Illustrator Interview: Ming Doyle on Tantalize: Kieren’s Story

Welcome, Ming! First, I must say how thrilled I was at the news that you were illustrating Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, 2011). 

Then came the sketches, and I was spinning. Now, with the final art in the finished book, I’m spinning over the moon. Thank you so much for bringing my characters to life!

And my thanks right back at you, Cynthia!

Telling Kieren’s tale has been the largest project of my career to date, and it was an adventure I embarked upon with suitcases full of enthusiasm and a true sense of exploration.

So much about your story was new to me, from the assorted werecreatures to the setting itself, that it was a pleasure to explore the thrilling new terrain by drawing my way through it!

I wonder, what were you like as a teenager? Shy, outgoing, already an artist? Maybe a shape-shifter of some kind?

Ha, I’d like to say I was a member of an elite mutant task force who fought for justice and equality! But alas and not uncommonly, my adolescent years were fairly miserable. I was a boisterous and creative child, but by the time middle school rolled around, I was more interested in visiting libraries and museums than daydreaming about teen idols or trips to the mall, habits which didn’t necessarily endear me to my classmates or elicit their understanding.

More damningly, I was also a gigantic pop culture nerd from practically the moment I gained consciousness. I would plead with my parents to allow me to watch one episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” each weeknight in return for completing my homework in a timely manner, and when I spent my junior year of high school studying abroad in Beijing, I attempted to read The Lord of the Rings in Chinese. That is how nerdy we’re talking.

Interestingly enough, however, I am now leading the exact life that I think my teenage self would have killed for. I’ve got a huge collection of comic books and action figures as well as a network of similarly nerdy friends and colleagues, and I get to support myself by playing make believe and drawing all day. So really, I can’t complain!

When did you decide to pursue art professionally? Was it something you always knew that you wanted to do, or was there an ah-ha! moment that you’d like to share with us?

I pretty much knew I wanted to be an artist the moment my teachers broke out the finger paints in kindergarten. I was just lucky enough to have a family that supported me in my somewhat offbeat interest while still instilling in me the work ethic and sense of personal responsibility necessary to make a vocation out of my passion. I couldn’t be more grateful for that combination of boundless encouragement and disciplined structure.

How did you prepare yourself for this career?

After spending most of my free time drawing nearly incessantly all throughout high school, my college advisers and parents eventually pointed me in the direction of several art colleges as well as universities with art-focused majors. I decided to attend Cornell University, graduating with a dual concentration BFA in painting and drawing.

What attracted me so strongly to Cornell as a place of study was its vast array of colleges, majors, research resources, and reference materials. In addition to taking life drawing and lithography classes, I was also able to study art history, Mandarin Chinese, the history of space exploration, noir films, anthropology, Greek vase painting, Beowulf, and all manner of other subjects.

I had access to an incredible wealth of multi-discipline knowledge that I’m sure greatly enriched my studies beyond what I would have learned if I’d only focused on color wheels and perspective points.

Could you fill us in on your career prior to Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, highlighting as you see fit?

After graduating from art school, I fairly quickly and quite luckily fell into a number of opportunities in the comic book industry.

I began redesigning traditional superhero outfits for a site called Project: Rooftop with my friends, which lead into being asked to supply the art for various anthologies such as Popgun, Outlaw Territory, and Comic Book Tattoo, published by Image.

That work led to slightly larger jobs such as a chapter in the graphic novelization of the movie Jennifer’s Body by BOOM! and a short story in Marvel’s Girl Comics.

How did you connect with my manuscript?

I was immediately intrigued and excited by the “movie script” style of your manuscript, on a purely technical standpoint.

By reading the “stage directions,” there was a lot of room for me to flesh out actions in my head and decide how to arrange each page, instead of being bound by the more standard comic book script format of drawing the actions as they are described panel by panel.

I really appreciated the opportunity to interpret the action at my own pace, and I think that the fact that I essentially got to have a hand in helping to “stage direct” the comic allowed me to feel a lot closer to the material.

What attracted you to the project?

Kieren’s an incredibly sympathetic narrator, and I liked the sound of him so much that I was eager for the chance to take a crack at the look of him, as well.

Beyond the superficial of being a tall, dark, supernatural teen, he’s rather introspective, and a bit of a natural detective. He seems to take a lot of things to heart, so he almost can’t help but mull over murders, motives, and quirks.

As a big Sherlock Holmes fan, I was quite drawn to the mysterious aspects of the story and had a lot of fun discovering clues and noticing patterns along with Kieren.

