Vanessa Bettencourt: Author, Illustrator, Graphic Novelist | Sally Undine: Zombie Girl and Aspiring Doctor

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We met Vanessa at Awesome Con 2018 in Washington, DC. She came over to our table to chat, and we kept in touch over Instagram. I love watching the little art videos she posts. She’s also big on supporting other indie artists which is always appreciated!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Vanessa: I remember that I wanted to be a literature and grammar teacher. I felt panic every day that I would forget the bedtime stories that my mom used to read or tell and thought other people were missing out. I started reading at 5 years old, and I had a notebook where I would try to take notes of the stories. Then I discovered books were abundant in the world.

Do you consider yourself an author who can illustrate, or an illustrator who can write?

Vanessa: Inside my head, they are connected. It's all a storyboard. I always see words as visual images or complex scenes. When I am tired of writing or feel like I don't know what comes next, I draw the scenes. Sometimes, a single image drives me to write a full book. It's also a great way to fight the so-called artist block. When I can't draw, I write (or the other way around). This way, I never stop.

Emily: I have tons of complex scenes and beautiful imagery in my head. I just don’t have the skills to draw them out the way you do! It’s the reason I drool over artists’ works.

What are you working on these days? (writing or otherwise)

Vanessa: I decided to focus on two different projects for 2019. I scheduled them to be published in September. One is the first book of a Middle-Grade fantasy trilogy. The other is a Halloween themed graphic novel. Usually, around June, I look at both projects and see which one is going to be completed. As an independent author, I can afford to set up or delay my deadlines. I picked the graphic novel. It still doesn't have a title but might have by the time this interview comes out.

What have you read from middle school or high school—or any time—that just stuck with you?

Vanessa: These books were a big influence in my goal to write stories that last forever: Neverending Story, the Dragonlance series, The Hobbit and The Three Musketeers. Their illustrators also made me want to draw more. In the graphic novel field: Calvin and Hobbes, Mordillo, Asterix and manga like Erin no Souja and Jūni Kokuki.

I'm Portuguese, and the books that I grew up with as a child were from Portuguese authors or translations from the classics, like Charlotte's Web or Treasure Island. I am on a journey to read books that other children read between the ages of 6 to 12 that I never heard of and are so dear to each childhood memory: Idhun Memories by Laura Garcia (Spain), White Fang by Jack London (USA), and I'll start Krabat by Otfried Preußler (Germany) soon.

Emily: You bring up an excellent idea about children’s books from other cultures. I’d love to read those as well. there just never seems to be enough time!

Vanessa: This is one of my favorite quotes:

"...but some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again."

- C.S. Lewis.

Do you have a preferred genre?

Vanessa: I love action & adventure with epic fantasy worlds and characters. But I also love fiction like The Secret History by Donna Tartt and graphic novels.

How long have you been writing?

Vanessa: Since I was 9. I made my first book in Portuguese (a small printed edition for school and family and friends). I remember that I used to read my little book to my close audience—they still remember some of the passages. It was a funny book about my daily life and how I perceived reality around me with the same type of humor found in Nicholas by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jeacques Sempe (author and illustrator of Asterix).

I worked as a professional illustrator for several publishers in Portugal as a freelancer, but only later I sent my manuscripts and got publishers interested. I became more serious about it when I moved to the USA and decided to translate the projects to English and restart. Still, I prefer to do it independently and control my work from start to finish.

Do you write full time?

Vanessa: Yes. I do take commissions, but mostly I work on my projects and publish as many as possible a year.

Which of your books should we read first?

Vanessa: I have different series that are completely independent of each other. I consider my work mostly for all ages. Want something like Rainbow Brite meets X-Men? Read the Polly and the Black Ink graphic novels, full of adventure and parallel fantasy worlds. Want to know all the truth and humor behind my long-distance relationship and visa process? Read the Notfrombrazil graphic novels. Love The Hobbit and the Redwall series? Join Aion and Valia on an epic quest to recover the Home Tree from the evil army of spiders. Love Halloween and strong female characters? My next graphic novel tells the story of Sally Undine, a little Zombie girl following her dream.

Which of your characters (and from what book) should I interview? Why did you choose that character?

Vanessa: I suggest Sally. She can explain her surname and her dream. She is the first zombie girl who wishes to become a real doctor. Not a healer or shaman. She wants to stop her family from losing parts and more... She is my newest main character, and the book is just out or about to be.

What are you binge-watching?

Vanessa: Recently: Star Trek the Next Generation. Every year: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

Which paladin do you identify with?

Vanessa: I prefer wizards!

Which pony do you identify with?

Vanessa: Are we talking about My Little Pony? Princess Luna!

Which Hogwarts House are you in?

Vanessa: These social media tests know nothing! Ravenclaw, I am certain!

Emily: I know I’ve only done 3 interview so far, but Ravenclaws are all we have! (James West, Vanessa, and me!)

What's the last movie you watched?

