Secret History of Fiona Staples

With the release of the last issue of Secret History of The Authority: Jack Hawksmoor, The Higher Authority interviewed Mike Costa, and now with Fiona Staples (www.fionastaples.com), the other half of the creative team behind the mini-series, to ask about the experience of breaking into the industry and working on the character. Fiona also talks about working with Mike Costa on her first venture in the superhero genre. If you missed the 6 issue mini series, you can pre-order SHotA: Jack Hawksmoor on Amazon and fell free to discuss the interview at Clark's Bar

Chris Striker: How did you break into the comic industry and where did you get your start?

Dazzler Fiona Staples: I started drawing my first comic when I was 21 and in art college. It was this extremely gory vampire comedy called "Done to Death," and it was written by Andrew Foley who I met through the local comics community (yes, there is one in Alberta!). We found a publisher, Markosia, and the first issue came out in time for SDCC '06, my first convention. I guess you could say "Done to Death" was my break- kind of ridiculous because it was the first thing I ever did- but it started the chain of events that brought me to WildStorm...

Foley found an agent, Carina Schulze for Chatrone, to represent "Done to Death" in Hollywood in the hopes of getting it optioned. Which hasn't happened yet, but Carina also represents Michael Dougherty (screenwriter on X2, Superman Returns), and showed him my portfolio when he was looking for artists to draw the comic adaptation of his movie "Trick 'R Treat." I'm not sure exactly what happened here, but I think Michael hired me and WildStorm happened to be publishing "Trick 'R Treat," so that's how I wound up getting my first WS gig.

Through the luck of the draw I ended up with the best editor ever, Scott Peterson, who liked my stuff on Trick 'R Treat enough to keep me on board. And that is how I broke into the comic industry. You'll notice that I actually did very little because I had the extraordinarily good fortune of being surrounded by people who liked my work and believed in me and went out of their way to make things happen for me. I'd like to pretend that I toiled for years and finally made it through hard work and perseverance, but that would be completely unfair to people like Foley and Carina and Scott, who basically did all those things for me.

In fact, all I had to do was concern myself with the work- draw the pages, draw them on time, and make sure they were as good as I could possibly make them- and the "finding publishers and jobs" part took care of itself. Well, by "took care of itself" I actually mean, "was orchestrated by my incredible collaborators without my help."


CS: You don't use the traditional pencil and paper method to create your layouts, could break down the process that you go through?

Authority FS: I usually draw my thumbnail layouts on actual paper, because it's more comfortable somehow and also it's my only chance to get away from the computer, but from there on it's all done in Photoshop. I use a little 12" Cintiq (a tablet monitor... you know, the screen that you draw on) and CS3. My good friend Frazer Irving, who taught me about half of the things I know about comics, was the one who persuaded me by example to go 100% digital with my artwork. It was last January and I was looking for the fastest way possible to draw "Hawksmoor." I was staying at Frazer's house in London at the time and drew the first three issues on his Cintiq, and ordered one of my own immediately so it would be waiting for me when I got back to Canada. Anyway, my "pencils" are just a rough drawing that I do over my scanned-in thumbnails, my "inks" are a tighter layer that I draw over the pencils, and to colour Hawksmoor I did everything in grey tones first and added a colour layer last. This is a method that Fraze and I worked out when I was colouring a "Button Man" story he did for 2000AD, and it proved to be really efficient, because you get the values down first rather than worrying about value and colour at the same time.

CS: "The Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor" was you first time doing a superhero comic wasn't it? What are some of the differences between doing a superhero book and some of your other projects?

FS: I was really nervous at first! I know my art is weird and I wasn't sure how fans would react. Aside from cover work, it was my first time drawing an existing character with a built-in fanbase. In a way it felt like I had to try harder because there was more at stake. No one really cares if an original series sucks, but people will be disappointed if you draw The Authority wrong. At the same time, I know I'm not and will never be Bryan Hitch, so I just drew it my way and hoped for the best. And the reaction and reviews seemed really positive, so... awesome!

Hawksmoor vs Robot People kept telling me to just draw it and not worry about what the reaction from fans would be (I think they were expecting the worst), but it's important to pressure yourself to always produce the best you're capable of, and then even if it's different to what fans are used to they're more likely to find something they like in the artwork.


CS: Now you weren't the original choice for the Hawksmoor project, can you tell us how you landed the project and what it was like to try and get the issue done on time?

FS: Scott phoned me in January and asked, "Fiona, do you have much experience drawing tech stuff, like giant robots?" I said, "no, not really." He said that was okay (Scott is really nice) and he wanted to put me on an Authority spin-off featuring Jack Hawksmoor.

