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Federica Di Meo, the pioneer of Italian manga

Federica Di Meo embodies a pulsating world of creativity, where each line is a hatching that leads to the creation of stories that become small cult manga. In her latest work, Oneira, published by Star Comics and in the third volume, the author outlines meticulously detailed settings and populates them with characters who convince the public and critics, thanks to her ability to blend different styles and influences into a single, coherent artistic universe. About her Her fans lovingly refer to her as “Zia Fede” and every public outing she makes translates into hordes of adoring fans who long for a dedication from her. The recent release of the third volume of Oneria is an opportunity to get to know her up close and let us tell her about her life as a manga artist.

The interview with Federica Di Meo: the pioneer of Italian manga

When did you decide you wanted to draw Manga?
«I'll tell you an anecdote. During a carnival party in high school, we had to dress like the professions we dreamed of having when we grew up. I had chosen to dress as a mangaka, which already makes you smile. At first I did it for fun, thinking that I would never become a mangaka in real life, so I wanted to take advantage of it at least once. However, two or three years after I started studying manga art, my desire to become a mangaka became stronger and stronger. At the beginning it was a simple attempt, a way to have fun, but then it became a burning passion that has never died.”

When did you realize that manga would become your profession?
«A couple of years after I started studying the manga technique, I had the opportunity to work for DeAgostini. This project, which involved other authors, was a series that taught how to draw manga. I'm talking about 2008, so quite some time ago. It was during that time that I truly confronted not only my passion and desire to create, but also the creative process in all its details. This experience also gave me the financial opportunity to attend a short specialization course in Tokyo, Japan. It was there that I had the definitive confirmation: upon my return I decided that I had to seriously dedicate myself to this career and do everything to make my dream come true.”

Did you have any particular models or sources of inspiration in your work as a mangaka?
«My first approach to manga, which influenced me for many years, was through the works of Rumiko Takahashi, the queen of manga, author of several masterpieces such as Ranma ½, Lum and Maison Ikkoku. Takahashi has a way of storytelling that I really appreciate: she manages to convey a great deal of meaning with simplicity, revealing much more detail and depth than one might perceive at first reading. This simplicity has influenced me enormously in my work, especially in the works I am currently working on, such as Somnia. Takahashi's lesson helped me maintain attention on the story without overloading the reader with drawings, which however remain fundamental. Another reference author for me is Takehiko Inoue. I loved his works like Slam Dunk and Vagabond, the latter in particular is a more adult work that tells the story of Miyamoto Musashi. Inoue has an almost meditative breath in his stories, a quality that struck me and which allowed me to insert moments of solitude and introspection into the characters. In conclusion, in the manga, I try to make the characters and their stories grow so that the reader can experience a journey with them, following their evolution within the pages.”

What were the biggest challenges you faced as an Italian manga artist in a Japanese-dominated sector?
«At the beginning, the main challenge was to gain acceptance. For over a decade, it was difficult to overcome the distrust of readers, who expected the same quality as Japanese works. Some didn't even want to go near non-Japanese manga. However, I recently received apologies from readers who, after reading Somnia, reevaluated their judgment. Another great challenge was gaining the trust of publishing houses, who bet on authors with little experience. This resulted in the need to meet strict deadlines, keep quality high and build a strong relationship with the public, especially online and at trade shows. It is essential that our works speak for us, putting our personal figure in the background, to focus on the quality of the work.”

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career to date?
«The most rewarding moment was at my premiere Japan Expo in France, a fair dedicated exclusively to the world of Japan and manga. It's a huge event, almost a third of Lucca Comics & Games, but entirely focused on manga. It was the first time we presented our Oneira number 1 and we didn't know how the French public would react. The volume had been out for two months and we hadn't had the chance to tour, so the only reactions we had received were from social media. When we arrived at the fair, we were overwhelmed by the affection of the public: from the first day until the end of the event, there were so many people wanting dedications that we had to cut the queues. This experience confirmed to me that our work can touch people's hearts even beyond national borders. It was one of the best moments of my career.”

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How do you see the evolution of the manga market in Italy? Do you think there are more opportunities for Italian artists today than when you started?
«Yes, today there are many more opportunities than when I started. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a big manga boom, with attempts to create European manga that focused more on the graphic aspect than the narrative one. After a period of decline between 2005 and 2015, also due to the decrease in anime on television, the market has risen again with the advent of streaming platforms and the pandemic. This has attracted both old readers and new young fans, who find in manga an accessible language and characters close to them. A feature that I really appreciate about manga is their ability to offer stories for everyone, with different themes and reading levels. There are titles for every age and interest, from young teenagers to adults starting new phases in their lives. This enormously expands the possibilities for Italian artists to find their audience.”

What advice would you give to young Italian artists who aspire to become manga artists?
«The first piece of advice is not to give up at the first difficulties, nor at the second ones. The apprenticeship is long, but with perseverance, patience and a true passion for telling stories, you can go far. It is important to continually read up and keep up to date, as this is an ever-changing world. Study, observe new styles on social media, analyze how pages are built, which shots are chosen and which themes are addressed. Another fundamental tip is to network: join other people who share your passion, support each other. We, as first and second generations of Italian authors, have built a strong community, initially on Messenger, then on forums and Facebook, and now also on Instagram. Collaborate, share resources, advice and inspiration.”

Has the role of women in the world of manga changed over the years?
«In Italy, the world of manga has always been populated by many female figures, perhaps more than male ones. In the 90s and early 2000s, boys were directed towards a more classic comic style, while girls, seen as outsiders, had more freedom to experiment. This has led many women to become manga authors. Compared to France, where there are fewer female authors, in Italy gender equality in the manga sector is more evident and growing. Personally, I have never perceived the fact of being a woman as a problem, and this has given me a lot of confidence. Our world has always been very indie and, consequently, some problems present in other sectors have not manifested themselves.”

How do you manage to balance your work with your personal life?
«I work from home in three shifts: morning (9-13), afternoon (15-19) and evening (22-01). This allows me to balance my work with my personal life, which includes my husband and my dog. I prefer to work in the evenings when there are no distractions such as emails or requests for corrections. However, as tasks increase, the time spent physically working on pages may decrease. Furthermore, I act as an art director for a studio where I supervise the work of a team of manga authors, checking their works weekly and suggesting changes if necessary. This role not only gives me satisfaction, but also helps me stay up to date.”

What does it mean for you to be a point of reference for many young Italian artists?
«It's a role I take very seriously. I have two nicknames, an Italian one “zia Fede” and a French one “Donna Federica”, and I definitely prefer the second one. This role entails a lot of responsibility and pushed me to make choices not only for myself, but also for those who are undertaking this artistic journey. I constantly challenge myself for a good cause, because I strongly believe in this movement. Contributing to this community is fundamental to me, because I believe we should look beyond differences and speak a common language in the world of comics.”

What are your future plans and what do you hope to achieve in the coming years?
«My next project has already finished in France and will also be published in Italy in the coming months. This is the last issue of the first story arc of Oneida. For the future, I'm already working on other projects, but don't make me say anything, otherwise they'll scold me.”

Source: Vanity Fair

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