by Evan Miller,
Hello everyone! I hope this column finds you, the reader, free of any final exam stress you may have been facing. I also hope it finds you in a warm, comfortable place and not stuck in the middle of a snowbank (like much of the nation is at the moment). I'm in North Carolina visiting family for the holidays, and it's in the mid-60s here. It's quite a nice change of pace from the last four years, when I lived in the midwest and had to chip my car out of a block of ice at least twice each winter.
This week, we profile an artist who may not end up doing art professionally, but that hasn't stopped her from earning a huge online fan following. Her name is Melinda, but you probably know her as...
In recent years, convention goers and Deviant Art readers have been taken with the manga-influenced works of the artist known as Prodigy Bombay. Known for her Naruto fan art to some but with a sizeable catalog of original work as well, the artist - who also goes by her real name, Melinda - has garnered millions of hits with her online gallery. Considering her success, you might be surprised to find that Melinda isn't planning a career in art. "It's more than a hobby, but less than a job," says Melinda, who currently attends Columbia University and is working on a double major in Economics and International Relations. Although her schedule puts pressure on her to set art aside, she views art as the best form of stress relief that a busy student like her could ask for. "I turn off the noise in my brain and I completely focus on it," she says. "All the parts of my mind that worry are just shut off." Her future may not lie in art, but one thing is certain: Melinda's form of stress relief has earned her the kind of acclaim typically reserved for professionals.
The Devil Squared
Born and raised in Central New Jersey, Melinda grew up watching Sailor Moon and, along with her friends, began doing sketches and art in the manga style. While some of her friends stopped there, Melinda felt more of a kinship with the manga art style and decided that she would take art lessons. The classical art training helped the young anime/manga fan refine her style and work with various kinds of paints and other physical media. Aside from the classes, Melinda showed an exceptional amount of dedication to improving her work. At the age of 14, she noticed that she had spent most of her young life sketching female characters. Her response? "I forced myself to draw nothing but guys for half a year to change the trend," she says. The challenge to draw nothing but male figures worked; Melinda noticed a marked improvement in her ability to sketch anatomical features. The experience, along with additional figure drawing classes, helped push Melinda's work beyond the realm of simple fan sketches. Excited to take on other challenges, she continued her art lessons and planned to apply to the prestigious art club at her high school. Unfortunately, her future held a few snags that she wasn't anticipating - snags that North American manga artists have found all too common.
Melinda's high school was known regionally for its clubs - many of which competed on the national level in the arts, debate, and other fields. Eager to participate, Melinda applied for the art club. The result? "I was rejected," she says, citing a chorus of dissent from club members that refused to view her art as legitimate because it was done in the manga style. Refusing to back down, she applied again one year later, only to be rejected again. Support from teachers and faculty was also a rarity: "My AP Art teacher wanted me to take what he called "anime art" out of my portfolio, saying that it would only embarrass me." Melinda refused to back down, retaining her original manga-influenced work in her portfolio. Her reasoning was simple: "I felt that was part of what defined me as an artist, so that's what I put in." In the end, she proved her teacher wrong by earning perfect marks - a score of 5/5 - on the national AP Art exam. The teacher finally acknowledged her abilities, awarding her a perfect score for her art portfolio prior to graduation. Ironically, Melinda found another club to join when the art club rejected her: the model United Nations. Her contributions to the group ended up tapping her skills as a debater and public speaker, and in the end she helped lead her school to two consecutive titles in a national constitutional law and Civics competition. The experience inspired her to pursue the double major in Economics and International Relations, but among all the changes in her priorities, she refused to give up her art hobby.
As she began course work at Columbia, Melinda kept using her art as a way to de-stress and have fun. Her participation online in the Deviant Art community introduced her to many like-minded artists and manga fans, some of whom formed an artists collective with her called Boiled Fish. Participation in convention Artist Alleys soon followed, where her original works and Naruto fan art both earned her new fans. Aside from making friends in art circles, Melinda kept challenging herself to improve and develop her drawing style. In 2007, she decided to participate in an online competition to draw characters for the RPG game property Anima. Although the competition involved some of the most renowned artists in the manga art community, her peers voted her work (seen here) as the best in the competition. The win only brought more attention to Melinda, who was at first worried that her hobby was becoming too big to handle with her other obligations. She admits that it's a tricky balancing act, but is overall thankful for the public support: "It's the best motivation I could ask for."
Today, Melinda still admits a preference for drawing female characters, but any issues she had with drawing other figures in the past have vanished. In the middle of her Junior year at Columbia, she's still working hard on her coursework and devoting time to her artwork as much as she can between her obligations to work and school. She admits that it's rough, but she doesn't seem to mind. Even though her art has become popular, for Melinda, art is still a connection to her friends and a great way to relieve the stresses of everyday life. One wonders how the art teachers who didn't accept her into the art club would view her success, but in the end it probably doesn't matter: in the battle between what "real" art is and what is actually popular, the people have spoken for Prodigy Bombay.
