Welcome to the CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION, a new weekly feature where we speak in-depth with some of the most interesting members of the comic book community. These conversations will range from analyses of their current projects to a look at the lives they lead outside of comics.
This week CBR turned its sights to the Southern Hemisphere where we spoke with Australian artist Nicola Scott. Scott has been making an impression on comics fans for many years thanks to runs on a long list of comics including “Birds of Prey,” “Secret Six,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Teen Titans.” Her current project is drawing DC Comics’ monthly “Earth-2” series featuring the revitalized Justice Society of America as written by James Robinson.
CBR News: Nicola, I know that you live in Australia. I have to ask, do people in Australia actually call it “down under?”
Nicola Scott: Um, not really. It’s a colloquialism that probably started during the first or second World War. I have no idea what I’m talking about. I don’t use the term and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used in a sentence by a local unless they’re advertising something!
Now you grew up in Australia. Given that your work for the last few years has been for DC Comics, which is based in New York, what keeps you there?
Family. I’m very close with my family and my friends. I’m Godmother to almost every kid I know.
I did live in New York for a while and loved it. I’d consider doing it again if the time is right. I love the States and there are a number of places I’d consider living — and I might have to if the exchange rate keeps working against me! — but for the moment, being around family is more important.
Tell us a little about Sydney and the area you live in. Are you downtown?
I grew up pretty close to the inner city and have stuck around for the most part. I like living in a busy area where there’s always people and amenities around. There’s also loads of beautiful old houses and apartment blocks too.
The area I’m in now is one subway stop from the city center, right at the harbor, pretty gentrified and leafy, and is the most densely populated area in all Australia. It’s like living in the West Village. There are about half a dozen cafes where I can get great coffee within a three minute walk — very important!
You mentioned when we last spoke that one of your obsessions is real estate. Since you lived in New York for a few years and all New Yorkers are obsessed with real estate, how do Sydney-ites compare? Sydnians? I don’t know the word.
New Yorkers have no idea! Sydney is one of the most — if not the most — real estate crazy cities in the world. It’s so expensive and competitive.
There aren’t the same rental laws or rights here so it’s incredibly easy to get turfed out when renting. The only way to have any security is to own, but it’s so expensive. Half a million bucks will buy you a small one bed apartment in my area, if you’re lucky. I’m working on it. In the mean time I get to have a sticky beak at other peoples places when they have viewings.
Is buying a “fixer-upper” and sanding down the floors, putting up drywall, and painting the walls one of those life goals or is it just a fantasy?
It’s definitely a goal. The trick is finding somewhere that hasn’t already been renovated. Flipping is a big thing here but they tend to be pretty crappy jobs that aren’t going to stand up over time. I don’t want to buy someone else’s idea of style.
You mentioned you like to sew, which is interesting because I know a number of people in comics — all women, admittedly — who are really into sewing, making clothes and costumes.
My mother taught me to sew when I was pretty young and I really enjoyed being able to make what I wanted. It started with clothes for dolls, then costumes for me, then proper clothes and furnishings. I feel really comfortable at a sewing machine. It’s creative but there’s also something very methodical and relaxing about it. Until you screw something up. Then it’s scream central!
Before you were a professional comic book artist you used to be an actor. How did you first get involved and how long were you acting?
Acting was my first passion, the first thing that I found for myself rather than introduced to it by my mum.
I started pretty young, going to theater workshops in school holidays, school plays and then I got into a performing arts high school where acting was my major. I did pretty well, top of the state, and then went through a theater course. I wasn’t ready for reality though. Work didn’t come easy and I got distracted by life — boys — and I didn’t get back to it for a couple of years.
Around twenty-three, twenty-four I started doing Theater-Sports workshops, got an agent and some advertising gigs and tried getting some serious auditions but I wasn’t really ready to commit to the hard slog of rejection that actors have to go through. I was too busy feeling happy with my life and really didn’t want the self-esteem buzz kill. “Wonder Woman” was the last thing I auditioned for. When that didn’t happen I felt I needed to shelve that career for a while.
I’d like to think I’d go back to it at some stage but I’m not sure when or how that might be.
You made a joke about the self-esteem buzz kill that all actors have to endure. Artists don’t exactly have a particularly easy time of it either.
Sure. I think what made the difference to me was that I had invested so many years and dreams in acting and the career I hoped would come of it. I was young and not quite as intellectually prepared for the struggle. The knock backs hit hard.
When I decided to draw comics I was completely ignorant to what that would entail, naive to how hard it would be and absolutely sure about the likelihood of my success. I was older and I felt confident I could learn what I didn’t know, receive knock backs constructively and focus on what needed doing rather than what wasn’t happening. It was a completely different head space.
Sewing, interior design, acting — they’re all kinda similar to what you do as an artist. Do you think it helps to have a hobby or interest where it overlaps a little with work?
I feel like it does. Having sewing experience helps me to understand how clothes are cut, where tensions in fabrics can appear when the body moves. Architecture and interiors helps me design and fill the space.
It’s acting that helps the most, though. For starters it has given me a clear understanding of blocking a scene, where all the players are at any given time. Very helpful for team books. It also helps me tap into the emotional range of a scene. I’ll act out the parts and then draw what I think works best. It helps me to find the subtext too. Like an argument scene doesn’t have to involve shouty faces, sometimes it can have more gravity if it’s played down.
Even though you don’t act anymore, are you a big theatergoer?
Whenever I can. I have season tickets with my family to the Griffin Theater, and I go with my dad or my best friend to others when we can organized ourselves.
What was the first great production you saw?
I remember seeing “The Pirates of Penzance” when I was little and loving it! I have a deep love for musical theater and the ridiculousness of breaking into song for no reason.
What was the last great production you saw?
Just last week I saw my best friend playing Gertrude in a very different take on “Hamlet.” I never knew it could be so funny! It was hilarious! Except for the end. You can’t polish that one.
Yeah, it is hard to turn the end of “Hamlet” into a comedy, though I would like to see someone try.
Now tell me this story about how you almost played Wonder Woman…
It sounds so much more serious than it was!
I found out, not through my agent but through the gossip section of our local paper, that after the success of “Lois and Clark” the producers were going to try it all over again with “Wonder Woman.”
After making some very official sounding phone calls my boyfriend at the time found that they were doing mass cattle calls all over America but, as I was in Australia, I could send my info direct to casting in Burbank. I did so, along with some photos of me in the outfit. They were impressed and sent me a script for me to screen test with. I went through a couple of rounds and was on hold to come over to LA when the project was delayed and then cancelled. I always joke that it was between me and a chick from “Baywatch” — Alexandra Paul — but really I have no idea.
When you were drawing “Wonder Woman,” did you ever have a moment where you were like, screw the model sheet, I’m going to draw her so she looks like me!
It’s pretty common for artists to default to their own faces. It’s the one you know the best. I find a lot of my female characters look a bit like me, especially the shape of the face, but I try not to get stuck in that rut.
I have my own way of drawing Wonder Woman that has evolved over years and might continue to change. I don’t think I’ve ever made her look like me though. I don’t look Mediterranean or exotic at all.
With your regular monthly gig on the monthly “Earth 2” title from DC, are there any other projects in the works or is that all you have time for right now?
There’s always cogs turning, but nothing substantial in the pipeline at the moment.