Drawing "Lucy Dreaming", with artist Michael Dialynas
He's been working in US comics for a while, but I only just discovered the work of the talented Michael Dialynas. He's the artist (lines and colors) on BOOM!'s Lucy Dreaming, and he's a heck of a nice guy, to boot. I wanted to talk to him about his work on Lucy, and learn more about who he is and his work in the industry; so, I reached out to BOOM! and asked them to set something up. A few days later, Michael and I hopped on Skype and talked for a bit. The transcript may fail to translate just how much fun we had, but he's a super-nice guy, with a great sense of humor, and a clear passion for the work he's doing.
Brian Warshaw: A little brief background on who we are. I know you've read the review of Lucy Dreaming that I wrote. Basically, myself and Jay—the other guy who runs the site—we both write reviews for a pretty big Batman site and that's how we met each other. We just decided recently to branch off and start a podcast and start a site, and basically just write about stuff we enjoy. There's plenty of places you can go and read people talking about how much they hate something, and we don't want to replicate that, so if we see something that we like, we'll write about it or we'll try to talk to the people that made it, so that's why I reached out.
MD: It's one of the biggest fears I had today, being the day the first issue came out—I had no idea what people were going to say about this.
BW: Yeah, it's very different, and it's one of those things where, with the style of your artwork, a lot of people notice aesthetics before they notice storytelling. It's not to say your aesthetics are bad by any means, but some people—if they've been reading superhero books, don't instantly warm up to something that doesn't look hyper-realistic.
MD: The last seven years I've been working in US comics, I generally had a stricter way of drawing. The part [in Lucy Dreaming] with the space adventure is closer to what I used to do. This time I'm actually drawing the way I used to draw, which is a really cartoony way. This is the first time I'm doing it in an American comic. People who've read my work—this is going to be really weird for them.
BW: <LAUGHS> So you mentioned what you've done in the past, so I guess I could start by asking you: what is your background—how did you come to get involved in comics?
MD: Oh, oof. That's the oldest question. Well, basically through reading. I grew up on Turtles, I grew up reading Ghostbusters and all that stuff. And it just became the logical answer to what I wanted to do. I always wanted to draw covers—I never wanted to draw the interiors. And I found out that I'm better at drawing interiors. It's a lot of hard work, but it's kind of like a second nature right now.
BW: Do you always try to color your own work?
MD: This is the thing. I've been drawing comics for like twelve years, and the first four or five years, I was mainly doing self-published stuff in Greece. The way things work here, you do the whole comic yourself: write, draw, color, everything—the European way. So when I started off trying to get into the American scene, my first work with Dark Horse on Amala’s Blade, that was all my artwork. And then, when I jumped onto working with Boom on The Woods, it was the first time I worked with a colorist. And every colorist I've worked with did a great job, but it just took away something that I missed. And I just really preferred coloring, because coloring is my favorite part of making comics, basically. Drawing them is half the job—in my opinion—and I like to finish off the pages myself. Plus I think I'm faster this way. I'm faster knowing that I can edit myself and do all the finishing details and don't have to bring the art to a specific point for the colorist to take over. I like to do that part myself. So, generally, from now on, I prefer to do the whole of the art myself.
BW: That makes sense. I'm not an artist, but I can certainly imagine that working really hard on lines, and then turning those lines over to somebody else to complete—it certainly takes a lot of trust, but even if they do a good job, if they took things in a different direction than you intended, I imagine that can be kind of tough to let go of.
MD: Yeah, especially when you're working hard deadlines, sometimes it's very hard to say "oh, could you do this again?". You want the idealistic collaboration with the colorist that can read your mind or make your work look better! I know a lot of artists have great colorists that they match with, so hopefully at some point I find someone that I really, really match with, art-wise, and maybe then I can pass over those color duties and let that other person take it on for me. But until then, I enjoy doing the coloring myself.
BW: Sure, that makes sense. How did you come to work on this book, Lucy Dreaming?
MD: Lucy Dreaming...when I finished The Woods in September, I took a few weeks off, because it was four years of constant, grinding deadlines. BOOM! wanted me to work on a new book, so when I went to New York in October for the convention, I met with my editor, and he basically pitched me two or three ideas, and this one kind of stood out. After working for four years on one series, I was in a position that I just really wanted to draw something new, fresh. And this specific comic was a gateway to five different worlds. So basically, I get to draw five different styles and color five different ways. So it's like a nice, refreshing challenge, basically.
