Rebekah Isaacs on ‘DV8,’ Wildstorm, and Career Advancement Through Karaoke [Interview]
Last Wednesday, Wildstorm relaunched the off-beat “DV8,” a series with an eccentric cast of superpowered youths, most of whom possessed a healthy amount of disrespect for authority. The team originally spun out of the “Gen13″ work of Jim Lee, Brandon Choi and J. Scott Campbell and launched their own title in 1996 authored by Warren Ellis and drawn by Humberto Ramos. Now “DV8″ is back, with noted anti-authoritarian writer Brian Wood and newcomer artist Rebekah Isaacs at the helm. The new story, “Gods and Monsters,” toys with the impact superpowers and bureaucratic interference have on the young and impressionable, while exploring the potential ramifications that Gen-Active individuals can have when they’re removed from a world of superhero trappings.
ComicsAlliance caught up with Rebekah to chat “DV8,” what comics she’s been inspired by, and even learned how strategically employed karaoke can open up career doors.
ComicsAlliance: So how did you get involved in the “DV8″ project?
Rebekah Isaacs: Well, I can trace it back to my years at Savannah College of Art and Design (I graduated in 2006 in the Sequential Art program). They have these things every year called Editor’s Day and they bring in really big names, and I had a few portfolio reviews with Will Dennis from Vertigo during that time. After I graduated I kept emailing him new samples and bugging him to come by the office and drop off new work when I finally moved to New York. And while he was seeing improvement, my stuff is nowhere near gritty enough for Vertigo, so he forwarded it to Ben Abernathy, and later to Brian [Wood]. I happened to run into Ben at NYCC in 2008 and sang some karaoke with the WildStorm contingency while they were in town and I got the job offer a few weeks later.
ComicsAlliance: Oh that’s interesting — just the awareness of house styles, and where your work might fit in best.
Rebekah: Honestly, that was what I always wanted to do when I was in school; develop this bad-ass gritty style to get a job with Vertigo, but I’m way too much of a perfectionist.
CA: Because it requires too loose a line?
Rebekah: Yeah, I can’t get away from those annoying clean lines!
CA: Well , I’m pretty sure we here at ComicsAlliance are all for karaoke as a means by which to climb the corporate/ career ladder. [Ed. note: True]
Rebekah: Hahaha yes! Especially with an editor as obsessed with karaoke as Ben. He can tear it up.
CA: Without indulging in too far off a karaoke tangent- do you have a go-to standard for when you take the mic? (Mine is “You Oughta Know,” just in the interest of full disclosure).
Rebekah: Nice! “Livin on a Prayer” or “Buddy Holly” (the Weezer song, not the bespectacled crooner).
Rebekah: Yeah, I think there’s a good reason that works so well to integrate yourself with professionals. It’s an easy way to tell whether someone is down-to-earth and doesn’t take themselves too seriously.
CA: And what better way —
Rebekah: For realz.
CA: That’s interesting about brand and house styles, though. What do you see as Wildstorm’s identity, respective to other major publishers and brands?
Rebekah: Hmmm… I don’t know much of the history of the imprint, so it’s hard to say, but I feel like they’re more focused on realism and superheroes for adults. So naturally that usually leads to a cleaner “house style.” Although there’s a really big push from them now to promote creator-owned books, regardless of the genre, so I’ve been seeing some really unique styles that don’t really adhere to any house style we’ve seen before. Which is a really good thing, I think.
CA: Which takes me to my next question: Do you see “DV8″ as a superhero book?
Rebekah: It’s probably the easiest classification, but in reality, I think it’s about as similar to most superhero books as say, “DEMO,” is. It’s technically about a group of people with superhuman powers, but the themes and the focus are so different. It’s more of a character study, almost an imagined sociology experiment.
CA: So besides cutting back on bombastic spandex-ridden power-scenes, how does that “character study” aspect of the book visually inform the work?
Rebekah: A lot of that comes across in the dialogue and captioning, but for my part I try to get every facial expression and body language and gesture exactly right, because so much of what’s happening is internal for these characters. I spend a lot of time making faces in the mirror and using the camera on my Macbook… I’ve got a pretty embarrassing collection of ridiculous-looking facial expressions in Photo Booth.
CA: All extras for the hardcover collection, I’m sure.
Rebekah: We’ll see… They might have to pry them out of my cold dead hands.
CA: Well then the Absolute Edition, maybe. So did you have a history with “Gen13″ or “DV8?” Or are you coming into this fresh, as I’m sure many readers are?
