Tula Lotay is a comics artist and illustrator from the UK. Her published works include Supreme: Blue Rose, Bodies, and Elephantmen. She also serves as Director for the lauded Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds. On a very busy Saturday of San Diego Comic-Con 2015, Tula and I caught up on her work on Supreme and Zero as well as her upcoming work in The Wicked + The Divine and Heartless.
Comics Beat: So, Supreme: Blue Rose is all wrapped up. How are you feeling about it now that it’s all done and collected in trade?
Tula Lotay: I feel great about it! We’ve both put a lot of time into the book, we both loved working on it and I’m really proud of it – it’s the first full book I’ve done. Before it was anthologies or small parts in other people’s books, but this was my first, proper book. It’s a really nice way to start.
CB: How has the reception been for that?
TL: It’s been amazing, it’s just blown me away! I had no idea that people would like it as much as they did. I mean, you always hope that when you put so much of yourself into something that that’ll be the case but the response has been incredible – people are just so nice about my work and our story.
CB: The story of Supreme: Blue Rose is rather complex as Warren Ellis is wont to do, how much of the story did you know going in to the first issue?
TL: I think Warren had maybe two issues written. I think it kind of changed as we went along – I think he tailored the story more towards what I wanted. I kind of thought it would be a lot close to Rob Liefeld’s Supreme – that I’d be drawing a lot more of the superhero stuff, but it ended up being this dreamlike sci-fi mystery and I’m really pleased Warren took it in. I loved his story for that, it’s really multi-layered.
CB: It’s not like he left you in the dark, rubbing his hands maniacally? It sounds like a much more collaborative process.
TL: Absolutely, it’s always like that working with Warren. He’s got these incredible stories, but he also trusts me and gives me the breathing room to interpret things in my own and change things if I want to. He’s always been very happy to let me do that and I really love working with him for it.
CB: You were responsible for shaping the vision of many worlds, in a sense, and making sure they’re visually distinctive. Did you relish that challenge?
TL: Yeah, it’s really challenging. I’ve not really drawn this many sequential art pages before. I’ve always illustrated all my life, but I was having to draw things in that book that I’ve never drawn before so I was kind of learning as I was going along. There were certain things like the bridge in space connecting Earth to the Moon that I had no idea to draw.
I tried my best with that stuff and I’m really glad that people liked it but as the issue was going on and I was visualizing these worlds, I was getting into it and getting more confident – I think you can see that in the book, I start finding my feet a little bit.
CB: As Supreme went on, you got tons of cover and illustration work, the last (and a very important) issue of Zero, how do you feel about this transition from just starting out to becoming a major part of a number of comics coming out?
TL: It feels amazing! It’s all happened so fast, I’m kind of still trying to get to grips with it all. I have this thing, which I guess a lot of people have, that because I’m new to all this and it’s just starting I think “okay, I’m getting all of this work right now and I don’t know how long it’s going to last, so I’ll do it all” I’ve taken way too much on, it’s been pretty intensive, but I’ve kept on top of it. I think I need to slow it down and have a bit more confidence to realize that I will continue to have work. [Laughs] I don’t know if I should be saying that, but there’s always that worry at first. You ask yourself if your work is a fad and if you’ll just die into the ether. But yeah, I don’t know if I should be saying that.
CB: It’s a real, legitimate fear and I bet it affects a lot of people. How was it transferring from Warren’s work over to the established word of Ales Kot’s in Zero for this last scenario?
TL: It’s strange, actually. I don’t know if other people have noticed this but with Ales’ writing, I think he’s heavily inspired by Warren. I definitely found their writing styles to be similar and they’re both very collaborative with their artists. Ales’ scripts are never rigid; he has panels and scenarios in there but he doesn’t always number the panels so we wants the artist to interpret in their own way. So I was working in a very similar way to Ales as I was with Warren and you know, it was such an honor to do the last issue or Zero because he’s brilliant and that series has been amazing.
CB: Just that spread with the horses alone…
TL: Everybody keeps talking to me about that! People have been tagging me on that image a lot online or come up and commented on it specifically to me. It’s really nice that people enjoyed that – I loved drawing it and Jordie colored it so well. Those pastel colors…she’s just the best.
