by Harper W. Harris
Certainly one of the busiest artists at HeroesCon 2015 was Tula Lotay, who has burst onto the mainstage of comic artists in the last year, working with Warren Ellis on Supreme: Blue Rose as well as the unique Vertigo title Bodies written by Si Spencer in which each issue shared four different artists. Her art recalls classic illustration, and is visually lush with gorgeous character work and fascinating design. We got a chance to speak with Lotay to hear about her interesting path to being a professional comic artist, her experiences working with Ellis, and a little about what’s coming up for her.
Harper W. Harris: I’m here with Tula Lotay, who is working hard to finish up coloring some beautiful prints on the last day of HeroesCon, have you had a good time at the con so far?
Tula Lotay: It’s been amazing! I love the show, it’s just wonderful. Everyone is so friendly and there’s such a nice atmosphere, I’ve just been so unbelievably busy. I haven’t had time to stop and eat for two days. It’s wonderful though, I’m having a great time. I love Charlotte, too, and Sheldon and Rico do such an amazing job. They must work so hard all weekend…I know what it’s like running a festival because I run one in the UK called Thought Bubble, and it’s just so wearing and these guys–this is like four times bigger than ours so I know they must work so hard. So thanks to them!
HH: That’s a perfect transition, I was going to ask you about Thought Bubble! Can you tell us a little bit about what Thought Bubble is about and what’s going on this year–it’s coming up in November, right?
TL: Yeah, we’re a comic art festival so it’s very similar to this. A lot of the comic conventions around do mainly media and film stuff…we don’t do any of that. We’re just like Heroes in that we focus just on artists and writers. The convention runs over two days, but the festival lasts over a week, and in the run up to the convention we have a series of free writer’s workshops, screenings, lots of special events. We try to make a lot of them free as well and educational in relation to comics. On the Friday before the show we always do a big book crossing as well where we give away thousands of graphic novels for free around the area. We try and have as many events as we can for children, too, to kind of inspire the next generation, get them to appreciate comics and have fun with it as well.
HH: You have a really interesting story about how you came into the industry as an artist, moving into that from running the festival.
TL: I’ve worked in comic shops all my life really, and so I got to know so many people in the industry and then after a while I thought it would be wonderful to start a very small event, just get people to come along for small signings and a few panels, like industry stuff to find out how people work, where people can learn, how to get into stuff. From there I got to know so many people in the industry. I had an Instagram account at the time, and I started posting bits of my work, because I’ve always drawn and illustrated. A lot of people that I knew in the industry started to see it and they were like, “Oh, you can draw?” and a lot of them started liking what I was posting. I started getting lots of job offers and people wanted to work with me. I kind of knew Warren as well, I met up with Eric Stephenson and he said, “Warren’s got a new project and I really want you to draw it.” Warren asked me to take a look at the script and see what I thought and it just kind of snowballed from there! It’s all down to a mix of working hard, just practicing with my art all the time, posting it online so people could see it, and then knowing people in the industry and just having them be really kind about what I do and kind of liking it.
HH: I definitely want to talk a bit about Supreme: Blue Rose that you worked on with Warren Ellis–what was the process like working with him, and was it challenging to visually illustrate such a complex story?
TL: It was amazing working with Warren. I get on with him so well and I really love his writing. On the first issue he was giving me lots of pointers and I was running all my pages by him, but as I got to know his writing and he got to know my art a bit more he kind of just sent me scripts and left me to it and I could do whatever I wanted. I really felt there was that trust there from him, that he would allow me to take panels in a different direction if I felt they needed to be or add panels or lose them. With that trust and the freedom that he gave me, it was just such an amazing story to work on because I could really put myself into it and I was servicing these wonderful pointed words that Warren had as well. I love working with him, and I think that’s why we’re choosing to work together again on a creator owned project because we like working together so much.
HH: You have a really unique art style with really beautiful character work and then a lot of times you’ve got these really interesting kind of design elements added on top of it. What are your influences for your art style, and where does that design part of it come from?
TL: When I studied fine art at University I was always really interested in a lot of design work, so I studied some graphic design as well. I’ve always been really into design work by people like Chip Kidd and stuff, Saul Bass–I absolutely love the kind of stuff he did, he was a massive influence. I guess that’s where the design stuff came from. In terms of my illustrative style, I really love the old Saturday Evening Post illustrations, illustrations from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. Robert McGinnis, Robert Maguire, Bernie Fuchs all those people are just incredible, like Mitchell Hooks, I’m a big fan of him. You get these scratchy styles, and rather than showing a wardrobe they might just have an angular line to suggest it and then the faces are really detailed. I tend to look at that stuff more than anything else really. But then I’ve always been a massive fan of comic art, so when I was growing up I was reading like Kent Williams, Jon J Muth from Meltdown, Dave McKean. I always tended to go with the more painterly stuff like Jon J Muth and John Bolton, Bill Sienkiewicz’s Elektra: Assassin, so I think a lot of that kind of stuff has influenced me as well. A lot of the European greats as well, like I love Bernet and obviously Mobius. I just really like really good art, so when its done well in any style really it tends to inspire me.
HH: So I love that I’m asking this as I’m watching you color a print–it seems like you color most of your own work, what do you find are the advantages or challenges of doing the whole process yourself like that?
TL: I think that’s the only way I want to work, really. I just came off working on Bodies, the DC/Vertigo title, and they had the same colorist Lee Loughridge throughout the entire story. His work’s absolutely incredible, but for me I find it quite–it’s not natural for me to just do bold line art and have someone else color it because I don’t just do finished line art. I tend to do my line art and then put the color on and work into it again, and put more color on and work into it again, and so on with textures. I feel like I only really feel satisfied with my art at the end when I’ve been about to go through the whole process rather than just doing one aspect of it. I think for the future that’s probably the way I need to work, really. It’s really nice having a great colorist color your work because you get to recognize things about yourself more and, like, Jordie Bellaire has just colored me on Zero, which is amazing seeing her stuff, she’s mind-blowing. So it is nice to have that, but I want to do it all myself really.
HH: So you’re a a bit of a one-man band! So what have you got coming up that you’re really excited about?
TL: Zero is going to be out soon and it’s the last issue so I hope people like that, it was really nice working with Ales Kot on it. I’ve just done an issue of Wicked and the Divine the tower issue which is #13 I think that will be out in August which was just amazing to work on. Kieron Gillen’s a brilliant writer, I loved working with him on that. In two weeks Warren and I are announcing a new project at Image Comics and I’m super, super excited about that. I can’t say anything about it because we’ll be announcing it at the Image Expo, but that’s coming up and I’m just so excited to get started on it, I can’t wait!