I recently had the very great pleasure to sit down with, perhaps, my favorite modern artist, Jenny Frison, at the Memphis Comic Expo. I know she’s a favorite for many of you, as well. She was incredibly gracious and generous with her time and a real joy to chat with. We talked comics, method, influences and some silly stuff along the way. There were many refreshingly honest answers and a fair amount of joking around. If you didn’t already love her, you probably will after you read this. It’s a little long, but I didn’t want to leave stones unturned. So, here we go.
MIKE MORELLO (hereafter, MIKE): Hi, Jenny. Thank you, so much, for being gracious enough to spend some time with me for CBSI and our readers. I know they greatly appreciate your time and your talent. So, let’s jump right in and get to the main question… what got you into art?
JENNY FRISON (hereafter, JENNY): Wow, my god… yeah, I mean I was drawing all the time when I was a kid. Neither of my parents is really, I guess, artistic in that way. My Mom is an interior designer, but when I was a kid she was a dental hygienist. My Dad, now, does a lot of woodworking, but only because he’s retired from his corporate job. My sister, who’s just three years older than me, was also kind of always drawing. I don’t know, it made sense to me and also I was kind of a weird kid and I didn’t have a lot of friends and it was a way that I felt like I was special. Like, I was sort of naturally good at it, then, and even kids that didn’t like me liked that I could draw. It seemed like something special about me.
MIKE: I’d bet those kids are pissed at themselves now for not liking you! (laughs)
JENNY: I would say that they still probably don’t have any interest in any of this (laughs and looks around the convention hall). So, they’re probably not jealous in any way.
MIKE: You mentioned to me that you’re actually kind of a comic nerd, yourself. So, who’s YOUR character?
JENNY: Oh yeah! Wonder Woman is my character. I have loved Wonder Woman since I was little. Like little, little. A lot of the things that made me want to work in the industry I think have a lot to do with Wonder Woman. Specifically, when I was in high school, my parents and my sister and I took a family trip and whenever we took a family trip from the airport, they would buy me a Mad Magazine from the newsstand in the airport. I remember, it was my Sophomore year, and my parents were like, “Go get a Mad Magazine,” and I went in there and they had a spinner rack with Adam Hughes’ first and second Wonder Woman covers and it changed my life! I mean, I looked at it and I didn’t know art could look like that and I was like, “I wanna do that!” I came back with these two Wonder Woman covers and said, “I wanna do this! This is what I’m gonna do for a living!”
MIKE: Those covers ARE amazing.
JENNY: Yeah, Hughes is amazing. My parents gave a very unenthused, “hooray. Awesome” (sarcasm).
MIKE: They must be happy, now, though.
JENNY: Yes, they are. They’re really proud. My sister has a corporate job and so I think they’d be a little less worried about me if I did, too, since there’s not a lot of job security in comics. There’s not really a retirement plan.
MIKE: I think you probably have job security, now.
JENNY: I mean, I don’t know… everybody’s got a shelf-life, but they are really proud and they’re REALLY supportive. Neither one of them is into horror and stuff like that, but they’ll have my comics out on the coffee table and they’ll have their friends over who’ll say, “Oh! What’s this?” and they’re like, “Something that Jenny did!” And they don’t care. They’re just so proud and supportive. It’s great. They are really great.
MIKE: So, what was your first actual foray into the comics industry?
JENNY: My very first job was Hack/Slash – I don’t know what the number was – but it was for Tim Seeley for Hack/Slash. I went to the Kubert School and I stayed there for a couple years and then I quit and went to San Diego Comic Con and Wizard World Chicago and shopped around my portfolio and then just spent like three or four months just trying to build up my portfolio with stuff like what I wanted to do. My sister lived in Chicago, so I moved to Chicago and went to a drink & draw and met Tim…
MIKE: Wait, drink & draw?
JENNY: Drink & draw, yeah… artists, we tend to live… isolated lives. They still do it in Chicago. They’re all over the place, but a bunch of artists would get together and come up with a theme for the night and we just hang out and draw.
MIKE: Sounds awesome.
JENNY: It is, it really is. The first time I went to that, I met Tim (Seeley) and the next day he called and asked me if I wanted to do a cover for his book, Hack/Slash, and that was the very first cover job I ever got.
[Hack/Slash #14 – First Frison Art]
MIKE: Your Voltron cover, though…
JENNY: Yep, that came out first. But I got the Voltron job basically because I didn’t screw up my Hack/Slash job (laughs).
