While there’s no shortage of aspiring comics creators posting their work online, what usually separates those who break through to a wider audience from those who might not is a combination of luck and iron-willed determination. Case in point: Brazilian artist Mariana Meira. Haven’t heard of her work before? Stay tuned…
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist
Your home base: Curitiba, Brazil
Any other sites you use regularly: pillowfort.social/mmeiram
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: What do you like about making comics as an artform? For you as an artist, what is the appeal of working in this medium?
Mariana Meier: When I started college, I wanted to do illustration, but then I started reading comics and [realized] this is a perfect mix between animation and illustration to tell the story. I just feel like it's very fun to play with layouts; I really like the way that you can break rules and you can make interesting compositions. You can read at your own pace. I would read comics a lot as a teenager. I would be doing schoolwork, watching television, and reading comics at the same time ‘cause I could stop at any time. I feel like it’s the perfect medium to draw in — I can tell a whole story and I don't have to draw, like, 60 frames per second.
KS: You touched on some things there I wanted to ask specifically about. For starters, you were born and raised in Brazil, so what did the comics market look like for you? How were you finding comics to read when you were first starting?
MM: There's a famous company in Brazil called Mauricio de Sousa — who is an artist — and he did comics strips. It got really famous in Brazil and it turned into full-on comics and graphic novels and all that jazz. I used to read that as a child — comic strips, short format comics of those characters that were for children. And as I grew up, I really got into anime and manga, so those I would find online. Someone in Japan would scan it and then someone in Brazil would translate it and then they would put it online. I was reading so much of that. I didn't read Marvel, DC, Archie when I was a kid, I read them when I got to high school [when] the Marvel movies were coming out. I had this one friend who was really into comics, and we were always talking about the movies and he was explaining plotlines. Then, one of the school days during break, I was asking him about Batman and he loaned me a Batman comic. And after that I was like, “Yeah, that's cool, but you have Harley Quinn, I really wanna know about her.” And that kinda was the turning point for me.
KS: How were you aware of Batman and Harley Quinn to even ask about them? It must have been some appearance outside of comics?
MM: I was chronically online. I grew up with LiveJournal. Tumblr. I had an account on MySpace without my mom knowing — it was very fun. I don't remember the exact moment I knew about Batman. I saw the logo in Brazil. I probably watched two episodes of the TV show as a child, just as I watched Speed Racer and all that. Then, I think they were discussing making a Suicide Squad movie and I saw Harley Quinn on it and I was like, “Who's she?” Then, I started Googling ‘cause, you know, she was not a big character at that point.
KS: One more question about reading. At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums and about the way a reader can find an important story at just the right time. Was there one that really clicked for you at any point in your comics discoveries?
MM: I got a scholarship to study in the US — I went to SCAD [Savannah College of Art and Design]. Right before the pandemic, one of my favorite professors, John Lowe, was like, “Do you want to read this comic?” It was This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. He gave it to me and I read it and the next day I forgot to bring it to him. I was like, “I forgot your comic.” “Oh, it's fine, you can just give it to me later.” And the pandemic hit and I went back to Brazil and stayed, like, a whole year. When school went back in fall 2021, I came to him in class ‘cause I had another class with him. “Hello, here's your book.” [laughter]
KS: Can you recall what it was about that story that worked so well for you?
MM: There are these types of stories that [are] so soft and they have this, like, mundane feeling… but there's so much underneath. It just gave me a feeling of home for some reason. I love Jillian Tamaki’s art so much.
KS: If those were the kinds of the things you were reading and watching, how about the things you were making when you were a child?
MM: It's really funny—my first memory as a person, the first memory I have in my head, is drawing a horse. I like horses so much, but I couldn’t afford having a horse. So, I learned how to draw horses when I was, like, two years old. And I watched that one movie, Spirit…
KS: Oh, Stallion of the Cimarron?
MM: Yes. I was obsessed with that movie. I had a DVD, and they had a tutorial on how to draw a horse. I drew horses for most of my childhood, then I got into anime and started drawing that type of stuff. I got more influence from comics when I started with Harley Quinn. [I] didn't want to be an artist. My mom wanted me to be, but I wanted to be a history teacher.
KS: Wait, your mom wanted you to pursue the wild ups and downs of an art career while you wanted a steady job with a solid foundation? [laughter]
MM: I was always drawing, so my mom was like, “She's gonna be an artist.” But just like [in] the US, being an artist is such a fickle career. I didn't think it was a viable option. My mom is a teacher. She was a college professor. She was like, “Don't be a teacher, don't be a professor.” When I did an exchange program in Germany, it was such a different world and the family that I stayed with saw me drawing. They're like, “You're gonna work with it, right? You should make animation and comics.” It didn't hit me [before then] that some people actually made a living out of it. After that window, I decided to do art and I applied to SCAD.
