Artist Bio: Leila del Duca is a comic book artist and writer living in Portland, Oregon. She draws SLEEPLESS, SHUTTER and writes AFAR at Image Comics. Leila has drawn for titles such as THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, SCARLET WITCH, AMERICAN VAMPIRE, and THE PANTHEON PROJECT. In 2015 and 2016, Leila was nominated for the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award for her work on SHUTTER. Leila is part of a comic artist collective in downtown Portland, called Helioscope, where she spends part of her work week. During her spare time, she loves to make food, read, dabble in music, and do craft projects, especially during the Portland rainy months. She also loves staring off into space and considers it her favorite pastime. (Bio and headshot taken from the artist’s website.)
Hannah Miller: As an artist, how did you find your way into the comic book industry? What about this medium inspires you as a visual storyteller?
Leila del Duca: I found my way into comics shortly after graduating art school with a Bachelor’s in Illustration from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver, CO. I met Zach Howard, an artist known for Wild Blue Yonder, The Cape, and the Sean of the Dead comic adaptation, and he told me it’s possible to make a comfortable living off of comics even though it requires a lot of hard work and focus. I took that to heart and instead of pursuing painted illustration jobs I taught myself how to draw on comic book paper (bristol board), how to ink with a brush, and how to tell sequential stories panel by panel.
I find comics inspiring because they marry two of my favorite things together: words and pictures. I love looking at art and I love reading, so I easily fell in love with the comics medium from an early age! I’ve been predominantly inspired stylistically by American comic artists Mike Mignola, Sean Murphy and Mark Shultz. With writing, I’ve been more inspired by Japanese manga creators like Kaoru Mori, Kamome Shirahama, and by the master animation storyteller Hayao Miyazaki.
HM: What can you tell us about the world and characters of your newest project Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed?
LdD: In this graphic novel, we follow a 16-year-old Diana Prince as she is unintentionally exiled from her home, Themyscira, and tossed into a modern day refugee experience. Diana goes from an Amazonian utopia to a strange world where people are homeless on New York City streets, where people are scared and uncertain in refugee camps, and where kids are in danger of being kidnapped with people in power not caring. With every injustice she faces, she meets it with compassion, fierceness and love, and tries to change the community around her for the better. And with new friends along the way, she manages to thwart some really bad guys and find a new home!
HM: When illustrating WW: Tempest Tossed, how did you approach bringing new life to such an iconic character? What about the Wonder Woman mythos inspired you during the process?
LdD: Wonder Woman’s unfailing moral compass is what draws me most to her character throughout the years, and it was great to do my own take on her as a teen! And lucky for me, Laurie wrote such a lively and relatable version of her so it was easy to give Diana life on each page. I really relate to Diana in this book! She loves nature, she stands up for injustice, she believes in equality and community, and she’s compassionate and empathetic—these are all qualities I tried to live up to as a teen and still believe in. This script also reminded me of how it felt to start learning about the hypocrisies of American life—racial inequalities, poverty in a country with such wealth, to name two—and how frustrating and helpless I felt as a teen in small-town Montana. Drawing this book was therapeutic, like it was a letter of encouragement to my past self, validating the feelings and philosophies I had as a kid.
HM: When you’re first brought onto a new project as an illustrator, do you study the script in-depth before you begin sketching, or start by simply visualizing the story? How did your vision of Diana’s journey develop?
LdD: In comics, scripts are rarely finished before artists are signed on to the project, so I was only pitched a synopsis. The premise was engaging and I was very excited to try my hand at Wonder Woman, so I said yes to the project based on that!
With Tempest Tossed, I first turned in a character design of Diana in some sporty clothing doing some parkour moves (which is an activity she gets into in the book) and also a couple close-ups of her face so I had a guide to use while drawing her in the book. After that, I drew the cover, (Kelly Fitzpatrick on colors!), and then I started work on the script a month or so later. I don’t study the script too in-depth before I start on layouts. I already go over the same page four times, so I usually work out all the kinks between the first read, drawing layouts, pencilling, and inking. Somewhere in the beginning, the characters solidify in my mind and I’m able to let them flow out pretty nicely.
HM: One of the things that struck me most as a reader is the stark contrast between the utopian community of Diana’s home island, Themyscira, and the grittier landscape of modern-day New York City. How did you approach illustrating these two very different worlds, as well as Diana’s place within them?
