Remember when comics were fun? Comic creator Amanda Conner does, and she’s walked a unique path in comics taking her from Barbie to Vampirella to The Pro and Power Girl. This year, she’s stepping on hallowed ground as she co-writes and draws Silk Spectre, one of DC’s Before Watchmen books covering the untold stories of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal superhero epic. Measuring in as her biggest project to date, she took the opportunity to look back at her career to date and is putting it all out in the open in her first art book, the Art of Amanda Conner published by IDW and Desperado Publishing.
On sale this week, The Art of Amanda Conner covers the comics veteran (and former comic shop owner)’s career from her pro debut in 1988 drawing a story in Solo Avengers to now, but also doesn’t pull any punches in showing the California-born artist’s teenage years as an artist drawing pin-ups and strips for her high school paper and during her secondary education at the Kubert School. Newsarama spoke with Amanda Conner earlier this month in what turned out to be a rollicking phone interview that touched on everything from her future plans to her first taste of comics via the tooth fairy.
Newsarama: Let’s swing into this by talking about what’s currently on your art board now. What are you working on, Amanda?Amanda Conner: Right now I’m working on the Silk Spectre book I’m co-writing with Darwyn Cooke and drawing. If people haven’t heard of it already, it’s a story that predates the events in the original Watchmen series.
Nrama: I remember last year after you finished your run on Power Girl you said you were doing some creator-owned work next, and you also mention that in The Art of Amanda Conner. What led to do the detour to do this Before Watchmen book?
Conner: It was too irresistible to say no to. I’m still doing creator-owned stuff, but I’m putting that on the backburner until Silk Spectre is finished. Once that’s done, I’m doing a book with Frank Tieri and Jimmy Palmiotti called Captain Brooklyn. That was the book I was originally planning on working on this year, but when the opportunity to do Silk Spectre came along I talked with Jimmy and we agreed it’d be a good idea to do it before Captain Brooklyn.
Nrama: There’s been a lot of talk about the Before Watchmen books, but today I wanted to talk to you about this art book of yours coming out from IDW and Desperado. Jimmy’s told me that people have been bugging you for years to do it, but why did here and now seem like a good time to finally go through with it?
Conner: The fact that someone came along and said they would do all the hard work, mainly! [laughs]My friend Joe Pruett at Desperado puts art books together for people, like the recent George Perez and Tony Harris books. He does all the heavy-lifting, and I just supply him with all the art. He lays it all out and puts it together as a package. They then hired my old friend Steve Buche to do some of the writing involved. Those guys made it easy for me. I don’t know a lot about designing and putting a book together, but they do!
And doing it with IDW, they have a great track record of doing beautiful-looking books and I knew I could trust them.
Nrama: In terms of providing artwork, you dig deep and show off some art you did as a child – including an early comic strip you did called Preppies In Distress.
Conner: Yeah, I did that while attending the Kubert School. My thought with including that early work was to go ahead and not be embarrassed by my early stuff. It was to show artists that no one starts out fully professionally, but you need time to practice and refine your abilities. I wanted to inspire people to do art even if it isn’t professional, because with enough practice it could be. If you just keep at it, you can get a lot better.
Nrama: When did the idea of doing art, of doing comics, turn from a hobby to a career choice for you?
Conner: Pretty much by the fact that I thought I’d be bad at everything else. I’m pretty clumsy, so being a waitress is out – I’d probably pour coffee on someone. [laughs]
There were some other things I thought about doing, but they were even more unrealistic than being a comic artist.
Nrama: In the book you say you thought about becoming a lion tamer.
Conner: [laughs] Yes, or an action star! [laughs]
Compared to those, I thought being a comic book artist would be a lot more doable.Also, it helps that both of my parents are artists. My father wanted to draw comics when he was a kid, but his parents frowned on that so he went into commercial art. Fast-forward to when I was growing up, and they introduced comics to be at a very early age. I think my first gift from the tooth fairy was an issue of Mad magazine and a nickel. Every time I got sick my parents gave me a stack of comics to pass the time, and I caught on pretty quick. Comics are what they grew up on. They didn’t think it would rot your brain like some people thought at the time. They always encouraged me to read and to draw.
And having a mom and dad who are artists means that you tend to have a lot of art supplies all over the house. While growing up, I would get into trouble for snatching dad’s markers and using them in my room. He didn’t mind me using them, but he did get mad when he couldn’t find them and he was on deadline. I was a little bit of a pain in the ass for them, but in the end I think it worked out.Nrama: Looking at your comics work, even when you’re drawing someone else’s story I see a similar tone in terms of humor coming into it – even with Vampirella. Would you say you’re as funny in person as your comics are? Conner: I really do tend towards funny stuff, don’t I? Maybe it’s because that’s what I preferred growing up, as far as cheesy entertainment goes. I just learned towards funny stuff more than the dark stuff then, but I still enjoyed the dark and scary stuff because every weekend my dad and I would watch horror movies. We’d watch things like The Blob, monster movies and Godzilla, but we also watched The Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy and other stuff. There was a time when both my parents worked a lot, so when I came from school I had the house to myself; instead of doing homework, I turned on I Dream of Jeannie or Bewitched. I loved watching the afternoon comedy re-runs, and so I’m pulled to things like that as an adult. I ended up being able to mix dark stuff with funny stuff. Back then they didn’t mix it up, but now they can. You mentioned Vampirella, and that was a very dark comic but I had a lot of fun with it following doing Barbie, which was a little to light for me. But it got to a point where Vampi became too dark and never had any humor in it at all, and I knew I had to go do something different. Instead of going from one extreme to another as the jump from Barbie to Vampirella was, I tried to find things more in my zone.
