Okay, I need to go to America.’ So I started doing that.
Saying it was hard is not quite right. I put in a lot of hard work. But I actually think I had a very quick, smooth ride. Not that everything was roses, but I didn’t find a lot of road blocks. Anything that was a road block was more like a lesson. From the point of having no idea of what I was doing to getting a job at DC Comics took four and a half years. That’s pretty quick from absolute zero. Being the wrong gender on the wrong side of the world, trying to break into an industry that doesn’t exist in my country. It actually went kind of smoothly. And the time it took was just all learning.”
Speaking of wrong gender, do you feel that women are at a disadvantage when it comes to comic book art, or do you feel the playing field is a little more balanced nowadays?
“I think it’s way more balanced nowadays. I think there’s probably a few conversations or areas of the Internet that it’s probably best to stay clear of, but I don’t actually think that there is any real obstacle getting into the business. In fact, I’m sure even the mainstream companies are actively looking for more female creators because the female readership is galvanized by the Internet. It’s loud enough to be heard by the companies and so they’re now producing books with female creative teams and female characters, and those books are making great sales.”
Tell us a little about the story for BLACK MAGICK.
“Essentially we’re looking at a period of time in a police detective’s life who happens to have inherited a very old family tradition in her religion and a yet-to-be-defined skill set which she hasn’t really engaged in terribly much despite the fact that she practices her religion. And forces are yet-to-be-revealed, forces are kind of poking her into waking up.”
What’s your favorite part of doing the art for BLACK MAGICK?
“There’s so much. Greg [Rucka] and I have been wanting to work together for such a long time. Getting to interpret his scripts is a lot of fun because there’s always nuance and subtext and layers. There’s always so much to work with and mining specific depths or indications of what’s happening in someone’s head and trying to bring them to the surface for each panel. That, in itself, is pretty fun. It’s way more subtle and sometimes slightly intangible than it is drawing superhero books. But the practical side that I love the most is the painting. I’m getting to paint now, which I hadn’t done since very early in my time of starting to get into comics.
The very first thing I started doing when I made the decision to get into comics was start painting pictures of Wonder Woman, because painting was the kind of art that I had been producing. It took a while for me to realize that there’s not a lot of space in the industry for people who paint, and the people who do it are a lot better than I am and there aren’t many jobs for those people.”
A lot of digital and Copic coloring.
“Digital was starting to really evolve into something interesting that could be achieved in a big way and I barely know how to turn a computer on, let alone use Photoshop. (laughs). I felt completely out of my depths in that arena. If I wanted someone to give me a job I was more likely to find a job as a penciller, so I started teaching myself how to pencil and limiting myself to line work, which was kind of going back to how I used to draw when I was a kid.
So, I haven’t really used these painting skills for over a decade, so it’s really fun to be able to pull out a paintbrush again. Once I’ve drawn a page—I tend to work in batches of scenes: three pages, five pages, six pages, a scene or two (depending on the length). I’ll rough them out and then I’ll ink them. I’ll do the line work, but I’m doing pretty simple line work. I’m not putting down a lot of information. It’s kind of more outlines and indications. And it’s where I get to paint that it’s really, really satisfying because it’s when I get to put in texture and light and shadow, and I’m having a lot of fun creating atmosphere in grey tones.”
What’s your favorite geeky/nerdy pastime outside of art and comics?
“I watch a lot of geek films and TV. They were my entry point into superheroes when I was a kid, so they’re the kind of things that really put a fire in my belly. It’s not always as great as I’d hoped, but the DC films and movies that are happening at the moment—generally I’m feeling super buzzed and/or optimistic about.”
BLACK MAGICK #5 hits stores Wednesday, February 24th