BW: So, I'm trying to count in my head here, and I'm going to feel foolish if I miss it. But I can see obviously two of those different ways are Lucy in her normal life and then Lucy when she shows up in the middle of that battle. What are the other three ways?
MD: Three different worlds.
BW: Oh, okay! Three different worlds wthin the dream, you mean?
MD: Yeah, each issue will have a different theme, a different world to explore. So I finished up the second issue a couple of weeks ago, and now I'm working on the third issue. So every time I get a new script, I have to make some big choices and think about "how am I going to tackle this kind of world", like a different genre, each one. I want each one to be very distinct inside the issue. Lucy on her world—which is the weirdest one—is the more cartoony, but every other world is more realistic, depending on what the situation is. It's kind of the opposite of what you would do: Lucy's real world would be more realistic and the fantastical worlds would be more loose and weird. But I just thought this way is more interesting to me.
BW: Well, particularly given the subject matter—dreams that are actually reality, in a sense—that's an interesting approach.
MD: The second world is a dystopian future, I think. I'm not sure if it says specifically in the synopsis that's been released. I think it says "Dystopian Future Games"—it's kind of a riff on Hunger Games and Battle Royale.
BW: Ah, okay.
MD: So it's going to get gory.
BW: The scene in issue #1 where she shows up in the battle, I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but both the writing and the aesthetic—it's reminding me of a lot of other things. Maybe the reason I can't put my finger on one thing specifically is because it feels like an amalgam of a lot of things. What were some of your influences in issue #1, coming up with these character designs in the dream world, and some of the other aesthetic elements like the space ship and the scenes in space?
MD: Well, the main one is Star Wars, basically. That's very obvious. But I tried to veer as much as I could away from it, without being too far away. So I put a lot of Buck Rogers, a lot of Guardians of the Galaxy, and a touch of Valerian. And I've been watching a lot of Voltron lately, so Voltron kind of seeps into the Death Star look, which is a big Lion Head Death Star. It's an actual star shape.
BW: Most of those things you were mentioning, they were clicking with me, like "yeah, yup, that makes sense."
MD: Yeah, the new Dreamworks Voltron is pretty amazing, so that kind of seeped in there.
BW: I haven't watched that, but now you're making me want to.
MD: It's good. Five seasons already. Five small seasons, but really good.
BW: How is it working with Max? Does he provide a lot of direction in the script, or is he a little more loose with the guidelines and let you do your thing?
MD: Max is pretty laid back, basically. I get a rough idea of what he wants. He gives me mostly dialogue and the characters' emotions, we talk it over with him and my editor, and everything else, I just take on from there. The looks of everything, it's just pretty much up to me.
BW: That's great!
MD: Yeah, it's fun, that I get to draw whatever seems to fit!
BW: That's awesome. One of the things I noticed—and it's especially interesting after hearing you talk about the difference in approach between the real world and the dream world, and how the real world is more cartoony. But even in that more cartoony real world, you have an awful lot of interesting detail. Certainly on the characters, if you look on the first page and the difference in tones on Lucy's sweater and things like that, but especially on the backgrounds. In the kitchen here on that first page, there's the tile and the electrical outlet behind Lucy. Then, when she's in school, there's nice little bits of detail on the desks, and posters in the classroom and things like that. A lot of times if I'm looking at a book that has a similar aesthetic, it's often common to find a lot less detail in the background.
I'm trying to think of a way to ask this question that doesn't sound stupid, because maybe in some sense it's just a stupid question. Is this just something you like to do—you always like to have very detailed backgrounds or is it something you were just feeling was the right way to go for this particular book?
MD: Especially with the first issue, Max gave me a few details on the school. He told me that he wanted the school to be like "Hipster Clueless".
MD: So, I really went in the direction that "I want all the surrounding kids to be in a specific color pallete", just to give off that everyone's following the newest trends. They're all trying to fit in. Lucy doesn't. She's just wearing whatever she wants. She wears a hoodie that she probably wears—I think she's actually going to be wearing it throughout the whole series. That's what I do basically—I wear one hoodie, and I wear it for like two weeks, and then I think, okay, time to change.
But everyone else is trying to emulate something that they want to be, but Lucy already is who she is.
So after having to deal with those few pages for the school, the rest of the pages with Lucy's real world had to follow suit. I didn't want to go too minimalistic with everything else.
BW: Sure. Now, are you doing your work digitally, are you doing some kind of a hybrid, or is it all ink and color on paper? How are you doing this?
