Chrissie Zullo is something of a triple-threat in mainstream comics: young, talented and female. She’s exactly the type of creator that readers are demanding, but Marvel and DC don’t seem to be able to deliver, or claim don’t exist. I wanted to find out how she managed to break into to the mainstream at such an early stage in her career, and what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry.
It’s a very clichéd question to ask a comics creator, but I think your situation is a little different, and you arrived in the industry at a very young age. So, I wanted to ask you how you broke into comics.
CZ: I went to San Diego Comicon and DC does a talent search there where you submit a portfolio, and at the end of the day, they pick 10 of the best portfolios and the next day, you can meet the editor if you’re one of the 10 people that were picked. I brought my portfolio there, got picked and met with Shelly Bond who is an editor at Vertigo. From there, one thing just led to another — I got her contact information and kept bugging her until she could get work for me. It just so happened that they were doing the Cinderella spin-off and my stuff fit for Fables. It was really nice because Fables was — is — my favourite comic, so it was a total dream come true. I was just in the right place at the right time.
Do you think there was something different about your portfolio that grabbed their attention? I imagine they’re used to seeing endless Batman and Superman drawings at these things, which isn’t your style at all.
CZ: My portfolio consisted mostly of my art school portfolio, and I had majored in illustrated, so it was a lot of full-colour illustrations — just my own thing, not even comics related at all. Maybe that helped me, because it stood out and it wasn’t Batman. It was just an expression of my own tastes and interests, so maybe that helped me.
It’s an interesting situation to me. In the last year, the work that I’ve seen from you — even the sketches that you’ve been posting online — you can see a lot of growth in your work, and track your maturing as an artist. I’m guessing that your portfolio work would be quite raw, then. Was there any indication that DC, or Shelly in particular, wanted to nurture you and develop the potential that they saw through your cover work — rather than just throw you in at the deep end on a monthly book?
CZ: Maybe. I didn’t really submit any sequentials, so I really presented myself as an illustrator who would do single pieces. I do paintings, which is a lot harder to do sequentially. Even myself, I didn’t feel that I was a good sequential artist. So, I really just wanted to do eye-catching illustrations.
Are you planning on more sequentials in the future? I mean, you did an issue of Madame Xanadu, and a story in Fables #100 — do you feel more comfortable transposing your work into that form now?
CZ: I actually find it really rewarding, because you are almost making like a mini-movie and I find it a lot of fun. I just want to improve my skill and obviously practising is the best way to do it, but I would love to do more sequential stories.
Another project you’ve been involved in recently was Womanthology — how did you become involved with that?
CZ: They actually contacted me about it and they had told me that all these other women were signing-on. It was all going to be done for free, all these women had devoted their time, and I thought that was a great cause to get behind because women in comics is a rare thing. So, I love meeting other female artists and I told them yes right away. Now, I think they’re doing another one that I’m also going to be a part of.
I believe that’s going to be an ongoing title.
CZ: I think so, yeah.
Are you going to be contributing regularly, then — like an ongoing feature?
CZ: It’ll probably just be a one-shot, but I’d love to keep doing stuff for them. I think it’s a great idea and a great cause.
Were you not upset at all that the initial Kickstarter campaign for Womanthology went so completely over what they had expected, but yet the contributors still didn’t get paid?
CZ: No. Personally, as an artist, I knew up-front that I wasn’t going to get paid, so I never looked at it that way. I knew there was a lot of controversy about that, but they took that money and they really expanded the printing that they were going to do, and they produced sketchbooks, and are helping-out girls at conventions. So, I think the money went to do more things for women creators and that didn’t upset me at all. I was glad to see it grow, because it went to show that so many people had this interest in it.
You said it yourself, women in comics is a rare thing — especially in the mainstream. From your perspective, is there something that publishers can do in order to redress the gender balance somewhat?
CZ: I guess because so many people think of comics as superheroes — and that’s associated with being for boys. I think now that there is a change in the industry, and the way people see it, and that in five or ten years you’ll see a lot more female creators. Even doing these conventions, I’m seeing a lot more female artists every year, so I guess it’s a gradual process.
I think that’s true, but I also think that’s partly due to the growth of self-publishing and indie comics, where the gender balance is a lot more even than in the mainstream. Do you still think that there’s a growth in women who are interested in working for Marvel or DC?
CZ: I think it’s a mix. I’ve seen women who really want to go down the Marvel/DC route, as well as those who want to do online comics and be independent. It’s really varied.
Are publications like Womanthology — and other gendered publications like HERoes and Girl Comics — an answer to the problem, do you think? Do you not get the feeling that it ghettoizes female creators?
CZ: I feel kind of unique, I guess, being a female comic art. I don’t ever get the feeling that people pity me or anything. I think that being in the minority makes you stand out and that’s good. It’s good to be unique and not the norm.
I’d like to hope that’s true, and that it will lead to female creators being given more unique opportunities. As for yourself, do you have anything interesting planned — aside from more Womanthology?
CZ: I’m going to be some more stuff with the Fables crew, but I can’t talk about it. Hopefully some more Hack/Slash, too.
Have you worked on Hack/Slash before?
CZ: Yeah, I did a variant cover. I love that series — I was even Cassie for Hallowe’en once. I’m a huge fan of Hack/Slash!
Looking at your work, I would never have guessed that! [Laughter] Do you have any other strange inspirations?
CZ: I don’t know about strange, but my favourite artists are Adam Hughes, Travis Charest and James Jean, people like that. Every week I go to the comic shop and I find new art that I’m just in love with. There are so many artists that it’s fun to just be a little bit inspired by everybody.