As the UK settles further into this winter lockdown you’ll want to curl up and lose yourself in compelling storytelling offline with a book or, in spite of screen fatigue, streamed entertainment or a digital comic. Published on Agora Digital Art on 9th February 2021
In our first blog in this series on webcomics, Agora Digital Art mentioned that some of the most popular digital comics, particularly webtoons with large and avid fandoms, are produced by female digital artists. Their compelling, colourful drawings are woven into stories to form narratives.
Agora Digital Art recently spoke to Russia-based digital artist, Alai Cinereo, who is one of those artists whose illustrations blend into the scripts and stories she brings to life. Her most recently completed project as lead artist, Not Even Bones (NEB), is the second most read webtoon of its genre, Thriller, on global platform Webtoon.
NEB is an adaptation based on the storyline of a young adult novel, of the same name, by Rebecca Schaeffer. It is a monster-hunting story with female protagonist Nita, who dissects and prepares supernatural creatures’ bodies to sell on the black market. Cinereo said that the intriguing story was the reason why she took up the project: “…A dark thriller about the black market in the heart of the Amazon? Yes, please!”
There is more than a compelling script to NEB, as with other any successful and popular webtoons. A digital artist needs to, not only to bring a story to life, but also needs to attract the viewer with immersive visuals. For NEB, fans not only rave about the story, but they are drawn to the art and how it engages them, as the hundreds of comments on social media and Webtoon platforms suggest.
Cinereo’s style uses dark and muted colours, a constant play on contrasting lights and signature twinkling flecks. Her illustrations set the tone for the stories as they mirror the uncomfortable, desolate atmosphere as well as the mental state of the characters.
Encouraged to draw very early on in life, Cinereo got her first computer at the age of twelve. She started producing digital art using early graphic art applications: “I instantly fell in love with Microsoft Paint…I didn’t know about all these fancy Photoshops and Gimps back then.”
In 2010, she joined other digital artists on the online art community, DeviantArt, under the pseudonym Jetera. She started taking commissions for her digital art and as she engaged with more artists on the platform; she discovered digital comics and produced her own moving on to Tapas with her first webtoons: Everfallen and May and Mio.
The webcomic Everfallen features mysterious, contemplative and anthropomorphic creatures that stare at you with large, glowing eyes in a gothic steampunk setting. The look and feel of her signature style was there early on.
About her style, Cinereo says “…specifically my use of colours are heavily influenced by late 90s-early 2000s 2D animated movies: …the deep colours of these works, I find them very cozy and inspiring … it’s pretty simple, but memorable for its unique atmosphere.”
Books and movies she’s seen inspire her settings, she mentions books: the apocalyptic fantasy western The Dark Tower by Stephen King as well as the pirate city with thousands of ships in The Scar by British writer, China Miéville. Finally, Hayao Miyazaki’s visuals in Howl’s Moving Castle or the anthropomorphic deer in Princess Mononoke have inspired her protagonists.
Jetera, Like a Father, Like a Son (2017) © Courtesy of the artist on Deviant Art.
With NEB now complete, Cinereo is taking stock as she looks forward to more storytelling through her digital art. She admits she is still on a learning journey, taking feedback in her stride, positive and negative. Her advice to any budding digital artist not sure where to start, or still hesitating to get out there, is to not be afraid.
“The first step is always the hardest. Many people are also afraid of potential criticism …not many people like it but good criticism is an important part of growing. You have a story to tell? … share it with people! Push forward no matter what, and don’t let anything bad stop you from chasing your dream.”
About the artist
Alai Cinereo (b. 1993) is a professional digital artist and describes herself as a “Plague fighter, steampunk lover, gothic lover, kiwi lover, weirdo.” She has been working as an illustrator since 2010 and has produced other digital comics and webtoons that are on other platforms alongside Webtoon LINE, including Everfallen and May and Mio. The latter is on hold whilst she focused on Not Even Bones as the leading artist. This is her most significant project yet, since October 2019.