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Between the Panels: Artist Liana Kangas on Convention Joys, Working with Friends, and (Sort of) Looking up to Chip Zdarsky

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

With talent and drive, Liana Kangas set herself on the path as a full-time freelance artist. She’s established a varied portfolio of work from across the comics spectrum over the past few years, and the future looks as bright as a four-color panel. Some industries are just made better by the presence of certain people.

First, the particulars…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Art, illustration, colors and dabbles in writing!
Your home base (city/state or just state if you prefer): Previously Florida, Toronto, and Jersey. Now in Tennessee.
Instagram: @lianakangas
Twitter: @lianakangas
Current project title(s):
2000 AD: Prog 2145
Dead Beat anthology (Wave Blue World)
The Good Fight anthology
Gwar The Enormogantic Fail (Renegade Arts)
She Said Destroy (Vault Comics, Volume One TPB available February)

Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: The big question comes first… Of all the art forms out there, what attracts you to working in comics specifically?

Liana Kangas: I think my biggest draw was always loving comics as an additional form of media that I could get more content. I loved television as a kid, but reading comics and manga always gave me more of a sense of fulfillment! So, in turn, I hope some kid out there gets a bit inspired or enjoys my work.  I enjoy storytelling mostly because of films; however, I can only draw my own stories rather than trying to capture them on film, so comics work great for me.

(I can affordably be all things on a film crew while drawing a story, haha.)
KS: Do you have a memory of when you first fell in love with a particular comic and/or character?

LK: I’ve since lost all of my books from a hurricane when I was younger, but I used to have this hardcover of Kingdom Come that I really enjoyed — I was really into fine art as a kid and wanted to do painting originally — and I’m not entirely sure if my grandma got it for me at a garage sale or if I found it, but I remember thinking how real everyone looked and was obsessed with the ideal that comics didn’t always have to be “cartoons” or animation. I think from there I springboarded into different types of comics, including manga, and magazine monthlies, and such — not even necessarily superheroes. I think from there I ran across an issue of Robin Year One, fell in love, and got really into DC characters and started my investment in comics.  

BTP LK Devilsdye b20
KS: Jumping forward from there, how did your first pro comics gig come about? Was that more a moment of lightning striking or had you planned for/hoped for some kind of art-centric career?
LK: I always wanted to make art for a living, mostly fine art, but didn’t pursue it as a career seriously until I did illustration gigs here and there starting living near Toronto. My first comics gig was for Pat Shand and the Mine! anthology in 2018. It was roughly a nine-page story for the benefit of Planned Parenthood, so I couldn’t be happier with the cause for my debut. Pat had made a Facebook post about needing some quick turnaround pages, and I happened to be the person that responded, and the domino effect it had on my work and career thus far has been epic. It’s how I met Vita Ayala at a signing, who I inevitably did the Devil’s Dye run within the Black universe. And it’s also how I met Joe Corallo, who was one of the editors of the anthology; we ended up creating She Said Destroy together.  
KS: Talk a little about your current workspace or studio setup.

LK: My new studio is actually at home, sort of like a catch-all office, where I can work digitally, traditionally, print my work, store my inventory, and ship out stuff. It’s also my personal library and where I showcase all my favorite artwork. I have an Ikea desk with my iMac and working Cintiq on a swivel mount, in case I need to move it out of the way to draw traditionally. I have a new bookshelf to showcase my books, original art from my favorite artists, records, and certain figurines (like black and white Batman ones, or my Ghus plush). I have a chair for reading — but mostly just a place to set all of the care packages I am mailing out; a record player stand with some plants; my small dressers from Ikea to handle all of my art supplies; and my closet that stashes many short boxes of comps and mailing supplies.

BTP LK Studio 90a
KS: Do you have a set daily (or nightly) work routine?

LK: I do! Or, I try to. Usually, mornings I spend an hour or two doing coffee, social media, shipping, or Patreon newsletters and shoutouts. I spend some time writing down my daily to do list and checking in with my monthly goals and hitting up a few friends who are in an accountability buddy group Slack we all started. Usually, I start my “drawing work day” around 10 a.m. at my desk and work until lunch with usually a repeat show in the background or if I am working with a script, a playlist that I have made for that series. I usually work until 6 or 8, then grab some dinner and try to decompress. Usually, I’m trying to get to emails and stuff around then, as well to make sure things are covered. I cap off a night usually by reading either a novel or graphic novel, or [watching] any new movies I’ve missed.
KS: You’ve illustrated for a variety of different writers. Each no doubt has their own specific style that presents challenges for an artist, but what’s something generally applicable now known about this kind of creative collaboration that you didn’t know when looking in from the outside?