MIKE: That Voltron original art is for sale, right now…
JENNY: Yeah, it is…
MIKE: For five grand…
JENNY: Yeah… that's crazy (laughs). I mean, I guess because it was the first one to come out, but it’s not in the style that I work in now, but… whatever, If somebody buys it then I guess that's what it was worth.
[Voltron: Defender of the Universe #1 – 1st published Frison art]
MIKE: So, great segue into the next question. Can you tell us a little bit about your method?
JENNY: Oh, yeah! So most all of the work that I do, now, is sort of a process that’s built for speed because the turnaround for comics is so fast. So I sketch everything out on the computer and once I have an approved sketch I sort of tighten it up for a layout and I’ll print that out in blueline on white paper and then I pencil it. So, that stage is really more like inking. I already have all of the form figured out, I just have to worry about the line weight at that point. So, I do that in pencil, I scan that in and print it out on paper and then I do a greytone/ink-wash drawing in acrylic and marker and chalk and graphites. So, I do all of the rendering at that stage and then I scan that in. I put the two on top of each other so that I still have the line work so that I can get a really dark line on top and then I color it in Photoshop. It goes really fast and it’s kind of a fun process because I can’t really screw up too much because it’s easy to fix. It’s easy to go back instead of if I screwed something up and I was doing a painting, I’d have to start all over. But, I never have to start all over.
MIKE: Would you ever give that a shot? The old-school way? Or does that just not interest you, at all?
JENNY: Um… I do, here and there. It’s hard to get real experimental on things that have a deadline. My husband is a fine artist and he is always getting on me to set aside some time for no work and I always intend to, but I always have such a busy schedule, it never really works out.
MIKE: I mean, with two Wonder Womans a month and X-Men…
JENNY: Yep, I’m doing X-Men Red
MIKE: So, you’ve done Storm and X-23, is there another one coming?
JENNY: There is! I did Storm, and then X-23, and then Nightcrawler (out this week), and then Jean Grey, and I’ve seen the other one online so I don’t think it’s a surprise, but it’s the whole team. So, I’m done with that, now, and then had a non-stop convention tour. I’ve been out of town every weekend, so…
MIKE: That’s gotta be tough on you guys.
JENNY: Actually, two of the trips, we were together. I went to South Africa for a convention which he couldn’t get off work for and it’s the only reason I talked him into coming with me to the Baltimore con. He was like, “Well, you’ve been out of town for two weeks and you’re going back out of town, so I better come with you if I want to see you.”
MIKE: Baltimore is a great con, though, right?
JENNY: It was a lot of fun. We both had a lot of fun. We got to go to the Ringo Awards and I presented with Ramona Fradon. She’s awesome. Yeah, it was a lot of fun.
MIKE: Is there anything you’ve not worked on that you’d love to be asked to work on?
JENNY: No, not necessarily. There are things that I like to draw that I’m not drawing now, but that’s more conceptual, not like an actual character. I love Vampirella. I have worked on Vampirella.
MIKE: A beautiful run, by the way. As is your run on Red Sonja.
JENNY: Thank you! I didn’t know I loved Red Sonja until I started. I was not sure it was the right job for me and once I started I was like, oh my god, I love Red Sonja so much! It was the same thing with Wonder Woman. I knew I loved Wonder Woman, but I really didn’t think the readers who like superheroes would really like my art, so it’s been really nice that there’s been a lot of people who respond to it like I respond to it. I just kind of thought, initially, that we wouldn’t match up well.
[Red Sonja #1 – 2013 Series]
MIKE: Wonder Woman is how I got into your art for the first time. I was, admittedly, just buying them for the covers. I wasn’t even reading them. I’d read a lot of the old stuff, but then, because of your covers, I started to read it and that got me to retroactively seek out a lot of your earlier work. Which reminds me, I’m not familiar with any interior work from you…
JENNY: No, I don’t want to. In fact, I went to the Kubert School and took classes because I thought I’d have to do it in order to get to do covers and I somehow managed to circumvent the whole thing and I’m really happy with that.
MIKE: Nice! Well done! So, you don’t ever want to do them?
JENNY: No! No. I did like three pages which were pretty bad because we didn’t have a lot of time to do them which were for Tim’s benefit book, Trailers, which was like a Hack/Slash concept as if they were short trailers for horror movies that don’t exist staring Cassie and Vlad. So, Steve Seeley wrote it and I drew it. It was only like three pages and it was out of my wheelhouse when we did it in just a couple days. I was like, um, I don’t ever want to do that again.
MIKE: It’s a lot of pressure, time-wise, I assume, and not as lucrative as covers.
