Colleen Coover

SB: Describe your schedule while working on a long-term project (for example, your latest work, Bandette). What does a typical work day look like?

CC: I mostly work on weekdays. Three days a week I go to the bouldering gym near my house first, but each day I walk (if it’s rainy) or bike (if it’s not) to Helioscope, the studio space I share with about 20 other artists in downtown Portland. I usually get there at about 11 am, and work until 6:30 or 7 pm, when I head home. The work that I do during the day can depend upon my mood: if I’m not feeling 100%, I’ll do something that takes less thought and energy, like lettering or coloring. If I’m firing on all cylinders, I’ll do something that requires more of my storytelling brain, like rough layouts, or penciling. My favorite thing to inking, so I do that when I’m in a really good mood. Of course it also depends on what still needs to get done on any given issue, so sometimes I don’t get to choose. I like to listen to podcasts when I’m working, or sometimes audiobooks.

SB: How did you break into the comic industry? Specifically, what steps did you take before you created for Marvel’s X-Men: First Class? What sort of preparatory work did you have to complete before diving into your first major work, Small Favors?

CC: The answer to the whole of your question is contained in the last bit. Before I submitted Small Favors for publication, I worked for about two years to put together about 100 pages of finished comics. I Xeroxed them all up and put them in an envelope (this is before everyone had scanners) and sent them to Fantagraphics Books in Seattle, where they were accepted for their now-defunct Eros imprint. I worked on Small Favors for about another three years and put out a total of eight issues. It went over pretty well, and I got a lot of good feedback from my peers, but I knew that if I stuck to the one, adults-only genre, I was going to be known solely as the “female artist who makes porno comics”, and that did not appeal to me. So the next project that I worked on with Paul (now my husband) was deliberately a story for all ages: Banana Sunday. We were in the middle of developing Banana Sunday when we moved from Iowa City, Iowa to Portland, Oregon. The move led to us landing Banana Sunday at Oni Press, which is located in Portland, but more importantly we became part of the larger Portland comics community, and specifically I joined Helioscope (previously Mercury Studio, then Periscope Studio). At the studio I became friends with Jeff Parker, who was writing some all-ages comics at Marvel. Jeff showed Banana Sunday to his Marvel editor, and as a result Paul got work writing on some of the editor’s other all-ages titles, and I started doing work with Jeff on his books.

The point of that kind of long anecdote is that I did not break into comics at the end of the story, when I got a job based on my previous experience. I broke in when I sent the two years’ worth of pages to Seattle and got an acceptance letter, and I broke in a little more when I made all my deadlines, and a little more when I changed lanes into all ages stuff, and so on and on. And when I got that gig drawing for Marvel, that was not the end goal, it was just another step on my career path, as is Bandette, as will be whatever may come next.

SB:You have used a multitude of mediums, both traditional and digital, in your illustrations over the years. Technology continues to offer artists new innovative tools to create work. What is your current favorite medium to create with?

CC: My current process is a combination of digital and physical media. I use the comics-specific graphics application Clip Studio Paint (also known as Manga Studio) for layouts and “pencils”, and to place the letters. I print the page out in pale blue ink on paper and use ink wash to do final rendering. Then I scan the art back into my computer to color the page. It works out well for me because all my art decisions are made before I delve into the best part—the inks—and I can just concentrate on doing that bit really well. In the past I’d spend a lot of time with pencils and an eraser and maybe a lightbox tracing board, worried about whether the dialog was going to fit properly in a panel. The ability to resize and juke things around digitally before I print them out means a lot less erasing and lot less anxiety.

SB: Name three comic writers and/or artists who have had a major influence on your work.

CC: The three most direct influences are Los Bros Hernandez, creators of Love & Rockets; Wendy Pini, the artist and co-creator of ElfQuest; and Milton Caniff, the great creator of newspaper adventure strips Terry & The Pirates and Steve Canyon.

SB: What is one piece of advice you would give to the young aspiring comic artist?

When you’re starting out, work on short pieces. Don’t try to tackle a long epic drama with no end in sight. Give yourself a point at which you can say “yay, done!” If you keep doing that over and over without stopping, boom, you’re not aspiring any more: you’ve arrived.

SB: Over the years I’ve been reading comics, I have witnessed an increase in the presence of women in the industry (both as creators and lead characters in comics). Did you experience any significant differences in how you were treated as a creator from, say 2000, to now? Were there any barriers you had to overcome or annoyances you had to deal with that you feel may have existed because you were a woman?

I can only speak to my own experience, which was fully welcoming and positive. If barriers were put in my way, I was not aware of it, or I was too naive to recognize it. I’ve been fortunate to spend most of my career as a member of a large studio that actively supports creators of all genders and backgrounds.

SB: Are you working on any comics or projects at the moment?

I’m focused on Bandette, which has won Paul and me three Eisner awards. We’re also scouting around for opportunities to co-write either as freelancers or on something original, because while I don’t have time to draw more than one project at a time, writing with him is fun and it would be nice to have the opportunity to work on some other projects.

SB: You are given a week to yourself, without any work deadlines or obligations to see anyone. How do you spend it?

Crocheting, and visiting bouldering gyms. I don’t have any desire to climb outside, but I’d like to visit some gyms other than my local one. And crochet has recently taken over my evenings.

SB: If you had to eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Rice, meat, and veggies with Korean gochujang paste. Pretty much everything I eat now is just a vehicle to get gochujang in me.

SB: If you were a superhero, what would your costume/getup look like?

Basic jumpsuit-style overalls, 100%. Dickies makes nice ones.