Ker-Pow! Sag Harbor's Own Wonder Woman
In 1993, Noelle Giddings created the universe. The Milestone Media universe, that is, which spawned groundbreaking comic books featuring action heroes of color, all distributed by DC Comics.
“I designed the entire color of the universe,” she said, while in her Sag Harbor living room, a section of which is occupied by her easel, large canvases, paints, and a computer. “I developed the skin tones, costumes, the whole world in those comics.”
Milestone Media was founded in 1993 by a coalition of African-American artists, who ultimately became known for diversifying the pantheon of superheroes. They created popular, ethnically inclusive characters in print and for television, such as Static, Icon, and Hardware, all of whom are African-American; Xombi, a Korean-American, and the Blood Syndicate, a multicultural crime-fighting group of men and women. Ms. Giddings’s work for the Icon series was included last year in the “100 Pages That Shaped Comics” historical list, published by Vulture, the online culture and entertainment source.
In the traditional production of comic books, before computers came into play, Ms. Giddings explained how individual artists would shape the pages. First, she said, a penciller would create the drawings, which were then passed on to an inker, who would outline, interpret, and finalize the images, before a colorist would add color, lighting, and shading to give the three-dimensional feel for which comic books are known. Finally, a letterer would write in the text.
Historically comic books were stuffed to the gills with anti-authoritarianism, action, gore, and violence. Fans were portrayed as aggressively maladjusted man-boys and the industry was especially male-dominated, with women rarely in the mix of the creative teams. Ms. Giddings recalled when Marvel Comics singled her out early on for a penciling job.
“They offered me, the one girl in the room, the Barbie comics,” she said with a smile. “They said I could design her clothes, etc. I turned it down.” Instead, another editor at Marvel offered her a painting job on the Hellraiser comic books, which were based on Clive Barker’s 1987 British horror movie of the same name. “That was much more exciting for me,” she said. And so began her 15-year career in comics, during which time she colored thousands of pages — “about 30 a month” — for DC Comics titles such as Batman, Superman, Aquaman, and many other colorfully costumed adventurers.
In 2002, after the birth of her daughter, she decided to move to the South Fork. She returned to school (her undergraduate degree was from the Parsons School of Design) for a master’s degree in clinical social work. She volunteered with seniors on the East End, as well as worked with children and families at the East Hampton Middle and High Schools and the town’s Human Services Department. But, following the 2008 crash and the subsequent budget cuts, her new career all but dried up.
“Then I got a call from a set decorator who knew me from the comic book days,” she said. “She was working on a TV series called ‘The Good Wife’ and one of the characters had a secret life as a comic book artist.”
At some point in the story, a hidden stash of about 75 miscellaneous pieces of illustrated art was discovered. “She asked if I could do 75 pieces in less than a week,” said Ms. Giddings, smiling. She agreed.
“But before we hung up,” she recalled, “she also asked if I could do a Frank Lloyd Wright-type rendering they needed for an office set.”
Sure, said Ms. Giddings. “I can do anything. Frank Lloyd Wright, Van Gogh, anything you need.” And so began a new chapter, creating art for another make-believe universe: television.
Today, Ms. Giddings is a freelance artist who works with the CBS network, creating custom piece of art and set-specific art for TV shows such as “The Good Wife,” “Braindead,” and “The Good Fight.” She was also hired by the FX network to produce art for its upcoming pilot “Y,” a television adaptation of the comic book series “Y: The Last Man,” as well as the film “Danielle Isn’t Real,” which will be released later this year.
With almost superhero qualities, she can recreate custom “cleared art,” meant only to resemble the work of famous artists such as Turner and Bosch, in a matter of days. “I had to do a Turner-esque piece in three days!” she said. Her work (although trained to paint in oil, she had to learn to work with quick-drying acrylic) can be spotted hanging in the living rooms, bedrooms, judges chambers, and offices of the characters in the TV shows.
“It’s like riffing on paintings,” she said. “And there’s a constant demand.”
Looking ahead, Ms. Giddings is creating a library of paintings she hopes to lease or sell to interior designers and home stagers. “Everything is custom curated by me,” she said. “I’ll apply my particular skill set to help designers interpret their vision to create a custom piece of art.”
With that, she pulled on her cape, and flew off into the sky. (Actually, she got into her car to pick up her daughter from school.)