Spotlight

Black Ball – Magic, Murder, and Mystery in the 1920s!

Melissa J Massey is a purveyor of fine fantasy comics and tragic shenanigans. Located out of Philadelphia, she is a UX Strategist by day and a comics creator by night. She’s been published by Wannabe Press and Arcane Inkdustries. When she’s not drawing, she’s usually watching Formula One, the Eurovision Song Contest, or vine compilations. She is the creator of Black Ball.

Synopsis: Emily Trent has always lived in the shadow of her more elegant and prettier sister Amelia. But when Amelia is murdered, something doesn’t add up, especially when Emily discovers a secret spell crafting kit in Amelia’s room.

To solve the mystery, Emily will have to dive into the world of the illegal spellcraft trade and the roaring night life of the speakeasies of New York. Her only clue: a letter addressed to Miss Millie DeBoer–aka the belle of Black Ball, the city’s most infamous night club. But Black Ball was busted by the cops, and no one knows where, or if, this moving party will pop up next….

Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
I double majored in English and Studio Art at North Central College in Naperville, Il.

What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
Black Ball is mostly a Historical Fantasy, since I wanted to do a fantasy story not set in “ye olde times”. There are a lot of historical eras that I love that would be really interesting to set a fantasy tale in, especially some of the more “modern” settings. The 1920s in particular seemed like it’d be a fun time to have magic involved in an already pretty action packed time.

Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
It’s also a murder mystery, with te main plot centering around Emily trying to solve her sister’s murder.

What was your inspiration for the story?
Black Ball came as sort of a personal challenge to myself. After I finally called it quits on my first webcomic “Vatican Assassins”, I wanted to create a story that would have wider appeal but also would be more contained–and therefore, I’d have to reach an ending sooner rather than later. This, coupled with a conversation I had in a webcomics group about fantasy set in different time periods, gave me the idea to take on a fantasy story set in the 1920s. A murder mystery seemed like an obvious choice where the story would be focused and kept short but also touch on elements of the era–Prohibition, speakeasies, gangsters, and the shifting culture of the times.

Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
I grew up reading both shonen and shoujo manga. I love dramatic, twisty tales like Arina Tanemura’s various works, but I also love adventure and action stories like D.Gray-man, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Magi. My art style is definitely manga-influenced, but more restrained.

How long does it take you to complete one page?
Depending on the page, it can take anywhere from 5-8 hours. I work on pages in batches at each stage (pencils, inks, colors) so it’s hard to judge how long any individual page takes.

What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
I’m still working on paper–never learned digital. The whole process is a little chaotic – I have a loose overall outline that covered the beginning, middle, and end, but I work out my story beats and script in my storyboard phase, needing to see things visually on the page. I sketch out chunks of 10 or so pages at a time, usually covering several scenes at once to keep cohesion. Next, I do my pencils. I use a run of the mill .05 mechanical pencil, nothing special, on 9×12 Strathmore smooth Bristol, which is my favorite paper. I’ll ink the pages with Copic multiliners, after which I erase. Then I color with alcohol based markers–mostly Copics but I use some other brands mixed in as well, such as Shin Han Touch and the new Graphit markers. I’ll work in pages of 3 to 5 pages, depending on the scene.

Everything then gets scanned into my computer, where I use Affinity Photo to do touch ups and lettering, as well as create any promotional graphics I need. From there it all gets queued up into Patreon and my website.

Is your comic a finished work? If no, how long do you think you think it’s going to be when it’s complete? Is there a definitive ending or will you just keep going for as long as possible?
We’re approaching page 100 pretty fast. I imagine that we’re anywhere from one third to half-way through the story. My goal was always for Black Ball to be finished in a reasonable amount of time to make a contained story, so I am hoping that I can bring a finished print version to KS sometime in the back half of 2021.

How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
Black Ball was a pretty quick turn around, which was a new thing for me. Previously, I had sat on stories for years before even starting to write them down and work on them. But Black Ball was a matter of a few months of planning and writing an outline and then jumping right into it. It’s quite refreshing in a way as the story still feels fresh and it’s a little easier to edit since I haven’t been holding on to it as long.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making of your comic? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
I was at a really low point when I decided to take on Black Ball – I felt like I wasn’t any good at comics and no one would want to read them, since Vatican Assassins had done so bad. I made myself do it anyway and my art and career have grown so much since. I think the hardest bit is just finding time to work on it. Between working a full time day job and taking on anthologies and other side work, I don’t always get to progress as fast as I want to, which is probably the most frustrating thing.

What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
It depends on the day sometimes. I’ll be really into pencils one night, or be really focused on inking. If I’m hitting a really big scene, seeing it unfold from my head onto the page is such a rewarding sensation it’s hard to describe. It’s kind of the best thing ever.

What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
I doubt myself all the time. I worry that I’m shouting into the void, or I get too hung up on numbers instead of the important stuff. With such a limited amount of time, I can’t do as much marketing as I would like. I’ve gotten into some bad spirals where I get really hard on myself. But I keep pushing and reminding myself that I love making comics.

Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
Emily and Chester have such a fun dynamic together, it’s probably been some of the most fun I’ve had writing character interactions. I enjoy both of them since they both do things and make choices I never would–Chester is carefree and irresponsible party guy while Emily is too passive and bland. By the end of the story, they will find what they are good at and become the best versions of themselves.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
Though she hasn’t appeared much yet, I believe Hattie Ledford will prove to be a big challenge – she has to be mean to Emily but be likable to other people. I think it will be difficult to get the audience to understand her. She’s not sympathetic per say, but she is complex and dealing with a lot of things. Unfortunately, she ends up not handling any of it well. Mr. and Mrs. Trent also present a challenge, as I want them not to come off as cartoon villain parents but they need to be a realistic obstacle to Emily’s arc.

Do you have a favorite character to draw?
Chester is so zany and off the wall that his expressions and schemes are really fun to illustrate. His dialogue is fun to bring to life in how he’s drawn.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
Henry Nguyen has been a bit of a challenge for me personally. I don’t want him to be a carbon copy of his sister Maude, but I do want them to have some family resemblance, in addition to just getting better at drawing Vietnamese characters. For me, it’s really important to have a diverse, well thought out cast, so I want to improve at drawing different nationalities and ethnicities.

Sherry Blair has also proven to be a bit challenging to get just right – she needs to look fashionable but also withered. That can be tough to get correct.

Where can we find you?
melissajmassey.com has links to all my work and where to read it, though Black Ball itself is at welcometoblackball.com

I scream about Eurovision and F1 on twitter along with posting art. You can find me at @MelissaJMassey

And on the ‘grams I post a lot of art and pictures of my chonk cat. You can find me there as @byzantinetifosi

And on Facebook I livestream and share art and news at facebook.com/vaticanassassinscomic

Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
You can get a free comic and access to my mailing list by signing up at http://www.melissajmassey.com/welcome/ Currently, I’m giving away a 15 page story that serves as an introduction to my Ottoman Empire fantasy story “The Alchemist of Aurillia”

Have you read Black Ball yet? Let us know what you think in the comments! Or, hey, go to the creator’s site and show some love 😀

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