Thought Bubble 2014: 9th-16th November!


Emma Vieceli Minterview by thoughtbubblefestival

Greetings Bubblers! I hope you’re as excited as we are about the fact that this year’s festival is now less than three weeks away! Join us in a squeal of delight won’t you? Eeeee! To keep your sequential art intake at acceptable levels until then we’ve got some lovely exclusive interviews with some of our awesome guests. Following on from our travels inside some of the small press artists’ studios, these conversations with various professionals who’ll be appearing at this year’s Thought Bubble will be assured to astound and amaze. And various other words beginning with ‘A’.

First off we talked to the excellent Emma Vieceli, a professional illustrator, writer, comic artist, and Thought Bubble veteran whose work on Self Made Hero’s Manga Shakespeare line – as well as for Sweatdrop Studios – is something you really, really should check out post-haste. Emma will also be judging the cosplay competition at this year’s Thought Bubble convention and running a workshop on Sunday 22nd (details on our main programme page). But without much further ado (there’s a pun in there somewhere, I know it!), let us begin…

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Hi Emma, thanks for taking the time to talk to us, first off do you think you could give us a brief idea of how you got into illustration?

I think like most people it wasn’t a conscious decision. I just loved reading comics and watching cartoons as a kid, and started drawing on everything I could. I don’t think it had ever crossed my mind that I’d one day be able to draw comics as a career… So, it really is still a dream come true. I was very lucky to join Sweatdrop as they helped me early on and gave me somewhere to focus my interests. We all just loved making comics. It was (and still is with Sweatdrop) very much a hobby for fun.
The turning point for me was the year when I managed to bag a place in Tokyopop’s first UK Rising Stars of Manga competition (again, thanks to Sweatdrop friends bugging me to enter!) and also myself and Sonia Leong had been pitching to and had signed to work with SelfMadeHero just before Rising Stars was announced. So, it was a pretty big year for the pair of us. Hamlet taught me a shed-load, not least of all that running my full time job alongside a GN contract would make me very ill! I ended up going freelance towards the end of the book, as by that point I was talking to two potentially exciting clients about future jobs…it was hard to switch gears and realise ‘wow, this is actually happening’! Sadly the two potential clients never panned out – such is the industry – but by that point I was away, and have never regretted making the decision.

So very much a case of ‘learning on the job’ then?

Pretty much, haha! But then, as artists, we’re always learning on the job. We never stop learning I don’t think.

Your style appears, as I’m sure you’ve heard many times, to be quite manga-influenced – is that a conscious decision on your part, or simply your natural illustrative technique shining through?

Never a conscious decision, no. Creators are always inspired by what they see around them. What we watch/read as we’re growing up will shape our own style hugely but, whatever that style may be, I believe it should be something that flows naturally. I don’t hold with the concept of consciously thinking ‘I want to draw like that’. It can’t be as enjoyable to force a style, surely? For me, I grew up in the UK and spent a lot of time in Italy with my family. There I was exposed to Bonelli’s Dylan Dog (a comic that changed my life) and also a lot of TV anime. Back in the UK I was also reading Marvel comics and The Beano. What’s interesting is that even the three manga styles that I really fell in love with in my early teens and that influenced me hugely (Rumiko Takahashi, CLAMP and Keiko Nishi) are completely different from each other. I don’t know what that mystery aura is that makes us look at a piece and think ‘manga’, but whatever mine was, it was born out of a veritable mish-mash of stylistic influences. These days I don’t tend to refer to my work as manga and I don’t call myself a manga artist, but I think my storytelling techniques are still very reminiscent of shoujo manga stylings… So, maybe that’s the defining feature?

What would you say your main artistic influences are?

They’re always changing, but my most influential artists overall would probably be: Giovanni Freghieri, Keiko Nishi, Adrian Alphona and studio Clamp.

Do you think there is a stereotpyical view held amongst western audiences of what a ‘manga’ title will have to offer, one which limits the potential audience?

I think there is one, yes. But I think it’s being gradually expelled thanks to titles like Monster and Death Note. It’s not all sailor suits and giant mecha! Once, the image of manga over here was that it was all sex and violence, now that’s been turned around so that it’s seen as all being for kids. It’s a pretty sharp swerve, so now we need people to realise that it’s both of them and everything in between! It’s comics – plain and simple.

Do you think that manga is enjoying the same surge in popularity that superhero comics seem to be currently experiencing?

I think the manga wave is finally subsiding here in the UK after an amazing few years, but what’s great is that a lot of us are seeing what we always hoped would happen when it was at its biggest over here. We hoped that this time, unlike past manga/anime rises in popularity, when the wave passed it would leave behind a solid foundation – a bedrock of manga in our existing comic industry. It’s what a lot of us worked very hard for, and I think we’re seeing that. Manga shouldn’t be some strange sidekick to comics, but a fantastic part of a wider comic scene. We’re seeing styles and techniques crossing over a lot now, and that’s great.

Any particular favourite titles in this new-wave?

I guess I could be cliché and say Death Note… It’s superbly written. I have to confess I do also like Naruto in its manga form as opposed to the anime. However, to be perfectly honest, I don’t really differentiate between what is seen as ‘manga’ and what are ‘comics’. It’s all comics, and I probably spend more time reading X-Men, Runaways and Fables than I do ‘manga’ these days. I get frustrated by the constant need of many to separate the two!

Do you think this differentiation between ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ comics is stunting the growth of the graphical medium in general?

