Becky Cloonan stays busy. When she’s not writing high-profile comics like The Punisher and Gotham Academy, or drawing books like Conan the Barbarian and goddamn Batman, she’s creating art for bands, music festivals, and even a little band called Black Sabbath. A bullet point on her artistic career is a dream gig for other artists, and when you look at her art, it’s easy to see why Cloonan has found so much success in the world of heavy music.
Her style is tight and solid; there’s a sure line that lends itself perfectly to a poster or album cover. It helps that she draws monsters, sexy humans, and swords better than just about anybody, too. You need a naked lady being seduced by a bloody werewolf, or a strapping woodsman locked in an otherwordly embrace? Cloonan's got you covered.
She takes this success in stride though, hustling constantly, pumping out awesome artwork on the regular, catching heavy metal shows as often as possible, and visiting the remote countryside (“There are so many cows in Texas,” she told me).
With all that going on, you'd think Cloonan would be impossible to get in touch with, but when I reached out for this interview, she replied moments later with a “Fuck yeah.”
Noisey: First of all, congrats on The Punisher, you are tearing it up.
Becky Cloonan: Thank you! We are having a lot of fun on that book.
What’s it like working with Steve Dillon? He’s sort of the defining Punisher artist in a lot of readers’ minds.
Yeah! Steve is incredible, he’s legendary. Not just on Punisher, but Preacher, too. I grew up reading his comics, so working with him is really something. Mind-blowing. He also picks up a lot of slack for me, since almost everything I know about guns I learned from Halo. It’s great to be on a team with people who make up for my shortcomings.
Do you like working in superhero comics? You’ve done some huge things in the genre over the last few years.
I do, but only when I feel like I have something to say. I’ve turned some really cool jobs down because I didn’t feel like it was a good fit for me. It took a while to realize that I’m at a place in my career I can turn jobs down like that. I love working with genre comics—sci-fi and fantasy especially—but I always gravitate to characters and stories that feel really personal. I like being able to take a magnifying glass into a fantastic environment.
I often describe you to people as “the most metal person in comics.” Would you agree with that?
I don’t know about “most,” but I certainly am metal enough to build a bomb shelter.
I first discovered your art through your comics, but quickly learned you do all sorts of art in the world of heavy music. How’d you get into working with bands?
I moved to New York in 1998, and pretty quickly got into the punk and hardcore scene, and started doing album, T-shirt,and flyer art, and I guess just kept doing it. My main job has always been comics, but it’s great to be able to work with bands I love, since music is such a big part of my life, and what inspires so much of my art. I just did a poster for Black Sabbath’s The End tour, and I was like, “Damn, this is as good as it gets, time to hang it up.” Crazy!
A lot of your work has a medieval, fantasy sort of feel. Where does that come from?
Growing up I read too many fantasy novels; I watched The Last Unicorn and Ladyhawke too many times. I love history and I grew up in a forest. I can’t help it! It’s just part of me, I guess. For better or worse.
I noticed that a lot of your sexier art seems to get booted off of Instagram because people report it. What do you think scares folks about it?
This is not just me, ask any artist and they probably have had some life drawing or some nude censored from Facebook or Instagram. Sometimes I imagine the type of person that gets offended by a nipple and yeah, it’s annoying, but I honestly feel bad for them. Imagine being that uptight. What a waste of energy.
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys—the book you did with My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way—seemed like a sort of a merger of your two worlds. How did that come about?
That project started as just a comic, but it got put on hold and they ended up using it as the story for their Killjoys concept album. It was a really crazy evolution of ideas, and a whole lot of fun. I’m always looking for new projects to be involved in —like the last few months I started writing a rock opera with Mike Hardin of American Sharks! And last year I wrote a short film that Olaf Svenson directed in Paris, and it’s going to be in a few film festivals this year. I love collaborating, I love learning new things, and I love working with people who inspire and challenge me.
What are some of your favorite music projects you’ve done?
I’ve done a bunch of shirts for The Sword, those dudes rule and it’s always a blast to work with them. I also did an album cover for Clutch last year, which was a lot of fun, and most recently I did a poster for Cough’s Texas dates this July. But the project I’m most proud of was doing the art for this past year’s Roadburn Festival! What they have is something special, and it was such an honor to be a part of it.
Yeah, it was pretty crazy seeing all your art posted around Roadburn Fest. How’d that gig come about?
I went to Roadburn in 2015 as a fan, and ended up running into Norwegian cartoonist Kim Holm, who briefly introduced me to Walter, who directs the festival. It was only a few weeks after I got home that he got in touch asking me to do the art for the following year. Everyone involved is so rad and made me feel like part of the family. They blew up my art to be on these 4-meter-tall banners, seeing them all waving in the wind made me almost cry! Roadburn changed a lot of things for me. If you haven’t gone, you gotta! There is something so inspiring about this festival. There’s nothing else in the world quite like it.
Is there a band or label you have not worked with that you’d want to? I could see you doing something with Neurosis.
Fuck, doing art for Neurosis would be a dream! Any band on Neurot, actually. And while we’re dreaming, I’d love to work with Solstafir, Tau Cross, and Thou.
What are you listening to lately?
Uriah Heep, mostly!
Does the Punisher listen to metal? What bands is he into?
You know, I don’t think the Punisher I’m writing listens to music. I feel like if Jason Voorhees wouldn’t do it, the Punisher probably wouldn’t either. But I guess if he did it’d be the first four Metallica albums. On repeat. Forever.
Benjamin Bailey is drawing outside the lines on Twitter.