Emma Vieceli first received notice when she was a finalist in the “Rising Stars of Manga” competition sponsored by Tokyopop. Since then she’s drawn a wide variety of books including “Dragon Heir,” “My Little Pony” and “Manga Shakespeare.” In recent years she’s been responsible for drawing roughly two graphic novels each year: adaptations of the best-selling “Vampire Academy” novels, two of which are available now, as well as drawing “The Avalon Chronicles” for Oni Press and writers Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir.. Never one to rest on her laurels, it was also announced at San Diego Comic Con that Vieceli is one of the artists contributing to the “Afterparty” story arc in “Young Avengers” for Marvel Comics.
At SDCC, Oni Press released “The Avalon Chronicles: The Girl and the Unicorn,” the second volume of the four-book series following last year’s “The Avalon Chronicles: Once in a Blue Moon.” The project originally began years ago at Oni, but after the first volume was published the original artist left. After a long break, Vieceli joined the series and drew a new edition of Vol. 1 before turning to the new book. Vieceli recently spoke to Comic Book Resources about her busy schedule, how she works and offers an exclusive look at the next “Vampire Academy” graphic novel, “Shadow Kiss.”
CBR News: Your new “The Avalon Chronicles” book, “The Girl and the Unicorn” was just released. You started working on the series a couple years back. What do you enjoy most about it?
Emma Vieceli: It’s great having the second book out now which is not just retelling what’s already been told (the first book was of course a reworking), but is actually continuing the story. In terms of what I like most about working on “Avalon,” that would be working with Nunzio and Christina, and being part of the Oni family. As well as being such amazing storytellers themselves, Nunzio and Christina are open to discussing story with me. They said from the beginning, we want to share this. We had a very early-on meeting where we were able to hash out some broad ideas of where they saw it going, and I added my thoughts and have been able to influence the story and characters quite a bit. Obviously it’s very much still Nunzio and Christina’s story, I wouldn’t take ownership of it, but we’re a team. I join in with some plotting, but they do all the scripting. We have meetings to hash out plot ideas and who’s going to live, who’s going to die, what horrible things we can do to people. They’re so amazing to work with. The reason I was taken by the first script is that they take things that run the risk of being fairly trope-y and quite cliche and either make them really tongue in cheek or they add a twist to it. Beyond that, I just love the world building and the characters. So much tension, camaraderie and romance potential.
Also, I want Cassidy’s outfit. It looks so comfy and practical!
How many books is the series planned for?
As it stands we planned for four books. It’s been so much fun. It’s been one of those weird and magical situations where Nunzio and Christina have said, “We could do more books.” It’s the kind of set-up where you could tell so many more stories. If anything the problem is me because there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep working on this one series. So the plan right now is for four.
Will the books be released one each year?
Originally I think that had been one of the hopeful plans. The first book and the second book were done really quickly. I did the second book in about five months, I think, with Nana Li helping me on tones. We wanted the second one to come out soon after the first one. The third book might be out in more than a year. We don’t have it set in stone. Originally we thought an annual release, but a lot of it comes down to me as the artist juggling so many things, as well as Nunzio and Christina running several titles at once. We’re a pretty busy team.
The reason for that is because you’re also drawing the “Vampire Academy” graphic novels. You mentioned before that you just finished the third book. It’s a very different series from “Avalon Chronicles.”
Completely different. I’m a big advocate of the idea that comics should be about anything for everyone and that there’s no limit to comics. You can do comics about anything in the world. I’ve done so many varied projects and I like shifting things up. At the time when I started on “Vampire Academy,” I had just come off doing my own children’s series, “My Little Pony” and “Manga Shakespeare,” so vampires was something I hadn’t done before. I got approached by Rob Valois at Penguin who I’d known from years back at Tokyopop. I entered the Rising Stars of Manga competition a very long time ago. I was kind of awful then. [Laughs] Rob was one of the judges that year and I got into the final book and so it was nice that six years later he reached out to me and said there’s this book series. He sent me the books by Richelle Mead and I absolutely fell in love with them. They were not what I expected at all. So good. It’s a really good series. I think by the time I finished the third book with tears running down my face I was like, I want to draw this!
Now that you’ve finished “Shadow Kiss,” are you drawing the next three “Vampire Academy” books?
I don’t know. I was contracted for the first three. At this stage we’ve only just finished “Shadow Kiss” and they’re working on the film at the moment. I was on set a couple weeks ago and it was just amazing. I got to meet several of the actors. I got to hug living versions of characters I’d drawn and met Gabriel Byrne as he was on set that day, which was really cool. That’s coming out next February and the “Shadow Kiss” graphic novel is coming out in December and we’ll see how it goes. I love the stories and there’s lots more stuff in that series that I want to draw and a lot more characters I haven’t been able to draw yet. We’ll see how they do. In the meantime I’m trying not to think about it too much. Because I knew “Shadow Kiss” was coming to an end and I didn’t know for certain what was going to happen with the series after that, I leapt on an offer from Walker to do the “Alex Rider” books with Antony Johnston, who I’d wanted to work with for a while.
