You Wouldn’t Believe What This Comic Illustrator Does to Darth Vader

Illustrator Michelle Lodge, pictured here with her young son Calvin, named after the protagonist in the classic cartoon Calvin & Hobbes, can switch gears from noir- crime comics to humorous takes on motherhood. Photo by Audrey Goforth

It’s a question worthy of Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett’s legendary hard-boiled private eye: who is the real Michelle Lodge? On one Instagram account, she posts deeply shadowed, noir-inspired art for The Black Wall, a grown-up comic of crime and corruption. On another, she posts the brightly colored webcomic Moementality, a screwball strip about misadventures in motherhood and marriage. Is she a mature artiste or a relatable jokester?

The answer turns out to be both — Lodge’s love of comics covers the whole range of the art. Starting with the issues of Archie her dad bought from the supermarket when she was a kid, Lodge has devoured everything from Batgirl to Frank Miller’s modern noir classic Sin City. She now draws comic art in an equally wide variety of styles from her home in Asheville.

“The best challenge is keeping all the characters distinct,” the artist says about creating the black-and-white comic The Black Wall.

Lodge explains that her different approaches to comics give her the freedom to explore different aspects of the medium. With The Black Wall, for example, she focuses on the expressive power of shadowing and sharp character design. A recent page switches between fully sketched outlines and black-and-white silhouettes, punctuating the dialogue of her Portland, Oregon–based collaborator John Kratky.

“Because I’m not working with color, one of the best challenges is keeping all of the characters distinct,” Lodge says. “When it’s all black and white, they all have to look so different from each other so the reader is always able to recognize a character in a panel.”

Lodge’s comic about motherhood, Moementality, employs pops of color.

Moementality, on the other hand, gives her self-insert heroine a trademark green dress and oversized red sneakers. The madcap slices of everyday childrearing Lodge portrays wouldn’t be out of place in the Sunday paper — a complete about-face from her other comic’s bleak tales. To shift gears, she relies on her soundtrack to set the proper tone.

“I’ll spend a couple of weeks listening to a lot of dark podcasts like Sword and Scale or Dirty John, just getting into that mode for The Black Wall,” reveals Lodge. “And then I’ll need to work on other projects that are happier, so I’ll switch to upbeat music and comedy radio and change my mood around that way to fit the product.”

That peppy backdrop also inspires the work Lodge has on display at ZaPow Gallery in downtown Asheville. In keeping with the showroom’s pop-culture focus, she illustrates creative riffs on Star Wars nemesis Darth Vader: “You Used to Call Me on the Dark Side” places the Sith lord in Drake’s “Hotline Bling” music video. “I just like to put Darth Vader wherever I can make people laugh,” says Lodge.

In the future, Lodge hopes to further develop both her serious and silly sides. She plans to draw the story of her grandfather, who immigrated to the United States from Haiti under desperate circumstances, as well as her own self-described “coming-of-age, quirky-awkward-kid story.” Clearly, there’s room for many worlds inside her panels.

Michelle Lodge, ZaPow Gallery (150 Coxe Ave. Suite 101). For more information, visit @michellelodgecomics or @moementality on Instagram, and see blackwallcomic.com.

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