Hi, my name is Jack, founder of PosterSpy.com and welcome to another Let’s Talk Art video. This time were in Cambridgeshire, England, to chat to comic writer and illustrator Emma Vieceli, so Let’s Talk Art! Jack: So firstly, thank you so much for being part of the series. Emma: You’re very welcome. Jack: So you’ve been freelancing for about ten years, nearly eleven now
Emma: Yeah Jack: over eleven? Emma: Yeah yeah yeah, ten years last year. Jack: Amazing, that’s an incredible achievement really. What would you say was the scariest thing about going freelance? Emma: It’s a weird double dose of excitement and fear in knowing that there’s no security anymore. I think, I mean I went freelance having worked regular jobs for quite a long time. So I didn’t go– I know some people take that plunge really early on. With me, if anything Freelancing was something I almost fought against for a while. I’d been making comics for fun, by the time I went freelance I was actually working for a video game company I liked my day job. I got my first contract, and even then I thought yeah but it’s not enough. I can’t quit my job. It seemed such a fantastical thing. Eventually obviously I did it reached the point where if you’re earning as much from your hobby as your job you start to think, well maybe it’s time to give it a go. So I did it knowing I had a book contract to go into, which gave me a bit of security to jump into. But even then you’re thinking yeah but what when that book finishes? What then? What then? What then? And I remember distinctly driving away from my day job the last time I left that office and it was a job I really liked. Driving away and just trying to get my brain around the idea of I’m not– tomorrow I’m not getting up and coming to the office. Tomorrow I’m getting up and relying on myself relying on my own motivation. That’s pretty terrifying actually. So yeah I think just being The insecurity of it like knowing that no one’s gonna tell you what to do next. Jack: And do you even still have that fear now? Is it something you worry about?
Emma: Yeah! Emma: Yeah! And I think that fear’s actually a positive. You need that fear
Jack: Keeps you going. Emma: Yeah yeah yeah. Because the moment you relax if you sit there and go ah, sorted! I’ve got work set up for six months, I’m fine. That’s not enough you’ve gotta be by month two you’re already there going right What do I go to after that six months, you have to have that fear. Otherwise yeah– getting complacent is dangerous in freelancing I think. Jack: And you mention the first contract you got, what was that? Emma: So I’d done little jobs before it in terms of illustration gigs or bits in how to books and stuff. But the first full book that I was paid to do was Hamlet. Which was a bit like jumping in at the deep end. It was– we joked at the time It was a brand new– so SelfMadeHero is the publisher. The idea of this manga/Shakespeare line was brand new. And myself and Sonia Leong who was assigned Romeo and Juliet we were kind of coming into comics as well, as professionals for the first time. So between us all it was very new. And we were choosing to do it with Shakespeare. And we said well either this is going to end our careers before they start and we’re gonna be run out of town with pointy sticks. Or it’s gonna change the way people view Shakespeare. Change the way people view comics and create a fusion that’ll get some traction. And thankfully it went the second way and it went well. In fact we’ve got from our pile in front of us this is the Chinese edition of Hamlet, which is so surreal to see. So it’s been translated into different languages. So it as a book has done very well, me as a creator, I look back at that and I just sort of cringe a bit because I’m like aww, ten years old! Because we look at our older work and we’re a bit. But I have to be super proud of having achieved it. To dive into a book like that
Jack: Oh yeah, it’s amazing. Emma: was yeah, a big deal. Jack: So you say that this was your first contracted comic, what kind of things were you doing before? Emma: I think I’ve been drawing forever, like for fun. And I think probably like a lot of people who end up doing a job that they love doing. I don’t think I ever thought It was gonna be– a job, a real thing. So obviously when I say that was the first contract deal it’s because it was the first time someone gave me money and a contract to make a book. But before that, I’d been making comics anyway. I started relatively late with comics but I got into it through a group called Sweatdrop Who were essentially a group of friends who when I went to my first ever comic convention, it was an anime convention actually called Minami. Like a lot of young shy artists I had a very confident friend with me who was able to take me up to the table and go “My friend draws!” It’s always someone else, they’re heroes those friends who are the ones who present their artist friend. Because the artist friends wont ever present themselves. And yeah she said, “my friend draws” and I got chatting to these guys. And essentially at the beginning, what Sweatdrop was, was what we would call a circle, it was a comic circle. Where