by Jarrod Jones. When I describe Jenny Frison’s artwork with one word I always use “lush.” No matter what her subjects are—vampire warriors from Drakulon, the denizens of a rural town beset by the return of the dead, an Amazonian princess—Frison’s compositions are always stately, her use of color consistently luxuriant.
It’s almost obscene how perfectly-realized her cover work can be. Frison’s Mucha-inspired body of work, which has ranged from the macabre world of Image Comics’ Revival to the aspirational heights of DC’s Wonder Woman, takes the comic book cover and pushes it ever closer to the annals of high art. But as far as her incredibly popular Wonder Woman variant covers are concerned—the series which lured Frison away from her preferred horror trappings for a chance at super-stardom—well, it almost didn’t happen. It’s crazy to think about now, but there was a time when Jenny once wondered if she’d ever be a right choice for the book. “I don’t know that I would be a great match, but I still love her,” Frison told Multiversity Comics back in 2013. Flash-forward three years later, and she had been tapped for the much-lauded Greg Rucka/Liam Sharp/Nicola Scott run on DC’s Rebirth Wonder Woman title. For an artist who always seemed to prefer the more supernatural, otherworldly aspects of beauty and illustration, what changed?
“I don’t really know that anything changed for me necessarily, but when Mark Chiarello asks you to do covers for one of your favorite characters… the character that started your love of comics… you don’t say no,” Frison tells me. “I had some reservations when Chiarello called me, but I told him what my approach to the character would look like in terms of what she embodied and how I thought that would fit into my body of work, and we were in agreement, so I said yes.”
Jenny Frison spoke with DoomRocket about her career, the process that makes her work so iconic, and the comic artists who inspire her today.
1. I wanted to begin by discussing your work on ‘Revival’. You’ve created all these fascinating studies in horror using both shadows and broad daylight, intimate portraits and action shots. What was your general approach to a new cover in those days, and how did you decide on which elements of each issue to focus on?
Jenny Frison: Well, in the early days of Revival, Mike [Norton] and Tim [Seeley] had worked so far ahead that I was often able to get whole scripts when I was designing the covers. Usually, Tim would just send me that and I would pitch a cover sketch. Later in the series, I received less and less info on each issue… sometimes as little as a couple sentences. Either way, my approach to each cover was the same. I wanted the mood of the covers to be dark, foreboding, and compelling. I wanted to feature as much of the two main characters, Dana and Em, as Tim and Mike would let me. Really, this is a horror/crime story about the darkness that can exist in a small town. But, to me, this was a story about family, specifically sisters, and how that bond evolves and persists in spite of everything. I wanted to explore their individual personalities and storylines as much as possible. If we managed a wide range of treatments, it was because Tim, Norton, and myself have such different points of view.
As an example, what was the story behind this cover?
This issue focused on Dana’s young son Cooper who was having trouble negotiating the events of the series. In this issue, Cooper is being bullied at school, his mom is on the run with Em, his friend (a reviver) is evolving in upsetting and disturbing ways, and Cooper is drawing a comic to help himself deal with all of this trauma. This cover was meant to portray Cooper’s dissolving grip on reality as the “real” him blends with the comic he is creating.
2. The covers on ‘Revival’ had you exploring the wonderfully macabre elements in your work. You’ve said in the past that you love horror—what is it about this genre that attracts you to it? What does it bring out in you?
JF: I have no idea. I just love it. I was such a sensitive kid growing up. Scary images and movies really affected me. I remember so many times that a movie or story or even just a glimpse of something someone else was watching would traumatize me for days… even weeks. Somewhere down the road that fear turned into fascination. I find the dark and morbid so compelling and beautiful now. I don’t really even think my emotional reaction to it has changed necessarily, I’m just better equipped to handle those feelings as an adult.
Whose horror work do you admire?
I don’t know if I would describe their work as “horror” necessarily, but some of my favorite artists that I think have that haunting darkness to their work are: Joas Ruas, Dan Quintana, Karla Ortiz, Frazier Irving, Michael Hussar and Aaron Horkey.
