Make a list of artists who have made their name working on Archie books, and there wouldn’t be a whole lot of entries, but Veronica Fish would undoubtedly be one of them. A creator who started off on a markedly non-comics art path has become a recognizable talent whose characters blaze with personality, whether in Riverdale or the Marvel Universe.
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist
Your home base: Massachusetts
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: For starters, tell us what the appeal of comics is for an artist such as yourself. What do you like about working in this medium?
Veronica Fish: I think it's probably gonna be the same as most answers, which is just a love of movies and a love of storytelling. When you sit down to make a comic book, you get to explore things that you can't do in the film world. The film world demands a lot of money, the film world demands a lot of collaboration with a lot of people, the film world demands a lot of stars to align to make it happen. But the great thing about comics is that you can have that proactive step where you're like, “I'm gonna make my movie now,” and you just go for it. The first time that I read Paul Grist — Jack Staff and Mudman and Kane — I remember loving the way he draws sound effects. I love the way that he makes a sound effect into a panel. I love the way that he commands negative space, and that's something you can do in comics that you can't do in film. Or [Will] Eisner making a very cinematic Spirit front page that draws you in like a camera dolly shot. You start to realize like all these masters are teaching you how to make your movie, so you keep reading and reading and learning from them all the time.
KS: I wanted to touch on two tracks of your life, which are you as a consumer and you as a creator. Were movies your first love as a kid?
VF: It was animation first. I grew up in a house where we didn't read comics; my dad didn't buy comic books, my sisters didn't buy comic books, so I didn't have someone who went to the corner store to pick up issues. The way that I came at comics was through watching animation of things that were based on comics. I was watching X-Men and I was watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Then later, a friend was like, “Oh, you should read what they're basing this on.” Then, that inspires you to read more stuff that was never turned into animation, and then you see the art style that the comic book originated, and then you can compare it to how it morphed into the TV show. As a fan, you can decide which version you like better. Maybe I like them both for different reasons. But animation was the first thing because I was a latchkey kid, so I would come home after school and I would babysit my siblings, and we always had TV on while doing homework, which is probably why my grades were just average ‘cause I was doing two things at the same time. [laughter]
KS: When you got interested in comics from animation, did you have easy access to those issues? Was there a local comic store that you could just go to?
VF: Yeah, I was lucky because we had a huge comic book store. It was enormous. It was famous for having the most back issues of the whole state— That's Entertainment in Worcester, Massachusetts. At that point, in 2001, Denis Kitchen and DC were starting to publish Will Eisner's stuff. He did some war pamphlets, he did an astrology book, he did a whole bunch of freelance illustration that DC didn't put into any collections, but Denis Kitchen did. So, I was able to snap those up cheap. I felt like I was discovering this whole treasure box of cool stuff because the DC Spirit Archives were so expensive for me — as a 16-year-old, I'm not gonna drop $50. But I can drop $5 on an old, beat-up copy of The Dreamer, you know, or a used copy of Contract with God. I started to develop a little collection. I was buying Paul Pope. I was buying BPRD. I was buying stuff that I felt attracted to the art first and the story second. A lot of Keith Knight, a lot of Marc Hempel. I started to buy Sandman, like every teenage girl. I didn't care about the collecting side of it, so I sought out damaged copies. It was just, “What do I feel like reading now?” I felt so excited that I got to discover all these indie things happening that I wouldn't have discovered if I hadn't gone to that comic book store to look for something mainstream like X-Men that I saw on TV . So, it was a kind of a domino effect.
KS: Even though you were an art first buyer, can you think of a particular story that really hit you at the right time back then?
VF: It was The Dreamer. I had no idea comics could be like that. I also had no concept of the people who the story was even based on, so I didn't get that Jack King was Jack Kirby. Because I didn't have any attachment to them as real people, I saw it just as a story about characters. I remember looking at all this brushwork, how there were no panel borders, so unique and interesting. And not trying to be pretentious or anything, but start to think, “Well, maybe I could try that, too.” So, you go home and you start trying to make your comic book and copy the artists you like and [trying to] make it look like that. I remember being glad that I didn't know who those people were, because then I wouldn't have any baggage, because what if you end up not liking who the person is in real life now, you can't enjoy their masterpieces.
KS: Other than the cartoons you saw, did you gravitate at all toward superheroes?
VF: Years later when I read Daredevil with Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, I was knocked out [that] superhero [comics] can be just meaningful and deep. At that point, I couldn't find any “cape books” that connected with me. It was kind of a guy thing, so I left the superhero stuff to find more indie things. Then later, I was reading the Daredevil thing at the behest of my husband who was like, “You'll love this,” and I was hooked. It was the feeling again of being totally bowled over reading as I was with Eisner’s stuff. I read Elektra and I read the Bill Sienkiewicz one after that [Daredevil: Love and War] and I was like, “This is it. This is genius.”