KS: Do you remember practicing sequential storytelling in your art aside from drawing single pictures? Comic strips of your own or anything like that?
MM: Oh yeah, I made these really sh*tty comics as a kid. [laughter] It was all badly drawn. When I started doing it, I think it was when I got into video games ‘cause I'm really into Kingdom Hearts, so I would just draw a lot of those comics. Then, someone invited me to a comic anthology with Kingdom Hearts characters and that's when I first made money.
KS: I wanted to talk about how your early ideas of an art career path took shape. What was the thought process around applying to SCAD? Did you have an option closer to home or did you want to go specifically to that school?
MM: It was a combination of a lot of art-focused majors. I did one year as a graphic design major, because that was the closest thing, and within the graphic design major they had comics class, animation class. I kind of did that for a bit and then I was like, this is not it. I don't want to do logos for a living. Art here is very commercial-focused—logos, marketing. Then, there is a funny story. I broke up with my longterm boyfriend, and I wanted to get out of there. So, at 3:00 AM on a Tuesday, I was watching BuzzFeed Unsolved, I saw New Orleans, and I wanted to go there. But there weren’t any really good art schools in New Orleans. I knew I wanted to do comics at that point, then I saw that SCAD had a sequential art major.
KS: Did you know much about the school before then?
MM: I knew SCAD because it had pamphlets in my high school. I actually applied to Parsons and got in, but I didn't have money; I didn't get a big enough scholarship for it.
KS: When it came time to actually pack up to leave, were you excited? Nervous? Or maybe you were in the mindset of, “This is my calling, let’s go?”
MM: It was all of those at the same time, because I had never been to the US before going to SCAD. My mom was traveling and she wasn't able to take me to the airport, so my uncle took me. Then, my phone broke in the middle of the airport—I didn't have a phone for the trip. I was like, “How am I going to tell my mom I'm safe?” I got to the Savannah airport and I got to the hotel I was staying in for two days before I moved into the dorms. I had these two huge suitcases. I remember being in my hotel room. I only had my computer ‘cause my phone was gone and I was texting my mom on Facebook since I couldn't use WhatsApp. I was so nervous, I probably had two panic attacks. I was just moving to a whole new country and I didn't know anyone. I remember just sitting in the bathtub and watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. [laughter] It was a lot, it was a lot.
KS: How was it once you settled in a bit?
MM: I love the home office stuff, but I cannot learn anything online. Period. I need to be in the classroom. I need someone to be telling me, “Hey, you gotta do this.” I came [in] with this mindset of, not a lot of people where I come from get this opportunity, so I’m literally going to make the most out of it. I would go to professors all the time, I would ask questions, I would go above and beyond.
KS: People obviously have different experiences in art school as far as what they get out of it. What do you think you understood better, or were better at skill-wise, at the end of your four years than when you were just arriving?
MM: I guess it really changed me as an artist ‘cause it changed, like, everything. I learned how to study. The classes were so helpful — anatomy class was my favorite. It really was life changing for me. I know it's tough for a lot of people sometimes, but I wasn’t one of them.
KS: Did you have any kind of a specific professional goal in mind for the end of your school tenure? You mentioned you knew comics were your calling.
MM: I already knew I wanted to make comics. I wanted to do Harley Quinn. I know my style’s not very “Marvel,” not a superhero style, but I spent the whole four years getting better. I wanted to create my own graphic stuff, too, but all the time I was like, “This is it. This is for Harley Quinn.”
KS: To establish the timeline clearly, you went back to Brazil during the pandemic, then returned to finish school?
MM: Yes. I went back and finished school, then came back to Brazil [again] because I didn't have money to stay in the west. Also, it was not easy to get a work visa being a freelancer, doing the comics gig. My professor sent me some emails, and I wanted to have a steady flow of work so I could always be updating my portfolio. In my head, it was, "I’m gonna get a comics deal." But I didn’t. I was burned out — for, like, six months I didn't draw anything. Now that I'm back in, I'm making as many comics as possible. Keep making connections, keep getting better to the point that I cannot say no to me. They just have to hire me ‘cause I'm that good.
KS: You mentioned that for your first paid comics gig, you got invited to an anthology?