3. You’ve expressed your fascination with Alphonse Mucha, an artist who has clearly had an influence on your work. What was it about Mucha that drew you in, and how have you integrated his Art Noveau style into your work?
JF: Hmm… I suppose the main things that appeal to me about his work are that it is allegorical, decorative, and feminine. The swirling shapes, the ornate borders, the sensual gazes, and his use of symbolism are all unique and enchanting. I have tried to imitate those qualities in my own work.
4. Have you ever considered working on interiors? What would be the perfect conditions for you to work on a short for an annual issue, say, or an anthology?
JF: I’m not really interested in sequentials at all. I always say that covers and sequentials are all the same elements, just in different percentages. For sequentials, the most important part is telling a story. With a cover, it really depends on what you are trying to do but you can have a successful cover without focusing on storytelling. I prefer to focus more on design, composition, lighting, color, etc… more than storytelling. If I was doing interiors that wouldn’t really be an option.
5. You told Multiversity Comics back in 2013 that you didn’t think you’d be “a great match” for ‘Wonder Woman’ covers. Fast-forward five years, and you are currently the cover artist for the book’s post-Rebirth era. What’s changed for you as an artist, and how has your perception of superhero comics changed?
JF: I don’t really know that anything changed for me necessarily, but when Mark Chiarello asks you to do covers for one of your favorite characters… the character that started your love of comics… you don’t say no. I had some reservations when Chiarello called me, but I told him what my approach to the character would look like in terms of what she embodied and how I thought that would fit into my body of work, and we were in agreement, so I said yes. I don’t really approach the covers as superhero covers (which I think tend to focus on action). I guess maybe I approach them more as portraits showing the personality and mood of Wonder Woman. To me, she embodies so many abstract concepts like honor, peace, wisdom, grace, love, skill, strength and vulnerability… that alone is enough. At least for me… artwork like that is what speaks to me.
6. ‘Wonder Woman’ is a series that ships twice monthly. What challenges have arisen for you with this tight schedule?
JF: In the beginning that was tough but I’ve gotten more used to it. It is hard to work in other regular books but I’ve managed alright.
If/when your ‘Wonder Woman’ run comes to an end, what series, or character, would you like to tackle next?
No clue. One thing that I do miss with Wonder Woman is that horror element. That beautiful macabre. I suppose I might like to do something like that.
7. You’ve long used a digital process for your colors and have worked out your preliminary sketches and tones with pencil, graphite, and paper. How has your process evolved over the years?
JF: I think I’ve maybe just gotten more practiced at it. It’s a process designed for the quick turnaround times of publishing and I’ve gotten much faster at it. I don’t know if the process has changed much since I started but I can work through it much faster.
Do different projects demand different approaches?
I occasionally do some experimenting when I think a cover requires it. Sometimes I will spend more time on linework, other times I’ll spend the majority of my time on the tones. Just recently, I wanted a cover to look like a vintage travel poster so I hand painted it with flat colors for a more authentic feel.
8. You’ve worked for Dynamite and Image, Marvel and DC. Is there a publisher out there that you’d love to work with in the future?
JF: Not specifically. I usually just want to work with the people that I know and like and respect and with characters that I love and understand and feel inspired by.
9. Which artists do you currently follow, either inside comics or out?
JF: Oh man. What a great question… why is it so hard? There’s just so many! Lets see… Tula Lotay, Jen Bartel, Kelsey Beckett, Victor Kalvachev, Teagan White, Ben Oliver, Mark Maggiori, Soey Milk, John Keaveney, James Jean, Adam Hughes and of course all the artists I listed in the question above. There are so many more. That’s all I can think of right now.
10. I have long speculated that you use your face for reference in your work. How many facial expressions have you mastered over the years? Do you ever ask your Four Star studio mates to pose for reference?
JF: Ha! I do indeed use myself for reference quite often. I have so many ridiculous photos of myself and everyone who loves me enough to pose for me… including my studio mates. Although, I’ve posed for some of them, too, so it’s fair.
You can see Jenny Frison’s work on the variant covers for DC’s ‘Wonder Woman’ and Marvel’s ‘X-Men Red’.
Enjoy this stunning cover gallery curated by Jenny Frison!
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