The Fables titles at Vertigo had a murderers row of artistic talent, particularly on the covers. James Jean, now a world-famous fine artist, won 6 Eisner Awards for his work on the series. Industry legend Brian Bolland drew the covers for the book’s first spin-off, Jack of Fables. Then, Fables launched its first spinoff Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love featuring covers by Chrissie Zullo, a brand new name who somehow held her own amongst industry giants.
Chrissie Zullo illustrated the covers for both Cinderella miniseries, drew interiors for the Fairest graphic novel, and more recently handled cover duties for the spinoff Fables: The Wolf Among Us. She’s also created covers for series including Archie, Hack/Slash, and Star Wars. In addition to that, she spends a lot of time on the convention circuit selling art, prints, and merchandise in Artist Alley.
I was really happy to interview Chrissie about dividing her work between illustration and working Artist Alley, the change of pace between the two, and what she’s learned from selling art directly to her customers. Find our discussion about all of that and more below.
There are so many ways you can develop as an artist. How were you trained?
I was always, always drawing as a kid! I think my parents gave me crayons to keep me quiet and I just loved to color and draw. My school note margins were always filled with doodles, and I loved Disney, Anime, and Comic books growing up. I took things more seriously in High School and then majored in Illustration at UNC Charlotte. Art school really helped me train and get used to only drawing and creating art for hours and hours each day. It also helped me build a portfolio, which helped me get my first job.
Does that background continue to influence your art style today?
Yes. I think I always go back to the things I loved as a kid. My art style has changed a lot through the years, and I was really trying to figure out what I wanted to do as an illustrator. I wanted to make art that makes people happy, art that feels really animated and has a lot of style and personality. I think it took me a long time to figure that out and to hone in on that style.
What was working on the Fables titles like as your introduction to the comics industry?
Really intimidating, but really exciting. It was my first job as an “illustrator”, and I think I put more pressure on myself and stressed out about it. I was so extremely thankful though. I really couldn’t believe that I got to somehow contribute to my favorite comic. It was a dream come true job.
How did you branch out beyond Vertigo?
I think once people see your work somewhere, it can lead to other things, and not necessarily in the same field. I had worked in comics, but also in children’s books, CD covers, and eventually into toy design as well. I think having a social media presence helps too, and trying to showcase new work as much as possible to keep people interested. A lot of jobs today come from people who might have seen my work on Instagram or Tumblr.
You’ve drawn comics sequentials, but as far as I could find only for short stories. Are interiors too time-consuming compared to covers to be economically viable?
Haha, yeah, I am also really slow and sequential are definitely out of my comfort zone. But I really want to try to work more on that and get better and faster at them.
Is there an exciting energy tabling at Artist Alley, being amongst so many other artists?
Yes! I remember going to Comic Cons and thinking I could be behind that table, and I would envision what I would want my table set up to look like and what kind of things I want to sell. I think it’s really fulfilling because you get to showcase your art, meet new people, and potentially get more work in the process.
How do you transition from that environment to illustrating at home?
I have become such a homebody, so going to cons is actually a nice break because I get to meet and talk to so many new people. At home, I am in my cozy, quiet comfort zone, and focus more on work that I want to pursue. At cons, trying to draw can be sort of rushed and stressed, so I learned to only draw commissions at home that way they can be the best they can be.
With conventions across the country, Artist Alleys have become a new market for all kinds of artists. Do you think it’s somewhere someone new can develop a full-time career out of, or do other kinds of work need to also be in the mix?
Yes, I think it’s really what you make of it and what you want it to be. I know people who used to work for major film companies or comic book companies, but found it more fulfilling doing the convention circuit and selling their own art.
Is selling work face-to-face a good way for artists to better understanding their worth?
I think so. You definitely get a grasp on what people are willing to spend, and I feel like some people will be vocal if they think you are charging too much. I guess it works both ways. Most people, I feel, are complementary, and even if they don’t buy, they might say, “you need to charge more than that!”
Has dividing your time between making art for publishers and tabling in Artist Alleys given you a better sense of your art or working in art-driven industries in general?
Yeah, I think it’s important not to place all your eggs in one basket, so-to-speak. I think as an artist you find different ways to support yourself, whether working for other people, selling your art at cons, or selling your art online. There are so many outlets now, so I try to take advantage of what I can.
Follow Chrissie Zullo on Tumblr and Twitter @Chrissie_Zullo, and go to her online store for prints, sketchbooks, and exclusive covers.
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at [email protected].