A chat with the Vampire Academy artist
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”.