STUDIO TOURS: Pia Guerra

Wed, January 30th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
CBR News Team, Editor

As the co-creator of "Y: The Last Man," one of the decade's most enthusiastically embraced comic books, Pia Guerra needs little in the way of an introduction to CBR readers. With the concluding issue #60 is on sale now, Guerra has with her first major work assured herself a place in the annals of comics noteriety – not only is she one of the most popular female creators in the Western industry and the recipient of numerous industry awards and nominations, but Guerra's simply drawn more issues of the creator-owned Vertigo title than many of her contemporaries can boast of their own higher-profile superhero gigs.

Presently, Guerra is preparing to celebrate the conclusion of "Y" with the MySpace Comic Books/Comic Book Legal Defense Fund-organized Y: The Last Party in Los Angeles, where keynote speaker and "Y" fan Joss Whedon will toast Guerra and her collaborator Brian K. Vaughan on a job well done.

With no more "Y" left to draw, Pia Guerra found the time to invite CBR News on a tour of her Vancouver studio.

Story continues below

By Pia Guerra

Welcome to the disaster area that is Hellkitty Studios, consisting of myself and my husband, writer Ian Boothby. I'd like to say it's not always this messy, but the reality is for most of the year it's half and half depending on how busy we are or whether people are coming over for a rehearsal or an interview. I would have loved to make things super neat for this little tour, but we're both waylaid with illness, Ian with pneumonia and now myself with the beginnings of a flu -- and, oh yeah, the last issue of "Y: The Last Man" comes out today! Kinda busy when we're not sleeping 11 hours at a stretch.

The building itself is a wonderful piece of character on Main Street in Vancouver. We asked friends if they knew of any office spaces available in the neighbourhood after we realized working in the living room at home was bad for the sanity and this one came up. It was just transitioning from housing shady telemarketing-type businesses to more interesting studios and mini galleries. There's a definite Private Eye vibe to the place, the doors have those mottled glass windows and there are stylish old skylights in the hall and bathrooms. The whole area is like the Block of Requirement: there's an artist's supply store, a comic shop, mailbox outlet, coffee shop, a fabulous bistro, and even an MP's office just downstairs. The caretaker is the coolest guy in the universe, he's okay with us being there after hours (our usual work times) and from time to time he brings over fruit to share from his trips to the small market down the street. I really don't know how we lucked out so well. It's a great place to work.

So here's the desk, still pretty tidy from when I finished "Y" last month actually. I took down "Y" reference and related pictures from the walls as a way of clearing the slate for the next project. It's all waiting for more printouts, notes and whatever else may be handy to have around while working. You may notice a lot of Doctor Who toys. I've become quite the fan.

Here's a better shot of my desk, more light. I made a caddy out of a Boylan's Soda holder. Not only is it a tasty corn syrup-free soda, but it's one of the best designed brands out there. Lovely colours. There are a lot of pens and pencils in there, mostly stuff I play with on the side. My primary tool of choice is the Mirado f 2 1⁄2. Simple yellow pencil, bold line that doesn't smudge, works great. I bought several boxes of them and keep them on the shelf by the door.

Leaning against the caddy is a CD of "The Adventures of Luther Arkwright." I don't know how many times I've listened to it now. It's been a lifesaver for long nights at the table when a deadline loomed. That and the radio plays and sitcoms on BBC Radio online. They set that storytelling tone where you can completely zone out in a creative space.

The stuffed Capuchin doll was a birthday present from my sister.

Water cooler is there for cold water on hot days and hot tea on cold nights. You can see the honey and tea bags further along the wall there.

The Gameboy DS is always loaded up with Tetris and for the last few years I've played a round before starting to draw, it seems to settle my brain. I'm guessing the focus on spatial relations puts me into a hard right brain mode, shoos out the squirrels.

Here's the running tally of my scores (scribbled off to the side of my drawing table). The highest I've gotten was 7th level Master at 18 minutes and 55 seconds. That little cross to the left is a perspective anchor point.

