Conversing on Comics with Terry Dodson

Terry Dodson has made a name for himself as one of comics' most impeccable artists, recently coming off a two-year run on Marvel's Uncanny X-Men and doing a number of high-profile shorter assignments on Avengers, Avenging Spider-Man and Defenders. Unbeknown to most, however, is that Dodson has been producing creator-owned projects on the side, such as Songes (titled Muse in the United States). But in 2013 he's moving this creator-owned focus front and center.

When we spoke earlier this month, Dodson addressed his decision not to renew his exclusive agreement with Marvel so he could devote more time to his own work, and opened up about Vouve Rouge ("Red Widow"), a rollicking espionage/celebrity story he's creating with French writer Xavier Dorison, as well as other potential projects down the road.

Chris Arrant: What are you working on today?

Terry Dodson: It's a typical day at Dodson studios; my desk is full of a lot of different things to work on. I''m drawing a page from my upcoming  creator-owned project Veuve Rouge (literally translates to Red Widow in English) with writer Xavier Dorison. Plus, doing design work on a statue, and wrapping up my 2012 tax return.

This is the first time I believe you've spoken publicly about Veuve Rouge. What can you tell us about that?

Well, it's a three-volume series of graphic novels. The first book is 60 pages that I'm penciling and coloring, and my wife Rachel is inking. The series is scheduled to ship one volume a year starting this year, 2013.

The story is set at the height of the Cold War as the Soviets send undercover their best female agent on a mission to 1977 Los Angeles. It's a little bit '70s movies like Shaft and Foxy Brown with a touch of Quentin Tarantino. The agent is sent as propaganda for the USSR -- chaos and humor ensues!

Actually, it's a phenomenally well-written script by Xavier, the characters he writes are so well formed and it's a real treat to try to draw what he's asking for by nailing the "acting."

Some people might lump in Vouve Rouge as close to the idea behind Marvel's Black Widow. Can you explain how they're different so people don't assume or confuse the two?

Honestly, my knowledge of Black Widow is confined to the Iron Man and Avengers movies, that issue of Uncanny X-Men that Jim Lee drew 20 years ago, and a 10-page AvX VS I drew last summer, so from that I don't see any real similarity between our book and that besides the fact the lead in both stories is a female Soviet/Russian operative/agent. I think this story might even be closer to what would happen if a real "Black Widow"-type character actually came to the U.S. in real life.

Our story involves an almost entirely different world from Marvel superheroes, as our character Vera's story happens in the world of low-budget movie Hollywood, with a serial killer on the loose, and showing the effect of ignorance and prejudice -- different themes and tones entirely.

IF it becomes an issue, the title will be changed to something less confusing -- we have a couple of other "RED"-related names in mind.

I can say that Vera Yelnikov, our Veuve Rouge lead, is a very unique specimen -- I can't think of a character in comics with her personality and unique outlook on life - this is not your standard assassin/secret agent character fare.

There is a lot of turning preconceived notions on their head, in this book, it will be fun to see readers reactions to it.

When I first discovered you drawing Harley Quinn your stories were chock-full of humor. Is Veuve Rouge more humorous than your most recent work? How would you describe that?

I think this book will most likely fit into a mature-reader category (whatever that means), similar to recent creator-owned books like Fatale and Saga. The humor will be done in a more mature, subtle way, more like a Quentin Tarantino movie, as opposed to slapstick, if that makes sense. So it's a lot of fun trying to pull off the subtlety of the acting.

If I may be so bold, how far along in drawing Veuve Rouge are you?

I'm one-third of the way through, which is farther along than it sounds because  there has been a TON of design and research to get me go to this point. Now  that most of that has been done I'm drawing at a nice steady pace on the book.

Your most recent creator-owned book, Songes with Denis-Pierre Filippi, suffered somewhat because of a large delay between its European debut and the small release in America. Do you have any plans to try to avoid that with Veuve Rouge?

Yes. Actually, when I agreed to Songes the least of my concerns was it shipping in the U.S. My main priority was simply to do the best art I could. I had gone to Paris to meet with Humanos about the project, and I did a signing at the Paris "Album" comic bookstore.

I had the chance to see how the European market worked and the quality of material, and I came away very impressed by it. I was happy just to have the book published in Europe initially. I never imagined that so many people would want it or that there would be such a delay in seeing it here in the U.S. There are now, or in the works, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Belgian, Danish, Italian, Polish, even Slovenian versions, of Songes.

So I learned my lesson on the that project. The problem was addressed from the beginning with Veuve Rouge, as the writer and I were able to retain the English-language rights so we are able to get the book out when we want to. We are already in discussions with a Major U.S. publisher and we are going to shoot for a simultaneous release or at least timely release with the European shipment, as we plan on releasing the book here in the U.S. in a monthly comic book format and then collect it in a format similar to the European-style hardcover.

