Nerds in Babeland & Geek Girls Network Interview Janet K Lee
(Cross-posted with Geek Girls Network)
Stephanie: I was fortunate enough to head into my local comic book store in Los Angeles on the same day that they had the pre-release party for Return of the Dapper Men. I’d heard some good buzz about the book so I decided that I would treat myself. I was going to get to read it a full week before it was released and the concept seemed like a great idea. That was all the justification I needed. You can read my full review on Geeky Pleasures, but to put it simply the book blew me away. The story is amazing and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the Dapper Men world in later books, but it was the art that truly blew me away. As soon as I finished the book I googled Janet K Lee and came across her Etsy page. I wanted to absorb any and everything she’d ever done and found myself wanting everything in her shop. As Katie so accurately puts it below, her art is so beautifully layered that everytime you look at a page you find something new. The very concept of decoupage seems so natural and perfect for a steampunk narrative that I couldn’t possibly imagine this story being told without it (and vice versa). Therefore, when I had the chance to interview Ms. Lee I jumped at the opportunity. What made the interview even better (if that was possible) was getting to geek out about this awesome female artist with a fellow badass female comic book nerd, Katie Doyle from Geek Girls Network. Comic books, geeky girls, and amazing art. Can’t get much better than that.
Katie: Until I read Return of the Dapper Men, Janet K. Lee wasn’t really on my radar. I heard of her, and I think I had seen a few odds and ends, but nothing big. When I saw the cover for Dapper Men, I was impressed. It was simple and clean, but very rich at the same time. Then, the book was released and after a couple of long weeks of trying to avoid hearing people talk about it/trying to find it in the first place, it was finally in my possession and holy cow. Before I even read the book, I just flipped through the pages. They were beautiful, deep, and layered in a way that kept me looking at the pages over and over again to try and see something new. Janet’s style is truly unique and is so obviously created with care and joy for the medium, that one can’t help but feel joyful looking at it. So when my friend Stephanie over at Nerds in Babeland gave me an opportunity to join in an interview with this amazing artist, I was thrilled to be able to contribute some of my serious and silly questions.
SW: What is your art background? How did you first get involved in illustration, etc?
JL: I’’d like to be able to list amazing schools where I studied to become an illustrator, but the truth is that I’m almost completely self-taught. My middle-school art teacher preferred a landscape drawing by my arch-nemesis Alanna Thornthwaite over mine, and I decided I was going to be a writer. So, I got a degree in English, went on to work in book publishing and sort of stopped drawing until after my son was born. Then I started exhibiting my work and eventually illustration found me. I was lucky enough to have two publishers suggest I submit work to their art departments and I had three amazing authors write stories inspired by my art.
SW: Your style is self-described as being based on decoupage. What made you go that route? In other words, inspiration?
JL: I come from a very, VERY crafty family. My mom used to make these pictures by cutting out the same image from multiple copies of the same card or print and layering them to get this 3-D effect. She also always expected us to make Christmas or birthday gifts for our friends or for each other. I think I was decoupaging things by the time I was six– coffee cans, wooden boards, just anything. When I began making art for galleries, I originally worked in oils. Then my son was born and having toxic paint around a very active baby seemed like a bad, bad idea. So I went back to drawing– which I loved the most anyway– and on a whim, started layering paper illustrations onto board and canvas.
KD: What are some contemporary artist in comics or otherwise who inspire you, or, whose work you just enjoy?
JL: There are too many! I’m constantly inspired! Let’s think of this as just a random sampling… I adore the work of Jon Muth, David Wiesner, Shepard Fairy, Chris Van Allsburg, Adam Rex, Garth Williams, Lisbeth Zwerger, Skottie Young, Craig Thompson, Doug TenNapel, Juanjo Guarnido, Shaun Tan, Colleen Coover, Adrian Alphona, Katie Cooke, David Peterson, Linda Medley. I just recently discovered Emma Van Leest, Yulia Brodskaya (because- QUILLING!), and Duy Huynh. I also LOVE classic illustrators like Magritte, Mucha, John Tenniel, Winsor McKay, and W. W. Denslow…
I’m only scratching the surface. There are so many people doing amazing work.
KD: What do you do while you work? Do you like to hum, whistle, listen to music, watch TV/movies, listen to books on CD, or do you work completely silently?
JL: In a perfect world, when I’m working I like to either play the iPod loudly and sing along or to tune the TV to really bad reality shows and half-listen while I work. Watched an entire season of Real Housewives that way…
KD: What supplies do you NEED to make art? What kind of paper, pencils, glue, lucky charm, etc..?
JL: Depends on what I’m making, of course– because give me a pencil and a blank corner of paper and I’m usually drawing something. For a decoupage piece, I need paper (Strathmore Bristol Vellum is my preference), a pencil (don’t care about the brand, but I like a light line, so the graphite should be hard), a good eraser, two black pens (a Faber & Cassell brush pen and a Micron .005), Prismacolor markers or watercolor pencils in all the colors of the rainbow, a pair of scissors or two, Mod Podge, a “glue” brush (meaning I don’t care if it does a horrible death), acrylic paint (usually housepaint over-runs), a board or canvas, and varnish.
Oh, and apples and coffee.
