Last year I had the good fortune to not only read the excellent three-issue series Chum, but also to interview its creators, writer Ryan K Lindsay and artist Sami Kivela. Chum was one of the most exciting things I read all year: a tight “surf noir” story bursting at the seams with pulp novel salaciousness, meditations on the dark side of the human psyche and, yes, lots of sharks.
Shortly after the Chum article was published here on Broken Frontier, Lindsay sent a quick email of thanks and, as a show of gratitude, included a PDF of art by Kivela. The single black-and-white, dialogue-free page featured a multi-paneled layout depicting the following scene:
A woman leans over her kitchen counter, snorting what appears to be cocaine off of a carrot (that’s right…a carrot). She looks up to discover that another woman is standing in the room brandishing a gun. Thinking on her feet, the junkie hurls the vegan missile at her assailant in a feeble attempt to defend herself. The assassin shoots, the bullet smashing through the rooty dagger, and hits the junkie between the eyes knocking her dead to the kitchen floor. In the final panel, the femme fatale looks over her shoulder at the reader. A strikingly beautiful face with eyes like ice stares out from the page…
I would later learn that this art was from an upcoming new project from Lindsay and Kivela, with outstanding color work by Triona Farrell and letter layout by Ryan Ferrier: a four-issue miniseries called Beautiful Canvas that will launch from Black Mask Studios at the end of June.
Needless to say, the aforementioned PDF was (to borrow a favorite term of Lindsay’s) “aces”! I’ve been extra excited to see just what in the world Lindsay and his team have cooked up this time around. Recently, I had a chance to once again to talk to him in detail about this thrilling new venture.
BROKEN FRONTIER: Beautiful Canvas combines a totally original story concept with elements of noir and crime fiction. Can you give us a brief rundown of what’s in store for readers of this new project?
RYAN K. LINDSAY: This “gonzo pulp” miniseries from Sami Kivela, Triona Farrell, Ryan Ferrier, and myself is about Lon Eisley, a hitwoman who discovers that her girlfriend is pregnant, and, in the same week, is contracted to kill a small child. The resulting crisis of faith sends her into a tailspin as she tries to balance the now heavily weighted dichotomy within her of creator/destroyer.
I love telling sci-fi stories that bend the known reality we have into something a little stranger, but none of that matters if I can’t stitch a true and emotional core under it all. As such, this book has some weird turns to take, but the character arcs are all really pure, though obviously pretty heavily escalated.
I think readers are going to fall in love with Sami Kivela’s inks and Triona Farrell’s colors as they discover their favorite new art team of 2017.
How did the idea for Beautiful Canvas come about, and how long did it take for the story to take shape internally before you decided to sit down, start writing, and bring it into the world?
This thing has been gestating for a long time. I had the initial kernel of an idea years ago and it was just ‘A hitwoman is contracted to kill a small child.’ I kept taking it out, turning it over in my hands, trying to break it, but I could never get it right, so it’d go away into the trunk again for a while, and I’d try again two seasons later.
It wasn’t until I inserted the hitwoman’s pregnant girlfriend that I started to gain traction, and it was really pulling out narrative threads when considering why someone would hire a hitwoman to kill a small child (why did he need to die?) that the story truly took the shape it’s in now.
So this process took probably over two years to navigate. It was frustrating and painful, but most great ideas take a bit of discomfort to extract. From here, I reworked the narrative again and again until it felt a solid 90% right, and by then the characters were completely formed, and so we pitched the book together, and thankfully got picked up.
Once greenlit, the book took me a solid three months to write; a season. Around the day job, and the wife/kids, this seems to be my solid M.O. for writing a mini that allows me to stay sane and also keep the quality as high as I want it.
The series promises to be one of those highly sought-after situations where everything – the story, the art, the color, the layout – jives together perfectly into a seamless whole. You’ve worked with Sami and Ryan Ferrier before, but how did Triona Farrell come to be involved? Would Beautiful Canvas have been possible without this particular creative team?
I am insanely blessed with this team. I feel like I’ve gotten lucky with every creative team I’ve gone into the trenches with in my short time making comics so far, and this BC crew is definitely a high point for me. I mean, just imagine my face as I watched Triona’s first pages come through on Sami’s art. The two are titans together and I’m just trying to keep up.
