E Shiel is a non-binary visual artist and creative writer based out of Philadelphia. Their work has strong comic book and manga elements that they adapt into their own soft and colorful illustrations. Shiel’s illustrations have an overall cheerful demeanor while showcasing lifestyles of queer people and POC’s. In this interview we talked about their new comic Pretty Heart Bouquet, an upcoming zine, FLUX, and their love/ hate relationship with DC comics.
Why did you decide to use a person of color as the main character in your comic, Pretty Heart Bouquet and how do you relate to this character?
It was important for me to make a story with a diverse cast. I've always tried to be sensitive to representation in my work; for me it's about being a responsible creator. I started developing Pretty Heart a year and a half ago, roughly, and it's changed a lot in that time! Ginny was one of the earlier characters I designed, but she wasn't originally a main character - but the more I wrote and rewrote, the more I realised that she was the most compelling character (and frankly, my favorite to write and draw!) She's a really precious character to me - I feel like a parent in all honesty!
What is the concept behind Pretty Heart Bouquet?
Pretty Heart is an amalgamation of a couple of things, most particularly my desire to create something really positive and cute, my interest in flower language and a lot of influence from shoujo manga, specifically magical girl genre. I also wanted to make something that was pointedly cliche, because I still struggle a lot with worrying that the things I'm making are very 'trite' - a lot of it is me working to unlearn the ideas of what makes a 'good' story that's basically reinforced heteronormativity. A lot of it is a sort of love letter to the genre, and especially Princess Tutu and Revolutionary Girl Utena, both of which had a really deep emotional impact on me and also showed me what you could really achieve with magical girl series in discussing topics like gender identity, femininity, friendship/love and society.
When did you first realize that you had a passion for creating comics?
10th grade – I had read comics and manga before then, but it hadn’t really permeated my consciousness as something you could do as a job, even though I’d always loved writing and cartooning. I'm very much an Art School kid - I went to a magnet program for the arts 6th thru 12th grade and the program I was in was very Fine Arts, anti any kind of commercial art or crafting, so I had to constantly kind of fight to prove that it was a valuable form of art making (and a viable one at that). The summer before 11th grade I attended pre-college at UArts and I took all illustration/cartooning based classes, and it was pretty much the turning point for me in realizing how much I loved the medium.
Where do you find inspiration when it comes to creating storylines for your comics?
I’m really interested in slice of life type stories. I love focusing on the interactions between characters, character development, rather than any big outside narrative or action driven plotline. In the past year I’ve been particularly influenced by Yasujiro Ozu’s films, which are really beautiful meditations on very human themes, family relationships, generational drift, the roles people have in society, etc. I’ve always been really easily influenced by the media I take in, so I try to watch a lot of films, TV shows, read a lot of books and of course comics. I’ve also just cultivated a lot of weird interests over the years – most recently being Victorian flower language, which you’ll see a lot in Pretty Heart.
What sets your work apart from other indie comic artist?
I’m really not too bothered by the idea of having some sort of unique voice at this point. I’m still really young: I’d rather focus on learning and experimenting instead of boxing myself in to a particular style or method.
I’d like to think the stuff I make is pretty “me”, especially with my colors, but I know I have time to figure everything out. I’d also like to focus on what I could do as an educator rather than a creator, and I’ve always been more interested in working on the support-side of comics, as an editor or some sort of micropress publisher, or just someone who gets to talk about comics.
What are your plans for after you graduate from Moore College of Art and Design?
I’m currently working as an assistant to Jamar Nicholas, so I’ll still be in Philadelphia, working with him. I’ll still be working on Pretty Heart – I’d like to work on some other small projects as well. I’d also like to go to grad school in a few years, provided I can work out the financial aspect. My main goal for post-graduation is to be able to adopt a cat, actually. In the future, I'd love to be in a position to promote or support that work being made by other marginalized creators.
What are you studying in school?
Illustration, with a minor in Creative Writing.
What is your favorite product on the Philadelphia Printworks line?
Currently the Panther shirt – it was the first product from Philadelphia Printworks I’d seen, and I think it's a really important piece. Plus, I'm really, really enamored with the design.
What do you enjoy most about interning for Philadelphia Printworks?
Definitely the culture of social justice/activism. I’m still trying to figure out where I fit and what I can do as an proponent of social justice, with my work and in general, and I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to work with Philadelphia Printworks and make things that have that bottom line in mind.
Yeah! It’s still in pretty early stages of conception, but I really wanted to focus on the exploration of gender identity and queerness,through a couple of young college kids, with the main being nonbinary. I began exploring my own gender identity about a year and a half ago and it’s pretty important to me to make work about that. I also wanted to make something more positive and on the lighter side because I’ve always been really bored by dark/tragic themes, which are really overused in stories about trans and queer people.
How do you challenge social norms in your personal life as well as you art work?
I’m mostly at this point in time concentrating on myself – actively working to unlearn the problematic things that I absorbed growing up in a white/cis supremacist system, which is a perpetually ongoing process. I'm a queer nonbinary trans kid and I'm open about my identity, and I think it's a really important thing to be able to explore it. I want my presence to be as safe as I can make it, for my friends as well as the people I interact with online and in person.
If had to choose three words to describe your creative style, what would they be?
Queer, colorful, and positive!
-- Lissa Alicia