CB: Upcoming, you’re doing a guest issue of The Wicked + The Divine. When did that conversation start for you?
TL: I think it was about seven to eight months ago when Kieron came to me saying that they’re picking up a few guest artists to do some issues asking if I wanted to do one and all I could say was “Oh my god, yes!” He came back saying he wanted me to do issue #13 – it’s about Tara and he wanted it to be a heavy-hitting issue. He sent the script and it was…jesus. I don’t think I can say too much about it, but it’s an amazing issue.
CB: Do you feel up to the task?
TL: I hope so! I loved drawing it but it’s kind of scary following in Jamie McKelvie’s footsteps. I reread the first volume again in preparation and just looking at Jamie and Matt Wilson’s work – it’s so clean and crisp and beautiful. It got me thinking that my work is so messy and scratchy and I was unsure if the audience would go for it…and that’s always the worry, isn’t it? My style is quite different to Jamie’s and I tend to be quite loose and use a lot of textures, so you know, it’s a bit scary, yeah? I hope people like it.
CB: Are you coloring it?
TL: Yeah, I’m coloring it – I did everything on it. I always want to color my own stuff, really. I’m not an inker. I’d like to practice being an inker but really my art, from beginning to end, has color as part of the process.
CB: That’s the nice thing about working on covers and at Image is that you have that freedom – you’ll always get to color your own work.
TL: Yeah, I’m really glad that’s the case. It’s nice to be able to do that.
CB: Heartless was announced barely a week ago at Image Expo, that’s got to feel a little exciting?
TL: Yeah, it’s amazing! The reception for it was nuts. I went on Twitter, doing the regular search function later on the day…it brought up my promotional image and we were trending! What the hell? It was nice that they were using my image as promotion for the whole Expo because there were so many incredible books so it’s super exciting. I’m just so excited about Heartless. I think with Supreme, I was just getting started and I feel a bit more confident about my work now. Warren and I are just gonna create something entirely new from scratch, and we’re just gonna have so much fun with it, we’re really gonna experiment and go wild.
CB: I love seeing trends in creators’ stories like those of Gillen and McKelvie or Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. Do you think there exists that kind of connection between Supreme and Heartless?
TL: I think there will be, it’s kind of inevitable that it’ll happen because so much of ourselves are in Supreme and so much of ourselves will be Heartless. We’re inspired by a lot of the same things, a lot of the same movies. There’s a lot of musical inspiration that flows throughout Supreme that not a lot of people have picked up on – various lyrics and stuff. That sort of thing will be in Heartless too. I lot of people describe my work as being otherworldly or ghostly and I don’t know if I did that deliberately but I kind of feel that’ll be my style for Heartless as well. Even though I will be experimenting and trying new things to see where I can take things, that is my style and it’ll come out in the book.
CB: Last year you told me that you were stepping back from Thought Bubble. What is your involvement with the show now?
TL: I go to sleep thinking about this every night. I’ve got at least 200 emails to answer in the Thought Bubble accounts and it terrifies me. I could always concentrate on it so much and I used to stay up until six in the morning trying to get on top of things, but it’s never been my sole job. Now with the illustration work and with my schedule just being so intense constantly, it’s becoming harder and harder. Thankfully Thought Bubble has grown enough for us to be able to employ a full-time staff member which we’ve never had before. Her name is Martha Julian and she’s really taken things in a great direction – she amazing. But it’s still a hell of a lot of work for her, so Clark, the Assistant Director, is there holding things together. There’s loads of people who’re involves, volunteers and stuff, but because I’m not always there so it can be quite difficult and it probably drives them crazy when I don’t answer questions.
So the answer is that I’m trying to step back a bit because I have no choice, but Thought Bubble is in my heart and it’s my event. I love it so much and though I don’t have the time, it’s really important to me to make sure it’s still okay and keeps going. We do such great work with the educational program and the charity stuff.
CB: Thank you so much Tula – any last thoughts?
TL: Buy Heartless, pre-order Heartless! It’s out in January. Warren and I will be posting teaser images soon, we’re very excited and hope people like it.
CB: Safe to say, I know I am.
TL: Thanks very much!