December 18, 2020

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Panel Patter Interview with Matt Lesniewski

Crimson Flower #1 Main Cover

Recently, one of our site contributing editors had the privilege to spend some time with an Eisner-nominated new talent in the comic industry, Matthew Lesniewski, and talk about his growing body of work as well as the two projects he has coming from Dark Horse Comics in early 2021. The first of these will be a collaboration with Matt Kindt and Bill Crabtree in a Russian-folklore-themed new series titled Crimson Flower. That debut will be in shops on January 20th and even though the FOC has passed you can still let your shop know to make sure to order you one to set aside. 
Here is our conversation:

Panel Patter (Sean):    Hey Matt, thanks for doing this. I’ve been following your work for almost a year now and I gotta say.. you have such a uniquely textured drawing approach. How long did it take for you to find and hone in on your style?

Matthew Lesniewski:    Sean, thanks for the interview, and for following my work. It means a lot. As far as finding my style — I don’t think I’ve found it. And I probably never will, but that’s okay. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid and it pretty much hasn’t stopped. I think of the way I draw as one continuous thing that keeps evolving and changing over time, with no end; at least, not one I can see. I get bored with drawing things the same way, and that forces me to try and find different ways of approaching things with my inking. So, the way I draw changes constantly. Lucky for me, there are no limits to what you can do with a pen and paper. I don’t think I’ll ever land on a definitive ‘style’. At this time next year my work will probably be unrecognizable to what I’m doing now. 

PP:    So, then, what were the characters you remember drawing the most as a kid?

Matt:    Marvel/DC superheroes and Dragonball Z characters. I’d watch the cartoons, read the comics, and just have the instinct to want to draw them. In middle school, I remember first starting to draw characters I created from my imagination. I remember calling them “crazy guys”, or something like that. I’d draw characters with dozens of weird accessories that didn’t go together at all. One character might have a mustache, an eyepatch, a laser gun, a scarf, a lizard leg, and on and on, all while riding a skateboard and smoking a corncob pipe. Kids in study hall would suggest different things the character should have. They’d all be that weird and not really make any sense, but that was probably the beginning of me drawing characters I thought of on my own.

PP:    I have a feeling that those could make for some really interesting commission requests if you'd get those type of suggestions nowadays. HA! But, hey.. you were nominated for an Eisner in 2019 with your AdHouse release of The Freak after you had already been self-publishing it. Did you anticipate it getting the amount of critical success while you were distributing it yourself?

Matt:    Not ever in my lifetime did I expect to be even thought of by the Eisner awards. When Chris Pitzer emailed me asking if I’d like The Freak to be submitted for consideration by the Eisner’s, I thought of it as a waste of time, but I agreed to it and got lucky. I’m still in disbelief it’s even really been nominated.

PP:    Well it's a fantastic book, and even though I was late on finding it I still consider it one of my favorites from that year. Where did the character in The Freak come from?

Matt:    All of my stories come from a real place. It’s hard for me to invest in something as time- consuming as drawing and writing a comic book if it wasn’t something I related to in some way. The Freak is a metaphor. I’ve heard of several different interpretations of what the story is about, or how people relate to it — and that’s what I intended. I wanted readers to relate to it in whatever way they felt they did. That being said, I’m not going to say where the story comes from, because it’s not about how I relate to it, but it’s something real.

PP:    Tell me how the partnership between you and Matt Kindt happened with your new Dark Horse Comics book, Crimson Flower.

Matt:    Matt [Kindt] picked up The Freak at HeroesCon in 2019 and enjoyed it. That’s how he became familiar with me. I had already been a fan of his. After I finished Static at Dark Horse we connected on the idea for Crimson Flower.

PP:    So, Static, which is out in April 2021, came first, then, creatively for you. As a creator, is there anything difficult about seeing your stuff released in an order that didn’t happen organically while making them?

Matt:    A little bit.. I’d prefer they’d be released in the order they were created so you’re able to see the progression/evolution of everything I’m doing in order. But at the same time, I understand why it’s happening this way. Part of it was due to the pandemic, too. I’m not upset or anything— I’m happy they’re both coming out in general. 

PP:    Since you now have two books you're doing for Dark Horse in 2021, how has going from self-publishing your stuff to having collaborators and a publisher changed the way you approach a story?

