Interview: Becky Cloonan: “We’re at a Really Cool Stage in Comics”

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on September 22, 2014.

Becky Cloonan has had a better 2014 than perhaps anyone in comics. In the last nine months she has self-published a collection of her own stories entitled By Chance or Providence, that includes the Eisner Award winning “The Mire”. She has completed The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys with Gerard Way and Shaun Simon. And before the year is out she will have launched the new series Southern Cross at Image Comics and Gotham Academy at DC Comics (which comes out October 1st). It’s been a very exciting year and Comics Bulletin writer Chase Magnett was able to sit down with Cloonan at San Diego Comic Con to discuss this meteoric rise.

Chase Magnett for Comics Bulletin: You’ve had a killer year in 2014. Becky Cloonan Interview - 1

Cloonan: It’s crazy.

CB: You started out with publishing By Chance or Providence, and then The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys wrapped up, and now you are seeing projects come about with Image and DC. You are having a really good year.

Cloonan: It is a good year.

CB: How are you feeling about working in comics right now?

Cloonan: I fucking love it. Can I say that?

CB: We publish curse words all the time. Don’t worry.

Cloonan: Okay. I love working. It’s been great, especially on my self-published stuff, it is so warmly accepted. Having the opportunities that I’ve been given this year, especially with DC and with Image. I’ve trying to work with Image for years. But the timing was always so difficult because time moves slower in comics or something. Everything takes so long to do. The stars lined up and it was the right place and right time. Here we go.

Becky Cloonan Interview - 2

CB: I think one of the cool things about your career right now is you are running the entire gauntlet of Western comics. You have a true indie, self-published comic where you did everything. You have some creator-owned work finished in Killjoys. And you have an Image book coming out that you have partial ownership in. That’s correct?

Cloonan: Andy Belanger and I are co-creators on Southern Cross.

CB: And you are also working for DC Comics. That’s the entire range of comics.

Cloonan: Yeah.

CB: Taking all of that experience and doing it all within a very short period of time, what are some of the things you found to be consistent in comics no matter what level you are working on or what kind of team you are working with?

Cloonan: The big thing is you just always want to tell the best story that you can. To me it’s something I always try to do. Of course, everyone is always trying to do their best work. But my DC book, Gotham Academy, it’s young adult. The Image books, sometimes crossed with the indie work, tend to run older. I wouldn’t say it’s mature, but it’s definitely not a kids’ book. In doing all these different things, different genres, different age groups, you are always trying to sit down and say, “Okay, how can I tell the story the best?” No matter what the genre is or who is going to be reading it.

CB: One example of just telling the best story you can, working with Gerard [Way] and Shaun [Simon] on Killjoys, what was your experience like with them, in terms of scripting and collaboration?

Cloonan: This was a book that took many incarnations. It was a comic, and then it became an album, and then it became these videos, and then it became a comic again. It was one thing informing the other. Shaun and Gerard were always very open to my end of the collaboration. I never once got shut down. There was no bickering or arguing. I’ve been really lucky, actually. Everyone I’ve worked with, all the writers I’ve worked with and now the artists I’m working with, there’s definitely that collaboration where you want them to be involved. No matter what side of the fence you are coming from, that’s true. It was great with Killjoys whenever I had a, “Hey, I know you wrote it like this, but I have different way of approaching it.” They were always very open to my side of the collaboration. There was a lot of trust on both ends.

Becky Cloonan Interview - 3

CB: So were you working from full scripts that were sort of flexible?

Cloonan: Yeah, they were full scripts and then I would lay it out. Anything I wanted to change, I’d always say, “Hey guys, this is what you wrote but I did it a different way. I added some tunnels or I changed this around a little bit.” Everyone was always like, “Oh, yeah, that’s great.” So they trusted me to keep the spirit of the comic script there. But anytime I wanted to change something, I was met with excitement.

CB: One thing I’ve noticed with Bá’sbook,Umbrella Academy and yours, Killjoys, created with Gerard is that they have a very strong sense of design. I think that comes from working with strong collaborators like yourself and Gabriel. In terms of designing the books and creating a look for it and visual elements that pull together the piece, was that a collaborative element? Or was that something Gerard largely left to you?

Cloonan: Gerard is an artist himself. We went to the same school, SVA (School of Visual Arts) in New York. He would send me character sketches that he had in mind. He would send me notes and we would go back and forth on them. If I had any ideas, I’d just throw them out there. It was a really loose collaboration. It’s nice to come to the table having very visual ideas. It was really nice to have that groundwork. With the Killjoys, it came out after the music videos. Because of that, a lot of visuals were influenced by what happened in the videos. There are a lot of Easter eggs in the book. Little things in the background were pulled from the music videos. If you are fan of the videos, you are going to be a fan of the series. There’s a lot of little things in there.

Becky Cloonan Interview - 4

CB: You mentioned that it’s nice working with somebody who has an artistic background and an art education because you can bridge that gap. You’ve now scripted your own comics and you are familiar with the entire process. Do you think that helps you bring more to the table and makes you a better collaborator as well?

Cloonan: I talk with some friends that are writers, and we come at it a little differently. I’m friends with Brenden Fletcher who’s co-writing Gotham Academy with me. He’s not a visual artist; he’s a musician. He brings a different flare to it. When we are working on these scripts together, I can safely say, “We can fit this many things on this page.” He has a harder time visualizing that, but he’s really good with dialogue. He’s really good with hitting story beats and looking at the overall art of the story. I feel like we make a really good team, because things that I’m weak at, he’s stronger at. The things that he’s weak at, I kind of help with. So when we come together with the scripts, we areable to cover all the bases.

CB: One last thing before we run out of time regarding cross-media ,comics are constantly compared to movies. One thing I find interesting about your work on Fabulous Killjoys and other comics like The Wicked + The Divine, is that there’s actually a lot of musical influences connecting with comics. What has been your experience in connecting comics with music, which is a non-visual medium?

Cloonan: I love music. When I was younger I went to a lot of shows. It’s always been a big part of my life. I’m almost always listening to something when I am working. It might just be our generation, the generation and the kids growing up now. I think you can be exposed to so many new things. We’ve been exposed to so many new types of music. I think it’s something that we see pop up a little bit more, especially in cross-media. It would have been a lot harder to do ten or twenty years ago, to have these cross-media platforms. Now if you want to put out the comic and have an mp3 download, you can be like, “Oh, listen to this song that I made or that my friends made for my comic.” There’s a lot more collaboration happening because it’s easier to reach people, it’s easier to get it out there. We’re at a really cool stage in comics right now, and a lot of that has to do with the technology that’s available.

CB: What are you listening to when you are working right now?

Cloonan: A lot of it’s Seattle. Some times I have what is a mandatory [Iron] Maiden Monday, so all Monday I just listen to Maiden.

CB: Very cool. Thank you so much.

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About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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