we chatted online and we decided to combine our funds. So we would book a table at a convention because none of us had money then we were super young. You book a table, you share the cost of the table and you all sit behind it with eachothers comics. and by comics, what we were making back then were literally folded, stapled photocopied things. And we would sell them for like £1.50 or something and that was the origin of Sweatdrop. So through Sweatdrop I had a title called Dragon Heir but we started with those independent– those little tiny comics and then as years went by we realised we wanted to encourage other people to get into self publishing as well, we did a lot of workshops and events, we partnered with lots of companies to try and kind of move forward the idea of of publishing in the UK. Doing your own comics. And then through the process of that we also set ourselves up as an independent publisher. So we were still operating as a circle But we were doing it in a way that we had ISBN’s and we had– well in fact So Dragon Heir went from being the little folded stapled things to being a book with a spine, I can rememb–
Jack: And some nice gold foil. Emma: Nice gold foil. The excitement the first time did– it was an anthology was our first book with a spine and the difference going from folded thing, A5 comics. To a book with a spine was the most exciting thing. And you just kind of hold it going “AHHH we made this!” Jack: So you mentioned earlier how you don’t really have a formal art background you didn’t learn it at school. Instead you just kind of, took it on. Is there anything you can recommend for people who haven’t been taught art but want to get into it? Emma: Art, art is so subjective and objective, and I’m one of those people I don’t ever want to say, do what I did or don’t do what I did. In retrospect, if I had done an art course I would have found it a lot easier diving into Hamlet and understanding perspective. I would have found it much easier to learn some of the most basic art techniques through a course rather than literally having to learn them as I do them. There’s no question that technically my work would probably be better. If I had had training. On the flip side of that, another of those beauties, of comics as a career, Is, it’s not essential to have that training. It is quite possible, I’ve done it, a lot of people have done it. It’s very easy to enter, well not very easy, it’s quite possible, to enter the industry with passion and a strong portfolio and a willingness to learn. So I would never suggest someone don’t do an art course or do an art course, It’s really got to be what works, for you. As it was for me, I stopped pre GCSE doing art at school. For various reasons largely because in my school, you could only choose two out of music, drama and art. You could only choose two of them, so I went for music and drama. Because that’s what was more relevant, to me. So art just got sort of dropped, it became something I did for fun, but, I think if it’s something you’re passionate about and you’re doing it all the time, and I was. Every time I wasn’t doing anything else, I was always drawing. My friends joke even now their parents will remember when we were kids at school, they’d know I’d been round their house because all their telephone books or everything was just covered with drawings because everywhere I was I had to draw. So in terms of recommendations, if you want to get into the industry and you don’t have formal training. You can either consider doing a course, if you feel like it’s something you want. Otherwise these days, there are so many YouTube channels, there’s so many experts sharing tips online. If you’re willing to do your research, you can probably find the information you need. Draw, sounds ridiculous, but I genuinely have spoken to people who will spend a while gathering a few pieces into a portfolio and then waiting around and they’re like “But how do I get in?” It’s like, you’re not drawing! You have to be doing it. Yeah, like just learn as you do it. But also just consume, read comics, and don’t just read them and go “Ah, that was a good story!” If you’re looking to do the art, you’ve got to see how an artist does it. And it’s not just about how they form their lines, it’s about the spaces between their lines. If there’s a panel that stands out to you, really analyse that panel, and really go “what have they done?” “what makes it look that good?” So it’s about not just consuming things, on a superficial level. But consuming them from the point of view of how would I do that? How have they put pen to paper and made that work? If a course works for someone then that’s great, but it is an industry that doesn’t require that So long as you’re willing to put– you will have to work twice as hard. Because you’re gonna have to learn technical skills that other people might have been told. Jack: And you mention perspective and things like that, but of course one major thing about comics is anatomy and getting characters from different perspectives, with different postures and movements
