Jemma Salume: Most people know me for my cover work for Boom! Studios (Adventure Time, Candy Capers), but there's also fan projects like my Skyrim Valentines and superhero redesigns featured on Project:Rooftop.
David: What is your background in art from an education standpoint? Did you take classes or go to school for art?
David: You've written and illustrated Captain Kitten before, but how different was it working on your Legends story? or was the process not very different at all?
Jemma: Captain Kitten was very "throw things at the wall and see what sticks" comic… It was originally conceived in a conversation with my friend Katie Longua (ROK), where we were tossing around ideas that sounded funny and could be turned into a short comic easily. The driving idea behind the comic wasn't much more than "How can I have cats and fight scenes in the same comic?" I was focused on streamlining my process issue by issue, and over all treated it as a learning opportunity.
Compare that to Mouse Guard, where I was coming into it as a huge fan. I love the juxtaposition of adorable mice and overwhelming danger! Where Kitten was about goofing around, I had a fairly rigid idea of what my Legends story needed to be and what it needed to get across. It was almost paralyzing to work on at first, but once it began to fall into the exact shape I saw in my mind, I was invigorated! I sort of feel more proud of my Legends story than my own original book, for that reason. Put simply, Legends is a finished image, while Kitten is a sketch.
David: When you start working on a comic story, what’s first after your story idea? Character designs, thumbnails? a script?
Jemma: I think of a mood for the story initially. Even if it's in black and white, I'll think of colors and shapes that communicate that mood, and then design characters around that. I like characters that embody the emotion they're meant to incite in the reader, like the eerie grey-furred and pink-eyed mice from my Legends story.
Once I have the characters, it's just a matter of thinking of the situations they would naturally seek out or find themselves in, and how they would interact with others. That becomes a very loose script (main beats of the story with a few panel descriptions), which guides page thumbnails, which then guide the final page and writing dialogue into the script. I'm much more of a visual than a linguistic thinker, so scripts are kind of a drag for me to work on - I don't spend more time on them than I have to, and will frequently be alter dialogue right on the page rather than go into the script for another rewrite. Legends was one of the most finished scripts I've ever done, because I needed to show it to others to review and approve. Compare that to the script for Kitten, which is nearly incomprehensible -- just a bunch of scribbles to remind myself what to draw from one day to the next.
David: All of your work is digital, can you explain the process of building up from a rough to the final art? Are there similar steps to the traditional media method of thumbnails, pencils, inks, colors?
Jemma: Though I would digitally, I thumbnail pages almost exactly like I would traditionally - Small rough sketches of what I want the page to look like, easy to alter if I want to try something different. After that, since everything is digital, it's simple to resize the rough to the size/resolution I'll be using for the final page. That way I can draw directly over the thumbnail, refining the sketch, inking, coloring, all of that. When I was much younger I'd always get so frustrated at how all the hand-resizing methods I was taught stiffened and deadened the impact of the final drawing, but it's much easier to preserve the spontaneity of the original thumbnail when I'm drawing right on top of it!
As for the final drawings, I'm just drawing directly into Photoshop using the simplest default tools available to me - Pencil for lines, Bucket Fill on a separate layer for colors. Nothing fancy, no special brushes. That's similar to how I work traditionally, actually - I just hate bringing in a bunch of different tools when one or two will do. It breaks my concentration, haha!
David: Your story starts with two Guardmice on patrol...one is headstrong and the other is more grounded. What made you choose these character archetypes?
Jemma: That headstrong upstart/grounded veteran dynamic is fun! It's easy to come up for dialogue for them, actions they would naturally take, how their actions might bring them into conflict or get them into trouble with outside forces, things like that. Plus, each one clearly worries about and prepares for things differently than the other, which is always good. The most boring thing ever to me is when two characters are on exactly the same page from beginning to end - You might as well condense them into one character if they're never going to argue or surprise each other. I wanted my Guardmice, Aaron and Fila, to have the same job, but to come at it from completely different angles
David: That's great. It's that tension I find fun to write between Saxon and Kenzie. Without spoiling too much, the remainder of the tale is a bit of a ghost story about a spectral owl. Did you start by thinking “I’d like to do a Mouse Guard ghost story?” or was there some other route to that tale?
Jemma: My mind did indeed go to "Oh boy ghost story time" first, yes! I wanted to do a story with little chance of overlapping with someone else's (variety is the spice of life and all that), and a ghost story is a natural for that - Little precedent in the canon, but not strictly implausible. And ghosts are fun!
David: Who would you cite as creative influences?
It's actually surprisingly hard for me to cite direct influences because it's hard for me to look at my style that way, all I see is me when I look at it. I am a huge fan of other illustrators: Mike Mignola, Daniel Krall, Angie Wang, Emily Carroll, Sachin Teng, Leslie Hung, and Dean Trippe are the ones that jump to the front of my mind. I also watch a ton of movies and animation: Any movies by Guillermo del Toro, any animations directed by Hayao Miyazaki or Satoshi Kon, early Disney films with a strong individual aesthetic like 101 Dalmatians and Sleeping Beauty - things in that vein. I also listen to a ton of music when I work, which I'm sure exerts some kind of influence: Janelle Monae and Zion T are both artists love, and I also go for non-lyrical instrumental stuff like Disasterpeace and Floex.
David: What projects are coming up next that folks should look out for?
Jemma: I've got covers for various Boom! Studios comics slowly getting released - Readers may have already seen my Adventure Time covers. I'm also working with Dean Trippe and Jason Horn on a comic called The Secrets. I've got my own webcomic in the works, but it's still in the planning stages… Followers of my Tumblr and Deviantart have already seen images of the main characters, and they'll be seeing more related to it in the coming months.
David: Jemma, thanks again for doing the story and interview. Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Jemma: All of my art can be found at my Deviantart ( oxboxer.deviantart.com ), my art plus anything I'm currently interested in is over at my Tumblr ( oxboxer.tumblr.com ), and I've also got a Twitter ( twitter.com/oxboxer ) if you just want pages and pages of me screaming about things. Thank you for having me on for Legends of the Guard vol.2! Go Mouse Guard!
Jemma's Story "The Shade"
will appear in Legends of the Guard volume 2 # 2