"Have you heard of the character Jack Hawksmoor?"

"Uh, no..."

He said that was also okay, and I got the job anyway. They sent me a FedEx box filled with DC paper and Authority trades, and I started drawing and reading at the same time. I had four weeks to thumbnail, pencil, ink and colour each issue. There were other things I had to do at the same time, like move from London to Canada, go to NYCC, colour three issues of the Image series "PROOF," and do a short-lived artist residency at the Calgary Science Centre. I kind of thought I was going to die.


CS: What was your favorite moment to draw in the series? Was there a scene in the series that you thought "Yea, the fans are going to dig this"?

FS: The panel in issue four where Jack punches the nameless bomber in the face was pretty satisfying. I think I lingered on that panel because it was perversely fun to draw. Also the page in issue five where he gets thrown off the top of the Transamerica building... I mean, that guy was a jerk.

CS: You were at the San Diego Comic Con '08, how was that experience, meeting the fans, and hanging out with the Wildstorm folks? Had you gone to the SDCC prior to this year?

Fiona Saves the SDCC from the evil robot army FS: This was my third SDCC, and it's more fun every time. I love hanging out with the Wildstorm guys at conventions! I always have fantastic conversations with Neil Googe about art and being an artist, and of course Costa is a great friend and hilarious guy. It was also an absolute thrill getting to do signings at the DC booth, which is somewhere I never realistically thought I would be. I felt really, super lucky to be sitting there doing sketches for people... and some of them even knew who I was! Awesome.

CS: In your Wizard World interview, you mentioned wanting to take a crack at the current Doctor, Habib Ben Hassan, what is it about that character caught your eye?

FS: Honestly, the main reason I would do a Doctor story is because Mike Costa would hypothetically be writing it and I like his ideas. I would love to work with him again and when he was talking about his ideas for the Doctor, he made a character that I know almost nothing about sound immensely appealing and interesting. You could probably give Costa any minor or obscure character and he'd flesh out their backstory in a way that makes you go, "Oh, wow. I never could have imagined this before, but it makes so much sense!"

CS: Now that the final issue has hit the stands, what has it been like to see you work as a comic and see it on the stands?

FS: Very satisfying! There is no original artwork, it's all on my laptop, so the printed book really is the final and only product. I don't feel like I'm finished until it's printed.

CS: Your art really complimented Mike Costa's story, what was it like working with him on this mini series? Where did you get the inspiration for some of the design work, like the "City Gods"?

Dazzler FS: Mike was so great to work with. He'd finished writing all six issues by the time I was hired, but he made himself available to answer all my stupid questions. I would text him at like three in the morning (yeah, that's when I work) to ask, "Does Jack need to hold his breath underwater?" and he'd get right back to me. And every now and then he'd just nervously check in to make sure... well, I don't know. Make sure I hadn't quit?

For the God of Cities the description in the script was left pretty open. Mike said he wanted the guy to look "bottomless and eternal" and, "Something like Starman, a silhouette with a universe inside, but more Lovecraftian and scary." So I did that, but replaced the stars with city lights. For the entire series I'd had to come up with a way to draw city backgrounds really quickly, because nothing is a bigger pain in the ass to draw than lots of buildings, and I just didn't have time, so for most of the nighttime scenes I reduced the cities to a bunch of glowy lights. That became a kind of shorthand for me and it seemed natural to give Plo'Raach the same treatment.

And the one thing that we know about him is that he's from India, so I gave him an elephant-like head to reference Ganesh in a way that hopefully isn't too obvious or offensive.


CS: What are some other characters that you'd like to work on and why?

Vampirella FS: Oh man... um, Red Sonja? I've wanted to draw Vampirella for a long time and recently got to do a cover, so that was a treat. Also Zatanna, Elektra, Black Widow... I like female characters that have a bit of cheesecake appeal but also great style, great costumes, and meaty stories or wacky origins to make it interesting.

CS: Who are some of the writers you would want to work with down the line?

FS: Well, besides the writers that I've already worked with... definitely Brian Wood! That would be so cool. Or Eric Powell, because "The Goon" is one of my favourite comics of all time. I also intend to work with "Mnemovore" writer Ray Fawkes at some point, and my comedian friend Kevin Seccia has some ideas cooking.

CS: What's next for Fiona Staples? Do you have your sites on your next project?

FS: I've just started my next project! It's another series for Wildstorm, written by Aaron Williams, and it will be a few months before I can talk about it. But I've been looking forward to drawing this for a long time and it's going to be rad.