Renae De Liz: Womanthology’s Angel
Welcome to Noteworthy. I’m Will Scott and it’s my job to highlight projects, publications, and artists that Sequential Highway believes, due to the quality of their work or the creative message they’re sending, warrant more attention from the comic book market. This installment: Renae De Liz.
Renae De Liz is a broadly talented comic book artist. But if I had to point to any one thing that has cemented Renae’s place in comic book history it would be a project that she spearheaded, called Womanthology. Over 140 female creators, from novice to professional, illuminated within a 300-page hard cover anthology published through IDW.
To finance this dynamic idea Renae turned to Kickstarter, the popular funding platform for creative projects. Her initial goal was to raise $25,000 in total. Eighteen and a half days into the campaign her goal was met. By the end of the campaign the Womanthology project has raised over $109,000. News of its resounding success sent the comics world abuzz. Renae was on the map and a new dedicated forum for female comic creators was born.
My sincere thanks go to Renae for the thoughtfulness of her answers to my questions.
Will Scott: Please tell us something about your professional background.
Renae De Liz: I am a full-time comic book artist, mostly for IDW for the last few years; I illustrated the NYT bestseller The Last Unicorn, Anne Rice’s Servant of the Bones, Music Box and Rogue Angel. I also worked on a couple of Sonic the Hedgehog stories for Archie, Nightmare World stories for Image, Pono Loa for Mad Dog Ink. I started out doing various sketch card projects for Topps, Upperdeck and others, on sets like Lord of the Rings, Hellboy, Marvel and DC Comics. In 2011 I started the Womanthology project, which is an anthology set to showcase and support the female comics community, which I currently work on as project manager. Also currently helping set up the Womanthology: Space series and working on illustrating some projects I can’t talk about yet!
WS: What attracted you to the comics medium?
RDL: I always loved drawing and writing, and once I found this outlet to not only draw but draw AND tell stories at the same time, I was hooked. Comics, I feel, have a unique position for storytellers in that you can be in more control over a complete visual project by yourself, or with little interference of your vision compared to other industries where large teams are needed, and your vision counts less; or you’re assigned to a smaller task of the bigger picture. I drew my own comics stories from way early on, which varied depending on my tastes at the time. I went through a Sonic the Hedgehog phase first, starting at age nine or so – I had just gotten the Sega game Sonic 2 and I was obsessed with Sonic! – then a heavy Manga influenced phase, about when I discovered titles like Vampire Princess Miyu, Sailor Moon, and various other anime movie on Sci-Fi Channel’s old Robot Carnival, before finally breaking away to try to develop my own style before the end of high school in the late nineties.
After High School, however, I abruptly stopped drawing and reading comics altogether. I lived in a very small town in Oregon that has NO comics community, no shops anywhere within a two- hour radius, and I didn’t have the internet, so I couldn’t find others like me who loved creating comics to connect to. So I came to believe that aspiring to be a comic artist was not a path smart people should take to have a successful career, and that it was just silly. My artistic style was of course Comic Book; and in [a geographical] area where realistic scenery painting was [considered] the only style [of any value] I also decided that my art must have no value.
Go forward about five years. I had gone through some very hard times. I had lost my mother to suicide, almost died from a cancerous tumor myself, and was a single mother still in the same small town, working one dead end job after another. I was very unhappy and unfulfilled. One day I decided that I really MISSED drawing. I was happy when creating things, so I started it up again. Then I took the plunge to get the internet using one of those old dial-up CD’s that give you a certain amount of free minutes. I did a search online for “Comic Book Submission Guidelines” and came across DigitalWebbing.com’s forums. That was my gateway.
For the first time, here was a concentrated area of people that were like me. They not only liked comics, but they liked MAKING comics. I started posting my art – which was HARD to keep doing because the first critique I got was so negative – and kept going. Over the next year, or so, I made a bunch of friends online and slowly started to realize that: a) comic books was the industry I wanted to work in: b) I wanted to learn all I could about it and get really good; and c) the area I was living in wasn’t the right one to support my goals, which was a huge realization for me.
