Catwoman artist Nico Leon takes us inside Selina's lair

Catwoman #39 excerpt
Catwoman #39 excerpt (Image credit: Nico Leon/Jordie Bellaire/Tom Napolitano (DC))

Gotham and black vinyl - the two things incoming Catwoman artist Nico Leon tells us are the hardest things to draw for the upcoming book. But they do it with aplomb, as you can see from the preview pages of Leon and writer Tini Howard's debut in January 18's Catwoman #39

Catwoman #39 cover (Image credit: Jeff Dekal (DC))

Howard told us recently that this impending Catwoman run is about the title character reuniting with an old flame and also meeting someone who could be a new flame or new foe. That someone new is Valmont, a DC vigilante introduced on Catwoman that's a subtle homage to the similarly-named character in Les Miserables.

Turning to focus on the art side of this upcoming Catwoman run, Leon told us about the evolution of their Valmont design from his original conception as a Viking-ish rogue to finally becoming a "skillful, nonchalant, cocky character that smells like real deal perfume."

Newsarama spoke with Leon at length about Valmont and the art side of Catwoman - and, of course, cats. 

Newsarama: Nico, what can you say led to you drawing DC's Catwoman book?

Nico Leon: The universe, I would say. I felt I was in an emotional and career hole at the moment and I was praying and asking so much for a good job opportunity, even considering seriously about completely quitting being a comic book artist. 

Then DC editor Jess Chen's email knocked at my door. I am eternally grateful to her. The comic book artist flame was reignited again.   

Newsarama: For this first Catwoman arc, you have designed a new character called Valmont. How'd you come up with the design for him?

Nico Leon: Valmont came from a mix between a dark character I had in mind before reading the script and the white Valmont that lived in Tini's mind already. 

Originally mine had more Viking aesthetics but it was an empty shell; having Tini's descriptions and getting to know the character made the design organically evolve into this skillful, nonchalant, cocky character that smells like real deal perfume. 

Valmont design by Nico Leon

Valmont design by Nico Leon (Image credit: Nico Leon (DC))

Valmont has that type of smile that when you see you know there is something mischievous hiding behind, and that you can do nothing else than playing the game, even knowing you shouldn't. 

There is a lot of teamwork behind Valmont.

Newsarama: I've also gotten in some designs you have for the Hasigawa clan. What were your influences on these?

Nico Leon: Well, those were actually three-minute concept designs I did to show the team some ideas; I wanted to give each family gang a distinctive look. The one that went online was an intended Harajuku-inspired look for the Hasigawa family. 

Hasigawa family design by Nico Leon

Hasigawa family design by Nico Leon (Image credit: DC)

There is going to be a lot of fashion care going on in the book! …or I am trying at least.

Newsarama: Reading an early copy of Catwoman #39, I notice your illustrations here are a real evolution from what you did at Marvel. Looking back I see shades of it here and there like in your Hulk work, but this is… something. 

Do you feel like you are leveling up with the work you're doing here? If so, why do you think that is?

Nico Leon: I think I always have been afraid of using greys and blacks and have been procrastinating the use of them for like six to seven years. I always let the series pick my style… so more than evolving, I like to think I'm in a constant flow, very much based on Bruce Lee's ideas about style. 

With Catwoman, my inner mind was like: 'Yo, this is Gotham City, you embrace the tone composition and become one with the shadows, there is no other path'… it was a leap of faith. Big praise and admiration for the editor Jess Chen that seeing my line artwork believed in me for a book that demanded shadows. I always loved the storytelling with light and shadows in movies and it was something that I never got to play with, so this is a whole new sandbox to me and I am having such a great time.

Newsarama: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is the first time you're working with color artist Jordie Bellaire. 

I've seen both uncolored and colored versions of several key pages in Catwoman #39, and there's a real collaboration here. What's the conversation like with you, Jordie, and the editors on the color palettes for this run?

Nico Leon: Yeah! I have been in artist-love with Jordie's colors and hoping to have the chance to join forces at some point so I begged for her to [continue] in the series.

We have been talking and we want to come up with something different, it will take some time to calibrate and to get to understand each other but I can anticipate it will be an awesome-looking book. The unique and complicated thing about us working together is that both of us morph our style for each series, so we don't even know what to expect from ourselves, but all in this book has been organically evolving in such a beautiful way. 

Newsarama: What's been the hardest thing you've had to draw for this first issue?

Nico Leon: Gotham and black vinyl.

Both of them can look magical if well done, but getting the vibe of them is such a hard task.

Newsarama: Last question - I have to say the drawing of Duchess, the cat…. Great. How'd you nail that one? And do you see yourself drawing more cats in the near future given the book is called 'Catwoman'?

Nico Leon: [Laughs] Thank you!! 

The idea was to have a unique-looking cat breed; we started thinking in real breeds, but at some point it hit us that this is comic books and we should and must free our minds. Duchess' design naturally came after that eureka moment.

I love drawing cats! I find cats very funny, somehow I kind of like to see them failing at things; they are so proud! For several years I have been following threads of 'cats where they shouldn't be,' and it's hilarious. 

So if there is any chance I see to draw a cat doing something funny, I will.   

Get your Selina Kyle fix with Catwoman #39 and our recommended best Catwoman stories ever. 

Chris Arrant

Chris Arrant covered comic book news for Newsarama from 2003 to 2022 (and as editor/senior editor from 2015 to 2022) and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, and CBR. He is the author of the book Modern: Masters Cliff Chiang, co-authored Art of Spider-Man Classic, and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table. (He/him)