Traveling on North 40: Talking with Artist Fiona Staples

Talking with Artist Fiona Staples

North 40 #2

Canadian artist Fiona Staples is a relative newcomer to comics: “I didn’t start reading them until high school,” admits the abashed Alberta native. But, over the past two years Staples has burst into the comics world in a big way, parlaying a stint on a little-seen indie comic to a regular gig with DC imprint Wildstorm. Along the way, Staples has drawn The Authority, Spider-Woman and will debut a new creator-owned project North 40 in July.

Newsarama sat down with the ebullient Staples recently to talk about how she got into comics, how she developed her unique, painterly style, and what’s next for this femme fatale.

Newsarama: So, let’s start with how you got into comics in the first place. Did you grow up reading them, and was this something you wanted to do from an early age?

Fiona Staples: Uh, no! (Laughs.) I was kind of a late bloomer, actually: I didn’t read too many comics other than what ran in newspapers. I did read some of my best friend’s Hindu comics, though. But it was like, Tintin and Archie! I didn’t start going to a store and buying them until I was in high school, and I was buying a lot of stuff from Top Cow! This girl in science class got me into Rising Stars, and that was really my intro.

Staples Cover to War Machine #5, Wolverine Art Appreciation, in the style of John Singer Sargent

I went to art college without knowing what I was going to do, and halfway through I started working at a comic book store for some extra money. When I was working at the store, I was reading a lot of Dave McKean’s stuff, and Barron Storey and Ashley Wood, and I kind of saw the variety of the medium and the scope and how interesting it could be. So, halfway through my term, I decided I’d focus on comics, and started drawing them.

NRAMA: Well, you started off with a bang. Your first book, Done To Death, got great reviews and got shopped around, right?

FS: Yeah, it did, and it indirectly led me to where I am now. I got the gig off a local message board forum, called Maple Ink, which was started by a guy named Gerald Garcia, whom I worked with at the comic store. It is for local artists and writers in Western Canada, and writer from Edmonton, Andrew Foley, saw some of the stuff I had done for college work and pitched me a few ideas. I chose the one that was kind of the satirical horror comedy! Anyway, I started working on it in my last year of school, and only finished it a few months after I graduated. We went to Comic-Con with it in 2006 and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Honestly, it was way better than I expected because I had no idea what I was doing! It didn’t sell a lot of copies, but all the reviews were positive, and we got an agent to show it around Hollywood. He showed to a guy named Mike Dougherty, who worked on X2, and had this new movie coming out called Trick or Treat. He liked my artwork, and wanted to do a comic book tie-in with his film, which was to be put out by Wildstorm.

NRAMA: Trick or Treat never came out, though, right?

FS: (Laughs.) Yeah, well, it got pushed back. They say it will be this year, but neither the comic nor the film has come out! Oh well! But that was what got me into Wildstorm, and it’s been great. Up until then, other that Done to Death, I’d done a cover or two — Sheena was one — and I colored a few issues of Proof.

NRAMA: So then, after that, came The Authority spin-off, yes?

North 40 #1

FS: Yeah. It was really intimidating. (Laughs.) I’d never even read the books before, and then WildStorm sends me this big box by FedEx. So, I sort of got caught up, and I figured first I wouldn’t even try to draw like Bryan Hitch. I did try to tighten up my regular style and make it a little more polished-looking, and this was a really good thing because everyone commented afterwards on how “loose” the art looked in the book! (Laughs.)

NRAMA: It must have been OK, because after that you got a gig drawing Spider-Woman for the new Astonishing Tales anthology at Marvel.

FS: Well, you know, it was amazing, I mean it’s everyone’s dream to get a gig with Marvel. And the editor, Mike Horowitz, approached me at the NYCC, and basically gave me the job!

NRAMA: Most of your stuff is in the horror genre, though — do you prefer doing that or would you like to get a chance tackling more spandex?

FS: I think in part horror books seem to be attracted to me! People seem right now to seek me out if they want something a little dark. On the other hand, I also really enjoy drawing those things, because it is what I like to read. I’m really into horror comics, like Junji Ito (Tomie, Uzumaki) which are some of the scariest comics I’ve ever read. And I gravitate towards stuff that has a bit of a horror feel. I’m not avoiding superheroes, and if it was a good story, then I’d jump on it, but I’m not really seeking it out. I’m just trying to do interesting stuff that I think I can do my best work on. I may not ultimately be suited to mainstream stuff, but I wouldn’t turn it down.

NRAMA: Your artwork is pretty distinctive. I know you’re a big Vampirella fan, but were there other books or artists that inspired you?

from North 40 #1

FS: I don't know which of these show in my work, if any, but there are a lot of artists that I feel influenced by. I love the beautiful decorative style of the '60s and '70s, stuff like Crepax's Valentina and the Warren-era Vampirella comics by Esteban Maroto and Jose Gonzalez. Their lines were so scratchy and rugged but also very fluid... there's an immediacy to it that makes it exciting to look at.

I also love Jeffrey Jones and classic painters like Howard Pyle and NC Wyeth, some Japanese comics artists like Taiyo Matsumoto (Black & White) and Hirohiko Araki (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure). I guess it's hard to say where admiration turns to influence though. I'm hoping to combine so many stylistic influences that no one can tell who I'm ripping off! (Laughs)

NRAMA: OK, so you have another creator-owned book coming up next, right?

FS: Yep, the first issue of North 40 comes out in July. Right now, I’m halfway through penciling the series, but the book has been in the works for a long time — we actually pitched it before I did Hawksmoor. It’s basically about this small town in the middle of nowhere, in the Midwest. These two teenagers — a geeky guy and the goth girl he has a crush on — visit their local library and stumble upon a book that appears to be the Necromonicon, and upon reading it they accidentally summon up this Lovecraftian being.

NRAMA: Which happens all the time, right?

FS: Oh yeah. They probably should have known better! (Laughs.) So, doing this causes everyone in town to black out, and when the people wake up, they either have weird powers or are turned into monsters…

Staples' Spider-Woman from Astonishing Tales

NRAMA: And then they all fight.

from North 40 #1

FS: Lots of big fights, between all sorts of unlikely characters! We have one girl, making out with her boyfriend on the bridge when this happens, and she falls into the creek, so when she wakes up she’s not-quite dead. We have a zombie princess; a giant, steroidal hulking hillbilly guy; the old sheriff; and then the young farmer’s son, who gets the best deal — he gets superpowers, he’s kind of the hero. It’s a pretty varied group and it’s been a lot of fun to draw.

NRAMA: So, what’s next?

FS: Well, North 40 runs for six issues, and I have four drawn as we speak. After that, I’ve got a few pitches out and we’ll see. But hopefully I’ll stick with WildStorm. They’ve been really great to me so far, and I’m really enjoying it.

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