CAMILLA d’ERRICO ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Camilla d’Errico is a beautiful artist whose work has graced both the printed page and the walls of art galleries. She is heavily influenced by manga, produces beautiful line work and regularly has jaws dropping with daring feats of imagination.
A gallery of Camilla’s chimerical art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Camilla d’Errico: I’ve loved comics, cartoons and fantasy storytelling from a young age. I started doodling my own characters and imagining my own stories in high school, and didn’t want to stop. Getting to attend Comic Con in San Diego when I was 18 was really a turning point for me though; it opened my eyes to the world of comics and creative arts. It was such an incredible, immersive experience, and convinced me that it was what I was going to do with my life.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
CD: I left the smaller town where I grew up to move to Vancouver and continue my arts education. I completed the Illustration & Design program at Capilano University. This was valuable for helping me develop more fundamental skills in drawing and painting.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
CD: Clamp comes immediately to mind as pioneers of sequential art. They are an all-female Japanese manga group, working collectively to write and illustrate manga and stories for more than twenty years. Their characters and page layouts are highly detailed. They developed what have become iconic ways of creatively breaking up and transitioning panels—by drawing in feathers or cherry blossoms, for instance.
Mizuki Kawashita of Hatsukoi Limited and Masashi Kishimoto, who writes Naruto, also stand out for me as artists who bring characters with realism to their panels and compose excellent backgrounds. These artists change the angles in their panels a lot, which isn’t done so often in comics since it’s more difficult to render dynamic angles and viewpoints.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
CD: I define it as a story told over several panels on a page. Sequential art is like a storyboard with a beginning, middle, and end, however it needs to be able to hook and engage readers to keep turning the page, whereas storyboarding is continuous and pulls the viewer along. You need to be able to keep the reader interested in the page, rather than treat them as passive viewers in a movie or cartoon.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
CD: I think it’s limitless. I’ve seen when artists push the boundaries of what you can put on a page. Clamp and Ashley Wood have broken these boundaries, and it’s something I continue to test and develop in my own art. They’ve really taken their comics to a new level and offer a more intense, dramatically artistic approach. It’s exciting to get to see with a medium like sequential storytelling. You can do more than in a movie or even cartoons. Bodies and environments can be bent and distorted in dynamic ways without fear of being anatomically incorrect. Panels can focus more on characters emotions and reactions, without it coming off as a cheesy effect. In a comic we can hear and experience what the character is thinking. It’s truly a continually developing perspective on storytelling unique to comics—like a new frontier.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
CD: The internet is definitely an asset nowadays, to bring elements of the world to us. Appropriately using photo references is also valuable to help learn the rules of perspective and rendering, so we can find ways to manipulate and break them. Like being able to find a skyline photo reference, and developing it past what it is in reality to create a post-apocalyptic skyline, or develop it into something futuristic; imagining how to take it past the starting point is the goal. Start from a basis in reality, and define what’s comfortable for you. I think the same thing goes for your equipment: don’t let anyone tell you that if you don’t have a certain piece of equipment, or a specific type of software, that you can’t make comics or art. I use plain Bic pens to ink my pages by hand, for example. I use them because they’re comfortable, and because my skills dictate my drawing ability, not my equipment.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
CD: I make comics as well as painting traditionally and digitally so my process differs depending on the type of project I’m working on. For comics, I want to start from a basis in writing of conceptualizing, and then start to feel out the characters. I don’t get the luxury of only doing art when I feel in the mood but I fill my days with things that get my creative juices flowing. Making comics shouldn’t feel like a chore either, so getting excited and energized to draw is a part of my process. I put music or audio books on when I draw, or open up some of my art books to let their creative energies inspire me for what I’m working on.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
CD: Thirty hours a day! I wish we could have that many hours to get everything done. As a creator, my workday can change from day to day depending on the project or what I’m working on. Usually it’s a full work day, or more—well into the night. When I’m travelling and selling my comics at a convention or exhibition, it can easily be a sixteen-hour workday. On some days I definitely feel more productive than others; being able to do several comic pages definitely feels like more than spending hours working on one part of a painting. However, it’s hard to compare those kinds of projects with each other.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
CD: It definitely was—and in many ways, it still is. Nothing that’s worth having comes easy, and if you really love something and feel passionately about it you need to be willing to work for it, and then work to maintain it. Although I’ve got my foot in the door in the industry it’s not a free ride. I keep working to develop my art and I think it’s the same for all creatives that want to keep growing their abilities and the things they share with the world.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
CD: My most valuable experience that made a mark on me as a professional was the advice I was fortunate to receive from comics grandfather John Buscema. It was at my first Comic Con, and I had attended his panel on Comics and the creative industry. I waited until after the panel to approach him (with my mom, I was 18 and bright-eyed!) and asked for his advice on how I could do what he, and so many other amazing creators, did. He asked me why I wanted to make comics. And I responded that it’s the only thing I want to do—I can’t do anything else, I love comics. He told me that was exactly it, and that I could only succeed at making comics if I was doing it for the right reasons—for the love of comics and for the love of telling stories visually. There’s so much turnaround, and so many new people trying to muscle into the industry that it takes heart to succeed. I’ve repeated this advice in my head over and over again; it’s really left a mark on me. Without this kind of affirmation, I may have given up when things were tough, or worried that not reaching enough people or making sales meant I wasn’t good enough. But the advice I got helped to instill a better understanding about the soul of comics, and hearing it from someone so influential was something I could take to heart.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
CD: I’m the kind of person that draws and soaks up inspiration from everyday life, no matter how small. I want to never stop being able to be inspired by natural beauty in nature and wildlife and things that impact our senses. Even words and textures can give me ideas sometimes. I have a library of art books from other artists that I enjoy looking through, and shelves full of comics. Other artists’ and writers’ creative energies are almost contagious. Even if they’re a different kind of genre or theme of art that doesn’t relate to mine, I appreciate how creative and inspiring they can be.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
CD: I think it’s both. I find it hard to swallow that people don’t pay (or don’t want to pay) for what they’re enjoying digitally a lot of the time. It’s difficult, because with the internet you can reach a wider audience and share more of your work. But piracy is pretty crippling. For example, after I illustrated Sky Pirates and it was published we sold a few thousand copies and that was great. But we found online that through major illegal download sites it had been downloaded over 500,000 times. It’s disappointing that people want to enjoy what I (and many other artists) draw but they don’t want to support us being able to keep doing it. I hope people, companies and websites can keep moving towards a place where people can start paying a little, even just $1, for the digital comics they enjoy, and support their creators. I love that the internet has made comics international, and hope that it can make it more viable for creators to keep creating.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
CD: I think, to continue from the previous question, that I would change the part of the industry and market where readers are feeling entitled to free comics. People may not be willing to pay $20 for a graphic novel anymore, but if we can find ways to reach a middle ground between “too expensive” and “free” it’ll keep supporting the creators that want to make more comics. The movie and TV industries are trying to combat this with paid subscription streaming services (like Netflix) , to collect even a small amount from people. Maybe something like this could be established for comics.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
CD: My first choice would be Leonardo Da Vinci—but he’d be so strict, he’d discipline the heck out of me! I’d be a poor abused student. All the great masters were so exacting.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
CD: I think one of my biggest creative dreams is to have my own Helmetgirls anime, animated in Japan. I’ve got so many stories I want to tell, and to put in motion. Continuing to make figures of my art and characters is another goal of mine.