Then came along San Diego Comic-Con 2005. I had not been outside my small town yet, but many of my online friends were attending. I was incredibly poor, so I took a chance and got a plane ticket on credit. It was the best thing I could ever have done. Not only did it open my eyes to the world of comics and the career potentials within, I also unexpectedly got my first art job, thanks to artist Cat Staggs, as a sketch card artist for Topp’s Lord of the Rings (AND I met my future husband there, Comic Book artist Ray Dillon…So it was a good trip.
The following years were one step up after another professionally. I started in sketch cards for a year or so, and then branched out into comics. My first major published work was for IDW’s Rogue Angel, though I do now have older works in print for Blueline Pro’s Blood and Roses and Dirk Manning’s Nightmare World. Each job since has been a step up, and I’m still going. I’ve learned so much as an artist and about comics, and I hope to keep going to achieve my goal, and that is to work only on projects I am truly passionate about.
And, yes, I married Ray, and it’s been almost seven years now since we first met. I ended up moving to Kansas, where he lived; I lived there for four years and then three years ago moved here to Portland, Maine.
WS: Are there certain types of stories or genres that you, as a reader, find particularly interesting or engaging? Are there some you take particular pleasure in illustrating?
RDL: I have very broad tastes. For instance, my favorite movie is Aliens but I also love typical female fare such as My Little Ponies and Rainbow Brite, and just about anything in between. My tastes in illustrating are just as broad, but I take most happiness from drawing things I am passionate about, or can draw much inspiration from. The Last Unicorn was the first story I got to work on that meant a lot to me (I grew up with the story). I loved doing it so much, and it made me realize I only want to work on things I absolutely love, which became my goal from then on.
But really I love to draw almost every genre – except Westerns, maybe. I especially enjoy fantasy stories, but also superhero, horror, sci-fi… I love them all.
I have yet to really go crazy on a superhero story. There are a few
characters at Marvel & DC I am passionate about that I would love to try my hand at, both story AND art-wise like Wonder Woman, Batman, Hulk, Rogue…But I have hopes to someday update the old DC character, Amethyst. I feel if updated correctly she has a unique position to draw a large female audience to DC and superhero comics in general. I have a lot of ideas for that, so keep fingers crossed for me! I also have a creator-owned superheroine project called Lady Power Punch, about a young girl who is average/plus sized and the trials and tribulations of becoming a respected superhero. She first appeared in a few pages of Womanthology, but I’m planning to make a whole series out of her. Just need to figure out funding and publishing from here. Can’t wait to get that rolling!
WS: You must have read many, many comic books that had to have been written by males and had to have been centred on male characters. Yet, it is in the course of exposure to those that must have drawn you into the profession. Did you find it frustrating that the majority of comics creators and comic book characters were male?
RDL: For me, not really. I enjoy reading about good male characters just as much as I like reading about good female characters. I never felt frustrated by the fact that there were more men than women in comics, I still don’t. But it did kind of make me feel like a weirdo when I was younger, as I thought I was the only girl who liked comics. Part of the reason I started Womanthology, incidentally, was to make other girls and women in [the] comics [industry] realize they’re not alone and they’re not weirdos.
If there was anything close to frustration that I felt, it was that I could only rarely find an art style that appealed to me in Marvel and DC superhero comics. I loved superheroes and wanted badly to buy their comics, but I could never relate to the art, [maybe] because of the house style – I’ll get to that later. But I still found some amazing hero books that appealed to me visually, namely J. Scott Campbell on Gen 13 and Humberto Ramos on Impulse. Someone introduced me to Joe Madureira on X-Men later on, and I liked his style too.
WS: Has the female voice grown stronger in comics or do you feel like it’s still a bit muffled? Do women generally have to be attracted to comics in a different way than men if they are to come to constitute a significant portion of the readership and authorship?
RDL: I definitely feel it’s gotten stronger over the years. Even just looking at the conventions. At the ‘05 Comic-Con I attended, there were far fewer women setting up than there are now. If you really look online you will find many women who love comics and who love to create them.
