Amy Reeder Hadley is the artist on DC/Vertigo Comics’ monthly book Madame Xanadu, one of the few titles in the line focused on a female lead character. Madame Xanadu moves through history, using magic to insinuate herself into various events familiar and strange. She has run-ins with everyone from Merlin to Marie Antoinette, and even has a showdown of sorts with everyone’s favorite Vertigo character, Death.
Hadley was just nominated for her first Eisner award (the comics Oscars) and took the time to talk to BUST about Madame Xanadu, comics, and drawing Death. Madame Xanadu #10 comes out tomorrow, and you can find it at your local comic shop!
How did you get started with comics? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I really didn’t start reading comics until after college, when my sister-in-law introduced me to the Japanese variety. I was pleased to see there were quite a few that were written primarily for teen girls, as well as for young women. Before this, I drew mostly realism, copying photos. Anything I drew out of my head just looked embarrassing. I didn’t consider myself an artist and didn’t think a career in art was realistic…being a comics artist was the last thing I thought I would ever do! Singing or fashion design sounded more desirable to me. Or teaching. So I earned a degree in social science education.
What was the first thing you had published?
I’d entered into Tokyopop’s Rising Stars of Manga contest–contestants draw a 20-page entry and the top ten are compiled into a book–and I made it in! The contest was actually what motivated me to draw.I saw one of these contest books in the store, and I’m so competitive…I was determined to learn how to do this and kick some serious behind.
Can you tell BUST readers about Madame Xanadu–the comic, the character, how you got involved, what it’s like working with Matt Wagner?
Madame Xanadu is about a fortune teller who’s been alive for centuries. It takes place in several time periods as she repeatedly runs into the same mysterious stranger, a man who intrigues her and yet his presence always leaves her worse for the wear. The time periods have been so much fun to do–so far I’ve drawn Camelot, Kublai Khan’s court at Xanadu, the French Revolution, Victorian England, and 1940 New York. I’ve always wanted to research historical clothing, and this has been my chance to start on that.
My now-assistant editor Brandon Montclare had become familiar with my art when he was an editor at Tokyopop, and once he moved over to DC Comics and then Vertigo, he convinced the powers-that-be that I was worthwhile to put on a project.
Their goal was to find a writer collaborative enough that my storytelling skills would shine through, and I don’t know of anyone better for that than Matt Wagner. Most writers work with a full script, where they explain what will happen on each panel on the page, as well as the dialogue and narration. Matt works in plot-first style, which means he gives a general synopsis of each page, sometimes including dialogue, which I then choose how to draw–how many panels, what to show, how to lay it all out. From there he comes up with the right text to complement it.
It’s been great working with Matt–he watches out for me and is the reason I got to draw the covers. And he’s very comfortable with all the freedom he gives me. I definitely get feedback and he doesn’t always agree with my choices, but he still allows me to be me, which I greatly appreciate. Because of that, I think Madame Xanadu reflects who I am in a lot of ways.
I loved the Death issue–I think I reviewed it and begged Vertigo to have you draw a new Death miniseries. Your rendering of her was one of my favorites that I’ve seen–was it fun to put your own stamp on such a beloved character?
I think I read that review. Thank you! In my head I was smiling with eager eyes at Vertigo, haha. I REALLY enjoyed drawing Death. I think in general I like the challenge of taking an already-existing character and capturing who they are and what they look like, yet in my style. So I took the task very seriously and made sure the acting was the best I could do. It was nice to have a character with such a modern attitude, too…since everyone else was strictly historical.
Do you have anything else in the works?
Not really! I’m hoping to do a little cover work in the near future, but so far nothing is finalized. For the most part I’m just trying to concentrate on Madame Xanadu to make it the best I can.
Finally, congratulations on the Eisner nomination! As cheesy as it sounds, how does that feel?
I didn’t realize it until it happened, but…I really needed that. As fun as this has been, it’s also been a very hard year and I never knew how difficult it would be to get my feet under me. Now I’ve drawn ten issues, I get a break so I can catch up, and I’m happy to say that sticking with it has definitely been worth it. My only hope now is that I can continue to push myself and exceed others’ expectations.