A Very Special Series: Talking About Blackbird with Jen Bartel


Jen Bartel (Illustrator/Cover Artist), Sam Humphries (Writer)
October 3, 2018
Image Comics

Exquisite, neon, full of mystery and magic, Blackbird emerges from its careful gestation over the last few years in time for Halloween this year. The fresh, witchy, creator-owned neo-noir series is set in LA against the backdrop of unexplained magical phenomena and family relationships. Specifically, the story is centered on a faithful believer of magic: a troubled young woman named Nina. Author Sam Humphries (Uncanny X-Force, Avengers) and illustrator Jen Bartel worked for two years to bring Nina, her family, and her world to life for readers. Within the first few pages, Blackbird is already a gripping comic book that spirals into disaster, and hope.

Blackbird #1 Cover A, by Jen Bartel. Courtesy of Image Comics’ official site.

One of the most exciting parts of Blackbird is Bartel’s illustration: a flawless yet delicate style with clean lines that transports us to Nina’s bright, magical world. Fans of Bartel’s illustrative work have been waiting for years to read a comic book full of her art. After working on colors, pencils, and cover art for more than two dozen other comics, Bartel found herself building and illustrating the new comic series she’d created with Humphries. WWAC had a chance to talk with Bartel about some of her hopes for Blackbird and get a few hints about Nina and her upcoming story.

What inspired Blackbird for you and Sam? Do you remember a particular time where you began to truly create the story, and the world around it?

Blackbird was developed very gradually over the course of about a year. Most of the important plot points and characters came to exist organically during casual conversations Sam and I were having back in 2016 about comics and other media we loved and wanted to see more of.

Tell us a little bit about the magical world you’ve created in Blackbird, and the magic that exists there.

The magic world in Blackbird exists under a veil that every day people can’t see through. It’s been in and around the city since it was first built, and acts as a foundation for every surface in LA, but the average citizen is completely unaware of its existence. Magic users operate by their own set of rules and cultures.

What’s your favorite thing about Nina?

At the beginning of our story, Nina is sort of like a tumbleweed blowing in the wind—just letting life happen to her—but she soon realizes she needs to start taking control of her own destiny. My favorite thing has been illustrating her development as a character; seeing her grow on the page issue to issue is really rewarding.

Magic is introduced right away in Blackbird, with the appearance of this mysterious magical monster. Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Do you have a favorite moment in the first issue that you’re particularly excited to share with readers?

Haha, I’m excited for readers to meet Sharpie, Nina’s cat!

You’ve said before that this comic is intended to be a fresh, beautiful story even for those who don’t usually read comics. Who would you like to reach, ideally?

I’d love to reach folks who have maybe been interested in reading monthly comics but haven’t made it into a comic shop. People who love anime and RPGs, and maybe don’t have as much experience with superhero stories, but are still interested in reading a book about some larger than life characters.

You’ve been working for two years on Blackbird. Tell me a little bit about your mutual creative process on this story and how you worked together?

Part of why it’s been such a long time is because Sam and I have worked on this very naturally, without trying to force anything. We’ve collaborated on every part of the story, so there were a lot of times where we’d chat about Blackbird for a week straight and then kind of just let it marinate for a month before reconvening. It’s been great to go at our own pace and really get things right.

How did you find one another for this project?

Sam initially approached me at ECCC 2016 about potentially working together, but at that point Blackbird wasn’t an existing idea. We started talking regularly after that, and it was out of those conversations that the world of Blackbird was created.

What comic are you reading right now that you love?

I just read Saga #54 last week, and man, I can’t believe 50+ issues in that book still shocks me every month. Amazing.

Thanks so much for joining us at WWAC, Jen! If you’re excited to read Blackbird, you can pre-order the first issue at your local comic shop, or check out the official Image page for issue #1.

Corissa Haury

Corissa Haury

I am an avid fiction, fantasy and science fiction nerd who loves visual media. I love to read books in any form, be it comics, graphic novels, zines, anthologies, or traditional print. Let's talk about fun comic stuff together!