Emma: Yeah, yeah. Jack: Was that something that took a while to get used to as well? Emma: Yeah, I’m still learning it. Like I don’t think I know a single artist friend who would say “I’ve nailed it, I never have to
think about it again.” Because there’s always going to be something else comes up. Or some days and thank goodness for things like Twitter and the Internet because
we can share these feelings. Sometimes you might be a professional artist who’s been doing it professionally for eleven years and one day you get up and you just can’t draw. And you sit there and you try and draw something you’ve drawn a billion times before. A person looking sad, and it just doesn’t come out and you don’t understand why. There’s no explanation for why, it just happens sometimes. So yeah, things like anatomy yeah particularly especially having multiple characters in a panel and how they interact with each other. It takes a while, it definitely takes a while and I think I was– as guilty as anyone else that my first early sketchbooks obviously before I was doing it for a job. But my first early sketchbooks there were lots of people with their hands behind their back, or their hands in their pocket, or their hair over one eye. Anything I could do, to not have to draw certain parts of a figure which then obviously as you get older you start to realise “yeah, you can’t do that.” It’s no good trying to shortcut it. But again, if you’re willing to do the research there are so many great resources now for learning anatomy and perspective Whilst also remembering that art is your own, it has to be your own. When I do workshops or books I’ve worked on for how to draw Sweatdrop did a couple of how to draw books, and we were always keen all the way through them to never say, draw like us. Because that’s no fun, you don’t want to draw like us. What you can do, is learn the rules, so that you can bend the rules. So the way I approach teaching comic art, is the idea that what you’re putting on paper is a 2D representation, your representation – your interpretation, of something that you’re seeing in a 3D environment. So it’s about taking what you see around you especially people, taking what you see breaking it down into basic, basic shapes and then building it back up. But someone can teach you how to break it down into the shapes, but you’re the one who has to learn– you learn how to build it back up. Jack: Would you say working digitally helps with that? Emma: With, well… to some level becoming– obviously I still work on paper when I’m pencilling or if I’m just doodling or drawing I’ll use paper. Digital artwork did change my life there’s no question. I feel like as a– process as a whole the comic making process digital comic making changed a lot. It doesn’t mean it made each process– each individual part quicker. I think there’s people who tend to think that oh, if you ink digitally it’s obviously quicker or it’s obviously easier because you’re inking digitally. Really what you’re doing is no different from on paper. You’re still holding a pen and you’re still putting a mark down. And if anything when you’re working digitally I find it’s slower than on paper on paper I’ll live with my mistakes on paper I’ll do a line, it’s not perfect it’s fine I’ll live with it. It’s authentic. When you’re working digitally, It’s too easy to just go line delete, line delete, line delete. So actually, I probably spend longer inking than I would do on paper. However, the process as a whole I mean things like lettering or just generally being able to send your pages off to a publisher without having to clean them without having to scan them. In that respect, digital has helped hugely. In terms of anatomy, I’d say actually yeah, it has in some ways. Because it may be braver, Things like learning use of blacks, like solid blacks. When I was working on paper if I’d spent ages drawing an illustration I’d would not have had the confidence to then whack a load of black ink onto it. Because if I ruined it, it’s gone. That was a terrifying thought. When I started working digitally using my Wacom tablets, whatever else I’m using you have the confidence because you know that well, if I fill it and it goes wrong it’s on another layer it’s fine. I’m not messing up my original work. So in that respect, yeah, digital gives you the confidence to experiment more. Same with anatomy, whatever else you can try stuff out because you know that ultimately if it doesn’t work, you’re not gonna ruin your illustration. Jack: So you have this motto about comics, for everyone about anything by anyone What would you say is the best thing about the comics community Emma: I think that it is that it’s FAB It’s got a a very handy acronym you see. Yeah– about the comics community specifically? it’s a lot bigger now than it used to be, I always say it’s quite a small community, in many ways it is quite a small community. But it’s like a big small community now. I like that it feels a bit like a nomadic community because you go around to different conventions and different countries and you see a lot of familiar faces. And I’m not just talking about the creators I’m talking about the fans the publishers you see the same people. I think the community sees itself as exactly that, an full industry