I think creators themselves aren’t as worried about the differentiation, so it’s not stunting creativity at least, but I know of several creators, myself included, who have hit hurdles with publishers because our work is ‘too manga’ or ‘not manga enough’, and that’s upsetting; to always have your work compared in some way to whatever litmus paper exists for this mythical ‘manga’ style.
That said, the wave has also lead several larger book publishing companies to get in on the action with graphic novel lines, so on the one hand, GNs are booming like never before.
I think we’re getting there. I’m seeing certain large comic publishers being very open with their new artists, and we’re seeing some fantastically hybrid art styles. Gone are the days of house style, and that’s great news for creativity!

You’re perhaps best known for your excellent work on the Manga Shakespeare range, what was it about those adaptations that appealed to you?

I’m a Shakespeare NUT! Studied him at university, wrote a dissertation on him and then after uni, I became a professional performer for a while and got to do a couple of Shakespeare roles. For him to then find me through comics started to convince me I was being haunted! I just love Shakespeare’s work, and his plays were always meant to be seen and not read as text on paper… So, I thought Emma Hayley’s idea of something between the two was genius!

I can think of worse historical figures to be haunted by! Do you have a favourite Shakespearean play, or character, one which you’d relish the chance of illustrating?

Very true! Haha! Well, lucky for me, my two favourites were Hamlet and Much Ado! In some ways I’d love to go back and apply what I know now to Hamlet – but that way madness lies, haha. I was happy with the storytelling, and that’s the most important part of any comic I think.

Ah, nice King Lear reference! So, when you’re adapting Shakespeare’s plays from the manuscripts, do you take into account stage directions, or just utilise the dialogue?

I don’t use anything but the dialogue… So, essentially I am the director of the piece too – which is great fun. I love trying to add new elements within the set text. Richard [Appignanesi] does a great job of adapting the script down to GN-length dialogue, and then I add what I can to that visually.
To be honest, Shakespeare was very sparse on his stage direction, with the exception of exits, entrances and the occasional ‘dies offstage’, haha!

You’ve been involved in the UK sequential art scene for quite some time now, have there been any noticeable changes during that period, for better or worse?


So many changes! Most notably, there is just more of it – and that’s fab. When Sweatdrop started out almost nine years ago (ARGH!), we did so because there was no one at the time in the UK publishing manga-style work. This was before Tokyopop, before Markosia…it’s hard to believe. Sweatdrop is a bit of a dinosaur of UK small press comics, haha. We’ve seen Rising Stars of Manga come and go, we’ve seen Neo Magazine start up and become the amazing publication it is, and we’ve seen independent sequential artists in the UK move from photocopied, folded comics into pro-looking digital printing. There are so many groups and individuals out there now making the most of cheaper printing and the ever-expanding convention scene.

Shows like the London MCM Expo have exploded comics out into the wider public, while shows like Thought Bubble, BICS and Bristol offer specialised playgrounds where comickers and comic lovers can come together and revel in the shinies. Magazines like ImagineFX have really started welcoming comics into their line-ups, and even the surge in recent comic adaptations to film have all contributed to the notion that the geeks truly shall inherit the earth.
The UK has always had a wealth of amazing comickers, but so many have been forced to take their talents elsewhere in the past. There are a lot of people right now working hard to really push the talent pool we have here in the UK, and I love seeing the results!

Some people seem quite eager to pin this growth on the recent success of comic-book adaptations at the box office, how much do you think this is the case?

I think the film industry has not so much drawn in new readers (though I bet it’s brought a few people ‘home’) as it has strengthened the bond and courage of existing readers. I know loads of people who love the recent surge of adaptations, but they’ve never read a comic and never will… What this recognition has done has made existing readers feel less isolated; it’s made us that bit prouder of our obsessions. We can now wear our geek-shirts with pride and count ourselves amongst those ‘who were there at the beginning, man’.

You’re appearing at this year’s Thought Bubble; do you enjoy attending conventions and other events of that nature?

Well of course! I LOVE events. They’re the times we can come out of our solitary studios and mingle with humanity…and other creators.
I attend as many as I can in a year without destroying myself, though that’s getting harder these days now that there are so many events, what with me trying to span the pure comic events and the anime conventions! As I write this I’m recovering from the MCM Expo, where I actually organise the ComicVillage, so I’m very much looking forward to Thought Bubble, where I can be a creator again. I have huge respect for the people who organise these events after my Expo experiences! This weekend I’m off to my first Italian convention in Lucca, so that should be good fun!
I urge anyone who sees me at an event to come up and say hi! For some reason I get a lot of people after shows saying online that they saw me, but didn’t want to bug me at the show, haha. I’m there to be bugged, people! Don’t be a stranger! ^_^

***

Alas, as it is said, the rest is silence. Many thanks to Emma for taking the time and talking to us, we here at Thought Bubble are huge fans of her work and really cannot recommend it enough!

A little bit of TB related news now, for those of you unlucky enough not to be able to make it to this year’s festival, we’re pleased to be able to bring a couple of our big-name guests to you! Thanks to our partners at Travelling Man, Ben Templesmith and Alex Maleev will be attending signings at TM’s Newcastle and Manchester stores during the Thought Bubble festival period, details can be found on the flyer placed conveniently below…

Alex&Ben Signing

That’s all for now, tune in on Wednesday when we have another interview for you with one of our fantastic guests. “Who?” you may ask, well you’ll have to come back to find out. Mystery is our middle-name.

- Clark

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