JENNY: Well, no, true, but there’s no royalties for covers. That would be good (laughs). But I always say that covers and sequentials are all the same thing, but in different percentages of what’s important and the most important thing with sequentials is the storytelling and that’s the part I like the least. The design, the colors, the line work, the places I get to focus… that’s what I love. Those are just more important to me.
MIKE: When you do the covers, do you get the stories beforehand?
JENNY: I depends, but rarely. The way the industry works, now, very often the cover is the first thing done because it has to be in the advertisement for the solicitation catalogues so that retailers can order their books. So, it’s super rare to get the full script, if I do then they’re working WAY ahead. The first few covers I did for Revival, I got full scripts and then we eventually got behind and Tim was like, “I don’t know, it’s Springtime in Wausau, but like with skulls!”
MIKE: It allows you some creative autonomy, though, right?
JENNY: Yeah. While I like getting the full script and getting to decide what speaks to me and I like getting a vague concept much more than I like someone saying, “draw this, exactly.”
MIKE: Yeah, I can see how that would take all of the inspiration away.
JENNY: Yes. It’s also kind of rare that the person who would be deciding exactly what I draw is coming up with something that is what I actually like to draw. The other things, I get to fine tune it the way I want to.
MIKE: They’re storytellers in a different way.
JENNY: Yeah, Tim and I butt heads a lot because Tim is like a 90’s splash page is a cover. He and I have very different sensibilities.
MIKE: Fans have responded well to all different angles you’ve taken, even those two Mexico Travel Poster style covers you did for Wonder Woman which were rather polarizing.
JENNY: I know, right! Those were fun. And then the new witchy, possessed Wonder Woman cover was one like when I said there are certain things that I like to draw that I don’t get to draw; I want to draw haunted Wonder Woman, forever!
MIKE: Man, that particular cover is really hot, right now! I imagine you know that, already. It’s a fantastic cover.
JENNY: I love it!
MIKE: So, then, the flipside to that question. Have you ever gotten recognition for something and you were surprised about it?
JENNY: Oh, yeah. Definitely! I won’t say what. Nope, I’m not telling. But there were a couple of covers and I turned ‘em in and I was just like, arhhhhg, I want to start over and I don’t like it, but it’s due and that’s my job. It’s not terrible. I just know there was more I could have done, but there just wasn’t any more time. AND THEN, it got real hot and that makes me, like… gaaaahh, even MORE mad. Artists are very self deprecating. I consider every assignment as a learning opportunity, so there’s never a time when I turn something in and say, “I got it. I’m the best drawer, ever. I totally nailed it!” All I see are the failures. The way I keep myself from being super depressed about it, I just remember that I’ve learned from it. There’s never gonna be a time where I say, “This is perfect.”
MIKE: At least you generally get to do runs on titles, so you get a chance next month to fix it.
JENNY: Yes! I do wish there was a book where I could just keep drawing the same cover, over and over. Make it a little better each time. I’d say, “I know we did this exact same thing, last time, but let’s try it like this, now” (laughs). Sometimes, with Wonder Woman I wonder if they’ll ever let me turn in the same cover just with different colors. I’ll just keep using old covers and do them again in a different colorway.
MIKE: Well, that is a thing. That’s a definite thing… that… um… some people do. There are variants like that. Or, just shift the image over a little and, boom… new cover.
MIKE: Okay, superpowers. If you could have a superpower, what would it be? And it can’t be drawing really fast.
JENNY: Ohhhh… (laughs) I feel like I’d have to lose something else if I chose that. So, uhhh, yeah… I don’t know why, and I don’t think this is a very worthwhile superpower, but I’ve always imagined Peter David’s Supergirl with the fire wings? I don’t know why, but I’ve always imagined that. I just really wanted something physical when I was mad where people would be like, “oh $#!+.” I don’t think it would be very useful. I mean, ALL of her other powers would be more useful than that, but they look dope.
MIKE: I’d want Wolverine’s regeneration.
JENNY: Yeah, but then you’d live forever and who wants to live forever?
MIKE: I do.
JENNY: Noooo, you don’t. There are songs! There are songs illustrating that you do NOT want to live forever.
MIKE: What are your other inspirations?
JENNY: Well, obviously Alphonse Mucha. I also try to follow a lot of other fine artists on instagram and I find that to be SO inspiring. I also love horror and movies, conceptually. I love to portray “inspiring” like with Wonder Woman, but she’s very rarely scary… other than the one I just did. I follow James Jean and the artist that followed him on Fables, Joao Ruas. He’s amazing. Kelsey Beckett and… um… Sir Patrick Stewart. I love Patrick Stewart. TNG, all the way!
