We recently corresponded with writer Katie Cunningham, artist Mike Bogdanovic, colorist Danielle Weibe, and letterer Aaron Rackley of the alternate history science fiction horror OGN, Rotten Under the Snow, to discuss their individual creative processes along with tips for a successful collaboration in comics.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Katie, Mike, Danielle, Aaron. Thank you for joining me today. I can't say I've ever interviewed an entire creative team before, so I've been eagerly anticipating this discussion.
Since the topic of collaboration will no doubt be a recurring theme during this conversation, what was the collaborative process like with this team? Did each of you develop a shorthand for working together?
KATIE CUNNINGHAM: The collaboration was less intense than that – there was a conversation about, like, the directions we wanted to go with stuff, but there wasn’t much disagreement or anything. The process was also pretty segmented. The script came first, then the art, then the colours and letters, so there was less back and forth and more just, "Wow that looks cool, keep going in that direction."
MIKE BOGDANOVIC: I agree with Katie. The collaboration was pretty easygoing. We discussed the stuff we’d like to see and do and incorporate, and some directions about the art and specific designs. After that, I was pretty much free to go into the art world, draw everything out in pencils, and ink it out without any major changes.
AARON RACKLEY: For me, my job was easy. The artwork was already created by the time I was brought on the project, which meant I could create some sample pages of the style I was gonna take and get going quickly.
CBY: Are there any creative teams out there who most inspire your work?
KC: It’s difficult to say. I think a lot of comics tend to give the credit in an unbalanced way. Like, I love Sandman, and the art is as big a part of that as Gaiman’s writing, but it’s still thought of as his story. I think Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly are wonderful whenever they work together, and their X-Men run in particular is an obvious classic, but again I don’t know who did the colours or letters there. Honestly, I’m sort of realising my own shortcomings in recognising the importance of a creative team as I answer this.
CBY: For what it's worth, Katie, I'm in a similar boat as well. Writing for CBY and my own projects have made me more aware of the recognition disparity, but I still consider myself a work in progress. Thank you for your honesty.
"...anytime you’re setting out to tell a story, it’s your chance to tell the world the right way to live."
CBY: From your experiences working in comics, what are some qualities that make up a healthy collaboration?
KC: Lack of ego, willingness to compromise and give credit, and flexibility. Comics are a collaborative medium and embracing the feedback that comes as part of that is a really huge benefit.
MB: I think communication and understanding are very important, To make sure everyone is on the same page and that everyone is given proper credit for their contribution. Sometimes you just have to compromise with ideas and do what is best for the story.
AR: For me, it is really simple. Constant communication and a shared love for the story you are helping to tell.
CBY: Katie, Leningrad is an intriguing setting for this story, would you consider yourself a history buff? What were some of your inspirations for this story?
KC: Partly it came from my brother making me watch war movies as a kid, and partly it came from wanting to do a sort of pulpy action-horror story. I wanted to write something with a sense of place and time, and the idea of a city becoming a battlefield in a story about trauma struck me as really compelling. I am pretty pretentious, in case that wasn’t clear. If I knew about everything Russia was about to do, I would probably have reconsidered Leningrad itself.
CBY: What would you say is the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of your craft?
KC: In comics, it’s seeing everything come together. Like when Mike’s art started coming in and he had these amazing thick lines and exaggeration, then Dani’s vivid colours which were such a unique look, and finally Aaron’s lettering making the piece really feel complete. It’s egotistical, but seeing so many hugely talented people invest so much time in something I wrote means a lot.
MB: Definitely seeing everything coming together, seeing everyone's hard work and dedication finally come alive in something you can share with other people. It definitely pushes you forward and forces you to grow and level up. The beginnings are always a bit scary and challenging, but you just have to silence that voice of doubt in the back of your head by not giving in until it goes away.
AR: The most challenging aspect of creating comics for me is that everyone that reads your comic is a potential critic and some can be very horrible, but it is also on the other side the most rewarding. It is exciting to not only hear when people like your work but also give feedback that, most of all, is constructive. Because without it, I will not grow and learn in the field.
