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Spotlight Comics

Spotlight – Vatican Assassins



Comic: Vatican Assassins

Creator: Melissa J Massey

Genre: Action, Drama, Urban Fantasy

Synopsis: Viola, Fife, and Xy are in-training to be part of the Vatican’s secret demon-fighting militia, the Assassins. But when another Assassin goes missing after a tragic incident, things become a lot more dangerous




Please leave your critiques in the comments below!

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An Interview with Melissa J. Massey


1. When did you first come up with the idea for Vatican Assassins?

Melissa: I think it was around 2008 or 2009. I had a crazy dream about a boy and a girl running through the streets of Rome and living at the Vatican. I continued to develop the idea and drew from my love of European cities, epic churches, and stories about militant teams. I was really into D.Gray-man and Soul Eater at the time, so these had some influence. Trips to Greece and Rome helped to solidify the concept, and I started drawing pages and building the website in December of 2011.


2. What does your workspace look like? If you can add anything to it, what would it be?

Melissa: I work on a flat ikea table with metal legs. I have a laptop that I do my photoshop work on and an epson scanner that currently lives on the floor. There’s usually papers everywhere and pages waiting to be inked and scanned. Right now, it’s pretty barren as I continue to move stuff into my new apartment. I’d love to get a new desktop computer with a dual screen set up. And a nice storage system for all my markers.


3. What’s your favorite time-sucking activity?

Melissa: Tumblr, and listening to music samples on Google Play. Tvtropes is another one.


4 . Lord of the Rings or Star Wars?

Melissa: I’m not really a fan of either.


5. If you were writing a clever interview question for the next spotlight, what would it be? Feel free to answer this question for yourself if you’d like!

Melissa: Is there any recurring part of your comic you regret including because it’s a pain to draw? For me, it’s Fife’s weapon, a sickle and chain, because that chain is incredibly obnoxious to draw over and over again!


6. Have you ever had a lucid dream?

Melissa: Sadly, no. All of my dreams are convincingly realistic, even when they’re about impossible things. But I’m envious when people say they have them! 

7. What keeps you going?

Melissa: Good question! It’s not a secret I’ve had problems finishing projects. Besides maybe one or two short stories, I’ve never finished any comics in my life. Even my honors thesis for college ended up being only half of the entire story as it became really long and I was running out of time.
But Vatican Assassins is something really special. It’s a lot of different things I love, combined into this crazy story I can’t get enough of. The characters are really dear to me too. I always get really excited to work on it, to see how I will improve, how will this scene I’ve imagined for so long turn out, and how people will respond. My life would be very empty without Vatican Assassins, or drawing any comics at all.


8. Were any of your characters inspired by a real person? Tell us about it!

Melissa: Pope William is inspired by a combination of John Paul II and the priest from my home church. Both are very compassionate and loving people. That’s the kind of Pope I wanted for this story. 

9. If Vatican Assassins had a theme song, what would it be?

Melissa: Well, if we’re talking like an opening theme, it’d be “Big Casino” by Jimmy Eat World, but in the instrumental soundtrack sense, a really dark orchestration of the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Be Silent” is something I hear playing in a lot of scenes. 

10. Each Assassin resonates with a different saint. Are there any particular saints that you’re drawn to?

Melissa: That’s a really good one! I grew up Catholic but my church’s CCD program was very lame, so we didn’t learn about saints. I ended up not knowing much until I got to college and studied Art History.

When I was really little, there was a documentary on history channel about St. Bernadette of Lourdes and how her body was miraculously preserved after her death. I was drawn to that story, so that’s how I picked her for Viola.  Other than that,  my go to Saints are John Paul II and Mary Magdalene.  (And Gilles Villenueve, patron saint of Canadian motorsport)


 11. What’s next for Vatican Assassins?

Melissa: The few chapters take place in Greece, and will involve the Orthodox church, beautiful ruins, and a little language humor (including a corny joke!). After that, the story heads north to a Baltic nation and some old friends…I’d really like to make a print book at some point, but I think I need a bigger audience for it. For now I just want to keep improving and see how people like the story.



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  1. Yay! Vatican Assassins is in the Spotlight!

    This is one of the comics I added to my reading list because of art exchange (the Halloween exchange).