SW: How did you meet Jim McCann? Did you guys always know you wanted to work together?
JL: If I remember correctly, a bunch of us were invited out to eat sushi, and Jim was one of the other guests. At the time, Jim was working mainly in theater locally. We got to be really good friends years before I started showing artwork, so initially there was no plan to work on a graphic novel together. We did, however, make plans to be on that show Trading Spaces with each other since our houses were a mile apart!
JL: Jim always comes to Nashville to visit family during the holidays, and we always try to get together for at least a few hours while he’s here. When he visited in 2008, I had done a bunch of shows that year and there was art all over the house. One was this giant 6′ x 3′ piece called “Raining Men”. It was a sort of homage to Magritte with red-headed men in green bowler hats and mod striped suits raining from the sky over the roofs of Paris. Another was a drawing of a little robot girl. I has also made ornaments that year, and one was an image of a little steampunk boy with goggles and crazy, curly hair. Jim took the ornament and the robot girl with him and put “Raining Men” on reserve. Then, maybe two months later, I got an email from Jim with what ultimately turned out to be the opening sequence in Return of the Dapper Men, and explaining that the story was based around my art. What he had written was lyrical and beautiful– I think I emailed back saying it sounded like Neil Gaiman meets J.M. Barrie– and agreed to the project on the spot!
SW: Can you tease us at all about the next two Dapper Men books?
JL: I think it was last year that Jim was visiting for Christmas again, and I had drawn a little design element that I thought would be great as a background image. I was very fond of it– thought it was very cool– and I showed it to Jim. He immediately said “That’s our next two books!” That’s about all I can say at this point. Book two will be Time of the Dapper Men, and it’s scheduled to come out in the Fall of 2011.
KD: Do you have a favorite traditional fairy tale? What is it?
JL: Probably East of the Sun; West of the Moon. It’s creepy wonderful. In order to save her family from poverty, a girl becomes the companion of a great bear and goes to live with him in his magical palace where there are no servants but at the ringing of a silver bell, all her wishes are granted. Eventually she uses the bell to determine that the bear is actually an enchanted and handsome prince, but that by discovering his secret, she has doomed him to a terrible marriage. The girl then embarks on a hopeless journey to save her prince. How can you not love Cupid & Psyche/ Beauty & the Beast and a reverse Cinderella all rolled into one?
JL: Difficult question! I’d love to illustrate Wendy Darling from Peter Pan or the peasant girl from East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I’d love to draw Jane Eyre or Ann Elliot.
SW: Do you want to primarily stick with fairy tale/literature graphic novels or are you interested in going more down a superhero route later on?
JL: I really don’t want to limit myself in any way, and I’m more interested in the quality of the story than the genre. I wouldn’t turn down the right superhero project, but I wouldn’t want to only do superheroes either. I read very broadly– everything from graphic non-fiction and memoirs to fantasy, science fiction, and fairy tales– so I’ think I’d get bored with just one thing. Or maybe it’s just that I have a really short attention span…
KD: You are an artist, but have you considered writing and drawing a book of your own along with collaborations? If so, what would you like to write about?
JL: I have actually have ideas for stories; my degree is in English rather than art, after all. I’d like to spend more time developing my storytelling and phrasing before I try a sequential book. But I started a children’s picture book a couple of years ago that I’ll finish some time. It’s about a boy named Hans and his goat Lucille.
KD: What is your favorite Crayola crayon color?
JL: Periwinkle. I love the color and the name.
SW: If you could go back and be responsible for a famous work of art, what would you want to call your own? In other words, if you could go back and be the one responsible for the Mona Lisa or a Michelangelo sculpture, etc etc.
JL: I’d love to have been responsible for Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images”– so clever. Perhaps “Lucia” or “Breakfast under the Birches” by Carl Larssen. Or maybe “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” by Vermeer.
SW: You have to pull an all-nighter. What do you do to keep yourself awake?
JL: I’m honestly not a great night owl– I seem to have a physical imperative to be asleep between the hours of 1 and 3 AM, so I’ll spend a week sleeping 3-4 hours a night if I have to in order to avoid the dreaded all-nighter. But sometimes it does happen, and when it does, I make sure I consume a couple of bottles of 5-hour energy and brew a pot of good coffee. I’l turn on the ipod– I like to make playlists for the project I’m working on and I have one playlist specifically for powering through the last couple of days when I’m dragging. When the ipod doesn’t work anymore, I’ll grab my drawing board and move to the den where I can watch bad TV. I’m partial to super-trashy TV at times like these, so I’m probably watching The Real Housewives of [insert city here] or America’s Top Model because I don’t REALLY want to pay attention to it, just have the noise for company. Works like magic!
SW: Do you watch a lot of TV and/or movies? If so, what is your favorite program and/or movie that came out last year?
JL: Oh, TV! Oh, movies! I miss you!! I got to watch almost nothing during 2010, I’m afraid. I missed Inception completely and 2/3rds of the animated films. How to Train Your Dragon was probably my favorite movie. As for TV, I love True Blood, Mad Men, and Walking Dead was awesome. Unfortunately, I missed big chunks of all of them because I was working while I watched, so I had to see each episode about 3 times to catch al of it. In 2011, I’m looking forward to Game of Thrones.
Thank you Janet!
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