Rebekah: Very much fresh. I didn’t start reading comics seriously until I started college, so my first reading of any “DV8,” was when I got the job. I only skimmed the series beyond Ellis’ run, because those were the issues that Brian was using as a jumping-off point for the new series. Although they’re not necessary to understand what’s going on in Gods & Monsters, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t enhance the experience for new readers to read those issues before or after reading G&M #1.
CA: Were you looking at Humberto Ramos’ work for the jumping point of your character models, then?
Rebekah: Basically. With the exception of Freestyle, we tried to take the best parts and the essence of Ramos’ designs and just make them a little more grounded. With Freestyle, though, her design was a little unclear and she shows up so infrequently, we figured we’d just start with a clean slate.
CA: Did you feel you had to “grow” them at all, just to reflect Brian’s tone?
Rebekah: More than grow them, we just wanted their costumes to look more realistic, like something these kids could have actually gone out, bought, and modified by hand to make them look unique and fit their own personal style. Believe it or not, every piece that every member wears was referenced from actual catalog items.
CA: Really? What sorts of catalogs?
Rebekah: Threshold’s, for example, is a real motorcycle jacket, pants, and boots, with these weird skating and paintball pads that I found online. I imagined he’d take the straps off of the pads and fix them on with double-sided adhesive or something, to make himself look more authoritarian. That was really important to Brian, that each piece be based off of something that really exists and can be bought, somewhere, either in random online catalogs, or a lot of sporting equipment ones.
CA: That’s pretty rad… So what you’re saying is that there are tons of options for the DV8 LARP crowd. Anyway, backtracking a little — what came first, reading comics or the sequential art program?
Rebekah: Hahaha, I would love to see some DV8 larping in action. Well, I’d read a few random single issues of “Batman,” and “Wonder Woman,” from my public library in my hometown before college, and just before I left for school I found “Watchmen,” there, and I was like “I have to find more like this.” It sounds cliche, but it was life-changing. Then at SCAD there was a huge comics section in the library and a LCS [local comic shop] — which we didn’t have in my hometown of Dahlonega, GA — which opened up the floodgates from there on out.
CA: Where did it lead you? What comics did you gravitate towards?
Rebekah: Mostly Vertigo books, things I could get into relatively easily. “Preacher,” “100 Bullets,” things like that. I love all the big superheroes from the cartoons and the movies when I was a kid, so I’m fairly familiar with the basic backstories, but getting into all that continuity was and is pretty intimidating for someone who didn’t read comics as a kid. So I limit myself to more accessible series like Morrison’s “New X-Men,” and contained arcs like “Identity Crisis” when it came to mainstream books.
CA: What was your art background up to that point?
Rebekah: Hahah, this is embarrassing, but mostly copying “Sailor Moon,” manga! I didn’t take art classes in high school because the teacher at our school ticked me off when she said I was wasting my time drawing fan art.
CA: Well, who’s laughing now.
Rebekah: Yeah, I feel pretty justified.
CA: So you weren’t really a late bloomer when it came to finding sequential art, just to American comics?
CA: How do you think artists with a background more rooted in manga differ from those rooted in American comics, stylistically or by approach?
Rebekah: Hmm. I can’t say personally, because honestly I kinda tried to push myself away from that influence after I discovered American comics.
CA: What drove that decision? Just evolving taste?
Rebekah: I think manga is great sometimes, but after a while it got a little too angsty and emo for me. I’m sure I wasn’t reading the right kinds of manga, though. I think that’s why “Watchmen,” resonated so much for me and really pushed me out of that phase, because it was on such a huge scale and felt so important. The manga stories I was reading at the time were focused entirely on the personal problems and interpersonal dramas of just a few people, and I guess I was getting a little bored with it.
CA: So once you did make that leap to American comics, and you got familiar with the lay of the land, where there particular artists you gravitated towards? Or was it more story-by-story?
Rebekah: Kind of, but at SCAD they really tried to keep us from aping other artists in any way, and letting our own personal styles develop, which takes a frustratingly long time, but I do think it was worth it in the end. I was really inspired by some artists storytelling wise who I bear no resemblance to stylistically, like [David] Mazzucchelli and JP Leon. But I couldn’t help sneaking peeks at some Steve McNiven pages every now and then, and I remember really wanting to draw just like him when I was in school.
CA: So whose stuff of the current scene do you dig most? What are your favorite books today?
Rebekah: Oh man… I’m so far behind, I’m just getting started on stuff like “Scalped,” and “Ex Machina!” But I am crazy into fellow WildStorm artist Fiona Staples on “North 40,” right now… and since she’s just been nominated for an Eisner, if people don’t know her work now, they will! She’s has one of the most unique styles I’ve ever seen. It is totally indefinable.
