The Works And The Key: The Chynna Clugston Interview, PART ONE

A column article by: Park Cooper

I interviewed Chynna once before.../main/sites/default/files/features/98171126540737.htm/ But apparently instead of going to MY archives, it went into CB's Super Special Interview Archives.

This must be corrected at once! I want a Chynna interview in MY archives!


Chynna Clugston's BLUE MONDAY: THIEVES LIKE US is shipping this week.

Chynna Clugston: Hey!

PC: How's it goin'?

Chynna: Okay, pretty tired

PC: Why so tired?

Chynna: Up late drawing

PC: Ah ha
Drawing what

Chynna: Blue Monday!

PC: Now we're getting somewhere... and how is THAT goin' for ya?

Chynna: It's going well.
It's always strange getting back up to speed as far as drawing goes.

PC: Barb is singing Red Rockers' "China" "Chiiiinnaaaa, Chiiinnnaaaaaaaaa..."

Chynna: That's my jam!

PC: Which I say because you're one of the only other humans I can expect to keep up with her tastes...

Chynna: I’m going to put it on.

PC: So it's exciting, I presume, the Blue drawing? Is there a hello dear old gang vibe or what

Chynna: spinning
Absolutely. I miss them when I’m not tormenting them.

PC: Yeah we know a little bit about that sort of thing in this house...

Chynna: ha ha ha I can imagine.

PC: Barb, too, is tired. But first she helped generate some questions to ask... Shall we?

Chynna: Go for it.

PC: Who are your influences?

Chynna: The usual suspects, Rumiko Takahashi, Evan Dorkin, Adam Warren, Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, Dan DeCarlo... blah blah

PC: Why/how did you come to start drawing in your style (I mean, you were doing it before manga got popular!)? What about it appealed to you as a creator? One of the things Barb noticed about your art style right from the beginning was the simple, clean lines... not too liney, would look good in digest form—so how did you come to have this style?!?!?

Chynna: I always thought I was really a combination of styles I was attracted to early on, people like the Deadline artists, Philip Bond and Jamie Hewlett in particular (who I stupidly forgot to mention in the previous question) and Los Hernandez Bros., who were a very major influence as well- but what got me most were, yeah, clearly the manga artists, who I was introduced to by friends and ex-boyfriends who happened to be into it. Rumiko Takahashi's work was just so mind-blowing to me, that she could do such perfect comedy- it's the manga influence that makes comedic books even funnier, you have so much more room to work with art-wise. It's all right to make someone's head go from a normal size in one panel to the size of a hot-air balloon in another to convey anger, and so on... and as far as the format goes, it just happens to be my favorite. I always appreciated the neat look of a manga compilation on a bookshelf, aesthetically it's just more appealing to me.

PC: Do you ever call your stuff manga? Do people ever call your stuff manga? (Actually in preparing for this interview I saw one guy call your STYLE manga, so that’s an extra impetus for asking)

Chynna: I don't call my style manga. What is manga? It's Japanese comic art. I’m American, but I’m an anglophile who also loves Japan and everything about it. Especially the comics. I’m an art-mutt.

PC: So what Adam Warren does is not manga? Or just you?

Chynna: Adam has his own style. I don't care what people call it.

PC: THERE you go, that's a good answer... What manga, then, besides Rumiko, do you read? All-time favorites? Current reads?

Chynna: Not much these days. Hmm...

PC: No?

Chynna: I’ve been reading classics more than anything lately, fiction- let me think for a second about my old favorites in the manga department... Peach Girl is a recent one that I liked... I used to be into Masamune Shirow quite heavily... still love him. Read Mai The Psychic Girl back in the day, that was great. I can get pretty OCD about books, if I like something I’ll read it over and over again. Sometimes it's hard for me to embrace new books unless I happen across it by chance. I’m sure that sounds terrible. Please Save My Earth! Almost forgot-- loved that one. I have all of them in Japanese but was dying for it to be translated and now eons later I have them all, in both Japanese and English. Now if only someone would translate ITSUDEMO YUMEWO by HIDENORI HARA I’ll be really happy.

PC: Back to your style for just a second-- Has your style changed over the years, would you say?

Chynna: Totally. I’m constantly trying to improve; I hope that shows.

PC: Manga or not, because it was rather different, doing Blue Monday’s style of comedy when comics weren’t as receptive/hadn’t particularly considered such a thing, did you have a lot of trouble finding a publisher? What were the reactions to it? What made Oni take a chance on something that there were comparatively few examples of out there already? Did they... “get it”?

(Barb says when she first saw your stuff it kind of reminded her of Lum incidentally. In spirit if nothing else anyway)

(Lum, because that's all we knew about back then. Sigh, how long ago that was)

Chynna: LUM is the fucking best. Good choice. : D

Chynna: I did have a lot of trouble finding a publisher at first, but I think my main problem was that my art was still pretty weak. I was lucky enough to make connections with kind editors who would look over my stuff every year and give really good advice, so I’d go back to the drawing board and work on it some more. I do think that the manga influence put a lot of people off, though, to be honest. I know it was far heavier in the beginning because I was so obsessed with it at the time, and no, a lot of people didn't get it. It wasn't a xerox of what came from Japan, but it wasn't like alternative comics here, either. But if they gave my work a read, that's when they started to understand why it worked for me. Jamie S. Rich got it, and he was likely why I got my chance with Oni. Bob Schreck liked me and saw that I’d improved with Jamie's advice, and so did Joe Nozemack, so they gave me a shot. After the short story in Oni Double Feature I ended up lucking out and getting my own series, I imagine because the feedback was good.

