Valentine De Landro hails from Toronto, and since beginning his professional career, he’s quickly become a fan favorite with his work for DC, IDW, Valiant, Dark Horse and Marvel, where he first caught readers’ eye with his stint on X-Factor. He is the co-creator, with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, of the brilliant and non-compliant Image title Bitch Planet. I sat down with fellow Canadian Valentine De Landro to talk about the book, his influences and how much impact the corridors from “Aliens” have on his art.
Jeremy Radick: So how did you begin as an artist, were you a comic book fan that found comics as an outlet to become an artist, or were you already an artist that discovered comics instead?
Valentine De Landro: No, definitely a fan first. I was collecting farther back than I can remember at this point. I have older siblings, I have an older brother, he was collecting. So in the interest of not being allowed to read his books, I had to go get my own books, start my own collection. So, yeah it all sort of snowballed from there, I guess.
JR: And did you have an artist when you were a kid that particularly influenced you or made you think, “Yeah, that’s what I want to do?”
VDL: Oh, man. Yeah, one of the earliest images I remember, I think, that really caught my eye was a cover that Kevin Nowlan did for The Outsiders. I don’t know what it was, it one of these painted covers. It was Batman and the Outsiders facing off against Cobra. There’s just something about that cover that really I could not stop staring at it. From there, I think the first artist I really started following, you know when you find a creator that you know by name and you start hunting for that book that you know he’s on, was John Byrne. And by that time my collection was starting to grow, so influences started to permeate from different sides and from all different angles, and you start looking at all the big names who revolutionized the industry in the 80s and the 90s. Your Jim Lees, your Marc Silvestris, most of the Image guys. I’m sitting next to Whilce Portacio right now, which is….(laughs)…whattttt? Kind of crazy. And, yeah, from there I think I started really, you go down that path of, “I’m going to open up my sketchbook and start aping these drawings. I’m going to start copying them,” and that’s essentially what my sketchbooks looked like for the first little while.
JR: And jumping ahead, how did you and Kelly Sue DeConnick wind up working together on Bitch Planet? When did you first meet?
VDL: We met a few years ago at Fan Expo in Toronto. The years was…..she never remembers, I never remember, it’s the weirdest thing. I can’t remember the exact year of that Con. I want to say it was 2012, 2013, somewhere around there. It was right before her Captain Marvel run started, that’s the only thing I have as the marker, so if anyone can count that date back, we’re cool. I never remember to do it. But I get asked the question quite a bit, and I should really find out the year that at least we met. But we were talking and we just sort of ended up rolling out this collaboration from there.
JR: Had you ever come on to a project at that early a stage before? I know she had the idea, or presented to you some ideas that you looked through. Is this the earliest that you’ve been involved in the development of a book, to actively co-create it?
VDL: Yes, 100%. I don’t think I’ve had a chance to design a full cast of characters. Not only that but the world they exist in as well. It’s one thing to do work-for-hire for Marvel or DC and maybe make a character, but at that same time they still live in an environment that you’re very familiar with. I mean, most of the Marvel characters are in New York. You have your Baxter Building, your Avengers Mansion, all these landmarks that you can look through a plethora of books and find the reference that you need. That’s probably, I think, the most challenging part that I’ve had, is to build this from the ground up. I think I underestimated how much work and how much attention those details were going to need until I started looking for reference and realized I didn’t have any. I need to now pull this out of the air from somewhere.
JR: Bitch Planet is set in the future, but not in an unrecognizable one. Your answer leads into my next question: Were you a sci-fi fan, and could you use that build a future?
VDL: I had the direction that I wanted to go in, initially. Sci-fi isn’t my strong suit, but at the same time I knew the aesthetic was going to be something along the lines of 80s sci-fi. You know, you have your “Space:1999,” you know….or….
JR: …”Blade Runner?”
VDL: Exactly. Though I didn’t want to lift too much from “Blade Runner” because then it becomes very obvious. But you can’t really escape the influence that “Blade Runner” has on sci-fi going forward. Especially when I started looking into these things and looking back at old sci-fi. You see how many properties and art direction have been influenced by the look of “Blade Runner.” Same thing with “Aliens.” I think that “Aliens,” something as simple as corridors. It’s a very strange thing, but you realize that all the corridors take the same sort of look and I think when you start looking back and seeing where that originated from, it’s all from that time, it’s from “Aliens.” You want to try and do your own thing, make it look as unique as possible, but there’s always going to be some influence from those things, and I think that’s that what I just ended up going forward and embracing instead. Well, I can’t escape it, let me just see if I can harness it and do something new with it and not fall flat on my face with it too!
JR: Bitch Planet draws from 70s grindhouse, “women-in-prison” film, in part. Those films are typically pretty salacious, there’s a lot of male gaze intertwined in them. So, as an artist who’s responsible for depicting these women in pretty vulnerable ways, how do you embrace that feel without reinforcing some of those negative exploitation values?
VDL: It’s a struggle. I think, the part that Kelly Sue and I have always had trouble reconciling is the original intent of these “women-in-prison” movies. There’s always that gratifying ending to most of them where the women finally rise above. There’s very satisfying resolution to whatever the conflict was. They’ll break out. They’ll kill the main antagonist they had in some spectacular way and that’s always great. But the other parts of it that are meant to break the women down, to strip them down to nothing more than objects, it’s tough to even watch it, sometimes. In using the “women-in-prison” genre as more of a vehicle to show and tell a story that is soaked in intersectional feminism is easy and yet not so easy! It’s kind of a tricky thing because you have to, again, balance that whole (question of) how do we throw in the elements that make this an actual exploitation book and yet make this satirical but at the same time, you know, we need to have a shower scene. And so it’s a challenge. I think that’s also what gets us motivated. I think that’s one of the things that excites us to move us forward. Once we figure that out, once we figure out that thing, once Kel gets that idea, that spark that kind of pushes us forward, then it’s like, “Aw, this is gonna be amazing, let’s try it!” I’m lucky enough to have a collaborator as brave as Kel. She’s always looking to push this, and I hope I can keep up.
JR: Issue 8 features a great panel where Kam and Whitney are moving through the facility during a power outage and it’s a maze. I was really struck by that panel, it’s one of the things I loved a lot from that issue. Are you consciously looking at ways to push yourself, when you get the script do you think, “Here’s a great chance for me to push a layout, or try something unusual?” Or is it more an instinctual response to the script?
VDL: I don’t know how it comes out sometimes. I wish I knew because then I could probably get through my layouts a bit faster. Honestly, yeah, there’s a part of me that does want to push, to get better, to not feel like a fraud all the time. And there’s a part of me that does want to really see what I can do to first and foremost tell the story. That’s always, for me, my main priority. I want to make sure this story that we’re telling is clear and that everybody has no trouble reading it or following along with what’s happening. The visuals, the layouts are very important for that. Past that, whatever I can do to really push myself and make the visuals standout, I’m going to try it. Some things go better than others, I guess. I’ve had some misses, but I think it’s only in the attempts that you learn from those things. I’m happy to take the misses and learn from it at least and then try again the next time.
You can find Bitch Planet at your local comic shop or wherever digital comics are sold.