[In honour of Women in Horror Month, Mike DeShane and Aaron Von Lupton will be spotlighting three of the many ladies working in the bloody trenches of the horror comics biz. First up is Becky Cloonan, whose credits include some of the best horror titles on the market.]
Comic book creator Becky Cloonan’s motto is “Comics Rule Everything Around Me,” but based on her current career trajectory, it’s more like her goal is to rule comics.
Cloonan has been producing indie comics since 1999, but it was her work with writer Brian Wood on the twelve-issue series Demo in 2003 that first brought her mainstream attention. In the years since then, the Eisner award-winning artist has gone on to provide art for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Batman, Swamp Thing, Vampirella, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Hack/Slash and more.
More recently it has been Cloonan’s self-published mini comics, available in 99-cent digital versions and premium printed collector’s editions, that have been gaining her attention. In 2011 she released Wolves, a sad and beautiful tale of a hunter, his love and a curse, that quickly sold out its first print run. In 2012 she continued her streak of critical acclaim and impressive small press sales with The Mire, a haunting story of a squire’s journey to deliver a message.
Becky recently took some time away from her drawing table to discuss the dark art of comics.
Last year you provided the illustrations for a graphic-novel edition of Dracula. Can you tell us how that came about and what your favourite part of the project was?
My agent actually told me about the project, and I jumped at the chance – Dracula is one of my favourite books! There have been so many amazing illustrated editions of it already, so to make this one different I looked at a lot of colour schemes used in Victorian paintings and textiles; I tried to use colours that would be surprising for such a Gothic tale, but still stay true to what Stoker had written and the mood of the book. The characters are so fun too, and I even got to choose the scenes that were illustrated. I’m really proud of the way this book came out, and as challenging as it was being the first time I’ve ever illustrated a novel, it was a lot of fun too.
You’ve referred to Wolves and The Mire as tragedies. What do you think it is about the supernatural that makes it mesh so well with the tragic?
Tragedy is inherent [in the supernatural], whether it is in the form of a ghost that is a sign of horrific events of the past, or a curse that warns of something that is yet to happen, I don’t think you can escape it. But there is also romance, secrets and beauty in these stories as well. I suppose the happiest ending you can hope for in one of my stories is “bittersweet.”
I’m inspired by the weird and mysterious. My least favourite parts of most supernatural stories is the reveal – if they show the monster, or explain the how’s and why’s. So much in life is unexplainable, and those little moments of magic are so intriguing to me. As a storyteller, I want to preserve those feelings, and not explain it all away at the end.
Recently you announced a new self-published project entitled Demeter. Is it part of a thematic trilogy with Wolves and The Mire, and is the title in reference to Bram Stoker, the goddess, or something else altogether?
The title has a few meanings – of course there is a deliberate wink to Dracula’s seafaring journey, but there are a lot of parallels to the Greek myth of Demeter too. The story follows a fisherman’s wife as she tends the garden and animals while her husband is at sea. Secrets buried under the waves start to bubble to the surface, revealing treachery and truth. Of course there will be a supernatural element, and this means tragedy too!
All signs point to yes! Because I do these mini comics in my spare time, it depends on how much spare time I have in the next few months. I don’t want to rush it, but if I have to pull a few overnights to get ’er done, those are the breaks.
Your current project is The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys with writer/rock star Gerard Way, which we get a preview of on Free Comic Book Day (May 4, 2013). What secrets can you give away about this long-awaited miniseries?
This book has been years in the making. First it was a comic, then that got put on hold while it turned into an album, and then some music videos, and back into a comic again! It’s completely changed since I was first involved in 2009, and now there is a whole world built around this story that I can draw inspiration from. It’s been really cool to be involved from the beginning in of all this.
One of the biggest things that has changed is the main character, who went from being a guy in his late 20s to a teenage girl, making it more of a coming-of-age story.
After the praise you’ve received for your writing, is there any chance we’ll see you as the writer/artist on projects for the larger publishers?
After Killjoys is finished, I’m actually signed on to do a graphic novel with First Second! I don’t want to say too much before it’s announced, but it’s based on a novel that I get to adapt as well as draw, and I’m hoping that this will open some doors for me to move away from licensed characters and write my own comics. Doing short stories like Wolves and The Mire has really helped me tighten up my writing, and get it to a point where I’m more confident in it. I’m not sure if this means I’ll have to depart from monthly comics, which is a shame because I love the format, but it depends if any publishers are interested in my original stories. I guess we’ll see
What artist’s work (in any medium) has had the most lasting influence on you?
There are so many, but if I had to pick just one it would be Fritz Lang – I love working in black and white, and pretty much everything I know about balancing my lights and shadows comes from watching German expressionist films.
Can you share some comic creators/artists you think Rue Morgue readers might not be reading, but should be?
Emily Carroll has some amazing illustrations, and she draws the creepiest comics I’ve ever read, hands down! And they are all online so you can check them out on her website for free. Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read some of her work today.
Sometimes I feel like I have the next three years of my work planned for me! Which is kind of true; I’m booked with a graphic novel until the middle of 2014. I plan to keep self-publishing, and pull together a collection of my short stories next year too. Hopefully I will have some time to do more illustrating as well. Whenever I get to draw something that’s not a comic, it feels like a luxury.
Finally, the question we’ll be asking all the creators we speak to this month: Is a Women in Horror Month necessary, and more specifically, is it needed to draw attention to women working in comics?
I can’t speak for horror, but I know a lot of women in comics are getting tired of hearing about “Women in Comics.” I totally understand – the discussion becomes tiresome when all I want to do is draw, and it’s belittling to always be in “The Girl Issue” – that’s like saying you’re not good enough to be in a regular issue. I know that’s not how it’s meant, but after a while that’s how it feels, and it’s exasperating. It’s like you are drawing attention to the fact that attention is being drawn to women, instead of just letting these talented ladies speak for themselves. I feel like I’m talking semantics here, but this subject sometimes gets me thinking in circles.
That said, I still know it’s important as long as there is a gender disparity (or inequality in general) to encourage more girls to become engaged in the medium. And the more we can get reading and drawing comics, the more will want to keep doing that as they get older. If you look at the comic industry five years ago, you’ll see an exponential growth in the number of female creators and readers. Follow that growth for another five years, and maybe we won’t see Women in Comics panels at conventions anymore.
When you talk about the comics industry, there are so many sides to it. There is the direct market, book publishers, manga, web comics – and you’ll see the number of women creating and reading fluctuate between them. When people say they want to see more women creators, they are probably talking about superhero comics – because if you take a look outside of the direct market, you’ll see women everywhere. You mentioned TCAF, the Toronto Comics and Arts Festival in May – they are a great example. TCAF has always had an almost 50/50 split of male and female guests and attendees, and I think this is a much truer look at the diversity behind the comic industry!
I love that there are more women in comics now than ever before, from creators to readers and journalists to women organizing conventions and just in general being awesome. And as tired as I might be of hearing about it, it’s so important to keep a dialogue open as long as people need support against the evils of sexism, bullying and discrimination. If this means we all have to pull together to do a few more Women in Comics panels, I guess I can live with that!
For more information on Becky, visit her official website.
Mike DeShane and Aaron Von Lupton