‘joy & dread in the wildness of words’ – Scottish writer Ophelia Po talks about her first comic book ‘Blood Ties’

Drawing on her background as a classic literature student, and striking self-taught illustration skills, Ophelia Po has released her first venture into comic book creation with the Gothic gem ‘Blood Ties’. The comic touches upon themes close to home for many during the 2020 lockdown, including isolation and uncertainty. Today, Po talks being an artist online, and how she overcame her own uncertainty and fear to bring ‘Blood Ties’ to life.

A half-panel from the Scottish comic book 'Blood Ties' by Ophelia Po. A black and white illustration of a frightened woman holding a lamp, a bat leering over her shoulder
‘Blood Ties’ by Ophelia Po can be read in full on Tapas.io

What inspired you to create a comic during lockdown?

It’s difficult to be sure in retrospect, but I can cite two reasons that probably influenced my decision unknowingly. First, was a difficult personal situation that opened a discussion between myself and my friends about the lack of awareness most have about emotional manipulation and abuse, which is the overarching theme of the comic. […] Second, was a burning need to finish an artistic project.

I used to be a terrible perfectionist who couldn’t get half way through a project without sinking under the weight of its flaws. Hence, it has become my goal not to be perfect but to be prolific. Blood Ties was a bet with myself on whether I could.

‘not perfect but prolific’ sounds like a good motto for success. Do you think being an artist online helps or hinders this work ethic?

I think that, much like with anything, it depends upon how one utilises the tool. Social media pulls artists in both directions; praising consistency but encouraging competitiveness. It doesn’t help that the industry for 2D digital art is so ruthless. That can easily become a popularity contest.

With that being said, without the internet I wouldn’t be the artist I am today. Online groups, forums, and video critiques have allowed me to learn directly from the masters when I otherwise had no access to traditional qualifications. This is giving younger and newer artists access to mentorship when they otherwise would have had none. We are far past the days of ‘How to Draw’ books now.

Sketches for 'Blood Ties' by Phelia Po
Early sketches by Ophelia Po for ‘Blood Ties’

I’ve noticed on your Instagram that you’re very much a part of the online literary community. You’re invested in keeping up with the times, and yet your work benefits from a love of tradition too, like the use of old Scots language in ‘Blood Ties’. Can you talk about that?

I have always been drawn to the more traditional elements of literature, which I think stems from university. I was and am very glad to be living in a time when we have such a rich historical context. Finding technical paths through language development, stylistics, and storytelling fascinates me in a way I, ironically, struggle to describe. Writing has always been a puzzle to be solved for me, whereas art has acted as an escape. I chose to use elements of the Scots tongue partly because, as a personal piece, it felt very close to home.

I also chose to reference writers such as Larkin and Burns for the same reasons. The language they used can evoke both a joy and dread in the wildness of words, and that is what I wanted to capture. I think that less accessible literature and language is so often underestimated for its ability to unveil those fundamental emotions that we all share.

Why do you think there has been an influx of art on mental health during lockdown?

It seems to be the perfect combination of lifestyle changes which encourage people to create.

Not only have a lot of people had a great deal more time on their hands than before, but many have also experienced loss, of relationships and loved ones, and an unusual degree of isolation which has forced them to become more introspective. With that and the political and financial climate at the moment, its no wonder people are looking for an outlet.

When you looked for an outlet, what made you go for a comic rather than prose?

I’m definitely very lucky to have a developed skill that I can use to express myself in difficult times. I fundamentally wanted to tell a story that would be at first eye catching and then evocative. The point was always to create awareness on a topic that is so often overlooked, and as interesting as art and poetry can be on their own, a lot of people consider them to be inaccessible.

A close up from 'Blood Ties' by Ophelia Po. A monkey-bat creature grasps a bomb with one paw ans shakes its other in a fist, sticking its tongue out
Contact Po on her Instagram (@pheliapo) or Twitter (@opheliapo)

Comic books and graphic novels have grown exponentially in popularity since superheroes and manga stopped being niche. I didn’t simplify anything, but I did work not to obscure the message in pretension.

Did you find that the medium had any limitations?

Honestly, quite the opposite. This year I have switched from using a very large, very heavy graphics tablet, to an iPad Pro. Not only has this solved a lot of compatibility issues I had with Wacom and Adobe, but has also allowed me to work remotely.

I now plan all of my projects on digital notebooks using Goodnotes, and I even discovered that I could work on creating my own 3D references with an app called Forger, which is essentially a pocket ZBrush. It has really allowed me to broaden my skillset and get totally immersed in the work.

Where can we read your comic at the moment?

The full comic is now published online on Tapas.io, and I have some progress images on my Twitter (@opheliapo), where I’ll be posting updates on upcoming projects too.

‘Blood Ties’ has garnered some interest since I first put it up and I have had some requests to make a limited print. If anybody is interested in owning a physical copy of the comic they can message me on Twitter or Instagram so that I can get an idea of order volume!

That’s great to know. Any final words for other artists or writers looking to get into comic book creation?

If you want something made, make it. It will never be as good as it could be, but the longer you put off finishing something, the less likely it will ever be made. You can always rework old projects, but if you don’t make something now you will have no benchmark for yourself in the future.

For more interviews and content for aspiring creators, check out our ‘Inspiration’ section! And make sure to follow Ophelia Po on her social media accounts for news on future projects.

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