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Diana Leto: A Comics Career in Full Swing

"What’s basting?" asked the future art director of the graphic novel, Jungle Tales of Tarzan. This was before Diana Leto drew the cover for the BronyCAN conference and in the pre-Cave Girl and Sesame Street days, of course. Back then, Leto was facing a mound of chicken and an equally perplexed head chef. "He told me to pick up the brush and put the marinade on the chicken. So I picked up the chicken breast and started painting it, like it was on an easel." The chef watched her for a minute and asked her the question that would set her on her path: What do you think you are, an artist?

Leto’s reply: "Why, yes, I am an artist."


 


Ingredients of a Comics Career

Now Leto’s career is in full swing. She’s currently the art director of the graphic novel Jungle Tales of Tarzan (Sequential Pulp/Dark Horse Comics) slated to be released Summer 2015. The twelve stories in Jungle Tales were written by Edgar Rice Burroughs himself as a prequel to Tarzan of the Apes, and twelve artists (including Leto herself) render one of the stories and interpret it in their own style. This is a great prelude to the live-action 3D Tarzan movie (Warner Bros.) that will debut in theaters July 2016.

Leto doesn’t limit herself to fictional pre-historic times, however. She tackles Equestria too. Leto created the exclusive cover for the upcoming BronyCAN annual convention. "I was pleased with the cover for BronyCAN, but it didn't fully come to life until I showed two little kids my cover and they started showing me their best Pinkie Pie jumps because my artwork inspired them to do so."



Workflow: From Pencils to Photoshop

Leto starts all of her drawings and sketches by hand, then scans them into Photoshop to make adjustments to the pencils and layout. Her coloring workflow changes from project to project; she often colors in Photoshop to achieve a brightness in her digital strips, but sometimes includes mixed media such as Prismacolor markers or water colors if the work is to be viewed solely in print. For the Tarzan comics, she likes to use bright colors because Burroughs described many of his otherworldly stories so vividly doing so seems true to his vision.

When Leto works as the lead artist on the Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. Cave Girl comic, she often has to interpret scripts into visuals. She creates sketches by hand, but then brings them onto her Cintiq so she can play around with the layout; sometimes flipping an image vertically or horizontally to give a better effect, or swapping the order of the comic panels. Leto says while she feels strongly about starting her sketches by hand, the layout, revisions, and design adjustments are much more efficiently managed on her computer using her Cintiq.

"Once I've started getting into the right style for a project, I make sure to save all my settings for that specific brand. This way, the next time I return to my Cintiq- the brushes, color palette, dimensions, and notes are all there and it's easier for me to transition from one project to another."



Open Ear, Eyes, Heart: Advice for Artists

Leto is a working artist, which means she’s got to get the art right not only by her standards, but those of her clients too. Leto shares one of her tricks for ensuring that she gives each project her full attention – dividing her workflow into three timeframes:

  1. Research the brand.
  2. Explore concepts, sketch ideas and allow yourself to make mistakes... see what works and what doesn't.
  3. Make sure the final product is complete and that both you and your client are happy with the final outcome.

A frequent presenter at comic conventions, Leto also offer this advice to young artists: "Listen to all constructive criticism with open ears, eyes, and heart... but only the opinions that are constructive. Don't let bullying or disparaging comments stop you from perusing you dreams. Work harder and smarter, try new things and educate yourself every chance you get."

Sometimes it takes some raw chicken to make our paths clear. Leto put down her basting brush and never looked back. "I love what I do and I hope that shows in the art I produce. If my art makes another person smile when they see it - then it's all worth it for me."