Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our continuing series of interviews with the best and the brightest on the World Wide Web! Newsarama readers, we would like to warn you – no matter who you are, this next interview is going to make you feel terribly, terribly inadequate.
Emma Capps is a relatively new entry to the world of online comics, but she’s already earned high praise from the likes of Scholastic Books and Scott McCloud – and she hasn’t even started high school yet.
The 14-year-old is the creator of Chapel Chronicles, a lighthearted series of strips, greeting cards and more featuring the zany, hat-loving 11-year-old Chapel Smith. Whether it’s dealing with a babysitter, cleaning her room or discovering an unexpected love of current pop music, Chapel’s adventures are, well, adorable.
We arranged a conversation with Capps through her parents, shortly before she went to NYC to received a gold medal from Scholastic for her short comic Jam Days. On the phone, she was more articulate and enthusiastic than most cartoonists twice her age – and, as you’re read, just as ambitious. Just imagine what she’ll be able to do when she’s old enough to drive.Newsarama: Emma, thanks for talking with us. How do you feel about the feedback you’ve gotten for the strip so far?
Emma Capps: First, I’m really grateful that people are having a positive reaction to my work. I’ve already created all the strips that will run on the site through at least September, when things should start settling down. It’s amazing to me that people are liking the character and the work I’m doing.
Nrama: How did you create Chapel?
Capps: The character was just sort of born out of the blue. I came up with her one night because I couldn’t sleep. She just appeared on the page, and I drew her a bunch of times. My mom really liked her, so for my mom’s birthday, I made a book that combined a poem with illustrations of Chapel.
From there, I made these cards and little books of Chapel with poems for family and friends. At my school, the Neuva School in Hillsborough, California, in 8th grade we have a year-long project called the Recital Project, where every 8th grader chooses a passion and pursues it. For my passion, I decided I wanted to create a bigger line of greeting cards with Chapel, beyond what I made with my parents.
I created the cards over the summer, and by the time 8th grade rolled around, I didn’t have anything to do! So I created some webcomics with Chapel, and now I’m back to the greeting cards. I want to do a set of 30 cards, and approach an agent about that.Nrama: Are you looking to get deeper into the greeting card market, like distribution through Hallmark or one of those places?
Capps: Yeah. I’ve done a lot of research into the greeting card market, which is one of the reasons I’m trying to translate my cards into Spanish, and hopefully sometime my comics as well. I find that’s a market that’s underserved, and Hallmark and American Greetings kind of have a monopoly on it. So that’d be the goal for the cards.
As for the comics, I’m just enjoying having them up on the web and seeing people’s reactions to them. It’s a new experience for me – I’ve never ventured into webcomics before.
Nrama: How did you get into comics?
Capps: I’ve been into comics all my life, and I was actually drawing comics before I did the greeting cards. I have a few longer-form comics, one of which won the national gold medal in the Scholastic Young Writing Awards. About two years ago, I started reading webcomics, because it was a cheaper and easier way than buying books of comics, which can really get quite expensive, especially manga.
I was just really excited because of the different types of comics the Internet had to offer. And I discovered sites like Drunk Duck, and I got completely hooked. I always knew that I wanted to teach myself to draw a Chapel comic every week, but once I discovered webcomics, I realized you had an option to put your comics online, even if you had to wait to get it published into a book.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite comics, online or off?Capps: Well, with print comics, I love Dilbert. Mutts is a huge influence on me. I really like Bloom County, that’s a great one. I love The Far Side. I really love Roz Chast’s work; her stories were a big influence on me.
With webcomics, I’ve recently discovered things like Modern Medusa, Ctrl-Alt-Del, Kate Beaton, Lucy Knisley…and not-online-not-newspaper, I love manga. One Piece by Eiichiro Oda is my favorite. The storytelling in a graphic novel I’m developing outside of the Chapel stories is heavily influenced by that.
In terms of graphic novels, I like Aesterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli, Persepolis, Maus – the classics. Scott McCloud is, of course, a huge influence on me. I’ve read his books so many times – both his comic and his “how-to”-style books. Stitches is another favorite. One that’s sort of a novel-graphic novel hybrid is The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, which is one of my favorite books. I really enjoyed Hereville by Barry Deutch, that’s a new find of mine, but I think it’s really amazing.
Nrama: That’s a really impressive list, and some heavy stuff in a few cases, like Stitches and Aesterios Polyp.
Capps: Well, I really read a lot. I think I read those a year or two ago, when they came out. I just love seeing all the different types of comics and books out there.
Nrama: And what are some of your favorite prose books? Harry Potter, obviously…
Capps: Of course! I’ve been reading those since I was four. Hmm, prose books…oh, there are so many! I mentioned I loved The True Meaning of Smekday, and I also love Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and Jasper Fforde, especially his book Shades of Grey. Some other books that I like are In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente, and I really like the< i> Gone series by Michael Grant.
I also like Neil Schusterman, and some authors I read when I was younger, like Ursula K. LeGuin and Diana Wynne-Jones and so many more that I can’t think of right now. I’ve read a lot of books in my time!
Nrama: Do you write prose, and would you like to do something longer like a novel eventually?
