On Day Two of Artist August, we’ve got the artist of book that was arguably the biggest announcement at this years San Diego Comic Con – Fiona Staples. With her upcoming creator-owned sci-fi book SAGA with luminary writer Brian K. Vaughan, Staples is ready to make the leap from rising star to superstar. Not that she is doing bad, having already earned an Eisner nomination and a Shuster win in her young career.
Thanks to Fiona for talking us to today, as we chat with her about her art, how important digital tools are to her, SAGA, her Shuster win, and a whole lot more. Also, come back later to see examples of what makes her art so great.
Fiona Staples: It was an idea that I toyed with for a while – beginning in high school when I first started buying comics – and then gradually began considering more seriously. I always wanted to be an artist of some kind, but it was when I was a teenager and starting to get into various fandoms and geeky interests that I decided it would be really cool and glamorous to draw comics!
Who or what, both in comics and outside of them, has influenced the development of your own art styles?
FS: Anime and video games were huge at first, then Ashley Wood was a big influence when I started drawing comics in college. I just rolled along picking up a lot of different influences – classic 20th century illustrators like Howard Pyle, Warren’s Vampirella comics from the ’70s, Japanese artists like Taiyo Matsumoto. At first it was painfully obvious who I was stealing from, but eventually there were enough sources of inspiration in the mix that my art came out looking like something unique.
You’re an up-and-coming star in the industry, with your work in North 40 earning you an Eisner nomination and your covers in 2010-11 getting you the win for the Shuster Awards Best Cover Artist. How difficult was the path for you to get into comics, and what can you say to young artists looking to make their way into the industry?
FS: The path for me, I have to admit, wasn’t as long or as fraught with difficulty as it is for many people trying to break in. I was lucky enough to have people supporting me and helping me find opportunities. So considering that, I guess I would say to young artists: be someone that people want to see succeed! Be humble, grateful, and work hard. I also believe that if you get your art to the level where it’s worth publishing, it won’t go unnoticed. Make fantastic art, pick the right projects, and the rest will take care of itself.
FS: Steve Niles, who I worked with on Mystery Society last year, introduced me to Brian. Steve is one of the biggest fans and supporters of creator-owned comics I know, so I think he loves seeing new collaborations happen! I’m both excited and nervous for people to finally start seeing the book next year. Mostly excited.
What can you tell us about SAGA, and what have you looked to help develop the look of this sci-fi war epic?
FS: I can’t say much about the plot, but it’s about a young family on the run in a sci-fi/fantasy world. Our galaxy is huge and sprawling with tonnes of planets, species, cultures, and so on. Since this universe contains an even mix of magic and tech, I couldn’t resist looking to the Final Fantasy games for a bit of inspiration. We’re also drawing from retro sci-fi, although not in an intentionally campy way. My biggest points of reference are just going to be real-world locations, dressed up and tweaked to suit the story.Continued below
Vaughan has said that this is his longest work yet, and that is with 60 issue and 50 issue runs under his belt on Y the Last Man and Ex-Machina respectively. As the co-creator and artist, are you on-board for every issue, or are there parts in which another artist may jump in for a fill-in issue?
FS: A bit later down the line we might look for a fill-in artist, but I’m doing at least the first twelve issues before taking a break.
You’ve earned significant acclaim both for your cover work and interiors. How different is the process for developing covers versus interiors?
FS: Technique-wise, a little different! It’s all done in Photoshop, but I take a more painterly approach to covers and spend more time on them. It’s also a different thought process- with interiors I’m primarily concerned with storytelling, and with covers I’m trying to create an image that hints at the narrative within but also conveys the themes and spirit of the book. I’m sometimes successful, sometimes not.
For something like Mystery Society, in which you did both covers and interiors, how important is it to dovetail those two together to create a complete art piece? How difficult is it?
FS: It hasn’t been too difficult, but of course I could always challenge myself to do a better job at it! As I said, I just try to make covers that correspond to something that happens in the book and also have the elements of an interesting image, one that looks unique even in thumbnail-size or from across the comic store. I think the covers and interiors make a cohesive package just by virtue of being done by the same person.
