Comic artist Emma Vieceli on her working practice, Bates Motel, passion and advice for the next generation of artists

Posted on 12 May 2015
By Khyle Deen
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Ahead of her appearance at the Writing on the Wall Festival 2015, we were charmed to speak with the lovely Emma Vieceli on the phone, we discuss her working practice, her passion for comics, Bates Motel and advice for the next generation of artists.

Our Social Media Manager Khyle had the pleasure of hosting the interview, the following is a transcript of the interview.

We wanted to ask a little bit about Sweat Drop Studios, which is where you got your start in comics isn’t it? How did that help you grow as an artist?

Emma: “Ah yes, I’ll always have fond memories of Sweat Drop, I’ve always loved drawing and reading comics, I attended an animé convention that had their own folded staple comics, this is way before Tokyopop and all the current comic conventions, I was quite enamoured with the folded staple comics.

“I got approached by one of the organisers and asked if I had interest in developing my stories into a comic, so then I joined what would go on to be known as Sweat Drop doing small pamphlet sized comics, the idea was always to inspire others to make comics, show people that it can be done through events and spreading the word at conventions.

“We began working with the Japanese Embassy and helping to bring Tokyopop’s Rising Stars competition over here, It went on for a while, growing a lot and one of the things I was really happy about was talking to those that ran the MCM events and helping to bring comics more into the show, not comics in any specific label but just comics as in general art and story-telling.

“So that got off the ground and managed to start with about 10 artist tables and by the time I left, we ended up with around 150 artist tables, which is brilliant compared to the beginning when I started. within about 8 years, I had to leave as it got quite busy, it was such a personal achievement and what I’m quite proud of is the amount of growth we saw in that time, that was what it was all about.

“I stepped down around 3 years ago as it became hard to juggle as I was doing a lot of work with other publishers, but I do hope it can still inspire people, even in the days with advancing technology and social media. We’re all really happy with how far it’s come.”

Brilliant, now in terms of character build, we’re aware that you love spending time to help a character grow as much as possible, is that something you’ve always thought mattered in a story?

Emma: “Oh yeah, I mean, what I love about writing and developing stories is that the character is the most important part about it, the setting doesn’t matter too much, I mean it does matter, but really, it’s about how you can bring the characters to life, they’re always at the forefront, I’ve always thought that, and I’m privileged that I can now bring that mindset into the world of comics.”

Do you ever take inspiration from your own life for characters?

Emma: “Well, there are some arguments that say we all do that a little bit, it can be very hard to create a character that’s not at least some part of yourself, I mean, I don’t knowingly do it but I’m sure I do, if you look at some of my work like Dragon Heir, I wouldn’t have thought that those characters were like me but we were looking back and the 4 characters are traits of the dragon, one is the defensive side of the dragon, one is the empathic side, one is the fighting side, the fury of the dragon and the other is the wise spirit of the dragon and we joked wondering if these are parts of myself that I’m bringing into the story.

“Then I started working on Breaks, and it was hard, because other things I’ve written are fantasy but Breaks is real world and real life, and as I was promoting that, it was like, oh it’s just teenagers, so for me, that was the pure roots of it all, with no gimmicks which can sometimes make it hard to sell, but in some ways, I’d say Breaks is the closest I’ve come to drawing on real life experiences due to the fact that it is based in the real world.”

It’s quite interesting knowing the work process of someone that’s worked on a lot of different material such as yourself, in terms of Breaks, how difficult do you find gauging a specific audience for material like this?

Emma: “I’ve always tried to work out who my audience is in all of my material, anyone can make comics for anyone and about everything, I’ve worked on My Little Pony and other material who’s intended audiences were quite known, but I do work on a variety of material that can be all over the place but in terms of Breaks, I think for me, it’s a personal thing, like it’s an LGBT comic which is definitely interesting but I find myself thinking, is it placed in the LGBT category now?, which would be great, I do want that kind of audience, but I don’t exactly want to run the risk of cutting out everyone else.

“We’ve tried not to push it as an LGBT comic, at the end of the day, it’s a broad comic with lots of topics covered, so we tend to push it into the YA category.
It’s like when we’re at conventions, a lot of fans of Vampire Academy will approach so it is nice seeing familiar faces from a certain demographic but I can’t exactly predict who’s going to recognise me from my work on Breaks.”

Yeah, that’s part of what makes it an interesting project. Now just to go back to Dragon Heir, is that something that’s always in the back of your head?, is it something you’ll ever go back to?

Emma: “I think so, I do want to finish it, I’ve always felt guilty about not finishing it, I do have people coming up to me asking when Book 2 would be coming out at least at every convention, I d really want to get it finished at some point, but the trouble is straddling the lines in terms of making money and working with other people as opposed to soley focusing on personal projects too much, but I would like to finish both Dragon Heir and Breaks, I have been working on Dragon Heir for over 15 years, it’s definitely a passion project of mine, something on my list to finish.”

