“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.
What clues might one look at to predict that a child will grow up to pursue an artistic career? In Melissa Capriglione’s case, the visual storytelling she practiced from a single-digit age —not to mention one particular Christmas gift— might have been a solid tip-off. But that alone wouldn’t have necessarily suggested the success she’s achieved, from successful Kickstarters to comic series to the imminent release of her debut graphic novel, Basil and Oregano.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist/author
Your home base: Indiana
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: What attracts you to making comics specifically over other artforms?
Melissa Capriglione: I’ve always been mesmerized by the ability to tell a story through a series of images. With comics, I can bring my abilities to draw, write, and create characters and environments together to create something that is totally unique and special. And to me, making comics is therapeutic. The method of making comics — from script to thumbnail, to sketch, to linework, to colors, to lettering — is a constant, and I find comfort in that.
KS: Tell us about the first serious art project you remember creating, whatever age that was, and whether or not anyone else ever saw it.
MC: The very first comic series that I created was Kung-Fu Emmy when I was six or seven. I had just gotten a new puppy (Emmy) and decided it would be really neat to make her into a comic where she was a kick-ass hero. I still have a few issues laying around, and they’re extremely funny to look back on. I remember just drawing whatever I wanted in the comic back then. I added in Pokemon characters, Neopets, a bunch of dragons, and any other hyperfixations I had as a kid, haha.
KS: When it came to the idea of art as a career, was there a particular moment of inspiration you can pinpoint?
MC: Around the same age that I created Kung-Fu Emmy, I remember asking my parents for only a ream of printer paper for Christmas. I wanted nothing else except a standard ream of paper so I could draw comics on them and staple the pages together. I’m not sure at what point I really said I wanted to pursue an artistic career, but making art and telling stories has always been a constant in my life. It only made sense for me to pursue it as a career. I’m grateful that I have a family that was mildly supportive of my idea. My mom went to art school and did some fashion and graphic design in the ’70s and ’80s, so she was open to the idea of me going to art school, too. And not only did I love to draw, I also loved to write. I took creative writing courses and advanced English classes throughout high school and college to help sharpen my skills. Making comics is essentially a combination of the two things that I have always loved to do, write and draw.
KS: Aside from sharpening your skills with creative writing classes, what were the specific steps you took toward turning the art dream into reality?
MC: The biggest step for me was going to art school. Art school isn’t required to have an art career, but for me, it helped establish the basics and I was able to work on art full time. Once I graduated, I focused on really honing my skills by working on my webcomic and starting a bunch of personal projects. When I was still establishing myself, I didn’t get a lot of commissions, so I really had to push those personal projects to beef up my portfolio. I just had to keep pushing to get my art out there and it eventually paid off!
KS: What did your day-to-day life look like while you were still working toward your ultimate career goals?
MC: After graduating, I moved back in with my parents while me and my girlfriend saved up money for an apartment. It wasn’t ideal, but considering everything going on in the world and the state of the economy, I was grateful to have parents who were supportive of my endeavors. Commissions and clients were few and far between, and I mostly got my start by working in comic anthologies. Most of them paid $10/20 per page — if at all — but, hey, I got to say I have comics published in a book! I also spent a lot of my time sending my portfolio to various publishers, companies, and small projects. Those that did respond were only looking for free work or back-end pay — which is never guaranteed. So, it was kind of bleak starting out; it moved very slowly and was extremely frustrating to get my freelancing business off the ground. But my hard work ended up paying off, and now I have an established career! It’s helped to have a reliable support network, like my girlfriend, my parents, and my friends. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.
KS: To back up some, what were the early comic titles you gravitated to?
MC: Early on, I remember enjoying reading the Sunday funnies in the newspaper. I never understood the jokes, or cared for the art styles, but I loved the way that stories were told through a series of images, and how the artist could create sound effects and movements with simple lines and effects. I immediately started to apply that kind of storytelling to my own stories that I made up. I got into manga around middle school, and I remember being really into Death Note. I loved how dramatic and over the top it was, even though I didn’t understand much of the plot. Reading manga from a young age definitely still inspires my current storytelling style.
KS: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. Can you recall any particular story that really had an impact on you as a younger reader?
MC: A story, even though it wasn’t a comic, that resonated with me from an early age was A Series of Unfortunate Events. One thing I really enjoyed about it was the absurd storytelling. I loved how each book had its own unique theme, and the cool chapter illustrations were a plus! Lemony Snicket’s storytelling style also inspired me to put my personality into my own writing.
KS: Why do you think that was the right story at the right time for you?
MC: The plot and characters of A Series of Unfortunate Events were so strange and unique, and it inspired me to think differently when it came to characters. It was shortly after I finished the series that I went to write my own novel, which was really cheesy, but hey, a big feat for a sixth grader! But it was at that moment that I really remember putting effort into defining characters.
KS: As a fellow young “novelist,” I have to ask about your sixth grade book… What was it about and how many pages did you manage?
MC: It’s pretty embarrassing. It was based off of a story I would play with my childhood friend about a princess who had to collect elemental gems to save her kingdom. I’m not sure how many “pages” I managed because it wasn’t typed, I wrote it all down in discarded notebooks, but it ended up being three or four standard-sized notebooks, and I managed to finish the story. I then started to work on a sequel, but, unfortunately, I don’t know where those notebooks are.
KS: Please tell us about your current workspace or studio setup.