LdD: On Themyscira, I wanted to stress how beautiful and nature-centered it is, so I added a lot of plants, mountains, and hills. I drew on ancient Greece for clothing and architecture inspiration. The page layouts while Diana is still in Themyscira are a little more creative and out of the regular panel grid to imbue a little more magic and wonder to that part. I wanted the first part of the book to feel breezy and comforting in juxtaposition with the refugee camp and New York City.
Once Diana is lost from the island, her world becomes more grey, scary, lonely, so I made the page layouts more stark to express how sad and trapped she was feeling. When I first went to art school in Denver after growing up in rural Montana, I found the concrete and noise and culture of the city stifling and cold. I figured Diana would feel similar about that contrast, so I tried to make the city parts look less inviting, more drab, until Diana started feeling better about her situation.
HM: Using superhero mythology as a frame, WW: Tempest Tossed addresses heavy topics such as child trafficking, systemic poverty, and the refugee experience. Diana is just as much an aspiring activist as she is a young superhero. What does it mean for you to be a part of a project that melds Diana’s coming-of-age with the very “real” injustices of our own world?
LdD: It’s an incredible honor to be involved in a project like this. The thing I love about Laurie’s writing is she tackles difficult subject matter for teens in a way that offers hope and empathy. She knows that teens face real struggles that seem insurmountable and that they need stories that honor those struggles. Seeing Diana facing problems that are very real in our world reminds me that there are real life Wonder People who fight for equality, freedom, and justice like our fictional Diana does. Especially during these times, I see so many women, men, and non-binary folks fighting for a better world even during a pandemic! It gives me hope and inspires me to keep taking action, too!
HM: What were your favorite moments in WW: Tempest Tossed to illustrate? Were there any you found more difficult to illustrate?
LdD: I loved the Themyscira scenes best! Especially the part where Diana rides her horse into the forest after another awkward Changeling accident. I love drawing nature scenes and animals! I also really enjoyed the double page spread where Diana walks into her birthday feast. So many fun dresses and women to draw on those pages.
Another scene that stands out is when Diana and Raina go to the Polish dance with Henke. It was nice to draw Diana having fun and Raina feeling mortified, and drawing the traditional dresses was a delight.
HM: What was it like working with Laurie Halse Anderson?
LdD: It was great working with Laurie! She wrote a very detailed script that was very fun to illustrate. It’s almost as if she wrote a whole novel and then adapted it for comics, it was so detailed and fleshed-out. I had a blast adding all of the lush elements she eloquently described for me. I also love that she added a lot of varied emotions to the characters because drawing facial and body expressions is so much fun.
I also want to mention how amazing it was to work with Kelly Fitzpatrick and Saida Temofonte on this book! It was my second time working with Kelly as a colorist and she blew me away with her limited palette color choices and her rendering. I first noticed Kelly’s work on the very colorful and psychedelic Shade the Changing Girl and I knew she was going to amaze us when our editors mentioned she was on board! It was my first time working with Saida as a letterer, and she’s an absolute pro. Her lettering style really put the cherry on top of the overall feel of this book, and I hope I get the opportunity to work with her again.
HM: Being both a comic book artist and writer, how does your process change when you’re in “writing” versus “illustrating” mode? Are the two processes completely separate or on some level interwoven with one another? Do you favor one process or the other?
LdD: The process for me varies greatly between one and the other. Because I have more experience drawing comics than writing them, the drawing part is pretty second nature to me. Writing takes a different kind of brain work because I’m thinking a lot and describing things with words instead of drawing what I’m thinking about. It’s refreshing jumping from writing to drawing because it gives me the best of both worlds and a break from each when one is frustrating me!
As for which I prefer…I love creating stories inspired by life and the world around me, creating characters that can show us values and lessons and then seeing an artist bring those elements to life. I also love being able to put things I imagine in my mind on a piece of paper and have other people understand and connect with that image—it feels like a magic trick sometimes! I jump back and forth between favoring writing over drawing, and right now I’m more into writing. But I still love drawing. Someday I hope to do both for myself and be a one-woman team on at least one book!
HM: Finally, do you have any future projects in the works? Perhaps another chapter in Diana’s story?
LdD: No sequel yet! Though Laurie and I both have expressed delight in the idea. As for upcoming projects, I’m drawing a 5-issue miniseries for a publisher I unfortunately can’t mention yet since it hasn’t been solicited, and I’m slowly writing the sequel to Afar with Kit Seaton on board as the artist again.
PRR Writer, Hannah Miller