Artist Chrissie Zullo is only in her early twenties, but she’s already made a big splash in the comic book world with her first comics work, the covers to the Vertigo miniseries “Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love.” As intimidating as it must have been for the young artist to be placed on the racks next to Brian Bolland, Joao Ruas and of course longtime “Fables” cover artist James Jean, Zullo not only managed to hold her own, crafting covers with a distinct style and sensibility, she also gained a loyal fan following. Her work was featured as chapter breaks throughout the just-released collection of the miniseries and a careful reading will reveal a number of story clues that were actually incorporated into the covers.
This month sees the release of Zullo’s first professional sequential work in a stand alone issue of “Madame Xanadu.” Part of the series’ final story arc, “Extra Sensory” focuses on the five senses and the lead character’s extrasensory perceptions. It has also been announced that Zullo will be contributing to this fall’s milestone “Fables” #100 and that there will be a second “Cinderella” miniseries for which she will be returning once more to handle covers duties.
CBR News spoke with the young creator and discussed how she was discovered and landed her first gig, the experience of working on “Madame Xanadu,” her future artistic aspirations and more.
CBR News: The story goes that you went to the portfolio review at San Diego in 2008 and the following year, you were doing cover art for a new miniseries from Vertigo. Take us inside the flashy, inspirational story, through the years of sweat and hard work. Who is the woman living the dream and what is her story?
Chrissie Zullo: Yes, it’s true that I went through the portfolio review at San Diego Comic-Con. I was attending art school at home in North Carolina and was interning for a comic book artist named Andy Smith in 2007. He suggested that I go to SDCC. I went that first year and it opened my eyes to the major talent out there and how I needed to really improve on my artwork. I came back home and spent my last year at Art School preparing a strong portfolio and went back to SDCC the following year. I had strong hopes for working for Vertigo, because “Fables” was my favorite comic book, so when an editor from Vertigo picked me for a short critique, I was ecstatic. She suggested creating mock covers for any issue of “Fables” that I wanted and send them to her. I came home, worked on them right away and sent them to her in New York. She and Bill Willingham loved them. The “Cinderella” miniseries was just being put to life at that moment. It was really a mix of luck, hard work and good timing. To be any way affiliated with “Fables” was a dream come true.Â
Did you have any trepidation about doing the covers? It’s huge and prestigious job, but you’re right alongside Brian Bolland, James Jean and now Joao Ruas. That is intimidating company.
Yes, of course. I lost a bit of sleep over it. But I knew James Jean hadn’t worked much before his covers for “Fables,” and he is a huge idol of mine. I probably really overthought a lot of things and worried endlessly about details because it was my first published work. This was a dream come true, so I really didn’t want to mess it up. I’m pleased so far, but every cover or work that I do, I’ll finish it and think, “next time I can do better”.Â
Were you given any guidelines or suggestions about what they should like, how to approach them?
Yes, thankfully. My editor, Shelly Bond, is a genius and has great visual ideas. Since it was all new to me, any insight from her was greatly appreciated. There is a lot of back-and-forth and mixing ideas. I do have a lot of creative space, but love to incorporate other ideas.
I took a lot of guidance from Shelly. There was a lot of back-and-forth discussing what needed to be on the cover. I had an idea that this first cover was also going to be the cover for the trade, so I tried to keep that in mind when working on it and tried to make it suitable for both needs.
Did you get to read the scripts before composing the covers, because there are clues and signs of what’s inside in each issue.
I got to read an almost-final script of each issue. I also learned to hide little things in covers. I think “Fables” fans look for those kinds of things.
The collection just came out. Did you enjoy the trade and how they incorporated the cover artwork throughout the book?
Oh yeah! I was really happy to see the finished product.Â
You mentioned James Jean, who, like you, was in his early twenties with no professional comics work under his belt when he started working on “Fables,” and I also see a little Tara McPherson influence in your work. Are there any other people who you look to or who have been big influences?
There are so many artists I love. I mean, I feel like I take a little bit from every artist I like and morph it into something of my own. I could really give you an infinite list. I collect so many art books and practice drawing and sketching in styles of other artists in my sketchbook. It’s not just one style, I love so many. Basically, I love all art in general. I also look to historic art, as well, to draw influence, from Baroque to Winsor McCay to Adam Hughes.
Fast forward to this month, and “Madame Xanadu” #26 is featuring your first interior, sequential artwork. How did this happen?
My editor was putting together a collection of female artists for a five-issue arc of “Madame Xanadu.” I hadn’t done any sequential prior to this, so in a way I think my editor was taking a chance on me, but having Matt Wagner as a teacher during the process was great help. I learned a lot – it was sort of a crash course in sequential artwork. Now that I’ve done one, though, I just want to do more interiors and keep improving on it. It’s terribly fun and there’s a different satisfaction in finishing an issue than finishing a cover.
What was it like working with Wagner? I know that he doesn’t work in full script like most writers.
I really appreciated Matt’s honesty throughout the process, as he was a very helpful teacher for the whole issue. I thought the way he worked was smart. He gave me an overview of the panels, which I drew, and he came back after it was done to finalize the dialogue throughout the story. It was a collaborative effort, which I really enjoyed. I was a fan of his from before, so I knew everything he told me was great advice and I listened to it all carefully.Â
It’s your first professional interior gig, as you mentioned, but had you done some for the portfolio you put together for San Diego?
Well, actually, Shelly Bond said I was the only one who didn’t have interiors in my portfolio. My portfolio was filled with single illustrations, but they were narrative and you could tell there was a story behind it. I was really set on doing covers at the time.
You’re not just drawing the interiors, if I’m not mistaken, you’re actually painting the pages. What was behind this decision and what do you feel it adds to the work?
I penciled, inked and then ink washed the pages and later added colors in Photoshop. I like having a lot of work done outside the computer, just using a computer to heighten the artwork after the fact. Â I don’t know if it adds to the work, but I know that I enjoy working that way.
Being in control of the entire issue, you had full control over the visuals the same way you would on a cover. Was it more comfortable for you to be able to work like that?
Yes, but very time consuming. I know why they have different people for each step, now! I like having complete control, but wouldn’t put down working with other people, too. It felt very great to finish it up, though, knowing that it was something I worked so hard on.
Does it feel more natural for you doing interiors or covers?
At first, covers, but now that I’ve learned so much about interiors, I really want to do another one and improve on it. It’s one thing to make one striking image that most people are going to see on a book cover, but it is also great fun to tell a story in pages. Both are really great, or even an entire book would be great.
What can you tell us about the issue?
It is a stand-alone issue about a young boy who smells terrible and the struggles of his lonely life and his dreams at night. I’m a huge Winsor McCay fan, and the “Little Nemo” series played a huge influence during this process.
Can you tell us anything about “Fables” #100 and the story you’re drawing for it?
Well, you probably know more than I do. I’m hoping for a Thumbelina story.
Another Cinderella miniseries has already been announced. Have you started working on the covers?
I haven’t started yet, I think I start next month. I’m really excited about more Cindy though! Currently I’m working on some private commissions and paintings and hopefully will be working on a certain DC statue in the future. Mums the word, though!