    When I first started with the comic, my major complain would be the art, which at the time looked more on the amateur side. The story of course hooked me. Assassins has its internal mythology very well rounded and founded. I always like stories in which institutions like the Church have enforcers to do its dirtier (and very much needed) job. The teenage team of fighters might be a little cliche, but their personalities are well developed.
    Since then, I believe the art has evolved, with a very distinct personality. Oh, and I love the backgrounds, MJ is great doing architectural designs (says the guy with the background-less comic).
    I love MJ’s sense of humor, and I love the little snippets she creates for the Facebook updates, I believe that also gives personality to the whole franchise.

    No Star Wars? We can still save you!

  2. I’ve been meaning to catch up on this comic for a while! Well, here goes nothing.

    The site looks nice, though that top nav bar seems a little bit crammed to the side. I think it might look better if you nudge the links inside it more toward the center. The placement of the PW ad kind of throws off the balance too. I know that’s really nitpicky, but I honestly don’t have any other complaints. Everything else about the site works fine.

    So far, the story has been a little on the slow side, but ever since the Witchnight ladies showed up, thing have been a lot more interesting. I like it when action stories raise the stakes and so far, it looks like Lilith is a pretty big threat. Considering this is a world where demons are a constant danger, there should be huge things going on. Throwing some more chaos and uncertainty into the story as you’ve been doing recently suits the size of the world you’ve built.

    Speaking of size, one thing that impresses me is your skill at drawing manmade objects, especially buildings. My guess is that you draw from references and you’re good at showing the scale as a result. I don’t know if you also use references for people, but if you don’t, I recommend it. You’re improving, but the faces tend to go off-model and sometimes the limbs are positioned awkwardly. With practice, you’ll definitely get the hang of it, but I still recommend doing some life drawing to get a better feel for it if you can. You’d be surprised what you’ll learn!

    The three main characters are a nice, fairly memorable group, especially with Xy. It’s rare that a deaf person take a prominent role in a story and I appreciate seeing that. I especially like that you stay aware of that, sometimes showing his reaction to verbally-delivered information as different from his friends, who would have to translate for him. Their comedic interactions are also entertaining. However, as likeable as they are, I do feel sometimes the cast relies a little too much on character archetypes. Sister Rain, for example, is a stereotypical stern authority figure. Tzouras is a rebel. The Witchnight girls are misunderstood allies. It’s not that these are bad traits–far from it! But I would like to see more of what makes everyone unique. The three main characters are more fleshed out, so I know you have it in you. By all means, don’t try to cram it all in at once, but whenever you get the chance to demonstrate how a character is different, whether by speech patterns, expressions, how they fight, backstories, or even simply their favorite foods, take advantage of that.

    On a side note, I’d like to mention that your Advent Calendar arc was a fantastic idea. I do hope you plan to make one again this year, because that’s one of the most unique, fun holiday filler ideas I have ever seen. Kudos for being so original!

    There’s not too much I can add. It seems like the story is still fairly young, but there’s a lot of potential in the setting and with a cast as numerous as yours, I have no doubt you’ve got some big plans for the future.

  3. I’ve been a fan of the Assassins since just before the April Fool’s Day Switcheroo. There was something about your header that really appealed to me.
    What makes Vatican Assassins so great? For me, it’s the heart. You know these very distinctive characters very well, and your love for them is obvious. But you’re not afraid to show them in pain.
    Look what happened to Flute. That took a lot of guts, to have one of your characters raped. But you handled it with sensitivity and maturity.
    This is the page that really got to me:
    The look on poor Viola’s face, along with her body language, was really effective. The dialogue was suitably mysterious (what is going on?) while still being natural. I really want to know about her mom.
    You tend to make your characters crosseyed, which really works in this strip. Not many people can pull off the looks you do.

    Your layouts are wonderful, mj. Nobody can panel out a page like you do. And I know you work hard to try new and better stuff with every page. Every Monday and Thursday I look forward to what you’ve done with layouts, angles, body language, and expressions. And you just get better and better with every page.

    Having said that, if I was to suggest any changes, I’d say spend more time on your art. You knocked one out of the park with your header. But it makes the regular stuff look rushed. I’d like to see more detail (like you used to do), and more involement of the characters with their surroundings. Stuff placed in the foreground to add depth, for example.
    Just some thoughts.

