Smash Pages Q&A: Elle Power

The cartoonist discusses illustrating the novel ‘Goldie Vance: the Hotel Whodunit,’ based on the BOOM! Studios series.

Goldie Vance: the Hotel Whodunit is a new novel based on the comics series created by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams. Lilliam Rivera wrote the novel, but artist and cartoonist Elle Power drew the novel’s cover, interior illustrations, and two eight-page sections of comics in the novel.

Power has been drawing comics for years, including the fourth volume of the Goldie Vance series, and we spoke over email recently about Goldie, the unusual process of working on this book and thinking about what comes next.

Elle, the first question I always ask people is, how did you come to comics?

Gosh, well comics and graphic novels just fall beautifully in the intersection of visual art and storytelling, two aspects of creativity that I’ve always been deeply fascinated with, so I was drawn to them (pardon the pun) ever since I was very young. European comics, independent comics, manga, superhero comics, I would just eat them up. So when i found an opportunity to try my hand at making sequential art and comics in an elective module during college, I dove in, and found a unique love for the medium as a creative outlet. 

Jumping off from this, I was lucky enough to land an apprenticeship with Declan Shalvey, an incredible comics artist, writer and all-round wonderful guy who took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, letting me assist on some fantastic projects for Image Comics, DC Comics and Marvel, patiently answered my endless burning questions about graphic novels and was an amazing supportive pillar as I went forth to find my feet in the medium. Thanks to this guidance and experience I was lucky to get early on, I started small and got better at putting myself out there and getting criticism, and after each short burst of experience I’d find myself improving and gradually getting more attention from editors online. In 2016, BOOM! Studios got in contact with me by email looking for an artist to work on a short story in the Regular Show OGN Wrasslesplosion and being an animation major and a fan of the Cartoon Network show as well, I was very excited for the opportunity. And that’s how it kicked off, really!

How did you come to draw the fourth volume of Goldie Vance?

After the Regular Show OGN went to print, I was pleased to get some great feedback from the team at BOOM! and was asked if I would be interested in collaborating on Vol. 4 of Goldie Vance, as they happened to be looking for an artist and thought I might be a good match. I sent them along some example drawings of our main cast and my slant on the comics distinctive style, and i’m pleased to say they liked what they saw and were down to have me on board. 

Working on Goldie Vance Vol. 4 was a lot of fun. I loved the arc of Goldie’s journey, and the story and the new characters that writer Jackie Ball brought forward in this chapter. The feeling was something else to see the finished print with Sarah Stern’s rich color work. I’m really grateful to have been a part of the Goldie team on volume four.

So how did you end up working on The Hotel Whodunit?

Well, I was reached out to last year by Christina Quintero, who was executive art director at Little, Brown Books at the time. She found me by recommendation from BOOM!, and initially got in contact about a cover illustration for the new novel adaptation of Goldie Vance. I was super excited to hear this. It had been a couple years since I worked on the comic, and it being such an important part of my journey as a comic artist, I was super enthusiastic for the chance to contribute to this new chapter for Goldie.

Was the plan from the start for you to draw comics interludes and then the cover?

Actually at first it was just the cover with the possibility of insert artwork floating as an idea, but it didn’t seem to be certain at the time if it would go down that route to include comic pages along with the literature. Once the cover illustration was complete and approved though, they came back to me to check if I was available to create two sets of comics for the interior that insert right into the story! 

It was exciting to see how Lilliam’s story took form and refined early on over the course of putting together the comic pages. I didn’t initially think I’d get to peek into that part of the process when I first joined to work on the cover artwork, so that was particularly cool.

As far as the comics what was the process like? Did Lilliam write a short comics script for the sections?

In the beginning the story wasn’t 100% set regarding the parts that would end up being presented in comic form, so initially i was given an early draft of the novel, with certain parts and pages highlighted that would later be translated into a kind of script format. So at first everything was written as one long story in novel format, and I got to take in how those parts I would be working on would fit into the broad context of the narrative. This ended up being helpful when coming up with how i was going to approach the mood, the characters, the setting and even the colors.

