Bringing Abbott to life with artist Sami Kivelä

Bringing Abbott to life with artist Sami Kivelä

Boom!s Abbott is as good a supernatural detective story as I’ve read, with a complex protagonist and well-developed supporting characters. The book’s visual identity owes much to its setting in 1970’s Detroit, and the brilliance with which artist Sami Kivelä brings both the city and its citizens to life. I recently had the chance to correspond with Sami and ask about his work on Abbott, and it is my pleasure to share it with you now. 

Brian Warshaw: How did you get into comics? Did you read them as a child?

Sami Kivelä: I have always read comics, more or less. I'm from Finland, so when I was a child, I read mostly translated comics that were available here. Back then, my favorite comics were The Phantom and Tintin.

BW: When did you know that you wanted to work in comics?

SK: I guess I have wanted to work in comics since I was a teenager. Although, I wanted to be many other things as well, like a rock star or a soccer player! There have been times when I didn't think about making comics at all. But I got interested again in around 2005, when my co-worker of that time asked me to draw a comic book he had written.

BW: I’m not familiar with your work outside of Abbott. The aesthetic in the book feels very well-suited to the 70s. Part of that is Jason’s colors, but your style is a big factor, too, with thick lines and simple internal detail (which remind me of John Paul Leon). Is this the way you like to draw in general, or is this just an approach that you’re taking for this book?

SK: Yes, this is how I like to draw, but my goal is to make every project feel a bit different. I approach every book with fresh eyes and the way I think suits the story best.

If you look at my previous book Beautiful Canvas, for example, you should recognize my style, although it’s not exactly the same as in Abbott. Or at least that’s what I think.

BW: The city itself is such a big part of this story. Did you study images of Detroit before getting ready to work on the book?

SK: I always try to do as much research as possible, especially when I'm drawing real places and different eras. So yes, I went through many, many images while working on the book.

BW: Do you get a lot of direction from Saladin, or are his scripts fairly spare?

SK: Like other writers I’ve worked with, Saladin writes more detailed outlines for some scenes and leaves some of them more open. I like it, as it gives me more space and I can be even more creative with my layouts and the storytelling.

BW: In issue one, there’s a page where you show the passage of time with an ash tray that keeps filling up with more cigarettes. That’s great storytelling. Was that your idea, or did Saladin ask you to include it?

SK: Thanks! It was my idea to add those little ashtray panels to that page. Saladin had written that in the first panel of that scene Elena smokes while she’s working on a story, and it’s afternoon, and in the next panel the sun is setting, she’s still typing and there are more butts in the ashtray. When reading the script, I immediately thought that it would be a nice storytelling trick to use the filling ashtray as another way to show the readers the passing of time.

BW: This is a small detail, but in a lot of comics, when you see a newspaper, you see this drawn paper, and then computer fonts are used to add the headlines and such. I love that you drew the masthead and headlines on the Daily, because it looks so much more convincing when the paper and the letters are in harmony like this. Did much thought go into this, or did you just go ahead and draw all of that in from the script as a matter of course?

SK: I usually like to "draw" those kinds of elements by hand, because I think they blend well with the art—although I don’t mind using computer fonts either—sometimes they work nicely, too.

In Abbott also the editors wanted me to handwrite all the signs and logos, etc. I think it was a good call, as in my opinion it makes the book look a bit like 70’s comics.

BW: Elena is such a complex character, and I think you captured that visually. She’s beautiful, she’s tough, and at times, she’s even vulnerable. Did you look to any real life inspirations for how to draw her?

SK: Saladin had a quite clear vision of how Elena should look, and he sent me a picture of an actress he thought could be a good reference. However, he didn’t want Elena to look just like her and I totally agreed.

Usually when I'm sketching new characters, I use many different references, so also Elena is a combination of several real-life persons and my own imagination.

BW: You and Jason work well together—has he colored your work before?

SK: He's great, isn't he? This is the first time we have worked together but hopefully not the last.

BW: Abbott is, as you know, a miniseries. Do you have any projects lined up for after it finishes?

SK: I have some plans but nothing's settled at the moment.

My profound thanks to Sami for taking time out of the crazy life of a comics artist to answer my questions. Look for the final issue of Abbott in the next few weeks. 

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