Vanessa: Just rewatched Jurassic World, love these!

What's your karaoke song go to?

Vanessa: If I had the courage...I will Survive.

Emily: So far, it seems that writers do not want to sing…

Who's your Doctor?

Vanessa: Beverly Crusher... ehehe!

Emily: Oh, I did not see that coming! Very nice! Well played!

What's your gaming class?

Vanessa: Warrior with a ranger sidekick.

Interview with Sally Undine

Welcome to the Way Late Night Why Are you Still Awake Show! on Titans Island. I’m your host, Emily English, and wow do I have a show for you! My special guest tonight is Miss Sally Undine, and she is…a zombie! Now, no need to panic and get apocalyptic, kids, because Sally is probably the cutest zombie you’ll ever meet. Let’s step lively, no cold shoulders here, folks, give a warm welcome to Sally Undine!

Illustration by Vanessa Bettencourt

Illustration by Vanessa Bettencourt


Emily: Hi, Sally! Come, have a seat in my little tv show living room. Don’t be shy. A gift! For me?

Sally: Yes, it’s a unique, signed artist card original edition (ACEO) of myself in watercolor. Vanessa caught my expression perfectly, don't you think?


Emily: Wow, this is gorgeous! Thank you! So frame-worthy! Well, let’s get to know you better! Where are you from? Where do you live?

Sally: I was born on Titans Island and have always lived in downtown Themis. I've never left the island, but I would like to someday.

Emily: I’m sure you’ve got plenty of time to travel. How old are you?

Sally: I am 13.

Emily: And what does a 13-year old zombie do on a daily basis? Put on some headphones to block out the world while you stare at a mobile device? Maybe go shopping with your little zombie friends? No?

Sally: I love to study. I'm top of my class since I started school. I'm also a self-taught nurse, aspiring to become a real doctor. The books on human medicine and anatomy that I borrowed from my friend Selphie help a little, but I have too many questions. Now that the humans have arrived on Titans Island, I hope to get all my questions answered—maybe even get an internship. I know what you're thinking: "but you're a zombie, how do you approach them?" A good report card and introductory letter won't do here...

Emily: Human medicine! That takes some dead-ication!


Emily: Ahem. No. I imagine not all humans are open-minded. Here’s how I see it, though: you’ve got an advantage in that you already know first hand what’s going on inside! Once you get past the fear factor, I think you’ll be great. You seem like you’d have great dead-side, I mean bedside, manner.


Emily: Tough crowd! Ok, so all that in mind, what's your goal in life?

Sally: My goal is to become the first real doctor and help my family stop losing parts before they disappear entirely. No more herbs or spells. No more glue, stitches, staples or chains. We're not like our cousins who have bandages to keep them together. It can be very uncomfortable. Some of us start losing parts very soon. It's depressing. Others need help too. People of Titans Island have evolved, and for generations, we've only fed on candy that we grow. However, there is one type of candy native to Titans Island that is mortally dangerous to us. It won't be easy, but I intend to find a cure for it.

Emily: I find it very impressive that you have a completely different set of problems than the humans do, yet you’re so willing to learn and help humans in addition to finding a cure for your own people. Have you tried Mod Podge?


Emily: You have so many hopes and dreams and goals, so who’s the best friend who is always there to cheer you on and help you out when you need it?

Sally: George. He is a bigfoot, yet not too tall. He is fluffy and cute, and he has always been there for me. I admit that I get him in serious trouble sometimes.

Emily: Sally, I’m sensing a lot of adventures here. Zombie girl and fluffy bigfoot? I’m going to want to know more about that! It might require another interview! Okay, so you’re very positive, surely something must irritate you?


Sally: I would say fear—fear of progress or the unknown, of different people and new possibilities...Fear has frozen my people in time.

Emily: Fear can be very crippling indeed. I imagine that as unique as you are from even your own people, you need to get away sometimes. Where do you go when you want to be alone with your thoughts?

Sally: I often visit Liffa. She is one of the wisest dragons I've met. She is the only one of her kind on Titans Island. She mostly keeps to herself, taking care of her garden and the mailing birds. She lives in a cottage by the cliff. Sometimes we just sit there quietly and look at the endless starry sky.

Emily: Sounds amazing. So aside from medicine, hanging out with your bigfoot bestie, and visiting a dragon, what are your hobbies?

Sally: I love music. My favorite singer is Wolfina. We also play Dungeons & Monsters a lot. George, Duds, Minty, and I love scavenger hunting too.

Emily: We’re almost out of time, but what do you want people to know most about you?

Sally: I am very responsible, I don't get anyone into trouble, and I never ever break the rules...unless it's really, really...really important.

Emily: Sally, you’ve been a spectacular guest. Thank you for coming on the show. I wish you all the best with you dreams to become a doctor, and I hope to read all about your adventures soon. Everyone, check out the links below and get your hands on the book!

For more information on Vanessa Bettencourt and her books, check out the links below:

All the Books: