Over the course of her career, artist JoÃ«lle Jones has amassed a long and impressive resume of comic book projects, exhibiting a talent for jumping from one genre to another with ease, from romance (“12 Reasons Why I Love Her,” “Token”) to fantasy (“House of Night,” “The Girl Who Owned a City”) to noir (“You Have Killed Me,” “Portland Noir”) and more.
Jones’ current gig is illustrating the fantasy/horror “Helheim,” written by Cullen Bunn. With the second issue of the Oni Press series about black magic and monstrous vikings slated to hit stores later this month, CBR News took the chance to speak with Jones about her career, how she assembles “Helheim” and more.
CBR News: You’re not really known for drawing massive creatures and blood and gore — how were you tagged as the artist for “Helheim?”
JoÃ«lle Jones: I was approached by Charlie [Chu], the editor on the book during San Diego last year. He had me sit down and have breakfast with Cullen who described it to me. I thought it sounded awesome.
What specifically was it that appealed to you? That it was it fantasy? Vikings?
It was such a departure from what I’d done before. It just seemed very exciting to try something new. I’ve always loved viking stories and the supernatural, and I love the way Cullen writes.
it’s been so much fun. I love to get bloody and violent. [Laughs]
Cullen made a tongue in cheek comment when the book was announced about how when your name was mentioned for the book, his response was, “But she draws romance comics.” I know you’ve joked that you’re not a reader of romance stories despite drawing them —
Yeah, I had so much fun doing those stories but it’s just not something I’ve ever really gravitated towards in my spare time. It was a challenge to learn how to do that in the first place and then switch gears again to the horror genre.
What did Cullen give you initially?
He didn’t really give me too many visual notes and directions. He said gritty and hardcore and heavy metal, but he really let me play with it and have fun. I remember when I turned in the character sketches, I didn’t have any notes. He just said, “I love it — let’s do it,” and that was it.
Is that indicative of how he scripts, giving you suggestive and tonal ideas rather than specific visuals?
Yeah, absolutely. He wrote it so well, it was really easy for me to get a sense of what he was going for.
You’ve drawn a lot of black and white comics over the years, so what’s it been like working with Nick Filardi, the colorist?
He’s been amazing. Everything he’s done, I’ve just been blown away by. He just elevates everything he touches with color.
Do you work differently knowing these pages will be colored?
No, I try to make it look completely finished as a standalone black and white piece so that I don’t make it look less than knowing it’ll be colored.
Have you ever spoken with Nick about color or the look of the book?
No. I don’t like to give him notes. I think what he does is as much of an artform as what I do. I love to be surprised by what he comes up with, and I’m always blown away. I try to get gory and just see what happens.
Is that how you’ve approached all your work that’s appeared in color?
Pretty much. I love the look of black and white books and I draw them to look like it. I love to be surprised by the colors I get.
That’s interesting, because you studied painting at art school —
I’ve been doing [comics] for so long now. I haven’t painted in ages. I’ve got comic book brain now. [Laughs] I’ve stopped working in color, for the most part.
Walk us through your process from when Cullen gives you a script.
I’ll get the script and I usually need a couple hours to relax after reading it because he throws in so many batshit crazy things. Then I start thumbnailing it and send that Charlie and Cullen. Then, from there, I go right into pencils and inks.
As far as thumbnailing, how detailed are they and how much time do you spend on them?
In the beginning it was really labor-intensive. It took me a long time, but as I’m more accustomed to the characters and knowing what will work better and getting a little more confident, it doesn’t take as long. It’ll take a couple days.
How long does it usually take you to draw an issue?
It depends on how insane Cullen wrote the script. [Laughs] I know that issue four took a lot longer than the rest, just because he had so many bizarre creatures. It depends. Each one is so different.
This is a very violent series. How do you approach depicting the violence in the book?
I don’t think anything would buy it if it was just a monster at home knitting.
If it was an instructional guide featuring monsters teaching you how to knit, though, that would be a different story!
Oh, sure. [Laughs] It’s been a learning process, for sure. I’ve taken a lot of cues from movies. I had to learn how to really get good at decapitating. [Laughs] As the issues go on, I get a little bit better.
What has the response to the book been like?
