As we conclude this month of celebrating Women and especially female digital artists, Agora Digital spoke to talented female webcomic artists in Europe, North and Latin America, New Zealand and South Korea.
Francesca Miller | Ed. Peter Traynor | 25 March 2022
These digital artists have been around for a while and have achieved success in different forms, including huge popularity, and/or critical recognition, by embarking on unique journeys as webtoon artists.
These women vary in age, art style and genres but share a common experience of encountering prejudice as a result of their gender as well as other judgements including that they were too young, too old, too queer, or were accused of having chosen the wrong career, wrong subject or wrong style by publishers.
In spite of these challenges, another thing that they have in common is that they have demonstrated resilience as they have persevered over the years. We share some of their thoughts and experiences below.
Akiro, The Secret of Tù (2018) © Courtesy of the artist
Emotional storytelling and atmospheric settings are my passion. My comics are about feelings and observations.
German-born, Zorika Gaeta is based in Yorkshire and as a webtoon artist, she is also known as Akiro Tea, from her earlier webtoons. As well as having worked as a digital artist for decades, Gaeta has created her own digital artworks as a webtoon artist, character designer, animator and illustrator.
Gaeta’s webtoons are deeply emotive and meditative atmospheres that invite us into her characters’ introspections and reflections on daily life and how they shape their relationships with others and more importantly, their inner selves. Visually, they range from monochrome to muted coloured narratives with curvy to sharp sketched lines. She has blended the styles of the European and Japanese comic artists and animators that inspired her to create her own unique approach.
Some of the webtoons are partly autobiographical, like Awkward Moments, which, as the name suggests, depicts the every day awkward moments one experiences in life. Others explore “transgenerational, ancestral magical and magical realism” themes. Like her Eastern-inspired webtoon The Secret of Tu or the deeply introspective series Where No One Goes, in which she explores what it means to expose one’s true inner self to another. The second volume of this series, Where No One Lives, was awarded BEST WEBCOMIC at the DINK Denver Independent Comics and Arts Expo in 2019.
Eva Cabrera, Zelda Nintendo (2021) © Courtesy of the artist.
My ideal is to inspire other women in my country (Mexico) who want to dedicate themselves to sequential art and raise their voices through their work.
Mexico born Eva Cabrera is a comic artist and illustrator from Veracruz, who works both online and in print. In 2017, her Day-Glo coloured adventure webcomic (later published in print) Kim&Kim was nominated for a GLAAD Award and a Will Eisner Award. She is one of the first Mexican artists to ever win that award and it has allowed her to work across borders and represent the talent of Mexican women in the comic industry.
Over the years, she has created her own original work and her webcomics are stories of women, strong, vulnerable, brave, cheeky making it on their own or supporting each other to make it in the world they live in. Kim&Kim “bursts with energy and enthusiasm and puts queer women and trans women front and centre, in a story that embraces the absurd alongside realistic pathos […] that focuses on the power and meaning of female friendships as engines of validation”.
Cabrera’s journey as a young Mexican female artist, trying to make it in her home country, inspired the name of the studio she co-founded, Boudika Comics. “The concept of Queen Boudica is my voice and my flag, because I feel that we female comic artists are few like her [Queen Boudica’s] army was, but we never bow down in difficult circumstances”. The studio promotes young female digital artists and encourages them to tell their stories through comic art, being a digital artist makes it slightly easier. Under its seal, Cabrera and other artists have published several works and she herself has a webcomic coming out in Summer 2022 called The Never-Ending Party.
SleepyMia, Juniper from The Edge of Normal (2021) © Courtesy of the artist.
Explores the taboo subject of mental anxiety in black culture and black female representation in webcomics
American born Mia is the creator of two ongoing webcomics, The Edge of Normal and There Are Not Enough Black Girls in Anime. The latter was removed from some platforms due to online abuse, but the name spoke for itself as, like most of Mia’s work, it champions Black female representation.
