Smash Pages Q&A: Veronica Fish

The artist of ‘Archie,’ ‘Silk,’ ‘Slam!’ and more discusses her latest project ‘Blackwood,’ collaborating with Andy Fish and Evan Dorkin, and more.

Veronica Fish has made a name for herself with her work for Archie (Archie) and Marvel (Spider-Woman, Silk), as well as with books Slam!, the roller derby comic that she created with writer Pamela Ribon, and The Wendy Project, written by Melissa Jane Osborne. The latter overlaid the story of Peter Pan with a girl’s real trauma and was a visually stunning work by Fish that really showed off a masterful sense of design and color.

Fish’s new comic is Blackwood. Written by Evan Dorkin (Beasts of Burden, Dork) and published by Dark Horse Comics, the miniseries follows a group of students who arrive at a small college to learn magic. The Dean kills himself in the opening scene, and the students find the only thing stranger than the locals are the teachers. The setup may sound familiar, but the characters and the creatures in the book really stand out. And the art is as accomplished as it is different from Fish’s other comics. The second issue of Blackwood came out this week, and I asked Fish a few questions about the book.

How did you come to comics?

I started working at a comic shop because I liked to draw and used to watch X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and figured that was more of a background for comic-shop employee the Sears Men’s Department. But what really got me into comics as a career was reading all the Eisner stuff Kitchen Sink Press reprinted that I could afford. Eisner changed my life. Then as it turned out Andy took classes with Eisner when he taught at SVA, so we bonded over that when we first met!

How do you describe Blackwood?

I think of it like “X-Files goes to college with a bit of Kolchak the Nightstalker in the mix”.

How did you end up drawing the book?

Evan came across my table at Heroes Con a few years ago. Andy and I were set up there, and he looked at some unpublished Frankenstein pages I had in my portfolio. I had drawn about 100 pages of this project as a personal thing and didn’t know if anything would come of them, but looks like Blackwood did.

Andy Fish is doing the layouts and letters. Could you talk a little about how you two work together?

We talk about each script, both doing sketches and layouts and if someone has a better idea that panel gets inserted. Then we start drawing and he’ll do a ton of prep work like putting down perspective lines, working on background pencils, fixing wonky stuff I drew that doesn’t work. Evan will send his notes, then I’ll do the finishes. When that’s done Andy starts flatting and I’ll do finished colors. It’s a pretty good system, he makes the finished product so much better.

Evan Dorkin is writing Blackwood and he’s a great writer, and a great cartoonist in his own right, and what has it been like working with him?

It’s really great. His feedback is always something we had a gut feeling about from the beginning so our storytelling instincts seem to gel. He has a clear vision on how to direct the story but isn’t too rigid, so it’s a really satisfying collaboration for Andy and myself.

How much freedom did you have as far as the look of the book, the characters, the color scheme, the monsters?

Quite a bit. Evan lets us go nuts. Andy loves classic horror, so he will suggest the perfect thing for a scene like the stair well in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, or Peter Lorre’s clothing in M or Humphrey Bogart in The Return of Dr. X. His brother is a big fan of obscure camp like The Beyond so anytime I need a suggestion for something like “I need a melting dude but also being eaten by bugs” they are there with an answer.

Now I’m sure someone will read the description of the book and go, oh, kids go to a school to learn magic, yeah, I saw that movie. Talk a little about some of the artistic choices you made and how they play into pushing against those expectations, if people have them.

I can understand that feeling, but once you start reading I really think it has a very unique voice. The characters interacting is more at the core of it than the magic, actually. They are really understandable and well-formed, with distinct speech and personalities, so hopefully people dig that. But the old New England / Miskatonic U atmosphere as well as the mishmash of alchemy, gore and teen smack talk, giant bugs, two headed chimps, well spirits – there is quite a lot stuffed in there to make it engaging.

Do you have a favorite character among all those you designed?

I love Chimp Ho Tep, I did that little guy myself, but I really love the disguise Ogden wears in a later issue – Andy came up with that one!

Slam!, The Wendy Project, and Blackwood are three very different books and very different kinds of books. What you want to do as an artist and what you want to do more of going forward?

I just want to get better. I have a lot of growing to do artistically and just feel lucky to have the opportunity to do that as a job.

For people who have read the first two is there anything you’re really excited about people seeing or that’s coming up in the rest of the miniseries, or just tease what comes next?

Oh man, there is so much cool stuff, if I wasn’t drawing it I would read it because it’s just filled with so many wacky and creepy things. The underground storage rooms, the labs, the giant bug fights, including a bug goddess thing – and the biggest spoiler I can’t say but if you get attached to the characters at all just remember no one is safe in this world!

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