Not too long after getting the insert stories in novel format, I would get them in a form much closer to the comic script format, which i was definitely more familiar with. There was even a little room to back and forth on panel tweaks and creative layout adjustments in the Thumbnail stage! I always appreciate being given that room to improvise a little. From the layout/thumbnail stage onward, it was very similar to my previous experience of the comic-making process. I went on to do the pencils (or the rough artwork) of the pages, then the inks, and this time round was my first time doing the color art as well! I had experience coloring for print in other kinds of artwork, but this time I had to work out how I would approach a comic page, and let me tell you I had a lot of research to do, especially with attempting to do a faux color-offset! But it was incredibly rewarding to see the finished product.

How much did you have to rethink the way you work just because of the question of the size and how the book would be printed at a smaller size than the comics? Or did you have to rethink?

That’s a great question! The presentation of the medium here being different from the usual with respect to size was definitely on my mind from the start. It was more crucial than ever that the visuals and actions needed to be clear as possible. Even when in its thumbnail layout form, the pages had to communicate as best as I could get them to. As I was working on the pencils I would zoom super far out to make sure that the space and posing was still coming across, and that there would be enough room for the word bubbles given they would be taking up more panel room proportionally than what I was used to.

Other than that, checking that the lines were thick enough, and the small details wouldn’t be so fine as to get lost in the smaller print, was also on my mind. But the part I think I fiddled with most was the color, as I was going for a very soft offset alignment of the color to the ink work, (my attempt at trying to emulate the old print comics from the 60’s in a way that complemented the retro setting in Goldie) I needed the color offset to be just enough to look pleasing, but not enough to obscure the  clarity of the artwork or the key content of the story. To try achieve this I would actually purposefully offset the backgrounds more so than the characters and focus points, and I would not offset the faces of the main characters, sort of like focusing the camera lens on the characters and their faces. Hopefully the readers like the result!

Talk about the process of working on the cover, figuring out the right image, working with the designer. 

Working on the cover was a blast. I got a fantastic reference document right off the bat from Christina and the design team with everything they were looking for the cover to achieve, and the visual inspirations they wanted to draw from with plenty of examples. I will always remember how useful and clear this was to have from the get-go. I could tell right away that they knew how to brief an artist effectively so I was very pleased! 

Working from the brief and the reference I drafted up six cover thumbnails with pretty different approaches. Two of those were picked as ones to develop further and after a little teasing out of what was and wasn’t working, the designer picked the direction of the cover we have now, with our protagonist in action, running through different settings that are inspired by the story of the book. 

As far as I recall, the direction seemed so clear from there that i felt confident to take the artwork all the way to the rough colors, at which point a good bit more collaboration and testing-things-out was needed to find just the right look for the final result. 

Everything the art and design team had to say was clear and felt right on the money the whole way through, it was a great experience collaborating. So it was a joy to see them happy with the finished illustration!

There’s another Goldie Vance novel scheduled for Jan. 5, 2021. Are you working on that one as well?

That’s right, there’s a second in the works! This time round though I’m only working on the cover artwork, but it is looking like its going to be a fun one, indeed!  As much as I would love to keep working with the team on more of Goldie Vance’s comic-based capers, I gotta follow my heart on some new adventures of my own. I gotta say though, I’m really excited to see whats in store for Goldie in this next installment! 

So what are you working on now? Working on next? Thinking about? Trying to get? Hoping to do? Take it wherever you like, but some sense of what you’re doing and what you want to do.

Right now, for the first time in quite a while I’m working in a studio! I’ve joined an amazing team working on an animated feature, and I’m following wherever my path may take me to grow as an artist and a storyteller. As long I can keep working creatively with inspiring and wonderful people to help create fantastic things, I’m all set. One day in the not-too distant future i’d like to head a few projects myself, be they comics, animations and/or perhaps something else, and hopefully I can help inspire or move another person out there to share their stories and passions with the world. That would be the big goal for me, I would say.

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