In the Edge of Normal, the two main characters Juniper and Jasper meet as they try to navigate living with their respective mental health issues. Themes of death, suicide and anxiety are explored in every chapter and in spite of the bleak themes that dominate the story, the characters are depicted in bright and poppy colours. Mia’s artwork is inspired by the graphic style of Japanese 90s animation; she also uses warm colours and plays with contrasts “of dark skin and bright green hair for Juniper. I also think it pairs nicely with Jasper’s pinkish hair”.
Mia’s webtoon bravely explores the subject of anxiety and mental fragility, subjects that are traditionally taboo in most black communities. “Something about the main characters overcoming that abuse and moving on […] resonates with me deeply”.
Yaongi, True Beauty (2019) © Courtesy of the artist.
Questions the standards of beauty versus one’s inner beauty
As the name suggests, Yaongi’s webtoon True Beauty, is about the conflict between a person’s inner goodness and their physical appearance, and asks: which is more important? The premise comes across as basic and simple, with “classic pretty” visuals. However, the themes it explores have a universal appeal and not just with specific demographic groups. People are concerned by their image, especially in environments where some societies set certain standards.
The South Korean based webcomic artist tackles this in her webtoon through her character Im Ju-kyung who, according to her schoolmates and her family’s gaze, fails to meet the “classic standards of beauty” nor the tastes that are supposed to be acceptable for a young girl. She wears glasses, has acne, reads horror comic books and listens to heavy metal. She is not only ostracised but also brutally bullied. The webtoon is about her own and others’ journey on coping with the external gaze and coming to terms with herself as she tries to build a sense of self-esteem.
The author has herself worked as a model in the South Korean fashion industry, which is even more demanding and sometimes more sexist than in the West. She has, like so many more women than men, been on the receiving end of online abuse about her physical appearance, taste and lifestyle.
Sharean, Catch Me! Fight Me! Love Me! (2020) © Courtesy of the artist.
Give guidance by sharing my tips and techniques with beginner webtoon comic creatives, that way they don’t have to struggle in the dark and go through what I went through.
American-based webtoon artist Sharean Morishita is the creator of webtoons: Catch Me! Fight Me! Love Me! and Rescue Me. Both webtoons are like a lot of the rest of the artwork she produces “a tunnel of my thoughts, emotions, things I’ve seen or things I’ve learned: an outlet for me to explore life, communicating and connecting with others who might be similar to me”.
A prolific artist, Morishita is also a published manga artist and author of self-help books and video tutorials on how to make webtoons. As a self-taught digital artist and visual storyteller, she wishes to share her experience and the lessons she has learned to help others who embark on the journey to becoming a comic artist. Her latest book dropped on Webtoon Canvas: 3D Model Workshop Guidebook || Beginners Guide to 3D Models in Clip Studio Paint.
Rachel Smythe, Lore Olympus (2019) © Courtesy of the artist.
I believe there is also a place for representing softer people for whom the breakthrough in life is as simple as learning how to stand up for themselves. There are different ways to be strong.
New Zealand born and based, Rachel Smythe is the creator of the ongoing webtoon Lore Olympus, which she created in 2018. In 2021, it won the Harvey Digital Book of the Year award and in 2020 won the Ringo Best Webcomic award.
Since 2002, Smythe has persevered in creating and posting art over the years and has admitted it “takes a long time to break into the industry but […] it is not a race”. She gravitated towards comics as she had initially wanted to become a film director, but “a woman in her 30s living in NZ, who is already a graphic designer is kind of unrealistic to retrain to be a director”.
Lore Olympus is a modern-day deconstruction of the Greek mythological story of Persephone and Hades, where are both very attracted to each other but encounter lots of obstacles and family drama. Persephone is soft and relatable to people, a bit different to the typical strong female character, often depicted as heroic, fighting evil and doing backflips.
Visually, Smythe tried and tested various styles until she realised: “The way the webtoon is coloured is crucial to the way I tell the story. A lot of the atmosphere relies on the lighting and the colouring”. Smythe uses a limited palette of colour as she assigns a different colour for specific character creating a mosaic of bold and vivid colours, each of which has a specific function and complements each as the viewer scrolls between the infinite vertical i.o horizontal canvas, a distinctive feature of webcomics, that allow the viewer to seamlessly progress from one scene to another.
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