I’m really, really blown away by the response. You work hard at something, but you never know if people are going to respond to it. It’s just been so wonderful to know that people enjoy the book so far.
You said “so far” —
Well, I don’t know. I don’t want to jinx myself. [Laughs]
Have you and Cullen talked about what would happen and what would come next if you did more than six issues?
We haven’t really talked about it. I don’t know. I can’t even speculate, but we haven’t spoken about it. I’ve been enjoying working on the issues so far, and if it were to continue, I’d be psyched to see what he’d come up with.
What’s a typical work day like for you?
Well, sometimes I’ll work at Periscope or sometimes I’ll work at home. Either way I like to do an hour of warm up sketch to limber up. If I’m doing pencils, I force myself do them in chronological order so I go from one to twenty-two. Some days I schedule short days, which are about eight hours, and some days are long days, which are like twelve hours.
Do you pencil and then ink one page, or pencil them all and then ink them all?
I’ll do all twenty-two pages of pencils and then I’ll take a day to collect myself and I’ll do all the inks for it.
You mentioned the warm-up sketches you do — people can go on to your website where you post a lot of them. Is it just about needing to start drawing and do something not related to work?
Yeah, I try to do something completely unrelated. Something that’s completely brainless. Something pop culture, or I’ll find a picture on the internet and draw that. It’s to remind my hands and my brain that I have to be doing this all day and warm them up.
Tell us a little about Periscope Studio, which I’m sure some readers know about.
It’s a studio, a collection of tons of different artists here in Portland. It’s a lot of fun. I don’t go in as much as I’d like to, but from time to time I need to get out of my own studio and spend time around other artists. Especially in the inking stage, it’s nice to be around other artists and get feedback and learn new tricks. And just complain.
Is part of that because your head needs to be in a different space to ink versus pencil?
Absolutely. It’s a lot more work pencilling. It’s actually really relaxing doing inking, but one stage requires a lot more attentiveness.
Everyone who both pencils and inks has their own process. How loosely or tightly do you pencil and how much work do you do in the inking stage?
In the beginning, when I was trying to set the tone and figure out the characters and their story, I was a lot more detailed with my pencils. As the issues go along, I know now what the characters are going to look like so I can be a lot looser going into the inks.
At the beginning, it’s just to figure it out in your head —
And to keep the characters looking consistent until I can have that muscle memory of what they look like.
Do you have a favorite character so far in “Helheim?”
That’s tricky. My favorite character I can’t really give away, because she hasn’t been introduced yet. So far I like Rikard’s dad.
Is there any aspect of the script you’ve especially enjoyed drawing?
The monster Rikard. I love drawing him.
It is a great take on how to put a monster together.
[Laughs] It really is. It makes no sense, but it looks cool.
How much of that design is you?
Well [Cullen] suggested to me that we go in that direction, but it’s hard to say. Once I sketched it down on paper, they loved it, so I think it came close to what he was originally thinking.
I know that Cullen has an ending in mind for the miniseries, and you tend to work mostly on short stories and graphic novels and stories with a beginning, middle and end. Is that important or just accidental?
It just sort of happened that way. I don’t think there was really a plan for it. It just worked out that. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Have you started thinking about what comes next?
No. [Laughs] I don’t want to think about the future right now. I just want to make my deadlines. [Laughs]
Is that usually how you work?
Yeah, I want to get my head really into it and try not to get too far ahead of myself. It makes me lose focus if I’m always thinking about what’s coming up next. It’s hard enough. I’ve got a short attention span. [Laughs]
I know that you jump around a lot from one genre to another — romance to horror to fantasy to noir — but is there anything you really want to try but haven’t yet?
I just want to keep trying different things. I really enjoy popping around to different genres and see myself stretch as an artist every time.
Between “Helheim” and the recent “House of Night,” you seem to be drawing more moody fantasy/horror stories these days.
Yeah. I find it suits me. I really enjoy it.
Do you have any final thoughts on the book or something you want to tease about what’s coming up?
Well, I wanted to tell everyone how awesome it is as I was reading the scripts as they came in, but I can’t say a word about it.
[Laughs] Sure, it’s violent, but that’s not a spoiler.
“Helheim” #12, by Cullen Bunn and JoÃ«lle Jones, arrives in stores April 24.