Amy Hadley: Flirting With Fate

A comics interview article by: Tim Lasiuta
The emergence of Amy Hadley as a major artistic talent has been solidified with Madame Xanadu (Vertigo). Fools Gold (Tokyopop) has been well received, and Xanadu pushes her into the comic book spotlight. She was a guest in Calgary at Comic Expo and as a first time guest wowed fans with her grace and charm.

Tim Lasiuta: Amy, your work on two outstanding comic books today is remarkable. The long awaited “new” Madame Xanadu is beautifully executed and conceived. Fools Gold is manga styled, but yet still conveys a blend of style and western comic influences. Let's discuss Madame Xanadu first. Given the comic book history of Xanadu, when you were first approached by Vertigo to illustrate the book, what kind of process did you go through to prepare for the revamp?

Amy Hadley: I of course researched what I could on the character herself, particularly her special in the Doorway to Nightmare series, to get an idea on what the expectations might be from people who were already fans of her. That said, I was told that I could really have fun with her design. Madame Xanadu is meant to start out as an origin story, and she goes through many transformations, not to mention she's a character who hasn't been explored very far, so I focused a lot on what I wanted to bring to her, as well as what my writer Matt Wagner's ideas were. And I wanted to make her someone whom I could identify with, someone who'd have a unique enough flair that even through her many transformations, she'd keep something that was still distinctly her.

TL: Artistically speaking, the art in MX is almost poetic. At times it resembles medieval tapestries, and others, modern day comic book art. Every now and then, it seems a bit of Barry Windsor Smith/Michael Wm. Kaluta slips in too. What approach have you taken with the books visual feel? Has the venerated Mr. Kaluta influenced you in some way?

AH: Thank you! I have to say I loved Kaluta's Madame Xanadu covers. I'm not sure if you're aware, but he'll be drawing issues 11-15 of this new series, something I'm very much looking forward to seeing! And I'd looked at some Barry Windsor-Smith art because I love how he renders things. That said, I think what I drew the most from as far as the first two issues in Camelot goes would be artists Brian Froud and Alan Lee in their Faeries book. MX had some fantastical elements in it that I'd never approached before, and I wanted it to have a very organic look, since I think that goes best with my style.

TL: During our brief conversation in Calgary, we spoke about Madame Xanadu and the writing of the series. The book has blown me away so far. You described it as a 'romance through time', and so far, it has been. What can you tell us about the book that will surprise us?

AH: I've actually read all of the plots for this ten-issue run by now and I have to say, it'll blow you away. The payoff is so great. It's not just a fantasy--it's more an everything-story. It's got history, drama, romance, horror--you name it. Matt's done a phenomenal job and I'll do whatever I can to deliver on my side! In issue 3 we move to the court of Xanadu during Kublai Khan's reign, if that gives you any taste of the diversity I'm talking about here!

TL: Matt Wagner has recast our favorite mystic very successfully. During the writing/illustrating process, what kind of relationship do you have with him? Do you call him up and say things like "Matt, this scene may not work visually, what about this instead?", or does he write full script, and you interpret? Is there any input from you on the series?

AH: The cool thing about getting to work with Matt is that he's extremely collaborative. He only works with artists in plot-first style--meaning, he writes what goes on from page to page, with occasional dialogue, then I draw it and choose how to panel it, and then he'll add dialogue to go along with it. This means you get a lot of me in the series, especially with the storytelling and designs. As far as giving him suggestions, I don't give much, and he doesn't suggest much on what I should change. But I think that's mostly because we're pretty happy with what the other is doing. I certainly don't ever tell him something won't work visually, first because my job is just to show what I think is important and he fills in the blanks with dialogue, and secondly because, being an artist, he knows how to make things work visually! That's been one of my favorite parts about working with Matt, is that his plots are so visual and original as far as those visuals go. So we're in constant communication, mostly through email, but we keep things organized and focus on doing our part right.

TL: Moving from Xanadu to Fools Gold, the opportunity to work with North America's largest manga distributor and publisher on your own series must have been daunting. Looking at your own background in clothing design, is this an autobiographical series?