MD: Sadly, I switched to digital five years ago just to keep the deadlines.
BW: As you can tell, I'm not an artist, and I can't tell just by looking at it. Some people probably can.
MD: I think I've struck a nice balance. It doesn't feel like it's digital. I think I've hit that balance. Most people when they go digital for the first time, they zoom in and out too much. They use smaller brushes in corners that just isn't possible by hand. So I've tried to keep my brush sizes to two or three different sizes like you do if you're drawing by hand.
BW: You know, even with me not being an artist, I've got to say that, particularly when you get to the dream sequence, your color work really seems like it would be done on paper. It really does look—I'm looking at the first full page in the dream with the big TOOF sound effect, and it looks like you've got ink wipes, and you've got the color...
MD: That's all texture work and pastel brushes, basically.
BW: It looks really good. There's some books that I've reviewed in the past couple of years from the big publishers where the color work—it's not bad—but if you look in really close, you can see the round brush shape from Photoshop or something like that where it doesn't look like the texture of a more nuanced brush or an actualy physical brush. I hate to say it, but it looks like if I had colored it.
MD: Yeah, I get what you mean. I've tried to veer away from round brushes. All my brushes are jagged and weird. Even the ones I ink with are jagged. Even the simplest, cartoony Lucy real-world stuff is done with a toothy brush. I could have just gone with a round one to make it really smooth, but I just didn't want to. I felt like it just needs to have that imperfection, as it would if I had inked it by hand.
BW: Yeah, and the work really benefits from it. Another few pages down, with the really big gun and the PEW PEW PEW, this is another one where it just really looks like ink—real ink—and it looks gorgeous. I could stare at this sort of work for a long time.
I don't know if you keep up with modern superhero comics, but there was just a new Green Lantern thing from Gabriel Hardman.
MD: Don't spoil anything, because that's on my list to buy!
BW: I won't spoil any details. All I'll say is something that you probably already know, that it's gorgeous.
Looking at the page I was just talking about, your ink—ink in quotes, your digital ink here, and the way it's blending into the color, it just reminds me of what Hardman is doing in that Green Lantern book, and that's all ink on paper, so really great job.
MD: Green Lantern has been one of those books that I really, really want to draw one day. The moment I saw that he was doing one, I said dammit. Green Lantern is one of the series that DC really needed to shake up the style of. This might not be the hottest opinion, but I'm not a fan of the way it's been looking these past ten years. I wish most of the Green Lantern books looked more like Darwyn Cooke.
MD: His work on New Frontier is the best Green Lantern I've ever seen, and I wish more Green Lantern books looked that direction, and not in the super-realistic.
BW: The Green Lantern books as of late are too slick and polished.
MD: I would say they need to shake things up. I really liked Joe Quinones GL story in Wednesday Comics. I like a colourful approach. It needs to be unique. It needs to be weird. It needs to be a fun space romp. They're space cops!
BW: Yeah. A few years ago there was a one-shot. There was a big event called Darkseid War at DC, and there was a one-shot. It was written by Tom King, probably one of the hottest writers in comics right now. The art was done by Doc Shaner, and I cannot remember who colored it, I'll try to look it up.
MD: Doc Shaner, you had me there.
BW: That was another one where, not only was the texture so much nicer than a lot of the Green Lantern work that you see lately, but some of the artwork in there, it almost remindeded me of some of what George Pérez was doing in the original Infinity Gauntlet series. Just these spreads where you've got the outline of a character, and then you've got an ocean of stars instead of their body. These really big visual ideas. That kind of stuff needs to be in Green Lantern all the time.
BW: Because some of the Green Lantern stories, at least from a writing standpoint recently haven't been bad, some of them have actually been pretty good, but the art definitely has gotten a little stale, I think.
MD: I feel like they're too Earth-bound. They should go further out. A few years back, there was a short-lived animated series, which was full 3D.
MD: That was kind of amazing. I loved the whole thing. It was like two seasons, and it was just beautiful. It was all in space, on the border of Green Lantern Corps reach, and it was just so good. Space cops!
BW: You're giving me more stuff to watch now, I actually haven't watched that either.
MD: They had Anti-Monitor, I think? Very Kirby-esque looking guy... Anyway, it was just so good. It was the first full-3D animated series that I thought, hey, this actually looks good. It looks like Bruce Timm done in 3D style. And I was really sad when they canceled it, and they canceled it just to put on that Batman show that lasted ten episodes.
