Artist Interview: Erika Swanson on ‘Bellossoms,’ Creative Inspiration, and More

I randomly met a bubbly and delightful person named Erika Swanson at an IMAX 3D showing of Pacific Rim on opening weekend. After finding common ground regarding Slurpees and zoos, we eventually started talking about comic book conventions. That’s when I discovered that Erika is more than a fellow geek: She’s an artist and the creator of Bellossoms, a gorgeously illustrated children’s book series!

Naturally, I had to ask her for an interview, and she was kind enough to oblige with out-of-this-world responses. Read about Erika’s influences, creative processes, favorite fandoms, and current projects right here! She’s fantastic — really — and you’re going to love her.

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Who (or what) has influenced you the most as an artist?

I was lucky enough to be exposed to a golden age of animation growing up (TMNT, Batman: TAS, Darkwing Duck, the list goes on…). My love of those characters motivated me to experiment with them in my own way, through drawing and storytelling. I’ve really just been a very devoted fan girl.

You and I randomly met in a movie theater and started talking, so I know you’re not shy about the things you love. What gets you talking the most? Which movies, comics, books, shows, etc could you gush about for hours?

It depends – I’m always adding to the pantheon of things I consider to be great, and the frontrunner of those things is always changing. I experience brief but powerful resurgences of Sailor Moon semi-annually. I spent one month mentally and physically consumed by Mass Effect. Young Justice is the most recent cartoon I couldn’t live or breathe without, and and just before that, it was Avatar: The Last Airbender. I really enjoy most of Joss Whedon’s or Paul Dini’s projects. Anything Batman/Catwoman, Phoenix Saga, or female action figure-related, I’m all-hands-on-deck-for.

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Tell me more about your creative process. Do you have a special ritual that works for you?

In my creative process, I find ideation the most rewarding – sketching out thumbnails and storyboards allows me to haphazardly unleash my creative energy and transform it into something tangible – so I usually start there. The instant gratification of a sketch – getting the idea out of my head and onto paper – provides me with a self-serving sense of accomplishment.

Conversely, the additional discipline required to follow through and complete a project can be cumbersome at times, and between the sketch and the tightening and polishing, some of that initial energy can get lost. But, as more projects that I work on require finishing, I am becoming an improved completionist and there’s a different kind of satisfaction in that (seeing my first book in print was a dream come true).

Experience helps, too. I used to look around at other artists with traditional art school training, fancier supplies, and special blue-line paper and think I was doing it wrong. But eventually I realized that there’s no wrong way to be creative, and I’ve found that to be very freeing in my own work.

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What’s the most interesting or exciting thing that’s happened to you while working your convention booth (at Comic-Con or any other convention)?

Stan “The Man” Lee walked past my booth last year, but sadly I had my head down into a drawing. The only reason I knew to eventually look up was because someone yelled out “It’s Stan Lee!” The back of his head is Excelsior!

You created your first Kickstarter project in July. Is there anything additional you’d like to share about it? How has the first experience been for you? Any tips you’d like to share with people thinking of taking the plunge with their first Kickstarter project?

It’s been a learning experience. Initially, I thought it would be a great marketing opportunity and offer me some additional exposure, but I’ve heard since that if if doesn’t take off at the launch, it’s a hard sell afterwards. I think it’s a great service – there’s no risk involved (other than the potential disappointment of the project being unsuccessful), so I definitely recommend it as another outlet for artists to try and promote their work. But start strong!

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Bellossoms is geared toward a younger crowd. Have you conceptualized it since you were young, or is it a recent development that you wanted to do for a younger audience?

Bellossoms evolved from a poster I illustrated in college of little flower nymphs on a tree. Later that year, I repurposed the poster into an illustrated poem where the Bellossoms bloomed in the spring, and in the fall they fell from the tree and died: presumably to bloom again in the spring. It was meant to reflect the seasons and the circle of life in a bittersweet way. One of my professors suggested that I turn it into a children’s book, but insisted it needed a happier ending. It finally occurred to me that it would be more fun (and increase the longevity) to tell stories about what happens to them after they fall from the tree. And thus, the Bellossoms began their journey.

When I began development, it was really the illustrative nature of children’s books that led me to the medium. But I don’t think that the Bellossoms are exclusively limited to children’s books – they are characters that are written and drawn in a way that appeals to children (or inner children, like mine).

I’ll be honest, I would have especially adored the Bellossoms as a child! My favorite books were the ones with colorful art and subtle lessons. Is there a specific lesson you’re going for in these books? Any special message you aim to convey?

