As IDW Publishing's popular line of "Angel" comics begins to draw near its conclusion, one of the most popular supporting characters is receiving a long overdue moment in the spotlight with the miniseries "IIllyria: Haunted," written by Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner and drawn by Elena Casagrande.
CBR News is pleased to present series co-writer Scott Tipton as he interviews Casagrande about their work on "Illyria," which sees its second issue hit stores on December 22 – and is also happy to offer an exclusive 5-page preview from "Illyria" #2!
Although she’s done her share of superhero work at Marvel and elsewhere, Casagrande has in recent years been specializing in books based on media licenses from television and film. In this exclusive interview, she explains what goes into capturing a likeness, the trick to making an emotionally empty character “act,” and which "Angel" character she considers “the one that got away.”
Scott Tipton: Over the course of your career, you've done a lot of work on licensed properties, from your solo debut on "The Ghost Whisperer" to our work on "Star Trek," and our current work on "Illyria" and "Angel." With so much of the success of the work depending on capturing the likenesses of the actors, how do you approach "designing" a known character for comics? Do you rely heavily on source material, or do you try and create a caricature that captures the actor's "essence?"
Elena Casagrande: I think that the likenesses of the actors in a licensed comic book are really important: the main reason why a fan wants to buy that comic is to find again his or her favorite characters and "hear again their voices" (if the writer is good!); moreover, I have to respect the image of the actor because it's the base of the character, the first step to recognizing the product and the first step to attracting the fans, old and new ones. I have many pictures of every character, and if I'm not satisfied with them, I look for the actor in another episode or movie and then I try to imagine the expression that I need in the comic, as natural as possible for that character. I mean, some facial expressions are an exclusive of an actor, so I try to be as close to him or her as I possibly can.
What do you find more difficult, keeping a consistent likeness during action sequences, or trying to convey emotion in more dramatic scenes, where you really have to make these recognizable characters "act?"
During a talking scene in a comic, it's easier to reproduce the likenesses because in the TV shows they are the most recurrent scene, so it's easy to imagine how every character should act. In an action sequence it's harder: in the TV series everything happens so fast that we can't focus so much on the expressions, so I try to imagine how every actor could have an angry, or surprised or scared face. Also, in the dramatic scenes I emphasize the emotions, bringing out some signs on the faces to be more than what we would see on TV; I have to exaggerate this emphasis of the characters because their image is the only way I have to communicate the emotions in their words, having only a silent picture of them instead of a moving sequence, sounds and music.
Starting with our work on "A Hole in the World," then moving on to the monthly "Angel" series, and now our "Illyria" miniseries, "Haunted," you've been drawing Illyria steadily for almost a year and a half now. With a character like Illyria, it must be even more difficult than most since the character is emotionally stunted, so you can't even be really exaggerated in her expressions. What's your experience been like in working with the Illyria character?
Honestly? Very easy! [Laughter] She's so stunted that I haven't to worry so much about her expression, since she'd be the same in most part of her sequences! But in some moments also I will give her some body signal to communicate, like the skewed head of a very serious expression, quite dangerous. There were some moments, especially in the "Angel" ongoing comic series and in the current series "Haunted," where I had to underline some scenes, so I humanized Illyria more than I normally would: it was strange for me to see her in that way, but necessary and in the end a nice result.
It seems to me like often your focus on the Illyria likeness is on the eyes. Is that where you start, in terms of capturing the emotion?
Sure! Her eyes are the first part through which we can see her like she is: empty. So they're big, open and staring and – and this is important – the pupil is bigger than a human one.
Normally, you do complete pencils and inks yourself. But in the current issue, you worked with artist Walter Trono, who provided pencils based on your layouts, which you then inked. How closely do you oversee the penciller's work in a situation like this? Is he working from your specific direction, or does he have some room to interpret the script himself?
I gave him some very rough layouts from which he could work, during the first part of the issue where there are more talking scenes; during the action sequences I gave him the freedom to realize them and he did great work. I focused only on the likeness and some more stylistic features.
One of the things we got to do in "Illyria" #2 was indulge in a bit of outright comedy, something that's occasionally in short supply in the dark, moody "Angel" books. Is this something you were looking forward to?
Oh yes, absolutely, I love those moments in "Angel"...they make more dramatic the rest of the story!
Another fun aspect of this second issue was being able to guest-star Spike in such a significant role. I get to deal with the Spike/Illyria relationship through dialogue, which seems like the much easier job. How do you approach expressing that relationship between the two of them through the visuals?
I worked especially on Spike; he's so expressive that he works for both of them. Illyria has her stillness, a rigidity about her, her emptiness, her awkwardness, and the best way to show them is to show Spike's reactions to them; they, on this level, are opposite characters but are living a similar situation, so we can see two different reactions to the same unease: to be excluded from the world.
"Angel" had a very large cast of regular and supporting players over the course of its five seasons, and by this point you've had the opportunity to tackle almost all of them. Are there any that you dread having to draw, whether because they feel difficult, or just because getting them right takes a lot of work? Conversely, which characters do you love seeing in a script? If it was your dream "Angel"book, who would be in every issue?
I'm a fan of Angel but I have to admit: the hardest character to draw right is Angel. The actor has a likeness that’s very hard to reproduce, so often I would wind up drawing someone who is reminiscent of Angel, but he wasn't David Boreanaz...and I wasn't happy. Often I will re-draw him different times, until I'm satisfied and I think, "It's him!"
The challenge about my favorite likeness is won by Spike: Angel fans, don't hate me, but it's true: James Marsters has a face more distinctive than all the other characters. With the hair, the eyebrows, the nose, the cheekbones and the chin...it's easier for me! Anyway, it will be hard for me to leave all of them!
And I would have loved so much to draw Cordelia...sigh!