On your blog, you said that one of the DV8: Gods and Monsters covers was conceptualized by Brian Wood. How were those covers conceived throughout the mini, and how was it working with Wood on this and Northlanders?
FS: Brian actually came up with the concepts for all the DV8 covers, which is why I think they turned out so well. He’s a great designer and a really visual person so I was more than happy to just execute his ideas. In reading his script for Northlanders, it was obvious again that he visualises the finished page when he’s writing it, because his directions for staging and so on were brief but very clear. It made doing layouts a breeze.
You’re part of the slew of creators working on the Womanthology project that has taken the industry by storm. How did you get involved with it, and what does it mean to you to be involved with such a project?
FS: Renae de Liz emailed me one day to ask if I’d be interested in Womanthology, and it got my attention right away! I really think comics as a whole – both the industry and the art form – would benefit from having more diversity amongst creators, and getting more women into the mix is a huge part of that. This anthology is the perfect tool to give a bunch of talented new female creators exposure, experience, and an entry point into the industry. And from a creative standpoint, I’ve always loved the anthology format, so to get to do a short story alongside all these other fantastic creators is really cool and fun.
In the digital age, new tools are available to artists of all types. How does that affect and expand your work?
FS: I’ve been using digital media since I was a kid, messing around in Photoshop Elements to colour my lame anime fanart! My professional work has been almost 100% digital since 2008, when I borrowed a Cintiq from Frazer Irving to complete some really tight deadlines. I was hooked, I got one of my own, and now all of my work is basically done in Photoshop. I still sketch and practice with traditional media, but digital art is really exciting to me- people are always inventing new tricks and techniques. There are almost no physical constraints with digital art so you’re really only limited by your skill and imagination.
Does feedback (both positive and negative) with fans and critics via social media push you as an artist? How does that aspect affect your art?Continued below
FS: I read quite a few reviews and always hope people will like the work, but reading their comments doesn’t actually affect the way I draw very much. I think I’m pretty good at critiquing my own stuff and figuring out internally where it needs to go. Critics can analyze your art and point out where it’s lacking, but no one else can see your own art’s potential the way you can. They can only compare you to other artists they’ve seen. You can compare your work to what you see in your head.
In the average comic book criticism or review, artists are typically given a lot less hype than writers are, even though this is a visual medium. Why do you think that is?
FS: Well, while comics are a visual medium they’re primarily narratives, so I think it’s only natural for most people to care more about what happens in the comic than what it looks like. Movies are visual too, but viewers tend to pay more attention to the plot than to the acting or direction or cinematography… unless one of those things is awful, of course!
I also think that processing images is such an automatic function, we don’t really stop to think about it. If a reader is moved by something that happens in a comic they might just assume it’s because of the way it’s written, because they didn’t consciously process the way a facial expression was drawn or the way the colour palette enhanced the scene. And that’s fine, that just means the art is serving the story well.
Comics, even with increasing acceptance amongst the mainstream, are still a niche medium. With that in mind, have your friends and family always been supportive of your pursuit of a career in this field?
FS: Always! I’ve never been discouraged from doing this by any of them, thankfully.
What would be a dream project for you? Any particular writers you’re dying to work with or titles you’d like to take a stab at? Perhaps a personal project you just want to see come to fruition?
FS: I started a web comic, “Teens in Love in Space,” with my brother and posted some strips a little while ago, when work was slow. I drew it for a couple of months and then stopped, which is just what happens when you’re not held accountable to anyone but your mom. But I would really like to pick that up again, because my brother and I have a monstrous stack of scripts accumulated.
What would happen if a school cafeteria was staffed by moogles?
FS: Everyone would get really sick of kupo nuts!
What are three things that you absolutely cannot work without?
FS: My iMac, my Cintiq, and a script. Too obvious?
Desert Island question: one book, one album, one film and one comic. What do you take with you?
FS: “The Princess and the Goblin” by George MacDonald; Prince’s Purple Rain; the Speed Racer movie (for whatever reason, I can watch it over and over again and never get sick of it); Love & Rockets: Music for Mechanics.
Who are your favorite artists working in comics today?
FS: Massimo Carnevale, Sean Murphy, Eric Canete, Mike Huddleston, Duncan Fegredo, R.M. Guera, Jock…