One of my favorite things about DC Comics is their willingness to visit drastically different incarnations of their characters. In the '90s, they took this to the extreme with their series of Elseworlds titles. Elseworld offered up imaginary tales of classic DC characters in decidedly different settings.
The first unofficial DC Elseworlds tale was Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola, depicting Batman trying to solve the Jack the Ripper murders. Cool, no?
Cut to Amazonia. Amazonia is the Victorian-era version of our beloved Amazon first published in 1997, written by (at the time) series writer William Messner-Loebs and lavishly illustrated by relative newcomer (at the time) British artist Phil Winslade.
Although the story depicts Diana being kidnapped from Paradise Island and being forced into marrying Steve Trevor (I guess Women's Lib wasn't a thing in 1888?), we still get a fun story and a memorable depiction of Wonder Woman. Luckily, she would escape a life of theater to become a hero.
Although never getting a sequel, this version of Wonder Woman has popped up here and there, briefly at that, but enduring enough to warrant her own action figure apparently.
Without further ado, here is our interview with legendary artist Phil Winslade. Phil would go on to illustrate Daredevil, Spider-Man, Howard the Duck, and Judge Dredd among others. Special thanks for this look back on the epic Wonder Woman: Amazonia.
Michael Fitzgerald Troy: Thanks for letting us pick your brain about Wonder Woman: Amazonia. It's hard to believe it's been nearly 20 years since this book was initially published. How did you get involved in the project?
Phil Winslade: I had just finished Goddess with Garth (Ennis) and Archie (Goodwin), and Paul Kupperberg phoned and asked me if I'd like to do this Elseworlds: Wonder Woman as he thought my work would suit it. I jumped on board. I'm not sure whether Bill had finished the script - he'd probably written a synopsis and wrote it as I worked on it. I was very excited.
MFT: Did you have an affinity for Wonder Woman before becoming involved in the project?
PW: Well, I prefer drawing female characters, and Wonder Woman is THE female comics character. I had fun drawing it. I was indulged.
MFT: Did you design the costume? How did you approach the task of a Victorian-era Wonder Woman design?
PW: Yes, I based it on a Victorian/Western showgirl. I looked at the original costume, hence the eagle, but stylized it to give it a more turn-of-the-century feel. I looked at Art Nouveau artists like Alphonse Mucha especially and some of the Pre-Raphealite painters like Holman Hunt, Millais, and the more stylistic Dante Gabriel Rosetti and also Victorian painters Alma Tadema and John William Waterhouse. It was important for me to understand Victorian scruples as much as their idealization of beauty.
MFT: You fall into the category of artists I feel we are extremely lucky to have working in comics given your impossibly lush, beautiful style. Who are some of your artistic influences? And how did you become involved in comics?
PW: Well, I think Barry Windsor Smith was the first comic artist I really went mad for. I saw some British reprints of his Conan and loved the decorative and intense line work. I was also really mad keen on Kirby. Then, there was John Buscema inked by Alfredo Alcala and P. Craig Russell's beautiful work on Killraven and of course Gene Colan and Tom Palmer. I then met Glenn Fabry who'd been working on Slaine for 2000AD when I was at art school with Steve Pugh. I loved Glenn's work and was encouraged by the possibility of making a living drawing comics. Art school was very much aimed at illustration, but that seemed to be a dying industry in the '80s. Barry Windsor Smith's work led me to Alphonse Mucha along with Mike Kaluta's, and a book in the art school library turned me on to Reed Crandall and his work for Creepy. Glenn turned me on to Moebius. I met Garth (Ennis) and John (McCrea) at a convention and Garth liked my work and wanted to work with me (I'd just left college.). Archie (Goodwin) got in touch with Garth about doing Goddess, and he asked for me to draw it. I did some samples and got the gig. Archie got me looking at EC Comics as I mentioned Crandall and Al Williamson and eventually through him. Raymond became obsessions from there. From Williamson and Crandall I discovered Clement Coll, an American illustrator from the turn of the century, and then I discovered Charles Dana Gibson and the "Gibson" girl at just the right time, because that was when I was offered Amazonia.
Gibson, Coll, and Mucha were major influences on the book. I was trying to capture the idea of a comic that felt like an actual Victorian comic. I thought that was the idea of Elseworlds, so I approached it like that. One DC editor told me that if he'd had seen the pages he would have insisted it be re-inked and it certainly is a swine to print and it probably doesn't take color well but I had a lot of support from Paul (Kupperberg) and Bill (Messner Loebs) and also Paul Levitz (Editor-in-Chief at the time). I think with modern coloring, the "lush" work is more difficult to color well and it's too fragile to survive or be effective. It also takes too long to be sustainable with modern monthly deadlines and editorial pressures and page rates. Probably always was and I was just really lucky to have Paul K as an editor.
I really believe that comic books are the last bastion of the illustrative line art and treat how I work on them accordingly.
MFT: I think a sign of a character's lasting impact is receiving an action figure. Did you have a hand in the Amazonia action figure design?
PW: That was a surprise when it turned up in the post. I didn't have any input, but I have imagined in some post-apocalyptic future someone discovering one in a landfill and it being the last of me there will ever be.
MFT: Would you consider revisiting the character? Perhaps in her current version?
PW: Oh, yes please! I think Diana's a great character and WW is probably my fav DC character. I like the more "greek Armour" version, although the iconic simplicity of the "classic" version is always a joy to draw. Mind you, I'd want scripts that are deserving of such an A-list star.
MFT: Have you seen the trailer for the Wonder Woman film? What did you think?
PW: No, but I'm sure it'll be excellent - if it's got the real WW in it!
MFT: Are there any current projects you're working on that you'd like to share with our readers?
PW: At present, I'm working on a strip with Dan Abnett for the Judge Dredd Megazine called Lawless. It's in black and white, so I don't feel inhibited about being "lush." I think it's some of the best art I've ever done, and Dan's scripts are brilliant.
Again, it revolves around a strong female character and is on such a scale that we can really explore ideas and the stories. I think a collection should reach the States at the end of this year or beginning of the next. Readers seem to like it.
Well, that wraps up a glimpse into the past of our Amazing Amazon during her 75th anniversary. Make sure to check out "I Am Wonder Fan" on Facebook, and be back next week for another exciting Wonder Woman Wednesday.