BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
Like a lot of you, I'd never heard of Eliza Frye until she was nominated for an Eisner for her murder mystery webcomic, The Lady's Murder. However, I was glad to learn more clues and details about the case from Frye, and find out how she turned this animated film idea into a strikingly bold comic book. Frye told THE PULSE, "Because I thought it was going to be a film, I wanted to tell as much of the story through the art as possible. The layouts are very minimalist because every character, shape, color and compositional relationship holds meaning and relevance to the story."

THE PULSE: When I hear a title like "The Lady's Murder," I have to confess my mind was immediately racing to like some sort of dignified, stuffy duffy, in some kind of old Victorian murder mystery type, so I was a little surprised by the type of "Lady" you meant in your work ....

ELIZA FRYE:
Yes, and really the story is much more about the lady than the murder. When I originally conceived it, I had only her character in mind, and constructed the story around her. It is more a portrait of a woman then it is a murder mystery. The idea of this woman, who was doing everything her society considered morally wrong, but doing it in such an elegant and beautiful way, totally fascinated me. In that way she is very Victorian, because she breaks all the rules of the day.

THE PULSE: Oh she definitely does. And I think the elegant and beautiful way had a lot to do with how you presented this in the artwork itself. What inspired your layouts and presentation?


FRYE:
Originally I thought I would make this story into a short animated film, but I was struggling with making the storyboards interesting. I decided to draw it as a comic first, as a way to break out of my usual sense of layout and composition. Because I thought it was going to be a film, I wanted to tell as much of the story through the art as possible. The layouts are very minimalist because every character, shape, color and compositional relationship holds meaning and relevance to the story. Of course by the end I had completely fallen in love with drawing comics and gave up on the film idea entirely.

THE PULSE: Had you never considered drawing comics before turning The Lady Murders into a webcomic or had you done this before?

FRYE:
Oddly enough it never occurred to me.

THE PULSE: So what sparked you to change it from a potential film to a webcomic? Why did you decide to make it a comic first?

FRYE:
Like I said, I was having a lot of trouble with the storyboards. They just weren’t interesting and I kept repeating the same compositions over and over again. I thought if I drew the story in comic format it would force me to break out of my usual habits. Everything wouldn’t be confined to a widescreen rectangle and I could break up the panels and page layouts however I wanted. It totally worked!


THE PULSE: I'll say! Congrats on the Eisner nomination! What was that like? To get that email saying you'd been nominated? Were you the one who turned in your comic for consideration?

FRYE:
Thank you! I was literally bouncing and up and down. A friend submitted it for consideration, so I had no idea this was coming. I’m still pretty buzzed about it actually. It makes me want to draw all the time!

THE PULSE: I know it was a challenge for you originally getting started, because you hadn't done a comic book before, but what kind of challenges did you face just telling the story with the words as much as the images? That's a tough balance to find sometimes ....

FRYE:
I was constantly concerned about clarity. Because I wanted to keep both the art and words very minimal, nothing could be confusing or obscure. For example, when she’s mixing the absinthe I had to deal with several issues at once. First, all the hand silhouettes had to read perfectly because there were no outlines. The mixing process had to be explicit because there was no dialog telling you it was absinthe. Finally it also had to be sexy, because the way she mixes it says a lot about her character. Throughout this I was fighting against the possibility that people wouldn’t know what was going on, wouldn’t recognize the absinthe and wouldn’t understand the social implication or historical context of the drink. Publishing The Lady’s Murder as a webcomic was a real advantage in this respect because I got daily feedback on all the pages. If something wasn’t clear, people would tell me in the comments.

THE PULSE: So for our readers who don't know what absinthe is, explain, please!

FRYE:
Absinthe is a highly alcoholic drink derived from wormwood that was very popular at the turn of the century. It’s usually bright green in color and is mixed with water and a sugar cube. It gained a rather illustrious reputation for having psychedelic effects and was banned in many countries. So naturally Marie Madeleine had to go for this most popular demon drink.


THE PULSE: I also thought that your characters looked like they fit their job, kind of. How did you decide what to make your supporting players look like?

FRYE:
I tried to make each character a physical expression of their personality. Like the butcher is overbearing but sweet so he’s huge but has tiny delicate hands, and the neighbor is a spying creeper so I made his face look like an owl.

