Voices of the Otaku Generation:
Sokora's Resident Refugee - Melissa DeJesus
Name: Melissa DeJesus
Web Site: www.estrigious.com, www.sokora.com
Birthplace: New York
Zodiac Sign: Sagitarius
Bloodtype: O positive
Favorite thing(s): My cat, my art supplies, my collectibles and my George Foreman oven roaster
Least-Favorite thing: rude people
Favorite color: blue
Favorite manga: Currently Berserk, Tengo Tenge, Air Gear, One piece, Naruto, Bleach, Blade of the Immortal and Vagabond
Favorite Food: anything yummy and healthy
Least-Favorite Food: i hate pineapple Hobby: model kits and video games
Special Talent: err...drawing
Melissa, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us. Let's go ahead and dive right in. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well, let's see...I've started drawing right before kindergarten. I could say it runs in the family. My great-grandmother, my grandfather and my uncle all had great artistic ability. Early on since Junior High, I knew I wanted a career in art. With support from my family and peers I was able to attend the Highschool of Art and Design and the School of Visual Arts, which are both in Manhattan. I learned a lot on my own but the classes I took in school gave me the experience I needed to be familiar in many areas of art. Though I majored in both Cartooning and Animation, I've had some experience with advertising, fashion, storyboards, layouts and even 3D animation.
Do you have a day job or do you draw full-time? What's that like?
Currently I draw full time. Weekends I teach a cartooning class for children at LaGuardia Community College here in NY. In the last two years I've worked for a game store and then at Central Park Media. I don't mind working during the day, it was kinda fun at first. I would work during the day and draw when I came home. After a while though, working during the day felt like a side job I was spending too much time on. I wanted to focus more on my art.
Let's talk art for a while. You started out with Studio Estrigious, how instrumental was that in getting your feet into the industry and would you recommend that approach to others?
Estrigious was the best thing I did but only with the help of my friends. The other members and myself, when we all met, decided to put up a website to showcase our artwork. We then published our own illustration book, sold it at conventions and that made us enough money to make a second bigger and better illustration book. After sometime with that exposure and the traffic we had online, job offers started to come to us.
It's a great start for anyone who wants to get into the art industry. Having a website alone won't do it for you, though. You have to really go out there and advertise yourself. Show your work to everyone and give out your website to everyone. As long as you maintain it and give yourself projects to work on, other people will be impressed and one of those people might just be someone who would be willing to hire you.
How did you learn to draw in the anime-esque style that you use? Were there any hurdles you had to overcome?
There really wasn't any hurdles I had to overcome. When I was about 13 I starting drawing superheroes from American comics after years of drawing cartoon characters from television. The women were cool but big beefy men weren't my thing. As an avid player of videogames I noticed more and more of the art in the games from Japan. The style back then was perfect for my taste. It was like having a mix of superhero characters who were cute and comical just like the looney tunes characters. It was right in the middle of two things that I loved.
The first volume of Sokora Refugees hits stores this April and fans can get a taste of it now at sokora.com. Tell us, how did you first become involved with this project?
The writer for Sokora Refugees had visited my website. He emailed me asking if I would be interested in drawing this comic for TOKYOPOP. All they needed was samples of sequential art. I gathered a short comic I did for my comic class and sent it to them. It was definitely an opportunity I didn't want to slip by. They all like it and I was hired as the artist.
I'm sure the workload had to be tough. Did you experience any stress or hesitation while trying to complete Sokora Refugees' first volume and how did you deal with it?
Oh god was it tough! I had spent the last two years working on animation so when I started the comic I was still in animation mode. I had trouble visualizing the writers timing, I was inking like I was inking for animation, and my panels were all in widescreen format, it was all craziness at the beginning. We spent so much time figuring things out in the beginning that I was behind schedule and I had a rough time catching up. I was sure my editors hated me. Dealing with it was tough. I had to literally change my lifestyle to accommodate my new job as a manga artist. The one thing that kept me going was if I blew this opportunity I was given I was going to regret it for the rest of my life. In the end, it was all worth it and very satisfying.
If you had to sum up Sokora Refugees in, oh, five words...what would they be?
A little fun for everyone!
Just by flipping through your work that you really have a knack for kawaii and super deformed antics. Is that something that just comes naturally to you or do you find that you have to work at it?
Thanks, I've been doing it for years. Even when I try to draw something serious, stuff like that just comes out.
A lot of beginning artists have problems with inking and toning. Have you found any techniques that are particularly helpful with this process?
Oh boy, after years of animation and working with color, I still have problems with inking and toning. Though I have been generally inking for several years, my editors told me I needed more line weight in my inks for the comic. I couldn't do it with a normal ink pen so I tried both a brush and a dip pen, both, which could give me great line weight. After some practice, the dip pen proved to be the best for me, it takes a lot of control and patience to use it though. If you try to rush you can mess up pretty quick and often. Knowing when to varying the line weight can also prove comes with practice. I watch my friend do it for years and it still doesn't come easy to me. Toning was tricky at first. I had to think of it as coloring in grayscale but even like that it might get too tone heavy. Finding the balance between blacks, grays and whites on a page is the best approach. Right now I'm still in the process of figuring that out.
What can you tell us about the short you prepared for the film Super Troopers?
The short was done several years ago. All members of Estrigious worked on it. We were still in school at the time and our teacher let us use the school's facilities to work on the animation. It only took us about a month and was only a minute or two long. It was rather choppy animation that they wanted for the movie.
What would you say are your long-term goals as an artist?
I would like to have my own comic series one day and much later on I hope to be able to direct a feature length animated film.
How did you first become a fan of anime and manga and what were your first series?
Video games got me into anime and manga. My first anime was Akira when it was first aired on the sci-fi channel. I then watched all the anime that aired during those few weeks and eventually started getting them myself. My first few series were Street Fighter II: The Movie, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Ranma 1/2, K.O. Beast Century, Slayers, and eventually Evangelion and Escaflowne.
Do you attend any conventions or do any Cosplay?
I only go to Otakon now, hopefully in the next year or so I'd like to go the San Diego Comic Con, and maybe even E3! I've only cosplayed once as B.Jenet from Fatal Fury Mark of the Wolves.
What are some of your other hobbies that you enjoy spending your time on?
I love model kits!! It's like an obsession! I also play video games, read books and go out to see movies.
Any final words of encouragement or advice that you'd like to share with other aspiring artists out there?
Work hard, live art, don't limit yourself and show your work to everyone. Your worst enemy in succeeding is a lack of confidence.
Thanks for your time and best of luck!
Interview conducted by Adam Arnold