Humanoids, the U.S. branch of Humanos, has solicited the book in the February Diamond Previews for a February 2013 release; it is titled Muse in the U.S.. You can get it online in a number of places, I've had great luck with Amazon France, I also use FNAC.com and BDNET.com to order European books.

2012 saw you finishing up your run on Defenders, doing the finale of  Brian Michael Bendis' Avengers run, doing two issues of Avenging Spider-Man introducing the new Captain Marvel and seeing the release of the second creator-owned Songes book you've done with Denis-Pierre Filippi. How was  2012 for you?

It's one of the busiest years of my career because, in addition to all the work I did, I also had the most convention appearances in long time as I prepare to launch creator-owned work. But overall it was a great year and I'm happy with how all the projects turned out. They were all fun to work on and a variety of material to draw.

There's a growing number of top creators in comics leaving work-for-hire projects in favor of creator-owned work. For you, what was the impetus for doing it now, and not juggling it and with work like you've done in the past?

The decision to not be exclusive simply came down to time. Marvel offered me another exclusive and the possibility of doing creator-owned work through Icon. Marvel gives me so many great projects that there isn't time to do my own stuff like Veuve Rouge, even if the contract allows for it, so for the current time I need to work non-exclusively and to be able to do all the stuff I want to do.

Next month we've heard that DC will release a special variant cover you did for Action Comics #17. You've been Marvel-exclusive for some time, so what's it like being open to doing covers and work like this for Marvel, DC and whomever you wish?

I think the above answers address this in a round about way. Honestly, it's business at usual for me: Someone asks if I want to do a job, in this case a cover, and if I have a hole in my schedule I fill it.

After 20 years now in the business, I've drawn just about every character in comics so it's really about making a great cover. For instance, I did a cover for the CBLDF Liberty 2012 Annual where the theme for it was "liberty" and I was given free rein, and it ended up being one of my most well-received covers I've done.

The Action Comics #17 cover in particular I did because it was the last Grant Morrison issue and I haven't had a chance to work with Grant, and who knows when I'll get the chance again?  (I've a couple of opportunities that I had to turn down because of scheduling.)

What else do you have in the works for 2013, Terry?

There are a number of other variant covers that I did recently that I am really happy with, such April's X-Men #1 and February's Fantastic Four #4, which was colored by Laura Martin. I also did the art for a line of toys that will be shipping this year and I will be showing that off as soon as I can.

But to answer your question, the latter, as my main priority is getting Vouve Rouge out, BUT I can say I will go straight into an short assignment on a mainstream project after I complete Vouve Rouge, and also Matt Fraction and I are getting our ducks in a row on our creator-owned project. I have work lined up for the next couple of years, mostly creator-owned but with a healthy dose of mainstream as well because I keep getting offered stuff that I can't say no to. Plus, I will be trying to do covers month to month to maintain a regular presence in the world of comics and I love doing cover work.

Another thing you seem to love is doing sketches. I just put in an order for your newest sketchbook Bombshells 6 , but spoil it for me and the others reading here, what's in it?

The object of these Bombshells sketchbooks is to show work from my personal sketchbooks, stuff that I draw for fun in my spare time, not just black-and-white versions of stuff you've already seen. This sixth collection of my work collects art created between the summers of 2011 and 2012. You'll get a sneak preview of character designs for Veuve Rouge, more drawings of my character "Chatte Noire" made popular on a poster I did last year advertising my appearance for a store signing in Paris, France (and she  is featured on the cover of this book as well). I also show a little behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the cover itself that has become a tradition now in these books. Also, there drawings from my travels, some watercolor artwork and a few examples of my commissions sketches I do at conventions.

I'm actually working on my 2nd Hardcover collection of the sketchbooks, Bombshells Book 2,  that will collect my Bombshells 3-5 sketchbooks, and also a preview book for Veuve Rouge showing designs, sketches and in process artwork. Both should be out in time for Comic Con International in July.

What shows will you for sure be at in 2013 so our readers can come and meet you and buy these sketchbooks?

It will be a busy year for me, for now: Seattle, Washington, March 1-3, Emerald City Comic Convention; Melbourne, Australia, April 12-14, Supanova Melbourne; Gold Coast, Australia, April 19-21, Supanova Gold Coast; San Jose, California, May 18-19; Big Wow! ComicFest; San Diego, California, July 17-21, Comic Con International; and Ghent, Holland, Oct. 26-27, StripeFestivalBreda.

And actually something I've started to do for appearances is specific new pieces of artwork promoting the shows I attend and making prints and postcards out of them. So far I have done it for a signing in Paris, and last year's Emerald City, Comic Con and NYCC. This year I will be "attempting" to do new promo pieces for the Supanova shows in Australia, Big Wow!, San Diego and the show in Holland. It's a great opportunity to finished artwork entirely of my own - allowing to explore other concepts,  looks, styles, influences, etc that I can't do in my normal day to day comic book assignments!

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