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Oh, she’s just a published illustrator with her own comic book series at 16 years old…no big deal. Meet Emma T. Capps, the brains behind The Chapel Chronicles, “a weekly webcomic about stylish young girl named Chapel Smith who adores hats.” (Don’t we all?)
Here’s a quick laundry list of her accomplishments: Emma was the youngest Cartoonist-in-Residence at The Charles Shultz Museum, has shown her artwork at The Los Gatos Art Museum and The Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art’s MoCCa Fest, and also had her work included in Dark Horse Presents earlier this month. That makes her the youngest artist to ever be included in the anthology, in case you’re keeping track.
But Emma’s never too busy to give advice to young girls who want to start making comics of their own. Get the scoop from this talented teen below:
How did you get started drawing comics?
Emma: I started drawing at young age, ever since I can remember. But it wasn’t until I was 11 and took a class at 826 Valencia, a youth writing center in San Francisco, that I started doing comics.
At that point I was already writing novel-length stories, so combining two things I was passionate about—drawing and writing—came much more naturally than I expected.
Where did the Chapel character come from?
Emma: A year or two later, I was doodling and had a simple character idea for Chapel. When I showed the doodle to my mom, she liked the character. My mom is very difficult to buy presents for, but I wrote a poem and illustrated it with this character…and she loved it.
Then in eighth grade, we had to do a project where we picked a passion and followed it through for a whole year. I was going to do a series of greeting cards featuring Chapel. But I finished it way earlier than it was due. I had a month left! So I decided that drawing a Chapel cartoon would be a fun challenge. I decided to try to do one 4-panel Chapel comic every day for a month. That became Season One of my comic.
My friends always wanted to see what I was working on, so I put my comics online for them to read. I only expected people I knew in real life to read them, but other people kept finding them—either people who knew my work from Stone Soup magazine (which publishes art and writing created by children) or from conferences I had attended. So I decided to keep doing it. But now I do one a week rather than one a day!
What makes the effort worth it to you?
Emma: I always did comics because it was something I loved, and I was surprised that people I didn’t know enjoyed them so well, too. It’s exciting that the readership has kept growing, and it feels great to get a compliment from someone in the comic industry that I respect.
But hearing from a 12-year-old girl who saw my work and is now inspired to make her own comic is really amazing to me. Lots of girls write to me to show me their drawings and ask for advice. I opened a post office box just for their letters. I always write back with detailed advice because I think it’s really important every kid gets a good arts education and an opportunity to pursue her passion.
What to you tell other girls who want to start their own comics?
Emma: I tell them to put their work out there, and be adventurous and brave. If they keep doing something they love, they will improve and people will enjoy it.
What’s your advice for dealing with negative comments and criticism?
Emma: I would say, step back and see if the person criticizing you is trying to help you improve—or is just trying to make you feel bad.
I am lucky in that there aren’t hateful comments or negative criticism about my comics very often. But if someone tells me, “You forgot to color the electrical outlet in panel two,” or “I don’t think her foot would be resting at that angle,” I try to say, “OK, I am glad that person told me that because next time I won’t make that mistake.”
Where do you hope to take your art next?
Emma: I am not sure how long I’ll be able to continue working on Chapel after high school. I don’t think I’ll be able or interested in working on it in college. But I am working on a graphic novel now and I plan to do comics for rest of life.
I always want to be creating comics, teaching and doing activism, because it’s so rewarding. I love feeling like I am making a difference.
I donated the profits I made from selling my first season of Chapel comics to 826 Valencia—which was almost $1,000—and, after that, the staff invited me to teach workshops every two months.