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Between the Panels: Artist Fabian Lelay on Finding Inspiration in Anime, Going from Fashion to Comics, and Crafting Narratives with Friends

“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.

The artistic journey that began when a young boy in the Philippines discovered superhero stories has taken Fabian Lelay into the world of making independent comics. His art can be found in various comic anthologies, along with the full-length works that let his unique style fully shine.

First, the particulars…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist/Writer

Your home base: New Jersey


Social Media

Instagram: @rocketsandpens

Twitter: @rocketsandpens

Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: What attracts you to working in the comics form?

Fabian Lelay: Comics always had a place in my heart as a kid. I remember back when I was a kid, my uncle introduced me to my father’s old comic collection. They were all bound in leather as was a trend back then in the Philippines. Early copies of The Flash, featuring Barry Allen and Green Lantern with Hal Jordan, were a few of my earliest encounters with superhero comics. When I grew older, I found superhero comics a bit hard to come by, apart from the 7-Eleven spinner rack. Spider-Man comics in the mid to late ’90s … put me into Manga. I loved the grandiose stories told through art and aspired to do the same.

KS: If you were a reader from early on, around what age would you say you became a comics collector?

FL: [H]onestly, collecting didn’t start until 2014. It was more of a hobby that I fell out of love with when I tried to make it in fashion. But after visiting a shop and catching a glimpse of Saga’s cover art as well as Deadly Class, I dipped my toe in and just decided to jump in after that.

KS: Do you have a specific early memory where some piece of storytelling really put the “I want to do that” idea in your head?

FL: I always enjoyed drawing in my spare time. But after watching Cowboy Bebop, I fell in love with telling stories visually.

KS: We get a lot of Manga mentions in this series, but not a lot of anime. What elements of Bebop really worked for you?

FL: The way [Shinichirō] Watanabe directed action and movement made me speechless. H[e] and the animation team at Sunrise showed their mastery of their craft and inspired me.

KS: Does it still bring you that same joy now?

FL: Absolutely! I try to rewatch the series and the movie at least once a year! It is definitely a timeless series.

BTP FL Art b5a

KS: Do you remember the time you ever got paid for a piece of art?

FL: I honestly can’t remember. I believe I did some fashion sketches back when I was in college, but that’s about it. I didn’t really start making a decent amount of money from art till I got published in 2015.

KS: What were those circumstances?

FL: Well, for my first title, we took the chance with a pitch. I feel very blessed that it resonated with the publisher and they were willing to give it a shot on their label.

KS: That was Jade Street at Black Mask? How did you choose to approach them out of all publishers?

FL: My co-creator [Katy Rex] for that book had a strong feeling that the book would have an audience with Black Mask and I honestly agreed. We did a short ashcan pitch that year, sat down with the publisher, and the rest was history.

BTP FL Jade 0b8

KS: Because most creative folks never get to where they are without some helping hands along the way, which names come to mind for people who’ve been key for you?

FL: I owe a lot of people in my comics career. From Taylor Esposito, to Liana Kangas, they’ve been with me since early on and have only been kind to me. The emotional and professional support they’ve given me is unparalleled.

KS: What’s your current workspace or studio setup like?

FL: It’s an utter mess. But joking aside, my setup is pretty standard: Cintiq 13HD and a stock desktop is what I work on. I do have a bunch of audio and video setups as I do ttrpg’s on the side.

BTP FL Studio de6

KS: Do you have a set daily work routine, or does it change drastically? How about listening to music or any other background noise while you work?

FL: I find myself listening to an array of music genres while I work. They vary from Indie rock to Kpop to local music from home. But lately, as we are in this pandemic, I’ve gotten into the groove of jumping into work chats with other fellow creators. Granted with the D&D show that we now do, my routine varies between drawing, editing audio, or writing encounters for Monday streams.

KS: If you were free of any professional obligation and were just making a piece of art for fun, is there any tool or technique you’d like to play with?

FL: I’m very straightforward with my art tools and techniques, but I would love to explore gouache painting. The bold colors just call to me, and I would love to learn how to work with that medium.

KS: Recently, you’ve been both writer and artist of We Are the Danger, again through Black Mask. How did that come about? Did you have the story threads in mind that you then populated with art?

FL: Honestly, that project came from a pitch I did for a licensed title that didn’t quite make it. So, I guess you can say it came through with the plot first. I rarely do stories this way, though, as I would obsess about a character design and build a story around that.

KS: Is there one book you’d point to as most representative of you as an artist? If someone was unfamiliar with your work, the book you’d hand to them is…

FL: I think [it’s] We Are the Danger. It’s a story that is dear to my heart and representative of the types of stories I love to do.

BTP FL Danger 02c

KS: Hypothetical time: For one day, you can stand over the shoulder of any artist from the history of comics, watch them work, ask any questions, etc. Who’s your pick?

FL: There’s a lot! Chris Samnee, Yusuke Murata, Fiona Staples… the list goes on! But if I have to choose just one, I’d probably say Greg Tocchini. Their work is just otherworldly in my opinion, and I would love to see the process firsthand.

KS: If art hadn’t worked out, what could you see yourself doing right now that you wouldn’t mind as a “Plan B” career path?

FL: I think if it wasn’t art, I’d be into game design. I know it’s not that far off, but I love creating rule sets and features for tabletop RPGs and board games. I think it’s the science and the mechanics that go into calculating and balancing rules pull me towards it the most.

KS: I was going to ask about a passion of yours totally unrelated to comics or art, but we may have the answer already.

FL: I am an avid tabletop roleplayer. I fell in love with D&D back in 2009 and have been playing [ever] since. Crafting narratives with friends is a passion of mine that I chose to pursue with a Live Play stream I do with a few fellow artists. I constantly am in search of new systems to play, I just love it.

KS: How about a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration?

FL: Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. It was the first superhero comic I picked up after a long time away from the genre. From the art to the masterful storytelling, I found myself immersed in the mythos of heroes and such.

KS: Tell us what the rest of your 2021 looks like, project-wise.

FL: I do have a few things I am working on. Due to the current state of things, it’s hard to get picked up by a publisher, but I am hard at work with writers such as Rich Douek and David Pepose who are brilliant minds in storytelling.

KS: Finally, before we close, is there a secret origin behind the Rockets & Pens name?

FL: Hahaha, not really. When I was still involved in the music scene back home, I used to stage gigs under Rocket Boy Productions and “Rocket” just stuck. I just thought it was a very cool and ambitious name.

Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor



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