An Indie darling, Emma Rios started her journey into comics by doing short stories for fanzines, books and even self-publishing her own series “APB”; all while she working as an architect. A job offer from Boom! Studios in 2008 to work on HEXED allowed her to quit her day job and focus on comic artistry full-time. Now… Emma Rios is one of the most recognizable name in indie comics. Her list of accolades includes being one of the architect of the ISLAND anthology, creator of Pretty Deadly and co-artist/writer of Mirror with Hwei Lim. Emma Rios was in town for STGCC 2016 and I was lucky enough to sit down with Emma for a short interview.
As one of the first few artists to get on board the “Island” anthology and the mind behind ID, can we get some insight into the creative process behind this indie sensation ?
Emma Rios: ID is actually a pretty personal project and when Brandon (Brandon Graham was the principle architect behind the Island anthology) asked me if I was interested in it – because ID is a project I’ve been thinking on for a while and said “Obviously…YES !”. I was really excited about the project because Brandon and I are on the same page in terms of the medium. We both think that it’s very difficult to enter and stay in the market. Additionally, one would mostly start their career in a big publisher but those big publishers would set limitations on what you can or cannot do. So possibility of having a publication where creators would be able to have complete creative freedom was appealing to me, I was onboard the project immediately. I told Brandon that I would do the story for it and I would also love to work as an editor for the anthology to help alleviate some of his workload – it also helps that I used to run another magazine at home. So we started creating the thing together. It was also very cool because I live in Europe so I could gather up artist based in Europe. He lives in Canada so he could also help gather artists from the North American comic scene. Living in the age of the internet also helped in gathering creators. The idea of Island was “let’s create a magazine with people we like and people who share the same sensibility of the medium as us”.
So I decided to publish ID there because I used to do a lot of small press which I wrote and drew myself so it was a perfect chance for me to try to write in English for the first time because it was my dream. I really like to write and draw, and being able to write again was really nice. I started out as an artist because of the language barrier, I’m always over-conscious about the language barrier because English is my second language not my first. I thought to myself “If I’m going to do this(write a comic in English), I’m going to do this here (on the Island anthology) because it is very special and personal for me”.
The allegories and themes behind ID actually have a lot to do with this situation of working in this market (English speaking comic market) in relation to having this language barrier. Because of my accent, I wasn’t able to get my message across sometimes but that’s just an accepted norm you know.*laughs* So I started having this idea that my perception from others was different from what I wanted to transmit. I started going down that train of thought so I ended up wanting to talk about the concept of identity in ID. I ended up bringing these 3 characters that were the manifestations of myself; feeling like an outsider everywhere, not feeling right with your own perception or the perception of others about you. So that was the actual inspiration behind ID.
You consulted with an actual Neurologist when you’re writing ID, how did that actually came about?
Emma Rios: Well, that was actually amazing because the Neurologist was a friend of a friend of mine. I’ve always liked Sci-Fi, Kim Stanley Robinson and Greg Egan are some of my favorites; you start reading the book but you don’t really understand them. *laughs* I also read scientific publications but being an architectural major it was a little hard to understand sometimes. *laughs*
If you want to create something really medical, it’s always good to have some help because it is impossible to only use the internet for research as you’d only scratch the surface. So I wanted to find someone to help me and I didn’t know how to start because normally people like that (Doctors) are usually not interested in comics so I was thinking that these people are going to tell me to “Go to hell” when I pitched it. *laughs* When I first proposed this idea to this acquaintance, he actually found it very interesting so he got onboard. I started asking him about the possibility of growing a new brain using stem cells and he replied “Well… You can do that with a heart but not with a brain because a brain is not just an ordinary body part”. *laughs* It was actually an interesting experience and I learnt a lot. He even brought in a more medical perspective to my characters – in one incident, he even brought in the possibility of depression of one of my characters suffering from depression.
You have also collaborated with Hwei Lim on “Mirror”, not as an artist but as a writer. How does the creative process differ?
Emma Rios: Hwei and I call ourselves Writer/Co-Writer and Artist/Co-Artist, and that’s how we’re working. Mirror started as part of the 8House books but we finally got pretty independent so we decided to separate it to do an on-going. Image Comics actually proposed the idea to us and it was a good opportunity for us so we accepted it.
