Emma Vieceli

A chat with the Vam­pire Academy artist

Comic Heroes - - Contents - By Michael Molcher

My style is my style. I draw how I like to draw

Even as her big­gest project was hit­ting the sil­ver screen, Emma Vieceli was al­ready look­ing ahead – and the fu­ture for her is push­ing the bound­aries of comic books with a brand new in­die se­ries.

Hav­ing drawn for SelfMadeHero and for­mer chil­dren’s weekly The DFC, Vieceli worked with writer Leigh Dra­goon on the graphic novel adap­ta­tions of Vam­pire Academy, the best­selling ‘YA’ para­nor­mal ro­mance nov­els by Richelle Mead, which tell the story of Rose, the teenage daugh­ter of a vam­pire and a hu­man, train­ing to be a body­guard for her “mor­tal vam­pire” BFF, Lissa.

But even as she works on an adap­ta­tion of the Alex Rider books, the Cam­bridge-based artist is pen­ning her own free-to-read we­b­comic, BREAKS.

Comic He­roes: Vam­pire Academy is a mas­sive se­ries in the US, how did you come to work on the adap­ta­tion?

Emma Vieceli: “I en­tered a Toky­opop-run ris­ing stars com­pe­ti­tion and my 15-page comic placed as a run­ner-up. But, more im­por­tantly, a nice man called Rob Valois was the edi­tor of

Ris­ing Stars at the time. Nei­ther of us would have guessed that, years down the line, he’d be work­ing at Pen­guin, so when Vam­pire

Academy was put on his desk, he asked if I’d be in­ter­ested in draw­ing it. Pen­guin sent me the nov­els and once I started read­ing I couldn’t stop. I love Leigh’s scripts – I knew the books in­side out, so I was able to leap in and play sec­ond fid­dle at times, sug­gest­ing ad­di­tions or al­ter­ations, and Leigh was al­ways flex­i­ble and trust­ing. I wouldn’t want the graphic nov­els to be the be all and end all – I’d want people to read the nov­els, but if you’re af­ter a way into the se­ries then the graphic nov­els are very true to the books.”

CH: What has been the re­ac­tion to the se­ries? Does VA sit out­side the stan­dard comics “main­stream” – are your read­ers VA fans or comic book fans, or both?

EV: “Lord knows what ‘comics main­stream’ means to dif­fer­ent people these days, but it’s been fas­ci­nat­ing and awe-in­spir­ing in­ter­act­ing with the Vam­pire Academy fan­dom, or the

VA Fam­ily, as they’re known. The se­ries is firmly rooted in YA and genre fic­tion, and be­cause of the straight-to-GN for­mat, and the large book pub­lisher, Pen­guin, it felt very far from my usual comics world. Most of the people con­tact­ing me were Richelle’s read­ers, who were of­ten new to comics, but amaz­ingly ex­cited about see­ing a story they loved be­ing adapted. They were and are so sup­port­ive and amaz­ing. People waited in line for two hours to see me at New York Comic Con – most of them weren’t there for comics at all, they were there for YA books in par­tic­u­lar. And for me, which, frankly, blew me away. These were people who wouldn’t prob­a­bly be that in­ter­ested in my guest slot for Young Avengers, that’s just not their world – or at least, it’s not a world that they can feel is theirs yet. By the same to­ken, I was at a comic show once here in the UK and a guy picked up Vam­pire

Academy and said, ‘So, this is in­de­pen­dent then?’ and I had to bite my lip to stop me say­ing, ‘Well, no. It’s pub­lished by Pen­guin. It’s a NYT best­selling graphic novel and about as far from in­de­pen­dent as you can get.’ But – again – it just wasn’t his world.”

CH: How do you think your more manga-in­flu­enced style has af­fected the re­cep­tion of the books?

EV: “Hon­estly, it doesn’t mat­ter. I was re­lieved and over­joyed to spend three or four years on a ti­tle that was be­ing read largely by an au­di­ence who didn’t fix­ate on what the hell the style looked like, and more on char­ac­ter and story. The word ‘manga’ to mean a style is re­dun­dant in a time of cross-pol­li­na­tion and the col­lapse of house style. At its best it’s un­help­ful and re­gres­sive and, at its worst, it’s dam­ag­ing. My style is my style. I draw how I like to draw. If we like a comic, great; if we don’t, fine. A piece of se­quen­tial sto­ry­telling ap­peals or doesn’t ap­peal, on its own in­di­vid­ual mer­its, and no um­brella la­bel can ever – or should ever – dic­tate how we’ll re­spond to some­thing be­fore we read it.”

CH: Is it weird see­ing char­ac­ters you’ve been draw­ing in a film? How close to the whole thing do you feel as a cre­ator?

EV: “News of the film was sort of crazy. And when the cast an­nounce­ments started to fil­ter out I was blown away. There was even a photo of Lucy Fry (Lissa) re­leased where she was stood in the same pose I’d used for her char­ac­ter sheet years be­fore. Pro­ducer Don Mur­phy and the crew have been pretty amaz­ing. I don’t con­sider my­self close to be­ing a big part of the film at all, but the team cer­tainly did their best to make me feel con­nected and part of its ex­tended fam­ily, and Richelle has been just amaz­ing through­out. I love her! Mean­while, the film still hasn’t been re­leased here in the UK so – just like with the graphic nov­els – I find my­self one of the last to see it! I can dis­tract my­self with my new projects, of course. I’m cur­rently draw­ing the Alex Rider graphic nov­els for Walker Books, start­ing with

Scor­pia; adapted by the mar­vel­lous Antony John­ston and coloured by Kate Brown, these books will look su­per-slick and I’m re­ally en­joy­ing Alex as a char­ac­ter.

“I’m also work­ing on a com­pletely in­de­pen­dent and Pa­treon-backed ti­tle in the form of BREAKS; a project I co-wrote and now draw with Malin Ry­den. It’s be­ing re­leased as a free-to-read we­b­comic with a view to print­ing straight-to-trade, and I’ve been over the moon to see some fa­mil­iar

Vam­pire Academy read­ers make the tran­si­tion to my newer work, just as I was thrilled to see Ham­let or Much Ado read­ers make the jump to VA. I’ve al­ways been a fan of break­ing down bound­aries and bring­ing the cor­ners of comics closer to­gether.”

BREAKS is free to read at www. breakscomic.com; Vam­pire Academy: A Graphic Novel 1-4 are out now.

Top: Frost­bite is the sec­ond in the hugely pop­u­lar VA se­ries.

Above: Vieceli has de­scribed BREAKS as “a love story that’s a bit bro­ken”.

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