Pia Guerra talks "Doctor Who: The Forgotten"

Illustrator Pia Guerra has been working on various independent comic books since the mid 1990s, but her big break came with a creator-owned venture for Vertigo alongside writer Brian K. Vaughn on the hugely acclaimed "Y: The Last Man" in 2002. Since then, Guerra has won the Outstanding Award at the 2006 Joe Shuster Awards and in 2008 took home the Eisne for Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team for her work on with "Y" inker Jose Marzan, Jr. With "Y" now concluded, Guerra has begun work on a new Doctor Who miniseries from IDW Publishing alongside writer Tony Lee. With the book out this week, CBR News spoke with Pia Guerra about her work on "Doctor Who: The Forgotten."

In the miniseries, the Doctor and his companion, Martha Jones, find themselves in a strange museum that seems to be dedicated to the Doctors' life and exploits. Something happens and chunks of the Doctor's memories are suddenly taken away from him. Martha and the Doctor must then use the objects in the museum to find a way to restore his lost memories spanning all ten regenerations as well as stop a very dangerous assailant in the shadows.

"Doctor Who: The Forgotten" marks the first time Guerra has worked on a comic book with another writer since she completed "Y: The Last Man." "I remember writing to Brian [Vaughan] shortly after this started saying how weird it was not to be working on something he wrote," Guerra told CBR News. "The styles are very different as far as pacing and structure, and that took some getting used to. 'Y' was pretty languid at times, taking the time it needed to create an atmosphere, often getting in really close to stay with the character's expressions. Doctor Who is go, go, go and six to eight panel pages. I have to keep reminding myself to pull the camera back so we know what's going on. It's very high energy too so you have to make sure the panels stay dynamic. Saying it's an adjustment is a bit of an understatement, but far from a bad adjustment. This is the kind of work I've wanted to do for a very long time, it's just getting those damn gears not grind as I get up there."

Another distinction between the two titles is the tone of their stories, which Guerra characterizes as drastically different. "'Y' was serious and dark and grounded in reality, where Doctor Who is quite playful. It does affect my mood at the table, I've noticed."

Guerra explained that while there are many photo references for all ten Doctors, there is a difference between copying a picture and bringing a character to life. "Simply copying photos doesn't work," Guerra said. "The trick is to find a way to graphically **impersonate** these characters, their gestures and expressions so that it feels natural. In the end it's either spot on or something your uncle does at Christmas dinner. I don't know how close I am to the former, fingers crossed it's not the latter."

All ten Doctors come with deeply idiosyncratic elements that keep "The Forgotten" from being boring. "Maybe I'm just happy to be drawing so many men after drawing a gazillion women for the last seven years," the artist joked.

Not only is Pia Guerra handling the penciling of "The Forgotten," but she is inking it as well. "I haven't inked a scheduled book before, and there wasn't a lot of time to experiment beforehand," the artist confessed. "I'm literally learning as I go which is at times freaking me the hell out."

There is one thing that both "Y: The Last Man" and "Doctor Who: The Forgotten" have in common: the main characters of both books are the lasts of their kind. "Y's" Yorick Brown is, of course, the last man on Earth, while the Doctor is the last of the Timelords. "That only just occurred to me a couple of weeks ago and it actually made me giggle," Guerra said. "The power of the subconscious is a surprising and mysterious thing."

When CBR News spoke with writer Tony Lee earlier this year about "Doctor Who: The Forgotten," he said that even the tiles on the floor of the Doctor museum had a time traveling significance. "At first I was thinking to have something elaborate on the floor beneath [the Doctor] to make the first page splash really pop," Guerra explained. "But it should also have some meaning behind it and not just be some pretty eye candy. That made me think of the Seal of Rassilon but since it makes an appearance on the next page it shouldn't be the actual seal, and Celtic knot work wouldn't really work, but I wanted something like that; elaborate and a little complex, like the trouble he's in."

Guerra continued, "I went online and started looking at tile work and this one piece jumped out at me, it was an Italian floor created by Cosmati. I did some research into the artist, learned he was part of a family line of Italian tile artists, one of whom did the Great Pavement at Westminster Abbey, the alternate title of said floor was 'The End of the World.' It had the same motif as the first piece I looked at, one central circle branching off to four others. Besides the obscure reference to the second episode of the ['Doctor Who' television] relaunch there was also the way the floor resembled the tile work in Masque of Mandragora. It couldn't have been a better fit.

"I know it seems like a crazy amount of extra work for an Easter egg but it's those things that make the work more fun as you go. It's something I did a lot of on 'Y' and it's a hard habit to break."

Guerra didn't stop there, as she filled the museum with all sorts of bits and bobs from the Doctor's long career. "There are quite a few recognizable pieces in there," she said. "It's been a challenge to keep finding stuff to put in but so far it's been fun."

For Guerra, this project has been a dream come true as she has been a fan of the "Doctor Who" television series since she was a kid. "Tom Baker was the Doctor I started out with," she said. "When I was six I lived in Finland for about a year and what television there was, and of those the ones in English, were all ITV shows; 'The Phoenix and the Carpet,' 'The Muppets,' 'Tom's Mindnight Garden,' 'I Claudius,' and 'Grange Hill.' They were all shows I enjoyed and they had a really specific look about them. We later moved to Toronto and I remember my aunt watching this show on TVOntario that had 'that look.' There was a guy in a crazy long scarf and a girl dressed like Andy Pandy running around a nuclear power plant as a disembodied rock hand growled, 'Eldrad must live!' And it scared me silly. I was hooked."

As such, one thing Guerra was looking to draw in IDW's "Doctor Who: The Forgotten" was Tom Baker's Doctor wearing the scarf that became so synonymous with his character. "I've already drawn the scarf in that one shot," Guerra said, "but I'm looking forward to drawing the Fourth Doctor actually wearing it. It's coming."

Tom Baker isn't the only Doctor for Pia Guerra. The artist admits being quite a fan of the current Doctor played by David Tennant. "I love the new stories like I loved those old Fourth Doctor ones, especially with Tennant who captures the Doctor's personality so beautifully, that manic enthusiasm," she said. "But now there's the added bonus of seeing it from an adult perspective. There's more of an appreciation for the story. Probably the best way to put it, Baker is the Doctor of my childhood but Tennant is my Doctor today."

As for what's next for Guerra after she finishes up "Doctor Who: The Forgotten," there are no plans as of yet. "There are a bunch of stories percolating in my head that I'd like to write," Guerra revealed. "It's about time they saw the light of day."

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