Stéphanie Hans clearly loves her work.
During the past five years, the artist has quickly become a fan and critic favorite for her distinctive approach to covers. More recently, however, as she notes in this interview with ROBOT 6, she has enjoyed how her collaboration with Marguerite Bennett on Angela: Asgard's Assassin has pushed the artist outside of her creative comfort zone.
In addition to addressing the difference between the demands of her U.S. comics work compared to the covers she produces for French prose publishers, Hans explains why she thinks it's important for her to share her creative process on Tumblr for aspiring artists.
Tim O’Shea: Over the past several years you have been steadily building a fanbase thanks to your increasing success working for Marvel. But as a Berlin-based artist you also have done a great deal of work for French publishers. Can you discuss some of the stylistic choices that you might make with your art when working for a French publisher versus a mainstream U.S. publisher?
Stéphanie Hans: The first thing that surprised me when I did my initial covers for U.S. comics was that I didn't have a clue about what was actually inside the book.
For the French prose market I always read the books when I am asked to illustrate the cover. Not everyone does it but I am a real book lover and it is always a great pleasure to read books before anybody else.
Due to the very fast turnaround that is expected in the U.S. comic books industry, cover artists are asked to create covers for the previews, which typically appear three months before the book printing, sometimes more. Usually at that stage in the creative process, interior artists haven't started their work and writers are still in the stage of writing the story’s rough draft.
For French prose literature, the cover artist arrives after everything is finished and wraps it.
As I see it, working for prose publishers, especially in France, is more of a collaboration. Editors often already have an idea of what they would like and there's a lot more of back and forth dialogue.
Not every French publisher is the same, but I'd like to mention Rageot, which I have worked for regularly. I really love that publisher. Each of their books has ambition and a lot of trust from everyone involved in the creation: It's a bit like a family.
With U.S. comics books I really feel like a professional. I know I am trusted to deliver good work in due time. There's no spare time to wiggle anyway. I have to be my own judge and have to be hard on myself because usually I am trusted to know when to stop working on an image. I really love that. I also really love being able to experiment; and still being trusted when I choose a new path, which happens quite often since I am very fond of testing myself.
That's not something I can do with a French publisher at all. Each time I tried to propose a different style, I was brought back to my starting point.
In your recent work with Marguerite Bennett, what is about her scripts that challenges you and clearly makes you enjoy collaborating with her?
Marguerite challenges me. Usually my sequencing method is very straightforward. I really do not often try to work outside the rules I give myself because I know it works. My normal work process is efficient and gives me a lot of space to place images. But Marguerite has an ambitious writing style that left me a lot of room for improvisation, which in turn gave me encouragement to be in tune with her imaginative objectives.
It's been hard and complicated but at the same time extremely good for my creativity. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and seriously, as an artist, this is something I fear and crave at the same time.
I am always thankful for that.
For all of your popular and successful interior work, you are also heavily in demand doing cover work for Marvel? Are there elements of interior work that creatively satisfies you in a way that cover design cannot, and vice versa?
That’s hard to say.
I love both. When I do cover art, my art has to shine by itself; I only have one picture after all.
When I do interior art, my aim is to help make the writing to shine, to be in tune with it. It's a tremendously more difficult job because it really is like singing harmony for a magnificent song. But when it's well made, it's beautiful.
Speaking of your cover work, looking back at your past covers for Marvel, can you pick out three favorites -- and what it is about those three that make you pleased with the final cover?
It is difficult to pick out my favorite three.
1. Certainly the very first one [which Hans still uses as her Twitter avatar]: the cover to the 2010 Firestar one-shot because it allowed me to break into the market and it brought enough attention to my work to keep me in it.
2. The cover of Journey into Mystery #626 because to this day, cosplayers are still using the “L for loser” gesture when impersonating Kid Loki and it couldn't make me happier.
3. This cover of the new Thor Because it's one of the very rare times I did a cover in a traditional art style. I just like to do a simple but powerful image, not a lot of colors but a lot of tension in its composition.
Back in late 2014, you shared some cover process work on Tumblr and wrote: "Truth be told, my roughs are always very messy. but I make a lot of them" Two things, as an outside observer I have to say while you find them messy, most of us find your rough designs to be quite exquisite. Secondly, most artists do not share insight into the creative process as you do on Tumblr. What makes you willing to share the design process like that?
Thanks! I think there are a lot of aspiring artists browsing published artists websites/posted portfolios. When you show aspiring artists only the final result in a way it makes it look like it was easy for you when, at least for me, it's not. Well maybe it is easier now but it hasn't been for a long time.
I think what I want to show is that anybody can do it with a lot of hard work and time. Professional artists do not always start with beautiful and graceful sketches. My sketches are messy; I know that and I never could change it. I even lost at least one job because one of my publishers was too perplexed by them. Ì am very lucky to be trusted by the people who do hire me.
When you look back at your art from five years ago and compare it to your current work, are you able to see ways that you have improved as an artist?
I have improved a lot. Of course, working with a need for a fast turnover forces you to improve. I am better in terms of anatomy as well as with faces, composition and colors. More than that I am really better in theorizing what I was doing from instinct before.
In addition to a great deal of Marvel work, you periodically do alternate covers for an Image series like The Wicked + The Divine. What's the most creatively satisfying aspect of doing independent covers like that?
When I work on a mainstream title, in a strange way, it's the title that brings my work to light. That gives me attention because those big characters from Marvel are so much bigger than life that they are going to carry you in front of the public eye. Longtime Marvel fans can be very attentive to any change you bring to a character that's already an icon. They have grown with them, they know them well and expect you to respect their beloved character and know them as much as they do.
When I work on more independent stuff, I believe it's my job to give the books an extra chance to be picked up, because the cover is going to attract the eyes of the right readers. It's a lot of responsibility and it gives me a lot of pride when I do my job well.
I couldn't really say which I prefer but I am a pop culture addict. I always have been. And it was an impossible dream for me, as a French illustrator living in a small city to work for mainstream U.S. comic books.
But then, the Internet happened and here I am.
I love my job everyday even when it keeps me awake late and sometimes cuts me off from my social life. I wouldn't exchange it for the world.