It seems like every week is a new and exciting Image Comics release, so it takes a lot to stand out these days. Thankfully, we’re still getting books that do just that, as “Shutter” from Joe Keatinge, Leila del Duca, Owen Gieni and Ed Brisson blew us away with its debut issue just last month. Today brings the second issue and I can assure you, it does not disappoint. It’s another truly unique, completely engrossing read, and a big part of that reason is del Duca’s phenomenal art.
I reached out to del Duca to talk “Shutter”, how this book came together, how she brings her art to life, her influences, and much more as we talk about this second issue in-depth. There aren’t any enormous spoilers of the issue, but if you’re someone who wants everything to be a surprise, I strongly recommend waiting until you’ve read the book. Take a look below, and thanks to Leila for chatting with me in this week’s edition of Artist Alley.
The origins of your partnership with Joe Keatinge on this book root back to meeting at NYCC 2012, but for you, what was it about this project that appealed to you from the start, both as an artist/storyteller and as a fan of comics?
Leila del Duca: It was more the idea of working with Joe, than the pitch, that made me want to do “Shutter”. I knew that he was a ridiculously good storyteller and his ideas were awesome. He was always asking me “What do you want to draw?” so he also made me feel important, like my interests were his interests. Because he cared so much about writing material that appealed to me as an artist and individual, “Shutter” quickly turned into a dream project, with amazing visuals and relatable characters that I cared about before I even saw the first script. So basically, Joe’s ability to work as an absolute co-creator was what appealed to me the most.
I really loved the write-up after the first issue, and the enthusiasm you and Joe had for the project and your partners-in-crime on it, like Owen Gieni and Ed Brisson. It really feels like a team effort, through and through, in creating this book. What is it about working with Joe, Owen and Ed that you feel brings the most out of your work, and what’s the process in putting together an issue, like our topic of discussion #2, together?
LDD: First, I’ll answer how working with this team brings out the best in my work. In the past, I did a lot of work where I had to shoulder more or all of the art responsibilities, or worry about how my team would find other people to a good job at coloring and lettering. I also did a bit of writing in the past, and all I wanted to do was concentrate on penciling and inking. Having so many areas of the art process to occupy my mind made me stress out about doing everything right, which made it so everything wasn’t done to the best of my ability. With “Shutter”, I’m working with 3 other comics professionals who have been doing this for years, and fucking killing it. I feel like I don’t need to stress out about the script, colors, or letters, and that I can put all of my creative efforts on drawing the best pages I’ve ever produced because these guys are so freaking awesome at what they do. Also, because I’m working with these amazing creators, I find myself striving to impress them, making sure I’m also working at the top of my game, whereas in the past I haven’t had the energy or motivation. I’m a bit of an exhibitionist when it comes to my artwork, and when I know people aren’t going to see my work, I kind of slack off in terrible ways, and yes, I feel crappy about that!
To answer the part about process, we do what most comic teams seem to do. Joe writes the script after having some conversations with me about the direction he wants to take, then he sends it to me. I do layouts, then send them in for another discussion. Then I pencil and ink. Actually, that step is a bit different for me. I’ve usually had to turn in pencils for critique before going to inks, but Joe trusts my artistic decisions and it actually improves the energy of my pages to skip the pencil critique altogether. After final inks, we send them to Owen, he works his magic, then to Ed, who also does his thing. THE END. Oh, and I guess there’s putting the book together, which Monica Leong has been doing an amazing job at!Continued below
With so many options available to artists today, no two artists work exactly alike. Are you a traditional medium artist, a digital one, or some mix of both? What are your go-to tools when bringing an issue to life?
LDD: I’m definitely a traditional artist. I don’t like sitting in front of a computer for very long, which is one of the reasons I never got great at coloring my own work. My tools of the trade are Strathmore bristol boards lined for comic pages, and I loosely draw each page with a drafting pencil with 2H lead. I ink with size 01 Raphael Kolinsky sable brushes, rapidiographs for straight lines, and sometimes use a crow quill for certain effects. If I screw up on a page, I’ll digitally fix it in Photoshop unless it’s such a huge mistake that I have to re-draw it completely.
This…this is just concentrated awesome converted into comic art. It’s madness, but in the best of ways. You said before that Joe just asked you “what do you want to draw?” and somewhere along the lines “Shutter” was the result. For a page like this, how much is tight, descriptive scripting from Joe, and how much is you just unleashing your imagination? I don’t think anything can possibly top the amazing that is Shaw and his gang of lion gangsters riding around on a flying old timey car, but it is early in the series…
LDD: I’m glad you asked about this one…I cried over this page a few times because it was so challenging! It was pretty heavily scripted, because it was the introduction of the Maahes Lane Gang, and there’s so much action and weird elements, so things needed to be pretty specific. Also, for the record, I never told Joe specifically, “I want to draw a bunch of lion mobsters in an old-timey car chasing the tic-toc-inspired robot and his ghost ninja and rat kid minions who have just captured Kate. Oh yes, and there must be NYPD flying saucers shooting lazers, too.” That was all Joe and his ridiculously colorful imagination. Anyways, the description of this page was similar to that last sentence. So over-the-top crazy that my mind had a hard time wrapping around it, and it stressed me out! However, after it was done I felt like an ultimate badass and the other pages came easier.