I would start by sending her a synopsis which was literally just “Okay I have this world in my mind and these for the first issue so….what do you think?”, we’ll discuss on that. I then write rough script on what would happen on the first issue, I’ll then go back to discuss with her about the script asking her questions like “what would you like to draw?” and “Do you think this character would wear this and walk this way ?” . I’d then write a proper script with all the dialogues and everything but not panels though. I’d do my own layers because I’m still an artist. I write a lot from an artist point of view thinking about narrative and image. But I don’t send her the layouts, I only send her the scripts. She’d always butcher it *laughs* but it was our decision to have her butcher it because I believe that each artist have their own rhythm for telling stories on a page. It’s very important to me that she can empower the pages with her content. She’ll adjust some things and even add and remove some content. Once the layers are done, we would write the dialogue again together to make the story feel more complete and organic.
For example, I’m drawing 2 issues myself which was the first arc and now we are developing mini-arc; I’ll be drawing two issues of this mini-arc and then Hwei will take over. The mini-arc would act as a epilogue and a prologue for the 2nd arc. I’ll be doing issues #6 and #7, Hwei would come back in #8.
If you could invite anyone to contribute to “The Island” who would it be and why?
Emma Rios: Oh my god, this is so hard… I’ll invite Emily Carroll who has a lot of stuff online and they’re amazing. I’d also want to get Little Thunder (門小雷), she’s an artist and model in Hong Kong. She does really beautiful water color. I’ll also want to bring some artist from Spain but I’m already doing that *laughs*.
Indie comics have seen a resurgence in recent years, with some publishers even challenging the status quo set by Marvel and DC. Do you think it’ll present more opportunities to up and coming artist to pursue comic artistry as a career?
Emma Rios: It is very difficult because there is no road for starting, I think aside from working a lot on your stuff and making them visible. You’ll also need to have some luck, in my case for example I decided to enter into Marvel because it was easy for me to communicate as an artist and as a foreigner I didn’t know how to start in the American comic market. I didn’t even think comic artistry was a viable career. I was working as an architect and I thought that I’ll just do comics for fun for the rest of my life. I didn’t think I would become a professional comic artist. I was able to attract a following somehow *laughs* which allowed me to move on to do more indie comics. My favorite piece of advice for aspiring artists is to tell them to do things that they love, while trying to expose your style and get known in front of an audience.
It was fun to work on superheroes, for me it was a training because I had no idea how that particular market worked so it actually gave me an insight into that particular market; the stint actually allowed me to learn a lot and also to improve myself as an artist. Though I am not very sure that joining a big publisher is the best choice in our day and age. Now there are other possibilities because you can do your own mini comics and sell them at conventions. You can also put your stuff online and gain a following there.
If you can get an opportunity to get into indie comics but on your own dime, it’s cool but you might have to actually have a day job because money is crucial – it actually allows you to do what you’re doing (creating comics). Working at a big publisher can allow you to fully dedicate your time into your artistry but you might not be able to enjoy the creative freedom you’d enjoy in indie comics. I preferred working at Marvel because I was able to create stuff without looking for a day job. There is no right or wrong answer in this scenario, it just boils down to the person. The most important thing is to try and always have fun because fun is tantamount to comic artistry. It’s important not to forget that because this job is hard, it’s important to remain enthusiastic about it.
What are your thoughts on the new generation of comic artist who grew up with the digital medium? Some of whom, feels that traditional medium such as physical issues of comics and the ability to create on physical medium is insignificant?
Emma Rios: For me… To create your own art, anything is good. To reproduce your art, it’s totally different.
I believe that comics should be printed and not translated into a web or digital form. I don’t like them (comics) to be read on a small tablet or have it zoomed in on a program because when you read a comic, you’ll start here but your peripheral vision have already read the other panels. You would be able to truly read the page in its diagonal form. But on a tablet, you’re probably zoomed into one panel in order to read the text.
But for the actual creation of the art, it doesn’t really matter. For me I like to do some of my pencils on the table but I like doing colors and my watercolors in the computer. So I believe that everything has their strengths and I think it’s very important to always try new stuff and get out of your comfort zone.
Photos by Alex Tan, Ken Koh & Kenneth Wong
By Kenny Chen KangYi
© POPCulture Online 2016