Southworth at an exhibit of his Stumptown artwork at Floating World Comics in Portland.
A RELATIVE NEWCOMER TO THE COMICS FIELD, Matthew Southworth scored a high-profile title early in his career, drawing Stumptown, a creator-owned private investigator series written by Greg Rucka. Rucka’s name, made on his novels, his creator-owned comics Whiteout and Queen and Country and his long stint at DC Comics, brought Stumptown instant attention, but since its debut Southworth’s art has received equal notice, impressive considering that he was largely unknown before the first issue was released.
Coming from a background in film and theater, Southworth’s primary work in comics prior to Stumptown came as assistant to artist Stefano Gaudiano, a penciler and/or inker on series such as Gotham Central and Daredevil. After a few penciling jobs of his own, Stumptown is Southworth’s first major project in comics.
I spoke to Southworth at his table at the 2010 Emerald City Comic Con, where we discussed Stumptown, his collaboration with Rucka, what assisting an artist entails, his research for Stumptown‘s Portland setting and how he uses photo reference, how a theater background informs drawing comics and several other subjects. During the interview, Southworth sat between Rucka and Gaudiano, as the three met with fans and signed books.
Wright Opinion: Since we’re talking at Emerald City, I guess the first thing I should ask you is, is this your first Emerald City as a guest, with a book?
Matthew Southworth: It’s the first one I’ve done where there’s a book out. I’ve had kind of an unusual trajectory in that the last time I was here I was doing a book, with an established creator that a lot of people had heard of, that hadn’t been published. And now, of course, it’s out, and people know about it, and a lot of people like it, and I’m thrilled about that. But, yeah, it’s totally a different experience. I had a table last year, but nobody knew who I was.
WO: What did you have at the table last year?
MS: Pages. Pages of something that hadn’t been published. And I had these little giveaway books.
WO: How has the show been this time around?
MS: It’s been thrilling. I’ve had a really exciting time. I’m supposed to tell myself that I’m above other people’s attention and praise and stuff, but I’m not, and so I’m sure pride comes before a fall. But right now I’ve got the pride part, and it feels really good. People have been really nice, and they seem to like the book for the reasons that I like it and what I think is good about it, and so something good is happening.
WO: To get into your background a bit, I noticed that you have degrees in theater and play-writing and directing. How did you get into and learn to draw, given that your background is elsewhere?
MS: Well, it’s an open question as to whether I’ve learned how to draw, but I’ve drawn since I was three, and I’ve made a lot of detours. Essentially, what happened is I used to draw all the time, I made comics as a kid. I grew up across the street from Joe Casey, so we made comics together, We trained each other, basically. And then I went off in theater, and he went off into doing whatever—he hadn’t really found his niche at that point—and gradually found his way into comics. I had gone from theater into film and moved to LA where he lived. While he was doing comics in LA, I was doing film stuff in LA and getting more and more frustrated writing screenplays that no one was buying, no one was going to produce, including myself.
And so then I would see him, and he was doing real well, and making a lot of—well, not a lot of money, but making money writing comics. And I said to myself, “Jeez, writing comics, that looks easy.” It looks fun and easy, and the best thing about it is you do it and two months later, three months later, it comes out, as opposed to writing a screenplay and maybe ten years from now they might make a screenplay which seventeen people rewrite and has nothing to do with you, but you make a little money. So, I said, “I’m gonna write comics.” And because of our history being what it was, he kind of kept going, “Well, what you really ought to do is draw some comics, and maybe we can do comics one day,” so I did and discovered drawing comics is not that easy.