CBY: Mike, this story seems to have a little bit of everything, horror, shootouts, science fiction, etc, for you to illustrate. What was your approach to translating the script to the page? Is there a page you're most proud of?
MB: Yes, there were a lot of different aspects to incorporate into the story, but I'm a big fan of all those genres, so it wasn’t too difficult. The process, I usually read the script and then set it aside and try to develop the feel and vision for the story. And go back to reading different comics, books, history facts, watching movies and documentaries looking for additional information and inspiration. Then the next step is to design the characters. After that, doing rough layouts of pages, then pencils, and after, any revisions and approval [of] final inks.
The first movie that comes to my mind was Enemy at the Gates. Took a lot of inspiration from that, and also from the documentaries about Vasily Zaytsev, which helped me design the character, Lyubov. Dajana, for example, was inspired by Ellen Ripley and Noomi Rapace from the Alien Universe, and I also wanted to explore and depict the trauma of what is essentially a fractured mind and body, that dynamic between Dajana and the alien and the internal struggle between what you can’t control and what that does to a person and what it takes to overcome it. A lot of shootout scenes took influence from old western movies.
The page I’m most proud of? Difficult to say, now when I look back I’m really proud of the whole thing altogether. I can't really choose a single page but I definitely enjoyed drawing the plane and the huge sci-fi-portal, otherworldly and alienesque landscapes intertwined with our characters.
CBY: Danielle, your colors gave off a feeling of an old-school war comic with flashes of bright greens for the science fiction/horror moments. Can you give us more insight into your color choices for this story? Were there specific moods you were looking to heighten or add to the linework?
DANIELLE WEIBE: We agreed early on to get inspiration for the color scheme from Soviet-era propaganda posters. The desaturated blue and browns worked well for showing off Leningrad’s desolation, while the splashes of vibrant red brought interest and violence into the pages. Then the bright greens, as you mentioned, added a nice sci-fi spice into the mix. I was always adjusting the color to try and best accentuate the mood of the current panels or just to show that the scene has changed.
CBY: Aaron, as a letterer, what are some of the first things you're looking for when you initially read Katie's script? I heard your lettering style described in the Kickstarter as "No Frills," but would you say SFX is a letterer's opportunity to bring their sense of style to the forefront?
AR: My lettering style, as you say, is "No Frills," yes. This is because I like the lettering to sit into the artwork and just guide the reader along to enjoy the writing and artwork. For me, there's nothing worse than being thrown off-pace from a badly formatted page or lettering that does not fit in with the art style. I see my job as complementing the art I sit alongside and not fighting for visual attention.
CBY: Aaron, what are some of the crucial details you look for in new writers who want to collaborate with you? Is a full script necessary for you to want to team up with someone?
AR: I have worked with a variety of creators on projects that are in a lot of different states of completion so personally, I have no problem talking to anyone about their current or future projects. You never know, maybe there are some ideas I could bring to the idea.
CBY: Are there any upcoming projects you can tease for us?
KC: I have a story coming out in Aces Weekly soon, and me and Dani collaborate on Space Banshee Exorcist for Time Bomb’s Brawler anthology – look for more on that coming soon.
MB: I have a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic story called Dark, on Webtoon, usually updating new episodes weekly or so, depending on my schedule. Also working on several other projects, one of them is a sci-fi fantasy story, Dead Souls. The [first] episode should be up on Webtoon soon.
AR: I am currently working with Charles Raymond on creating my first long-form comic that I have written called The Gorge. If you want a sneak peek, you can see some early pages and concepts on my blog.
CBY: Where can we find you on social media?
KC: Largely Twitter, at @Cunningha3Katie
MB: Mostly on Instagram: @severusdeaguilar
AR: My blog https://www.aaronsserver.co.uk and Twitter, @aaron_rackley
CBY: Katie, Mike, Danielle, and Aaron. Thank you so much for your time.
KC: Thank you for the questions!