KS: Was there any artist you didn’t “get” as a reader who you can now appreciate from a pro’s perspective?
VF: It's kind of going back and appreciating some of the cape book [artists], like Marshall Rogers. I love Steve Rude, I like the stubby ears [on Batman]. Going back and looking at Kelley Jones and Marshall Rogers with the exaggerated ears… I really didn't like it when I first read it, but now I think it's really cool. Marshall Rogers on the Silver St Cloud story arc [Detective Comics #471-479] was really great.
KS: It's funny you say “cape book,” because, aside from the ears, Marshall Rogers drew a pretty epic Batman cape.
VF: It's so cool, so dynamic. I remember thinking “How does he even sit in the Batmobile?” [laughter]
KS: Drive to the crime scene and then suit up?
VF: It doesn't make sense to me, but I like the artistry. I like the kind of exaggerated, almost demon aspect, because, you know, he's gonna have to be scary. That's part of striking terror into the hearts of your enemies.
KS: Switching over to you as a creator, you mentioned trying to make your own comics. What was your creative life like at home growing up?
VF: Oh, I drew all the time. I had a great art teacher in school who was really supportive and really challenged me. My mom and dad were really great about taking me to the art supply store and getting me a sketchbook. They got me crayons and markers. They let me take classes at a museum. My grandfather had a Bob Ross set; his hobby was painting in the basement. When we would go to visit him, he would be in a cloud of cigar smoke, so thick. Only when he moved to get some red wine would it waft away. [laughter] And his relaxation was painting Bob Ross landscapes. So, I had a family who was really great about being like, “If you want to do this, then do it, but do it for real and give it a hundred percent. It's not a hobby if you want to make it a job.” I was proud of the fact that I paid for three of my four years of art school, which made me so committed to the lessons because if I'm gonna have zero dollars, I better commit myself to being as good of an artist as I possibly can.
KS: Does one of your personal art projects stand out now as an especially major accomplishment — by your standards then — over the others?
VF: I was in kindergarten and we were coloring frogs. We were all given green, just green. And I remember running around and I was bartering, I was trading, I was like, “Can I borrow your pink? Can I borrow black? Can I borrow yellow?” I traded with all these kids so I could amass, like, 10 colors, and I sat there coloring in this frog as detailed as I could make it. My teacher came over and she said, “What are you doing? I said to just use green.” I was so disappointed. I was like, “But I thought you'd like this.” I remember my mom telling that story to my grandfather; she was proud of me and she was proud that I put that effort into this thing.
KS: So, when you decided to go to art school, did you have a vision of what that career would look like on the other side of graduating? There are so many paths to an art career, be it comics or advertising or magazine illustration.
VF: That's the interesting thing about the way that my life went. I thought the smartest avenue when I went to School of Visual Arts was to focus on an illustration degree. That would be kind of applicable to a lot of things. I didn't understand that teaching at SVA at that time were David Mazzucchelli and Klaus Janson. Paul Pope used to come in and do guest things. But because I didn't think that comics would be how I would make my money, I thought I was making a smart choice by going into something a little broader, like illustration. I thought I'd go after magazines, galleries, print media. Walt and Louis Simonson taught there for many years, and friends of mine [encouraged me] to transfer, to take classes with them. I was worried that it was too specialized, because when you're 18 you're not really thinking clearly. I am kind of glad that I didn't because what if they hated my stuff? What if Mazzucchelli says, “This is awful”? [laughter] I focused on painting, I focused on draftsmanship. But all of my friends were either in the animation major or the cartooning major. I didn't realize I was naturally gravitating towards storytelling. It was meeting someone like Sienkiewicz at a convention and seeing his painted comic books that I realized I actually probably could have married both of those things. But when you're 18, you're pretty dumb.
KS: Do you have enough distance and perspective to look back now and see what was different about the Veronica who came out of SVA versus the one who went in?
VF: Oh, man. I came from a very small high school. Because nobody was interested in art except me, I went into SVA being like, “I'm a great artist,” because I was the best one out of, like, two hundred kids— two of whom even liked art. Then, I remember getting the greatest smackdown of my life, which I am so grateful for. I went into illustration class and my teacher was one of the main gallery guys in Gallery Row in New York City. He was managing multi-million dollar paintings every week and he taught at SVA on the side. We did new drawings for six hours every week, marathon sessions. He would say, “I think you're pretty good.” Then one day, a girl came in — a year above me — and she unrolled this photorealistic, stunning portrait. She goes, “I'm turning in homework” and, like a doofus, I said, “Wow, how many weeks did you spend on that?” And she was like, “Oh no, that's homework for this week.” “How many hours did you spend on that?” “I don't know, 40.” So, she spent a 9-to-5 job in one week on one homework piece for him. He turned to me and the entire class got silent. He said, “You don't spend that amount of time on my homework assignments?” You could hear a pin drop. And I'm like, “I'm sorry.” [laughter] It was such a great moment of [realizing], if you're want to draw like that, that's what you have to do. Stop being shocked that people are more committed and that's why they're better than you, because they put in the hours and you didn't. I wasn’t the best artist there by a long shot — in fact, I was closer to the bottom. It was awesome. I was so grateful that I had someone who got really tough and said, “I don't think you're trying hard enough. I think you're getting lazy.” When I left, I left with a lot more humility and a lot more of a work ethic.
