What was old is new again as Chynna Clugston Flores’ acclaimed cult comics hit Blue Monday is being republished by Image Comics. The third volume in the slice of life teen comedy, Inbetween Days, has just recently been re-released, and it follows the cast of central California teens through an eventful spread of holidays that sees their relationships to each other change. We got in touch with Flores to talk about how it’s felt to relocate to the area that inspired her series, how her relationships to the series and the series’ editors have changed, and what the status of new Blue Monday material is.
Blue Monday is a series set in the early ‘90s, was published in the early ‘00s, and is being republished in the mid ‘10s. It’s almost remarkable how little the book has aged even as the references have; the language of love staying consistent has clearly given the book some staying power. What would you credit the book’s longevity to?
Teenagers are always going to essentially be the same. They just are. Coming-of-age stories never get old in themselves, it’s such a pivotal time. I think that there’s a lot of universal experiences throughout Blue Monday where you’re going to be either reliving or relating to what it’s like negotiating that transitional age. Most people feel the anguish, hormones, rage, glee and self-doubt that Bleu and her friends feel in turns, no matter what social tribe they run with––but I think it’s the characters themselves that set them apart and lends a deeper connection to recurring readers. They’re typical teenagers in that they use bad language, joke around and drool at each other, sure, but there’s also this bond between them that is rather idealized, and maybe there’s an element of what we hope for in our own closest friendships that makes it enjoyable. They are naïve and feeling their way around as they learn the ropes, and getting it wrong much of the time, and that’s perfectly okay. While the insults they hurl and stupid things they do to each other might seem mean-spirited on the surface, I think it’s obvious they care about each other and are figuring out how to show it.
Plus, now that we’re far enough away from the early 1990s, I think Blue Monday might serve as a bit of a time capsule, reflecting teenage life just before the internet was in every home and cell phones were in every hand, which I think might add another layer to reader’s amusement. It’s a bit of social history, even if the stories are not entirely based in fact. I’d like to think the feel of it is genuine! Overall the series isn’t an orgy of random throwaway geek references constructed to cash in on nostalgia fetishists––it’s based off of actual obsessions & subcultures I care about––crap I went through as a teenager and young adult. I hope that authenticity comes through in Blue Monday and is maybe part of the appeal!
The guy I bought the first volume from at Heroes in Fresno bragged about you being “one of ours,” and you mention in the back of that volume that your grandmother used her position at the local paper to help produce your early minicomics. What kind of comics were you making when you were a teenager in the “Fresburger” area?
Ha, ha, ha! Oh, man. And yes, that would be Dave, the owner of Heroes. Great store, super nice guy. So, I had this mini-comic called S&M Rover, about a cartoon dog in spiked leather zipper underwear who would go out of his way to get beaten and loved it, naturally. You know, super healthy things that teenagers should be drawing. Neo-Nazis were usually the enemy, who would be offended when S&M Rover would enjoy a good kicking in by them when they wanted to actually hurt him. I had one episode where Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes was also a teenager by this time and at a punk show where the two run into each other and became friends, but I forgot what happened after that. I think there was more fighting with Neo-Nazis or something. I really hate those guys. Otherwise I made comics about California teenagers, usually involving surfing (and fighting surf Nazis—really, it’s a thing with me) or anthropomorphic cats that played music and skateboarded. I named one of them Shredd, if I remember right. I was reading a lot of Love and Rockets, Hectic Planet and Dirty Pair around high school, and after the ones I mentioned, I finally decided to make Blue Monday when I was sixteen and created Bleu’s character.
Your career has gone in different directions since Blue Monday was born, and you’ve left and returned to the Central Valley area that informed the setting of the series. How connected do you feel to the Chynna who initially created Blue Monday?
Oh, very. I don’t think we ever change in essentials, but I do feel the pull of time, so being closer to where I was during my childhood and teen years, it brings a lot of imagery to the forefront and turns out to be remarkably helpful with getting back into the swing of Blue Monday. I’ve never stopped thinking about the comic even when I was working on other projects, though––it’s always, always on my mind––but being physically back where it started, I can see the time period it’s primarily set in far more clearly, and it’s comforting in a lot of ways, even though I miss Southern California terribly.
Inbetween Days gave you a lot of room to play around with different styles and storytelling conventions for each of the holidays. What was your favorite of the holiday specials?
Oh, I’d have to say “Lovecats!” It’s the most personal, though all the stories have their origin in something that actually happened, or at least started with something funny that I was involved in and had the idea spiral out of. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t sold any pages from that particular series, they were all so much fun to create and I don’t have the heart to break it up yet.
But now “Dead Man’s Party” might be beating out “Lovecats” since my three-year-old daughter got ahold of Inbetween Days and has become obsessed with the zombies, tainted hamburger sauce and the Jesus Heads.
One of the little joys in Blue Monday – an element I’m used to showing up in manga but not in many American comic – are the drawings you fit in the gutters that add an extra gag, usually poking fun at your friend and editor Jamie S. Rich. Jamie becomes a bit of a recurring character that way. Do you two still have that same sort of “fiery” relationship?
I think we’ll always be at each other’s throats to some degree, but he seems to not want to dismember/maim me quite as passionately since he stopped being my editor several years back. I still have hopes of shortening his lifespan somehow, but for the moment he seems rather healthy and might actually outlive me. You know the mean ones live forever, and if so, he will surely be happy to gloat about it. Now another friend and editor, Ian Shaughnessy, has to put up with me but it’s old hat to him too, since he assisted on Blue Monday: Painted Moon’s original printing alongside Jamie. He is much nicer than Jamie Rich, however, and we’re both totally neurotic freaks, so we’ve been chums for ages and work well together, even have co-written random stories besides. Ian’s a blast.
You mentioned to me before that you felt this volume was really important to the series. Was that importance something you could see at the time of creating it or something that you saw later when prepping the rerelease?
It was intentionally important from the start––I didn’t want the holiday collection to be something throwaway with nothing in it to propel the main series forward at all, but to actually be a part of the ongoing saga of the gang.
Inbetween Days doesn’t have an overarching story like the first volume’s hunt for Adam Ant tickets or the second volume’s quest to recover an illicit videotape, but it’s a very important point in the development for the characters’ relationships. “Lovecats” in particular stands out for how it details the characters meeting at a Valentine’s dance in flashback, setting up the dynamics that we’d see in the previous volumes, before further complicating them in the present. How important to you was it to look back before moving forward with these characters?
While the stories are all pretty self-contained and silly, they still bring the kids closer together (or will infuriate them more with each other) and end up being pretty vital in many ways to the rest of the series. I personally love flashbacks, so it was something I really wanted to do. I enjoy character histories and thought it would be something readers might like to see as well, adding another layer to their personal lives.
The nice thing about this volume, and one I didn’t consider early on, is that you could be a new reader and jump in, getting a good idea of what all the kids are about without feeling left behind. I mean, you may wonder what’s up with the giant otter and the Jesus Heads, but other than that, you’d get the idea!
And speaking of moving forward, could you update us on the current status of Blue Monday follow-ups Thieves Like Us and Germfree Adolescents?
The work put into cleaning and fixing up the older collections ended up being far more substantial than initially expected (and it has been A LOT of work, including Scooter Girl in the mix), but I have also been at work on the new Blue Monday material at the same time! As soon as I’m clear of volume four, which is very soon, I will have all my focus on getting Thieves Like Us out and will be able to set a definitive release date, finally! But it’s close, genuinely close. And I’ve already been writing what’s to follow and have a good chunk of that done. As for Germfree Adolescents, I think that particular compilation will likely depend on how Thieves Like Us does, so fingers crossed!