The other quality that really struck me about this graphic novelization in particular was that the point of view followed Kieren at all. The prose book is told from Quincie’s perspective, and I think it’s a bit more common to see these sorts of stories from the heroine’s eyes.

Taking a look at the same world with a different character in a different medium is a very unique approach that helps paint an elegantly realized big picture.

Could you briefly describe the various steps involved in translating most of the text (other than the dialogue) to art?

After reading the script through once to get a feel for the major story beats, I then went back and reread it with an eye for pacing, marking off where I thought each page should start and begin.

Making sure I had the exact right number of pages for publication was a little tricky, but once that was all figured out, I dived right in to digitally thumb-nailing the entire graphic novel, composing panels and distributing text and dialogue so I could see how the finished product might look.

I submitted the sketch dummy to Candlewick, and after hearing back with comments and revisions, I was free to start inking!

I printed out my thumbnail sketches very lightly onto pages of 11×14” Bristol board, then inked the final artwork right over my original layouts, which were drawn on the computer. A fairly multimedia heavy process, but I think it all worked out in the end!

Tantalize: Kieren’s Story.
Text copyright © 2011 by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Ming Doyle.
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, Mass.

Each character has a dual nature–or should I say a supernatural duality? How did you go about building them in “monster” form in particular?

Quincie’s monster form is thrust upon her, so when I drew her as a vampire, particularly in the first moments we see her, I tried to convey a bedraggled, heavy, almost soul sickness to her. She quickly picks up, after that, but she’s starving almost the entire time she’s a vampire in the story, so I made her a bit more drawn around the eyes and mouth.

Brad’s so slick and subtly scary that I didn’t make his vampire form all that much different from his “human” form. I just drew him more sleekly whenever he was playing the role of the gentleman monster, making his eyes a bit brighter, his mouth a bit larger. Little things that I hope give an impression of suspicious perfection.

Kieren, I had the most fun with. He makes the most dramatic transformation into a Teen Wolf, though he never goes full werewolf. Figuring out where to draw the line so that he read as someone who hadn’t transformed all the way yet but was definitely a bit more monstrous than we’d perhaps been expecting was tremendously fun.

I love so much about your art, but especially how well you convey emotion through body language and facial expression. Do you act out scenes? Make faces in a mirror?

Thank you! I absolutely pantomime a lot of moments when I need to figure out how the capture an emotion, and I’m not shy about asking family, friends, or even visitors to hold their hands a certain way or slump a bit and hunch their shoulders.

But I do most of my observation in everyday life, just walking around and watching people. I try to store a lot of mundane moments in my head so I can refer back to them when I need set a certain aspect of life down onto a page.

What advice do you have for other artists interested in illustrating graphic-format books?

Read as many comics as you can get your hands and watch classic, black-and-white films to learn how to frame shots effectively and dramatically. Take life drawing classes, study anatomy.

Always be taking in as much reference material as possible so you have a lot to cull from when it comes to building your own personal aesthetic.

What graphic-format books by other illustrators do you recommend for study?

Cornerstone texts for aspiring comic book artists are Comics & Sequential Art by Will Eisner (Norton, 2008), How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema (Fireside, 1984), and Understanding Comics (Harper, 1994), Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology are Revolutionizing an Art Form (Harper, 2000), and Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels (Harper, 2006), all by Scott McCloud.

In terms of seeing some masters at work, David Mazuchelli’s work on Batman: Year One, Mike Mignola’s on the Hellboy series, and anything drawn by Darwyn Cooke, Frank Quitely, or Paul Pope are more than worth picking up.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Next up on my plate is illustrating the graphic novel adaptation of Eternal, the sequel to Tantalize! You can also always check my website to see what I’m up to these days.

Cynsational Notes

This illustrator interview is the last of week-long series of posts, celebrating the release of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, 2011) after which we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Ming will be signing Tantalize: Kieren’s Story at 2 p.m. Oct. 2 at Brookline Booksmith (279 Harvard Street) in Brookline, Massachusetts. Guests are invited to participate in a vampire/werewolf costume contest. See another interior illustration from the graphic novel from her blog.

Enter to win the Tantalize: Kieren’s Story Howling Giveaway, featuring an author-signed copy of the graphic novel, myriad of shifter-inspired puppets, adult-size costume bat wings, more books, DVD, and much more!

YA Novel Tantalize: Adapted to Graphic Novel from New POV by Zack Smith from Newsarama. An Interview with author Cynthia Leitich Smith and illustrator Ming Doyle. Peek from Ming: “…one of the things I liked most of Tantalize on my first read through was how much it reminded me of a Holmesian adventure, with a healthy and intriguing dose of the mythical and bizarre thrown in for good measure.”