Thanks for telling us your Comic Crush, Jess!
The first time I came across Becky Cloonan’s work was at free comic book day a few years ago when I picked up a preview of The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. I was immediately taken with the artwork—the manga influenced style with a gruesome edge, the beautiful details and line work. I did a bit of research into her and I found out, along with working for DC and also self-publishing, she was the first woman to illustrate the main Batman series which began in 1939 (she worked on the title in 2012).
A little while later, I started seeing press about a self-published comic book entitled By Chance or Providence she was releasing—a collection of eerie sword and sorcery stories that she both wrote and illustrated. It ended up being the first comic book I ever pre-ordered and is now one of my favourite books. I went on a bit of a Becky Cloonan binge after that and really got into the Demo series she illustrated. Demo is some of her earliest work, and it was great seeing her style develop as she took different approaches and experimented depicting short stories written by Brian Wood.
Last year I heard she was coming to Melbourne to give talks and a master class at All Star Comics. I was really excited about the prospect of getting to hear her talk and the store contacted me and said they were also having an all-female comic artist market set up during the times she was signing and asked me to be there.
Throughout the talks Becky spoke about herself in a joking, self-depreciating way, pointing out other people’s contributions to the books she worked and saying how she often turns to others for advice. She spoke about the importance of working in a studio environment and being around other creators.
Over the day I saw other comic book makers I knew dropping by to get a signing and giving her their books. I didn’t know if I could do that. I have had anxiety since I was a teenager, it was so bad back then that I couldn’t even go into shops and speak to sales people. I’m better now than I used to be, but still not hugely confident.
I started to walk up to her and just froze up—my mind went blank. I was about to turn away and slide back into my stall when one of the comic book shop staff I’m friends with stepped up and introduced me to her. I forget what I said to her, probably something mumbled, but I managed to pass her my book to sign and hand her a copy of my mini comic. She read it in front of me and told me she liked it.
She mentioned that there was someone on Instagram I should follow that drew observational comics too. She got out her phone, loaded the artist and held the screen out in front of me. I realised I wasn’t reacting. I was just staring at the words on the screen—too nervous to take in their meaning. Sensing something was wrong she started reading out the comics in funny voices to me. I started laughing. She read a few more, making up voices for the characters, waiting until I finished laughing before flipping to the next one.
It was great getting to meet one of my comic heroes and even better that she is pretty awesome human too.