I'm a big fan of comics illustrator Meghan Hetrick and I support her work on Patreon. I got the chance to talk to her about her upcoming Cover Alpha Comics variant cover for DC Comics' Valentine's Day-timed Crimes Of Passion anthology, a cover featuring Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson… coincidentally tunning alongside the news that a certain proposal is back in continuity. You can see work in progress images below.
Bleeding Cool: We see three mockup ideas for this cover (below). The standard approach is to present your favourite idea, the one you can live with and a third one that is so wrong that it persuades the client to choose one of the others. But invariably it's the third one that gets chosen, psychically, as if they somehow know. Can you relate to that, and how did it apply to this cover?
Meghan Hetrick: So, while I know that is the norm, I don't ever submit any cover ideas (or commissions in general) that I wouldn't be happy working on. I spend a lot of time with these things, and it's a miserable experience working on something you don't want to work on.
Also, my approach for this cover was different. I did Sweet, Sensual, and Sexy – basically, I worked my way up the "mood" meter. It's my first time working with Cover Alpha, and also my first time working DC in years (for cover work), so I wasn't sure exactly where the lines were in regards to what was acceptable.
Bleeding Cool: Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon is a pairing that has been a) popular with certain fans and b) a pairing often denied them. How much does the denial fuel that desire, do you think, and are DC superhero comics just an exercise in literary BDSM?
I think that the idea of "you want what you can't have" is fairly universal, and if you're a smart marketer, you know how to play that. Ethical? Likely not. But marketing isn't usually all too concerned about ethics.
As for the second half of the question, being that I'm not part of the BDSM community, I don't feel like I'm the best person to answer that in any sort of meaningful way. I do think that comics as a whole, not just DC, owe a lot to the BDSM and kink community, in many more positive ways than not.
Bleeding Cool: Batgirl was only introduced as a love interest for Dick Grayson as a reaction to gay panic in comics – and especially the Batman comics – after the publication of Seduction Of The Innocent by Dr. Frederick Wertham, which condemned Batman and Robin as lovers. Should Dick/Barbara fans, in a weird way, be grateful to Wertham?
This is a very, very loaded question, and a concept that while I am familiar with it, I'm woefully out of practice on (my senior thesis was actually about Seduction of the Innocent, but that was almost 20 years ago now). I do believe that anyone who is even remotely interested in how media and culture can collide, the backlash surrounding it, and the implications and fallout of said backlash (the pendulum swing), really owes it to themselves to pick up a copy of Seduction of the Innocent, read it, and form their own opinion.
Just get an e-reader version of it though, because an actual copy is stupid expensive.
Bleeding Cool: When do you know when to stop? Looking at your process for this cover, layers over layers over layers, is there an end game that says 'this is where the cover ends' or is it always 'this is where the deadline says it must end'? How much further could you go? And is there anything you lose from your initial sketches in the process to where you end up?
So, what I'm guessing you're referring to (because I'm not sure what files you're mentioning), are the WIP saves I did throughout the process. It's actually not a lot of layers there, just a whole lot of different stages of rendering, haha. As to the meat of your question though, it's a combination of both "this is where the cover ends" and "this is where the deadline says it ends." My rule of thumb is that if I get to a point where anything else I add just kinda … doesn't serve a purpose, then it's done. There are always, ALWAYS tweaks that can be made, which can eat up a *huge* amount of time, but that falls into the category of "getting precious" with a piece, which is a defining trait of folks just starting to draw. I think when you get to the "fuck it, I'm done" stage, while satisfying your client's needs, and can just live with cashing that check, that's when you can probably start calling yourself a Pro, hahah.
With this piece, like I said, there are spots where I could tweak, but they don't really add anything else to it. I wanted a softly lit, "human" touch on this one, especially with as much as was done digitally, so leaving those mistakes in there actually gives it a bit of life, and makes it not look so … clinical. I do feel that sometimes a lot of the energy of a piece can be lost in inks, if you try and just make everything too perfect. Art made by human hands needs to have imperfections, IMO.
Bleeding Cool: You talked on your Patreon about moving from drawing interior comic book pages to just covers and illustrations – and gallery shows- more in the career mode of Frank Frazetta or Gerald Brom. What steps are you making in that direction, and what other more contemporary creators can you see following a similar path?
I love telling stories, so I'll always have a love for interior work, I'm just not sure if I'm a good fit for superheroes, or the mainstream publication format. As I'm getting older, I'm realizing I have a much more … European approach to my ideas and art in general, which is both a good and bad thing, haha.
As for the steps I'm taking, I'm currently teaching myself how to oil paint, and I'm having a fucking blast doing so. They don't lend themselves too well to the monthly format with comics that's so common here in the US, just because of the nature of the medium – they take FOREVER to dry, and when I get, on average, about a week to turn a cover around, that doesn't work all that splendidly, LOL. My current slate of commissioned paintings consists of a huge range of licensed properties, and it's fun to take characters that are typically seen as essentially throwaway art, and render them in a manner that folks don't really expect to see nowadays. Comics *are* art, and one of the hardest to actually get a handle on. I would love to do my best to elevate the artform. I'm not sure if I'm necessarily the right person for the job, but dammit, I'm going to try. I also have my own projects and characters I'll be fiddling around with, especially once I get more comfortable with the medium, and these will be what I use to start pushing my way towards gallery work.
As for contemporary creators, I can rattle off a few (and I will), but I'm not entirely certain they'd be interested. Three folks already doing it are Joe Jusko (of course), Scott Hampton, and Esad Ribic. All three have been major, major influences on me, too. You also have the old guard of Heavy Metal and 2000 AD artists, who don't get anywhere near enough recognition. Folks I'd love to see dip their toes into that realm are Cary Nord, Fiona Staples, Becky Cloonan. Mahmoud Asrar has also been painting lately as well, and it's gorgeous. Simple truth is that there are more creators I can see following that similar path than I could feasibly name, but it's breaking that barrier and getting accepted as "real" artists, while we're still alive, and not 100+ years after we're dead (see: all the Brandywine School artists).
Bleeding Cool: How much do you try and create in a vacuum and how much fan reaction do you allow to filter into your work? Can reader reaction to your images that may have not been intended ever taint them for you? Or can you be detatched from it?
At the risk of kicking the internet hornet's nest, anymore, I think the only way you can maintain some semblance of sanity as a creator is to disregard almost all comments regarding your work (not ignore, disregard). Now, if you see a pattern emerging with the same thing being said repeatedly, at that point maaaaybe you should investigate into what's being said, and see if it has any merit. So, I do tend to create quite a bit in a vacuum, with very little fan reaction having influence on my work. I will absolutely listen to constructive criticism though – the key word there being constructive. If someone just spouts off "this sucks" or the equivalent thereof, without any reasoning behind it besides that it doesn't fit their personal taste, well, opinions are like assholes and whatnot.
That being said, fan support is awesome, and I wouldn't be where I am today without fans who've supported my art over the years. I think one of the hardest things about being a creator is finding that balance between being true to yourself, and what you want to do, since that creates the best art, and not giving into the trends for a quick buck if you can. It's the internet, there's a fandom and a market for everything, you just need to find your people. My "breaks" (because there were two) into comics came not from me riding trends, but just by being myself, and that's something I've done my best to try and stay true to.
And, because it hasn't come up in the questions here, I just wanted to take a second and thank Cover Alpha and DC for the opportunity to work on this cover. All parties involved have been awesome to work with, and it made this a truly fun experience – especially revisiting two characters I love drawing, haha. Also, thank you for the thoughtful questions, and your support. 😊