I think it’s dangerous to think of it as an industry of people who make comics and then some people who buy comics whenever I refer to the comic industry I include in that industry, retailers, marketing, people who buy the comics like we together form that community and I don’t know if that happens as much in other industries I feel like that may–that’s maybe quite a comics thing I think it’s very positive thing. But in terms of the the acronym F.A.B yeah, it’s something I believe in because maybe–because of growing up in comics where I did have that thing thrown at me where someone would say one no this one’s for boys or this one’s for grown ups so this one’s for this, this one’s for that. I guess because I believe in stories and I believe that stories are for me ultimately about the characters in them and how they interact with each other and the worlds they’re in so for me I don’t necessarily think of myself as a fantasy artist or a sci-fi artist or you know I just want to tell stories. So I don’t want to get tied into one particular type of story or one particular genre of story and that’s– I also think that comics have to be for everyone I want everyone no matter what their–their colour, their denomination their whatever they are they should be able to walk into a shop and pick up something that they see themselves in. Comics should be able to do that and then to take that even further they should also feel like they can make it like no one should be telling you if you can and can’t make comics, everyone can make comics because everyone can tell stories. Jack: So over your career you’ve worked on a lot of different properties and on many different comics but one comic you’ve been working on for a long time is Breaks which you co-created and illustrate. Can we talk a bit more about that? Emma: I would love to talk more about that. Jack: So Emma this is Breaks, a comic that you co-created with Malin Rydén. How did this all get started? Emma: So it’s sort of as many twists in the story of how this came about as there are in the actual story. But it starts going back several years with a game called Dragon, BioWare’s Dragon Age mysteriously. I was a huge fan of the game and at the point when I’d finished the second game I had a gap while I was waiting for a publisher to sort a contract and I thought I kind of fancy writing some Dragon Age fanfic. So I did, started doing some of that met some other writers online was following some writing, some were following me and then after a while of doing that, ’cause it’s a really creative group. Some people said “hey, why don’t we just step away from Dragon Age for a while do like a creative collaborative writing project.” To which of course I’m there thinking ooo, I’ve never done collaborative writing that sounds a bit nerve-wracking and this is all done importantly in masks. Like no one knows who anyone is, we’re all working under pseudonyms. But I was like ah, ok, give it a go. And the idea was to take a character where you had a story that maybe wasn’t complete yet and you throw it into the mix so you can write a chapter a paragraph whatever you want and then someone else will come in pick up the story throw something at you so it forces you to ask questions about a character that you’ve got that you might not have asked otherwise. So I joined this group and there’s one particular writer who I’ve been following their fanfic they’re a brilliant writer and they’d been following mine and as this project went on we started to realise that our characters that we’ve thrown in something was happening with these characters there was something meshing and a story was forming that ended up being stronger than either of the stories that we thrown into it. Jack: When you were– putting Breaks together as a comic how did you take the novel and elements of the script and actually take it to- a comic?
Emma: To get to this, yeah. So the way we decided to break it down Malin, obviously Malin is an amazing writer but she works in prose she’d never written comics before. She reads comics so she knew how comic storytelling worked and as someone who’d never written comics before I thought what she was doing was amazing actually. But we decided that because I was– because I’m who I am and I do what I do. I was gonna have to make the comic obviously I was gonna have to draw the comic do everything else so we thought if she takes the book that we’d written together and she breaks that down into issues, she writes a draft script for each issue. So she would literally take what we’d written and find a way of translating it to comic storytelling and what was great is that even then she would occasionally throw in an extra moment like something that hadn’t happened in the book so it still maintained that fluidity that we had originally. We had a road map of a story but she might be writing out an issue and then she just throw in like an extra moment so when I got the script through from her be like “Oh I see what you did there.” Jack: In terms of actually illustrating this, how long would a page typically–you know, take you to create from getting the script to then penciling it and it finally being a page?
