Hire This Woman: Artist Heidi Arnhold
In the overwhelmingly male comic book industry, it has been a challenge for some editors and readers to see the ever growing number of talented women currently trying to make a name for themselves. With that in mind, ComicsAlliance offers Hire This Woman, a recurring feature designed for comics readers as well as editors and other professionals, where we shine the spotlight on a female comics pro on the ascendance. Some of these women will be at the very beginning of their careers, while others will be more experienced but not yet “household names.”
Heidi Arnhold is a comic book artist (pencils, inks and colors) and illustrator whose work has included contributions to Archaia's Fraggle Rock comics and Tokyopop's Legends of the Dark Crystal and Star Trek: The Manga. A student of Savannah College of Art and Design's prestigious comic book training program, Arnhold's next work is an original graphic novel from First Second.
ComicsAlliance: What's your preferred form of creative output?
Heidi Arnhold: I love the inking process. It solidifies what I can only hint at with my pencils, as I often work loosely. I tend to think in black and white when it comes to visuals, so coloring has always been quite a challenge. I'm happy to face it, though, because the coloring process is rewarding in its own way.
CA: Do you work on paper or digitally?
HA: When I first started out, I worked with paper/ink. I’d prefer to keep it that way, but my current project has a very specific look and feel that requires some digital work. First I pencil on paper, then scan the page, ink only the characters and color it all in Photoshop. I use Kyle Webster's brushes, which are amazing. They give you total control and lend the lineart that “traditional” aesthetic. I do miss inking on paper, but I also have a habit of gripping my pens with an unnatural tightness. Digital inks mean that I no longer have crippling hand pain, at least!
CA: What’s your background/training?
HA: I was a Sequential Art major and have at BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design. I’m sure my artistic growth would have been more limited had I not gone to SCAD, but I also grew exponentially while working on my first published book post-graduation. Professors often told us what we'd learn more in the field than we would in our classes, and booooy were they ever right.
CA: How would you describe your creative style?
HA: I find inspiration everywhere, so my style is a combination of everything from dynamic Japanese manga to hard-lined American pulp to thick-lined Indie expressiveness (with a big dash of my own personal weirdness sprinkled in there). Calling it a “style” feels odd, though, since my art fluctuates and adapts to whatever sort of project I’m currently working on. I usually play around with character designs until I finally hit a look that feels right for that project, so that's hard for me to lock down definitively.
CA: What projects have you worked on in the past? What are you currently working on?
HA: I started out working primarily on Jim Henson properties, such as Tokyopop's Legends of the Dark Crystal prequels and a short story in Archaia's Fraggle Rock anthology. Right now, I'm illustrating an original graphic novel, Cottons, written by Jim Pascoe and slated to be published by First Second. I often describe it as “Watership Down meets Secret of Nymh meets Animal Farm,” if you like a good old-fashioned elevator pitch. This book has been in the conceptual stages for a long time, and it's thrilling to see it finally coming together!
CA: Approximately how long does it take you to [write/draw/ink/color/letter/etc] a 20-page issue?
HA: From thumbnails to pencils to inks, it usually takes me a month. I limit myself to half a week for thumbnails, then two weeks for pencils and two more for inks. I try to stick to a two page per day quota for pencils/inks which puts me at one finished page per day, on average. Colors are hard for me to gauge, as I'm still learning more about that process all the time; it's not as simple or fluid for me as the lineart is.
CA: What is your dream project?
HA: For a girl who is as obnoxiously into rabbits as I am, I'd say working on Cottons has already been my dream project! I’d be doing my inner child a disservice if I didn't mention my old dream of drawing an issue of Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog… but that belongs in another answer.
CA: Who are some comic creators that inspire you?
HA: Hoo, boy. This question always makes my head spin. There are so many! Katie Shanahan, Rebecca Dart, Cory Godbey and Vera Brogsol for their whimsy and playfulness; Joy Ang, Tony Cliff, Claire Hummel, Mingjue Chen and Matt Rhodes for their amazing color choices and dynamic compositions; Becky Cloonan, Sanford Greene, and Ryan Ottley for their gorgeous inks and technical proficiency… everyone for everything! The list goes on and on! I tend to follow artists online like a creeper-ghost, quietly learning whatever I can from their unique approaches. There are also old classmates, professors and friends who inspire me every day.
CA: What are some comics that have inspired you either growing up or as an adult?
HA: As a middle schooler, I was crazy about Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comics. They were my gateway drug. Patrick Spaziante was their go-to cover artist at the time and I was fascinated by the level of detail in his backgrounds. I would redraw his work constantly, always trying to pick up bits and pieces of his process. It might have worked a little too well, actually, because now I have a tendency to get tangled up in those same little background details. I've had to force myself to pull back on certain elements to avoid busy compositions.
In the seventh grade, I mailed Archie my own cringe-worthy Sonic fan comic. I’m not sure what I expected, but they sent me a very polite rejection letter stating that all their positions were currently filled and thanking me for my interest. I found that letter a couple weeks back while sorting through old boxes. It makes me laugh now, but I'm grateful they were so kind to a young fan and didn't crush my spirit! Maybe I’ll try again someday…
CA: What’s your ideal professional environment?
HA: One of the toughest things about freelancing from home is fighting my outdoorsy-ness. I was raised a country girl, so I love being outside and hate watching seasons pass without a chance to enjoy them. That's why, bare minimum, I need a window. One that opens. With a screen. One that I can place my desk directly in front of. I spent the last couple years in a home office that’s sealed shut, and it drove me insane. I just recently took the initiative to move my drafting table into another room with a window, and it’s already making a huge difference for me.
Aside from that, I'd love to be in a studio someday. While I do enjoy working from home, it can be very isolating and lonely. Immersing myself in a group atmosphere, sharing a creative energy with other artists on a regular basis, would be really motivating.
CA: What do you most want our readers and industry professionals to know about your work?
HA: This is a hard one to answer, because of the answer itself-- I communicate most effectively and openly through my work. My main goal when illustrating is to establish an emotional connection with others. I want them to relate to my characters, get pulled into the environments and become a part of the story. It's one of the most effective ways I have of communicating, so it's important to me that a relationship develops between the reader and the page.
I’m shy, I’m anxious, I get performance anxiety. My illustrations and storytelling give people a window into the most honest version of “me” that I can comfortably present. I’m not a comic artist because it’s just a job or a skill-- it’s literally the strongest way I can connect with the world. Because of that, I will always put as much of my energy into my work as I can.
CA: How can editors and readers keep up with your work and find your contact information?
If there is a woman you’d like to recommend or if you’d like to be included in a future installment of this feature, drop us a line at comicsalliance-at-gmail-dot-com with “Hire This Woman” in the subject line.