BW: Which Batman series was it that replaced it?
MD: The Batman, it was like full-3D also.
BW: Oh, yeah.
MD: That didn't even last. And I think it was made by the same guys, but it wasn't the same. The other was fun and colorful, with stars and planets and weird-looking creatures. And The Batman one was just...yeah, more Green Lantern PLEASE!
BW: So, you're doing everything digital now. Do you largely skip the penciling step? Do you just kind of roughly sketch and then ink?
MD: Yeah, that's gone. That left years ago. The moment I get trust from an editor and everything is good, then we can skip that step.
BW: Probably completely unnecessary at this point, right?
MD: It's not unnecessary. Penciling for most editors is the last step they can give their okay to. When you're inking by hand, once you've said okay to the pencils, inks are final. Once I got familiar with BOOM!, with Eric Harburn, who's my editor for the last five years basically. Once we got familiar, then he could just give me the okay based on my small layouts...my workday is basically a full page a day.
BW: That's great.
MD: Some days, like today and yesterday and tomorrow, it's going to be two pages a day.
BW: Oh wow.
MD: So the penciling part is the way I wake up. I come into the office, have my coffee, for two hours I'm penciling my pages, then I go straight into inks, then straight into colors. So by the end of the work day, I've got a final page. If I had to stop that process and wait for approvals on pencils, then that would add like an extra week onto the schedule.
BW: Now is that a sixteen-hour work day, or is it something a little more reasonable?
MD: For me, it's around twelve hours. I live in Greece, it's past three in the morning here.
MD: I try to keep it reasonable, but the good thing with comics and the bad thing with comics is conventions. It's great to go to conventions and have a blast and see people you haven't seen in a while or meet new readers, but it also takes a chunk out of your work schedule. So right now I'm in the process of getting as many pages as I can done. If I can finish the issue before the next convention I have to go to in two weeks, that would be great. If I can get ninety percent done, I'll be okay schedule-wise.
BW: Now which convention is that you're going to in two weeks?
MD: I'm going to one in Belgium, called FACTS, and it's my first Belgian comic con that I'm going to, so it'll be fun.
BW: You mentioned that you were in New York last year. Do you make it out to New York every year?
MD: Yeah, it's become a ritual. I've been going there five years straight, or six maybe, I can't remember.
MD: That's my only US con I go to.
BW: I'll have to try to find you in October. I've tried to go for the past few years, trying to go when I can.
MD: The New York Comic Con is basically my favorite professional convention. It's the convention I take two weeks off and make sure everything is up to date. I don't need to...I take two weeks, relax for a week in Brooklyn, then have a hard five days at the convention, then head home. It's great, it's my favorite thing.
BW: I love it. It's New York, adn I grew up in New Jersey for most of my childhood, so New York has always been my city, so it's always great to be back in New York. I just also love that there's so many pros there. Even though there's a big entertainment presence there, they've got movie stars and stuff there too, it's still clearly a comic convention, and I appreciate that. Some of the other conventions I've been to, like in Philadelphia, some years you go and there's barely a comics pro in sight.
MD: Yeah, it's bad. I've only been to San Diego once, like nine years ago. That was before I started doing comics in the US, that was me basically just saying hello to people and trying to get my work into peoples' hands. It was rough. It was rough because nine years ago, I was in my early twenties and I was thinking <SIGHS> where do you start in this place. There's no one really here, and you just keep getting distracted by all this big movie and video game stuff. That's why when I went to New York, it was like the best situation. The Artist Alley alone. The last couple of years where it was like a whole building to itself, was just perfect.
BW: Oh yes.
MD: I didn't even leave the Artist Alley. I only left to have a signing somewhere else, and then back in there. I wasn't tabling this year, I was exclusively at the BOOM! Studios booth, which was a different experience, and I really enjoyed that one, too. Because I just had to sit at the booth and just talk to all the people that passed by, which was kind of fun. Just represent, basically. I didn't have to carry stuff over from Greece for the table. I was just in the booth and talking to all the readers that came by. It was the week where The Woods finished, and all the people were coming up to meet me and get the last issue. So it was pretty fun for people to find me in that specific place.
I wish most conventions didn't have to take that film, video game route. It brings people, but they aren’t there to read comics. I've had situations where I'll be tabling at a con, and two tables down there will be a guy from Game of Thrones.
BW: <LAUGHS> Yeah
MD: You're screwed, basically.
