(Courtesy of Black Mask Studios)
In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, writer Ryan Lindsay and artist Sami Kivelä discuss their latest crime thriller, Beautiful Canvas #1. In the first installment from Black Mask Studios, readers are introduced to a hard-bitten assassin struggling with her unwavering moral crisis.
As we previously mentioned, Beautiful Canvas follows Lon Eisley, a hit-woman hired to kill a small child. Lon gets her latest orders after discovering her girlfriend pregnant. In a bold declaration of uncertainty, she saves the boy and hits the road. Her boss clearly wants the boy dead for a reason and will stop at nothing. This warped crime dystopia dives into the emotional dichotomy of creator/destroyer as Lon attempts to connect the two very different worlds she now inhabits.
During our conversation, I went over with Ryan Lindsay and Sami Kivelä about their creative process, how Lon Eisley came about, and what to expect from upcoming issues of Beautiful Canvas.
Villain Media: Lon Eisley reminds me of tough female protagonists in Atomic Blonde and La Femme Nikita.
VM: Ryan, what was the inspiration behind the character?
Ryan Lindsay: Lon was always the centerpiece for this story. The hit-woman hired to kill a small child was the very first element I cooked up. It came to me, not with a complete character, but with that concept. It wasn’t until I added her girlfriend, Asia, and introduced the idea of them bringing a child into the world that Lon really popped off the page for me. I could see her emotional truth. And I could see the moral dichotomy in which she lived, a destroyer suddenly creating.
I didn’t specifically look to strip mine elements from any known kickass female characters – I usually find the stuff I steal [*cough* homage *cough*] is more about the tone than anything else. I wanted Lon to feel completely unique in who she was and how she would act.
VM: Sami, tell me about the look. How did the character design come about?
Sami Kivelä: Quite easily actually. When I read the script for the first time, I instantly knew how I wanted to portrait Lon. So I did some head-shots and a couple of sketches of her in different types of clothes and sent them to Ryan. Ryan liked the character design right away, and he just picked up the clothes that he thought would be the best fit. It was pretty nice that we were on the same page immediately.
VM: The chapter title, “The Hitwoman With Crystal Plumage,” refers to Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
VM: Ryan, tell me about the inspiration behind the title.
RL: I put this here firstly because it’s just such an amazing title. It would be the title of the book if I thought we could pull it off [it’s a touch long].
Secondly, it’s here because I’m a huge Argento fan. I love the tone of his work, the way his violence plays on the screen, visceral, and emotional, and real; while also being a touch hyper-real.
Then thirdly, I put this little Easter egg in because I want people who get it to know they are in safe hands. If you know an Argento deep cut, and you know I know, then we can instantly connect over that – like you do when you get to know mates. So you see the title, and you know we are on the same page. You hopefully know I’m going to deliver something worthy of invoking a legend’s name.
VM: Sami, Do these movie references help the visual cues of the comic?
SK: I didn’t use them that much as a reference. As a matter fact, I haven’t seen any Dario Argento’s movies since early 90’s. Luckily I only needed to know what the cover of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage looked like 🙂
VM: I love the panel layout for Lon’s standoff with Julie, especially how the action is told mostly through wide shots. Tell me how this visual sequence came about.
SK: Thanks! Ryan had scripted the scene very clearly, including all the great action etc. But when I was planning the page, I was a bit afraid that it would look too simple and plain when illustrated, but at the same time I wanted to keep the wide-shots Ryan had written and I had already thumb-nailed. So I needed to figure out what to do with those elements, and I decided to add some insert panels (for example a bullet smashing the carrot) to make the scene more fascinating and alive.
VM: Readers are introduced to the Bond villain, Milla, in the boxing ring. It’s a great scene that tells the readers everything they want to know about the antagonist.
VM: Ryan, tell me about the significance of the setting.
RL: I find boxing fascinating, because it’s a sport, but it’s also an art. It’s a gruesome struggle of violence, but it’s also labelled a gentlemanly pursuit. This is the split Milla lives in, she wants it nasty, but she wants you to appreciate it. She wants to create art, but not in a passive sense. She expects you to die for your art; literally.
