Getting to Know Award-Winning Artist Sonia Leong

Feb 15th 2010
Aya Takeo Volume I artist Sonia Leong is a professional comic artist and illustrator specializing in the Anime/Manga style. Her first graphic novel was Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (SelfMadeHero).

Sonia's awards include Young Adult Library Services Association “2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers” and “Best Books for Young Adults 2008” for Romeo and Juliet; Winner in Tokyopop's first UK Rising Stars of Manga competition (2005/06) and Winner in NEO Magazine's 2005 Manga Competition.

She contributed Siren to Comic Book Tattoo: Tales inspired by Tori Amos (Image Comics). She illustrates the Manga Life series of self-help comic books (Infinite Ideas), the first two titles being Find True Love and Be Creative. Her work also appears in the Domo: The Manga (Tokyopop/Big Tent).

Sonia has been involved in many instructional art books - she was the Lead Artist for the book Draw Manga (New Holland) by Sweatdrop Studios, a leading UK comic collaborative. Sonia is a core member of the group and her most recent works with Sweatdrop include Once Upon a Time..., and
Love Stuffing vol.1.

She has exhibited artwork in venues such as the Kyoto International Manga Museum, London County Hall, London Cartoon Museum, Japanese Embassy, Manchester URBIS Centre and provided product demonstrations on behalf of Copic, Letraset and Wacom.

Sonia lives with her husband in Cambridge, U.K.

Ques: What can you tell us about Aya Takeo?

Ans: It's great fun -- a rollicking tongue-in-cheek sci-fi/fantasy love story in a period Japanese setting. Aya is a young maiden, a noblewoman and guardian of her city. Takeo is a warrior from lowlier beginnings. Takeo is deeply in love with Aya and wishes to protect her always. But fate forces them apart when an army of SpiderBot mechas descend on their planet, harvesting humans. When it looks like all is lost, Takeo forces Aya into a shelter, sacrificing himself, leaving Aya to horror and grief. Thus begins an epic of star-crossed love.

Ques: What makes the Aya Takeo manga unique?

Ans: Above all, I think it is the focus on the love between Aya and Takeo that sets it apart from other anime/manga with a similar setting. There's plenty of adventure and some serious themes. But it's all wrapped up in good fun.

Ques: What are the major influences in your artwork?

Ans: Aiming for a sense of grace and beauty, the group of artists called CLAMP really captured this and made a big impact on me when I was a child. Their series Magic Knights Rayearth was still being serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi, their chapter always stood out by a mile compared to the other contributions.

Since then, I've picked up a lot of other manga over the years - Rurouni Kenshin, Lament of the Lamb, Battle Vixens, MARS, Air Gear, IWGP. As you can see, a good mix of both shounen and shoujo titles!

Ques: Have you had formal training or did you learn illustration on your own?

Ans: Quit Art and chose Drama and Music in 8th grade (is that right for Americans? When I was 13?) - I got sick of designing shoes and imitating Picasso for the whole year. I regret not sticking with it though, as I've had to self teach myself a lot of things, particularly stuff like anatomy, perspective and natural media techniques.

Ques: How did you develop your unique style?

Ans: I think almost every artist feels their style ISN'T unique, or looks generic - it's a constant worry!

Because I'm a freelancer, I often adapt my style to suit whatever the client wants, so looking through my work throws up a real mix. However, most people have commented that my characters are known for their shoujo feel, with beautiful women and lots of long wispy hair. I have also been told that my page layout and panel flow is intuitive and smooth. How this occurred I'm not sure. Um, I like long hair, had it most my life? Page layout takes a huge priority for me and I do work hard on it. My style has pretty much developed over absorbing lots of info from many manga.

Ques: How did you happen to become a manga artist?

Ans: Art was always a hobby for me, so I doodled a lot in my spare time. When I was younger, it was horses, wolves, dragons and sci-fi/fantasy stuff, then it became humans and manga as I got older. I always did a mix of both pin-up art and comic strips. In 2003 I started my first non-epic manga series (because EVERYONE starts off with an epic series that they're never going to finish, so they need to put that one to rest, then concentrate on something more smaller and achievable!) Once Upon a Time, a story of life's lessons for a group of schoolgirls in London suburbs.

With this comic, I joined Sweatdrop Studios, a UK manga collaborative.
I improved my art over a couple of years and as Sweatdro gradually started becoming more well known, I was soon working with Sweatdrop on larger projects. In 2005, we were asked to write a how-to-draw Manga book, where I agreed to be the editor. My website was also bringing in lots of inquiries, so I decided to quit my job (I was working for an educational charity) and take the freelance plunge.

Ques: What can your Aya Takeo fans look forward to in the future?

Ans: The web manga, ayatakeo.com, is coming to an exciting conclusion. As to print: Aya Takeo Volumes II and III are in the works.

Ques: What advice would you give an aspiring manga artist?

Ans: Be prepared to work harder and longer than you have ever worked before. Market yourself. No one will hire you if they don't know you exist. Enter competitions, make tentative pitches, go to comic events with your portfolio and business cards. Showcase a range of different styles and subjects. DRAW BACKGROUNDS. Finish a comic, nothing speaks better to a publisher if you can give them a completed, printed comic to take home. Work with friends, join an on line community - having peers support you and give constructive criticism on your work can speed up your development greatly.

Ques: When you're not drawing, how do you spend your spare time?

Ans: Spare time? Well... if I had more spare time I'd spend it reading manga, watching anime, playing video games, singing classical opera and j-pop. I love home baking and oriental cooking (Chinese, Thai and
Japanese). Gothic, Lolita, Punk, Victorian fashions, and collecting weapons.

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