There are the artists, writers, and creators that we love, and then there are the ones that hit you just so. Their work strikes a deep chord somewhere and you feel like they are making things just for you, like you share something on a soul level. Becky Cloonan is one of those creators for me.
We’re of a similar age, Ms. Cloonan and I, and cut our teeth on some of the same books, particularly Dracula, and pop culture. It’s possible this contributes to why I love her work so much. It doesn’t hurt that she’s super talented either.
Cloonan is a triple comic book threat. She writes and draws, both incredibly well, but she also self-publishes. When she was first getting her career off the ground webcomics weren’t a thing yet and so she printed mini comics and shopped them around at conventions, getting her name out there at a ground level. What’s awesome is that she continues doing that to this day, doing small print runs of stories, though the paper stock has improved and she gets to sell them online now.
Her work with collaborators has been outstanding, earning her two Eisner award nominations. To me, her outstanding work as a collaborative artist has been on “Demo” and a recent “Conan the Barbarian” run (both with Brian Wood writing) as well as
“Killjoys” with Gerard Way and Shaun Simon. When Cloonan has picked up the pen to write instead of draw, she’s done outstanding work on her original story, “Southern Cross”, as well as “Gotham Academy”, based in the Batman Universe.
Speaking of Batman, she was the first woman artist to draw the mainstream Batman book, no small thing in an industry dominated by male creators. She’s also worked for both DC and Marvel, as well as the large “indie” comic book companies, Image and Dark Horse, producing consistently great work both on the writing and art sides of the process.
But to me, Cloonan’s most magical work comes when she takes both sides into her own hands, writing and drawing a trio of tales known collectively as “By Chance or Providence”.
BCOP is medieval fantasy, full of tragic love and the supernatural, and everyone in it is so very pretty. It is a bit difficult to write about without spoiling anything. The tales are short, easily readable in a sitting, but the depth and beauty stays with me long after I’ve put the book down.
Set in a shared world, though not interconnected in any real sense, I would describe these stories as darkly magical. Though it sounds like a cliche description, when the subject is combined with masterful use of the comics medium, it starts to transcend its genre boundaries into simply wonderful storytelling.
Cloonan dedicates the collected version of the tales to “those of you who have crushes on your characters”. Much like the best fan fiction is born out of passionate love for its subject, that love for the world she’s discovered, and the characters inhabited by it, shines through. It’s wonderful to see a creator who is so taken with what she’s making that she reacts like a fan. It would be lovely to see more folks as enamored of what they’re working on as she is with this book.
Lest you think that Becky Cloonan is limited to comic books, she’s also a talented illustrator. She’s created an illustrated version of Dracula that brings a new perspective to the classic tale. She’s also designed t-shirts and posters for various bands, as well as for her own enjoyment and continues to produce illustrations that feel like they are created by someone who truly loves what they do.
I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but it feels like when she’s writing she keeps a hand in her drawing life and vice versa, so both skills remain at her fingertips. A recent example was her October “Inktober” experiments, appearing on Instagram (and Twitter) which she gathered into a sketchbook, all the while writing Southern Cross and various other works.
Have I sold you on her yet? Hopefully some of the images on this post will nudge you even more than my words do. Want to check her out?
“By Chance or Providence” is, of course, my suggested starting point for all things Cloonan. You can get it easily from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, of course, but I encourage you to stop by your local comic shop. Most stores will have a copy and then you can check out what else they have in stock. You may find a new favorite artist or writer waiting within those colorful pages.