Have you started drawing “Scorpia,” the first of the “Alex Rider” books you’re drawing?
I don’t dilly dally around. [Laughs] In the first month and a half I had pencilled half the book. Part of that is because Antony’s script is great, and Anthony Horowitz]’s story is so gripping to start with. For me one of the biggest differences working with Walker Books is that they’re in the UK. As much as I adore Richelle and the series and I love everyone at Penguin, everyone’s in the US. It’s the same with Oni. It’s only me in the UK; I’ve got no direct contact with any of them. Because of that I always felt a bit out of the loop. What’s amazing with “Alex Rider,” even at this early stage, is having a call from my editor — during my working day and not at ten o’clock at night — saying come down to the office and we can go over notes in person. Much as technology has changed everything and I love that I can work with American companies, and I have done [that] for a long time, there’s something really exciting about working with a UK team. I think we’re going to be having a lot of fun.
Antony and I have been friends for a long time. We were actually pitching a series together years ago and maybe one day that will come to light, but we’ve been wanting to work together on something for quite a long time. It’s a nice opportunity to do so. Again, similarly to how Richelle was amazing and supportive on “Vampire Academy,” I’ve had a similar thing with Anthony Horowitz, who I’ve not spoken with directly but through my editor. I got woken up one day by a phone call from her because I was waiting for feedback from those first character designs, which is always nerve-wracking. She phoned me and said Anthony Horowitz has seen the designs and he really liked them. He wants to buy them. [Laughs] That was amazing and as an artist on a project it makes you feel so positive.
Antony has adapted a few of the “Alex Rider” novels before with other artists. What’s the challenge of coming in and redesigning the characters so they look like your work but they look recognizable to anyone who has read the other books?
With “Avalon,” I love Jen Quick’s work and I didn’t want to feel like I was jumping on someone else’s turf. It’s not a massive industry and it’s a very friendly industry and I couldn’t imagine how it would feel for someone else to redo my work. Obviously Jen had left the series a long time before, but that was why I said, “I want to redo it. I don’t want to use her designs.” I redesigned them all so that her thing is her thing and my thing is my thing.
With “Alex Rider” I haven’t quite been able to do that. Again, I really like the “Alex Rider” stuff that’s come before and Antony does a great job on the adaptations and I really liked how the books look. When they brought me in, it was because they had seen the “Vampire Academy” books and they didn’t want it to be a massive departure — obviously you have to keep some continuity of design — but they wanted my style. Because the series gets darker at this point, they wanted it to be appear a bit more mature. It was a different kind of nerve-wracking. There are some characters I had to design fresh, but others I’m adding my tweaks. I’m doing two books so I’ll be doing “Archangel” after this and probably my style will take hold. What’s going to be really exciting is I’ve got Kate Brown working with me on colors and Kate’s just awesome. We’ve been best friends for ages and worked on a few things together now. She makes magic on the page so I’m really looking forward to seeing how the final results are going to look.
I have to ask, how quickly do you work?
[Laughs] I am a bit insane. But what’s funny is that when people say to me how do you work that fast or why do you work that fast, it’s not a case of do I want to, I have to. If I don’t work that fast, I don’t make my deadlines. Generally I’m doing 30-40 pages a month so when I sit down and pencil — which are rough, they’re not as neat as my final pages are — I’m aiming to do five pages a day. Then when I’m inking I do two pages a day. I worked it out a little while ago. I only went freelance in 2007 so it’s been five-six years, so I feel quite new in some ways but I’ve been averaging 400 pages a year. [Laughs] I’ve been doing that for about six years. So that’s got to change. [Laughs]
It’s great that I am able to work that fast. I think it’s important. You’ve got to be able to hit deadlines. But I’d like to have a longer schedule because I’d like to know what I can actually achieve when I can spend the time. I listen to other artists who say I spent two days on this page and I think, “Oh my god, I don’t even know what I could achieve if I spent two days on a page.” Sometimes it really does feel like work. Obviously, it is work, but it feels like I’m this machine churning out pages.
How do you work? If you’re skipping thumbnails and going straight to loose pencils, then you’re doing most of the detail and rendering in the inking stage?
Yes, which is done digitally. A lot of people say, you ink digitally, that must be faster, but the process of inking digitally is slower for me than on paper. On paper if you’re working with a brush or pen once you put a line down, it’s down, and then you move on. When you’re working digitally you have this magical delete button. It’ll literally be draw delete, draw delete, draw delete. It ends up being a slower process because I’m not content because I know I can change it and shift things around. I’ve had to learn to back away — which you have to when you’re inking two pages a day. For me the biggest advantage is that I can pencil at any size I want. I can pencil my pages on a napkin and I can still scan them in, blow them up, get them into my template and then I can zoom in, but my pencils can be on anything. I carry around a notebook and I can draw my pencils on the train or wherever as long as I scan them all in. That’s really sped up the process.
