Illustration graduate and “Stumptown” series artist Justin Greenwood talks about the new TV adaptation of the graphic novel
By Caroline Andrade
Imagine coming across a book you love so much that it eventually becomes one of your favorites. Now picture yourself being a part of the team that created the book you enjoyed reading all these years. For Academy of Art University School of Illustration (ILL) alumnus and comic book illustrator Justin Greenwood, this has been a dream come true. Having grown up on a steady stream of crime stories, Greenwood was a big fan of the graphic novel series “Stumptown” since its launch. Originally created by writer Greg Rucka and artist Matthew Southworth, who drew the first two volumes of the book, “Stumptown” spans four volumes and is published by ONI Press. Greenwood came on board as a series artist when Southworth stepped away and drew the next two volumes.
“I’ve always enjoyed working on this book,” he wrote via email.
On Sept. 25, ABC premiered their television adaptation of the graphic novel series starring Cobie Smulders (“How I Met Your Mother”), Jake Johnson (“New Girl”), Michael Ealy (“Being Mary Jane”), and Camryn Manheim (“The Practice”).
“The timing of the show has really been great. It’s been a couple of years since volume four was originally released, and Greg and I had been discussing returning to it for a new volume,” shared Greenwood, who graduated with a B.F.A. in 2005. “[The TV series] had quietly been in discussion for a while before ABC announced the show and it’s only gotten more exciting as things have developed.”
“Stumptown” follows Dex Parios, a private investigator in Portland whose strong personality makes her good at her job while often getting her into a lot of trouble. Greenwood, along with Rucka, is listed as an executive producer on the ABC series.
While he wasn’t concerned about every detail of the show lining up with the graphic novel series, Greenwood’s biggest hope was that the spirit of the series would still ring true. “They’ve done a great job with that balance,” he said. “ABC has been great, really supportive. They’ve been really cool about trying to bring in some of the comics’ elements in how they market the show and make sure that the point isn’t missed.”
The team was particularly fortunate with casting Smulders as Dex, and according to Greenwood, the actress makes Dex feel human and compelling. “The cast is fantastic,” he added. “They seem to have a natural connection that is easily apparent when watching them on screen.”
After graduating from the Academy, Greenwood decided he wanted to pursue a career in comics and spent a few years going to conventions and building a portfolio before getting his first comic series about 10 years ago, and “slowly rolled that momentum into a full-time job.” In an industry that lives and dies on making headlines, attending the Academy prepared him to manage his time as a freelancer.
“I’ve often said one of the best assets of the Academy was the emphasis on the foundations and understanding of art in a broader sense before focusing on something specific,” Greenwood said. “Comics is constantly throwing me into situations, where I have to feel comfortable drawing anything, and attending the Academy was a great primer for that.”
“I did not think that a property he worked on would become a star in its own right on TV! May it be the first of many to come,” said ILL Director Chuck Pyle. “Justin always worked very hard pushing his story and drawing skills, with a distinctive sense of style holding things together. He remains an outstanding ‘value’ in the comics world, and now in the other part of sequential stories: television and film.”
ILL instructor Lisa Berrett had Greenwood as a student in her clothed figure drawing class and remembered him fondly for his enthusiastic nature and openness to learning. “I’m so pleased to see how Justin has evolved in his career and the quality of work he’s doing,” she said. “He makes his illustration family proud!”
On Sept. 8, comic fans were treated to a sneak peek of the “Stumptown” premiere at Rose City Comic-Con in Portland, Oregon, where they also got to interact with the show’s cast and producers.
“It was awesome,” Greenwood said of the event. “It made me a little apprehensive to watch it in a big room of comics fans, but the response was pretty overwhelming, very positive.”
Greenwood also revealed an upcoming project that’s in the pipeline. “I’ve been working on a new comic series called ‘Crone’ that will come out from Dark Horse Comics in November,” he said. “It’s kind of a cross between ‘Red Sonja’ and ‘Unforgiven,’ a searching and action-packed tale of an old warrior who has to go to battle one last time.”