Interview by Dani Ketch
Tess Fowler is a comic creator based in Los Angeles that I met a few years ago at San Diego Comic-Con after I had commissioned some art from her for a project at work, and we’d been chatting via email. (I still have the sketch she gave me framed in my office, because it’s awesome.) She lives with her husband, cartoonist Chris Gutierrez of From the Gut Comic and their infamous cat Sam the Hellbeast, who cameos in their work. She’s done various and sundry comic jobs handling TV properties, including “Charmed.” Other interesting projects include an illustrated album cover and music video for Lisa Loeb, and most recently an animated history video for Season 3 of “Game of Thrones,” narrated by “The Blackfish” Mister Clive Russell. Currently she is working on her creator owned webcomic series, The Rascals.
Legion of Leia: First of all, can you tell us how you got started as a comic book artist?
Tess Fowler: I frequented the Heavy Metal Magazine forum boards about 11 or 12 years back. It was a tight knit community of artists, and eventually Kevin Eastman brought me out to work the booth at San Diego Comic-Con. He and Howie gave me my first publication in the magazine. With that foothold I slowly climbed my way into other parts of the comic book world.
Legion of Leia: What tips would you give other women looking to break into the comics industry?
Tess Fowler: Speak your truth loudly, hold your head high, and carry a very big stick.
Legion of Leia: What does it mean to you, to be part of the Legion of Leia, and part of this community of women in sci-fi?
Tess Fowler: Right now it actually means everything. I went through quite a few years where I felt very alone in shark infested waters. It’s not that way anymore. Women have come out of the woodwork to link arms and support each other. Hearing from women who have been doing this for 25-30 years and are still surviving, still going strong…that is life altering.
Legion of Leia: Last fall, you spoke up about an incident of harassment by a comic writer that resulted in a lot of media coverage. In your blog, you expressed hope that we could see a comic book industry that is not only harassment-free, but is, “a thriving, healthy modern business full of all kinds of creative people and personalities.” What kind of response have you gotten from sharing your story? Why do you think ongoing dialogue about harassment is important?
Tess Fowler: Immediate response to my outspokenness was a backlash of abuse. Interesting that talking in an open forum about my own past experiences with harassment would ignite such a wave of fanboy outrage. But quickly that backlash was outdistanced by a response from professionals and fans alike that was wildly supportive and open about discussing the issues. People sharing their experiences with me, their horror stories and their survival tales. I still get e-mails from folks just wanting to vent about it all.
The climate has changed since last fall. Open dialogue about harassment, gender and race has become more commonplace. I’ve been told I had something to do with that and I’ve been thanked. All I did was fire the warning shot. The resulting cacophony of not only womens’ voices, but also those of the LGBTQ and PoC communities, speaks volumes about how necessary an open, ongoing conversation actually is. We need to feel safe to speak. Silence does not breed change.
Legion of Leia: Hear hear!! Switching gears a bit, who was the first sci-fi, fantasy or comic book character that really sparked your imagination?
Tess Fowler: Grace Jones as Zula in Conan the Destroyer, hands down. My road creatively has always been just me overcoming my societal upbringing to get back to that pure head space when I was eight years old and in love with a grinning madwoman. I think it was my dad’s admiration for her that truly did it, combined with my mother’s immediate distaste.
Legion of Leia: Ha! What about current comics, what can you recommend to our readers?
Tess Fowler: Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe and Roc Upchurch, This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, and Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.
Legion of Leia: Who else in this community do you think we should profile?
Tess Fowler: Off the top of my head: Claire Hummel, Shing Yin Khor, Renae De Liz, Kate Leth, Noelle Stevenson and Katie Cook.
Legion of Leia: What are you working on now?
Tess Fowler: Currently I’m working on The Rascals, which is my own creator-owned project. I also have a one shot coming out in the winter, which has yet to be announced, and a series with writer Kurtis Wiebe in the works.