Women in Comics – Janet Lee

Writing up this list of women in comics is so far an absolutely joy.  We here at GRCT have been able to discover new artists and writers and spotlight those we already know and love.  Janet Lee is one that we already know and love.  Both Chantaal and I picked Dapper Men as one of our favourite things of 2010, so having her answer our questions was extremely exciting.

Her art isn’t the typical sort of thing that you see in comics these days.  Brilliantly designed and layered, there is a fairytale quality to it that is simply beautiful.  Her layouts are also stunning, and her sense of story flow as lovely as her art.  If you haven’t picked up Dapper Men, do so, and check out Emma from Marvel comics as well.  I’m loving it, and considering that I’m seriously not an Austen fan, how much the writing and art on this work amazes me.

Did we mention that she and Jim McCann won an Eisner for best graphic novel for Return of the Dapper Men?  Because they did this past SDCC, and it was so well deserved.  Congrats to both of them, and I cannot wait for the next volume. Also, for the record, any book with an introduction by Tim Gunn wins extra points from me.

Janet answered our questions, for which we thank her.

How did you get into comics?

Are we talking as a reader or as a creator?  :-)  Two stories follow– use the one that answers the question correctly! (Dee’s note – they both worked, so they’re both included!)

I started reading comics at about five or six.  My best friend Amy lived next door to a man who must have been some sort of novelty salesman.  He always had all sorts of cool things– like wind-up chatter teeth and cool pencils, and comics.  He gave me my first books of collected comic strips– like Dennis the Menace and Heathcliffe– and my fist comic books.  So I grew up reading sequential books, and later dated a guy who was really into X-Men, like you do, and started reading Marvel.  Eventually, I started working in the trade book industry an avid reader of independent comics, particularly original graphic novels.

I had been a gallery artist in Nashville for about six years; I was just starting to book out-of-state shows. But that wasn’t my full-time job.  By day I was a Buyer for one of the largest trade book wholesalers in the US, and that job gave me exposure to many, many people who worked in publishing.  I had gotten feedback from several publishing sales reps that I should consider book illustration.  As a life-long comics reader, I wanted to try a graphic novel, though I expected to start with a children’s book.

Then, two years ago at Christmas, my dear friend Jim McCann was visiting his family in Nashville.  We spent a night hanging out while he was in town, and he found several pieces of artwork I’d done that year that he really liked.  About two months later, he emailed what would be the opening lines of Return of the Dapper Men to me and asked if I wanted to work on a graphic novel inspired by my artwork.  Of course I said yes.  Archaia signed up our unconventional little fairy tale, and even said they wanted to do it in my decoupage/collage style that I’d been doing for galleries.  I’ve been hooked ever since.

* Tell us a bit about the projects you’ve worked on

Return of the Dapper Men is our take on a modern fairy tale; an homage to Jim’s and my favorite illustrated books and stories.  In Anorev, time has stopped.  There are only robots and children, but they are segregated, almost none ask questions or interact.  Only a boy named Ayden, and his robotic friend Zoe seek to understand their world, until the moment 314 Dapper Men arrive to set things aright.  The

Emma the Austen sort

bulk of the story takes place between 3:15 and bedtime when the children must learn how to change and dream and have destiny.  It was, probably, the most perfect first book I could ever hope to work on.  I collaborated with one of my very good friends to create it; my publisher was incredibly supportive and in full agreement with our wacky ideas.  And then, miraculously, our odd little book found an audience.  It was like magic.

I’m also incredibly proud of the work I did for Marvel on Jane Austen’s Emma.  After SDCC last year, I wrote the geekiest email in the world asking Marvel to consider me if they ever has an opening on one of their Austen projects– and they did!  Emma is one of my very favorite of Jane Austen’s books, and one that I seem to appreciate more each time I read it again.  Nancy Butler does such a difficult task with so much grace and skill.  She manages to keep the most memorable moments and the spirit of these novels that are loved for their narrative prose.  I feel lucky to have worked with her and our mostly-female

Emma, the White Queen type

creative team.  Emma refined my inking technique and brought out a crazy, latent textile designer inside of me.  And again, Marvel was entirely supportive of the fact that I do everything by hand; they wanted the art to feel handmade, I think.

And as an added bonus, I got to do an X-Men variant cover– geeky 16-year-old’s dream achieved!!

* What is your favourite work that you’ve done so far

That’s a hard question; its like choosing your favorite child.  I think my favorite work is the one I’m working on at that minute.  So, for me, right now, that’s Time of the Dapper Men, sequel to Return of the Dapper Men.  Return was my first illustration work; my very first.  I’d like to think my skills have improved with practice.

* Did you ever get advice about the field that you’d like to pass on

I think the best piece of advice I got came from a college professor of mine and really applies to everything in life– not just comics.  He told me that I would know I had found my vocation when I would be happy to do the work whether they paid me to do it or not; when I couldn’t *not* do the work.  For me, that thing has always been art, specifically drawing.

* What is your favourite thing to write or draw. From situations to characters to themes, anything goes

My favorite thing to draw is facial expressions.  If those facial expressions happen to be on a character in a twisted fairy tale, even better!

* In an ideal world, in what direction would you like to see your project evolve

I’ll answer this for the Dapper Men series- it’s a tough call, because the project is pretty much my ideal now.  I’d love to see a film of Return of the Dapper Men– the animated trailer we did made me so excited.

* Links to your work:

Dee’s note – Whilst Janet didn’t mention this, check out her Etsy shop too.  I’ve ordered a few of her Alice works and love them very much.

About Chantaal

A book reading, nail polish hoarding, makeup loving, TV marathoning, comic book talking Philosophy major. I want to be Rashida Jones when I grow up.
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1 Response to Women in Comics – Janet Lee

  1. Pingback: Kidlit 411 Interview with Elaine Kiely Kerns and Sylvia Liu | Writers' Rumpus

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