KS: Do you remember the first time you ever got paid for a piece of your art?
VF: I did sell a painting about a year after I graduated. I sold a little piece at a gallery and made a couple hundred dollars. I was feeling really, really psyched. I shudder to think of what it looks like. [laughter]
KS: You mentioned all the friends who were in the storytelling disciplines at school, but, for yourself, when does working in comics enter into your thinking?
VF: The way that most people were getting in, in the early 2000s, was through cover work for Vertigo. Vertigo comics and Karen Berger were looking for people who were illustrators to do kind of interesting things; they were looking for multimedia artists. If you didn't have a body of sequential work, people were like, “Send them paintings, maybe you can get in that way.” So, it was through that and it was through also cold calling Wired magazine ‘cause often they needed little spot illustrations. I was calling magazines all the time. I was calling the Boston Globe. I would just get editor's name after editor's name and be like, “Hi, my name's Veronica. I don’t know if we're looking for an illustrator, but I'd like to send you my portfolio.” Just over and over and over. Then, Karen Berger’s assistant emailed me back— which I was so excited by because it meant that they didn't throw it out — and took the time to tell me what I could work on in order for me to be hired. It was so useful.
KS: Can you remember how so in any specific way?
VF: They were like, “We need some more variety. Don't just send us the stuff you like drawing.” Then, it dawned on me [that] comics are limitless. You can't be limited. You have to know, “How do I draw a helicopter? How do I draw a car? How do I draw a motorcycle?” You don't have the luxury of just drawing what you like, because in storytelling you could have a story that's about anything. So, they were looking for people who are extremely adaptable who aren't afraid to tackle anything. You cannot say, “Well, this thing isn't my strong suit.” My first actual comic book work didn't come till nine years later when Archie happened. It was nine years of illustration work for magazines, painting for galleries, doing side projects for small businesses. I just kept trying to diligently work on my illustration and then it bled into comics.
KS: Most fans probably know your comics work from Archie, so let’s dive into that. Tell us how you initially got on their radar.
VF: I was at Heroes Con in North Carolina in 2014 or maybe 2015. I had worked on a giant project just for myself that was never published — I did a whole Frankenstein book, every page by hand on 11x17. I brought that portfolio with me and I put them all in sequential order, and three people saw that. The first one was a scout for DC Comics, the second one was Evan Dorkin, and the third one was Chip Zdarsky. They all were out to find artists who specialized in sequential art, because I didn't realize it's easier to find illustrators to do covers. It's hard finding people who are committed to sequentials, who can make things look consistent. All three of those people looked at my unpublished Frankenstein originals and gave me their contact information. A few months later, I got an email from Alex Segura: Hello from Archie Comics. I really thought that I had signed up for their email list. [laughter] He said Chip was working on Jughead with Erica Henderson and he’d recommended me. I thought they were asking me, if Erica needs a break, did I wanna come in and maybe do some backup so she could take some time off? So, I only sent them sketches for Jughead, and then they [asked for] everybody else from Archie, too. I sent 'em designs and they hired me to take over for Annie Wu after Fiona Staples. They were looking for someone who could take over the Archie reboot permanently.
I’ve got to tell you, I was terrified out of my mind, which was why those pages are so inconsistent.
KS: Terrified because it was a high-profile debut?
VF: I was so paranoid that I wasn’t gonna do a good job on such a major thing. I’d be up all night fiddling with things. I would get up at, like, 3:00 a.m. and run to my studio. I'd be erasing, drawing, erasing, drawing. I probably made more issues with the final art than if I had just let it go.
KS: What do you think makes you good “casting” as an artist for that world? I mean, they probably wouldn't reach out to Sienkiewicz or Frank Miller to do Archie — not that that wouldn’t be something to behold.
VF: I think they wanted Archie to maintain the original vibe, the original fun and lightness, and were looking for someone who was happy doing a mix of comedy and drama. Later on, with Sabrina, that wasn't gonna be The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina — they wanted something closer to like the Melissa Joan Hart [show]. I think maybe they were happy with some of the comedy aspects of my work. They were so great to work with, and everyone there is so nice. It's such a small office that when you go in there, they're so welcoming. It's amazing how they are so efficient that they can get all of this stuff out and it's actually a very small, homey operation.