Melinda: I drew this right before the Nov 4 elections, so that was on my mind a lot. I drew it with the hope that people would go out and vote, because without voting, you might as well seal your lips, cover your ears, and close your eyes. The Chinese was from the Chinese course I had taken. They were my vocab words! (laughs) But, I found that they kind of fit my theme. The background is more of a wintry theme, since it was starting to get cold as it got closer to november.
ANN: As an artist, what in particular drew you to the Naruto series? What do you feel the biggest difference is between your Naruto fan art and original work?
Melinda: I think the most interesting thing that drew me to Naruto is the characters...an at the risk of sounding like a yaoi fangirl, the kiss between Sasuke and Naruto in the second chapter of the manga. I liked the first chapter already, I mean, demon foxes? Check. Underdog kicks ass? Check. Ninjas? Check ...and then the kiss....Which was completely by accident, but that was what sealed the deal for me.
I think the main different between my Naruto fanart and original art is the difference between fun v. creative. I enjoy drawing fanart the way some people enjoy drawing original characters - with loving devotion... XD just kidding. Original art is always a way for me to see what I can do, I experiment a lot more. When drawing fanart, I just try to have fun.
Pokemon Trainers (Pokemon)
ANN: I have to ask: what inspired your user name?
Melinda: I get asked this question sometimes, but to understand it, you have to watch this oldie but goodie anime called WeiB Kreuz, aka Knight Hunters in North America. I used to love it when I was 14 - I still do. But looking at the animation makes me cringe a bit now, since its so old, and...it was a bit of a low budget anime. XD
However, the important thing is that it was about two teams of assassins on opposite sides. One team was called WeiB (white in German) and the other team was Schwartz (Black in german). Poetic, no? And my favorite characters at that time had the codenames Bombay (from WeiB) and Prodigy (from Schwartz). So, thinking I was being clever, I just stuck the two codenames of my favorite characters together and got, ProdigyBombay. ;D
I think its kind of funny, maybe people think I'm being narcissistic, having the word Prodigy in my SN. I've also gotten notes on DA asking me if I'm Indian, because of the Bombay in my name - which is actually referring to the breed of cat.
But no, its actually a lot dorkier than than. My SN is really no different from those screenames that you see like, UZUMAKILOVER4555, or Shinigami_death. I think mine just sounds a bit more mysterious. (laughs)
ANN: Your piece Golden Queen won the ANIMA RPG contest. Could you walk us through the steps you took in designing this piece?
Melinda: The original design was by Wen-m on DA. For the contest, the challence was to take one of his original designs for Anima and turn it into a piece in our own style. I really love Wen's designs, so I was inspired from the outset.
For this piece, I worked in a fairly standard fashion. I first did an undersketch using a red lead pencil, then lined over it with pencil. You can see a progress sketch here. Here's the completed and cleaned up sketch.
After I have my lines, I start laying down broad swaths of color. I don't work on details yet, I just try to get the colors right. Here are the preliminary colors I put down. After some color adjustment, I start working on the details.
I just keep working on details, until it looks nearly finished. However, I'm not quite satisfied with the colors yet. I add more textures and some blue hilights to the corners. I'm pretty much done after that, and do some final color adjustments in photoshop.The final version is here.
ANN: You spent half a year drawing only males to develop your skills. If you took on a similar artistic challenge again in the future, what would it be and why?
Melinda: I would probably spend half a year challenging myself to drawing full bodies and nothing but full bodies. I draw quite large, so its usually impossible for me to fit one full figure onto a regular 9x12 sketchbook. I've been practicing drawing figures in photoshop, since you can extend the canvas (nearly) indefinitely. But I still need more practice.
ANN: Let's say someone asks you to do a manga based on one of your potential future jobs (either in Economics or in International Relations). In consideration of your drawing style, what kind of job would you pick as the setting for this manga, and what would the story be like?
Melinda: It might be interesting to do a story on a diplomat who seems to be no good, but always manages to stumble upon one terrorist plot or another and has the save the day. The diplomat would have to have a capable bodyguard though! For both brains and brawn in this case, since unfortunately, he or she's no good at protecting him or herself.
To see more of Melinda's work, visit her gallery on Deviant Art.
Are you an aspiring manga artist looking for some extra page views? Do you have a friend or loved one who draws extremely good original manga but needs a boost? Don't just sit there! Submit two links to your work, including one original piece (no file attachments please! File attachments will be wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger), to evan [at] animenewsnetwork dot com, and you could be featured in a future Gallery column!
All works © Melinda G/Prodigy Bombay.
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