Vibrant Characters in a Gray World: A Conversation about Oni Press’ Angel City with Artists Megan Levens & Nick Filardi (Interview)
*Part two of Geeks World Wide interviews with the creators of Oni Press’ new series Angel City*
A hard-boiled tale in an unforgiving time describes the new series, Angel City, by Oni Press. The book, which debuts October 5th, is set in 1930’s Hollywood. It is a time of bright lights and the allure of glamour in tinsel town, but a grimy and dark layer of organized crime and corruption lay just under the shiny exterior. The world of Angel City is rooted in the traditions of film noir and classic detective stories. Geeks World Wide had the opportunity to interview the artistic team of Megan Levens and Nick Filardi about the creative influences and atmosphere in the world of Angel City. In the interview with writer, Janet Harvey, we focused on the characterizations and social commentary she is creating. With Levens and Filardi, we spend time talking about the style and design of the world they are creating for Janet Harvey’s characters.
Geeks World Wide (GWW): In one interview you both mentioned attending the same school, Savannah College of Art and Design, does that create a unique dynamic for collaboration? How does that shared experience influence you both?
Megan Levens (ML): Well aside from having a wealth of inside jokes…the thing I always appreciated about SCAD’s curriculum was that no matter what your medium would eventually be, everyone went through the same foundation courses to learn basic anatomy, drawing and design skills, and color theory. So before we ever got to draw comics, we were trained to be well-rounded artists in a more traditional sense. I know that helped me become a much stronger illustrator, and you can see it too in Nick’s sophisticated color choices.
Nick Filardi (NF): Megan nailed it. You end up with a shared language that makes it very easy to collaborate with. I don’t want to sing too many of SCAD’s praises though. It is very expensive and tough to justify if you have a strong work ethic and are looking to break into comics. When Megan and I went, there was only one comic coloring class. Coloring comics was treated more as an afterthought to comics than anything else. I’d love to see more comprehensive takes on coloring in general with schools that have comic programs.
(GWW): Megan, you worked on Madame Frankenstein prior to Angel City. Both have a similar period setting, how has that helped create a foundation for this series? Subsequently, what choices are you making for the series to feel different and have its’ own character?
(ML): Even though the two stories only take place 7 years apart, chronologically speaking, there’s a dramatic difference in the styles of the two eras. The early 30s of Madame Frankenstein still look a great deal like the Jazz Age/Roaring Twenties, while Angel City’s 1939 in Hollywood is right on the cusp of the fashion and aesthetics of the 40s. There’s also a very distinct character to the city of Los Angeles itself—it’s a younger city, in terms of architecture, and the silhouettes of palm trees and mountains are unmistakably Hollywood. I’ve also consciously made the inking a little cleaner and less experimental…obviously there are still plenty of heavy black noir shadows, but I also have Nick’s gorgeous colors to help me out, so spaces where I might’ve thrown in some brushy textures or crosshatching, I leave blank for him to play in.
(GWW): Nick, you’ve talked about wanting this series to feel different from Powers. Film noir traditionally uses a lot of shadow and lighting, how are you incorporating those traditions into Angel City while giving it a different flavor?
(NF): Color is the main answer to that. Powers sticks almost to completely black and white at points. Angel city is going to use those same noir elements, but add warmth and emotion to the color work. There is a lot of rage and turmoil bubbling underneath the characters of angel city, and I wanted to reflect that.
(GWW): I asked Janet about research for the story, what kind of research process and references do you both use for capturing the tone and the setting?
(ML): Google images, on my iPad, every step of creating the artwork…it helps me nail down specific little details like period accurate jewelry, furniture, glassware. I also peruse screen shots of classic noir films to get ideas for camera angles and how to use the shadows as design elements within a frame.
(NF): Googling a lot of buildings, but thankfully Janet has done a ton of research already. I’m trying less to get super accurate with each color choice and echo the mood of LA and the moods of the characters.
(GWW): Finally, Angel City is creating some empowering characters along with some complex characters that will straddle the law. What goes into your process for designing and inking these characters in order to capture that complexity for the reader?
(ML): I had a lot of direction from Ari Yarwood, our editor, and Janet in the early stages of character design, so they helped me steer my initial sketches into the more living, breathing characters we have in the finished series. I’ve said this before but I really love that with Dolores, I was encouraged to draw her with a very muscular physique…like she had to be believable as a stunt woman and muscle for the mob. She looks like she could take you down. All of the characters are given such great range of emotions in the script that I really wanted to be sure to convey that in my drawings as well…it’s what gives them their three-dimensionality. Dolores has a cold exterior out of necessity, but her softer side isn’t something that’s only shown when she’s weak or failing. If anything, I think it’s her strong feelings of compassion and justice are what give her strength.
Next week, October 5th, Angel City introduces readers to this colorful and well realized world of crime, deceit, and survival. The world of Angel City may be harsh, but its’ characters and style are vibrant and worth a look.