Manga artist Heidi Alayne

Heidi shows her cousin Annie her latest project.

Haven’t you marveled at the skill with which comic book artists draw the same person over and over? They can draw the character in every conceivable pose, with facial expressions that mirror every possible emotion. They sometimes make hundreds of drawings that are consistent with each other. This is especially impressive when the artist uses a realistic style.

A recent visit with Heidi Wall, a young relative who is an artist and a writer, opened my eyes to the potential of manga-style comics. She specializes in magical realism, in the style of the popular Japanese comic books. (Click on photos to enlarge)

Some of Heidi’s characters 
A panel from a book

For a look at more of her art, go to her website:

The introduction says:

“Heidi Alayne Wall is a graphic novelist and illustrator who addresses the themes of fragility, purity, and destruction, with a particular focus on the frailty of the human figure.  In her work, elements of traditional cartooning are combined with ink wash, gouache, or digitally manipulated photographs to create delicate figures in oppressive environments.  Heidi’s charming and attenuated characters draw influence from both Japanese and western illustration, and each piece has a narrative or mystery behind it.”

Heidi understands how the human body is constructed and how it moves. She says photographs or models don’t really help her make her drawings live. What she must do is act out for herself what she wants to draw, or imagine how it feels to be in that position. Then, she says, her brain tells her fingers what to put on paper. The same is true for facial expressions. If she can imagine the emotion she’s trying to portray, and let her face express it, then her hands can draw it.

She doesn’t like to talk much about plans for her stories beforehand, because talking about it dissipates the energy that should go into the actual work. Many would-be novelists find that’s true. . .they can tell you all about the book they’re going to write, someday. But often, talking is as far as they get.

Every chapter of Heidi’s graphic novels has a beginning, a middle, and an ending that heightens the suspense. There is an overarching theme for each novel or series of novels, just as in non-illustrated fiction, and each contains a beginning, a middle, a climax and an end. The main difference is that comic book artists think of their  stories as if they’re writing a play. The lines go in the dialogue balloons, and thoughts in the thought balloons. The characters’ expressions and actions do the work of narrative.

She believes that writers’ underlying values come out in the stories they tell. She wants to share her values in an art form that appeals to many of today’s readers.

Heidi’s favorite artists in the field are Ai Yazawa, Clamp (a group of Japanese artists), and Paul Pope (an American artist). Inspiration for her story-telling comes from C.S. Lewis, Connie Willis (who writes excellent time-travel stories), and Neil Gaiman, a writer who collaborates with artists.

I learned a lot from Heidi, perhaps most importantly that manga-style novels, an art form I’d previously ignored, can tell stories as memorable and influential as any other novel.

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