MC: I work on a desktop computer with a Wacom Cintiq 22HD with Clip Studio Paint. I work exclusively digitally, but I have the odd paper sketchbook laying around. I have my own office that also doubles as a cat play and nap area — not my decision, it was the cat’s decision.
KS: Do you try to keep a set work routine, or does it fluctuate significantly based on what’s on your plate?
MC: I try to keep my schedule within the parameters of a 9-5. As an artist that also struggles with mental health issues, keeping a schedule helps maintain healthy habits. But I can’t control when inspiration or motivation strikes, so I may work the odd graveyard shift, haha. But lately, with all the work I have going on, I’ve been working a bit more during the day and during the weekend to catch up.
KS: How about music, or any other background noise, while you work?
MC: I absolutely love it! I cannot work in silence. I have playlists for every mood or project I’m working on. My playlists are specifically curated and each over 13 hours long. I listen to most genres and love finding new music and creators to follow. I spend a good deal of my mornings just going down music rabbit holes and adding them to the appropriate playlists. In one day, I can go from listening to Lil Nas X to Claude Debussy to Hatsune Miku to Sufjan Stevens to My Chemical Romance to Red Velvet… and so on. I also listen to podcasts to help keep my attention span. Usually, it’s either spooky stories or true crime!
KS: You’ve done a good amount of work as a comic colorist. To flip that around, what are qualities you appreciate when looking at coloring by others?
MC: Something that always jumps out to me as a colorist is how someone uses lighting and bold colors. Use of color is almost always the first thing that I notice when I flip through a comic. I just absolutely love when an artist or colorist takes the time to add bold shadow and lighting details to a scene. Some of the best coloring work I am inspired by is done by Gigi Digi, Kadi Fedoruk, Paulina Ganucheau, and Yoshi Yoshitani, to name a few.
KS: You’re both writer and artist on the new graphic novel, Basil and Oregano. Talk about your approach to crafting that story. Did you start with plot or with images?
MC: With Basil and Oregano, I started with a simple sketch as a warm-up one day. As I continued the sketch, I found myself inventing more and more story ideas for them, so I decided to turn it into a comic! It went through a couple of different plot directions, but, ultimately, I’m extremely happy with the story that will be featured in the book!
KS: Are warm-ups part of your regular routine? What do those look like?
MC: It kind of depends! Usually, my warm-up time is “free time,” so I can draw whatever I want. I usually rough out new character designs, draw fanart, or participate in drawing challenges like “draw this in your style,” Six Fanarts (a challenge which I started!), or Artfight. The main point of my warm-ups is to not only warm up my drawing hand but also my brain, so I can wake up and get back into the groove.
KS: Was Basil always intended as a graphic novel, or had you ever considered the story for any other format?
MC: I’ve always imagined it as a GN! I had been looking for a story to pitch to an agent and publisher for a while, and Basil and Oregano had the potential and strength to make it. I had the idea to publish it as a webcomic or webtoon as a plan B in case a publisher didn’t pick it up.
KS: With a book like this, do you have a trusted reader (or readers) to give you feedback before sending out as a pitch?
MC: At first, I sent the summary of my book to my friends who are also in comics and got their feedback! Since they were experienced in writing for comics, it was great to get valuable feedback on if the story had the right beats. Once I got an agent, she was able to provide more specific feedback in relation to how publishers could relate to it.
KS: How do you as the author know when something is ready to “leave the nest?” Obviously, one can tinker on a project endlessly.
MC: I definitely feel that! I spent about three years tinkering on another comic idea that still hasn’t made its way to a pitch just yet, but I believe I’m just waiting for the right time to finish it up. Basil and Oregano took me about two years to fully flesh out while I was working on other projects. But eventually, you just have to take the leap and hope that your story resonates with someone at a publishing company and they’re able to help bring it to life!
KS: What’s a hobby of yours totally unrelated to making art or comics? Something that gets you away from the drawing board entirely.
MC: Since I go to a lot of comic conventions for work, I’ve ended up collecting a large amount of Rilakkuma merchandise. I just love their cute, little faces and how lazy they are and how much they love food! As of right now, I have about 20+ plushies and a bunch of other little keychains and toys and stationery. I’m currently running out of places to put them, haha. I also enjoy collecting anime figurines from my favorite shows like Love Live! and Madoka Magica.
KS: How about a comic by someone else from any era that you admire?
MC: I’ve absolutely loved Blindsprings by Kadi Fedoruk for years! It’s a long-running webcomic published by Hiveworks and started in about 2013. I’ve been reading for the last four or five years or so, and I fell in love with the painterly style, elaborate backgrounds, and mysterious story. I believe it’s been on hiatus for a couple of years, but I always love reading back through the archive and admiring the wonderful art. It’s an important comic to me, because I was reading it while I was working on improving my own webcomic, Falconhyrste, and I learned a lot from it! It’s very inspiring to see how the art style develops over the six or seven years it’s been updating.
KS: Finally, tell us what you have out now, what you have coming out, and anywhere you’d like to direct readers.
MC: Right now, I’m working on putting my webcomic, Falconhyrste, back up on a website, and resuming updates for it on Tapas and Webtoon. Basil and Oregano will be out in December and is currently available to preorder via Dark Horse.
I will also have physical copies of Falconhyrste available in my shop, as well as issues of series that I’ve worked on, including S.P.I.R.I.T (written by Mark Bell) and PiNKHEARTS (written by Levi Buchanan and Jess Crayons). I also have some secret stuff coming out with Arledge Comics in just a few months! I will also be at Emerald City Comic Con and New York Comic Con later in the year!