-Interview by Kevin de Vlaming
Fiona Staples is a fast-rising name in comic books these days. An artist based out of Calgary, Alberta, Fiona is currently most well-known for her pencils/colors on The Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor. Since breaking onto the scene in 2006 with Done to Death, a limited series she worked on alongside Edmonton-based writer Andrew Foley, Fiona has built an impressive work resume of comics published both independently and by such major players as Image and Wildstorm
In addition to TSHOTA: Hawksmoor, this list includes colouring several issues of Proof, doing covers for Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (as well as a recent Wolverine cover for War Machine # 5), and penciling an issue of Amazing Tales featuring Spider-Woman.
Her latest work is on North 40, another Wildstorm title due out this July. Written by Aaron Williams, (the Chronicles of Nodwick, PS238) Fiona is responsible for all of the pencils and colours on its six-issue run.
I caught up with Fiona over coffee here in Calgary, where the incredibly talented Ms. Staples shared her insights about success, working with Aaron Williams, and why her favourite North 40 character is the surly old Sherriff.
KD: To say that you have a lot going on these days would be a bit of an understatement. In April alone, you had the Hawksmoor trade paperback release, your variant cover for War Machine hit the shelves, and the Vicious Ambitious anthology featuring your comic strip Teens in Love in Space dropped. Then of course you have North 40 coming up, and you’ve been generating a tonne of buzz both in local press and major comic media sources like Newsarama.
What’s it like for you, being at the center of this recent whirlwind of activity?
FS: It’s a little bit daunting, but at the same time I’d rather be too busy than not busy enough. I’m pretty lucky that I’ve had pretty steady work since I started freelancing full time. I don’t feel like I could really complain about my situation too much. Like, it’s exciting, I get to do a lot of different things, which keeps it interesting. My main project right now, and for the last several months, has been North 40. That’s taken up 90% of my time. But there are certain other things I just can’t say ‘no’ to, like doing a Wolverine cover. Or doing something for a Vicious Ambitious book.
KD: From how I understand it, you first really got involved in the comic industry three years ago with a comic called ‘Done to Death’. Three years isn’t a super long time in the grand scheme of things, but a significant amount has happened for you in that time. How do you feel your life has changed from then to now, in terms of where you’re at and what you’re doing with yourself?
FS: Well, when Done to Death came out in 2006, the first issue came out right as I was graduating from Art College. So I was still holding down part-time jobs at the time, and freelancing full time. I worked at a local comic shop called Comic-Kazi for a few years. I was a cook for a while… I don’t cook very much anymore. (laughs) That’s one way my lifestyle has changed. More take-out.
KD: Is there a surreal element to it all?
FS: Yeah, while there’s definitely moments where sometimes I just get caught up in what I’m doing and lose perspective, there are definitely times where I just have to pause and think, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m getting paid to draw a cowboy fighting a bunch of zombies at a high school dance. I can’t believe there’s money in this.”
KD: When you put it like that, it certainly sounds like you’re living the dream.
To date, what’s been your most humbling moment in the comic book industry?
FS: Probably any time that I look at my work from over six months ago, I feel kind of humbled. I guess I’m fairly self-critical, like most artists are. I feel like this glow of pride whenever I finish something and send it off. But then when it comes out like a few months later, when I look at some of my old stuff that’s been printed, I think like – oh god, that’s not nearly as good as I thought it was at first. But that’s a sign of growth, I suppose.
KD: I’m going to shift gears a little bit, so we can talk about your upcoming project with Aaron Williams, North 40. The impression that I have of this comic is that it’s going to be sort of a Lovecraftian, sci-fi, Americana Western.
Is that somewhat accurate, or what else would you add to that?
FS: In some ways it’s also sort of a straight up superhero action story. The action is almost played up a bit more than the horror stuff, but there’s still definitely also some freaky monsters, and some scary stuff happening. It’s a combination of so many weird elements. You’ve got a little bit of teen drama going on, then like you said, there’s the western element. There’s the Cthulu-like monster – and then there’s some parts that read almost like a slasher movie. There’s just so many different genres that go into it.
KD: What’s it been like working with Aaron Williams on this?
FS: Aaron has been really great. His scripts are fun to read just on their own. When I read through them, I couldn’t put them down until I was finished. I hope that my artwork can add something to it. His story and his dialogue are really well crafted, and his characters are really fleshed out – even though it’s kind of an ensemble piece, with four or five main protagonists. They all have specific and realistic motivations, and I think that’s important to keep this sort of off-the-wall, wacky story kind of grounded, so it doesn’t just dissolve into absurdity. There’s definitely real heart and real character driving the plot.
KD: Speaking of those characters, I noticed you mentioned on your blog that your favorite character from North 40 is someone named Sherriff Morgan. Can you speak a little bit more about that character, and what the appeal is to you?
FS: Oh, sure! Morgan is just this tough little guy, he’s been Sherriff of Conover County for as long as anyone can remember. He doesn’t get rattled too easily, and he usually relies on his skills of negotiation to solve conflict – though he’s a pretty good shot as well, when he has to be. I guess I just like how he’s a cool old Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones kind of character – although I’m trying not to make him look too much like either of those guys.
KD: How long in the making has North 40 been?
FS: A long time, actually. Aaaron and I first pitched it back in December 2007. We pitched it before I even started working on Hawksmoor, and then when they both got approved at the same time, they wanted to put me on Hawksmoor first. I started drawing North 40 last September, and it’s taking me longer than any other comic ever has. Partly because I’ve been working on a lot of other things at the same time, and partly because I’m taking a lot of care with it, and I’m trying to get a lot more detail into the artwork.
KD: Building on that, how is your approach to illustrating North 40 different from your work with Hawksmoor, or your recent work on Astonishing Tales?
FS: The approach and the technique is more or less the same, I just have more time to do it. With Hawksmoor I had about four weeks to do each issue, and with this one I have roughly twice that amount of time. So, I’m not skimping so much on backgrounds and details. I guess in some ways the artwork is also more realistic, and maybe a little less stylized.
KD: With North 40 currently scheduled for its six issue run, how far through the penciling are you now?
FS: I just finished penciling issue four.
KD: Are you doing all of the coloring on this as well?
FS: I am, yep. My editor even let me write some of the sound effects! It’s my first professional writing gig. (laughs)
KD: I understand that you’re pretty plugged in to the comic community out here in Alberta. Would that be an inaccurate statement to make?
FS: Well, I hope to be.
KD: Can you tell me a little about your thoughts on the community of comic creators and artists in Alberta?
FS: We have a pretty unique comic scene out here. I’m sure it exists in some capacity in other cities and provinces, but there’s a very cohesive community here. It’s thanks to things like the weekly drink and draws, all the local anthologies that are put out, message boards like Canadian Geek and Maple Ink… and it all happened very organically.
Sometimes people try to give it a boost, or they come up with an elaborate plan to start a company, or start an official studio, but for the most part it just managed to come together on its own. I think it’s a sign of how enthused and optimistic everybody feels about it.
KD: Awesome! Finally, what can you tell me about any future projects that you currently have in the works?
FS: As far as professional work goes, I just have a lot of stuff in the pitch stage right now. So nothing for sure. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to be doing after North 40, to be honest. I’d also like to do Teens in Love in Space (from the recent Vicious Ambitious-published anthology, ‘Rocket Juice’) as a webcomic. That’s something I’ve been working on in my spare time, so when I’m done drawing comics for the day, I just sit down and draw more comics.
North 40 # 1 releases on July 8th, 2009. For more from Fiona Staples, you can check out her blog over at http://www.fionastaples.com/ .