Emma: So, in terms of the actual art process. So Breaks is quite unusual I mean it’s unusual in many ways to me as a project but, it’s unusual in that we have such ownership over it which from the beginning we wanted, it’s part of the reason again when I said I wanted to do it as a comic. We even then–we still didn’t say let’s do it as a comic with a bigger publisher it was like let’s do it’s a comic but release it it’s a webcomic let’s keep it hold of it because I do projects obviously I’m working on something like Olivia Twist for Dark Horse for instance, I’ll get a script through and I don’t know that world I don’t–I’m there as a writer and as a writer–as an artist so the script will come through and then part of your job as a comic artist is to translate that script to the page and to really kind of get behind the words that you’re reading and figure out the best way. It’s almost like a jigsaw puzzle of what’s the best way I can convey what the writer wants me to convey which is why a comic is a unity of a writer and an artist. One can’t exist without the other. The artist creates the world the artist visualises everything so it takes a lot longer to form a page. With Breaks because we’ve spent by the time we started this comic and it’s been going for four years already and even when we started it we’d already been writing it for about four years. We know these characters inside out like we trust each other with these characters. This is why we can throw extra stuff in and it will always feel natural because we know them so well. So with this one when it comes to penciling so I start–it all starts in something like this interestingly for years like a lot of artists I thought I need to get really good pencils a really good paper and draw it on big a3 and shrink it down because that’s–that’s how people work. And it gradually occurred to me that I’m a digital artist and all I’m gonna do is scan my pencils in. So actually it doesn’t matter how I produced and it’s got to be comfortable and I found that working like there’s I–this is so this is literally an entire book of Breaks as it appears in the final book and because I pencil it this way I can see the flow because to me again it’s not about a page or a panel on its own it’s about the entire storytelling of it. So if I pencil it this way I can literally read the book as I go so because I know the story so well I always have the visuals in my head when I start. So if you look at some of my sketches for other projects there are a lot messier– there’s like a thumbnail stage or they’re a lot messier. With Breaks to be honest it pretty much comes out on the page as it’s going to end up being. So on the pencils level I’ll maybe pencil five pages in a day, or something like just sketching them out then it gets translated so I go from this get scanned in it gets thrown up on Clip Studio formerly known as Manga Studio I’ve got a Wacom setup and the Cintiq, my Mobile Studio and then I start doing the the full comicing process which is basically inking it, toning it, lettering it, shading it, and getting it like formatted. But even then I’ve come up with ways to refine the process because we’re running it as a webcomic and it’s only a page a week but I have to do it alongside all my other work so I can’t– we knew I couldn’t go full colour. I didn’t want to go black and white though, because you want it to stand out a bit. So I’ve kind of refined this process of doing this one shade layer over the whole thing on multiply. So probably it’s about three to four hours to get from that to that that. Jack: That seems quite quick. Emma: It is quite quick! It is. and in an ideal–
Jack: But then that’s because you’ve had years of experience doing that. Emma: Yeah, and because I’m in control of it. Like with Breaks, even when a script comes from Malin– I mean she’ll joke there’s one particular scene that was set–it was set in a shed and there was a bike rack outside of it of it Of course when the script came through I was like ah a bike rack ah that’s gonna take ages to draw and Malin was like was “It was your idea to put a bike rack in there.” and then of course we realised oh wait I could just like put less bikes it’s not– it’s our story I can choose how I do it. Jack: So in terms of the storytelling in Breaks and pacing in action sequences and things like that how do you convey that on a page? Emma: So comicing– I like I like to use comicing because it’s a good term. You yourself coming from filming and filmmaking you’d be surprised how many similarities there are actually between that and comicing. Essentially when I get a script through what I’m looking at from a point of view and I think of doing theatre or whatever else I’m literally looking in the script and in my head I look at that and I think okay so–I become the actor the director the set dresser the lights all the elements filmmaking essentially or theatre work you’re looking at on a page. And a lot of the same techniques will cross over so there’s shorthand in comics that whether subconsciously or consciously the the reader will respond to. So for instance if you have four panels that are quite narrow small they’re the same exactly the same size in sequence subconsciously that feels like–that’s quite a quick edit but if you turn the page and then you’ve got a large like open space it’s a big panel we’re zoomed right out. That’s a slow moment you’re not going to think of that as a fast moment and so similar to having a camera where you place that camera, that angle you choose for that camera. Do you want a sinister effect do you want it to look more peaceful are we zoomed right into someone are we coming out so all of those effects translate over but then because comics is not film. A lot of people will see comics as a stepping point to get to film which may be in a way yes but it’s important to remember that comics is its own medium and can do things that no other medium can do. Because you’ve got what I’ve just talked about there and pacing is the panels like how the panels get laid out but then you’ve got obviously what’s going into those panels. You’ve then got how you use light and dark on a page. So for instance I was saying about the quick panels being a quick edit and a large open panel taking a bit longer. You can have the same effect if you then combine those quick panels with also more tone or shade more colour whatever you’re using and getting darker and darker and darker and darker and then you turn a page and boom and then you’ve got white and open that’s gonna have an effect as well. There is actually a page in this book which I’m gonna see if I can find now, this is complete spoiler because it’s one of the big emotional moments of the story but it illustrates this point so well so I’ll try and show you like quickly. There’s a page in here that we didn’t do in the webcomic but we always knew we wanted to do it in print because it’s something that again can only work in a print comic medium. And it’s because we’ve got a very dramatic scene we’ve got a build up you can see it gets–most of the pages embrace it quite open and pale but the this scene got darker and darker and darker until it hit a point where we just had a full page of black because we wanted that emotional beat and you give the reader that moment again subconsciously or consciously to just pause and take in what’s just happened and it was it that’s a dark as it it can get you know it’s a full page of black. Jack: And it is very different to, you know to all the other pages which are a lot lighter Emma: Yeah Jack: And obviously it’s going to stand out to anyone reading it.
