Do You Even Comic Book!? sat down and spoke with Leisl Adams, an introverted blerd artist based in Canada. She’s currently a Director and Story Artist at Jam Filled Entertainment for the children’s show WellieWishers. She worked as a Story Artist on The Bagel and Becky Show, Atomic Puppet, Rusty Rivets, Cyberchase, and Pirate’s Passage. She was also the penciler on the graphic novel Pixies for Arcana Comics.
In our Skype chat with her, we got the scoop about her career path, what inspires her, and her “quiet rebel” side.
DYECB: What’s your favorite color to include in your illustrations?
Leisl: Purple, but I do a lot of my illustrations in black and white.
DYECB: Which artist have you recently started following on social media?
DYECB: Who is your favorite superhero?
Leisl: Wonder Woman.
DYECB: Who or what inspires your creation process?
Leisl: [Deep introspective inhale] Well, there are a lot of artists that I see online and follow. A lot of storyboard artists I know also do comic and illustration work; I find myself getting inspired by them.
DYECB: Is there something your eyes look for when you’re looking for another artist to follow? What speaks to you?
Leisl: I like a good design sense and nice colors or when I see an artist that makes me think: oh I wish I could paint like this. When I see anything I want to improve on like background work—which I’m horrible at—that’s what I usually look for.
DYECB: Can you describe the trajectory of your career? How did you evolve to become a storyboard illustrator?
Leisl: I’ve been working for over 15 years in animation. I graduated from Sheridan College. My first jobs were “clean-up”* and “inbetweening”** on paper. So, I was an animator for a lot of years. I was actually doing my own web comic called On the Edge and someone saw that comic and recommended me for a storyboarding job! Then, I kept going with it. I really like doing storyboards and I kept doing the comics as well. Last year I got to direct a series, which was cool. I [also] did a few years in game illustration and I did a few comics for a company called Rubicon Publishing and they do educational comics for schools.
DYECB: How is illustrating for storyboards different from comic drawing?
Leisl: Storyboarding is usually for television—it’s the stage before animation. It’s like [a] blueprint for the whole show or movie. They’re much more technical [than comics] and they have arrows and directions on them. But, they’re both similar in that they’re sequential—they both tell a story.
DYECB: A lot of your art has been in black and white. Why do you usually prefer illustrating in black and white as opposed to color?
Leisl: I started doing comics [that were] inspired by comic strips in the newspaper so my first web comics were like that. [Also] I actually work in black and white a lot because I do storyboards for a living and I think it’s simple, but it can still be challenging to still get a nice aesthetic. You can still do a lot with it.
DYECB: How do you capture various skin tones when using black and white?
Leisl: Yeah, that’s part of the challenge—bringing that stuff out. Grayscale still has a lot of shades within it so there are a lot of shades to choose from. It also challenges me to not lean on the color because there are other features that can illustrate different races like hair texture. I can [also] play with the simplicity of lines. I like that sort of challenge.
DYECB: Yes! I saw your tutorial on how to draw various hair types in Black Comix Returns. I thought it was so cool because I’ve never seen that before!
Leisl: That’s why I did it! I see hair tutorials all the time and they always have nice flow-y hair so, I was like, I’m going to do my own!
DYECB: What are the biggest challenges that you face as an illustrator?
Leisl: I find social media and getting people to know me through social media a challenge—getting followers and stuff—which I don’t really care about. Maybe that’s why I don’t do a lot of professional comic work. People know me in TV land so I get most of my work there. I’m very introverted, so that’s always a challenge [laughs].
DYECB?: What has your experience been like as a Black female in the illustration world?
Leisl: Racism isn’t as in your face here [in Canada] as it is in America. But, I don’t meet too many Black female directors in this community so there’s definitely a gap there. I don’t think about it. Sexism…I have definitely seen that. You’ll see lots of women in animator roles, but when you get to senior positions like directing you don’t see as many women there; there’s still a barrier—a glass ceiling.
DYECB: Well for you to have come this far despite any barriers is really inspiring!
Leisl: Thank you [smiles].
DYECB: I can see that illustration makes you really happy. What is it about art that brings you joy?
Leisl: Hmm. It’s something that I’ve always done—it’s like [a] part of me I guess. It’s a hobby and my job. My entire life has been as an artist so it’s second nature.
DYECB: If you had the opportunity to illustrate any movie in history and turn it into a storyboard, which movie would you choose and why?
Leisl: [Long pause, deep in thought] I was actually asked a similar question before and I think I said The Lion King. So, the movies that were in the heyday of Disney animation. Those movies are what made me want to do this [illustration] and The Little Mermaid.
DYECB: Speaking of mermaids, it is #MerMay on Instagram—where artists are challenged to draw these mythical creatures. I noticed, though, that instead of choosing to illustrate a mermaid, you chose to create a squid—or “squidmaid” as you call it. Why?
Leisl: Oh…because I’m an asshole [laughs]. Can I say that [here]? That’s why. I like to mess people up, mess with the status quo, and mess with rules. I was like…freak you guys! I’m going to be awesome and make a squid! Someone once referred to me as a quiet rebel—I rebel in quiet ways.
DYECB: Do you think you’d ever make your squid the center of an actual comic?
Leisl: Probably not, but I like that people think I could though [laughs]. I like coming up with ideas that people like. If I actually did it every day—I don’t keep up with the everyday part—but I would compile it into a book at the end.
DYECB: Your comic Not My Show explores your own interracial relationship. What do you hope people learn about IR relationships?
Leisl: We are just regular. We’re a really boring couple [laughs] just like everybody else, [it’s] just to normalize it [IR relationships]. It’s funny, we think of ourselves as super boring and normal yet we get reactions from other people.
DYECB: What are your current projects?
Leisl: We’re just wrapping up now, it’s [a show] called WellieWishers; it’s from American Girl, you know those dolls. It’s Season 3 of that show, the first two were done somewhere else and my company sort of took it from them and revamped it a little. We did 13 episodes and it’s a show with five girls and they play in a forest; it’s a preschool series.
DYECB: What do you enjoy about working on this show?
Leisl: It’s a cute show. The backgrounds are nice along with the designs. The animation was done really well. I loved working with the crew as well and the client was really happy with it!
Leisl is currently writing a graphic novel titled Loser’s Dozen. It’s about a girl who enters a baking contest. To keep up with her work you can follow her on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also find her on BentoComics.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
*Clean-up = removing the rough animation by tracing over to make sure he lines look clean. After this process, an animator can begin inking the illustration.
**Inbetweening = Also called “tweening.” The images used in order to show movement so that the motion looks fluid.
Ayana Arnette Underwood is a journalist and copy editor at Black Girl Nerds. She’s the editor-in-chief of the comic analysis blog ComixBawse and is also a barista. She contributes articles to Do You Even Comic Book? and Women Write About Comics. She loves cats and chocolate and is on her way to getting her Masters in Publishing and Writing. She’s also obsessed with both dirty and corny jokes! She hates mansplaining, people that hate on Black women and sushi. Check out her writing/video portfolio too! Also, find her on Twitter, IG, Facebook, and Tumblr.