Friday, June 04, 2010

An Interview with Amy Reeder

As a graduation gift Jim got me the coolest present! It is a page of original art from Amy Reeder's work on Madame Xanadu. I was so excited by this as it was something I would have never thought to get for myself on my own and I absolutely love it! It's always great to be happily surprised and Amy is one of my favorite comic artists (in case you haven't been able to tell from all of my previous Madame X reviews). On top of the art Jim also got me in touch with Amy and I am happy to present the resulting interview!

wen: To start everyone off how about introducing yourself :) Personal introductions are always better than anything I'll be able to come up with on my own.

Amy: Well, I'm Amy Reeder; I'm a comics artist with a style that sort of mixes Japanese sensibilities with realism and American comics too. I got my start through a contest put out through Tokyopop, and with them I got my first gig, writing/drawing/everything Fool's Gold, a teen drama inspired by Pride and Prejudice. Since then I've been drawing the Eisner-nominated Madame Xanadu for Vertigo, a story written by Matt Wagner that goes through history and traces the life of a fortune teller who's been alive for centuries. Now I'm starting work for DC Proper, drawing covers for Supergirl and interiors for Batwoman.

Gwen: What do you think of Madame Xanadu as a character?

Amy: I feel extremely close to her...Matt allowed me to have a lot of say on her design and we reinvented her in a lot of ways. The first arc was a whole ten issues and she aged and matured throughout it. did I, often going through similar stages.
I think her biggest theme in the series is tireless altruism, and everything she can do and does do traces back to that. Nothing's really so much out to get her; rather, she goes out of her way to find people in need, and finds ways to expand her abilities to facilitate whatever might come up. She throws herself into the thick of the trouble. So I find her very admirable.

Gwen: What do you have the most fun drawing in the Madame Xanadu comic books?

Amy: The historical clothing! At one point I thought about pursuing a graduate degree in something like the history of fashion, so I could help with period films or documentaries. So when it became my job to know these things, I was overjoyed. Xanadu herself was especially fun, because I could mix fashions from all the previous places she's been, and add into it her particular sensibilities.

Gwen: Previous to working for Vertigo you worked for Tokyo Pop on a manga called Fool's Gold. As most manga is traditionally done in black and white did you have to make any adjustments in order to better work with a colorist on a regular basis? How about working with a separate inker?

Amy: To this day, I'm still figuring out what works best in color comics, as well as collaborating with an inker and a colorist. I felt fairly knowledgeable in black and white by comparison, I think in part because I was doing every process, and so I would know immediately what wasn't working and could adjust accordingly.

In black and white, you have to anticipate the minds of your readers and trust that they'll fill in the blanks. Like it's mostly illusion and you'd be surprised how much the mind actually makes up that's not really there. When it's in color, you can still get your reader to fill in some blanks, but in most instances you have to materialize backgrounds and details or it'll look empty and confusing. Mistakes show up much more easily when your work is colored! There are a lot of tools and tricks in rendering for color and I'll often look to top superhero artists for clues.

Working with an inker (Richard Friend) and a colorist (Guy Major) is huge; we've gotten better together the longer it's been. I've formed a close relationship with both of them and work directly with them, whereas I know most people work through their editors. I think differently when I'm working with others; there are certain things they excel at that I definitely take advantage of. And some things are impossible to convey, so I take that into consideration as well. It's made me rely less on impressing readers with my ability to render, and more on the underlying structure, gestures, and composition, because I have much more control over that.

Gwen: What is it like to work with a writer as opposed to drawing and plotting out the story?

Amy: It's great especially because your own mind can limit how much you can really come up with. I've drawn so many things I never knew how to draw or even thought to draw. And Matt Wagner's a great writer...drawing for him has felt like an in-depth study in's helped prepare me in many ways to one day write my own material again. It's definitely a different process; when I wrote for myself I devised a method specifically catered to how I think, developing the visuals and the dialogue simlutaneously. With Matt I do a lot of deconstructing so that I can internalize it and pretend that I somehow made it up...because I feel that my storytelling comes out better from my own ideas.

Gwen: Madame Xanadu takes the readers through many different time periods in order to tell the story of her past. How much research do you have to do for the drastic setting changes in Madame Xanadu? What aspects of a time period do you look into before drawing?

Amy: The research was's one thing to pass a history test, another to teach history (I have a degree in social science education), and I've found it's quite another to recreate it. You have to know much more than you ever really show on the page. For each era I have computer folders packed with various categories of reference. Much of that is from image searches, but I also rent a lot of period films and take screen captures. And I have books that I refer to as well. You have to get to the point where you're so familiar and immersed that you can make something up and still have it be believable. The first issue of an era is always the slowest because of this, and the most difficult one was the Yuan Dynasty China one...I started to realize what little I had in common, how every little object is completely different from the assumptions I make in my own culture. AND
there weren't any movies set in that particular time and place. I ended up trying roundabout methods like copying and pasting Chinese characters of clothing articles into image search engines.

Gwen: I've worked with an artist in the past who had a problem with getting work done on time. She was bothered by the idea of her art becoming too much like work. How do you keep drawing fun even in the face of deadlines? Do you have any advice for artists who want to make a living off of their talent but still want to enjoy their work?

Amy: It's certainly common; we all start drawing as part of a selfish act and it doesn't feel right to do it for any other reason, even making a living. During Madame Xanadu I actually went through that transition, of starting to think of art as work and as a way to make money. I resisted it until I got to the point where I was so behind that I could lose my job. It was then that I really valued my gig as an opportunity and an occupation. But I can't say this is the end of the story...I certainly haven't figured out the perfect balance and am working now to get back to drawing for sheer enjoyment again. Because of that, I don't have the answers. But what I suspect is that you need to do two things to prevent getting burnt out: One, you have to be diligent at finding time to do your own personal work. And two, you have to constantly analyze your work and improve it. Improvement is a huge rush and the work that goes into it makes people forget how fulfilling it can be.

Gwen: I've read that you'll be (or already are) working on Supergirl covers and the Batwoman comic book for DC along with inker Richard Friend and colorist Guy Major. You work with these two on Madame X as well so obviously you work well together. Has DC just seen that they have a good thing so it's best not to mess with it? Or have you had a say in who you are able to collaborate with?

Amy: I think it's both. With these new projects I've been explicit about wanting to work with them because I think we've built something really special. And when I requested that we stick together, the editors I spoke to were overjoyed. They were fans of what they saw in Madame Xanadu!

Gwen: What type of comic books to you enjoy reading? What are some of your favorites and why?

Amy: The more a book has to do with interpersonal relationships, the more I seem to like it. I started out reading manga meant for teen and adult ladies, and it was mostly drama and romance. The BEST is Paradise Kiss. And it's short, only 5 graphic novels. It's about an uptight school girl who gets lost in the world of fashion school students, when they accidentally kidnap her to be their model. Tramps Like Us (misleading name) is also great.

Since reading American comics, I've grown to be a big fan of Ross Campbell. He seems to play with any genre under the sun, and no matter what it is, I love it. I got into his work through this odd multi-character drama called Wet Moon. He draws mostly girls, all different shapes and colors, all beautiful, and very real. I still maintain he gets girls better than girls do.

Thanks again to Amy for this great interview! If you're interested in seeing more of Amy's work check out her blog : !

Next week I'll be posting a review of Fool's Gold, Amy's work with TokyoPop.

1 comment:

  1. Great Interview Gwen. Amy is one of the best artists in the business and it is nice to know she keeps looking for ways to get even better (if possible).