Unmasking "Bandette," "Batman '66" with Colleen Coover

Colleen Coover has drawn a number of great comics over the years, from her adult-themed "Small Favors" to her all-ages "Banana Sunday" to mainstream gigs on "Marvel Now What?!" "Girl Comics," "X-Men: First Class" and the recent "Batman '66" where she drew the debut of the Adam West-era Batgirl. Coover's current ongoing project is "Bandette," which won the 2013 Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic. This month, her and writer Paul Tobin's lighthearted, European influenced comic makes its print debut in "Bandette: Presto!" courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

"Bandette's" titular character is a teenage thief who alternately helps and battles the police, finds herself up against a criminal organization, battles assassins and has a large family of friends and colleagues who help her in her schemes. Coover spoke with CBR News about the fun, colorful adventure comic, her stint on "Batman '66," how she works and more.

CBR News: You've collaborated with Paul Tobin in the past on various things. When you work together on a project like this, I'm curious where the lines are. I mean, how much of the tone, the feeling is you and how much is him?

Colleen Coover: We always work well together, but I have to say that for "Bandette," we are as close to perfectly in sync as we ever have been. Maybe it's because the original springboard idea was a sketch I had done for my blog of Inspector B.D. Belgique. Maybe it's just that we are each hitting the other's sweet spot.

Do you talk much about the story or plot either at the beginning or as you're going along?

Not much at all! Paul does all the scripting without much contribution from me, and then I just go with it from there. I prefer not to read the next script before I finish an issue, because I'm afraid of getting excited about the next thing while I'm still working on the now thing. Paul likes to see the art as it comes out, of course, but he doesn't kibitz and we don't do rewrites as we go or whatever.

You mentioned that one of the starting points was the drawing you did of Inspector Belgique. How much discussion was there as far as the look of Bandette was concerned?

I did several concept sketches for Bandette. They were all pretty similar, with slight differences, and Paul helped to choose which one we were going with. Otherwise, he pretty much gave me free rein. For example, he wrote the main group of Urchins as just a group of kids, and I made the decision to make their de facto leader a girl with freckles.

Talking Comics With "Bandette's" Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover

There are a lot of characters in the book -- I don't think I fully appreciated just how many characters you introduced in the first 12-page issue. The Inspector and Heloise, Monsieur, Daniel, the Three Ballerinas, the Urchins. Is creating characters something that comes easily to you? Are there any that you struggled with to get their look right?

I put a lot of stock in noses. The shape of a character's nose can say a lot about them. Pretty girls tend to have small, unremarkable noses, so for them, I focus more on hair and eyes. Once their basic look is settled (and I don't usually spend a lot of time on that, unless they're very major characters, indeed) their body language naturally follows. I think Paul will often pick up on that stuff and work it into how they behave later.

There are a number of instances where Bandette is bounding around the panel, or other things are going on and I'm just curious if that's you, because in the sample scripts included in the collection there's not much description or blocking.

Paul does write in a lot of directions, but we've gotten to the point where we work with a kind of shorthand, so it might not read as very much to an outsider. If he has her leaping over a fence, I know that he means she's executing a perfect triple-somersault gymnastic vault, and proceed accordingly.

I was thinking about the fifth issue, where Bandette and Daniel are talking and she's hanging from the wash lines and hanging upside down and standing on the chair. It's not a heavy, serious scene but it does have a different energy and tone than if they were sitting down.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure Paul wrote in all that stuff with the high wire. He's really good at controlling pace that way. He should get an Eisner or something.

I think it's fair to say that the book is set in a Francophone "sixties" world -- I think in one interview you referred to it as a "Francophonic, western European version of Ruritania," which I liked. I'm curious what you think it is about that period and the style that continues to have so much appeal.

Well, it's a very stylish period, so it looks great. And really, there's no better way to make sure your comic will look old-fashioned and dated in a matter of months, than trying to make it look "current." By intentionally setting "Bandette" in a sort-of-not-really early 1960s world, it's more likely to maintain a timeless quality.

The book has a lot of European influences, which makes me curious as to what degree you think your work as a whole is influenced by European comics?

It's a profound influence, but I always like to stress that my influences come from all over the world, from every era of comics. I never thought of European comics as being a different thing from Superman, or "Terry and the Pirates," or "Maison Ikkoku," or "Archie," or the Addams Family. I've tried very hard to assimilate all my influences into my own art style, which I hope has resulted in making it uniquely recognizable.

How has making digital comics changed the way you work? Or has it?

The only nod I've made to digital publishing is that I decided early on to keep to a strict three-tier layout. This had the intended advantage of making it easy to format for smartphones, and the happy accidental bonus of making it easy to lay out a page, because that decision has already been made.

I was going to ask about the page design and working in three tiers. Is there anything else that the format has allowed you to do or let you focus more on?

No, but it does mean I can't indulge in any long, tall panels. That's OK, though--it's good to have a restriction to work around. It helps you find creative solutions.

How did the book end up at Dark Horse, for the print collection? You did a story for "Creepy" a year or two back, but otherwise, have you worked there much?

Me, personally, not much, but they're right here in town, so we've all known each other for years. And hey, don't forget Paul! He has built himself quite a Dark Horse Comics writing portfolio: "Colder," "Plants Vs. Zombies," "Falling Skies," "Savage Swords," "Predators" and now he's working on "Prometheus." I've forgotten something there, I'm positive. Paul and I have both worked with editor Brendan Wright, and he pursued the print rights to "Bandette" with enthusiasm.

The book has the first five issues. When can we expect to see the sixth one?

I'll be done coloring in the next week, so it'll just be a matter of uploading to comiXology, and then they'll spend a few weeks formatting it for the app. Early December is my best guess!

You also recently drew another digital comic, the "Batman '66" issue featuring the debut of Batgirl. You and Jeff Parker have collaborated before, but what were the specific challenges for this book?

PREVIEW: Batgirl Debuts in "Batman '66"

Parker is the one writer other than Paul who I can work with almost purely on instinct. He knew how important the "Batman" TV show was to me growing up, because we've discussed it at length. So when it came to writing that script, he was like, "Here, play with this story and have fun -- you know what to do." Unlike "Bandette," "Batman '66" was a comic designed around the digital format, because I had to take into account the "enhanced view" thing, and sometimes draw elements of a panel in two different ways. That was fun.

When I was a kid in the '70s, it was on TV every day at 3:30, right after school. I had a "Batman" TV show lunchbox. The first drawings I can remember making were Batman and Robin (Batman was a squiggle, Robin was a squiggle with an R on its middle.) Julie Newmar was my first lady crush. So yeah -- pretty important.

Was there a lot of pressure as far as hitting actor likenesses or other details?

Only within the limits of my art style. I don't think anyone expects me to do photographic likenesses of anyone, and trying to do so would have made me really unhappy. But it was a great deal of fun drawing Eartha Kitt chewing up the scenery!

Beyond "Bandette," are there any other projects on your horizon?

Paul and I have co-written an "Adventure Time" limited series, which is going to be a hoot and a half. It's being drawn by our Periscope Studio homie Wook Jin Clark, and I can tell you right now he is killing it. I think that debuts in January. Otherwise, "Bandette" has my full attention!

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