With a comics career as varied as Becky Cloonan’s, there was no shortage of things to talk about during her Thursday morning spotlight panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The biggest surprise may have been just how much ground was actually covered from the cartoonist’s past in only 50 minutes. From “Demo” to her upcoming “Batman” issue, to her tragic fantasy mini-comics — and even her connection to the indie comedy film “Super Troopers” — it seemed no rock was left unturned.
Moderated by Jimmy Aquino (from the Comic News Insider podcast), the “Spotlight on Becky Cloonan” panel somehow managed to touch on just about all of Cloonan’s career highlights so far, as well as introduce the crowd to the concept of “Dracul-aoke” — karaoke done in a Dracula voice.
Cloonan started things off by talking about the building blocks of her comics career, beginning with her earliest memories of creating art.
“It’s weird because ever since I was a kid, everything I’ve ever drawn was kind of sequential in nature,” said Cloonan, talking about a story she drew from her childhood about flying up to the sun. She also mentioned being introduced to comic books through her dad’s “Silver Surfer” comics, but that she fell in love with comics with the X-Men, and later manga.
“That’s sort of what liked about the X-Men, was all the soap opera stuff, and the romance,” said Cloonan. “I think that’s what got me into it.”
Cloonan talked about how she had wanted to make comic books professionally, but opted to go to college for animation because the comic industry was in rough shape in the late ’90s.
“I wanted to work for a big animation studio and make lots of money and maybe do a comic or two [on the side.]”
She dropped out of college when 2D animation jobs became scarce, and opted not to learn 3D animation. Cloonan also talked about an unusual animation gig she scored, working on the 2001 indie comedy “Super Troopers,” drawing the film’s “Afghanistanamation” sequence, featuring Johnny Chimpo. Cloonan said she was approached by the film’s crew who asked if she could draw the sequence badly.
“Hell yes, I can,” she said to laughs from the crowd.
Cloonan also talked about another interesting gig, working for Central Park Media who, aside from putting out “adult comics,” she credited with helping her learn a lot of behind-the-scenes comic business.
She talked about how she first met up with her frequent collaborator Brian Wood, who had e-mailed her out-of-the-blue and wanted to meet her after seeing her self-published comics online. Cloonan joked she wasn’t sure if he was a “creep,” but the two hit it off. She did the art for “Channel Zero: Jennie One,” which led to their collaboration on “Demo” — a book she wasn’t sure would ever pay off because she got paid so little to do it.
Cloonan also talked about the dangers of working for free — or for ultra-cheap.
“I can’t tell you how many books I’ve done, and how many pages I’ve done, just to get a foot in the door — [“Demo”] was the one book I did that paid off.”
“Demo” also helped get her work at Vertigo Comics, pencilling “American Virgin” and Tokypop, with her punk rock pirate series “East Coast Rising.” It was the first time she could make a living doing art full-time, with some additional advertising gigs. Talking further about “East Coast Rising,” Cloonan seemed excited about the idea of getting the rights back from Tokyopop so she could revisit the series, but wouldn’t put too much thought into it until it actually happens.
On her mini-comic “Wolves,” Cloonan explained it was as a side-project she started while waiting for work, but now with “The Mire” completed, she envisions both as the first two parts of a trilogy, and said she had some ideas for the third book. She also talked about the labor of love that producing the mini-comics have been — from filling orders and shipping them out, to starting a grassroots relationship with retailers, to putting hand-picked touches on the final design on the comics.
On her recent “Conan” work with Brian Wood, she talked about designing the pirate queen Belit for the “The Queen of the Black Coast” who is topless in the original Robert E. Howard story. She said it was a challenge to design something for the iconic character to wear who couldn’t just throw a shirt on, but also couldn’t leave her topless.
“She could have been real cheesecake art. She’s beautiful, but my goal was too make her scary,” said Cloonan, who succeeded in a memorable take of the character.
Cloonan revealed that the previously announced “True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys” from Dark Horse, written by Gerard Way, is back on track, and is expecting it to be announced for next year, after its original announcement in 2009.
“[Killyjoys” is] completely different,” said Cloonan, explaining how time has changed the book. “It’s much more mature now. I feel like it’s kind of too bad we announced it earlier.”
When asked how she landed the upcoming “Batman” assignment, Cloonan said she met Scott Snyder at Kapow Comic Convention in London a few months ago, and expressed interest in doing something “Batman”-related in the future. She received an email the next week from Snyder, and she said yes right away. Getting the “Batman” assignment meant something to her, because 10 years ago when she was showing her portfolio, there were editors that told her she’d never make it in the industry.
A fan asked about the cancelled “Victor Von Doom” Marvel miniseries that she was slated to work on with writer Nick Spencer. Cloonan said an issue was done, but the editor was laid off from Marvel, which made it an easier title to cancel since the story wasn’t involved in Marvel’s current continuity, which was being consolidated at the time.
“Maybe one day,” Cloonan said when asked if she thinks the Teen Doom story could ever resurface. “But I’m not going to hold my breath, and I’m actually looking to do more creator-owned stuff in the future.”
One last fan asked Cloonan how she balanced the smaller, personal projects with the assignments from the bigger publishers.
“I don’t know,” she said half-joking. She did admit it’s tough finding a balance and asked if anyone in the room was willing to relocate to Montreal to be her assistant.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Becky Cloonan’s upcoming projects and more coverage from Comic-Con International 2012.