THE PULSE: Yeah, I notice that. I thought it worked well. Which character was the toughest to capture on paper?

FRYE:
Probably the artist because his personality is the most elusive.

THE PULSE: You collected The Lady's Murder for print. What was putting that together like? Had you any publishing experience before? Did anyone in the industry help you figure out how to do this?

FRYE:
That has been an ongoing challenge! I didn’t have any experience at all. I read every article I could find online about self publishing comics. I knew I didn’t have the capacity for a large quantity of books and I had some experience with silkscreen printing, so I decided to screen print the covers myself. This turned out to be the easiest part of the process. My biggest challenges have been pricing and distribution. Finding a price that accounted for printing costs, distributor cuts and shipping while still being low enough to compete with normal comics was very difficult. I had to make a lot of adjustments to my original vision for the book. Also because of the edition size and price, most mainstream comic stores aren’t interested. However, I was really lucky to get it placed with Global Hobo Distribution. They’ve done a lot to promote the book and have been really helpful with the whole process. Many of the people who read the original webcomic have bought the print edition directly from my website too, so that’s been wonderful.


THE PULSE: Since this was going to be a film originally and you were influenced by those constraints, who or what films inspired how you approached your layouts for this?

FRYE:
I was most influenced by filmmakers who heavily use art direction in their storytelling, like Jane Campion, Chan-wook Park and Baz Luhrman. I also looked at a lot of art from that time period and felt especially connected to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and John Singer Sargent (Marie Madeleine definitely has a “Madame X” quality.) Frank Miller is pretty much written all over the pages as well.

THE PULSE: I could definitely see the Toulouse-Lautrec influence. Again, it was just so stark this story. How long did it take you actually create this work?

FRYE:
It probably took me somewhere around 150-200 hours. I kept a time sheet for most of the process.

THE PULSE: Why'd you do that? What does that even mean?

FRYE:
Since this was my first experience making a comic, I wanted to know how much time I spent working on it. So (more or less) every time I sat down to work I would write down my hours. It was maybe a bit obsessive compulsive, but clocking in and out like that also really helped me stay on task, because I could see exactly how much time I was putting in per page. Sometimes it felt like forever, but turned out to only be a couple of hours.

THE PULSE: Are you a comic book reader? I mean you mentioned Frank Miller earlier, but are comics something you've always liked? If so, what was your gateway drug into the industry?

FRYE:
Oh yes absolutely! I read a lot of X-Men when I was a kid, then got hooked on manga in high school. I would say my real gateway drug was The Sandman though. A friend in college let me borrow the whole series, and I remember thinking with a gasp, “comics can be like this?!” It’s all pretty much been downhill from there, now I go to my local comic shop every Wednesday.

THE PULSE: And you've been making other comic strips online, too, right?


FRYE:
Yes, while making The Lady’s Murder, I completely fell in love with drawing comics. Currently I have a five-part monthly serial in Narrative Magazine called “http://narrativemagazine.com/issues/winter-2009/horse-rider-part-one/ target=_blank>Horse & Rider” and another webcomic going on my website called “Savannah & Georgia.” They’re both totally different from The Lady’s Murder and I’m exploring different aspects of graphic storytelling in each.


THE PULSE: What have you found the most rewarding about being a part of the comics industry now?

FRYE:
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to tell stories. Having my work online also means that I’m able to have a very close interaction with my readers. It’s almost like a conversation and I find that very exciting.

THE PULSE: What's your "day job"?

FRYE:
I teach animation at Inner City Arts in downtown Los Angeles.

THE PULSE: Very cool. Have you produced a lot of animated works?

FRYE:
Mostly just student films and a few freelance pieces. Comics have really taken me over.


THE PULSE: A lot of people who get nominated for an Eisner find themselves "courted" by the mainstream comics publishers. Have you any offers to dip a toe in the "big boys'" pools?

FRYE:
Not yet, but I’m planning to really work San Diego Comic Con this year.




PULSE readers can learn more about the Eisner-Award nominated Eliza Frye at these links:
http://elizafrye.com/
http://www.theladysmurder.elizafrye.com/
http://narrativemagazine.com/issues/winter-2009/horse-rider-part-one/
http://elizafrye.com/sandg