Next to a 76 gas station on East Burnside Street in Portland is Revival Drum …
Leila Del Duca and Joe Keatinge are the power house team behind Image Comics series Shutter, the story of Kate Kristopher, daughter of famed explorer Chris Kristopher, who wants nothing more than to escape her father’s shadow. But when a family secret is revealed, she learns that running from her father’s legacy might be harder than she thought. The third trade paperback of the series, collecting issues 13-17, came out this January.
Besides Shutter, both are busy with other projects as well. Keatinge writes the wrestling-meets-crime-noir series Ringside, also for Image, and Leila has a new short piece in Vertigo’s SFX #4 written by Portland’s own Jonathan Case. I sat down with them at Keatinge’s studio, conveniently located above Floating World Comics, to talk about Portland’s comic book community, strong female characters and the future of the industry.
11: Leila, you came to Shutter from smaller press and indie web comics. What’s that transition been like?
Leila Del Duca: It was so amazing, I don’t even know how to describe how amazing it was. [Laughs] Coming from little to no recognition, to immediate recognition and strangers knowing who I am and being like, “Wow, your art is so pretty,” whereas before it was mostly my family members and friends who were like, “Yeah your stuff is great.”
11: Joe, you came to comics a backwards route, especially when you consider how Image started with a bunch of artists defecting from Marvel to start their own creator-owned company. What’s it been like to work your way from the publishing side to writing?
Joe Keatinge: Well, yeah, in comics, writing is the main aspect of what I do, but I care a lot about comics as a whole. I have three tenets to my career. And one of them is create a bunch of cool stuff with a bunch of cool people in all sorts of different genres and formats. Two is don’t die broke in the process. Three is to help make it better in some way along the way.
My whole thing was, how do you get into comics, there’s no way to do it. So I was thinking, well, I’ll just take whatever. And so I started doing color flats because a friend of mine needed a color flatter and I didn’t know what that was. It was basically a production thing. Long story short, it ended with me working for Image Comics on the publishing side. It did reach a point though, where the writing was kind of the thing I always wanted to do and I had strayed away from it.
11: You felt that a part of why you had gotten in, you weren’t doing that?
JK: Ehh, but it wasn’t like I wasn’t liking my job, it was more like, this is the next step and it’s time to take that next step. And then I did that and was broke for about a year and a half and then I did a comic called Glory and that launched everything. So, it’s nice because I get…I see the larger system of how this works, that if we’re late on a book there are people who have to stay until late on a Friday night at the office. And in terms of my long term goals, I’m here for comics for life, I’m not doing this because I want to make a TV show, or a movie or anything. I’m doing this because I want to make comics and that could be as a writer, or an editor, or who knows in the future. I am working on other things. I’m working on my first novel actually, but in terms of creative freedom, and what you’re able to do, there’s nothing that comes close to comics.
But to really get back to your question, it’s that I’m able to see how all these parts work together. One of the things I’m doing now is working with Floating World Comics, in Portland, Oregon, in book sales and ordering, so I can help understand further what the mechanics of retailing are like.
11: My first comic book shop, The Splash Page, in Billings, Montana, the owner there was one of the first people to ever talk to me like an adult. He would talk about some of that big picture stuff, like ordering with Diamond Distributors, and it was my first real glimpse into an adult job.
JK: Well, that’s the thing that I get most out of the store, is the importance of developing community. I think that’s more important than trying to sell a physical SKU, a single unit.
11: Joe, you mentioned Glory earlier. You have a history of writing strong, female characters. I’m curious if that was intentional or if you started off with Glory and just fell into that character mode.
JK: I’m not doing it to fill in, like, oh this is the world I’m planning. That’s bullshit. If you’re creating anything for that purpose, you’re doing it wrong. Everything I do, whether it’s good or not, I enjoy it and it’s something I’m writing to entertain. Comics I’m excited about reading, and in terms of writing and stuff like that, are, well, I haven’t seen that before.
And my family was largely built of strong women. My grandma worked in dispatch at the police department and as a funny thing, they decided to enter her in the shooting competition and then she annihilated everybody. And then, the twist is, did she get the first place award for the shooting competition? No, she got first place in the women’s competition. She was the only woman competing against all these men.
LDL: That’s bullshit.
JK: I don’t want my daughter to be raised in a world like that.
11: Leila, what’s it like to draw a strong, female character in an industry still dominated by men, even if to a lesser extent than it once was? Do you feel any responsibility, or are you just drawing a bad-ass adventurer?
LDL: Well, it’s mostly, I want to draw bad-ass, cool, engaging, interesting characters, and luckily Joe writes all of the above. I do feel a sense of responsibility though, because I am a woman who’s been subjected to a lot of sexism and it is really important to me to portray believable women and basically non-white guys, because…for the exact same reasons Joe just mentioned. I want to live in a world where the question you just asked isn’t even a question anymore.
11: Not only is Shutter an insanely action-packed read, but the diversity of settings and characters on every page is astounding. Is it difficult from an illustrative standpoint to keep up with it all?
LDL: It really feeds my interests a lot. I get bored easily, so it was awesome to be able to draw something different every page. That’s another reason I like working with Joe, because he comes up with these awesome ideas and characters. He gives me just enough information where I can put whatever the hell else I want to in there. The backgrounds are pretty much up to me, so I can put little Easter eggs in there. I’m really afraid I’ll never have a project that’ll let me be this free again. Hopefully I find creators who are like, What do you want to draw? And I can just tell them the same thing that I told Joe, which was pretty much anything, except for superheroes and zombies. And then they’ll write a cool script to go along with my interests.
11: Joe, where did the inspiration for that kind of diversity come from?
JK: It’s what we were talking about earlier, wanting to see something I haven’t read before. The book is about a lot of things, but also largely about seeing the world you grew up in through different eyes, and so it made sense to have such a huge scale to it.
11: Joe, I’ve read you’re a music buff. Does music shape your comics work at all?
JK: Oh, absolutely. When I’m plotting or writing, I’m always listening to music. Aimee Mann is really big on me. I’m doing Ringside, the wrestling crime comic, and I would say if I could get anyone to do the soundtrack, it would be her. I think the construction of a song, like a two minute, thirty second song, is much closer to a twenty page comic in terms of overall construction.
11: Leila, you play a number of instruments, is that right?
LDL: It’s definitely more of a hobby and not really a practiced skill with me, but I like making music. It really is a nice supplement to drawing for me because it works a different creative part of my brain, but it also exercises the mathematic part of my brain, which is something I think I’m missing when I’m too creative.