And there's still a note there from last year's Emerald City Con. "Coffee Crisps for Taki" I understand she's quite hooked on those chocolate bars now.

I'm not usually big on glass furniture but then I figured out with a little lamp clipped underneath it becomes the perfect light table. Very useful for those repeat panels.

A view of the top of the desk shelf. I like robots. I love the Gatchaman Phoenix. It's a nice and heavy die-cast model from Japan with compartments concealing all the individual transports, and you can open and close the side vents. Too cool. The Smokescreen Transformer was the same I used to have as a kid. That flower I wore in my hair when we were in Hawaii for our wedding. Never budged from my ear the whole time we were there. The second we get back, though, and you can't even tape it in place. Keeps falling off.

A view above the drawing table. There's the copy of "22 Panels That Always Work" Heidi gave me when I first started work on "Y" back in 2001.

This file cabinet/table is on the right of the drawing table. I don't keep a lot on top since it tends to be doused in eraser shavings. And, yes, I went and bought a Barbie Vespa to go with my Doctor Who action figure. If you watch the show you'll know why they go together. Now I just need to find a helmet. The TARDIS clock was a gift from fellow Who fanatic and dear friend, Richard Starkings.

That's my Shuster Award from 2006 and a plaque commemorating my induction to the Wall of Fame at my old high school, Terry Fox Sr. Secondary. They both mean a lot to me.

The OUT box is stuffed with sketch requests ready to take to the mail center downstairs. There's that mottled glass I love on the door.

Off to the side is an older drawing table now used as a utility table and as a work area for side projects. Right now it's holding the next stack of sketch requests I need to get through. There's a nifty Cyberman helmet up top there. The voice changer on that rocks. Biggest selling toy in the UK for Christmas of 2006! "Darjeeling Limited" poster, loved that movie so much.

Shelf full of reference books. From weapons and martial arts books to "National Geographics" and art books. There's also an Indiana Jones figure Ian gave me at a con. "Raiders" is my favourite movie of all time.

There's Ian checking e-mail at his desk. Ian does most of the "grunt" work here, though he spends a good deal of his thinking time out on walks or at the library with a pocket notebook.

That elephant is known as the "Count Your Fingers!" Elephant. When the first issue of the "Tongues of Flame" arc came out, a reader pointed out that Beth II had six fingers on the splash page. It was a huge error and I totally missed it. That night we went to a restaurant to drown my funk and there was a claw machine there. I plucked this stuffed elephant out on the first go and it now serves to remind me to count fingers on my characters before sending out pages.

A sitting area where we take breaks from the grind. Sometimes I pass out for a quick nap during all nighters, sometimes Ian writes here (those are his layout books on the right), but mostly this is where the video games are played. There's a digital projector hooked up for gaming and movies, way better than a bulky TV taking up space. The picture is very crisp and big. Good to blow off steam or for when company is over. Myself, I tend to steer clear of the console games when working, too much of a time suck.

Ian bought these "New Frontier" action figures recently. The design and colours are brilliant, though some of the expressions are a bit freaky. Maybe that's just me.

Our little stereo. The CDs are mostly film soundtracks. "Juno" is playing there right now. You can just make out the ELO box set. There's also satellite radio, good for news stations (CNN and BBC World) and Deep Tracks which features lots of off beat albums. When we got it I was hoping to be glued to the Film Soundtracks station, but it was all orchestral and instrumental instead of the cool compilations I tend to look for.

And finally, the mess that is the rest of it (there's my sister Vicky reading at my desk). The window brings in lots of light, probably a little too much in summer when it swelters (the building is too old for air conditioning, hence the fans). Yoga ball for stretching out the kinks from long hours at the table. A garbage bag full of papers needing to be shredded. Several longboxes. A bike bought from a guy in the building who refurbishes old rides. One of these days I'll get the tires changed and use the silly thing.

And that's our office. Thanks for visiting.

Thanks very much, Pia!

Now discuss this story in CBR's Vertigo forum.

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