Thank you! My goal is to contribute the Bellossoms to things that people love and cherish, just as I love and cherish so many things that have influenced me.

In the story, the Bellossoms are tossed into unexpected situations but quickly learn to embrace their adventure and enjoy the journey as they bloom in new places. The overarching lesson of the series is to be courageous and open to trying new things, and to see change as an opportunity instead of an obstacle. With the introduction of the Thorns, the series also touches on overcoming differences and accepting others.

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I also dig the comic you draw on Sugar Gamers (Shero & Vex) about an unlikely pair of roommates: a hero and a villain. What’s it like to collaborate with another creative mind on a project like that?

I LOVE Shero & Vex! What a fun project to be a part of. It’s definitely nice to have a break from the storytelling and focus on the visuals. Doing sequential art is a great creative outlet for me.

Rebecca “Bonks” Rothschild is fantastic to work with – she’s a girl, she’s a gamer, and I think we’ve clicked on a fundamental level. I’ve never had the opportunity to partner with anyone before this, but it’s been a real treat. I don’t know what else she has up her devious sleeve, but I’m a BIG fan and I can’t wait to see where Shero & Vex go from here.

Your art style reminds me a lot of manga; were you influenced by specific works? Any you’d recommend to others?

The anime and manga influx was just beginning as I was developing my style as an artist. Now, it’s just how I draw. I’m not actively trying to draw “manga-style” but my artwork has evolved from those origins as well as from animation and various comic books, so there’s a distinct resemblance.

One very direct influence on my work is Sailor Moon, which to my boundless merriment is finally making a comeback. Quoting it as my favorite thing ever would not be an exaggeration, because from the very moment that I saw the ridiculously cheesy doll commercial and discovered Sailor Moon existed, my life changed and I was hooked. Sailor Moon (thanks to her awe-inspiring creator Naoko Takeuchi) inspired me, gave me a purpose, and provided me with countless moments of joy: reaching beyond the series and into my heart. I’m forever grateful for it. I’m sure everyone has that experience with something that they care about, mine just happened to be with Sailor Moon. So, if you haven’t experienced it yet, it’s wonderfully un-jaded, heartwarming and inspiring, and I do recommend it.

Board games rule

If you participated in a board game day and you only had time to play 3 games, which would you choose? Do you tend to favor certain types of board games (strategic, dice-based, secret identity, etc)?

I like games that have strategy as opposed to luck, but that’s not necessarily limited to strategy games. If this wonderfully magical board game day occurred where the hours could be extended to accommodate the games of my choice, I would open with Risk 2210 AD, segue into Settlers of Catan: Cities and Knights, and follow those up with Ticket to Ride. In between, I would squeeze in Quarriors, HeroClix, or Rummy 500 as intermissions.

How long have you been going to conventions? Which is your favorite?

My first Comic-Con was probably in 2000, so well over 10 years. I took an extended break in between while I spent time developing new projects, including Bellossoms. So far, C2E2 has been my favorite, because I think they ran a great show and it was a blast! There’s still time, though, and I plan on expanding to other areas outside of Chicagoland soon… So we’ll see!

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If you could have any superhero cook you breakfast, who would it be and why?

The Flash (Wally West)! The possibilities of this breakfast are endless due to Flash’s ability to read several recipes in seconds. He would also be able to travel anywhere for ingredients, even internationally, so no dish would be out of season. The best part is that breakfast would be served just as I wake up to the Justice League theme song on my alarm clock – I wouldn’t have to wait all morning to eat. He’s also a man that values large portions, so he wouldn’t skimp on the pancakes. Afterwards, he’d still have plenty of time to foil Mirror Master’s plot.

I wonder if he’s available the morning of magical board game day?

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See? I told you that would be fun! Remember, there are only a few days left to contribute to Erika’s Kickstarter campaign for Bellossoms’ Book Three: Thorns, so don’t waste any time supporting her! She’ll also have a booth at Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con this year if you’d like to stop by and say hello. Check out some more of her lovely art here:

Images courtesy of Erika Swanson, artist and creator of Bellossoms.
  • Peter

    Awesome interview Jill and Erika! I love reading artist interviews like this, always inspiring!

  • alan

    “…there’s no wrong way to be creative…”

    It’s so true & simple! This puts things a bit more into perspective for me. :)

  • Jacque Swanson

    This is a great interview with my daughter-in-law, Erika Swanson. Her inner child is wonderfully alive and well. Erika is truly blessed and talented. We are so proud of her accomplishments and look forward to more Bellossoms stories.