Becky Cloonan, and learning on the job.

In 2015 I was lucky enough to meet Eisner and British Fantasy Award-winning Becky Cloonan. From making her start in the indie scene during the early 2000s, the mid-2010s had seen her wrap up a mini-series with Gerard Way, launch her fan fave title Gotham Academy, become the first ever woman to draw Batman‘s main book for DC Comics and get voted one of the top female comic artists of all time. She was, and is, a superstar.

Cloonan was in my city for 24 hours, having flown down to do some signings and provide an exclusive master-class for comics professionals. The queue to meet her looped around the room, stretched down the stairs and out into the street, with countless fans holding copies of Killjoys, her award-winning By Chance or Providence or scores of other titles… and there I was, with a handful of Vampire: the Eternal Struggle cards. ‘These were by you, right?,’ I asked.

Becky signing my cards.

Cut forward to this year, and Becky did me the favour of answering a few questions about her work on V:TES – work that came very early in her career!

Bindusara: Let’s rewind to the Becky Cloonan of eighteen-odd years ago. I understand you were wrapping up your time at the New York School of Visual Arts, an active member of the Meathaus Collective, and on the cusp of commencing your (astoundingly successful!) career as a comic creator. Do you remember how you got the gig to do cards for Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, and where did it fit in with everything else going on?

BC: I think doing art for White Wolf was my first freelance gig! Before that I had done gigposters, t-shirt and album art for local punk bands, but nothing that really paid! It was Brian Glass who originally contacted me – I think he found my art online – and asked me if I’d be interested in doing some art for them. It started by doing black and white illustrations for their Kindred of the East books, and eventually they asked me to art for the cards, which I was very excited about. Brian was great to work with, I’m really happy he took a chance on my art!

B: Do you remember much about the pieces that you did for the game, and if so whether you had any particular faves?

BC: I still quite like the Wildebeest! She’s sexy! I remember had just redone our kitchen floor in black and white checkered tiles, so I was pretty inspired to work it into the illustration, ha ha! When I did these cards I was just starting to use Photoshop, and didn’t even have a tablet yet – they were all colored with a mouse!

‘The Wildebeest’ (2001), from Bloodlines

I was learning a lot back then. Even though the art is really crude and I cringe looking at it, I’m really proud of myself for jumping into the work, learning how to work with an art director, and pushing myself to try new things. For the portraits they asked me to use a more painterly approach, so I did my best with watercolors [note: see Becky’s work on Camarilla Edition, such as the portrait of Jeremy McNeil in the gallery below this]. They’re a lot of fun to work with, but I’ve always had a hard time scanning them and getting them to reproduce well. As I became more comfortable with Photoshop I eventually phased out working with watercolor and acrylic paints and focused more on learning how to color digitally.

B: Beyond these cards, are there any other mystery Becky Cloonan side-projects from the early ‘00s that fans should know about?

BC: Finding anything I did from back then will require a little bit of digging, but I was a prolific self-publisher who made a boatload of weirdo mini comics, so who knows! The Meathaus books are all definitely worth hunting down though. 

B: Some of the cards seem to be quite different in style from what I saw in your early comic work like Channel Zero or Demo. Do you have any reflections on how your style was evolving during that era – e.g. were these an opportunity to experiment with different styles?

BC: I definitely approached these a little differently because the final card was such a small space. I was just then learning how to be a freelance artist, and I hadn’t even left college yet- so I think what you see with these is me learning on the job, how to be an illustrator! I had no one telling me how this should work, my major was in animation and my comics didn’t really pick up until a few years after this. Honestly these cards are really hard for me to look at, I think they’re so bad! But at the same time I’m really proud of myself for working hard and coming so far as an artist. We all came from somewhere, and I’m happy that I never gave up!


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