MIKE: How about music?
JENNY: I don’t listen to music while I draw. It’s not enough to keep me engaged. If I’m not engaged, I get frustrated really fast. Surprisingly, science fiction is the perfect amount of engagement because it’s not SO interesting that I lose focus on my drawing.
MIKE: So, you’ll watch that while you’re drawing?
JENNY: So, we have a TV in our studio. It’s actually not in front of me, even, it’s kind-of-sort-of to the side behind me. Science fiction, they weirdly describe everything they’re doing, so you NEVER have to watch. Xena is really good, too, because it’s fighting and then story and then fighting, again.
MIKE: So, wait, you have Next Gen or Xena on in the back?
JENNY: Yeah, I watch a lot of that. I’ve watched all of the Stargates. Also Horror. Firefly. Castle Rock. I just watched Castle Rock. It’s hard to watch anything that is REALLY good, because one of the two things will make me lose out on the other thing. Not anything that’s upsetting. Because it’ll make me feel bad about, well, everything. I tried to watch a lot of Presidential dramas and I got a couple seasons into Kevin Spacey’s House of cards and I was like, “I can’t watch this, anymore.” It got way thick. I didn’t even get that far into it and I didn’t even want to go to the studio, anymore (laughs).
MIKE: Is there any upcoming work you want to tell us about.
JENNY: I will be continuing to work on Wonder Woman for the foreseeable future. Let’s see, I just did a cover for Jen Bartel for her new Image book, Blackbird, probably the B cover because Jen does the A covers. I’m not sure of the number, but it’s a later one because she had a lot of covers, already. I’ve read the first three issues. When I did the cover, she sent it and they’re really great. It’s so “Jen.” I mean, it’s so bright and neon and just beautiful. I did one for Mike Norton’s Grumble, too, and a cover for Hex Wives.
[Cover for upcoming issue of Grumble – Albatross Funnybooks]
[Cover for upcoming issue of Hex Wives #1 – DC Comics]
MIKE: Any goals for the future… well, in the industry. Or elsewhere, actually.
JENNY: (Laughs) …oh, because I was thinking, how many dogs can one person own? I only have one, but I feel like I should have more dogs.
MIKE: What’s his or her name?
JENNY: Egg. She’s the world’s best dog. She’s a border collie mix and she’s super smart and afraid of everything and I love her. We have two cats. They’re alright (laughs). Demon Warrior is a beautiful Persian and Ookla is a real dumb tabby. He’s so sweet, though. I do want to make more time for doing my own stuff. It would be art, but not comic stuff. Stuff I can do until I feel good about it instead of doing it until it’s due.
MIKE: Painting, computer stuff?
JENNY: I should do all of the above.
MIKE: Subject matter?
JENNY: Women. I like drawing women and, as you might have noticed, I’m always trying to do hands and faces. I’m always trying to make a cover of just hands and faces.
MIKE: Why just women?
JENNY: Quite frankly because it’s what I WANT to draw. It’s also what I want to draw because it’s what I’m drawn to when I look at other people’s art. I’ve noticed that what I like most when I look on instagram is women’s faces and drawings of women. I don’t know why, but it just speaks to me more. I certainly got into comics thinking I wanted to do superheroes and I’ve been very lucky, very blessed, and I’m honored to able to work on the characters that I work on. Sometimes, though, it’s not what I want to draw.
MIKE: You told me that you don’t like to draw men…
JENNY: I would be wary to say I don’t like to draw men, but quite frankly, I DON’T like to draw men. If I had my choice, I would prefer to draw women. I don’t know why that is. I always say, what I want to draw is women feeling all of their feelings. I just went to an art show in Chicago for an artist named Kayla Mahaffey, her instagram is kaylamay_art and she’s amazing. She draws a lot of women and old men and babies and faces and all of this amazing design. I’ve never quite been able to pinpoint what it is that I like and here she was doing it. She’s drawing a person with no emotion and it makes me feel all of my feelings. It’s genius.
MIKE: I haven’t heard of her. I’ll definitely have to check that out. I don’t want to take any more of your time. You’ve already been so generous and you’re quite busy. Is there anything else you’d like to let us know before we close, today?
JENNY: Nope, I think we’ve covered just about everything (laughs).
MIKE: In that case, Jenny, thank you so much for your time and wonderful contributions to the comic book world. I really appreciate it.
Find out more about Jenny Frison at:
[Cover for upcoming Wonder Woman issue #58]