Gina is the talented artist/writer behind Red String. She’s also the founder of Strawberry Comics, an all female group of comic writers. Dark Horse publishing recently picked up Red String, and has published them in three volumes. On to the interview!
1. What was it like to fund Strawberry Comics?
ANSWER: Expensive. Everything I do for Strawberry Comics is out of my own pocket and I am not a rich woman by any definition. Luckily with some of the projects, like Red String, I receive donations to help out (and Dark Horse publishing the printed version). Otherwise, funding all comes from commission work I do and sales of other books.
2. If a new writer/artist was interested in starting a comic, or in getting into publishing, what resources would you recommend to start?
ANSWER: First, I would recommend you step back and consider what you’re getting yourself into. Comics are an addiction and unless you’re very lucky, it takes a long time to establish yourself. You really have to be doing it for the love first and money maybe way later on. As for resources, I would say the internet is your best friend. There are tons of tutorials on creating comics and starting comic websites. Read them, study them, take the advice to heart.
3. What are the pros and cons of owning the publishing co. vs self-publishing?
ANSWER: I don’t see much of a difference except that since I am organizing and preparing books to send to a printer, selling and distributing the books, and trying to market, there is a LOT more work to do that if I was just my own comics. I think the work is worth it if I can get the word out on some really great female comic creators, though.
4. Do you view Strawberry Comics as just a project about your work, or as a way for other women comic creators to get exposure?
ANSWER: When I was creating comics in the beginning it was all about getting my work out there, but once Strawberry Comics was born, it became more than that. It definitely became about finding ways for other women creators to get exposure. If each of us self-publishes, we have to work that much harder on our own, but as a group we can cross-promote and help each other in getting the word out.
5. You’re pretty young to be so awesome! What is it like to be a fairly young artist in this industry?
ANSWER: Why thank you. I think being any age in this industry is hard since everyone is struggling to establish themselves with their work. Rising above the thousands of other comics out there isn’t easy.
6. What do you do to remain competitive?
ANSWER: That’s a tough question. Attending a lot of conventions helps. It allows me to see what everyone else is up to and what’s new and exciting. I also hang out with other comic artists and we tend to bounce ideas off each other, finding out what is and is not working.
7. How do you do that kind of networking online?
ANSWER: Comic message boards are good places for that. You can read up on the latest and greatest (and the not so great) that’s going on in the indy comic scene. It’s an important part of staying connected, especially during off-con season.
8. How did Red String get picked up by Dark Horse?
ANSWER: Sheer luck. I didn’t approach them, they approached me. So, I do apologize for not having any secret tricks to getting picked up.
9. Wow, that’s the comics equivalent to getting discovered at the local ice cream shoppe! Congratulations. Has being picked up changed your writing style at all?
ANSWER: Thank you. It was quite a thrill to be noticed like that. My writing style hasn’t changed due to being picked up by Dark Horse, but it continues to evolve as I grow as a writer.
10. Why manga? What I’m really wondering is if using this kind of format has affected your business model in anyway – I notice that a lot of the webcomics in Strawberry Comics line look like they’re either set in Japan or have some strong anime/manga influences.
ANSWER: I can’t answer for other webcomic artists, but I draw with a manga influence because I personally find the style aesthetically pleasing and it has influenced my work as much as Conan and X-men did while I was growing up. Early on, I had received a lot of flack from both the comic fans and manga fans. From the comic fans it was always “you’re just doing what’s cool right now” and from the manga fans it was “that’s not real manga, you’re a poser.” That reaction has subsided quite a bit in the past few years. The fact of the matter is that I am American and I create comics, no matter what my artistic influences have been.
11. What other types of comics/authors have influenced your work?
ANSWER: Most recently I would have to say Craig Thompson has been a big influence simply because he creates such wonderfully involving, emotional stories that do not seem forced. His art is simplistic, but tight and strangely intricate at the same time. All around he’s an amazing comic creator. I don’t think I really had a role model before him, but I really look up to the female manga artists of Japan. They had made me realize “women can do it, too.”
12. One thing I really appreciate about Red String is that all the characters “look” Japanese, unlike in some manga series where most of the characters appear Western. Can you talk about the politics/artistic decisions that go into that?
