‘Maybe I’ll put some random parts into this body and it might look… good. Then I’ll make this background… and hopefully it all holds together.'
– Vanessa Policarpio
When the latest cover of Seizure landed in my inbox, bright and with a three-dimensional sheen, I figured one of our designers had dreamed it up. It turns out David Henley, Seizure's creative director, had sent a brief to a young lady in Canberra, Vanessa Policarpio — all of seventeen years old – and this sharp, detailed image was what she had produced:
Today I’m jogging toward her – she’s waiting somewhere by the merry-go-round in Civic – a venue as commonly used to convene as the steps of Flinder’s Street Station in Melbourne, or the Clock suspended over Countrylink arrivals in Sydney’s Central. I’m late and I’ve no idea what she looks like. I’ve been imagining her for a while; the laidback arm-over-the-back-of-the-chair-type, who probably doesn’t give away much in conversation. Pale, pixie-like, short bleached hair covered in a soggy knitted beret, probably a piercing, but she’s not there. It takes me a staring moment to realise the quiet schoolgirl in a blue polo and boot cut jeans, long black hair and D ring folder to her chest, is Seizure’s Vanessa.
Sitting in the boutique roastery-slash-café I’d deemed hip enough to impress a coy, messy-haired teen I flick my fork through a lamington while The Real Vanessa – smiley, enthusiastic and probably not about to get her lip pierced – sips water, her Gungahlin College schoolbag resting against the foot of the table. The school is only a year old – a project that saw the government inject 74 million dollars into techy classrooms. But Vanessa studies ceramics, and savours graphic design for those magazine covers she happens to whip up outside of school-hours, because that’s how the wunderkinds roll.
What do you do in your spare time?
I do a lot of eating. I like eating.
Eating’s pretty great.
I read, I draw, I mess with websites. I sew.
I’m not very good though. What else do I do? I like getting involved in all sorts of things. Sometimes I’ll go to my brother and say, ‘Hey — let’s make weapons out of paper mâché.’
What do you do with the end product? Do you have a collection?
I’d like to have one. They’re usually chucked out.
How long does it usually take to make a weapon? Do you race – you know, go to your brother and say, ‘Hey – let’s do it in a day – GO.’
We just do it whenever. Whenever we have time we just chill and do paper mâché.
How did you start drawing what you draw?
Well, I was born in the Philippines, and of course, there’s a lot of anime on TV (when I was younger, my brother and I were obsessed with CardCaptor Sakura,) and that’s what really got me into drawing. I didn’t take my art seriously until I moved to Australia when I was 11. I started using the internet more, so that’s when I saw all this art online and thought, ‘I want to draw like that.’ I didn’t know there were so many avenues for being creative.
So you drew differently in the Philippines.
I just drew typical anime stuff – the stuff you’d see on TV. I had a lot of friends who drew with me. My best friend was an artist who drew with me most of the time as well, so aside from being a hobby, it was a social activity, too. We had drawing clubs, too.
Are you part of a similar group now?
I imagine you’d miss the company, doing it by yourself.
The culture here is very different. I dunno – I feel like I’m judged by people sometimes, because of what I do. People are not so open with expressing what they love, I guess – but maybe that’s just me. I’m afraid to express what I love; I love anime – I love drawing it, but I hide it at the moment because people here are more judgmental – they have this way of thinking, you know, ‘Anime’s not art. This is what art should look like [paintings and similar]’ so I just kind-of hide.
How did Seizure discover your hiding place?
Last year we had a creative response assignment for English, and we were studying Macbeth at the time, so I decided to make a comic about MacBeth – I set it in a high school with this really evil girl as Lady Macbeth, and she doesn’t…uh… mind killing people I guess. It kind-of ended up being this 60-page project that I continued, even though I’d handed it in. And then my English teacher at the time really liked the work, and at the end of the year she told me she knew these guys that did a graphic novel project with some other kids from another college, and that she could introduce me to them.
So at the beginning of this year, we all met up, and I met Alice and David, and we started talking about a graphic novel project. A few months later, I got an email from David asking me if I’d like to do the cover for Seizure.
What were your first thoughts when you received the email?
I was really surprised, because I was like, ‘I’m not worthy!’, ‘This is too big for me – I’m just a college student; what am I going to do?’ But at the same time I was excited – the cover is along the lines of what I plan to do in the future, so I took it on as a challenge.
And how many hours did the Seizure cover take you?
I actually counted the hours as I was doing it – 35 hours.
I was fortunate enough to watch the progressive animation of you putting together the cover. Did you begin to develop a narrative while you were drawing?
I’m kind of more into thinking, ‘maybe I’ll put some random parts into this body and it might look… good. Then I’ll make this background… and hopefully it all holds together.’ I’m not so good with stories.
Do you listen to music while you work?
I listen to a lot of Asian music.
It’s catchy. I listen to Big Bang. SBS have an online channel for K-Pop, so I also tune into that. I’m also listening to this Japanese group at the moment. It’s really gothic, and they have all these chants going on, and it sounds really dark. It’s called Kalafina, and I love their music.
I love K-Pop. I cannot begin to tell you how much I love K-Pop. At the moment I’m addicted to a male group from Korea, five boys, but I’m having a mental blank. They sing ‘I’ve got youuu, under my skin’.
DBSK? The song is called ‘Mirotic’.
You know there’s actually a new show on SBS on Sunday mornings where, from 8:30-10:30am they play K-Pop. It’s called SBS Pop Asia.
I’m going to have to veer from K-pop, else we end the interview now and continue to hopelessly gush. Sorry I’ve led you astray. What would you ultimately like to work in?
I’d like to work in game design. I’m planning to go to AIE to study game art, actually.
Now, do you want to design just the graphic element of the game, or are you considering building your own stories?
I’d like to join a team. I’d really like to design environments and characters, maybe even weaponry. If I enjoy it too much I might try the whole 3D modelling thing. I’m actually not a massive gamer. I grew up watching my cousins game, rather than me actually playing the games. Whenever we’d meet, they’d say, ‘Oh no, you can’t play my games – just sit there and watch.’
If we were to think about the future in any capacity, at any time, what would you like to see?
The first thing that comes to mind is equality between countries. I know that sounds really weird, but I have this thing – because I came from a second world country – and whenever I think about it I get really depressed, and think how my country could be so much better, and I know so many talented people over there. I think the standards for university students over there are actually really high, and I think they work harder than people here, but we’re just not getting anywhere because we’re a poor country. And I just hope one day something changes, and we’re kind-of up there. It’s the same with so many other countries. I really hate that there are all these first world countries that are really wealthy, and then this other end of the spectrum there are people who can’t eat.
And what about your immediate future?
I want to put together an art book filled with illustrations from other Filipino artists. I want to take our experiences of being poor and translate them into illustrations of Filipino daily life. Show people in first world countries what it’s like to live in the Philippines, and collaborate with talented people I know for the project.
We stay a while, chat about K-Pop, and I learn she’s working on a new graphic novel; The Importance of Being Ernest, which I can't help but feel is rather a complimentary story for her. In fact, I’m so struck by her – her passion for her work and insight into privilege, that I leave my car keys on the table.