Marvel or DC?
What other question do you ask a teen-aged artist who is already garnering interest from these titans of the comic book industry?
Alyse Stewart paused diplomatically before answering.
“I like both,” Stewart says. “But Spiderman is my all-time favorite, so probably Marvel.”
Even as a 16-year-old high school junior, Stewart is qualified to critique art. She has been drawing since she was 2 years old, entered her first art show at age 7, and was commissioned to create the cover of her school yearbook at age 8.
“The person organizing the art show told her she could have a display of her drawings,” says her mother, Kathryn Holton Stewart. “Alyse asks how many, and they says 20. So she busted out 20 framed pieces, shook hands and greeted customers, and sold several.”
There was never a time Alyse didn’t think she could draw. It helped having parents who were both artists and encouraged her. Kathryn and her husband, Ben, own the jewelry design shop Silver Bonsai in Manteo.
“We never told her she couldn’t be an artist,” Kathryn says. “She always had a pencil in her hand, and just kept doing it.”
“Just kept doing it” might be a theme for Alyse, who also plays piano and cello, and loves to dance, act, and sing.
“I never thought I was that great at drawing, or bad,” she says. “It was just something I loved to do.”
And when her dad turned his comic book collection over to her when she was 10, she knew what kind of art she wanted to keep doing.
She worked hard to get better at it. She took classes, learned new techniques, and, most important, carried her portfolio with her wherever she went. That paid off in an unexpectedly when she went on a Comic-Con cruise with her parents in January 2017. She shared her sketchbook with one of the Marvel artists, who was so impressed he invited her to the New York Comic-Con later that year. It was almost like a script from a comic book.
“That was so cool, so random, having somebody see her sketch book,” her mother says. “Alyse was only 14, and they wanted to talk to her. He told us she was great, and says to bring her to New York.”
So they went. After meeting with editors at Marvel Comics for a portfolio review, she was invited to send updated work every six months. They send her sample scripts to illustrate, and Alyse sends back her interpretation for review and guidance. Alyse treats this opportunity as a virtual internship challenge with hopes it will lead to a more permanent relationship with the company.
“It has been amazing,” Kathryn says. “They keep seeing her work.”
For Alyse, art is not just pretty pictures. The appeal of comic illustration is that she gets to create whole worlds and the characters that inhabit them. That conceptual art is how creators build out the imaginary universes of video games and movies.
While some art critics may dismiss the genre, comic book art transcends webbed superheroes swinging from skyscrapers. Every picture truly tells a story.
“The story is incredibly important to the art, really with any art,” Alyse says. “I think of it as not just drawing a picture. I want it to mean something to the people looking at it. I want it to tell a story. As I’m drawing, I’m thinking why is the character in that position, why are they doing what they are doing?”
Spiderman is one of her favorites in the Marvel Universe. Even casual comic book fans are familiar with that reluctant hero who takes on the strength and powers of a radioactive spider. He was a different kind of character from Superman, Batman, and Iron Man.
“The others had flaws but were classic super heroes,” Alyse says. “Spiderman wasn’t. That’s why I like him. Spiderman had to balance school life and work life with being Spiderman. I have to do balancing like that, too.”
She is also happy to see more female superheroes in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field.
“I think there is a better balance now,” she says. “I’m glad that side is being brought out, with Wonder Woman and new characters, more female and empowering, and cool.”
With her heady early success and attention from the publishing world, the young artist is already looking at going to art school to hone her craft. Where does she see herself 10 years from now?
“Definitely working at some sort of comic book company,” she replied with no hesitation. “But more so, just to be successful in terms that my art is out there for people to see, and making an impact on the artistic world, be it comic book art or conceptual art, whichever path I end up going down. A lot can happen in 10 years.”
Even at 16, she has advice for young artists coming along after her. It could apply to impatient achievers of any age.
“Don’t rush into things,” she says. “This kind of profession takes time and practice to get good at, and a lot of patience. Whatever stage you happen to be at right now in your art, don’t be discouraged if you don’t like the results. With time and practice, you will get better and better. You just have to have patience for it.”