ANSWER: Thanks. I really have tried to create the atmosphere of Japan in my story and have done (and continue to do) a lot of research for the story. I chose to write a story for Americans about Japan and Japanese society and while I can never claim to know all there is to know about a society outside of my own, I try my best with the knowledge I have obtained. Some people complain that it’s set in Japan since I am not Japanese, but I always counter with the fact that Leiji Matsumoto didn’t live in space to write “Galaxy Express 999.” You don’t always have to be a citizen of someplace to write about it, right?
13. That’s very true. How do you do your research?
ANSWER: I have a few different methods for doing my research. Obviously, there is the internet which is vast and full of information. I have read many books on the culture and tradition of the Japanese society. And, while I have never personally been to Japan, a good handful of my friends have been there, some for extensive periods of time. One of those friends taught in Japan for four years and I was able to obtain a great deal of knowledge and insight from her about the Japanese school system and the students there. More than once she’s looked over my scripts and helped correct something I had yet to learn about Japan. It has definitely helped me move the story in a more realistic way.
14. It looks like we’re at an incredibly tense moment in the comic right now! Can you speak to the creative decisions that went into the layout/pacing of Kazuo and Miharu’s first time? I thought it was very true to the character to have Miharu grab a condom.
ANSWER: While I was planning out the story, this particular subplot kept getting moved back, but that was okay with me because I needed to build up Kazuo’s story more at the time. I wanted it to be a very slow build up to their first time. Miharu has always been the dominant one in the relationship so it felt right that she was initiating the situation and she was the one to grab the condom. I definitely wanted to include the condom scene. It’s something that is often overlooked or ignored in comics, movies, and other storytelling media. I think part of the problem is that it can be an awkward addition to a love scene if not done right. But luckily, it was Miharu and Kazuo’s first time so everything was a bit awkward anyway.
15. What other issues of sexuality do you think the comic will be exploring? Will Fuuko and her lady love be having a first time anytime soon?
ANSWER: So far, only Miharu and Kazuo have explored a sexual relationship in the series. Fuuko has only just begun to get to know her new girlfriend so time will only tell where they go. (Sorry, can’t go into spoiler land here.) However, I can say that one of my goals with Red String is to explore as many types of love as possible whether it’s platonic, romantic, parental or other.
16. Where do you find inspiration for your characters’ personalities?
ANSWER: Experience in my own life is a big influence on the characters’ personalities. I’ve taken bits from my own personal feelings, encounters with others that I’ve experienced, and my knowledge of Japanese society. Granted, I do the best I can with the last on that list. I am constantly researching for this story and that helps with writing each character.
17. What is your brainstorming/ writing process like?
ANSWER: Haphazard? I dunno. That’s a hard question. Sometimes, things will hit me like a bolt of imagination lightening. Other times I will stare for an hour at my computer screen trying to come up with the right dialog or scene to fit into a chapter. Creativity is like that.
18. What do you look for in a good webcomic?
ANSWER: I enjoy long-format stories, or serial comics and what I look for most is excellent character development. If I don’t care about the characters, I don’t really connect with the comic and don’t read it. I always read the funnies in newspapers while growing up, but never missed them if I didn’t read them. I feel the same way about most gag-comics, but there are one or two that I do read and the reason for that is the same reason I read other comics… character development. Even if it manages to make me laugh out loud (which is rare for a comic strip), if the characters don’t grab me I will quickly give up reading it.
19. What do you view as being the core tenets of a Strawberry Comics creator?
ANSWER: I would say we all believe in a good worth ethic, being a
romantic at heart, and overall working for good character development
20. When you are feeling absolutely drained on writing and drawing, what do you like to do to get rejuvenated? I understand from your blog that you’ve recently had a really tough time.
ANSWER: Do you really want to know about the mental rollercoaster of artists and writers block? Well, when I hit a block or get overwhelmed, I stress out quite a bit. There’s no telling how long it will last, but the extra stress starts with feeling that now that I’ve hit the block that I’m getting behind in my work. I start feeling like I’ll never be inspired to work again. I think those are normal feelings for block, though. What finally fixes things is just relaxing. It usually gets jump-started again with the art. I’ll stare at my art desk hoping for inspiration and finally just start to draw for fun, whether it’s fan art or something else that isn’t work related. It brings the relaxing aspect back to the art and then I can ease back into working both with my art and writing. It always feels
great when you realize you’re back in the swing of things.
Posts in this Series
- 20 on the 20th — Featuring Paul Taylor from Wapsi Square!
- 20 on the 20th — Gina Biggs from Red String