- Published on Sunday, 16 December 2012 in The Calgary Journal
Calgary artist Devon Jopling details her adventure of drawing to creating
Devon Jopling and her husband Ryan Baker live in what seems like a typical townhouse located just off of Country Hills Blvd.. In the basement, however, you will see a small room located just off to the side filled with comics, homemade costumes, and an elaborate artist’s drawing board.
This is because Jopling is a comic book artist who recently drew the graphic novel Battle of Alberta, a story about a family that gets caught up in a futuristic civil war that erupts in Alberta. However, since the release of this book which was self-published by the author, Jopling’s interests have begun to shift away from drawing to other creative outlets.
“My mother’s an artist; I’ve been one my whole life. They put a pencil in my hand and I’ve been drawing ever since,” Jopling said, explaining her artist influences.
Jopling was like most children and would draw whatever she was into. An artist since childhood, drawing the graphic novel Battle of Alberta was a dream come true for Jopling.
Photo by Jeff Medhurst
However it was when she attended Bowness High School that her shift focused to comics. After studying Geography at the University of Calgary, she started working at her local comic store. It was there she started to take comics more seriously.
“We started an anthology called Short Term Consequences. It was an assortment of short stories and comics done by writers and artists all through Calgary, and that was pretty much where I got my start drawing comics,” Jopling said.
One comic book writer, Jay Bardyla, worked with Jopling on his comic series Weightless.
“I asked her to do the book as I really liked her style,” Bardyla said. “It’s a clean line style but with some Asian influences. I enjoyed working with her, even from a distance, as she was very considerate to my script and has a great vision.”
However it wasn’t until Jason Ask, an Edmonton comic writer, contacted her with the script for Battle of Alberta in 2009 that the real work began. Noticing most comics were about things happening in the states, an idea came to Ask to write a story about a futuristic civil war erupting in Alberta – over oil of course.
“Things were happening in Alberta that were genuinely interesting and I thought, ‘Screw this – let’s try and make something for us,'” Ask explained.
Finding Jopling on an online comic forum, Ask thought she was the ideal choice. Her style of art meshed well with what he envisioned for the comic, and her Albertan heritage seemed to seal the deal.
When she was asked to draw the comic, Jopling asked for the money upfront, giving Ask full control over the end product. That didn’t matter too much to Jopling however, because she was finally getting to draw a graphic novel – a dream she had since she was little.
The writer and artist maintained constant communication throughout the two year project, one that began to drag on Jopling as time went on.
Drawing a graphic novel
“I did it in chunks,” Jopling said. “For the first month I did thumbnails, which means laying out the pages and making sure everything fit. When I got to pencils, I was drawing fourteen hours a day. And then when I got to inks, it was the same thing.”
One of the first challenges Jopling faced when drawing the comic was one of its main highlights – drawing giant mechanical robots.
“I knew they were going to be a challenge going in. We ended up just tossing out a twenty page battle out of the story because it was easier to just rewrite a few words,” Jopling said.
As the process grew busier Baker saw less and less of his wife.
“For the most part she was head down and working late pretty much every night. So she was getting pretty burnt out, I never really got to see her very much during that time, except for dinner,” Baker said.
It was near the end of the processthat the work was beginning to take a physical toll on Jopling.
“I was starting to have some serious hip pains. I couldn’t sit in my chair physically for the hours required to draw, and it sucked because at that moment I had fallen into a groove,” Jopling said.
Her husband Baker did what he could do to make it easier for her.
“Well when Devon complained I would do the usual husband thing. Back rubs, foot rubs, take her out for dinner, mainly anything to try and cheer her up,” Baker said.
It was when she was forced to step away from the drawing board for long periods of time Jopling explored another creative outlet, costume making.
Having already made costumes for herself for Halloween and comic expos, Jopling took the opportunity to make costumes for others. Her costume’s quality have made them popular in the expo community, so much so that she has shipped costumes as far as Germany for clients.
As for Ask, the periods where Jopling was forced to work on her costumes instead of the comic were long, but he knew they were necessary.
“When she told me what the problem was, there really wasn’t anything to do but encourage her to get her body straight. Pain might work to create great art if you’re a painter and can redirect it into one piece, but sequential art is a long term game,” Ask said.
When she was finally able to finish the comic, Jopling says it was a massive relief to have it out of her hands.
Jopling works hard at inking her drawing, a sketch of what the next costume she’s going to design will look like.
Photo by Jeff Medhurst
“When I scanned in that last page, I was so done. I was like ‘it’s your baby now. Whatever you do with it, good on you man. I can’t wait to see it published, but I totally wash my hands of this,'” Jopling said.
Since the comic has seen release, Jopling has focused more on her costume making career instead of her comic drawing.
“I did a short comic about cleaning and maintaining costumes, but mostly I’ve done more costume work then comic work,” Jopling said. “The problem with comics is you devote so much time, and you maybe see a profit. With things I do with costumes, I can make a costume in a week and I see my money back in a week.”
Despite the fact that her interests have shifted away from full time comic drawing, and that she’s not eager to go through the process again, Jopling is glad she at least did it once.
“As much as I complained about it and as much as it pains me to read it now, I learned so much doing that. You know, I learned how to manage my time and how to draw certain things when I didn’t necessarily want to draw them. So all in all it was a completely worthwhile experience to do,” Jopling said.
The Battle of Alberta can be found in your local comic book store and public library.