An Interview with Laura Watton

Interviews
November 11, 2017

[Interview first published 05/10/2008]

I first heard of Laura Watton and Sweatdrop Studios – a collective of UK manga artists – through word of mouth and, having been impressed by her promotional artwork, requested an interview from this aspiring and rising manga artist. Here she talks about her influences towards manga art, the formation and growth of Sweatdrop Studios, and the importance of self-motivation as an artist.


Doree Carrier: Was there a particular inspiration for starting to draw manga? Or was it a natural progression from earlier artwork?

Laura Watton: In all honesty, it was because I was rubbish at drawing human cartoon characters! The anime style had intrigued me for a while, so when I was able to get hold of some pictures cut out of my dad’s issues of ”Previews”, I was able to reference and imitate these stylized drawings (mainly ”Bubblegum Crisis” and ”Kimagure Orange Road”). When I was 14, I was heavily into playing Nintendo games and there was a lot of anime-influenced game artwork in the magazines I used to read. One magazine in particular, “Super Play”, had specific articles on anime and manga, and the Manga Video releases had just started being distributed in Virgin and HMV, so I think I was able to happily catch the UK’s first official wave of imported Japanese animation for a different audience.After that, I was able to get hold of imported, translated manga from comic shops. The first ever manga I bought was “Caravan Kidd”, followed closely by “Outlanders” and “Ranma 1/2”, plus other one-shots of older works like “Mai the Psychic Girl”, “Urusei Yatsura” and the first “Rumic World” trilogy. I really loved how visual the storytelling was. I was put off by the world of mid-90’s piranha-teethed, cross-hatched, ‘wordy’ superhero comics, but could fully appreciate the cinematic visuals in manga and thought how amazing it was that you could use a comic as a storyboard, in some cases explain perfectly what was going on over the span of four pages or so and not have one word describing anything at all. Of course it is not only manga that uses this storytelling method, but it was the first time I had seen it outside of Raymond Briggs books, for example. The stylization was really outlandish and I found it instantly appealing.

DC: Which artists do you particularly enjoy, or would recommend?
LW: Currently I am following Moyoco Anno’s work as she is an extremely versatile artist – drawing comics for women, guys in their 20’s and sassy magical girl stores for young girls aged eight to twelve! I also love Mitsukazu Mihara; she is mostly known for her detailed ink and marker work for the “Gothic & Lolita Bibles”, but she also does awesome, stark short story collections. I am particularly a fan of “The Embalmer”. Lastly I have discovered (about a decade too late) the cute and bloody gory “3×3 Eyes” by Yuzo Takada, but unfortunately not a lot of this has been translated, which is tragic.
DC: Is it different when working on a commercial project (as in, to a brief) and a personal one?

LW: Very much so – I personally feel that there’s more pressure on a pro job, medium pressure (less due to more flexibility but the project retains responsibility due to not wanting to let other contributors down) when involved in a voluntary group project and less pressure on a personal project, but these need a certain amount of deadline pressure put on oneself to get the ball rolling or things never get finished!Unless I am working on something that combines other peoples’ efforts (like an anthology, for example) then there is no set deadline other than the ones I set myself. It can be difficult juggling the artwork with a day job but it just requires a certain amount of dedication – both for pro projects and self-motivated projects.

For personal projects, I think a lot of projects don’t get out unless one is forcing themselves. It’s good practice to get out to the deadline the best that you can do, appreciate the hard work, see all the mistakes, but get on with it and create something that improves upon your current work for the next time instead of feeling defeated.

DC: You’re a founding member of Sweatdrop Studios. What led to the creation of Sweatdrop?
LW: Way back in 2001, there was an anime convention held in Liverpool’s Adelphi Hotel. I was a lone dealer selling my own comics (as I had done for a good few years), and there were other dealers also there at the same time, all of who I knew from an anime artists’ Yahoo-group mailing list. One of which was Hayden “Dock” Scott-Baron (www.deadpanda.com), who had the net-savvy genius idea of clubbing together to sell our comics online and to help reduce table costs at future conventions. Dock asked whether the others and I would like to be involved – I thought this was great and was of course very flattered to be asked to help so early on. So Dock toiled away for a good few months and in February 2002, Sweatdrop.com launched, with an online shop, member profiles, and forum.
DC: Sweatdrop Studios has been running for seven years and now has over 100 titles under its belt. What has the process been like for you?

LW: It’s grown from strength to strength in many ways. We have been approached to help out at events such as MCM London Expo, where we oversee the Manga Alley, where artists of all ages can sit down and draw at their leisure or enter a competition that we help run at each event. We’ve been asked to help give tutorials at shows such as A&I Exhibition and in libraries in towns around the UK. When competitions such as Rising Stars of Manga started, members of the Sweatdrop forum community rallied together and literally cheered each other on; even those who were not participating drew pictures of themselves ‘cheerleading’ for other artists! Numerous Sweatdrop members – including forum users and Sweatdrop group members – have won places in RSoM, too.What hasn’t changed is the fact that it is a completely voluntary art circle. All the comics and books are paid for by the individual members. It baffles and amuses me when people assume Sweatdrop is a company. I mean we all pay to attend events just like all other convention attendees, and the money we get back as individuals just gets pumped back into paying to print more comics.

DC: Do you think the UK manga market will continue to grow or will the current popularity of manga and comic books be a short-term romance?
Ah, I think anime and manga’s popularity has not really waned in it’s exposure to British soil since 1994! So hopefully that helps class it as something other than a fad. I’d like to hope that manga and comics in general get developed properly in the UK, regardless of style or genre. Comics have plateaued in the styles of Beano, Dandy and 2000AD, but things are changing. There are comics such as the DFC that publish full-colour serialized stories in all sorts of styles, and of course the ever-evolving small-press scene, thanks to the Birmingham International Comics Show and Caption in Oxford.
DC: Do you think webcomics are a worthwhile way of getting your art or stories out to the public?
LW: I do! However self-promotion plays a massive part in this, possibly through the use of printed flyers, adverts and so on, as well as non-printed things such as web-banners. There are people who prefer printed comics to webcomics (myself included) but both outlets generate interest in people with different types of reading preference. Over at Sweatdrop we have free webcomics to read as well as selling single issues and books.
DC: What are you currently working on?
LW: I have nothing planned other than chipping away at my long running series, “Biomecha”. It’s been going on for far too long. It’s a story I started when I was young, so it’s a bit embarrassing for me. It’s my aim to finish it, and not have it rest on top of the theoretical pile of unfinished, self-made pages accumulated by surely hundreds of comic-makers, over the years – including myself with past projects! It’s important to me to get things finished.

 

Laura Watton has been drawing manga-styled artwork since she was 14 and has had her illustrations published by Shout Magazine and Just17 Magazine, among others. Laura also creates her own comics and is a co-founder of Sweatdrop Studios, a collective of UK manga artists.

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