Comic books are a risky business, but for Sanya Anwar it was something she had to do.
The Toronto-based artist quit a comfortable government job to try her hand at writing and drawing comic books, and will make her mainstream debut with Vertigo's Clean Room #15 in December. With that story already completed, DC already put her to work on a second - a back-up story for January's Shade The Changing Girl #3. But for Anwar, it's all about balancing these work-for-hire projects with her ongoing creator-owned series 1001.
Newsarama spoke with the up and coming writer/artist about how she broke in, how she's working to stay 'in,' and the culture that surrounds the comic book industry.
Newsarama: Sanya, my first question is an easy one - what are you working on today? What's on your literal (or proverbial) drawing board?
Sanya Anwar: A lot at the moment - maybe too much! I just sent of a cover for Josie and the Pussycats #4, as well as the pencils/inks/colors for a short in Shade the Changing Girl #3. Beyond that, I'm penciling, inking, and coloring Gail Simone’s Clean Room #15 which is also keeping me pretty busy. Not that I'm complaining. :)
Nrama: How’d you get connected for your December issue of Clean Room?
Anwar: It was a delight for me to be contacted by Gail Simone and team, and asked if I'd like to have my hand in the project for this side story. Psychological horror like this isn't necessarily my niche, but it so exciting to be doing something so new and different. I'm being pushed out of my comfort zone in the best way possible.
Nrama: You’re doing Clean Room #15, before Walter Geovani takes over as series artist in 2017. What’s it like to be inbetween him coming in and artist Jon Davis-Hunt leaving?
Anwar: Having this small part in a project where I'm next to artists like Jon Davis-Hunt and Jenny Frison has been awesome. Jon's work especially is so different from my own: the aesthetic he's set up for the story is very clean, crisp and minimal. I love that. At the same time, the scenes of horror he's depicted up until now are a lot to live up to. Clean Room definitely is not bed time reading.
Nrama: You've been steady doing your creator-owned series 1001, and some cover work here and there. Can you tell us about your background leading up to doing comic books?
Anwar: I've been an avid comic fan since I was a young girl, but it wasn't until my mid 20s that I wanted to make the transition from being an illustrator to a comic creator. I'd always loved drawing and storytelling, so it seemed like the perfect medium to express my ideas. Little did I know how complicated the language of comics can be! It was a steep learning curve.
Nrama: You said “transition from being an illustrator to being a comics creator.” Can you tell us more about your pre-comic book artist work? Did you attend college or have any formal training in art?
Anwar: I don't have any formal training in art or illustration: it was just something I did in my spare time since I was a kid. I had a reputation for being good with art and also Photoshop, so I did pick design jobs here and there while I was in school. Usually it was ads for bands, local stores, etc.. Even though it wasn't what I wanted to do long-term, it did give me the confidence to try selling my own, proper artworks at my local comic convention (Winnipeg Comic Con, now called C4).
Selling my artwork formally was a real wake-up call about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I left a fairly comfortable government job to try my hand at doing art full-time. That was about eight years ago now, and I've never looked back.
Nrama: You're a familiar face at the convention scene, with Newsarama running into you both at C2E2 and HeroesCon. How's that been for you, doing so many cons so early in your career?
Anwar: 2016 has especially been a busy year for me in terms of shows: I did TCAF, Toronto's own FanExpo, Comic-Con International: San Diego, C2E2, and Heroes of course. It's a lot of traveling, but honestly I love it. I love the chance to connect with fans, to do commissions (which I rarely have time for otherwise) and just generally be out on the scene. It's an incredibly welcome break from the confines of my studio. I also benefit from just talking to fans and professionals alike and getting feedback: that sense of how others perceive my work is invaluable.
Nrama: How much does fan interaction color your profession of drawing comic books? It seems far different than any other artist's specialty.
Anwar: Interaction with fans has been hugely influential for me, especially in the early days. Talking to people and having them say that my artwork looks a certain way, or reminds them of this or that, would often surprise me. I'd start to think more introspectively about whether or not I wanted to continue going in a particular direction. I remember for a time that every second person who would visit me would comment that my work had an "art nouveau" quality. And while I did love art nouveau and that element in my style, I didn't want it to simply be "my gimmick." I started to intentionally take myself in new directions: never abandoning what I loved about art nouveau, but rather exploring new avenues. So fan interaction, for me, is huge.
Nrama: You mentioned it earlier, but you’re doing a back-up story in Shade The Changing Girl #3. How did that come about?
Anwar: I had a blast bringing to life this short, written by the lovely Tini Howard. I think I was on DC's radar with my Clean Room work, and they thought I'd be a good fit for the project. It was a nice chance for me to work in a way I rarely get to: shorts are such a fun chance to take some chances you would be harder to pull off on a larger story.
Nrama: So what can you tell us about this story?
Anwar: Tini has done a great job telling a micro story about a woman having her chance to become a hero, but that the glamour of it might not be worth the responsibility.
Nrama: When we spoke at C2E2, you said you were focused on finishing 1001 before you made a big push into work-for-hire. What led to the change?
Anwar: I initially planned to go out and hunt down industry projects when I was ready, while steadily working away at 1001. Instead the industry has come to me, amazingly, and I'm getting the chance to work with creators I really admire, and on projects that are really exciting. That being said, 1001 is always my first priority and I've taken 2017 off from the convention scene to focus on it... with some other industry projects along the way.
Nrama: You wrote and drew 1001, but all of your work-for-hire projects are just for art. Is doing work-for-hire writing work something you hope to do as well?
Anwar: I've always envisioned myself as the sole creator of my work: being the writer, artist, everything. That being said, working with other writers and creative teams has been a huge learning experience. While I've got a lot of my own stories to tell, it is nice to take a back seat to someone else's creative vision and make it come to life. Good collaborations are really exciting.
Nrama: Your art style and storytelling are very polished, especially for only having three published comic books to your name. To what would you attribute that to?
Anwar: Thank you for the kind words! I'm not sure that I can look at my own work and call it polished, as I really feel like I still have a very tall mountain to climb in terms of my abilities. But maybe that's the answer right there: I'm rarely satisfied. That's not to say that I have a negative attitude towards what I create, but I can't help but keep reaching towards higher standards for myself. That might sound nice, but sometimes I think it keeps me from relaxing and just enjoying a sketch: a more flexible experience that I also think is necessary for growth as an artist.
Nrama: So you say it’s hard to look back fondly at older work. Generally, what's the cut-off for older work where you look back less than pleased? Three months? six months? Last night's work?
Anwar: It's definitely hard to look at old work - let's say, work older than three months. That's not to say that there isn't older work that I'm proud of, or that I poured a lot of heart in to, but I'm the kind of person who always thinks her best artwork is the one that hasn't been created yet. It is nice though, to see the juxtaposition between recent work and work from just a year ago: for me, the difference seems huge. I hope I can keep making strides like that.
Nrama: So what are your big picture goals for comic books?
Anwar: If I have any 'big picture' goals for myself, it's that I'd like to be a Terry Moore-esque character: writing and drawing my own work, telling my own stories unabashedly. I think there are so many untapped narratives that novels absolutely hit and comics completely miss - I'd like to bridge that gap, while staying in my happy realm of fantastical fiction.
That, and creating some sort of doppelganger machine to make copies of myself to actually accomplish all this. [Laughs]
Nrama: So where do you see yourself in five years, professionally speaking?
Anwar: In five years, I'd like to be most of the way through 1001, working on my next big story and potentially writing for industry as well. I'm already living the dream, as far as I'm concerned - anything that comes from here on out is tremendously exciting to me.