Horror in Paradise
Sep 21, 2011 Web Exclusive
In his review of Wonder Woman #1 (out now via DC Comics) fellow Under the Radar scribe Jeremy Nisen likened the Amazon Princess' gripping and sometimes horrific debut to a solid episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And it's pretty true. And there's plenty of bone-chilling horror. In fact, artist extraordinaire Cliff Chaing (Green Arrow & Black Canary, Zatanna) even said as much in a recent interview with MTV Geek. This is a comic book with a very strong female lead. It's a sexy through-line, but not gratuitously so. Don't pick up a copy expecting just another "New 52" relaunch or a rehash of Wonder Woman's fusty mythology and origin story.
Naturally, crime fiction writer Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) is collaborating with Chiang on the new book. He lends a real world feel to the dialogue and narration, while Chiang draws his lines a little rougher than his clean cover illustrations and mash-up drawings (Does anybody remember Chiang's Star Wars propaganda posters or the Teen Titans as The Breakfast Club?).
We chatted with the DC artist about the overall tone of the Wonder Woman series, his thoughts on violence and female sexuality in comics, and the DC Comics - The New 52 Art Tour.
Under the Radar: The last time I talked with you was for Neil Young's Greendale. That project took up a lot of your time, but now that it's done will you be taking on more art projects in addition to Wonder Woman?
Cliff Chiang: That's right. Wonder Woman is going to be it. It's taking up a lot of my time right now. I want to do as many issues of this story as I can. Brian [Azzarello] and I have worked and talked about it for awhile now. I really believe in it and we're proud of it. I want to draw all of them, but that's not always possible.
Do you have an end game in sight or a contract for so many issues?
No, but we do have a larger story that we want to slowly unfold. We don't have any marker posts where we do two years and then we're out. Hopefully people will like it and we'll stay on. One of the things about taking on a monthly book is that I'd like to have a set of books that you can point to as my Wonder Woman run. That would be a nice feeling.
That promo art you posted on your Tumblr of Wonder Woman and a bloody labrys (double-headed axe) was just awesome. Is that art a good indication of the tone of the series? Will it be more adult-oriented and gritty?
Yeah, in a way my new art style comes out of Greendale. That was one style over many pages and coming out of that I really wanted to draw looser. Wonder Woman gave me that opportunity. The promo art is sort of a good indication of the book's tone, but it also isn't. It's meant to be provocative and get people talking about it. It does represent how we want people to feel while reading the book. It doesn't represent what's going on in the book, though. Wonder Woman isn't running around and chopping people in half all the time. The vibe is certainly there in that image.
Speaking of adult-oriented, DC's audience seems to be getting older and the creators are catering their stories to that demographic. Do you as a comics creator try to reconcile a comic book audience that wants bloody axe shots and a younger audience that might be picking up their first DC book this fall? Is maintaining that balance a concern for you?
Your first concern as a creator has to be creating a story that is accessible for newcomers, but it also has to start on its own. I think one of the big reasons people get into comics as a kid is that these books have implications towards a much larger history and world. That draws them in, but the story has to be very clear. For us, we want to bring in new readers and not get too caught up in continuity and stuff like that. The violence is another story.
Did you do any research of iconic Wonder Woman books before diving into project?
That's not something we wanted to do. Wonder Woman has a long history, but we wanted to do something that felt new. We stayed clear of homage other creators and old characters. The only things that we kept were canon: Wonder Woman is an Amazon, she's from Paradise Island, and she has a lasso. The public recognizes those things. That's the starting pointing. We fold in some of the old stuff without confusing new readers.
I know you want the book to speak for itself and ultimately be a surprise, but what type of discussions did you have with Brian about the title?
We had some talks early on about where we wanted to take the character and what her stature is among other DCU superheroes. Brian had a great quote about how there isn't a trinity for DC, but there should be. Wonder Woman should be up there with Batman and Superman. In a lot of ways, that type of stuff is only lip service. We want to make her a powerhouse that people really do care about.
Are you doing any New 52 Events in the coming months? I saw you were at the premiere for Justice League #1.
We're doing a release party on Saturday, September 24 at Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn. We'll have all the artwork up from the first issue up on the walls as well as a cool process piece showing all the colors, inks, and letters. People can get an idea of what goes in to making a comic.
A lot of readers only don't consider the big picture of the production of a comic book.
The letterer, colorist, and editorial staff are a huge part of the comic. The writer and artist are usually the ones that get the most credit. [Laughs] Everybody's contribution is integral to the way the book looks and how it reads.
Who is doing the coloring and lettering for Wonder Woman?
