Monday, November 24, 2014

Interview with comic book artist Matthew Southworth

You've heard me rave about Mathew Southworth's art and how big a fan I am of his work, so I'm more than pleased to share this Q&A Matthew and I did to discuss his background and upcoming projects.

Before we get into that, I want to mention that I will be announcing another really exciting guest at the next Comic Book Swap Meet here in the next few days or so! Also, don't forget about the contest for the signed Jet City Comic Show poster over on our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Links are posted at the end of this interview. The poster is signed by some great comic creators including Matthew Clark, Clayton Crain, Tim Seeley, and the subject of the following interview, Matthew Southworth!! Here's a peak at the poster...


Inteview with Matthew Southworth, November 18, 2014
TheSteveStrout: I assume, based on your beautiful artwork, that you've been drawing and doing art in some way from a young age. At what point did you realize that you WANTED to and COULD make a career in the field?

MS: I've been drawing since I was three years old, but there have been some big gaps in there. In my teens I alternated between obsessing over comic books and playing guitar, and eventually I went off to theatre school. From the age of 18 or so on through to my late twenties, I didn't do much drawing at all. But once I'd been working in the film industry for a while, I realized the immediacy of working in comics really appealed to me, so I started diving back in around age 27 or 28.

TSS: Did you have any artistic inspirations growing up?

MS: Yes--I was always "the kid who could draw" in elementary school, and that made me want to be...wait for it...Leonardo da Vinci. I set my sights pretty high. Haven't reached that level yet.

TSS: Your first published comic was a piece in Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon.How did that gig come about?

MS: I met Erik at Emerald City Comicon and showed him my work in hopes of getting a review. He was very helpful--his primary bit of advice was "make sure a thing looks like the thing it's supposed to; this leather jacket does not look like leather", and I learned to look at things with a different eye. He invited me to do the Star backup in Savage Dragon #133, which was very challenging for me but was a great way to get my feet wet. Seeing your work in print is shocking--SHOCKING--but you gotta start somewhere and calibrate your eye to what will actually appear on the printed page.

Here's a commission Southworth did for
me earlier this year when he was a guest
at the Comic Book Swap Meet!!!
TSS: Stumptown is probably your most acclaimed work to date. How did you get that hooked up with Greg Rucka to do the art for the series?
MS: I was working with Stefano Gaudiano as his assistant on DAREDEVIL and a few other assignments, and he was bringing me along, teaching me technique and being an excellent and generous mentor. He and Greg had worked together on GOTHAM CENTRAL, and when STUMPTOWN came along, Greg and Oni contacted Stefano to see if he'd be interested in drawing the book. He didn't have time to do so on his own but suggested that he and his assistant Matt might do it. But it immediately became clear that Stefano had no time to work on it; he put in about an hour and a half on the book total. So all of a sudden Greg and Oni were left holding the bag, stuck with this untested Matt Southworth guy. 

TSS: What are some of the notable comics you've worked on, for fans who aren't as familiar?

MS: I've done a little work here and there for just about every publisher in comics. I just finished an X-Files Christmas Special for IDW; I've done Spider-Man, Spider-Girl, Thunderbolts, X-Men, a Beta Ray Bill Special, Ares and others for Marvel; I did a story in a Batman Special and inked Infinity Inc. for DC; drew a Shadowman story and did layouts on several other books for Valiant; did some layouts for an issue of The Activity for Image; and I've done a number of things for Dark Horse, too. I've been all over the place.

TSS: How hard is the process of putting a writer like Rucka's characters and vision onto the pages?

MS: Extremely easy because Greg's writing is complete, and he's very detailed about character. It's easy, once you've read his script, to picture who these people are and what they look like, how they sit, and so forth. He puts a lot of character in subtext, which is my favorite kind of writing. Alex de Campi, who I'm working with now on a book called MAYDAY, is very effective at the same thing. You read her work and immediately ideas are pinging around all over the place because the script is so full of life.

TSS: Would you say the work in Stumptown best exemplifies your art style?
MS: Hmm. I'm not sure I'd say that, but that's only because my art style changed so much over the course of the two series. I'm constantly testing, pushing, trying new techniques and tools and approaches, and that can create a lack of unity in the work. On the second arc of the book, however, I decided just to go with that impulse, to keep pushing and testing; I figured that where I sacrificed stylistic unity, the work would benefit from enthusiasm and experimentation.
Here's a page from Sumptown #3 on
Oni Press

TSS: How would you personally describe your drawing/inking style if you were to see it from a fan's perspective?
MS: My drawing style is probably best described as "high-contrast", which is something I'm pushing even more now. I think the most marked characteristics of my work are not so much in my drawing style, however, but in my storytelling. I place a very strong emphasis not on how well I draw but on exactly what I draw to convey the drama of the story.

