For eight or nine hours each day, Becky Cloonan, 32, sits at her easel, immersed in the daring exploits of fantastical characters: Conan the Barbarian (a mythic warrior), whom she draws for comics publisher Dark Horse; Swamp Thing (a marsh monster), in the series she illustrates for DC Comics; or the apocalypse survivors of her current project, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (a collaboration with rock band My Chemical Romance, which explores the themes of their 2010 album, Danger Days).

Cloonan, who lives and works in Montreal, is one of very few women artists embraced by the mainstream comics world—though she knew from a young age that this would be the industry for her. ("My dad was reading me Silver Surfer and Fantastic Four when I was in elementary school," she says.) Also anomalous: Unlike many of her peers, Cloonan hasn't switched to drawing digitally. "I like having a big stack of paper when I'm finished," she explains. When conceiving a page, Cloonan sketches quickly, then fleshes out the sketch in a pencil drawing before finalizing with ink; she completes anywhere from a half page to four pages a day.

Though Cloonan has collaborated with writers to create comics for several major publishers, every year she writes, illustrates, and publishes at least one comic book entirely by herself. (The latest one is called The Mire, a paranormal story of betrayal on the battlefield.) "Having something that's 100 percent me is very important," she says. "A lot of my stories are fantasies and medieval stuff, which are close to my heart."

Initially, Cloonan studied animation in college, but she dropped out in 2001 to concentrate on comics. It took her about five years to make a living as a cartoonist, but her stylish, kinetic images have won her legions of fans—and one significant honor. Last year Cloonan became the first woman to draw Batman for DC Comics in the series' 72-year history. "It feels good to be the first," she says, "but I didn't think about it when I was drawing. I was just excited: I'm drawing Batman!"

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