Matt:    Working with Matt [Kindt] has been a dream collaboration, but he’s not the first writer I’ve worked with. Aside from a few mini-comics from years ago, I can think of a few scenarios where I’ve worked with writers where the comics just didn’t come to the public for various reasons: A three-issue mini-series that was completely drawn and colored, but was denied by every publisher and never saw the light of day. Another miniseries I backed out of because the writer and I were clashing creatively in every way— I wasn't right for the project. And a one-shot with a writer that just never came out, for some reason. And several pitches that never panned out. A big part of why I like to work by myself is I can avoid all of these headaches. Working with Matt has been a joy, though. As far as working with a publisher, I can’t say it’s changed much. If anything, it might have boosted my confidence in what I’m doing a bit. Giving me faith that this isn’t just one big waste of time. 

PP:    Crimson Flower is solicited as being inspired by Russian folklore driving a narrative that takes a woman on a path of vengeance by way of conspiracy theories and old tales. Matt Kindt seems to have found his niche in telling stories about stories within stories. Why Russian folklore specifically?

Matt:    This was Matt’s [Kindt] idea, so it’s probably more of a question for him. But, I’ve read from other interviews that he was inspired by Russian folktales and had been reading a lot about them. He liked that they were super dark and not only used as entertainment, but conveying information. 

PP:    What was difficult and what was exciting as you brought to life a story from a creator that is quite honestly at the top of his game right now?

Matt:    There wasn’t a lot about it that was difficult. Matt [Kindt] let me do my thing and supported me along that way as I did it. Matt being at the top of his game is true, but I’m probably the best artist I’ve been while drawing this as well. It’s the most recent comic I’ve drawn to date and probably some of my best work. My style evolved dramatically throughout the series, and I think I improved a lot overall. The art in issue one is night and day compared to the final issue, so people need to stick around and read the whole thing to see the change I’m talking about. Bringing this story to life has been very exciting and fulfilling. 

PP:    I’ve had the privilege to have already read Crimson Flower #1 so I can see what you mean by your “best work”. Without giving anything away regarding the story, are you able to elaborate on what you mean by “night and day” when you compare the first issue to the last?

Matt:    Just the evolution of the art. I had a huge breakthrough creatively while working on this. One I didn’t expect— it just happened. It might be a stretch to say my art looks completely different in the final issue from the first, but there’s certainly some major growth. And I’d say it’s not a change that makes the art overall look inconsistent, it’s organic, but that’s just my view of it. Some might disagree. Who knows— you’ll have to read it to see what I mean!

PP:    The way the first issue of Crimson Flower reads made me view it as a very macro approach to storytelling while also existing in a hyper-aware specific space. Did these contrasting approaches to storytelling affect your artistic choices at all?

Matt:    You’re not wrong about that, but I wouldn’t say it affected my artistic choices.

PP:    Both you and Matt Kindt have written and drawn your own comics. How much of the creative process for Crimson Flower was overlapped between story and illustration?

Matt:    Matt [Kindt] was pretty hands off and I kept to myself for much of this collaboration, which I don’t mind. He did his thing, and I did mine. Crimson Flower is what you get at the end of it, with colors by Bill Crabtree of course. This let me know Matt [Kindt] trusted me throughout the process, which gives me confidence and makes me feel comfortable to be myself. I couldn’t ask for more. 

PP:    That’s awesome! What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned after finishing this collaboration with Kindt?

Matt:    Hmmm... that’s a good question. I’d say it’s more of an inspiration I got from Matt, rather than something I learned. I’m just so impressed with how he’s able to do so many different projects— writing and drawing different books all at the same time without compromising anything. That’s something I’ve picked up from him. Like I said earlier, I’m writing a comic for someone else to draw for the first time, with plans to still do my own comic that I write, draw, and hand letter. And it’s doable. I think he opened my mind to that. There are so many stories I want to tell, but drawing/writing a book solo can take months, a year, maybe even years. So why not team up with an artist? This gives me the chance to create more. With my books, I’m pretty precious about them because I’m doing it all, or most of it, but I’m going into the project that I’m just writing with a different mindset. It’s different but in a good way.

PP:    You’ve been sharing a lot of artwork for this upcoming series with Kindt on social media, along with your quick sketches and the insane commissions you do for folks. How do you decide what gets shared and what gets a scrapped?

Matt:    I try to show people enough to get them excited for what’s on the way, without giving too much away. Then again, the more I show, hopefully that means more people will be excited about it and want to pick it up. And, I’m only showing snippets of the overall comic, so I’m not ruining the experience (I hope). 

PP:    Speaking of sketches posted on socials.. those left handed and foot drawing exercises — where did this idea come from and when does the Kickstarter go live for the eventual comic that comes of it?

Matt:    Haha! Glad you noticed that. I was sitting around one day and just thought— “If I lose my drawing arm, is art over for me?” I had to find out for myself. I think I can make do with my left, or even my foot if need be. Sometimes you need to test these things to really know the truth. 

