Interview: Jen Bartel Talks Artistic Process (and Lisa Frank)

Artist Jen Bartel has made huge waves in the comic arts scene with her bright, beautiful drawings of characters old and new. Best known for her portrayals of strong, independent women, some of Bartel’s most popular work is her covers for IDW’s Jem and The Holograms, but she has also done work for every major comics publishing house. Recently, it was announced that she’ll be working on a Storm series with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose recent work on Black Panther has been absolutely phenomenal.

We caught up with Jen Bartel via e-mail to talk about her style, her process, her career trajectory, and her favorite Lisa Frank animal. Read on!

Jem and the Holograms: Girl Gang by Jen Bartel

Rogues Portal: What would you say is the biggest influence on your artistic style? Is there anything you try to emulate? Is there anything you try to avoid?

Jen Bartel: I think a lot of 20-something and 30-something year old creators such as myself feel a great deal of nostalgia for the media they grew up with, and for me that’s everything from the late 90’s/early 2000’s, so I tend to pull influence from things like Lisa Frank stickers, anime, JRPG game art, 90’s punk and grunge fashion, etc. It was definitely a period of lots of bright colors and questionable fashion choices so I try to put a modern spin on it as much as I can.

RP: You draw so many strong, independent women, from original characters to characters who’ve been reimagined dozens of times. How do you keep things fresh and interesting when you tackle a subject?

JB: I always try to make things feel relevant to today’s audiences — I think a big part of that is keeping up with everything from current styles to current events. My favorite thing to do when reimagining a character that’s been drawn in many different iterations is to take pieces from those previous versions and sort of pay homage to them by weaving them into my new designs in unexpected ways. For example, if a character has some kind of emblem or symbol, I might shave it into the side of their head or give them some jewelry with it on there. I like to include those sorts of easter eggs if I can.

Silk by Jen Bartel

RP: On average, how long does it take you to complete a piece?

JB: For a more complicated piece, anywhere between 3-6 work days, but I’m rarely afforded that kind of a time line so I have to get most things done in 1-2 days.

RP: What does your artistic process look like?

JB: Most of the time I’m doing figurative work like comic covers or pinups based on existing characters, so there’s a lot of research and reference gathering on the front end. Once I sit down to draw though, it’s pretty standard — thumbnails for rough ideas and composition, sketch, pencils, inks, and finally, colors.

RP: Why did you choose to go into comics rather than another artistic field?

JB: Honestly, I sort of fell backwards into comics unintentionally. I was working primarily in illustration but when I was asked to do some Jem and The Holograms covers, how could I turn them down? Since then I’ve done covers for every major comics publisher and I’m very happy things turned out this way.

RP: Comics are fairly dominated by cis white men, and your work and the work of other women and nonbinary folks in the field definitely challenges that. Is that something that’s important to you?

JB: Absolutely. Growing up, there really weren’t a whole lot of female characters I could identify with, and I’m extremely pleased that the industry is headed in a direction where that’s changing for younger women and NB folks now. I think historically there has been very little consideration for female bodies and fashion in comics and I’d like to get away from the sprayed on latex suits and stiletto heels.

Storm by Jen Bartel

RP: Are there any titles on your bucket list? What books do you dream of working on?

JB: Storm 😉

RP: Has your approach changed as you’ve moved from working part-time to full-time on your art?

JB: Absolutely. I’m no longer giving my 40 most productive hours to someone else, and it’s allowed me to become a much more prolific creator. The flip side of that is that I now run every aspect of my business myself so there are many days where I don’t even get to draw at all — I’ll have full days of admin work, which comes with the territory of being self-employed.

RP: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?

JB: Take breaks. The work will still be there when you get back.

Ponyo by Jen Bartel

RP: Do you have any words of wisdom for young women who want to get into comics?

JB: Be authentic. Find a trusted peer group that you can give and receive honest feedback with, and support each other.

RP: If you could draw yourself as a character in any comic, what comic would you choose and who would you be?

JB: Haha, oh man, I’d probably want to draw myself into X-Men as Jubilee’s sassy friend or something. Just a couple of mall rats, chewing bubblegum and judging people’s fashion choices from behind our sunglasses.

RP: Do you have a favorite Lisa Frank animal?

JB: I love all of them, but probably the golden retrievers… I think honestly those drawings of dogs made me become a dog lover really early on in life.

RP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JB: Good luck!!!


To see more work by Jen Bartel, check out her website. You can also follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Samantha Puc is a freelance writer, editor, and social media manager residing in southern New England with her partner and three cats. She likes Shakespeare, space babes, bikes, and dismantling the patriarchy. She also loves vegan food. Her work has appeared on Rogues Portal, SheKnows, Femsplain, The Tempest, and elsewhere. For more, follow her on Twitter!

Samantha Puc

Samantha Puc is a freelance writer, editor, and social media manager residing in southern New England with her partner and three cats. She likes Shakespeare, space babes, bikes, and dismantling the patriarchy. She also loves vegan food. Her work has appeared on Rogues Portal, SheKnows, Femsplain, The Tempest, and elsewhere. For more, follow her on Twitter!

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