BW: I imagine it's tough, too, because if you have a particularly big draw for a movie or something that's coming out...you know, you're going to that convention hoping to interact with people because of your work, and you can end up where a large percentage of the ticket sales for a given day went to folks who don't even read comics.
MD: Yeah, that's the point. I've had situations where people came up to me, picking up one of my books, saying "should I read this? Is this good?" because they didn't even register me as the artist.
MD: I was a guy selling books. I was like "yeah, it's pretty awesome, you should pick it up" <LAUGHS>
BW: <LAUGHS> "Yeah, that's my favorite book, I think you'll love it!"
MD: It doesn't help when you have three different kind of styles on one table. Turtles, The Woods, and then Gotham Academy, and people can't register the fact that one person is doing all these different things.
BW: Right. Did you do some work on Gotham Academy?
MD: Yeah, I did a short story, which I wrote, also. My first writing credit in the US. In the Yearbook, the Gotham Academy Yearbook. And I did one third of the annual that came out last summer—was it last summer? I think it was last summer. Actually, I think it was the summer before. In the trades, both of the things I did are in the Yearbook.
That was really fun. It was a really fun experience. I drew Gustav DeCobra, he’s a vampire who looks like Christopher Lee, basically. From the sixties or seventies, and they brought him back for Gotham Academy. And I also got to draw Blight from Batman Beyond.
BW: Oh, very nice!
MD: That was my cup of tea!
BW: <LAUGHS> Well, before we wrap up, what are some other things on the horizon for you? I imagine you're kind of head-down working on the next few issues of this book, but do you have anything lined up after Lucy Dreaming?
MD: Yeah, I do. I have one thing—actually, I have two things. Is it two? The one thing I'll be doing straight after this is more Turtles. I go back to the sewers of New York every year, basically, for the last three years. So once I wrap up with Lucy, I'll do some more work on that, and I'm currently writing my own book, which is something that's been on my back burner for nine years.
BW: What's it called?
MD: There's a few names, actually. It's at that stage where I can't nail down a perfect title. There's like five different names I just keep going backwards and forwards on. Let's just call it now The Thieves of Wortwood.
MD: It's going to be an all-age, dark comedy, macabre, but also light and whimsical like something that Laika, the stop motion animation studio would do.
BW: Like Box Trolls, Kubo.
MD: Before I started working in the US market, I was doing mostly my own stuff, and that was one of the books that I was hoping to get around to.
BW: Do you have a publisher in mind for that, or are you going to be Kickstarting it?
MD: I've already got a publisher in mind, we're already talking about it. It's already at an early stage. Basically, I have nine years' worth of concept design on it.
BW: Oh wow.
MD: I have a huge, like six-giga folder just full of weird characters and settings for this book. I'm just getting round to fixing up the actual synopsis. I'm putting together how it will all pan out. It's kind of weird, that I haven't written a big story since 2009. When I stopped doing my own stuff and started working in the US, I started to follow a different system. It's harder to become a writer, so you basically just start working with other writers and getting your work out there. And I think now is the time when I'm pretty confident that I can take on the whole task, the whole book, myself.
BW: Wow. That's exciting, and I'm definitely looking forward to checking it out whenever you...
MD: Whenever that happens!
BW: I didn't mean for that to sound sarcastic...
BW: But it sounded like it when it came out!
BW: "OH YEAH, I'LL CHECK THAT OUT WHEN THAT ONE COMES OUT!"
MD: <LAUGHS> It's been nine years already, I wouldn't be surprised if it's going to be another two or three years.
BW: <LAUGHS> Well hey, Michael, it's late where you are, or early depending on your perspective, and I've got an early morning coming up for me tomorrow. But thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, and I enjoyed the book a lot. I think I told Jay, my partner on the site, that this is probably the funniest comic I've read in a couple of years.
MD: That's great.
BW: My standard for that, by the way, is Skottie Young.
MD: Today has just been a rush, basically. The whole day, on Twitter, constantly getting updates. Reviews from this site, and another review from this site. It's just been...it's all good. All reviews have been so great and supportive.
BW: That's great. You guys deserve it, because you definitely really nailed it with this, it's a good book. Anyway, I hope you manage to get some sleep before you start your next twelve-hour day. I'm sure I'll be in touch over the coming months and the coming years as you continue to do good work.
MD: Thank you very much!
BW: Alright, have a good one.
MD: You too, man.
You can check out Michael's work on Lucy Dreaming right now. The first issue was released on March 21 in the US, and issue #2 is scheduled to come out April 18.