by Zachary Clemente
Tula Lotay (aka Lisa Wood) is a comic artist hailing from the UK. Her work includes Elephantmen, Bodies, and the new Image book Supreme: Blue Rose with writer Warren Ellis. She also consults for the well-regarded Travelling Man comic shop and heads the annual comic arts festival Thought Bubble. I was fortunate enough to speak with Tula about her work in comics, illustration and otherwise.
Comics Beat: How has the convention been going for you so far?
Tula Lotay: It’s amazing! I was kind of expecting it to be super busy, but I wasn’t expecting to be personally busy because I don’t think anyone knows who I am as my comic’s only just come out. I wouldn’t have thought anyone would have read it but it’s gone nuts. I’ve been having signings with Image, DC, and Comicraft; every one has been full up with queues. I’ve never had that before!
CB: It’s exciting, I think. Supreme with Image has Ellis on it, who is a big name; Comicraft and Elephantmen have been around for some time, and you’re working on Bodies over at Vertigo now?
TL: Yes! It’s with Si Spencer and three other artists – Dean Ormston, Phil Winslade and Meghan Hetrick – it’s a murder mystery that spans four different time periods, the same body turns up in each one – it’s a fascinating story and that’s what really appealed to me, plus the character Maplewood who I got to draw, she’s a sassy amnesiac.
CB: What’s the time-frame for all these projects happening for you?
TL: Well, I’ve been working on Supreme since last year actually, but because of Thought Bubble organizing I had to put it on hold for two months which is unfortunate. I’m getting so much illustration work right now, but I can’t just let Thought Bubble go. I needed to make sure that it was all okay last year especially; this year the same thing worries me again but I’m hoping that more people can take on the running of the show and I can just continue to draw. Bodies was similar – I started it about three months after I started Supreme and I’m well ahead on both of those titles.
CB: You’ve been around for a while – running Thought Bubble with Travelling Man, which has been going on for seven years now?
TL: Yeah, Thought Bubble is seven years old. I’ve been with Travelling Man for maybe 11 years and I still act as a consultant for them. I was super proud to see Travelling Man short listed at the Eisners last night.
CB: How do you see your place in comics changing with the new projects you’re working on – the new way people may view you and your work?
TL: I definitely want to continue what I’m doing and make my illustration a priority – it should have been a priority years ago. But I’m doing it now and that’s great. I’d ultimately like to work on my own stories. But I felt I needed a bit more experience before putting it out there. I love that story thought and want to tell it soon. I do love working with great writers that allow me space to explore new ideas and different styles though. Working with Warren is amazing. He’s so good. I’d like to keep learning – I think there’s so much for me to learn still and I think there’s so many ways for me to channel my art so I can maybe simplify it more, tighten it. I’m quite excited about how that’s going – moving forward into the future and becoming more confident so things can be simplified.
I’m a big fan of simpler art that’s done perfectly and I think only great masters can do that, like Toth for instance, obviously I don’t think I would ever be anywhere near his skill, but that’s my goal.
CB: Toth is definitely a name thrown out as very inspiring – along with Moebius and Miyazaki. Who do you look to as inspiration for the direction you want to go?
TL: Oh, there’s so many people I’m inspired by – I’m like a kid in a candy shop wherever I go! My friends joke with me and call it “Lisa’s World of Wonder” (that’s my real name) because I get so excited about everything! With regards to art , I like looking back to a lot of Saturday Evening Post illustrations from the 50s and 60s – I’m really inspired by that kind of stuff. Bernie Fuchs, Bob Peak, Robert Fawcett, Robert McGinnis, Robert McGuire – I love all that pulpy stuff.
Growing up, massive influences that have still stuck with me were people who did more painterly art styles like Kent Williams, Bill Sienkiewicz, John J Muth, Dave McKean; so I think I sort of edge towards that style more often than the typical stuff. But still I adore Steranko, Bernet, Mazzucchelli or anyone who masters their style – I’m inspired by any great artist.