TSS: Do you work in any other artistic mediums other than pencil/ink?
MS: I do... I paint a bit, mostly in watercolor, and I'm coloring MAYDAY and have colored some of my other work. I'm also a very amateur sculptor, fiddling with little bits of clay in order to create maquettes of characters. This helps keep the characters consistent.

TSS: Who is your favorite character to draw?
MS: I don't know the answer to that, actually. I'm finding that the more I do it, the more I like characters who have "caricaturable" features--guys with huge eyebrows or women with long flowing red hair, people with big hands and feet or terrible skin. Character actors instead of romantic leads. 

TSS: You worked with and assisted Stefano Guadiano earlier in your career. How much if any influence did Mr. Guadiano (who happens to be one of my favorite comic artists) have on your drawing technique?

MS: He had a huge influence in teaching me how to approach high contrast work. Stefano uses a strange combination of highly-considered, time-intensive labor and sudden bursts of messy experiment done in a flash, and he passed that on to me. I'm very grateful that that was what I learned from him rather than something more focused on polish and glossy finish; it's the enthusiasm and intellectual stimulation one gets from suddenly deciding to ink a page with a Q-tip or wiping one's dirty hands across a panel that makes it fun.

TSS: If you could work on any current comic book series, what would it be? Why?
MS: This will sound glib, but MAYDAY is the most exciting thing to me. I want to do that, and I want to do this book I'm writing about paramedics who cater to injured superheroes. MAYDAY issue one is the best script I've ever read, and Alex is doing something very interesting with the series. And my paramedic book deals with all sorts of things I've wanted to see in comics but which no one seems to be doing, for some reason. 

TSS: What are you personally reading nowadays?

Matt hanging out at the Comic Book
Swap Meet this past August
MS: Lately I'm reading a lot of prose. This year I've read books by Martin Amis (TIME'S ARROW, which is an amazing book in which the narrative creeps backwards through time), Charles Willeford (PICK-UP, a noir novel that is easily, unquestionably the most surprising book I've ever read--if you seek it out, do yourself a favor and do NOT read ahead or skim anything), Elmore Leonard (MR PARADISE, the audiobook as read by Robert Forster), Gary Webb's DARK ALLIANCE, which is a non-fiction book about the CIA's involvement in building the crack cocaine epidemic in South Central LA in the 1980s, and books by David Goodis, Richard Brautigan, Don DeLillo, and Harlan Ellison, among others. 

As far as comics, I just finished Michael Cho's book SHOPLIFTER; I've been re-reading the Bill Sienkiewicz issues of NEW MUTANTS, which blew my mind when they first came out and which are still amazing; I've been finding old issues of various superhero comics by Trevor von Eeden in his prime experimental phase--those are all pretty fantastic; I just read Chris Ware's BUILDING STORIES, which I'd bought more than a year ago but was intimidated to attempt, it's so big; and I've got books by Al Columbia, Dave McKean, Darwyn Cooke, Zack Soto, Emily Carroll and Brandon Graham all stacked up and ready to go next. I've also been loving Brubaker/Phillips/Breitweiser's THE FADE-OUT, Vaughan/Martin's THE PRIVATE EYE, and Soule/Pulido's SHE-HULK. 

TSS: You also have a background in screenwriting and music. Are there any works out there that we can check out?

MS: As far as screenwriting, no, unfortunately. Years ago I made a feature, BIG WIDE EMPTY, but it was never properly completed. I finished a rough cut but never had the money, time or energy to do a proper mix and tighten up all the weak edits and effects. One day! Music-wise, yes--when my website is back up and running, you'll be able to stream/download several things, be they from my band The Capillaries or from a still-developing project called RKO.

TSS: Do you have any projects coming up, or in the works that you can discuss?

MS: I've mentioned MAYDAY and the as-yet-untitled Superhero Paramedic Project; I'm also writing a book called THE UNDERSTUDY, which is being drawn by Nick Barber. Nick is an animator who is new to the comics industry; his work has so much vitality and character, and it looks totally unique. I can't think of anyone in comics who draws like Nick. That book is about a metaphysical robbery.

I'm finishing up a project for Dark Horse Presents called "Addressee Unknown", which I've written, drawn and colored, and I'm just beginning my second story for CREEPY, which is called "Skinny", about a boy who adopts a sickly monster. Those will both be out before the summer; MAYDAY will likely be out in late summer, and I suspect THE UNDERSTUDY will come out around the same time.

I really appreciate the time Matthew Southworth took for us, and will be on the lookout for the interesting projects he's working on!!! Stay tuned, and go search out some of his work. It's fantastic.

Steve Strout is the media mastermind behind this site, host of the Comic Book Swap Meet, nerd, terrible artist, gamer, convention goer and comic book reader who spends more time rescuing toys from thrift shops than a normal adult should. He is also known around the northwest for his promotion of live music and stand-up comedy events and is the creator/producer of the Olympic Peninsula Comedy Competition (which will make it's big return in 2015). Follow him on Instagram at, and  He can be reached for comments at on twitter at @thestevestrout