We noticed the Dragon Heir fan art, which is quite lovely, I imagine you must feel quite proud that people send in a lot of their own art, taking their own time to contribute to your work.

Emma: “Oh yes, definitely, really proud, I love all the fan art that I get on DH, that’s the thing, you know what you’re going to get with Dragon Heir in terms of fan art or even cosplay, whereas with Breaks, it’s different because it’s just teenagers really, there’s no real gimmick to them, how do you fan art teenagers?, *she laughs* I wouldn’t really know if somebody was cosplaying Breaks. But I do get people commenting and discussing each page in Breaks which is great, but yeah, fan art is the best.”

We understand that you also illustrated the scrapbook for Bates Motel didn’t you? How did that come about? Bet that was quite interesting?

Emma: “That was a really fun job actually, it was only a few months though, everything moves much quicker in TV, so I remember, I got an email one night from Cory Bird (a producer of the show), and I saw Bates Motel in the title, and it was early days so nobody had really heard of the show, so I initially thought it was spam, somebody advertising their motel!

“So I didn’t read it right away, then a friend of mine emailed me telling me I’d put my name forward through to some people and that I may get contacted, so then I thought oh no, that’s that email!, so I was thankful that I kept it.

“But that was definitely a great little project, basically in the show, Norman Bates and his mum move into a hotel and he finds art diary under the floorboards, and I began doing the illustrations for the book and in the early episodes of the series, some of the art had to reflect certain points of the series but I hadn’t done them in time so when the character looks at some of the art, it was initially some of the early test sketches that I’d quickly done when they first explained their desired style to me.

“So in the end, it was a bit of a challenge to get it completed in time, but it was a great experience and such a lovely team to work with, they gave me some duplicates of the scrapbook signed by the actors which I’m thankful for. I enjoyed that project.

So for anyone who wants to ask you some questions in real life, the Writing on the Wall Festival is this Saturday (16th of May), are you looking forward to that?

Emma: “Oh I definitely am yeah, it’ll be great to hang out with Charlie Adlard again and also some other comic book loving friends of mine, and I’ve only ever been to Liverpool once so it’ll be great to return because I love the city so I am looking forward to coming back.

“Charlie and I were at a convention in Dublin a few years back and we were comparing our schedules and how we feel sorry for each other *she laughs*, one of the points we discussed was others with a desire to get into comics, and I’ve always said that you could be the best artist in the world, but if you find it difficult to repeatedly hit deadlines and manage your time, you will have great difficulty in succeeding, regardless of how great your art can be, but Charlie is a master of it with him being so busy, for him to not lose momentum is incredible.

“We also began comparing notes and talking about what we like to refer to as “Banking Time”, so for example, if you have a target of 2 pages per day, and manage to get 3 pages done in 1 day, and another 3 pages the next day, then I’ve basically banked a day, which is kind of how you have to think about it, but on the other hand, if you miss a day then you’re playing catch up! So it is important to stick to your deadlines!”

Ok well, to finish up, one final question, what advice would you give to those that are looking to get into working within the world of comics, other than time management which you touched on earlier?

Emma: “Well obviously writing and drawing are both different disciplines, I know of people that are doing both (which I love), but in terms of being an artist, I think the main thing is just to keep drawing, a lot of people always ask how to get into this industry and others tend to say just make a comic, it is really easy to make your own comic, if you photocopy it and staple it together, that’s always impressive to know and show that you’ve gotten that far, but I think a big part of it is essentially stepping out of your comfort zone and drawing things that you would’t ordinarily do, practice and work on that, because if you do get into the industry, you may be asked to draw any number of things, you won’t be restricted to what you know, so practicing is a strong key in succeeding, challenging yourself.”

“In terms of writing, it’s hard because I’ve only done a few projects where I’ve been a pure writer and I don’t feel I’d have necessarily got those jobs had I not been experienced as an artist, so it can be hard giving advice towards writing, like in drawing, you can put together a portfolio quite easily but on the other side, you can also be shot down easy and someone could just say no, I don’t like it, so a hard skin is definitely needed in that regard, so there are more opportunities, but also just as much chance at getting rejected at times.

“But as a writer, you’re not likely to get rejected so fast, people take more time in making that kind of decision, but it can be harder to get your writing seen and generally accepted, some agencies will recommend putting a pitch together first, but some people do cry out for pure writers in order for them to simply collaborate with artists they already have, so that can be another thing to look out for, you’d have to do your homework in that sense.

“But overall, as I mentioned, set yourself a time scale, challenge yourself and just keep doing it, that is the most important thing I’ve found in my time.”

You can get more information on the Writing on the Wall Festival which takes place in Liverpool on Saturday 16th May, by going to www.writingonthewall.org.uk/

Stay tuned to Purple Revolver for more comics news and our Heroes For Sale YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/channel/UC5YONM6rmBSTl2nGwaTg-qw) where you will find lots more in depth comics news and reviews and our interview with former Spider-Man writer and editor Tim Quinn.