CA: Getting back to “DV8,”- what’s the working relationship been like with Brian Wood? You talked about the fashion aspects, but beyond panel-to-panel stuff, did he give any broad direction for art in the series?
Rebekah: Not really. Working with Brian was awesome because he really trusted me to think creatively about composition and camera angles on my own, but wasn’t afraid to step in and suggest something more effective (which wasn’t extremely frequent but helped me learn a lot about storytelling when it did). I mean, he’s an artist too so he definitely knows what he’s talking about
CA: And you guys had worked together before, on “DMZ.”
Rebekah: Yeah, I did a 6-page section of “DMZ #50.”
CA: I’m looking at a copy of “DMZ #50,” right here and y’know, your work is plenty gritty for Vertigo!
Rebekah: Awww, well thanks, but my version of “gritty” is more “Throw sh** everywhere.”
CA: In this book, you’re drawing space stuff, savagery, and some modern fashions, and a big ensemble cast. What’s been the big challenge for this series?
Rebekah: The battle scenes have been pretty tough, but especially keeping every character “on model” has been a challenge. I’ve learned the tough way to keep my character sheet handy at all times and check, double-check, triple-check hairstyles and clothing! Maybe it wouldn’t have been so challenging with 3 or 4 characters, but when you’re dealing with 8 all the details start to get a little muddy in your brain. It’s definitely been a fantastic learning experience for someone like me, just starting out, though.
CA: Actually, the hair was something that really stood out. All the haircuts and stylings seemed pretty pronounced. Was that something you focused on? All I know is that reading the issue made me feel like I was really late for a trip to the barber.
Rebekah: Hahaha, thanks! I guess i
t’s just more fun to draw that way. Hair can be really boring to draw over and over again so I wanted to keep it interesting for myself.
CA: Another noticeable attribute to your work on the first issue of “DV8,” is your use of empty space. It really works to quiet down the page- is that something you look to do stylistically, or is that more due to the fact that in this first issue the “DV8″ crew has been pretty much dropped in the middle of nowhere?
Rebekah: Both… It’s definitely partially dictated by the “middle of nowhere” location, and I also feel it enhances that feeling of dread, of being surrounded by so much of the unknown that you literally don’t know where to turn first, or where to go to for shelter. Making the characters’ paranoia and fright seem believable was really important to making their actions in the subsequent issues also seem believable.
CA: So you’ve gone from small press, on to Devil’s Due, then the Ms. Marvel gig, and now you’re relaunching a pretty big title for the Wildstorm brand. That’s a pretty strong trajectory! To what do you credit your success? What do you feel your artistic strengths are?
Rebekah: Hmm… That’s a tough one. Personally, I know I’ve been improving at a pretty quick rate since graduating and it comes down to the perfectionist thing… I’m really hard on myself and I don’t think I’ll ever be totally happy with my work, so I’ll be trying to top myself until the day I die, I’m sure. Although, as far as commercial success, I can’t deny that being a female artist has helped tremendously. It’s a great time to be female in this industry because the industry really WANTS to include us at last, and it doesn’t hurt that you can immediately stand out in a crowd from a sea of male hopefuls at conventions. Sorry, dudes!
CA: Well, we’ve been in the driver’s seat for long enough. And y’know, there’s not even a loud proclaimation that “WOMEN MADE THIS” on the cover of “DV8.” Well, except your name, I guess.
Rebekah: I know! Especially considering that it was drawn, colored, and covered (is that a term?) by females! I thought that was very cool of them, to just be totally casual about it, like, here these people made this book (not: this guy and three LADIES made this!! LOOK!!!!)
CA: Well, because then it would sound like a sitcom.
Rebekah: Hahahaha. Don’t give anyone any ideas!
CA: “DV8,” is slated to go… well, appropriately enough, 8 issues. Any chance we see this gig go ongoing?
Rebekah: I never noticed that! Well, Brian has said that he doesn’t plan to continue it himself, and I guess I would have to say the same… for now. I’d definitely like to return to these characters sometime in the future, because they’ve got a ton of potential.
CA: What about you? Any plans for your own stuff?
Rebekah: I have a creator-owned project with my boyfriend that’s coming out in fall 2010. It’s called “Magus,” and is being published by 12 Gauge. We’re doing the official announcement at Heroes, so for now I can’t say much more than that.
And with that tease as a farewell, we thank Rebekah for her time. “DV8 #1 is in stores now, and you can check out more from Rebekah at her blog, RebekahIsaacs.com.