Obviously, Sami and I have been rolling deep since we met in 2013 thanks to Ed Brisson. Triona… I saw her work on Twitter and we started chatting. A year later we collaborated on EIR, the all ages one-shot I Kickstarted with Alfie Gallagher, and from that book I knew I desperately wanted to work with her again.
This book came around at the right time, our schedules aligned, and she absolutely annihilated the pitch pages, as she subsequently has on every page since.
I certainly can’t imagine these characters as illustrated by anyone except Sami – he was always the first choice and the only person I spoke to. And then there’s Tree and Ferrier, who just make this comic feel unique and special and handcrafted.
I even got to bring along my editor, Dan Hill, and he’s gone a long way to making my work better on this mini, asking the right questions, and helping me level up.
No, there would be no BC without this crew, not at all.
Black Mask Studios has been making quite a name for itself lately by publishing work that is incisive, socially relevant, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining – seems like a good home for Beautiful Canvas. What was “the pitch” experience like? Did they go for the series immediately, or did it take some subtle convincing? Did you pitch the project to any other publishers?
Pitching with Black Mask was a smooth process, and I think I have Sami/Tree to thank for that. We put together a package of the first 7 pages, a cover, and then the character/story summary type information. The visuals grabbed Matt Pizzolo’s eye, and he knew what my writing was like after he loved Negative Space (which I wrote at Dark Horse with Owen Gieni on art). He was certainly intrigued and interested, so then we got on the phone and hashed it out and it was smooth waters from the get-go.
While creating Beautiful Canvas, did you learn anything new about the creation process that hadn’t occurred to you before? Any new insights or approaches that will serve you well in future endeavors?
There weren’t any glaring new moments of creation, no, just a constant tectonic alignment of process and affirmation of what works well.
I try to give feedback to any artist, colorist, letterer as much as I can as their work rolls in, and this includes telling them what I’m digging. I think that’s just as helpful because then they know what’s really working.
I enjoyed spending the time with Dan Hill just openly talking about pages and scenes and characters to ensure everything really popped on the page of script before we hassled anyone else in the team to step in and make the pages.
Oh, and we’ve also really tried to use every piece of the book, [each strength of] the creative team, to tell the story in different ways – the colors do some great things, the lettering gets funky in places.
You’re a writer with the obvious chops to tell a story that hasn’t been told before, while, at the same time, working comfortably within the confines of multiple genres. And, you create multifaceted characters with real emotional depth that appeal to a wide range of readers. Where does Beautiful Canvas fall along the trajectory of your goals as a writer? What’s the next personal challenge you’ve set for yourself, and how does BC fit into your plans for the future?
The first place BC falls is right on top of the pile. I want to continue to level-up as a writer, to test myself. I feel like this book is my best work yet, and that I’ve pushed myself to new places with new skills to make this happen.
My career is still quite nascent, and as such I need to focus on the things I can control – the quality of my work. I can’t always dictate the quantity of what I’ll produce, it depends on publishers or the amount of Kickstarter campaigns my readership will allow, but I can be the master of how good my work is. It helps no one to get an opportunity like publishing with Black Mask and squander it with half-baked first draft scripts because you got busy looking at the next shiny thing. I still have a day job, and a family, so I can’t be prolific, but I can be my best.
As for what comes next, I still don’t know, but I’d like to take that DC Writers’ Workshop I did last year and spin it into a little something-something over there, and then I hope BC leads me into getting publisher support for the next 1-2 ideas, and then I can focus on them. I have what I want to do, I just need the clout to make it happen, and the quality of BC is what I hope will help me in this path.
Alternative cover, above left, by Christian Ward.
Beautiful Canvas is set launch from Black Mask Studios on June 28 – LCS preorder cut-off date is April 27.
Ryan K Lindsay has created a podcast called “The Crystal Plumage” and he discusses Beautiful Canvas in more detail in the 20-minute inaugural episode. Click here to listen on Soundcloud.
Also, Lindsay’s weekly newsletter – The Two-Fisted Homeopape – is an incredibly entertaining and worthwhile look into his creative process. You can subscribe here.
You can download an ashcan preview of the first issue via the link in the image below.