Ray Dillon and Renae De Liz’s lengthy resume includes collaborations on the comic books “Rogue Angel,” Jennifer Love Hewitt’s “Music Box” and an adaptation of Peter S. Beagle’s novel “The Last Unicorn.” Issue No. 1 of “Unicorn” hits shelves April 28.
She pencils, he inks and colors.
This winter, the husband-and-wife team picked up from Kansas and moved to Maine sight unseen.
They met online and got married at the San Diego Comic Con. Now, they’re making a new home in Cape Elizabeth with two sons and getting to know the state. Here a mere three months, they’ve already got a stance on lobster tamale.
Names: Ray Dillon and Renae De Liz, both 27
How’d you get into the industry?
RD: I started right out of high school lettering a back story for “Noble Causes,” a book through Image Comics. That led to monthly lettering, logo and interior design. During that time I continued building my portfolio drawing, inking and coloring as well. I became a sort of go-to guy for anything random that needed to be done fast or a one-stop shop for an entire project.
I started working on various projects at Image for about 7 years and lots of random small press work. Later, when Renae and I met, we started working on the “Lord of the Rings” sketch card set for Topps. We went on to do many different types of sets for Marvel, DC, even “Shrek the Third” and “Hellboy.” We got the chance to collaborate on a comics project first with “Nightmare World” (now at Image Comics), and a monthly series at IDW Publishing with “Rogue Angel” and now “The Last Unicorn,” which is our biggest collaboration to date.
RDL: I had been drawing and reading comics my whole life. I just loved seeing stories expressed in a visual format, and in so many different art styles. When the other kids were outside playing, I was inside trying to draw my own comics.
I ended up stopping after high school because I just thought nothing would ever come of it. Years later when I had my oldest son, I found myself thinking about it again. I was pretty much a single mother, working dead end jobs, and never got to see my son. I missed drawing and wondered if there was even a small chance of my making anything happen with my art.
So in 2004 I (finally) got the Internet. Searching around I came across DigitalWebbing.com, which is a great community of people just like me, who loved creating comics. Everyone there motivated me to keep going with my art, and to keep drawing, so I did. This is also where I “met” Ray for the first time.
In 2005, I made a huge leap and went to the San Diego Comic Con on a whim. This was a huge move for me as someone who had barely traveled outside town by myself. I barely had enough money to get all the way there, and people thought I was pretty silly to take time off work for a ‘comic book convention’ but I just felt like it was something I had to do. At the convention a whole new world opened up to me. I wasn’t strange to want to draw comics for a living, there were A LOT of others who felt the same, and there was so much opportunity out there. I also met many of my online friends (my future husband included) and one of them put in a good word for me at Topps for “Lord of the Rings” sketch card work. This was my first paid art job.
I went home and finished that job which was followed by other sketch cards jobs, which was followed finally by a lot of comic book work. When I decided to move to Kansas with Ray I made the jump with him to full time artist. I actually still can’t believe I get to do what I love for a living, and get to stay home with my kids. It’s not perfect, the hours can be rough, and we rarely get to relax, but the pluses are definitely worth the negatives.
What’s it like to collaborate with your spouse?
RD: It’s incredible. I’m Renae’s biggest fan. I love everything she does and I’m constantly learning from her and being inspired. She sees the world so much differently than I do. I tend to be very structured and logical with my art. She’s fully creative. While I might know every muscle in the body, she can draw people fantastic and with so much mood and flow. Really stunning stuff. So, getting to ink and color her work is just a treat. I definitely don’t feel like I’m working, and it really feels like my hand works by itself, feeding off the creativity. It’s like a subconscious paint-by-number.
RDL: I love it. It’s funny because we were told over and over at the beginning of our careers together that we would be at each other’s throats within 6 months. But the truth is for me that after almost 5 years I still can’t wait to be with him everyday, and working together on projects we both have passion for is something I could never tire of. We make a pretty good balance of personalities. He’s more rational, I’m more impulsive. He learned artwork by studying, I learned by observing. We get to learn from each other, it’s nice. My idea of a good anniversary night is a new video game and a pizza, and he quite agrees with that. We get along pretty well.
Yes, we bicker just like normal married couples, but maybe about different things than most. It might be about what color a character’s clothes should be, of if someone’s jaw was drawn straight or not. One of our first arguments was if Spider-Man or Batman would win in a fight (I still think Spider-Man would kick Batman’s hiney).
I still think back to my decision to go to San Diego Con ’05, and how crazy that seemed at the time. I almost didn’t go. I can’t imagine what life would be like if I hadn’t met Ray there. Just goes to show you just have to take those chances in life sometimes.
How much time goes into one issue?
RD: A lot! Between the two of us, probably 15 hours per page.
RDL: Around a month. The rule of thumb is 8 hours a comic book page, at 22 pages a book. I definitely don’t get to work 8 hours straight on a page, as I am a mother first, but I do manage to get it done. I usually have to work here and there all day long to get a page done, but it works.
