Since breaking into comics at the age of 19, acclaimed illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz has built a legendary resume. From character defining runs on “Moon Knight” and “New Mutants” to his own creation, “Stray Toasters,” Sienkiewicz has put his mark on a wide range of comic book characters and stories. His work on 1986’s “Elektra: Assassin” with writer Frank Miller puts him in rarified air, a high water mark for both Elektra and comics in general.
At WonderCon in Los Angeles, Sienkiewicz visited the CBR Tiki Room to chat with Jonah Weiland about his storied career, why no one has been able to define Elektra despite many attempts at rebooting the character, and his approach to inking other artists. Sienkiewicz explains how his collaborations work and what he gets out of getting up close and personal with someone else’s pencils.
Acclaimed artist Bill Sienkiewicz begins his discussion with CBR TV by talking about how he views his older artwork and what it feels like to define Elektra for a generation of readers. He also talks about seeing new artists take on character’s he’s worked on, seeing Elektra in live-action, and what he thinks of Jennifer Garner’s take on the character.
On how it feels that his rendition of Elektra remains one of the signature takes on the character:
To say that I don’t think about it, it does a disservice to the question, but what I’m saying is I accept it. It’s very nice that people feel that way. I certainly feel that part of the reason might be, in terms of speculation, was Frank [Miller] and I worked so closely on “Elektra: Assassin” we had our DNA sort of flowing through the pages. So in a way it was like a little bit of osmosis that I sort of infected him with the art style and he sort of did back with the writing.
I’ve seen other versions of Moon Knight, I’ve seen other versions of the New Mutants. What happens is usually after I’m done with a character, no disrespect to any of the creators who sort of follow on the book, but I tend to stop reading the book because I’m mentally closing a door. I’m done, I’m on to something else. I’ve seen other versions of Moon Knight and I never really felt territorial or proprietary with Moon Knight. I knew full well when I was doing that series that it was the company’s toy and they let me in the sandbox with it. Once I was done with it that would be sort of my little bit of the contributions to it. So other people when they’re coming in, making changes, whatever, there’s a part of me that might feel a little bit like, “Huh, interesting,” or, “I wish I had gone in that direction.” But as far as Elektra, interestingly enough I do feel a little bit more territorial about her, about her as a character. I view her a certain way.
On what it’s like seeing a character he worked on feel different in live-action:
That happens all the time, so getting wedding to any kind of perception or how a character is being done, that’s a fool’s errand. You want to get your heart broken, that’s how. I sort of just view it as Elektra is — I think I mentioned on social media — I view her more as a Keyser Soze. She is inscrutable. I feel like in some respects not showing her eyes, she’s mysterious, and I don’t feel that she is the kind of person — as I once said to Frank, “She’s the kind of person who picks her scabs. She doesn’t let them heal.” It’s not that she’s just sort of like in her element to sort of like be, “Oh poor me,” she’s been so damaged and I think she’s got her own motivations and her own essences and certain dark things that she’s keeping alive. She’s not — I don’t view her as somebody who would be a soccer mom or someone like that, or necessarily a parent. That’s a train wreck ready to happen there. And she certainly wouldn’t have a sidekick, a teenage sidekick, by any means. And, the ultimate point to get back to what you’re saying, is I don’t view her as a supporting character in somebody else’s arc. As they say in “The Yellow Kid,” “She’s the main guy in this parade.”
In part two, Sienkiewicz discusses his frequent inking and finishing work, how it differs from his solo art, and recounts experiences working with John Paul Leon, Jim Aparo and Denys Cowan.
On whether he’s ever run into trouble inking another artist’s work or said no to offers:
If they come to me it’s literally like they know what they’re gonna get. And that may include not knowing what they’re gonna get, that I may zig when they expect me to zag. I’m a huge fan of John Paul Leon’s work, I just think he’s absolutely amazing. He wanted me to ink his work at one point and I love his stuff so much I was actually incredibly faithful to the pencils. He was like, “No, you don’t understand. I want you to [do your thing].” And I felt like, “Okay, I’ll go in and [do that].” But I felt like it was blasphemy on my part.
People have said, “Why do you do so much finishing and inking over other artists?” There’s a lot of things I want to say in my own work, but one of the things that I’ve found is that it’s a little bit like walking in somebody else’s shoes and seeing through somebody else’s eyes. I find that fascinating how people come up with their solutions. And you can read a comic and see how they solve a solution, but when you’re coming at it from that level of line by line or interpretive point of view, it’s a really interesting sort of immersion.
On his frequent collaborations with artist Denys Cowan:
I’ve known Denys since we were both puppies in this business. We’ve always — like we’re best friends, we get along great. We have similar affections for certain specific styles, and a lot of that includes more of a European flavor, and I think Denys is much more of a European talent. And we also both think not so much in terms of anatomy and rendering or in terms, but we both think about abstraction and pattern and shape, so that’s the big thing. Everything else sort of fits into that wheelhouse. But other than that — and it’s presumptions in some respects to say this — but he’ll send me something and I’ll immediately know what he wants. We’re lucky enough that we have kind of this shorthand and his trust is implicit, and I value that. Whenever I get something from him he knows that I’m gonna try to make it better than — and it’s already brilliant — from what he sent me.
In the final part of the conversation, Sienkiewicz talks about the one artist that got away, and how he approaches both inking and collaboration.
On what artist he’d most like to ink and his general approach to inking:
I think I inked one piece of [Jack] Kirby’s and it was a like a lightbox edition of some trading card or whatever. But Kirby, I mean Kirby, without a doubt, would be the main [one]. If anything I feel like I would be more liberated. I feel like his work is so much about the power — again, this is just my interpretation of it, but I sort of feel like going in and inking things emotionally the way he’s trying to convey. The whole idea, for me, is to try to better convey what the artist is trying to say in the pencils through the inks, in a way almost amplifying it. So if it’s a quiet moment I want to kind of dial it down to the opposite of “Spinal Tap,” take it to minus-1. [Laughter] I kind of love the idea of respecting what’s there but at the same time adding whatever I can.
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