We recently caught up with Artist Jessica Abel about her latest work which features a Roller Derby Skater. We chatted about her work, inspiration and what’s on the horizon for her.
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Grab a cup of tea and enjoy!
Please tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a cartoonist. I started back in the early 90s, self-publishing and then working with Fantagraphics on a series of short stories called Artbabe. After that, I did a graphic novel called La Perdida and taught comics, which led to writing (with my husband, fellow cartoonist Matt Madden of 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style) two textbooks on making comics, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, and Mastering Comics (see below). I started Trish Trash back in 2007, initially with the idea of scripting it and working with an artist, but in the end I decided to draw it myself (with an assistant, Lydia Roberts http://lydiarobotica.com/
What artistic background do you come from?
I’ve always liked drawing, and have taken various drawing and painting classes, but I’m self-taught as a cartoonist.
So what was the inspiration for your comic?
It was 2006, and I was working on illustrations for DWWP, and for the character design chapter, Matt gave me some random modifiers: an emotional attribute, a physical attribute, and a job. From that I came up with Trish Trash and a 7-legged martian! I have no idea why. The mind works in mysterious ways.
Here are the prompts Matt gave me:
wears a skirt
(that became Fred Xed, Martian tour guide. He did not make it to final cut.)
After doing these illustrations, for some reason I kept pondering the idea of roller derby on Mars. Again, I don’t know why. But it became more and more interesting, and the story more and more involved, to the point where it’s going from a silly romp to a serious, involved sci-fi epic. That’s just how I think, I guess!
Please explain the process and work involved to go from an idea to a finished product?
It’s a very long process in this case, but the short version is this: I think about the characters and the relationships, which leads me to research ideas. I do research, which builds my ideas as to the world and the characters. Eventually, I come up with a story arc, and then write scenes, using the page layout program InDesign to write directly in page layouts. Then I do a sketch version of the pages (with my assistant, Lydia) on a digital tablet. I print those and tape them to a piece of bristol board. Then I pencil the characters, send it to Lydia, she pencils and inks backgrounds, and send it back to me. I ink figures and some foreground elements, and touch up. I scan, digitally touch up, and add elements like sound effects and holographic screens on the computer. I send the pages to a colorist, Walter, and when he’s finished, they go to a letterer (because it’s translated into French). Can you believe that’s the short version? I’m not kidding.
What is it about Roller Derby that caught your eye?
You know, I have no idea. I don’t even know how I was aware it was happening again. I mean, 2006, that’s not long after the modern relaunch of the sport, and I had not seen a bout. Maybe newspaper articles? I don’t know. But it was intriguing. After I started mulling over the rollerderby-on-Mars idea, I started going to Gotham bouts (I lived in Brooklyn), and that was plenty to convince me.
How would you like your work to be perceived?
Hm, I’m not sure how to answer this. Trish Trash is a serious work of (science) fiction, and I hope it’ll find an audience that really connects with the characters and ideas, not least of which is that derby is awesome.
I see that this is a another of your projects (http://dw-wp.com/) can you tell us a little bit more about that?
DWWP is a project of comics education that’s primarily the two textbooks, and also the website you mention. It’s a comprehensive course for anyone who wants to learn to make comics, teach comics, or even read comics. It springs out of my 15 years of teaching experience.
What’s next on the horizon?
Well, more Trish, for a start! This volume is just the first of 3 in this series (and if it works, there are at least two more stories to tell). I hope to finish this first cycle while I’m still living here in France, in other words before June 2016. I’d also love to have it out in English! I’m originating the book in France with Dargaud, and we’re working on English-version plans (though, meanwhile, any English-speaker interested enough can get the book in French and find the English transcription on my site http://jessicaabel.com/work/trish-trash-rollergirl-of-mars/
I’m also working on a book called Out On the Wire ( http://jessicaabel.com/work/out-on-the-wire-ira-glass-and-radio/
), which is nonfiction, about how the best narrative radio-makers in the US craft story. I’m talking about shows like This American Life, Radiolab, Planet Money, Snap Judgment, and the Moth. It’s a totally different kind of comic, but I like the balance of the two approaches. That will be out in August 2015.
Thanks very much to Jessica for taking the time out to chat to us. All the best for the comic!
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Thanks for reading.