AH: Ha! It definitely has some autobiographical elements to start with, but the trajectory doesn't follow mine whatsoever. The main character Penny is a hot-headed teenager who's interested in fashion design, and comes to the realization that all girls are fatally drawn to jerks. This was a realization I also came to in high school, and decided from that to fight that tendency in me and instead focus on what makes nice guys so great. This is where I deviate from Penny, because she takes that idea overboard and creates an underground anti-jerk club that bans girls from ever going out with the identified jerks in her school. I suppose I'm making fun of myself in this series, and asking the question of where we should draw the line between forgiveness and protecting ourselves.

TL: Issue #1 and #2 are available now, and the story so far has Penny with a great boyfriend, and the anti-Pyrite revolution is growing amidst a back plot of backstabbing and high school romance. What can we expect from the series that is not typical of the boy meets girl, boy pretends not to like girl, girl gets hurt, boy is a sorcerer, and so on that seems to be prevalent in many of the manga entries?

AH: Huh, I don't think I ever read that manga! Haha! This plot is more an homage to Pride and Prejudice than anything else. And I won't lie that this sort of storyline has been told many times when you get down to it. But I suppose the same thing can be said about anything that's not high concept. The glory of using a common storyline is that you can be original in every other aspect and still not alienate your audience. So I suppose what I have to offer is how I tell the story--how I address this conflict of falling in love with one's sworn enemy. And I try to tell that in such a way that it feels like a first-person experience, so that the reader, along with the main character, have a stake in what happens. Also, I love romance but hate mush. So that's something else Fools Gold has to offer, is that it's not mushy. Real people don't speak in clichés when they fall in love; they stutter and falter. And that's what my characters do.

TL: Your work has become very diverse, with MX, and Fools Gold. What led to you getting involved in graphic art, and eventually in comic book illustration?

AH: I stumbled upon romance manga after college, actually! So I was going to be a social studies teacher. I saw this contest book Tokyopop was doing, called Rising Stars of Manga, that was for American artists inspired by manga. And being the competitive girl I am, I decided to learn how to draw and try to make it in! This was when Brandon Montclare discovered me--he was an editor at Tokyopop and then moved over to DC Comics as Bob Schreck's assistant, and they moved over to Vertigo, and now--wouldn't you know it--I work for them! Before all this, I could draw, but not really out of my own head. I could copy photos, which is a great talent, but that was it. So I don't have a lot of artistic background, except in realism.

TL: When you are illustrating your books, do you primarily use computerized tools or are you 'old fashioned?'

AH: I actually started teaching myself to draw out of my own head using the computer. I always knew what I did wrong, so on the computer, I was able to figure it all out, provided I had the patience, which I happen to have in spades. I could erase endlessly, move things around, shrink, rotate...a very strange way to learn to draw, but it worked for me and I was able to improve very quickly. Nowadays I actually work completely by hand. At first, it was to learn and improve (I literally couldn't draw by hand and didn't own a pencil), but now, it's easier this way and it forces me not to obsess about every pixel being perfect. I color on the computer for covers, but even with that, I prefer analog.

TL: The tones of both books has a romantic undertow. Do you consider yourself a romantic when it comes to storytelling?

AH: Totally. I think we have a severe lack of good, genuine romance, and I suppose that's what drove me to want to contribute my own. And it's the one part of plotting that I have absolute confidence in. Not to mention it's my favorite part of any story! I'm a total schmuck.

TL: I understand that you appear in Fools Gold#1 as a background character? (great shades of Stan Lee!). Will you be a appearing in Madame Xanadu? Or are you secretly Madame Xanadu????

AH: Ha! Not really! I suppose I got a lot of that out of my system with Fools Goldand now I want to explore different types of people--you know, be less self-serving. But I always put a lot of hidden meanings and Easter eggs into what I do. I stuck a few random fairies in the forest scenes in issues 1 and 2 in MX for that very reason! Inevitably, though, Madame Xanadu has a bit of me in her. I think it's particularly the case with facial expressions, since I look in the mirror for reference. But I try to branch out as much as I can.

The work of Amy Hadley can be seen in Madame Xanadu and Fools Gold from Tokyopop and at her website

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