Nrama: While working in your zone, you still do some pretty disparate material – inside and outside of comics.
Conner: Yes, you’re right. It’s fun to stretch yourself a little bit. Right now I’m completely focused on Silk Spectre so I can’t balance anything else, even one-off illustration jobs, but when things are bit more calm I hop to be able to take on some outside projects.
Magazine illustrations and the like are fun for me; they’re always a little bit different and they reach a new audience. Another thing is I get to draw situations that are completely different form the ones I get to draw in a standard comic book. I got away with a lot of stuff drawing for the magazine Revolver. I couldn’t get away with that in comics, because no one’s really given me a storyline to go that far.
Nrama: Following your work for years now, I’ve known you to form strong bonds with your collaborators – working time and time again with Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, as well as colorist Paul Mounts. Most comic artists work alone at home, so what’s it like to create these bonds that last over several different projects?
Conner: Comics really is a solitary job, so making friends when you can sort of just happens automatically. You make strong bonds with people you work with.Drawing comics take up a lot of time. It’s a lot of work, and there are some artists out there you can bang out three pages in a single day. I wish I was that fast, but that’s not who I am. With all the hours, you tend to do a lot of work at home by yourself. So when you end up working with people you like a lot, even when you’re in different places, you try to keep that. It’s pretty invaluable to me to have these relationships, because they’re essentially the only people you talk to all day.
As far as Paul Mounts goes, he’s our color guy. Once I saw his colors on my art the first time, I knew I had to keep him. And as far as editors go, I’ve been pretty lucky. So at the end of the day you develop bonds with the people you do talk with when you’re working at home. I don’t know if I do it more so than others in comics, or do it less. It feels natural to me.
Nrama: Some artists I’ve interviewed said they talk on the phone while drawing; I interviewed John Romita Jr. while he was literally drawing the first issue of Avengers Vs. X-Men. Are you able to do that?
Conner: It’s pretty difficult to me. If I’m filling in blacks or doing lineless work it’s possible, but it’s still difficult. If someone calls me while I’m working, I put the pen down to talk to them. I have to have a sort of concentration on what I’m doing to, well, do it. I keep a television on in the background, but it’s more for background noise for me to ignore while I work. TV won’t get insulted if I don’t listen to it, but if I’m talking to a friend I don’t want to fall away from the conversation. I can put the radio on, or music on, but it can’t be too interesting. The worst would be visually interesting television – that’d pull me away in a heartbeat. Usually what I have on in the background is the news or those judge shows; they’re just a bunch of talking heads, but I’ve learned a lot about the law. [laughs]
But I couldn’t put on Avatar or Gladiator. and work; not unless I had an extra set of eyeballs.
Nrama: I think you might have drawn that device in Two-Step. [laughs]
Conner: [laughs] I might have.
Nrama: Getting back around to a point we touched on in the beginning, lets’ talk about creator-owned work. You’ve done things like The Pro and Two-Step, but in your Art of Amanda Conner book you show glimpses of a variety of other ones that haven’t seen the light of day.Conner: Yeah, most of those are animation projects that I came up with Jimmy. Those come out of spare moments where Jimmy and I sit around being goofy. That’s actually how The Pro started; we were sitting in a bar with Garth Ennis and John McCrea, and laughing about how funny a superhero hooker would be. Then we realized we could actually explore that became we make comics for a living. That’s how a lot of those ideas pop up; we see something that strikes us as funny, and build on that. That’s how the projects you mentioned from the book like Surf & Turf and Valhalla Heights came about.
Jimmy’s a great idea guy. Once he throws the seed of an idea out there, we can really build on it. Sometimes we get these great, goofy ideas. Every once in a while we package them up and throw them at a television network to see if they’re interested. We came close to a TV deal for Surf & Turf but something happened and it fell apart. It’s still out there. That’s the thing…. When something is “in development”, it’s kind of waiting for the right people to say “hey, do it!” It’s a waiting game sometimes.
Nrama: Pulling things full circle, let me ask you this before I let you go: what would you say your dream project is?
Conner: That’s a tough one. That’d entail me to make a decision on something! [laughs]I’m really bad about making decisions like this. One character I haven’t worked on yet at DC that I’d like to is Catwoman. I’d also love to get a hold of She-Hulk or Tigra at Marvel. As far as coming up with my own thing, but I don’t know. It’d probably be something I’d come up with at 3am while watching bad television. But I can’t think of it right here.
Nrama: How about writing more of your own work? You’re co-writing Silk Spectre with Darwyn, and you’ve popped up here and there doing your own thing.Conner: I don’t know. Writing Silk Spectre has been really challenging and really research heavy. We want to make sure that things here blend in with the original Watchmen comic seamlessly, and we also want to make it true to the time period this is all happening in the 60s. I’ve ended up picking the brains of my mom, dad and all my aunts. They were just about Laurie’s age when all of this was happening, and they can really tell me what life was like back then. But with all this historical research, I also want to be able to bend it a little bit because it’s an alternate reality. If you read Watchmen closely you’ll notice there are certain things there that are completely different from the 1985 we know. It’s fun for me, but at the same time challenging. I have to pick and chose what actual facts to put in there, and what things I want to put in that aren’t really real but seem real. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!