Capps: I do write prose – I was writing prose before I got into comics. I used to do these 20-page picture books that I would illustrate when I was six or seven. That really helped me transition into comics. I’ve done some short stories, and poetry, and I started a novel-length story in the fourth or fifth grade that was abandoned because it wasn’t very good.
I have another project that’s in the editing stage, but I’ve taken some time off from it the past year to work on my webcomics and my other projects. I always write humor – it’s a humorous romp about the idea that fonts could be human and work together in a company called “The League of Fonts,” which is the working title of the novel.Nrama: I’m a little taken aback by how productive you are. How hard is it to do all that and manage your time with school?
Capps: It is pretty difficult. The school I go to is different from other schools, in that we have a smaller homework load than a lot of places do, with fewer tests and a more individualized approach to learning. So that’s really helped in balancing my passions with my school studies.
But it’s funny you should bring that up – I’m in the eighth grade, and my school only goes through the eighth grade, and I had to start looking at high schools. I found if I wanted to go to the high schools that were more in the style of what I was used to attending since I was four years old, I would have to commute several hours, which would cut back on my free time and only let me work on the weekends.
So because of that, we decided that I would be homeschooled for high school, so I can balance my schoolwork with my various projects. So yes, balancing everything has been a problem, and it’s gotten bigger as I’ve gotten older and have more work, but I’m really thankful for my amazing school to tailor to the needs of various students with different passions and budding careers. I have classmates who’ve played Carnegie Hall and are professional pianists!
Nrama: And it sounds like your parents have been very supportive of your creative endeavors.
Capps: My parents are fantastic, and I have to thank them for all the help they’ve given me – for letting me follow up on my crazy dream of going to New York and showing my stuff at the MOCCA comic festival. They help me every day – they understand when I suddenly feel down about my art, or going through the various trials and tribulations any artist has, especially when they’re 14.
They’re really incredible people, and I think it helps that they’re creative themselves. They’re so supportive, and I know there’s so many parents who don’t want their kids to be artists, or do something else for their future, and it’s amazing that my parents follow up on my passions.
Nrama: You also thank your art teacher, Dan Archer, in your minicomic.
Capps: Yes. When I was in the sixth grade, I went to a class at 826 Valencia that he taught about how to create comics. I’d wanted to be a cartoonist since I was little, but struggled to blend art and writing. He really introduced me to the wonderful medium that is comics, and the potential of the medium.
I meet with him privately every week. He’s a great sounding board for my ideas. He doesn’t participate as much in the webcomic, but he’ll help me rework a line of dialogue, or work as a “comics peer” to strengthen my skills. He taught me how to use watercolors properly, and has really helped my talents emerge. I’m grateful to him for helping me get where I am, where I can draw comics every day and being able to do what I love.
Newsarama Note: After this interview was finished, Capps actually followed in her teacher’s footsteps and taught a one day comics-making course at 826 Valencia.Nrama: There’s a real handmade quality to your work. Do you see yourself doing more with digital colors or art?
Capps: I’m trying to strengthen my digital art skills. I’ll go on DeviantArt and just be amazed at what people can do with Photoshop and digital art. I’ve never been able to do that – I find it a huge pain to figure out! I prefer to just sit down at my board with my brush pens and my comic markers and just paint it.
When I started my webcomic, I drew everything traditionally – tracing paper, Bristol boards, you name it. But I really wanted to try branching into digital artwork, if only to improve my rudimentary skills and color it in Photoshop. So I did all the work of laying out panels and shading on the computer, and it was great to be able to color my work on my computer at school! (laughs). I couldn’t take all my drawing equipment to school with me.
By the end, I had gotten so much faster. When I started, it took about an hour to color a strip on the computer, and by the end, it took about 15 minutes. Though I can’t do things like the amazing airbrushed pictures I’ve seen online yet, I’m at least glad I’ve gotten some things to work on this computer.
Nrama: What are your plans for the next year?
Capps: After I get settled into homeschooling and the various changes from that lifestyle, I guess I want to continue with the Chapel webcomic. I’ve already created enough strips that I can serialize it until then and not have a huge gap that could lose readers. I’d definitely like to continue the strip then.
The style I use to draw Chapel isn’t my actual style; it’s a more cartoony style than I actually use. But I’d really like to work on a longer piece, maybe broken up into chapters, that I could maybe sell at conventions, or also put the pages online as they’re done, until I had enough for a graphic-novel-length book.
I’m currently working on some sketches for this, but I’d like to improve my penciling skills before I tackle it. So I’m devoting the summer to improving my pencils. The comic would go toward my love of science fiction, and be set in a fantasy world I’ve been percolating in my head for about two years now.
Over the next couple of years, I’d like to continue both the loose, cartoony style from my Chapel webcomics, and also work on that more serious, detailed story that would let me practice my technical skills of anatomy, coloring and composition.
Nrama: Would you want to try doing one of the sequential art programs like the Kubert School, SCAD or the Center for Cartoon Studies?
Capps: I would love to do one of those. When I’m older, I’d like to go to college abroad, but I’d also like to study sequential art and English. I might want to do a program when I’m done with college, like the one my art teacher went to in Vermont. Going to a school just dedicated to comics sounds perfect for me!
Get caught up in the Chapel Chronicles each week at www.chapelchronicles.com.
Next: John Allison takes us into the gears of his Bad Machinery. And later: R Stevens talks robots and romance with Diesel Sweeties!