Though relatively new to the world of comics, Abigail Larson’s artistic journey has been a long and varied one. Her mixed media work can be found in the realm of dark fiction, video game design, and numerous art publications. She’s now bringing her gifts to both comics and a special project of her own.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): artist/inker
Your home base: Turin, Italy
Current project title(s):
Dark Wood Tarot (Llewellyn Worldwide)
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: I like to begin by asking the big questions: Why comics? What attracts you to working in the comics form specifically?
Abigail Larson: Comics found me! I started out as a children’s book illustrator, and I always thought that’s what I’d do, but in recent years I’ve been hired to create art for various games and comics. While that’s not what I’d always envisioned for my work, comics have become a home for my style of drawing — which wasn’t an easy feat! My style is a little different from typical fantasy illustration, and a little too dark for traditional children’s books, so it’s tough to place into any one genre, but comics work really well for me.
KS: What’s your background as a comics reader? Did you have particular favorite titles or characters?
AL: I got into comics when I was in my early teens. I picked up an issue of Swamp Thing, and being a lover of sympathetic monsters, I was immediately enthralled with it. A friend then introduced me to Books of Magic, and that was really my main introduction to the vastness and diversity of styles in comic storytelling – particularly in the fantasy genre, which is my main interest. Anything to do with monsters, fairytales, or horror is right up my alley. From there I got really into Alan Moore, and I read V for Vendetta, From Hell, and Watchmen. But I’ve never followed any comic character, particularly. Right out of college, I started freelance work, and my comic reading was limited to whatever I could grab at the time.
KS: Do you remember when the “I want to do that” thought first appeared in your head re: a professional art career?
AL: It’s hard to say exactly. I feel like that moment happened several times in my early artistic development, but I do remember when I was really young getting a book of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream that was illustrated by Arthur Rackham, looking at that lush world of magic, and thinking, “I need to do this!”
KS: What’s the first “real” piece of art you remember creating? Something that felt like a serious project for you at the time — whatever age that was and whether or not you showed it to anyone else.
AL: Right out of college, one of my first gallery shows had a carnival theme. I ran with that project and created this world of crazy monsters and outcast performers, and I’ve always really loved it. I set it aside for about a decade now, but I’d love to revisit it sometime. I have plans to create a graphic novel about those characters, because that gallery show meant a lot to me, and it’s a theme that’s stuck with me all these years.
KS: Your work has appeared in venues outside of comics, from galleries to video games. How did you first come to the comics field as a pro?
AL: I’m still not sure how it happened! I got into game art because a few indie companies found my work and it fit with their games, and from there, I was noticed by bigger studios. So much of this is chance and luck and being in the right place at the right time. A couple editors at a few comic companies noticed my work and enjoy my style, and they reached out to me to see if I was available. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I was the right fit for comics, but I gave it a shot anyway — really because the projects I was offered were wonderful, and exciting to me as a creator. It definitely wasn’t how I saw my career heading, but that’s what makes a creative career so interesting! There are a multitude of avenues for my work to end up, and I don’t want to limit myself. If a project sounds fun to me, I’ll jump on it.
KS: Tell us a little about your current workspace or studio setup.
AL: I just moved into my current studio space, which is part of my apartment. I like to work at home, so I’ve set up a spare room as my art studio. I have space for my drafting table, cabinets to store my work, a computer desk, and a sitting area with a TV.
KS: Do you have a set daily (or nightly) work routine, or does it vary wildly depending on projects?
AL: I have a totally unhealthy schedule, haha! I go to bed at 2 a.m. and wake up at about 10 a.m.. My mornings are for housework and tidying up, and I get to emails around lunchtime. My breaks are sporadic throughout the day, in between sketching and organizing the projects I have to do that day. Almost all of my drawing and inking is at night. The schedule shifts occasionally, if I get to bed at a reasonable hour, but for the most part I’m pretty nocturnal.
KS: How about listening to music or any other background noise while you work?
AL: I have to have something on while I’m drawing, unless it’s comics-related. For some reason, when it comes to story [and] images, I have to be totally focused on both aspects, and I need my space to be silent for that. But if I’m zoning out sketching or painting, I love having the TV on for background noise — so I can watch re-runs of Dark Shadows and old horror B-movies and ghost shows — or Spotify for music.
KS: What are your favorite art tools to play with, even if you don’t get to use them as often as you might like?
AL: I love a lot of my tools, which is why most of my work is mixed media. I use pencil, ink, watercolor, and digital media all in equal measure, because I could never decide which I preferred. I’d like to get more into digital drawing, but for now, I just use the basic tools for digital coloring until I can find more time to explore digital art.
KS: If you look back at your earlier artwork, what’s something that stands out as different from the current version of you? This doesn’t have to be something BAD, just noticeably different to your eyes.
AL: I’m much more confident, now. In my early days, I was still exploring and figuring out my style, and what I really wanted to do, but now I’m able to know just how much and what kind of subjects I can handle. That’s something I’ve learned from working in comics. Comics will force you to learn how to draw buildings, cars, awkward poses, etc. and learn them fast! So, while I’m certainly not the best, I do have a lot more confidence in my ability to tackle difficult scenes, when in the past, I would avoid them.
KS: Bringing things back full circle from Books of Magic, DC’s The Dreaming recently featured you as the main artist. Did you seek that particular book out or did it come to you?
AL: One of the editors at DC had me in mind for a totally different project that didn’t end up happening, but instead put me as a guest artist for a couple of issues of The Dreaming. I did pencils and inks for those issues, and it was an entirely new experience for me. Si Spurrier is an incredible writer, and it was an honor to illustrate his story, and of course, the series’ main artist, Bilquis Evely, is just so wonderfully talented; it was a bit intimidating! The entire team was great to work with, it was a great experience to have a tiny part in telling such a wildly imaginative story.
KS: You’ve now done covers for various comics publishers. Talk a little about that process… How much leeway do you have in composing a cover vs. how much guidance you get from the editor?
AL: Cover illustration is a different beast; I have much more freedom with cover art, and I get to experiment a bit more. One of my favorite covers was for The Magic Order, and I had a lot of freedom with that one. I sent in several concepts, they picked their favorite, and I ran with it. That’s generally how it goes with covers. It can be a challenge to follow a stylistic vision yet still stay within the bounds of the project, but sometimes everything falls into place perfectly.
KS: Hypothetical time: A comics publisher is offering you a chance to illustrate one story featuring an established character/team of your choice. It could be a single issue, graphic novel, miniseries…
AL: Swamp Thing! He’s my first comic crush, and I still love his story. There’s something alluring about this tragic man-turned-monster who eventually embraces his new form to protect his home and the ones he loves. It’d also be fun to draw tons of murky swamp scenery, too!
KS: What’s a comic/graphic novel by someone else (current or older) that you look at with admiration? Why?
AL: There are so many, but most recently I’ve been totally enthralled with Colleen Doran’s Snow, Glass, Apples adapted from Neil Gaiman’s short story. It’s so lushly illustrated and has such a great stylization. I just love it. I remember seeing the cover and knowing immediately I had to have it, but after reading it through completely, I was in awe. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling and illustration.
KS: Finally, tell us about what you’re working on now.
AL: I’m actually not allowed to talk about my current (long-term) project yet, but I can announce that my tart deck, the Dark Wood Tarot is now available for pre-order online! I collaborated with author Sasha Graham on that deck, and it’ll released in July 2020 from all major retailers.