PC: Who is your target audience for your work (these days, anyway)? And of course you aren’t hoping to get only certain types of people and drive others away, but if you had to explain it to a new publisher...?

(Barb also thought that it was "the most comfortable east-west mix I had yet seen, it had confidence to it in that regard... the lines were confidently drawn and not busy)

[so really you're having two conversations at once... >rolls eyes<]

Chynna: My target audience is anyone who's ever felt alienated. I think that sums up most people if they're honest with themselves. Music references and weirdos aside, most of my stories still cover the basic of all human needs. There's a reason you see different takes on the same themes over and over again throughout the ages. We all want to be loved and accepted for who we are. If people give me a chance, they see that they can identify on some level, even if they don't think dick jokes are funny.

(thanks!!! most just want to classify it as one thing or the other, period. which is fine, really, but I think it puts the wrong idea into other people's heads and closes it off to them)

PC: Has the Oni stuff been able to get the “Casual Reader” that everyone’s trying to get—you know, getting people who don’t read other comics to read yours?

Chynna: I think so. A lot of people come up to me at conventions saying "I couldn't get my friend to read any comics at all, but then I handed them yours and now they read L&R and this and this," no kidding. It's my favorite thing I can possibly hear. 

PC: What about the manga audience?

Chynna: What about them? They're welcome to come party with me. Everyone's invited. You mean do they go on to read manga after my books?

PC: No... I mean, do those who would identify themselves as Manga readers seem to accept you any faster

Chynna: I think that depends on their Otaku level. The less fanatical they are, the more open they seem to be to other versions.

PC: Makes sense... If you owned your own company, how would YOU go after the casual readership?

Chynna: I’d try to buy a slot of time on the Jack Benny show and advertise there. Then I’d realize that he's been dead for a while, and give up and sell the company.

Okay seriously, Marketing. I’d advertise the shit out of it, that's all. Slogans, huge ads in major shopping centers, product placement, the works. Am I irritating you yet? I’m kidding about product placement.

PC: And tell our studio audience WHERE you would advertise...

Chynna: I thought "the works" covered that. If money wasn't an obstacle? Obviously I’d have banners all over the place on the internet, TV, before movie screenings. The Goodyear blimp, biplanes, bus stops, stickers in the urinals, soda cans, magazines, you name it.

PC: And now please lean into the mike and try to explain why you think the industry chooses not to market/slogan/product place/advertiselikecrazy now/already. Money?

Chynna: Or stupidity, but probably money.

PC: What would you like to see done in comics, if anything, to attract more female readers? Are there things about the Casual Female Readership that comics just doesn’t quite get yet or are being overlooked?

Chynna: Manga is the key, and not just the art. It seems to get more women interested in comics than anything. It got me really into comics. Why? Because many deal with human interaction, not just ass-kicking and super-villains, which is what most Americans assume comics are all about, as we know. We need more well-written character pieces to get women in here. I don't mean lame romances or popularity contests, bitch fights and more of that crap. We need a good balance of everything, and for the record we're not usually shy about someone getting punched in the face, since many of us have the urge to punch plenty of people in the face. If some people could see that we're not all that different, that we just tend to enjoy stories with substance and characters we give a shit about, we'd get more women in here.

PC: How did you get involved with Scholastic, and how was that different from working with the comics industry?

Chynna: I was approached by Sheila Keenan, then editor at Scholastic who was putting together Graphix with David Saylor and she'd read Blue Monday. She asked if I’d be into doing something with them, and of course I said yes, and that was that. Working with Scholastic is a larger scaled version of working with one of the big two, a lot of input on stories and your work is taken in front of a committee and gone over and fine-tuned until you get it right. They were very kind and had a definite idea about what they wanted, so it was a really good experience. My editor was great, so I lucked out.

PC: Do you ever worry about being pigeonholed as being someone associated with just one genre of storytelling (say, teen comedy)?

Chynna: Absolutely, I loathe the thought. I have such a wide variety of interests and ideas, but so far I’ve only shown people teen comedies, kid books and one twenty-something black comedy.

PC: What would you like to be doing in the next five years that you aren’t doing now?

Chynna: Producing books that are sort of social histories, also historical fictions, and screenwriting. I love film, as a separate but similar medium, but who doesn't? I’d also like to learn to animate, still.

PC: Slowly but surely, things are starting to change for female creators in comics. Sometimes it doesn’t feel a bit like that, and sometimes it’s hard to find any change, but it is there. The industry is in a rough period of transition regarding female creators... It’s kind of an old saw, but in light of this, what’s your advice to female creators trying to do stuff now?

Chynna: Don't fucking give up. Ever. If you really want to do this, don't mind eating ramen one night and gorging on anything you want the next because you finally got paid for something; if you eat, breathe and sleep stories or art, or both, then you just stick to it and keep working at it. Be stubborn, you belong here just as much as anyone else does. Just work on your craft and produce the things you want to see out there. That's all.

Next time: The conclusion.

Once again, Chynna Clugston's BLUE MONDAY: THIEVES LIKE US is shipping this week.

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