Then there’s the great double entendre of paint on an art canvas and blood on the boxing ring canvas. Both are legitimate, but I know which Milla prefers.
VM: Sami, the scene is told through over-the-shoulder shots from Lon’s POV. Tell me about the significance of this perspective.
SK: Actually there’s only one over-the-shoulder shot on that page. But I just always try to tell the story the clearest and easiest way possible so that the readers understand what’s going on and where, but I also try to keep everything interesting so that they don’t get bored. And hopefully I’ve succeeded in it.
VM: The themes of childhood innocence and impending parenthood strike up throughout the narrative.
VM: Ryan, tell me about the relationship between the protector and protected, Lon and Alex.
RL: I love the way these two interact. Alex is just looking for a better adult in his life, and Lon just needs to practice, and they’re meeting somewhere in the middle on this. But they’re also gonna fail on these counts in a few respects.
Each person just means too much to the other, no one could live up to that. Sadly. But they’ll both learn through the other, and that’s all we ever really do in the real world anyway. We aim for perfect connections, we fail many times over, but it shapes who we become.
VM: Sami, Lon and Alex are always drawn together in two-shots, as if they are equals in eye level. Tell me about illustrating these characters in this perspective.
SK: There isn’t anything visually symbolic in the panels they both appear in. There are quite many pictures they are talking to each other, and it was just natural to draw them together into those.
VM: Beautiful Canvas marks your fourth collaboration together. How do you feel this project pushes your storytelling and artistic capabilities?
RL: This is Sami’s strongest work so far, no doubt about it in my eyes. He manages to level up with every project, and this one is just leaps and bounds ahead again in terms of emotion and storytelling. He’s exploring the page in new ways, stretching and testing himself. It’s been amazing to watch, and a privilege to be a part of it. On my end, I’ve tried to write better for him every time – leaning into the way he draws faces so beautifully, and trying to get out of his way when it comes to fluidity of panels and storytelling. I might write full script, but Sami knows he gets final call on all things visual, so I defer to him. And that’s always been the right call.
SK: Thanks for your kind words, mate! I do try to get better in every project I work on (everybody does, right?), so it’s nice to hear if people notice it. Ryan always manages to challenge me. He knows my strengths, but he doesn’t rely on them, so I’m forced to learn something new every time I work with him, which is awesome.
VM: What do you want readers to come away with after reading Beautiful Canvas #1?
RL: I want readers to become so attached to Lon that they have to follow her through on her story arc. She’s the lead, she’s the one who is going to experience some wild stuff, and change by story’s end. So we want the reader to really invest in her and her problem. Because we don’t know what it’s like to be a hit-woman, but some of us do know what it’s like to stare down the fact we are about to become parents. And wondering if we are horrible people, and if that means we always will be, and if that means we’ll be terrible parents is a legit concern I know rattles around many brains and we wish it wouldn’t. So through the insanity of the plot, we want readers to really feel emotionally connected to events and characters.
SK: I have nothing to add to Ryan’s answer. He said it all!
VM: What should readers be excited about with Beautiful Canvas #2?
RL: They should get pumped to see an opening sequence from Sami that’s just utterly gorgeous in style and flow. Then there’s this insane action sequence that’s just poetry on the page from Sami. I also think the end of the second issue is one of our best sequences yet in comics.
SK: If they like all the small weird things in issue # 1, I bet they’ll love issue #2. When you think that things can’t get any crazier, they will. And of course, most importantly, they should be excited to know what happens to Lon and the gang.
VM: What other projects are you working on now?
SK: Unfortunately I have no other confirmed comic book projects on the horizon at the moment.
RL: I’m working on the end game after having been selected for the DC Writers’ Workshop and seeing what comes next for it. Then there’s just a bunch of pitching for some creator owned properties that I’m getting into.
Beautiful Canvas #1 is in stores now. Check out our review here!
– By Jorge Solis