MM: It was a zine, actually. A Kingdom Hearts zine. All my favorite artists were on it, and it was divided equally between everyone. It was, like, $300. You know, for me, the dollar’s not my currency—I never make real money out of work. It was five pages, but I never did something like it before, so I was like, “This is so much money!” [laughter]
KS: Do you know how the creators found you to invite you aboard?
MM: Through Tumblr. They messaged me, “Hey, you wanna come in? You draw [those characters] a lot.”
KS: So, you were now officially a paid artist, right? Whether it was a dollar or a million dollars, you were a paid comic book artist. How do you proceed in your career from that point?
MM: They did a second volume of that, which I also participated in. During the pandemic, someone came to me and wanted to [enter] a comics contest; it was the first time that I worked with a stranger, someone else wrote it and then I did the drawing. It was interesting. From that I got to know more people. If I see a tweet looking for comic creators, I just submit. I have no idea if I'm the right fit, but I send it. Worst-case scenario, someone's gonna know me, you know? That worked pretty well so far, so I'll keep doing it.
KS: As someone who likes the structured environment of a classroom, what kind of a daily work schedule do you keep these days?
MM: I found out if I don't have a schedule, I really break. I need to have a schedule. I wake up, I do breakfast, do whatever work I have to, then I do a one-page sketch. I have a sketchbook of just gesture sketches; I look at pictures and just draw. It’s been helping me a lot. After that I probably get ready for lunch, then I work from, like, 1:00 PM to 10:00 PM.
KS: How do you measure a successful work day? Is it a checklist of things to get done, or is there more of an internal accountability?
MM: It really depends. I like getting goals done, but sometimes I just get it done and I'm not satisfied. Most days I'm not satisfied ‘cause I always feel like I should be doing more, which is not fair, I guess. There are some [good] days where maybe I'll ink four pages. If I do something fast, that’s a good day because then I’m getting faster.
KS: Yes or no: listening to music while you work?
MM: Yes! I listen to music, I watch Netflix. I’ve scraped the Netflix catalog at this point ‘cause I have to have sound going on. I was doing comics that had this roller derby '80s thing, so I [found] some '80s music. But usually I put on a trashy reality show and just draw.
KS: Here's a hypothetical for you: You can choose any artist from the history of comics, dead or alive, and you get to spend a day in their studio watching them work, making coffee, sharpening pencils, whatever they need. Who’s your pick for one day?
MM: Alex Toth. I’m a huge Toth fan. I printed out his pages, and I have them all over my office.
KS: Great pick. He was so far before your time. Where did you find his work?
MM: My first big influence was Chris Samnee. I had this huge influence and you could it see in my art. One of my professors was like, “Your art looks like Alex Toth.” One of my other professors used to show me Torpedo comics — I didn't even know it was Toth. It was life changing when a professor told me that. I really like how he says to strip it down to the essentials and draw the heck out of it. His art is so simple, but at the same time he has so much detail. There’s so much thought put into it.
KS: During this magical day in his studio, what would you want to ask about and learn from him?
MM: I would literally just watch him draw his sketches. I feel like you could learn a lot from how someone sketches. I would probably ask a lot of questions about how he makes his marks, what's important to him in the drawing. I would probably be watching him very closely and trying to replicate it.
KS: Switching topics, what’s a hobby of yours that has nothing to do with art or comics or anything you do professionally?
MM: I have a lot of those. My goal for 2022 is that I started roller skating. I want to do roller derby in the future, so I learned how to skate. I also do salsa, samba, and Latin dance. I love cooking with my mom and sewing with my grandma.
KS: I asked earlier about a story that really impacted you; this next question is about the whole package: What's a comic or graphic novel from any era that you would say belongs in the comic book hall of fame? An example of the medium at its very best.
MM: I'm gonna say two. Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh. I love the way Mariko writes comics, and Steve Pugh’s art… it's fine art for me. Like, how do you do that? I also like Oblivion Song by Lorenzo de Felici for the art in the storytelling. I take so long to read those comics ‘cause I spend 10 minutes on each page and I'm just starstruck by it.
KS: Finally, I’ll turn the floor over to you. Tell readers what you're working on now, what you've got coming out, where to find more of your work.
MM: I got a deal with Band of Bards for 2023, doing Big Guns Stupid Rednecks with Austin Hamblin writing. That’s coming next year. I'm doing a lot of fan comics right now, so I can have a store to do independent selling. I mostly post on Twitter, Instagram, and now I'm back on Tumblr. So, keep an eye out there. I'm really excited about this Band of Bards stuff, so that’s where I'm focused at the moment.