I don’t tend to do thumbnails although that’s more when I’m working from someone else’s script. I think when I do finally get back to doing >more of my own stuff like “Dragon Heir” I’ll go back to doing thumbnails again. I don’t tend to do them when I’m working from a script from someone else because people like Antony or Nunzio and Christina know what they’re doing. They’ve already broken things down into panels, although everyone has always been amazing and said if you want to add more panels or change things around add reaction shots or whatever you can. I don’t tend to thumbnail, I just go straight to pencils. Anything I want to add I’ll do it at the pencil stage and then when I get feedback on the pencils any changes they want to make to that I do as I ink it.
Why do you just ink digitally?
At the beginning it was purely because of workflow. The first thing I did was “Hamlet” and I was really finding my feet, so I was doing this 200-page graphic novel, I had about five months to do it, and I had a full time job. [Laughs] It was insane. I made myself ill doing that book. The second half of that book I had pneumonia. I was drawing the end of that book and I was struggling to breathe. Inking digitally meant I didn’t have to clean up my inks. I could finish my page and upload. There was none of that scanning it in and then cleaning it up. At the beginning it was just about workflow and how I could work faster — not that the inking process was faster, but the overall process was faster. From there I got used to it.
Are you going to return to “Dragon Heir” one of these years?
One of these years. Oh my god. It’s just one more book, it’s only a two-book series and I’ve wanted to finish that story for so long. What’s annoying for me is I had this story when I was 17-18 years-old. When the first issues came out in small press I was 21 and now I’m 34, so I have to accept the fact that the story is what I wanted to read when I was 18. It’s angsty and has love and men with long hair and swords and it’s cool. Now as a 34 year-old, I find myself thinking I want to finish it and be true to the story. I know it’s a good story. It’s not the kind of story I want to read now, but it is the story I would have read then. Of all the things I’ve done, it makes me so happy that whatever convention I’m at I will get at least five people who come up to the table and ask, when is “Dragon Heir II” coming out? Because it’s all my own and I’ve printed it and designed it. I have thousands of them in my garage. Lots of people ask about “Vampire Academy” or “Avalon,” which is really lovely, but I don’t have that same ownership over those. Now I need to finish it. I want to finish it. I’ve toyed around with the idea of when my schedule gives me a chance or maybe Kickstarter, because the only way I’m going to be able to do it is to take six months out of work and focus on getting that done. I want to finish it and it needs doing.
So right now you’re finishing “Scorpia” and what comes after that?
Nunzio and Christina are working on the third script for “Avalon.”
I’ve also got a “Richard III” three book graphic novel series I’m so keen to do. We’ve got an amazing and super-patient publisher. My husband Andrew Ruddick and I are co-writing and he has been working on the final script. We started planning this series a long time before they dug up Richard’s bones. We could not have predicted that happening. And now we’re kicking ourselves that schedules couldn’t have allowed us to start sooner. The characters are designed, we have a script for the first book, we have a publisher in place. I’ve got some amazing support from people. It is such an amazing story. A lot of people are like, “Oh, like the Shakespeare play?” No. Oh no. [Laughs]
There’s this webcomic. I want to put it out there and say something about it because if I say something, that will make me do it. On the other hand, it’s time rather than willing that’s against me, as always. It’s young adult but for any audience and I’m co-writing with a Swedish writer, Malin Ryden. We’ve been working on the story for quite a long time now and can’t wait to get it, and its protagonists, out there.
Then there’s “Young Avengers.” I was so, so chuffed that Kieron [Gillen] and Jamie [McKelvie] thought of me for their New Year’s celebrations, and I of course leapt at it. So that’ll be great fun. I adore the characters and what the guys are doing with the title, being a part of it is a real honor.
There is a super exciting something in very early stages (isn’t there always). And then of course we’ll wait and see what happens with “Shadow Kiss” and if anything more will happen there. It’s quite a lot.
I take it your life isn’t getting any less busy anytime soon?
I know. Every time I finish something I say, “Well, now things will start to calm down.” A few years back when Oni first approached me about “Avalon” it was incredible because at the time I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I don’t regret doing that because it’s a great series, but at the same time, the “Vampire Academy” deal came through so I was signed for a four book series and a three book series at the same time. Then “Alex Rider” was two books. My big thing at the moment is I’m just really desperate to do original stuff. I want to get on to telling my own stories as well. So many comics, so little time.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on the very busy Emma Vieceli and her many projects.
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