Matt Wilson is doing the colors and Jared K. Fletcher is lettering for us. They're both doing great jobs on it.
When I first heard that you were doing the art for the new Wonder Woman book I thought it was a perfect fit. You've always drawn female superheroes in a progressive manner. Your character models are sexy and strong, but with a purpose outside of mere titillation. Basically, I could give this art to my wife and not get an eye roll about it. There are so many comic book characters that are just like a poster on the wall. Have you noticed that DC has become a little more progressive over the years? What are your thoughts on that aspect of this creative industry?
That's a tough one to answer since I'm not reading too many books. It's hard to survey and see what the state of female characterization is at the moment. In general, it's good that people are talking about that type of stuff. Now we have more vocal female readers, where before the conversation was dominated by guys. People are concerned about representation females in comics. When I'm working on a book, there aren't too many narrative reasons for characters being overtly sexy. Being sexy should be a casual thing. It doesn't have to be in your face. It's just someone's body language and the way they carry themselves. That's all the stuff that I like to focus on because that helps build up a character.
I remember you said you asked your girlfriend for advice for The Brave and the Bold.
Yeah, that was for the fashion stuff for the female leads. It was nice to get another opinion. It's important to do that, so you're not working in a vacuum.
Much has been said about this horror theme on Wonder Woman. I was curious about whether you're creating new characters and villains for this run or freshening up the old standbys?
We're definitely creating new characters. The other part of the quote that Brian said about the book being a "horror" book is that it's not a superhero book. It is and it isn't. When it comes to villains, we're not going to see people breaking out of jail or robbing a bank. As a result, we're happy to come up with new villains for her. A lot of them are mythological, so ironically they're really old characters. [Laughs] Wonder Woman isn't the horror aspect of the book. It's the gods and the problems Diana faces.
We're revamping the gods and their roles in the world. They're kind of conniving and scheming for power. Wonder Woman is a pawn of theirs. Sometimes she upsets their plans and sometimes she unwittingly helps them achieve their goals. It's been great modernizing the gods and getting rid of togas and all the classical Greek architecture. The heart of all that mythology is great, but we don't want any of this to feel old. We want readers to see a very clear creative vision. We're not just rehashing.
Are some of the gods wearing more clandestine apparel, such as street clothes?
Some look very human and others are not. We'll have a good mix of visual styles. No one looks 100% normal. If they look completely human, they're wearing something crazy.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but was Doctor 13 the first time you worked with Brian [Azzarello]? What about your partnership in the past drew you back?
Those were the first comics we worked on together. I knew him from working as an editor on 100 Bullets. I knew him a few years before that. We've been trying to work together on something for awhile now. We wanted to follow up Doctor 13 immediately, but after that book I started working on Green Arrow & Black Canary. It was a great opportunity and then I ended up working on Greendale. Both of those rewarding projects took a long time. In the middle of Greendale, we talked about doing something and our scheduled matched up.
That's the reason why I took a lot of short illustration and cover art projects after Greendale. I wanted to be available when the time came to work with Brian. Brian came to me regarding Wonder Woman. DC asked him about the project and whether I would be interested in working with him. He gave me a call and we spent a couple hours on the phone. He had an idea and we made it an even bigger idea.
Where are you guys in relation to each other? Do you primarily talk over the phone or meet up to discuss the book?
We talk on the phone a couple of times a week. He's in Chicago and I'm in New York.
I always enjoy checking out the art you post on your website. Have you ever thought of putting out a little book with your various illustrations in it? I guess that would be hard due to licensing.
Yeah, I'd love to do something like that. The licensing would make it hard, though. It would have to be a very small, boutique kind of thing. I couldn't sell it online.
What are you particularly excited for your audience to see from Wonder Woman?
I was recently talking with Phil Hernandez, who did all those great stories for Wonder Woman a few years ago. He was telling me how excited he was when DC announced the new title. He thought this could spark something new for the character. It's a new style of writing and art that Wonder Woman readers haven't seen before. I'm nervous, but I'm also proud of the book. Hopefully people really respond to it. I think we'll get an interesting mix of Brian's fans, my fans, and general Wonder Woman fans. Prepare to be surprised. It won't be what people expect.
What music would serve as a nice soundtrack to this book?
That's a hard one. I've been trying to think about that. It's tricky. It would probably be something dark and has a slow build. [Laughs] I was putting some images together on my iPad for the New 52 premiere party and I tried to get a soundtrack going for it. It was one of the hardest things to do. In terms of vibe, I think Black Rebel Motorcycle Club would be good fit. (www.cliffchiang.com)