Girl on fire
Illustrator Alison Sampson, a guest at Comic Con India, talks about her comic book series Hit-Girl, and the recent India storyline she has developed
Alison Sampson, a UK-based comic book artist and architect, is a guest at the ninth edition of Comic Con India. An award-winning illustrator, she has worked with DC, Dark Horse, Vertigo, IDW and BOOM! Studios and many more. The artist is particularly well known for Genesis, a graphic novella published by Image Comics. The 64-page graphic novel follows beautiful artistry and indulges the reader in a psychological world through her effective use of montage sequences.
She has also worked as a penciller for Marvel in the iconic Civil War 2: Choosing Sides and has collaborated with Steve Niles in Winnebago Graveyard, a popular horror series.
Currently, Sampson has teamed up with Peter Milligan for the Hit-Girl series which sees the main protagonist (Mindy McCready) coming to Mumbai, the city of dreams, to fight crime. We chat her up about her projects and the new adventures of her characters:
Having worked for Marvel in Civil War 2: Choosing Sides Issue 6 as a penciller, how was your experience of working on such a popular comic book series?
It was great! And very straightforward (Wil Moss was the editor). I drew (pencilled and inked) Jessica Jones, and it was quite specifically not the TV Jessica Jones, but the original one who had appeared in Alias. So I modelled my Jessica on David Mack’s covers, the woman with the blue jeans and singlet. Chelsea Cain’s script was quite offbeat and very fun. Jessica, especially this older Jessica, is not a perfect person, and those types of people are always the best to draw.
Is the character design of Hit-Girl based on a real person you know?
She is. Mindy (Hit Girl) is 12 years old, and so was Hester, who is the daughter of some friends. She was a perfect fit for Hit Girl, and we acted out the part at her house, including all the fighting. I very much wanted Hit Girl to feel like a real person, to look her age, and have feelings of someone that age. Working with a real person helps that. There is no one more metal than 12-year-old girls. Also, it’s fun.
When you were asked to provide a take on Hit-Girl in India, what was your initial reaction and how did you deal with it?
I was delighted. The comic is very largely not about Mindy, but the stories of people who currently live in Mumbai, whose lives Mindy involves herself with. I did not know much about Mumbai (to be frank), and this was an opportunity to find out, so I read newspapers, blogs, real estate sites and gossip magazines and whatever I could get my hands on.
I talked to people and recruited my British friends of Indian and Pakistani (and Mauritian and Trinidadian and Nepalese and other) descent, and their families, and as many people I knew who had spent time in Mumbai and we made the comic together. Triona Farrell (who coloured the comic) and I also watched some Bollywood musicals — not everything we have in the comic is real.
Mumbai must be one of the most maximal cities in the world, and we wanted to show it as it is, not what people think it is. There are limits to what you can do in a comic, and it is a piece of art, as opposed to a documentary. But hopefully people will enjoy what we have made.
What is your take on the way female heroes are perceived today?
Girls and women have always appreciated female role models, and they always will. What has changed is that now these characters are understood to have a more universal appeal than was previously understood, and that boys and men will also enjoy such things (Hit Girl is a comic for everybody). So, there are more female heroes (and more grey and interesting characters of all sorts) in comics and films, and there will be more in the future, and this is a good thing.
How different is Hit-Girl from Winnebago graveyard, your previous work, not just in terms of story but also in an artistic take?
It is inevitably different. I’m a relatively young artist, at least in terms of experience, so I’m still on a visible learning curve in terms of skills, and one is more advanced in skills than the other. Tonally as well, the two are very different. WG is a ‘do they survive the night book’; set in the close confines of a family visiting the American South West, and has a fair bit of ruralophobia. Set at night, with a faceless antagonist, I use a lot of black.The story sets the tone which sets the art. Both have an appeal to young teenagers, with their safe opportunity to explore risk and death (and hence both share some of the gore).
That is where it ends, though. Steve Niles (WG) and Peter Milligan (HG) have different interests and writing styles and the art follows. Hit-Girl is a 12-year-old vigilante in Mumbai, on her own, who quickly infiltrates herself into people’s lives and vanquishes their enemies. Set around the clock, I need to use a clear line style to capture the city’s maximalism and bring our girl into focus. It is no secret that this is Peter Milligan’s love letter to Mumbai. Hopefully, as I hope with all my work, I have brought that world to life.
What is your take on Hit-Girl’s India storyline, what can readers expect from its remaining issues?
There is too much going on in India, too much history and too many layers, for a story to be just about a visitor. I’m glad Mindy’s story is about other people’s lives and I have a particular affection for Prema. All the characters in Hit-Girl are based on real people, and the girl who is Prema has grown up while we have made the book. She has blossomed just as Prema does. Her (real-life) grandmother joins us on the second to last page of the last issue to show us how to look truly great while shopping in a properly wrapped saree, and so on.
I think of the characters as real people making their way through the world. Not everything is nice, and not all paths are straight and smooth, and... we overcome — eventually. We all do.
In terms of the rest? Some level of resolution with quite a bit of adventure and some questions along the way. There was never any doubt that Mindy was going to be someone’s nemesis, the question is, what of everyone else, and what does the future hold? This was always a story of the people of Mumbai.
Mindy seems to be wearing a different costume in Mumbai. How did you come up with it?
Originally, I designed the character as the way I thought she was supposed to look. But having drawn a good part of the first issue, I realised she was disappearing into the background of what was turning out to be a very busy city. She also had all her weapons confiscated at entry to India (so all those straps were more or less dead weight). It is far too hot for a wig, and she’s too young for spandex. Some decent boots are useful for getting across town as well as breaking a man’s face.
What are your plans for 2020? What projects will you be working on?
I will spend my 2020 drawing the comic adaptation of Stephen and Owen King’s New York Times-listed best-selling novel, Sleeping Beauties, for US-based IDW Publishing and subsequent international publication. It is fair to say that when I first approached comics some years ago, I went to Chris RyalI, who brought this project to IDW, and more or less asked for the job, when he asked me what I wanted to do. And some years later, here we are.
So I want to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. I’ll be working with Triona again, who coloured Hit Girl: India so beautifully, and we invite your readers to come along with us.
Mumbai Comic Con will be held on December 7-8 at Bombay Exhibition Centre, NESCO Goregaon