The heroines of DC Comics Bombshells might be inspired by recent "pin-up girl" renditions of DC's female superheroes, but artist Marguerite Sauvage is making sure their "everyday life" in the new comic is more heroic than sexy.
"I didn't want them to look like super-sexy pin-ups in their everyday life, but rather like the warriors and heroes they are, fighting with their everyday thoughts and concerns, reflecting more and more the serious and intense heaviness of the World War II conflict," Sauvage said.
In DC Comics Bombshells, Sauvage and writer Marguerite Bennett are telling each chapter in the style of a different medium that was used during World War II. The creators are setting their stories in a world where characters like Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Zatanna and Harley Quinn are kicking butt during World War II — but it's a world where women were superheroes first.
"Batwoman is this sort of pulpy, 1940s radio serial," writer Bennett told Newsarama. "Supergirl is a propaganda film. Zatanna is this Hammer horror style thing. Harley Quinn is this Charlie Chaplin-esque farce. Wonder Woman is a war story. Aquawoman is a romance."
As the series debuted digitally this past Saturday with a print version planned for mid-August, Newsarama talked with Sauvage to find out more about her technique, her depiction on a fictional World War II universe, and how she approached these characters.
Newsarama: Marguerite, how did you get involved in this project? (And how in the world did DC put together two women with the name Marguerite?)
Marguerite Sauvage: DC Comics Bombshells Editor Jim Chadwick saw my pages for Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman and thought I would be a good fit for Bombshells, so he contacted me end of 2014. He told me the project had to be confirmed, which happened a few months later. This ended up being a long crazy excited wait for me as I was immediately seduced by the potential and the figurines!
At the same time we received confirmation that Marguerite Bennett and I would work together to initiate the project. A female team and a Marguerite team at the same time, isn't it awesome?
Marguerite and I had exchanged some silly jokes about doing a Marguerite Team on Twitter, and that came to life thanks to Jim!
Nrama: As you first approached this series, what did you want to bring to the project overall? What feel or style were you hoping to achieve in each issue?
Sauvage: I wanted this project to look unique, and have a specific look of its own, something flirting with illustration or art-deco painting. I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve the best art I can, Jim can testify. What I experimented on Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman was a great start for this as well, but I've gone further in the inking, texture and color experimentations.
Nrama: Marguerite Bennett told us about how you're approaching each issue uniquely, from a different medium of the time period. How much did you research the era and the art styles of that time?
Sauvage: A lot! This was one of the main challenges I had to deal with because the time for research took on the time I had to draw, ink and color. I had to calm down a bit on all the nice history facts and image references I put in: the rise of female baseball teams during World War II, or the Mediterranean battles, or the Night Witches, or the Russian myths and Bilibine illustrations.
You see? All of this gives me such inspiration!
Fortunately Bombshells is also a uchronia — an alternate reality — so it gives room to invent, explore and twist the historic accuracy, and to play with its models.
Nrama: Can you describe some techniques you're using to try to achieve the look of the first few issues — color choices? Panel layout? Anything else?
Sauvage: The panel layout had a big technical constraint: the digital first format. Each page has to be divided in two in the middle, the way it will be read on tablets.
So for example, double splashes or full body figures, etcetera, have to be reconsidered! It was super frustrating, especially when a character pops-out in a scene for the first time, like Kate Kane on page one, where you can only make her half a page high.
You should have seen my face when doing the layout and wanting her to take up the whole page, crushing some bad guys. But I didn't want her to be cut in two in the middle. What a dilemma!
The technique of inking was a combination of watercolor brushes that helped me bring some greys altogether for a more painted loose look. Then I added a retro palette of colors and used textures to give an old-fashioned, old paper look, which fit well with the covers and the look of the statues.
Nrama: With many of the characters already having been designed as statues and cover pin-ups, what was your greatest challenge as you brought these characters to life?
Sauvage: Believe it or not, in the first issue, Batwoman is the only one I had to draw in an outfit relatively close to her figurine (but not the final one). So the challenge was imagining these pin-up figures in their everyday life.
I didn't want them to look like super-sexy pin-ups in their everyday life, but rather like the warriors and heroes they are, fighting with their everyday thoughts and concerns, reflecting more and more the serious and intense heaviness of the World War II conflict.
I wanted them to be real ladies, real super-ladies.
Nrama: How much have you been collaborating with the "other" Marguerite on this? What's it been like working with her?
Sauvage: We exchange ideas quite a lot, as we do with Jim and Associate Editor Jessica Chen, who have been more than helpful. We discuss the level of historical accuracy and the references in the scripts and what could be the comfort zone and the best middle ground between imaginary and real world.
From there, we turned the machine on and everything rolled along fine and kept us busy.
Nrama: You mentioned wanting to dress them for "everyday" life. As a female artist, drawing "pin-up" versions of women, how do you balance making them that old-fashioned version of beautiful while not making them feel like just eye candy?
Nrama: When I have one of the characters acting in a page, I will consider the intensity of her emotions and expressions (and of course the action in the scene) rather than trying to make her look sexy or not, which mostly, in my opinion, would not have been appropriate in the story.
These characters are mature women with their own personalities; they don't have to be posing like pin-ups all the time. If they are sexy, it's all natural and so it comes out in my drawing.
Nrama: Why is this type of series important to you — one that stars women in heroic roles, in equal roles to the male heroes? Marguerite Bennett did say there'll be male heroes...
Sauvage: Yeah there are male heroes; they are sexy too!
This type of series is important because of its cleverness and consistency. Characters and context are consistent.
Women in World War II have been forgotten a lot. I've read enough books about the European resistance and World War II behind the scenes to know how important their roles were, and how few of them were given credit, during and after the war. From the little farm girl becoming a great resister, to the U.K. mother of three spying on the occupiers overseas, to the teenage girl bombing Nazis in the Night Witches.
This, unfortunately, is still something that happens on all continents in all wars when women get lucky enough not to be the immediate designated victim or war tribute.
So, in regards to featuring women in heroic roles in World War II — hell yes!