Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Vanessa Bettencourt

by Mike Rhode

Last weekend, I briefly stopped in the Hooray for Books bookstore in Alexandria on Saturday to meet Portuguese cartoonist Vanessa Bettencourt who was doing a drawing workshop for children, and I enjoyed seeing her interact with the kids in the audience. She agreed to answer our usual questions about her journey from Europe to northern Virginia.

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

My comics have a lot of humor and fantasy and a mix of manga and Disney styles together. When I'm not working on commissions for business, websites or people who want their portraits as comic characters, I work diligently on my personal projects.

I work daily on my free webcomic series,

It started as an effective way to communicate with Jon, my fiancé in a long-distance relationship, and became a way to share my life with those who stayed behind at home after I moved from Portugal to the USA. Now I share my daily adventures as a freelance artist in the USA.

In 2015 I set a goal of a year to write, illustrate and completely finish a graphic novel on my own. I accomplished the goal. Polly and the Black Ink is 520 full-color pages that I divided into five paperbacks. The first three volumes are already available.

Sometimes I take commissions to do political cartoons (as happened with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence), but between social and political I favor social issues.

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

For Polly and the Black Ink, I drew and wrote it all in paper for a few months first, then I scanned it and edited before the digital process of inking, coloring and adding the text. I write the text as I draw the scenes, instead of having a script. This way I have a better sense of space and where the text will fit in each panel.

This is my first graphic novel and I learned a lot, especially about writing short but meaningful sentences when sometimes I feel the character has so much more to say. For I only work digitally. I have my format and I stick to it. Commissions can be digital or traditional. I use Photoshop and I recently upgraded from an Intuos3 to a Cintiq 13HD.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

I was born in December, 1979 in Lisbon, Portugal.

Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?

I moved to the USA in 2015. I met my fiancé in 2012 when he hired me to draw all the covers for his epic fantasy series Heir of Scars, including chapter illustrations and maps. A few years later we started the K1 Visa (fiancée process), which I describe with a lot of humor in He was currently working in DC so we decided to stay. I'm a freelance artist so it's easier to adapt. We live in Alexandria near the Potomac river. As a Portuguese soul, I miss the ocean a lot, so the river is nice to have nearby.

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

I have a degree in Portuguese and English literature. I became a teacher and worked for publishers as a fantasy illustrator Then, I returned to college for Fine Arts while I worked. I'm self-taught when it comes to comic books and cartoons. I started drawing this style for fun. A simple away to share my day with Jon then it became more serious. I intend to continue to learn, share and create more stories and worlds.

Who are your influences?

For fantasy illustration: William Bouguereau, Larry Elmore (and all D&D art), Luis Royo, Donato Giancola, Prince Valiant by Hal Foster…

For comics and cartooning: Calvin and Hobbes’ Bill Waterson, Bones by Jeff Smith, Asterix, Turma da Monica by Mauricio de Sousa, Hagar the Horrible by Chris Browne, W.I.T.C.H fantasy series, Naoko Takeuchi (Sailor Moon), Akihiro Yamada (Junni Kokki - The Twelve Kingdoms artist), all Disney, many manga, anime and fantasy books.

And for the surreal humor with a lot of nonsense: Mortadelo & Filemon by Francisco Ibanez Talavera, Guillermo Mordillo, Janguru wa Itsumo Hare Nochi Guu manga.

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

Sometimes I want to go back and retouch finished work. In the beginning, I wished I had more time to finish a cover or a project, but to get the commission we have to go with the publisher's schedule.

What work are you best-known for?

Notfrombrazil, because for the past two years I’ve been uploading thrice a week online, on the usual social media and in platforms such as tapastic and LINE Webtoon.

What work are you most proud of?

Polly and the Black Ink. I am really happy that I was able to create a compelling world, story and characters with a lot of adventure, action, mystery and fantasy parallel worlds that children, teens and adults feel compelled to read and discover. Also, the new art for the Heir of Scars book series.

What would you like to do or work on in the future?

Continue to get as many commissions as possible so I can make my dreams come true. HaHa!
I will focus on finishing my epic novels so there’s not a gap between publishing Polly’s 5th volume and my next project. I will continue to work on the next covers for the Heir of Scars book also. My husband and I decided to agglomerate our projects under the same name, Violet West Entertainment, as we build our brand together.

I want to be proud of my projects, control the outcome as much as possible and be sure it's something memorable. I might return to Polly and the Black Ink for a second arc too later.

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

Because I work in so many different projects and styles I got used to having an escape, but there are times that I can't work at all and I need to watch animation, movies, read, learn a new technique, go to a museum or a park, do something completely different from my daily routine and refill my batteries.

What do you think will be the future of your field? 

Things change so quickly now. Everything has an up and down side. The system or the rules change without notice, and we're forced to go with the flow or stay behind. Artists and authors will always create and try to reach their audience.

The Internet allows us to publish our books, to see people engage daily with our process and become part of the process. What we do is starting to be seen more as a job. We are professionals.

Also, the audience is starting to learn how to give back. It balances all the free entertainment or work they've been having access to. That's why it's important to support artists. Kickstarter and Patreon are good examples of making it possible for an artist to work full time on their craft and support themselves.

What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

I attended Katsucon last February as an artist with Polly and the Black Ink debut. I got a table and it was a great experience. The audience reacted very well to the books. We'll be attending Awesome Con DC again in June with Polly and the Black Ink and the Heir of Scars books and art. I will have book III available at our table.

Next event will be Small Press Expo. We've attended it as visitors before, but this time in September we will be managing a table with our books, including Polly and the Black Ink volume IV. The downside of having a table is to be stuck behind it and miss the panels, the contests, etc.

I also attend local events as much as possible, from bookstores to street art festivals when schedule allows. I had a great opportunity to publish one comic page on the Magic Bullet #14 and I intend to keep going.

I also have an invitation from Alexandria's Duncan Branch Library, where I taught a comic book workshop last year. I will be drawing people's portrait in my cartoonish style on the street and raise money for the library during the Del Ray Street Art Festival next September 7th, 2017.

Polly and I are available to attend schools, libraries and other events to share my experience as an independent author, but also to share my process and give some tips (ages 5 up). You can reach me on my official website or contact me at

What's your favorite thing about DC?

I love the free museums and the food diversity.

Least favorite?

The business, political stiffness and mood of the city.

What monument or museum do you like to take visitors to?

The Lincoln Memorial. The size of the sculpture helps, but the entire area has soul. There are many good museums. The National Museum of Natural History is my favorite to visit over and over. I get so much inspiration from it to draw and come up with new storylines. And I have to visit the Zoo. I haven't had the chance.

How about a favorite local restaurant?

I love food. It's hard to pick. Each day is a different mood. From Asian to Americana. There are good seafood places in Old Town, but being Portuguese, I also miss some of the fresh and diverse seafood that we don’t have here.

Do you have a website or blog?

I keep two websites. One as an artist and another for the free webcomic series notfrombrazil.
My website has a blog where I share news of my creative process, tutorials, articles with events and book releases.

People are free to subscribe to get news of the next events or book releases.

For those who wish to get a weekly reminder of subscribe to the website I add new episodes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

You can also find the following pages on Facebook: @pollyandtheblackink, @notfrombrazil, @vanessabettencourtart and @heirofscars up to date.

On Instagram: @vanessabettencourtart where I host giveaways.

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