When it comes to female readers, we like to read what we like to read, and will go to those titles that provide things we like, same as with male readers. We usually don’t adapt to like what’s provided, if it doesn’t appeal we just won’t buy it.
As for female creators, it’s a little different. Indie publishers already have a great number of female creators and readers because they are more open to different styles of story and art, so the job opportunities there for women seem more in abundance. But if you want to work for the bigger publishers like Marvel and DC, which absolutely control the majority of the market, you do usually have to adapt to what they choose to print. What they want to print is usually what has worked and sold for them in the past. What has sold in the past has been by almost all male creators making comics that appealed to male readership – call it a “house style” of art and stories. These styles of creation are those that men naturally seek out to learn because it appeals to them. So, as Marvel and DC are out to hire [according to] those same standards of art and story, men are the ones who get most the jobs, simply because they’re predisposed to create what Marvel and DC hires.
To expand upon that: my opinion is that (generally speaking for all of this, there’s of course exceptions to everything) art-wise there are differences between men and women’s styles, which go back to basic differences between us as men and women.
• Men are drawn to learn a more technically perfect style, where anatomy is spot on, buildings are realistic, and details are in abundance, emotion and mood are last on the list. Rules and technical perfection are in the forefront most of the time.
• Women naturally want to draw with different aspects in mind. We like mood, feeling, expression, atmosphere above all else. We don’t really care about anatomy as much as we do a good facial expression. We want to relate to the art we see. As we like these things we tend to draw more “cartoony” or simple styles. I feel this is because simpler styles can be more expressive and easy to relate to. Look at Manga for instance and how many female readers love that. This is NOT the style Marvel and DC generally hire; or if they do, it’s to be on a kids’ book because many feel a simpler style belongs on children’s titles only. However as I get to, that should not be the case all the time.
So if all this were true, and the sought-after house styles of Marvel and DC [are ones] that men already are naturally adept at creating, then they’re excluding women creators and readership without even meaning to. I sincerely do not believe either Marvel or DC is intentionally doing anything bad towards women at all. When Dan Didio said, “Who? Who should we hire?” on that one day last year, I actually understood what he meant. It would have been clearer to others if he had said, “Where are these women creators who have what we want to hire?” The truth is, there’s not many at all who draw the Marvel/DC style, or want to write the type of stories they want told, so he spoke truthfully. Also, even in my own experience, I haven’t seen many female creators at cons or on the web with Marvel or DC samples drawn from their sample scripts. Not because they don’t want to, but they just haven’t done it yet.
WS: What do you think is needed to increase the selection of books on the market that speak to girls and women, or to increasingly attract women as readers and creators of comics?
RDL: I feel there’s a few things. Once again I use the top two publishers because they are the majority of the industry:
1. Women creators need to SHOW Marvel and DC what can be done with their properties in their styles of art and storytelling, and that people want to read them. That means if you want to draw a story about X-Men, draw it! And I mean serious stories, not just ones that poke fun at the genre, or are aimed at children – which I see a lot of – and not just character designs or pinups. Take a sample script, or even make up your own, but show you’re serious about working on their properties and how good it can be. Put it up, post it around, get people excited about your version. Enough of these different styles gaining vast support means potential money made for the publishers, and they’ll be more open to publishing them.
2. Women creators need to be more forefront with what they want as individual creators. I’ve heard from too many editors at Marvel and DC that they will get two, maybe three, women submitting to them over years. That’s not good! If that’s the case, it’s easy to see why there’s less women in mainstream,. Men in general are more forefront with showing their work, and going out to get what they want out of their careers. Women, on the other hand, tend to stay more in the background, trying to do good work and get noticed by doing so. That doesn’t always work, however; you need to get out there, go to conventions, talk to editors, meet people, let them know in a big way we want to work in comics!
3. Publishers, if they have an interest in gaining a larger audience that is primarily the missing female readership, need to open their minds beyond what has worked in the past. Obviously the current style has its permanent place in comics and shouldn’t be changed, but there’s so much room to grow! I feel there should be more listening to what women truly want from their comics, story and art, and find ways to incorporate those things into what they already have. Women put emphasis on different things that men do, we like different artistic styles, and we’d like to see those things applied to our favorite heroes.
