Most comics have a look and style all their own: Captain America, throwing punches so dynamic, you can almost feel them land. The fanciful lines of the classic serial Little Nemo, in which the most everyday people and objects just barely obey the laws of physics. Or the stripped-down goth-scapes of Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy.” But every once in a while, you run across a comic whose visual style offers a little bit of everything.
Portland artist Leila Del Duca has been drawing an Image Comics series called “Shutter” since 2014. It’s the story of a hard-charging young adventurer named Kate Christopher. Her companions include talking animals, mid-century knickknacks sprung to life, and a most genteel undead butler.
“Shutter" writer Joe Keatinge is getting ready to wrap up the series. We invited Leila Del Duca in to talk about “Shutter,” and a new project publishing this spring.
In March, Image will publish a new graphic novel by Del Duca called “Afar.” It’s a young adult fantasy set in an Afro-futurist society. A teenage girl, Boetema, caring for her brother, Inotu, finds the crazy dreams she’s been having are actually true stories.
Leila Del Duca isn't drawing "Afar"; this time, she's doing the writing. The artist is Kit Seaton, a professor of sequential art at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. Seaton also draws a web comic with her sister called, "The Black Bull of Norroway." The two of them met at art school in Denver.
Here are a few highlights of our conversation. Click the audio player above to listen to the full interview.
Q&A with Leila Del Duca and Kit Seaton
April Baer: For “Shutter,” Joe Keatinge had you drawing everything from space walks to mythological creatures to steampunk. What was it like to handle such a range of subjects in one storyline?
Leila Del Duca: It was super, super rewarding — incredible fun. One of the reasons I got into comics is they're never boring. "Shutter" is anything but boring. Every page has some weird wacky new thing to draw.
Baer: Was there ever a point where Joe would lay out what he wanted and you thought: “No way, can't do it”?
Del Duca: I never said, "I can't." He would always write [to me], "Leila! I'm really sorry, but here's this double-page spread." And he would list off 10 things I've never drawn before in a crazy action pose — the double-page spread in Issue No. 2 with the lion mobsters flying around this weird chicken death house — that was the first one where I was like, "Oh my gosh, how do I do this?" It took me three days but I came out so much stronger afterward. Joe was constantly challenging me that way.
Baer: Was it hard to make it all seem like one coherent world?
Del Duca: Hmm. I didn't feel it was difficult. Everything was so over the top, it matched in that regard. Joe was able to write every one very consistently and coherently. It came easy to me.
Baer: What conventions were you and Joe fooling around with?
Del Duca: Visually and storytelling-wise, we threw in a bunch of alternate styles. So we have a Richard Scarry influenced bit. And then we have Windsor McKay, the guy who did "Little Nemo in Slumberland." A bunch of different artistic styles and storytelling, to experiment with the comic medium, because that's something that interests both Joe and I.
Baer: "Afar" is the story of two teenagers Boetema who are on their own and its landscape is both futuristic and primitive. Leila, how do you describe what Boetema can do?
Del Duca: It's not astral projection in the traditional sense. When she dreams, she goes and inhabits other people's bodies on other planets.
Baer: The culture is a mesh of African culture, with some significant tech improvements. How did you two talk about what that world was going to look like?
Del Duca: I really wanted to see more African influence in American comics. I initially wanted it to be a historical fiction meets sci-fi, but I don't think I knew enough as a writer. And so I quickly realized I was going to do it wrong if I went that route. So I took the influences and gave it the sci-fi twist. It's set in a postindustrial revolution wasteland. A series of wars and sandstorms eliminated the great tech. People are still trying to figure out how to re-build this tech.
Baer: Kit, what kind of architecture did you look at when you sat down to draw?
Kit Seaton: Leila had sent me imagery from some different regions where she wanted to set things. I'd build some research off of that. In the beginning, in the village [Boetema and Inotu] are living in, we looked at cultures in Ethiopia and dwellings there. I blended that with some science-fiction landscapes in Moebius, Jean Giraud's work, structural collapsing rounded spherical forms. Mali and Timbuktu came into play for reference a little later on in the book.
Baer: Leila, you picked a challenging narrative for your first time at the rodeo. There are a couple different narratives going on at the same time within “Afar.” Was that hard to keep them all going in a way that satisfied you?
Del Duca: Yeah, that was hard, but that's also because I was a very green writer. I honestly did not know what I was doing. I haven't been doing this nearly as long as art. I had an editor, Taneka Stotts. She helped considerably with story structure and staying on character, making sure I knew my characters well enough to write them believably. I think I wrote the first chapter three different times. She pointed out a lot of things white girls do out of ignorance. My characters are both black. It's important I do it right. Taneka is a black woman and was able to act as a sensitivity reader. It wasn't hard to keep the other planets and Boetema's story arcs going. I could make up whatever the hell I wanted to at that point. That's where my imagination was able to expand the furthest in the book.