A few years ago, Leila del Duca was ready to give up on comics. As a comic artist based in Missoula, del Duca had been traveling to comic conventions around the country for four years trying to catch a break. During that time she'd picked up a few odd jobs drawing independent comics, but nothing she considered satisfying or noteworthy. And so, in 2012, she decided to make one final attempt at getting into the game. She flew to New York City, home of DC and Marvel (aka "The Big Two"), to attend New York City Comic Convention, the mother-of-all annual meetings for comics creators and fans."New York was going to be my last con," she says.
Then she met writer Joe Keatinge.
Keatinge has worked with both Marvel and DC in the past, having penned a few Batman and Spider-man comics. He had also been making his own way as an independent creator since his 2010 Eisner Award-winning anthology Popgun. He was impressed with del Duca's work.
"He was the only professional who actually liked my portfolio and genuinely wanted to work with me," del Duca says.
A few months after they met at the convention, he called her up and asked if she wanted to work on a project he was writing called Shutter. It's the story of Kate Christopher, a 27-year-old woman whose father was once a world explorer. When Kate was little, her dad would take her with him on adventures to places as far off as the moon. After he died, she stopped adventuring and tried to find a normal life in an unusual future reality full of mythical creatures. In other words, it was right up del Duca's alley. Her answer? "Yes, please."
Image Comics (Spawn, The Walking Dead) recently released Shutter Issue No. 1. To give you some idea of the fantastical landscape del Duca works with, it features a talking cat, lizard people having coffee on the veranda, a minotaur on the subway and alligator bellboys.
"It's my dream project," del Duca says.
She traces her passion for drawing strange creatures back to her childhood.
"I'm drawing people with wings right now," she says. "Back when I was a kid I would draw mash-ups like that all the time. Lots of dogs and cats with wings." It's also the kind of thing you see in her favorite comic to read these days: Hellboy.
Del Duca's interest in comics started when she was a teenager at Billings Senior High. She mostly read Webcomics back then, strips like Demonology 101 and Sluggy Freelance. She didn't get into graphic novels until college. That's when she fell in love with Craig Thompson's 2003 award-winning autobiographical graphic novel Blankets, along with more fantastical books like Scott Pilgrim and the Flight Anthology. Now on the other side of the shelves, she's found the comics industry warm and inviting. "Especially being a female," she says. "People want more female voices and more diversity in comics. It's been rare that I meet a jerk at all, and I've never been hit on or sexually harassed."
Poised with someone like Keating, del Duca's career has a solid chance of taking off, but she's not the type to forget her roots. She credits Montana with giving her a professional outlook and strong work ethic, as well as aesthetic inspiration. "I prefer drawing organic shapes," she says. "I'd rather draw a forest than a city."
In fact, one of her current projects is about as local as it gets. She's working on a book with artist Anthony Gregori for Ice Bridge, a new downtown Missoula brewery. The story is about a beer god's daughter who teams up with a mortal chef to create the best burger in the land. Their adventures lead them to Montana. (You can check out some of the early art at icebridgebrewing.com.)
On April 9, del Duca will be sketching and signing issues of Shutter No. 1 at Muse Comics along with two other local comics creators, Gregori (Throwback) and Tim Daniel (Enormous, Cursed). All three of them just got back from rubbing elbows with other pros at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. As it turns out, that 2012 New York convention wasn't del Duca's last con; it was just the beginning.
Leila del Duca signs issues of Shutter at Muse Comics Wed., April 9, from 4 to 7 PM with Tim Daniel and Anthony Gregori, who present their own comic projects. Visit leiladelduca.com.