CB: I’m reminded of another artist, in career path and a bit of style; Christian Ward, currently on Ody-C with Matt Fraction.
TL: Oh yeah? How so?
CB: Mostly in style – I see a lot of dashes and touches of affection and emotion that isn’t necessarily just about the figure.
TL: I can see that! Christian’s stuff is amazing and his color is just out there – it’s so intense and just adds to his beautiful lines. So that’s a really nice comparison, thank you.
CB: Even on the career side – he just got on with Fraction, who is a really big name right now, as is Ellis. There’s things going on there…
TL: Yeah, both British too.
CB: I wasn’t going to say it!
[General laughter set to the sounds of the very loud Star Wars display looping in the background.]
CB: Do you see your involvement in Thought Bubble lessening as your illustration picks up?
TL: I have to do that and I’ve been trying to, really. I should probably give it up completely and pass it on, but it’s a business I built from scratch seven years ago and it’s been more successful than I ever could have anticipated. As a business person – doing something like that, succeeding at it, and then just passing it on…that’s not something I can do because it’s something I’ve invested so much time, blood, sweat, and tears into. I’m still planning to continue with things and I still want to continue being Director but I think this year is going to be very telling as to how much I can actually do.
I’ve got some great people that I work with, I couldn’t do it without them. I’m managing to pass on the running of the show more and more, but one of the problems I have is that I’m not great at delegating. I have real issues with it, people are always willing to help but It can be hard to let go of something you’ve built up. But fingers crossed, this year will be okay.
CB: Why do you think Though Bubble has become such a well-regarded show?
TL: There’s definitely a reason everyone says it’s brilliant and that it’s so well-organised….. but … I don’t think I’m well-organized; I didn’t have any experience of event management when I set it up… But I think because I and so many of the people I work with care so dearly about what we’re doing – we make it work. Everyone; guests, exhibitors, and attendees must see that, shining through.
I’d like to think it’s successful because people can see that it’s put on by people who just adore the art form and, we may not always do things right, but we’ll do everything in our power to ensure everyone has a nice time. On top of that, we have the best people working in the industry – in the world – coming to our show – I think that’s kind of spiraled. The incredible talent that comes ends up leaving with quite a nice opinion of us – it gets passed around and it’s sort of snowballed.
CB: It seems like the passion shines though, as with your illustration. Jumping back to Supreme, how did the project come to be?
TL: I think it first came about when Eric Stephenson came to Thought Bubble, Richard Starkings had showed him my work. Eric really liked it and asked for a meeting and was keen for me to do something with Warren at Image. So I started chatting with Warren, since we’ve known each other for a little while. We went back and forth with ideas, talking about movies and music because we love a lot of similar things. Then Warren decided to re-work Supreme and asked if I was interested and obviously I was super interested because I love Warren’s writing.
CB: Without giving anything away, what kind of winks, nods, or references will we see in Supreme?
TL: There’s a lot of [David] Lynch in there. Since the title is Supreme: Blue Rose, anyone who’s an avid Twin Peaks watcher will know what “Blue Rose” means. There’s some Philip K. Dick in there, little nods to Kubrick and Jacques Tourneur, mainly sci-fi but a little mystery and horror as well.
CB: That sounds like it would mesh really well.
TL: I hope so. The response so far has been amazing. I can’t answer all the tweets I’m getting! I’m not used to that. But it is really nice hearing people say so many positive things about Supreme - it’s blown me away, really.
CB: Do you have fears or concerns about this change in your career?
TL: Yeah, I think anybody entering into something that’s new can feel a little bit fearful of it and certainly, with creatives, it is always a worry as to whether people are going to appreciate or like what you’re doing especially when you create something you’re so passionate about.
But you’ve really got to be fearless – you’ve got to feel the fear and do it anyway.
CB: Thank you very much, Tula.
TL: Yeah, thank you!