Interview: Stephanie Hans on making sense of the world of DIE

Each panel in Image Comics’ DIE is a piece of art worthy of a museum. We spoke to the series’ artist, Stephanie Hans, about what it takes to bring this world to life.

French artist Stephanie Hans should really be a household name by now in mainstream comics, though she’s probably on her way thanks to her work on Image Comics series DIE. Recently, she was announced as the cover artist for Marvel’s latest Loki series.

Her art is a spectacular combination of vibrant and forbidding, which is evident in every panel of the first five issues of the “RPG gone bad” series. Created alongside Kieron Gillen, DIE follows six teenagers who escape the deadly world of their game as teenagers, only to be sucked back in as adults.

I had the chance to congratulate Hans on her art when she attended the Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2019, and I spoke to her about the unique challenge of bringing the world of DIE to
life on page.

On Creating Each Issue of DIE:

I’m trying to keep it to one page a day, even though sometimes it might be a bit more complicated depending on the page, and I still need more or less a week for the sketching. But then, you know, you come to conventions and then you have a setback because of the printer or whatever. So ideally, four to five weeks to do an issue.

On Being Motivated by Positive Reactions:

Honestly, it just keeps me going. It’s a very, very tiring job, but it’s a great reward to have each month that kind of boost of love. It’s actually very hard to work for months and only get a reaction from my lovely writer [pointing to Kieron Gillen]. Like, he’s great. Kieron told me, “yeah, you should take advantage of that boost before the haters. Because at some moment or another they might hate us.” I still don’t believe that.

On Her Connection with Gaming:

I was more of a video game player, you know. I’m an old lady [she really isn’t]; I’m an auntie now. So basically, I grew up with the verve of video games, and I embraced the whole Legends of Mana. My favorite, of course, was Final Fantasy VII. Everybody says VI is the best, but I never understood that. For me, it’s VII.

To come back to tabletop gaming, for a few years, I had a group of role players, where I was, of course, the only woman; which is also the reason I stopped. But we used to play Warhammer, we
did a bit of Cthulhu, I guess, and Feng Shui, which I loved very much. I had an incredible game master on Feng Shui who was actually singing. Some Dragon games, not sure. I did that for a few years. A group of role players is like a family and, once it’s finished, you don’t want to find another one. It’s good as a memory.

DIE No. 4 (Credit: Image Comics)

On Creating the Characters ofDIE:

About the character designs, it’s a slow process because you have 3 designs – 4 designs actually – for each character. The one they had as children, one as adults and their counterparts in the world of DIE. For me, they kind of just made sense. They are not exactly archetypes, but they are people that I’ve actually met. Especially Isabelle, because Isabelle has been designed [based on] my best friend, who’s also an adopted Korean from France, and I know that she was suffering from a lack of representation of this. So I can do that for her – it’s a no-brainer.

All of them have some part of history that’s linked to me or Kieron. Also, the design of their counterparts doesn’t come only as a design. It’s a reference to what they as youngsters loved during the ’80s and ’90s, so the design is as if they designed it. So sometimes, it’s a bit out of place. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t like it if they designed it like right now but, you know, this is who they were. The fool [Chuck], for example, was designed on George Michael [laughs], and my love for Yankee jackets from Japan. Some of them come from Battle Angel Alita.

Of course, Ash, her dress comes from Legends, almost straight out of Legends, actually. When I
started to design her, when she used her powers, she had the head of Eddie the Head from Iron Maiden. And Kieron was like, maybe it’s a bit much. I’m like, okay, maybe I’m gonna do something else. But I still kept the whole red and stuff. I like the cute and creepy [look] at the same time.

Some of them [the character designs] come more from who I was. Actually, Ash is very funny. As Dominic, when Kieron started talking about him, I was thinking about all the kinds of persons I had met as a teenager. When I was a student in high school – and I was in a specialized high school for artists, there were a lot of those guys who had Iron Maiden sewn on their jackets and with chains and heavy shoes, and long hair. For me, they were like the last romantics; they come with their
armor, but everybody can see their hearts on their sleeves. And I would never have thought about it, because it’s too close to home.

On Bringing the World of DIE to Life:

The Dragon in DIE No. 3 (Credit: Image Comics)

I guess I have a lot of references. You know, most of the time I do what makes the most sense for me. Once I was in a bar with a student, and we were a group of artists. She said, “I need to design a cat,” and I was like, “oh yeah, I’m going to do you a cat.” All of us did a cat, and we never had the same one. And for me, it was so evident that that cat was THE cat. And this is what I do with DIE, basically it just makes sense. It doesn’t feel like I’m pushing something. It’s just like it already exists, and I’m just transcripting [sic] it. Because when Kieron describes it, this is how I see it. And I’m just trying to give it a bit more flesh, so I grab a lot of references here and there. But usually, if it makes to sense to me, then it should be solid enough.

On the Next Volume of DIE:

Issue six is finished; issue seven is seven pages till it’s finished too. I’m starting on issue eight, certainly next week.

On Her Other Current Projects:

Right now, I have barely time to sleep, so, I don’t do a lot of other things. I’m finishing a wall for a Disney Hotel, which is kind of strange but cool. [Conspiratorially] It’s for Marvel. I have – I don’t know if it’s been announced yet, so I’m not going to give the title, because I think it’s a new title – I’m doing a cover for a new title for Marvel, too. I always have things like this, but DIE takes so much of my time and, plus, the book is just the tip of a giant iceberg of work. I have barely time for two or three covers a month, so I’m trying not to take on more work.

Next: Interview: Kieron Gillen discusses the fantasy genre in DIE

DIE Volume One: Fantasy Heartbreaker is out on June 5, and it features additional artwork and character covers by Stephanie Hans.