LK: Prior to working with all of my writers, I never realized that in comics you can just reach out and ask for something specific from a collaborator. Recently, I’ve been making a conscious effort to ask for what I need from any of my partners and, in turn, ask if they need anything specific from me to make our work a lot more seamless. I try to talk to each of my writers at least once a week, sometimes every couple days — just to get to know their views, perspective, and vision for what the piece they are writing. Comics are always better working with friends!
KS: In your career thus far, can you name a particular moment of professional pride or joy that stands out (and maybe still makes you smile)?

LK: Hands down, it will probably be hard to beat the entire Vault team surprising Joe [Corallo] and me with The Morrigan [from She Said Destroy] as their branding banners all over the Emerald City floors and escalators in Seattle this year. It was super unreal to see all of our work in that sort of capacity. The publisher really truly knows how to make creators feel special! Love those guys so much.

BTP LK SheSaidRebeccaNalty 06e
KS: You’re a regular convention attendee, and you had a signing tour last summer for She Said Destroy. If I can lump those things together, what are some of the joys and challenges of “con season” for an artist?

LK: My biggest joy of being at a convention or a signing is meeting new people. I love creating a community and being apart of something bigger that we all create together. Readers and fans are such a crucial part of the comics process, and it’s a huge reason that fuels my drive to create more comics. I will say, though, convention season is ROUGH. After doing that tour and 5-6 cons this year, I am extremely exhausted, yet so thrilled I met so many phenomenal people. It was nice to spend time with peers, and I think it’s inspired me to get back to work to draw new things.
KS: Let’s spread some love: What’s a comic/graphic novel by someone else (current or older) that you look at with awe?

LK: I have to list a few! There are just too many good ones recently! I am in awe of a lot of my peers and friends, so I will try to keep the list short.

Submerged is an amazing self-discovery adventure for anyone who has dealt with family issues. I related to it in a few ways, and Vita and Lisa [Sterle] I am lucky to call my friends. They are so extremely talented, and this story touched me on a very emotional level.

Paper Girls, just because I had this really long conversation with Phillip Sevy about it recently, because the entire series is an exact match of a genre that I felt like was made for all of my interests mashed into one book SEAMLESSLY.

Number three is I GUESS one of Chip [Zdarsky’s] books, because I sort of look up to him, but, honestly, I fear to list one because I feel like it will all go to his head. I am fond of his independent work mostly, but Howard the Duck I really liked as a Big Two comic.

Forgotten Home by Erica Schultz, Marika Crest, and Matt Emmons. It’s a new book on ComiXology which is a great mix of a gritty life, paralleled to a fantasy realm, and I truly enjoy the team’s work on it.

Last is Dead Beats, and not because I am in it! Joe and Eric Palicki spent a lot of time curating this book, and the anthology works so well together with the adjoining pages like a Black Mirror episode or AHS season. I love music a lot, so the theme was GREAT.

BTP LK Progress d24
KS: Finally, talk a little about what you’re working on now.

LK: I’m writing for the first time! It’s true! I asked Joe to co-write something with me recently, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to announce it. In the meantime, I am finally working with some of my friends on projects — like Scott Bryan Wilson, who I met living in Jersey and on the Where We Live [Image Comics] signing tour. We have a lot in common, and I’m really pumped about the series we’ve been mulling over for two years. It’s finally coming together and our excitement shoots through the roof every text we send to Jazzlyn Stone or Gab Contreras who’s working with us, as well.

I’m also working on world building and a story with my bud, James Maddox. He’s an amazing writer who I met through Erica Schultz and Eric Palicki. James is a very multifaceted writer, so we’ve decided to go sort of crazy with our pitch.

And Phillip Sevy! We sort of joked about something on Twitter, and it accidentally became a real pitch… that’s how comics work, right? Working with friends on really cool ideas by accident?

Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor



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