Your dream project:
RD: I have a few, but I’m actually working on one right now. It’s a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” fan-based project titled, “Dawn of the Ninja.” It’s a dark, gritty vision of the Turtles that was inspired by the fantastic film “Batman Begins.” We hope to either get the license to publish or work with a publisher. You can view more about that at www.DawnoftheNinja.com
Others would be “The Chronicles of Narnia.” That story (and the BBC original movies) are the main reason why I went in the direction of being a creator. “Harry Potter” (because Renae would LOVE to draw this and I’m a big fan, too). “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” The usuals: Hulk, Wolverine, Batman, etc. Oh, and my own books. I’ve written a few graphic novels and kids books, just haven’t gotten a chance to illustrate them yet. And another big one would be Stephen King’s “It” in graphic novel form.
RDL: Almost every comic artist wants contracted work with Marvel or DC ( the ‘Big 2’). This would be absolutely amazing for our family if that happened for one or both of us. The stability that comes with something like that is what we strive for everyday.
That aside I love reading. After penciling Peter S. Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn,” I realized how much I love bringing to life visually the books I care so much about. There are two stories I would give my right limbs to illustrate. The first would be “Lisey’s Story” by Stephen King. Ray and I have been SK fans since childhood and actually grew an interest in Maine because if his works. I read “Lisey’s Story” and fell in love. It really stands above and beyond other stories to me in so many ways (I’d say how but I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone), and I would love to have to chance to bring it to the world visually.
The other is definitely “Harry Potter.” I initially read the books because of J.K. Rowling herself. When I first heard of her I was a single mother barely scraping by. The fact that she, too, was a single mom, persevered in what she loved to do, and had it become such a huge success was what inspired me to start drawing again in the first place. Needless to say I absolutely love the series. The movies are wonderful, but I would love the chance to bring Harry Potter to the comic book world, as there’s just so much of the books that were left out of the motion pictures. Sadly J.K. Rowling said she would never do HP comics, but you never know, I’ll keep hoping!
Book you’d recommend to a comic reading newbie:
RDL: It really depends on what kinds of stories you like. I myself love fantasy, and I would recommend BONE by Jeff Smith. it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, and easy to read and get into.
There is pretty much something out there for everyone, even if you don’t like super heroes. I highly recommend going into your nearest comic book shop and taking a look!
(Ray took a different approach, recommending books to aspiring artists)
RD: One thing I’ve learned from working with my wife is to NOT focus so much on trying to learn the ‘rules’ of how to draw. When I was starting out, I read every single book on anatomy, perspective, whatever. Literally everything I could find. I studied and studied and tried to break the drawing code. Tried to find the key to being a good artist. But, what it really comes down to is DRAWING. Just draw, draw, draw. That’s the most important thing. Because what all that studying and fussing over your art gets you is stiff art. Trust me, my art is still very stiff. Renae, on the other hand, never read a book or studied anything about drawing. And obviously, she draws people, buildings, unicorns, whatever she needs to and it’s fantastic. And the result is something with more form, energy, mood and personality. She doesn’t look like a clone of some other artist, she doesn’t draw the same proportions that every other Marvel/DC-trained artist does, and it’s totally paying off. She draws the way she draws and the natural way it came out of her.
So, first DRAW!
Then, if you want to read something, “Panel Discussions” is a great book about artists talking about their theories of graphic storytelling. For perspective (because that IS a technical thing) check out “Perspective for the Comic Book Artist.”
Any surprises about Maine yet?
RD: Just how much I love it! I grew up in Kansas, so I’m used to flatness. And I’m surprised by how mild it is here. Now, that may come as a surprise to you long-time Mainers, but really in Kansas, the weather is nuts. Goes from -20 degrees with no snow, just ice in the winter to 120 degrees in the summer and the humid air feels like breathing oatmeal. Here I think the average temperature is 20-80. And we LOVE snow. Big reason we moved here. So, nice weather, fresh air from the ocean, beautiful scenery and New England architecture. Oh, and I have to say that literally everyone since we moved here has been incredibly nice. And there’s a huge art scene here, which is also new to me.
RDL: Everything is a surprise as we moved here without even visiting! And it’s all great surprises. The people are so much nicer here. They were nice people on the West Coast and in the Midwest, but we’re are happily shocked by how happy and kind people are here. You actually drive down the street and see people SMILING. That is so rare and wonderful to see.
I haven’t had a chance to see too much of Maine yet since I had my youngest son a couple of months ago, but I am so anxious to get out and explore everything.
Lobsters: Plan to try the tamale or I’ll pass on that tradition, thank you?
RD: Are you saying a lobster tamale? Never heard of it, but I’ll try anything. I ate lobster for the first time the first night we moved here at DiMillo’s in Portland and it was great! I didn’t know how to eat it and the waiter practically had to feed me like a baby, but I’m getting there. Now paella … that’s something that might take a few decades to get used to.
RDL: As much as I love lobster guts, I think I may have to pass on that one, unless it will get me kicked out of Maine.
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