Indie Comic Spotlight: Jules Rivera on Valkyrie Squadron, Deep Ender and how surfing and coloring saved her

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Sep 21, 2018, 5:45 PM EDT

California native Jules Rivera is a multi-talented force in indie comics. She’s been a colorist, a letterer, an inker, and a writer. Inspired by manga, unimpressed by superhero comics, and possessing a clear understanding of how hard it is for Latinx women to break into the comic book business, Rivera decided to create her own webcomic, Valkyrie Squardron, to show the world what she could do. That was 2011. Since then, she’s worked on indie titles like Red Ten (Comixtribe), Oxymoron (Comixtribe), Barbie (Papercutz), and Princeless (Action Lab). In addition she kickstarted and self-published Misfortune High.

Now she’s drawing her own biting weekly webcomic Love Joolz on Tapas, and working on the next issue of new indie comic Deep Ender with Scottish writer John Lees (And Then Emily Was Gone, SINK!). SYFY WIRE got a chance to speak to Rivera about her work, overcoming adversity, and why when she’s not drawing, she’s at the beach surfing.  

What comics or animation influenced you as a kid?

Jules Rivera: I was one of the many people who got into Sailor Moon in the nineties. Once I found out that Sailor Moon had a manga, I started reading those. But the way it worked in the nineties, manga dropped like anthology. So it wasn't just Sailor Moon, it was also a whole bunch of other stories and that was kind of the gateway drug for me.

Is that what got you into creating your own work?

Webcomics started to be a thing in the early 2000s, and I was discovering that people could just make their own comics. I didn't have to rely on a team of people. I could just do it on my own. So yeah, I started making my own stories and writing my own stuff, and I mean, it wasn’t great stuff at first, but whatever. Eventually I did the first iteration of my first comic, Valkyrie Squadron, which got me noticed by Action Lab and Jeremy Whitley. We worked together a little bit and he got me on the Princeless Anthology. That was my first major comic with a publisher.

And then after that in 2014, that's when I went through a crazy divorce and I found myself homeless and out on my own.

Princeless Cover

Artist: Jules Rivera

Wow. How did you pull yourself out of that?

I was couch surfing, basically staying with a friend, and I just started sending out emails to everyone I knew in the biz. “Hey, you need colorist, you need this, you need that?” I just needed to put myself out there as an artist and get some freaking money. It worked. Because I was able to get work as a colorist.

Usually the colorist is a gig that not a lot of people want because everybody likes to draw comics, but nobody wants to think about what happens when you have to color them, because that's a whole different set of skills. Coloring and painting is just a completely different mindset than rendering things in terms of form and line.

It's a job no one wants , but it's a job I like to do, so it worked out, because I could do it. When I started getting work, I colored and did some inking on Oxymoron (Comixtribe). I colored on Gutter Magic (IDW), I colored on a bunch of stuff. Eventually I started getting work with other publishers. I worked with Tini Howard a little bit on Barbie for Papercutz too. That was a lot of fun. Now I'm kind of phasing out the piecemeal comics work though, in favor of more bigger projects that I get to spearhead. Like, the one I'm working on now in addition to Valkyrie is Deep Ender.

So how did you meet John Lees and get to work on that? Did you go to Scotland?

I met up with John through Comixtribe and in maybe 2012. I was on the con circuit and I was on social media and talking to people and meeting people who were my peers at ComixTribe, and some of the folks in The Comics Experience. Once you connect with [other artists] on social media, you often start wondering who would make good collaborators? John and I found each other that way.

Tell us about Deep Ender, what's the premise?

So in Deep Ender, the main character is a guy who overcomes a major injury. He nearly drowns and he decides to take hold of his life and come back from his terrible, near drowning injury. So he goes to the local pool and starts learning how to swim, except the local pool where he lives is like the skuzziest pool ever. It's like full of these grumbly, old people, and it’s absolutely terrifying. But he meets a woman there, her name is Sylvia and she inspires him to become a better swimmer and a better person. He falls for her. But it also becomes one of those Electric Boogaloo 2 things, where they have to save the pool for the community.

And you found a way to use Electric Boogaloo 2 as an analogy.

But it's true! They tried to tear down their rec center the same way.

John is usually known for writing horror, and the way he tells it... Well, what's more terrifying than having a crush? And it's funny that this character was starting on his swimming journey at the same time that I was starting on my surfing journey.

What is your surfing journey?

I only started in like April. I'm not good. I can barely get on a wave. I just keep doing it because it's fun. For a long time I was scared and nervous about surfing because you could smash your head on a rock, but I bought myself a surf lesson I actually started catching a couple of waves. It was amazing. I can take mother nature and turn it into my personal water slide.

Did you color Deep Ender?

No, I'm the lead artist. We had a colorist, Ashley Wagner, come in and help out. I'm on the first and second issues, but by issue three on it's most likely just going to be colored by me.

And it’s selling independently? Or in shops through a publisher?

Independently. It will be sold at shows, but we're working on compiling the trade paperback and are pretty close to finishing.

Deep Ender

Artist: Jules Rivera

So how did you get into storyboarding?

I moved back to L.A. in 2016. I would just pick up work wherever I could get it. It wasn't just comics. I'm an illustrator. And that can translate to a number of different fields. So storyboarding was one of them, and I now also work as a storyboarding professor over at California Lutheran. Actually this term, I'm writing my own textbook on storyboarding.

I've also done animation boards, which honestly, I don't want to do anymore. There it is. That’s the ugly truth. I don't want to do animation storyboards. They take up your life and they take forever and you have a fight with the studio forever just to get paid.

Your webcomic Love Joolz is a lot of fun. What inspired it?

Love Joolz is kind of my way of screaming at the world and just telling people how I feel about certain things. I do a lot of surfing comicstrips in there to balance out all the mean s*** I say. I can bang those out very quickly. I feel like the more real I get, the more me that I put out there, more people respond, like people have responded to Love Joolz in a way that nobody's ever responded to any of my work.

Because it's authentically you.

Exactly. There's no nothing to commit to. It's not showy for the audience. You just show up, you get your funnies and you get your truth.