Colleen Doran: The Authenticity of Detail

A comics interview article by: Jason Sacks

Colleen Doran’s art on Gone to Amerikay has a level of authenticity to it that makes it stand out in the crowded comics marketplace. But the detail shouldn’t be a surprise, as Doran has shown throughout her 25 years in comics that she has a strong eye for detail, personality and complexity. As you’ll read in this interview, Colleen worked hard to get the details right in Gone to Amerikay.

Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: What attracted you to Gone to Amerikay? Why did you choose this project over others?

Colleen Doran: Well, Derek and I had worked before on Tori Amos: Comic Book Tattoo, and I was comfortable with him. I'd always wanted to do Irish-focused historical works and had been planning a proposal about Red Hugh. But when Derek came to me with this, I jumped at it. I've always wanted to do historical drama GNs, and this was a perfect fit.

CB: How did you approach creating the artwork for this book?

Doran: Months of research. As usual. The art is by hand, too. I had not used a computer to help me organize my research data before, so learned a lot about archiving my material in new ways while working on this book. Saves a lot of paper. I'd originally had a different, much less time-consuming art style for the book as well, but when I showed Karen Berger and Joan Hilty an inking technique I'd been working on, they asked me to do the whole book in that style. It's incredibly difficult, and you can't duplicate it on computer, so it was tedious going.

CB: This is an ambitious project, taking place across three time periods with very specific different visual references for each era. Was that imposing for you or exciting as an artist?

Doran: Exciting, but extremely time-consuming. One panel alone took six hours of futile research. I ended up chucking the Internet and ordering a book published in 1972 to get what I needed. The Internet is great, but not for focused research. It can be disorganized and messy.

CB: Do you have certain favorite characters or a favorite era?

Doran: I've always been interested in the late 19th century and already had a lot on hand for the book. I also live in a rural area of Appalachia, and the materials and tools needed for my research are quite common here.

I liked Johnny and Ciara best. Johnny is a darling. Just loved him. Ciara is so strong.

CB: Were any eras more or less difficult to draw than others?

Doran: In terms of detail, the 19th century era was very challenging, but since the 1960s are near-past, it can be tricky not to slip and make it look too modern. It's tricky, you can't even draw a pair of socks without checking to make sure you got it right.

CB: Derek has raved about your attention to details in this book. How did you make sure you got the details right without driving yourself insane?

Doran: Um…I dunno. I had an ex-editor (not one on this book) ask me why I didn't just fake some of the details since no one would know anyway. And I just don't operate like that. I'd know. It's pride of craftsmanship for me. I always admired Hal Foster's attention to detail on Prince Valiant. That's always been my goal, a very solid, well-realized worldview. My standards are anathema to many cartoonists who just want everything to be cartoony and think detailed work isn't real cartooning. But I don't want to do work like that.

CB: You've done lots of fantasy-oriented art, such as on your own A Distant Soil. Do you prefer that kind of story or this much more grounded one?

Doran: I like them both for different reasons.

CB: One of the things about the book that really stood out for me was how all the characters seemed like they actually lived in their eras. Did you approach the people differently in their times?

Doran: I approach every character differently because every person is different. The book isn't about me or what I want, but their lives and their world. I prefer to think I disappear and tell the story one of them would have told.

CB: There are a lot of scenes in the book that involve music. Two of the characters are musicians, but music is an element that appears all throughout the book. Was it difficult drawing scenes that are just of, for instance, two men playing guitar and singing?

Doran: I suppose I could have done some fantasy-type art there to give the impression of music, but that would break the proscenium. I preferred to break the panels and let mood flow throughout the picture.

CB: Did you enjoy working for Vertigo? How is Vertigo different from other companies?

Doran: Vertigo was incredibly supportive on this book -- more than I deserved at times -- because I am very picky and demanding while working on a book. We got plenty of time to do our very best. That's not always possible elsewhere.

Colleen Doran Interview - Gone to Amerikay

CB: Your launch party supports the CBLDF, a cause that's important to me, too. Why do you support the CBLDF and have they ever helped you on an issue or problem?

Doran: The CBLDF has never been an organization I've personally needed, but of course we must support the cause of free speech. I've had a lot of issues with my work. Anti-gay bigots and such. Very tedious and difficult to deal with such people.

CB: How is it different serializing ADS as a webcomic rather than a print comic?

Doran: A Distant Soil is a print comic. All I do is take pages that have already been in print and post them on the web. I never put new material on the web that has not been in print first. It's not really a webcomic at all, though I get amused by all the people saying it is! It's very funny the number of people who think I'm posting new material or are making other comments about how it's not in print anymore. Of course it is. It's not been out of print since 1980-something.

CB: When will ADS come back, and what should we expect from the final few issues?

Doran: This year I start publishing new material via Image again. It's been on hiatus because I've had so many other projects to do, and I've been arranging financing for the end run.

CB: Will you produce the conclusion that you planned to produce all those years ago?

Doran: Oh, yes.

CB: How has your vision for ADS changed over the years?

Doran: Well, I hope I am a better artist and writer, certainly.

If you missed it, read our review of Gone to Amerikay here.

And check back tomorrow for Jason's interview with Derek McCulloch, writer of Gone to Amerikay.

Community Discussion