Amanda Wood, 29, has trouble explaining what she actually does. “Kind of a graphic designer” covers the basics in that, as art director at HooHa Media, she designs all imagery on the emoji app of tween idol Jesse Vane. Three years ago, Amanda wasn’t even aware that celebrities peddled their own personalised emojis for £2 per set. Now she knows exactly how Kim Kardashian made them “a thing” and who else is at it – among them Justin Bieber and Ansel Elgort. Her biggest hits for Vane have been the pool-slide, the tattooist’s needle and an Oreo sandwich.
What “graphic designer” doesn’t convey is the emotional energy the job requires. Nobody outside the Vane brand knows how much input he demands, and how exhausting this is. Often, leaving work at dawn, Amanda wonders why her life is devoted to drawing tiny pictures for a baby-faced tyrant. And yet, every morning she hurries to her desk for 8am.
Late one night, there is a stand-off over whether the next set of emojis should include an animation of Vane getting a buttock wax. Vane is determined it remain, since it is “his truth”. His brand manager is adamant it’s too adult for the fans. Usually Amanda and Jesse communicate at several removes, but now he messages her directly: “Yo, Amanda. Butt wax gif is super important to me. I hate being told what to do. Don’t let me down. Xo J.” She replies politely that it’s not her decision. “Make it your decision,” messages Vane. Amanda demurs again. “I said, make it your fxxxxxg decision or I find someone with the balls to do your job,” he responds.
It’s the final straw. Before giving her notice, Amanda tweaks the buttock-wax image to look like Vane is passing wind. Gallingly, it’s so successful it crashes the app store on its first day. #facepalmemoji