In today’s Webcomic Spotlight installment we are joined by Nilah, a storyboard artist based out of Los Angeles (but originally from Maryland). Nilah spends some of her spare time working on M.F.K. A tale of sand, magic and teenagers. I first stumbled on M.F.K. on tumblr and was taken aback on how friendly and approachable Nilah is. Read on to learn about her love of comics and her budding comic career.
All-Comic: How were you first exposed to comics?
Nilah: My brother bought superhero comics when we were kids (he still has them all, so many boxes!). My favorites were X-Men and Spider-Man. I read the Sunday strips in the newspaper religiously, too. I loved me some Sally Forth, man.
AC: When did you decide you wanted to make comics?
Nilah: Oh jeez, did I ever really decide? I did strips for the school paper right on through college, but it was probably high school—when I discovered anime and manga—that I started experimenting with long-form stories. I ran a couple of e-zines for a few years, and I thought it’d be nifty for them to have online comics (this was the late 90’s, before I’d ever heard the term webcomic!).
AC: How long have you been drawing/illustrating?
Nilah: Foreverrrrr. No seriously since like kindergarten. I distinctly remember feeling like a crappy artist (compared to the other five-year-olds) and deciding I needed to get better. I worked especially hard at drawing animals: I copied the art in Zoobooks, watched Discovery Channel, borrowed drawing books from the library, the works.
AC: Did you study illustration or are you self-taught?
Nilah: I did a correspondence course in high school (Art Instruction Schools), and then went to an Art Institute for animation, but I transferred out in under a year and enrolled in a liberal arts school. I double-majored in art and communications, worked in journalism and marketing for a few years, then went back to school for computer animation.
AC: Did you get a lot of support from parents and art teachers?
Nilah: Haha, well I’ve always been that kid who draws, so in school it was very much part of my identity. I got the notion to major in art at the end of my junior year of high school. Only problem was I needed a portfolio and I hadn’t taken a single art class past eighth grade. In my senior year, my high school’s art department sort of adopted me. I took what classes fit into my schedule, came to their rooms during free periods and after school, and worked my butt off to put together a portfolio. I went from never setting foot in the art wing to knowing every single art teacher. It was a pretty awesome way to spend senior year.
My parents weren’t thrilled with the idea of me going to college for art, honestly, we fought about it a lot. My mom wanted me to major in computer science (she still brings it up, heh). But they’ve always given me the freedom to try things out, and for that I’m grateful. They don’t totally get what it is I do, but they make sure to let me know they’re proud of me.
AC: What was the first comic you remember working on?
Nilah: So I had this magical girl comic called PIN Rose… six seasons and a movie, we’re gonna make it happen guys!!
AC: How would you describe MFK to those just starting to read it?
Nilah: Kids with psychic powers saving the world! Which is probably the least helpful description of it ever, so then I’d explain that it’s about a teenage orphan that finds herself caught in the middle of an ever-growing power struggle, and is eventually forced to choose a side. I started forming the bones of it somewhere between high school and college. I was reeeeally into shounen manga (Naruto, Shaman King and One Piece were my faves), and I started thinking, “Gee, I wish someone would do a shounen manga that’s about a girl.”
AC: What inspired you to create and start putting up your comic online for free?
Nilah: I’ve wanted to for a loooong time. I mean I did years ago with PIN Rose, but even after that ended, I was keen on continuing. There were some long-form webcomics back then—Strings of Fate, Derek Kirk Kim’s comics and a few others—that had a lot of influence on me. I just loved the idea of sharing stories with people, and the Internet made it so easy! I didn’t have the discipline back then, and for a long time I put it off to focus on school and work (and roleplaying haha), but the idea never left my mind.
AC: What has been the most surprising aspect of running this webcomic?
Nilah: At the risk of sounding too self-deprecating… I’m shocked that MFK turns two years old at the end of January, and people are still reading it. This is really my first time sharing a story with a large(r than five people) audience, and I have no clue if it’s entertaining or even makes sense. I’m always amazed when I see reader comments and reviews and they GET it.
AC: How do you get this drawn out? Physically or digitally?
Nilah: It’s a very physical process, every week I have to stalk my art supplies, wrestle them to the ground and tranquilize them before I can begin working. Then I get them back into their habitats and release them just as they’re waking up, and the next week we go through the process anew.
Seriously I sketch and thumbnail in my sketchbook, scan everything in and do the rest with a combination of Photoshop and Manga Studio.
AC: What are your preferred tools of the trade?
Nilah: My trusty pencil and my WACOM Intuos 5.
AC: How much time does it take to go from a script to a completed strip?
Nilah: Oh jeez I don’t know how long scripting takes—months and months cuz I’m horribly slow (heck I should be outlining right now…). For the rest, I estimate about 15 hours a page, on average. I know it takes roughly 8-10 hours to color, depending on the intensity. Finishing pages takes the better part of the weekend.
AC: Are you considering publishing this comic in a physical form?
Nilah: I’m planning to print the first chapter to take to conventions this year. After that, who knows!
AC: Did you set up your own website or pay someone to design it for you?
Nilah: Set it up myself.
AC: How do you maintain your website?
Nilah: ComicPress and a box of tissues for my tears.
AC: If you have time, what comics, manga or web comics are you reading?
Nilah: I used to read a ton of webcomics, but now that I have my own, I’m not as diligent as I used to be. The ones I’m up-to-date on are The Fox Sister, Thistil Mistil Kistil and Gunnerkrigg Court. Lately I’m getting into Nimona. There are some other great ones that I’ll let sit and catch up when I can. As for print comics, Sagaaaaa. Also love Sex Criminals and Pretty Deadly. Sadly I don’t read a lot of manga anymore.
AC: Do you have an all time favorite creator? Be it music, comics or movies.
Nilah: Uggghhh this is always such a hard question for me to answer cuz I take inspiration from so many sources, and I tend to follow projects more than the creators behind them. I admire a lot of creators, but I think the one I jive with most is Guillermo del Toro. Since watching El Espinazo del Diablo I’ve been a huge fan of his movies. I love his sense of humor and the characters and monsters he dreams up. He strikes this perfect balance of creepiness and whimsy that I strive for in my own work.
AC: What’s next for you?
Nilah: More MFK! I’ll be tabling at a few conventions in 2014; so far I’m lining up WonderCon and Denver Comic Con, maybe a third if time allows. It’ll be my first time bringing MFK to a con so I’m excited. I’ve also been working on a couple of novels in my free time. I’m in the midst of revising one, so we’ll see where that goes.
AC: How can readers best support you and your work?
Nilah: Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, and if you enjoy M.F.K., tell a friend! Just reading and sharing it goes a long way for me. I really love seeing when people like MFK so much that they link others to it. And if you see me at a con, drop by and say hi!
AC: Thank you for your time Nilah. Good luck this convention season and I look forward to more M.F.K. this year!
Nilah’s M.F.K. is part of the HIVEWORKS studio where dozens of webcomics are represented and available for your entertainment. Nilah is available for compliments through her Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. M.F.K. is currently wrapping up its second chapter and, with Nilah at the helm, powering onward.