Artist of the Month: Alice Duke

Introducing our latest Artist of the Month, comic afficionado and illustrator Alice Duke …

Illustrator, concept artist, graphic novel artist, comic artist … whatever Alice Duke calls herself, her skills are as impressive as they are varied. Coming to our attention through her work on two successful graphic novels – a HP Lovecraft Anthology series, and a showcase of Edgar Allan Poe’s most memorable stories, Nevermore – for London-based publisher SelfMadeHero, Alice’s atmospheric work is the perfect match for classic fiction.

Originally from Southport, Alice applied to do History of Art at Edinburgh University, quitting after a year (because it was “too intense”) and transferring to art college to study illustration. “It was a more appropriate environment. People were inspired by graphic novels and comics and stuff … I moved back to Southport as soon as I graduated and set myself up as self-employed. I spent a lot of time in my room, playing video games and not paying rent.”

In fact, the artist was pulling in multiple commissions all the time, even while she was still at uni. Posting work on addictive art platform DeviantArt, along with talking to professionals as much as she could, Alice was talent-spotted by publications like Nelson (all-star roster of U.K. comics creators telling a single life story by taking turns, one year at a time), Graphic Canon (brings classic literature of the world together with legendary graphic artists and illustrators) and Stacey Whittle’s Fairytale Anthology. You may have even spotted her work on a more local level – she cites a poster she designed for burneverything’s annual gig poster exhibition (skull and flowers, pictured) as “one of my favourite things I’ve done in the last year”.

All this endeavour eventually led to a high point last year, when she was asked to speak on a panel about gothic horror at the BFI’s Sci-Fi London Festival, alongside award-winning authors China Miéville and Denise Mina.

“There was a fragility and brittle quality to her characters that was hypnotic”

We spoke to one of her editors, Dan Whitehead: “What drew me to Alice Duke for Poe was that she had a very delicate style … there was a fragility and brittle quality to her characters that was hypnotic. It’s so tempting to go for the big gothic look where Poe is concerned – and that can certainly work fantastically for some stories – but her work really seemed to grasp the sadness and melancholy at the heart of Poe’s writing. When I found out that Jeremy Slater was reworking Tell-Tale Heart with a young blind girl as the lead, I knew she’d be perfect for it.”

It’s that delicate, mature and painterly mark-making, paired with a roaming imagination, that really makes Alice’s work stand out. Her bespoke banner for TDN hints at the sci-fi world for which her work is so well-suited.

So what’s the process of illustrating a comic actually like, we wonder? Coming up with ideas, firstly, but then really making a (sometimes very-well known) story come to life for a new audience – is it a massive challenge? “They’re vary variable. It’s just like working with a film script … I like having rules then playing around with them in a really rigid structure, trying to extract the most interesting things from something solidly constructed. Like a great instruction will always be better than: ‘oh, do what you want’… When someone’s taken the time to describe every detail, you can put all that stuff in and they feel prescriptive, but you can still take it off in your own direction.”

One such direction is the ambition to work on a whole graphic novel in the future. “It is something I really want to do. One thing I’m interested in is trying to get a real cross-discipline career going. I worked on the early pre-production stuff for Snow White and the Huntsman … it’s pretty similar to working for a games company.”

Which brings us nicely to her current role – working for Elevator studios-based Lucid Games as a Concept Artist. Although Alice can’t really talk about it (as the game she’s working on hasn’t been announced yet), visualisation, colouring and storyboarding are all part of the job. Essentially, her role is to work on how the game will look and feel. “It’s more to do with a feeling and atmosphere … it’s exciting.”

Pulling all her skills and experience together, the ambition to tackle an entire graphic novel seems within reach. “Because I’ve worked on editorial, illustration, books and comics, this is kind of bringing everything together … working on a full length graphic novel isn’t the unfeasible thing it was a year ago! I now have the tools to do that.” Given her already impressive back-catalogue and aptitude for allying creativity with drive, we wouldn’t want to bet against seeing that Alice Duke graphic novel in print sooner rather than later.

See more of Alice’s artwork and sketchbook ideas on her blog 

Posted on 09/08/2012 by thedoublenegative