PP:    We mentioned Static earlier, and this one you write and draw, but colors are done by Carlos Badilla. It’s described as being a horror sci-fi. Crimson Flower seems that it could have slight horror tendencies.. eventually, but with how much will your textured drawing approach in Static venture beyond the boundaries that you establish for yourself in Crimson Flower?

Matt:    Crimson Flower is probably more creepy than anything. And kinda weird... but Static smashes through the guard rail and flies off the cliff with body horror. It gets dark and existential while still being introspective and reflective in the end. Definitely horrific though— much more so than Crimson.

PP:    Do you have a favorite genre or any established fictional world to draw in during your warm-up sessions?

Matt:    I wouldn’t say I have a favorite genre when it comes to warmup sketches or doodles in general. Those are usually just characters I dream up in my head that I think would look interesting and would be fun for me to draw. But, if I had to pick a favorite genre in general it would have to be horror/psychological thriller.

PP:    What are you reading right now? Do you caution yourself in what you consume as a reader being afraid it might influence your own stuff in ways you may not realize?

Matt:    I am a little cautious about that, but at the same time, I’m open to how new stuff might inspire me in a way I didn’t expect— so it can be a positive thing. That being said, I don’t read as much as I’d like to. Some of it is the being careful thing, some of it is a money thing, honestly. I am a fan of comics though— not one of those creators who makes comics, but doesn’t read them (not to knock that, just not me). I still love walking in a comic shop and getting something new or old. It reminds me of being a kid. At the end of the day, I try and stay on my creative path regardless and I don’t think I’d suddenly start looking like some other artist if I read their work (which isn’t what you meant, but just thought I’d clarify). So to sum up my answer, yeah I’m somewhat cautious, but only a little. And I still love reading comics!

PP:    The pages you put together for Dagger Dagger, the Matt Emmons and Al Gofa Kickstarter anthology, gave readers an idea of the worlds you can bring to such a small story. Are those characters you’d ever consider revisiting for another project, or was that just for the anthology?

Matt:    No, probably not. It’s a small story like you said. Not something I imagined expanding and making more of. I have plenty of small ideas like that though I’d like to do more of at some point.

PP:    Who are your favorite comic characters to draw? And do you have any that you refuse to try?

Matt:    I like drawing my own characters.

PP:    Assuming you were drawing for either Marvel or DC, who’d you draw & what would your story be that’d you’d want to tell?

Matt:    Can’t give away any of my ideas, but I’d love a go at even a bottom of the bottom Z-list character and make it new and amazing. It doesn’t matter the character. Sure, I have bucket-list characters I’d love to write and draw that 12 year old me would lose his mind over, but I’d love to do a mini-series where I write, draw, and hand-letter, making something all my own. It might be even better tackling a no-name character rather than a Batman or something, because I love the idea of taking something plain, bland, or even under-appreciated and making something interesting with that. Like drawing a character in a stiff (non-dynamic) pose with a ‘boring’ outfit and making it look awesome, but on a larger scale. That’s my thing. 

PP:    Ping me when you get cast as the new creator for the next book with the Fast Five featuring Blue Streak and crew and I'll queue up as first in line. Now for the fun stuff.. if you could collaborate with any creator, dead or alive, who would they be?

Matt:    Drawing a blank on this. Probably because I tend to do everything myself. Except I can’t color, so I’ll say Bill Crabtree.

PP:    For your next drawing gig you’re given opportunity to be possessed by the ghost of a comic artist of your choice to be organically forced into their style and inspiration. Who would they be?

Matt:    Maybe Kirby. He’s the first to come to mind. I’d pick him because we’re nothing alike. If he’d add to what I do, it would be an interesting fusion of styles. And I’m not even the biggest Kirby fan at all (but I respect what he’s done and am a fan), but I’m more fascinated by creators who aren’t like me and do things I can’t do, rather than artists who are more similar to me. 

PP:    You could have a beer with any creator, dead or alive, who would they be?

Matt:    I don’t drink, but probably Richard Corben. I wouldn’t want to bother him, but if he’d want to hang out, I’d just want to thank him for everything he’s done and maybe try and learn something from him. He’s one of my favorite artists and biggest influences, and I never got to meet him or talk to him. 

PP:    Yea. That was a huge loss for the comic community. A very sad day. 
So what’s next? After Static? Anything upcoming that you are willing to shed some light to?

Matt:    I’m writing a comic for another artist! The first time doing that, and it’s very exciting. I have another solo comic I’ll be writing/ drawing/ hand-lettering. Matt and I have talked about doing more, too. Expect a lot more comics work from me in the future.

Static OGN from Dark Horse Comics -- April 2021

Static Interior Page

Static Interior Page

Crimson Flower #1 Interior Page