It has to be a balance. Simply hiring more women helps, as women know better about what women want, and flooding the market with other perspectives will change things by itself. But to create titles that are purely for the sake of drawing in a female crowd, slapping a title with all female creators, as often happens, is not the best fix. It has to be a correct blend of the best people for the goal intended, whether men or women. [Publishers] have to know exactly what is needed and find the best mix of creative individuals to make it happen.
As well as being part of it, I’ve watched and listened to the female audience. There is also a way to draw in female crowds without pushing away male readers in the superhero genre. I would elaborate more if needed (but this is so long already!) because I do have input on exactly what is needed to appeal to female audiences.
Finally, we all love good stories no matter what gender creates them, but so far there is a heavy hand in stories that are told by men and read by men. That in itself is not wrong, but because there’s so many potential female readers out there who could help build up this industry further it would be great to see more female perspective mixed into the current status quo to balance things out a little bit. Having that happen would only lead to more readership and a strengthening of the comics industry – which we all want. Right?
WS: Can you give us a little of the history of Womanthology? How did you come to realize that there was a need for a Womanthology?
RDL: It didn’t begin so much as a “needed” project as it was just to do something fun that also benefits charity. It was intended to be very small, and just a side project to be completed whenever we could get it done.
Quickly after, it started to become larger than I ever dreamed. I realized what good a book like this could do. I found many, many women submitting to be lacking in self confidence (something that is part of a lot of women in general), and I felt doing a book like this would help them realize their amazing worth and hopefully introduce more female creators to comics. I found this book as an opportunity to reach out and show how important it is to support every experience level along the creative process, from young girls to established pros. Appreciation and support go a long way, and it only leads to a more healthy, enthusiastic community of people that love making and reading comics.
I also realized that female creators, in larger numbers than I even hoped, were quite scattered and I hoped this book would draw us together into a solid community to know and support each other. We love our male creators, but sometimes it’s just nice knowing there’s other women in comics who like the same things.
That’s just the beginning. So, yeah, it was an ongoing process to realize just how much good Womanthology could do. I’m still realizing, actually, as stories come in as to how much the book means to people, and seeing young girl artists with their copies…. it’s just amazing.
WS: In addition to being a catalyst for a new generation of successful female creators, as well as developing a broader female readership, what does Womanthology stand for?
RDL: I can say I never intended to make Womanthology into any of those things. I made this book purely to mean something special to the people contributing, and to show all women readers and creators of comics how amazing they are. Everything else, any success, or any good this project has done, is a wonderful bonus. As long as the women on project, and those reading, get something special from the book, whether they’re proud of their accomplishments with this book, or that they want to further pursue their own comic stories after reading this, then I am happy.
WS: I understand that the proceeds from Womanthology go to charity.
RDL: Because the Kickstarter was so successful, I was able to print around 5000 books to be distributed around the world (instead of the 800 I originally hoped for). For as long as those books are being sold, all proceeds from those sales go to charity through GolobalGiving.org. This site is sort of like a Kickstarter for grassroots charities. They find people around the world that otherwise wouldn’t have the means to make their needs known, and help them become visible to the people who want to help. So every quarter, or so, when the proceeds come in, they’ll go directly from IDW to the charities we pick out. As many of these charities have small amounts needed, we hope to help many before all is said and done.
WS: Womanthology has been such a success that IDW announced it will now become a continuing series. Does that bring about significant changes in your work and in your life?
RDL: Womanthology became a full time job from the day I sent out that tweet ten months ago, and it hasn’t stopped! I don’t think people realize how much work is needed for a project like this. For me, a mom of two boys and a full time comic artist, it’s been incredibly difficult to balance out everything. But with the continuing series, I’m lessening my hand in its production to a much smaller area [of] creative direction – teaming up people – so I can hopefully go back to focusing on my career as an artist again, because as I said, creating is where I’m truly happy. But as long as people want more Womanthology, I’ll be looking for ways to help continue it.