One of my favorite things to look at on a big spread like this is sorting out the logic (or illogic) of it all, and Leila, you are a star because this is just mad genius. I love tracing the action on the page, as no detail was spared in making sure it works in its entirety. I always imagine that these types of pages are intimidating, as there is a lot to ensure visual logic on. How do you tackle a page like this to make sure that the cacophony of action doesn’t become overwhelming, and for you as an artist, are these types of spreads something that excites or inspires dread?
LDD: I guess I half answered this in the previous answer, but I’ll say that these pages require a few rounds of thumbnails, sketches, lots of coffee, and some mad pacing around outside, preferably in a park with trees and some privacy in case the uncontrollable stress tears start flowing. Technically, I have to remember what makes a good composition when there are so many elements. 1) What’s the best way to group the elements? 2) Where can I place my shadows so that objects stand out from the chaos? 3) How do I still keep the emotional core of the story? It takes a lot of brain energy for me to figure out a page as complex as this, but like I said before, it just makes me stronger once I work through it. Also, even though they’re hard as hell, I eagerly welcome these pages because of the challenges they present, the cool visuals I get to draw, and the artistic growth that comes out of it.
I really love how the panel borders and frame, typically white but really just used to space the page, actually take over at the bottom right, and that white space is utilized to continue telling the events on the page. That easily could have been another boxed panel on the page, but you went this route. What do you think putting Kate’s struggle against the ghost ninjas in that free space adds to the power and flow of the page? Was that straight from the script, or was that a situation where you were finding the best way to represent that story beat visually?Continued below
LDD: That was a design choice by me. I really like when artists use different framing in comics. Sergio Toppi and Mark Schultz do that stuff a lot and it gets me every time. It just looks cool. In this case, I didn’t want to have to make the figures smaller to be contained within the panel, and I wanted to make it so the action could be presented more freely. It also forces the reader to focus on what Kate’s focusing on: the ninjas. I don’t want to sound like I knew what I was doing from the beginning. Really, I did it because it looked cool, and thankfully the effect worked towards my ultimate storytelling goal.
This flashback sequence of Kate and her father when she was a child is really fantastic, but there were some elements to it that I thought made it stand out all the more. I’m not sure if this is a you thing or an Owen thing, but the memory really feels like a memory because of the way Kate and her dad are the most in-focus elements on the page, with everything else having an almost soft lens look to them. Given that Kate’s life with her father is hugely important to the story, is that something you’re looking to carry forward? Or am I just a mad man reading too much into the look of the page?
LDD: The out of focus effect was Owen’s brilliant idea. From the beginning, he said that he wanted to make the flashback scenes between Kate and her Dad more shiny, bright, and Disney-esque so that it’s obvious her memories of her father are more vibrant than what her life is like now. Joe and I were psyched about the concept and Owen’s going to keep coloring the flashbacks in this way for the duration of the comic.
One thing that I really want to give credit for is Alain’s hair. That’s just magnificent hair. That’s indicative of your work on the book though, as you manage to imbue each character with a visual personality that isn’t just some standard, but really feel representative of who they are. For you as an artist, how important is it to give the characters and their world true identity? Is that something you’re actively looking to do as an artist?
LDD: Giving each character their own unique identity is definitely something I actively do as an artist. In comics, it’s a pet peeve of mine when all the character’s faces and bodies look the same and the only way to tell them apart is their hair and clothing. That aside, I love when characters have unique identities because that makes them that much more relatable and tangible. It also helps readers understand them more and care about who they are. It’s also much more interesting to draw as an artist. It may be easier and faster to use a more cookie-cutter approach, but where’s the fun in that? I like a good challenge and I’d rather be intrigued by my characters than bored a few issues into drawing them.
This dragon is just straight up amazing, and it reminds me of a hybrid of old Japanese wood block paintings mixed with a Hayao Miyazaki creature. This is kind of a weird place to drop this, but what influences you? Including comics, but thinking outside of them, what do you look to when you’re needing inspiration for your art?
LDD: It’s cool that you bring up Miyazaki, because he has been inspirational to me. His themes tend to be about things that interest me, like being a better person, caring about the world we live in, etc., and his character development makes me care about his characters just like I try making people care about mine. But to list earlier influences, growing up I read a lot of fantasy and sci fi novels which inspired me to become an illustrator. I wanted to be able to draw what I saw in my head. Robert Jordan and his Wheel of Time series was probably the biggest motivator in my teen years. Since then, movies and entertainment have all made an impact on my storytelling growth, but now I rely on real world experiences to influence and motivate me. I try new things and have fun with people as much as possible, and that kind of energy feeds my creativity more than anything. When I don’t have fun and laugh a lot on a regular basis, my creativity and motivation suffers.