    As for your writing, well, I love how you’re able to find the humor in serious situations. Even though you’re not afraid to kill a major character, you’re also not afraid to break the tension with some humor. It really brings your characters to life.

    Even though I prefer the quiet, character moments to the action, I love how you handle all the shifts in tone. You’re very good at creating moods, and a lot of that comes from your characters.

    Oh, and I have to mention your Facebook posts. I love how you take a thumbnail from the current story and redo the dialogue. Some of those are laugh out loud funny, and I always look forward to them. That’s a great way to build an audience.

    All in all, my biggest advice is to keep doing what you’re doing, and keep on working hard to get better and bette at it. You know you’ve got some devoted fans out there.

  4. I’m very glad I got this prompt to get caught up with Vatican Assassins. I wish I’d read it sooner, because it’s definitely in my wheelhouse. It’s got a memorable and distinct cast, a unique fantasy world that actually draws inspiration from our own world (thus circumventing many of the problems I have with fantasy), and a unique design aesthetic. If I were given one of the VA uniforms and told to wear it in day to day life, I would probably do so, because they are that stylish.

    It’s also a very dark series, which definitely works for me. But it’s versatile enough that the tone can shift to more light and comedic character beats, too. I admit that I was alarmed by some of the mood shifts, especially given the nature of the premise ( he Catholic Church has a secret hit squad of child soldiers, even if they use them against supernatural threats to humanity), but ultimately it works. Certainly we’re dealing with young characters who don’t understand the full implications of the world around them, and don’t have the coping skills to effectively process the trauma inherent.

  5. First of all, I wanted to thank everyone for taking the time to read Vatican Assassins! It means a lot to me, and all of your comments. I have a lot of thinking to do, taking all these critiques and using them to make an even better story.

    I agree with with you all have said–the art is on the rough side. When I started this, I knew that it would help me improve by keeping me drawing regularly, but there’s still a long way to go. I’m going to keep pushing ahead and challenging myself to get even better. But I do lament that the first chapter or so is so shoddy looking, and worry if that turns off potential readers. The temptation to redo pages is great…

    Specific buildings get heavily referenced. It’s really been invaluable that I was able to visit Rome and Greece before starting the comic. Seeing pictures is one thing, but actually being there really shows you how to convey the atmosphere. Other, non-specific buildings are a mix of basic architectural elements to match the setting, nothing too fancy.

    I also lament that the story is slow going at the beginning. Unfortunately, there was a lot of ground work to lay out, not only for this first story arc, but for the entirety of the work. Characters like Crystal Glass and Tzouras Chatzi seem extraneous right now, but are important later on. I was worried if people would be able to follow the jumps between character groups (the in-training trio,the Three Faeries, Celesta’s team, back to the trio, then WITCHNIGHT coming in) but it seems as if this has worked out okay, judging by the comments.

    Like melaredblu says, I need to work on how I draw my characters. I will continue to do so, and hopefully get my art to a professional level.

    Thank you everyone! Special thanks to Charlie and Hippo for all the support they’ve given me since I joined the Underdogs.

    • You’ve made tremendous improvements in your art over the course of Vatican Assassins’ two years or so of publishing. You’ll continue to make improvements just by doing, like many of us. As melaredblu said, you already have extremely strong architectural design abilities, which is a rare gift and a unique hook. The character art can (and will) be further improved though regular practice.

      Speaking as someone whose work A.) also tends to favor writing over art and B.) has had a similar “learn by doing” trajectory, I’d recommend finding an artist you admire and copying/tracing their work to get a feel for how they draw. This method is something I do regularly, and it’s been instrumental in my own progress. It shouldn’t erase your personal style, but instead bolster it by getting a feel for how the masters do it by committing their linework and figures to your hands’ muscle memory. In my case I’ve been tracing pages from Bryan Hitch comics for the past couple months, because Hitch is A.) a peerless draughtsman and storyteller, and B.) an artist whose strengths in photo-realism and slick rendering (especially in a superhero context, as most of the movie Avengers looks are based in part on his Ultimates designs) are things I need to work on in my own work. Of course, whoever you choose to study and emulate should be someone whose work speaks to you.

  6. I just finished reading this and it’s great! I don’t think there’s much I can add to that hasn’t already been said by others. Please remember to outline text though when it’s over a background. 6th Reading Page 22 is a good example. I can’t read it. :(

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