KS: When you talked about the comics you used to read, Archie wasn’t one of the titles. Were you familiar with those books before being hired?
VF: To be honest with you, I hated Archie because Veronica was so mean. I had brown hair and my grandmother's name is Betty, so I felt like I was watching a little version of me be super catty and rude. Those were the ‘90s ones; I didn't go back to read any from the ‘60s and ‘70s when they were in their heyday, when Archie was a top-selling book everywhere.
KS: How about working for Marvel? Was that another case of them pursuing you, or vice versa?
VF: Again, it's Chip. When Chip started working for Marvel, he wanted to do this Howard the Duck one-shot, and it would give Joe Quinones a break for a few weeks. Comics is a grind. I mean, if you have a 22-page book, you have to get a page done every single day in order to just have weekends off. That was another one where I was so nervous about it that I think the work suffered because of my nervousness, and I wish so much I could go back and redo everything I've ever worked on. But you can't know without going through it. So yeah, Chip brought me in for that, which was really, really fun. Then, I got to know the Spiderverse editors like Nick Lowe and Devin Lewis, so when they were doing Spider-Gwen, when they were doing Silk, whenever someone needed a break, they would [ask me to] do two or three issues.
KS: You went on from there to Spider-Woman?
VF: Spider-Woman was just an absolute dream, because Dennis [Hopeless] is an unbelievably fun and great writer. In the Marvel world, everything has to go together; if you're reading one title, you have to have a consistency in costume and gear and cars so that you can have the world connect. Because I was working at a kind of breakneck pace, they were like, “You drew the wrong motorcycle— that one blew up.” I had to do all these patches, but it was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun.
KS: Let’s switch over to some lightning round questions. Thumbs up or thumbs down: listening to music while you draw?
VF: Major thumbs up. My favorite artist at the moment is Skinshape. He is a British DJ, and I think he's amazing. I love Dio. Do you know who Dio is?
KS: As in, Ronnie James Dio from the '80s?
VF: Yes. I'm a huge fan. I love Holy Diver, Rainbow in the Dark. I love his Black Sabbath stuff, which is funny because Andy [Fish] is an Ozzy Black Sabbath guy, and I'm a Dio Sabbath girl. Holy Diver is a total 180 from Skinshape, which is very chill, mellow stuff.
KS: An art tool or technique that you enjoy, but don't get to use that often?
VF: Oh my gosh, I want a Risograph machine so much. I love Zip a Tone. I really love printmaking, but I don't get to do it because it's a very studio space-consuming project. You need a lot of paint, a lot of material, it’s very messy. If I had more time and more space, I would love to be able to set up a silkscreen studio or get a little Risograph and print and then draw on the print.
KS: If you could hang out in the studio of any artist from the history of comics for one day — watching them work, sharpening pencils, making coffee, whatever — whose door would be knocking on?
VF: That's a really tough question. Moebius. For sure. It's one thing to watch a cartoonist work, but it's another thing to watch someone who is a designer. That's my answer, because the way that he designs everything — space and environments and cars and costumes. I mean, I don't know how he thinks like that. I don't know how he puts shapes together like that. It’s beyond me. I would love to watch him make a thing, just do something.
KS: What’s a title you’d hold up as an example of this medium at its very best? Feel free to pick something everyone would agree on or go deep cut.
VF: I'm gonna have to go with Daredevil: Love and War. I remember reading it and being like, “That was so insane.” I love Daredevil #181 — I was tearing up, I was so upset — but the reason why I give Love and War a little bit of an edge is combining the experimental painting, comics, and how everybody got a specific word balloon style so that you can almost hear how they're talking. One of the major things I love about great comic writers is that you cannot switch the word balloons. If a writer is really on their game and the dialogue is perfect, if you switch the word balloons, it sounds like Elektra is saying Daredevil’s line. Comics that are not firing on all cylinders, everybody sounds the same, but here everyone sounds exactly as their voice is supposed to be.
KS: I haven’t read that since the ‘80s, but hearing you bring it up here is inspiring me to go back and seek it out again. To wrap up, please let readers know what you have out now or what you have coming up.
VF: Our creator-owned book that we did with Dark Horse is called Blackwood. We are really, really proud of that. It came out during the pandemic, so our sales were all over the place and they kind of tanked, which is a bummer. We are so fortunate that Blackwood is coming out with a library edition; it's got sketchbooks in it, it’s got character designs, it’s got all of the back covers that I did, which give you a hint as to each character's individual backstory. We're really hoping that we can expand on it and do more issues. We're hoping to do some more creator-owned stuff, but for the moment I hope everybody checks out Blackwood because it was a real labor of love — if you like Kolchak the Night Stalker and X-Files, you'll really like this.
This interview was edited for length.