Emma: Yeah. Jack: Is this something that, you know has taken you a long time to– figure out? Or is it just a case of reading other comics experimenting, getting inspiration from things? Emma: I guess– well getting inspiration yeah, from a lot of things. Certain artists especially Japanese artists that I grew up reading. because they were working often in black and white exclusively in black and white it meant a load of techniques were coming out –they’re not they can’t rely on colour so they would come up with lots of techniques of how you can use that black and white effectively how you can gradient how you can tone how you can build a page, build a moment using just ink on a page so that’s quite inspiring. Otherwise a lot of it is um like it sounds really cheesy but it’s just sort of feeling your way with it like it’s stepping back and rather than thinking I have a page of paper and I need to work out what I’m putting on that page it’s just to feel the scene and to let it kind of flow naturally to think if I was directing it how would I put it how would I want to see this play it out and think that way. Taking into account things like your panel sizes the the light and dark contrast and even how you use the panel’s themselves so there’s there’s a moment here where we’ve got the panel is literally fragmenting and crumbling off the page, again that’s the kind of thing you could only do in comics. So it’s kind of getting used to comics as a storytelling medium by reading them by experiments you’ve got to absorb anything to be able to learn it and then channel your story through it and try not to overthink like oh I measure out my panels and just to think actually I feel like this moment needs a bigger space. This moment doesn’t need a big space. Do I need to show this in this moment what’s the important part of this scene to show. An example I often give in workshops with people is we use abstracts in comics quite a lot too so if you’ve got two characters if we were drawing this scene right now it’s me and you sitting on a settee and we could draw it if we chose to stylistically as just our headshots expressions changing headshots and that can be used in certain circumstances as well. Or we might want to change it up a bit again using that film technique idea that once we’ve established that we’re sitting here we don’t need to keep showing that there are two people sitting on a settee. So it might be then they’ll focus on your mug but your voice is still happening or like my hand next to my mug but if is my hand clenched because that’s gonna say a lot regardless of what the words are that are saying. The visual of a clenched hand is gonna mean more than a relaxed hand so it’s like pulling moments out again similar as you would probably in filmmaking but channeling that through techniques that can only work on a page. Jack: So I guess the ultimate question is Emma where do people read this? Emma: That is the ultimate question! So depending on what access they’ve got, online for free completely for free like one page a week every Monday updates atwww.breakscomic.comOr if they want to support us they can buy the book which would be awesome. So this particular edition is super limited. It’s got a bit of extra stuff. This one is not through shops unfortunately but if they come to a comics convention where I am I am I can sell it to them at table. This one they can get everywhere so any good bookshop, comic shop just yeah go in and ask for this title or Soaring Penguin sell it directly on their site. Or any online retailers which I shall not specifically name you can get it from yeah so the books should be available everywhere or join us online and read it that way. Jack: Amazing so thank you so much for talking me through Breaks and the process involved. It’s been great to talk about it. Jack: And thanks so much for being
Emma: Awesome. on the Let’s Talk Art Series.
Emma: Thank you!