At Supanova Sydney 2013 we were able to snag an interview with Queenie Chan, an Australian Manga Artist and author of popular manga series The Dreaming. We discussed her past and future works as well as her thoughts on the industry as a whole. Read on for the full interview with Queenie Chan.
CC: Thank you for sitting down with us today! Can you tell us how you got into making manga?
Queenie Chan: Sure! Well I was eighteen when I got into an Informations Systems Degree at the University of New South Wales and I didn’t really enjoy it. What I really wanted to do was become a manga artist, but back then it was just a pipe dream because nobody else I knew was making comics or even what sold in Australia. So I thought well I’ll just do this in my spare time as a hobby – an escape from my degree.
By the time I graduated it was a really bad market for IT people like me, so that was when I found about a company in L.A. called Tokyopop. At the time they were looking for international artists to submit their stuff. Back then I spent about four years of my time refining my work and doing it as a hobby and I thought this could be a good chance to see if I could make it as a manga artist. That is where I first got my foot in the door.
CC: So where did your inspiration to become a manga artist come from?
QC: It all started when I was reading a copy of Rurouni Kenshin when I was seventeen. I was really a huge fan of that series all through my teenage years. I’m not as much anymore though. I guess you like some things as a teen and you look back when your older and think well that was nice and all but.. [laughs] But yeah, honestly that series is what made me want to draw and write my own stories. First it was kind of awkward trying to adjust to things because I hadn’t really drawn things like this before except for in things like school projects. But that was when it clicked, it was then that I sat down and gave this thing a real proper go and that was it.
CC: The Dreaming was your first manga. How did you come up with the concept of The Dreaming and how did you go about getting it published?
QC: To be honest, I was pitching at Tokyopop for quite a while. I had so many stories, like a romantic comedy and an action adventure, but there was just nothing that they really wanted. So in the end they suggested that I do a haunted school story, it was like a spec pitch. They gave me a topic and told me to come up with the best story I could based around that topic. It was a very unusual way of doing things, but through that I pitched The Dreaming. They liked it and that was how I got my first published series.
Back then it was a really tense and difficult time for me because there was nothing I did that they seemed to like. That feeling was really terrible but in the end when they said to try a haunted school story, I decided that maybe I should show some Australian culture off and they really liked it. So that was how The Dreaming got done.
CC: Did you feel that there was difficulty become a manga artist through Tokyopop because you were from Australia?
QC: I think it did play a role. Mostly because it is so hard to get people to talk to you sometimes when your in Australia. So yeah, that was a slight disadvantage for me, because well people can’t just pick up the phone and talk to you and Americans can be kind of insular when it comes to what they like to read. For example a lot of my readers just thought I was American until I corrected them. The sad truth is though industry-wise, people really prefer you to be over there and working in the American comics industry. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying it was a huge disadvantage, but perhaps I had missed opportunities, but I really won’t ever know. But I like to think that I have done pretty well for myself regardless.
CC: So recently Tokyopop kinda went under…
QC: Not just recent! [laughs]
CC: Yeah it has been a while now hasn’t it? [laughs] Has that affected you in any way?
QC: Luckily for me I finished my book series with them before they went under. I got the collected version of The Dreaming out and that sold quite well – the was fine – then they went under. [laughs] I was actually one of the luckier ones who made my escape before they really took a rollercoaster down hill. I’m honestly glad that it didn’t affect me like it did to other people. It is really terrible what happened. I think that comic book companies imploding – at least with the Americans – isn’t all that uncommon these days. You see it all the time, it is a very volatile market, not a huge market either. It really all happens in cycles, things just come in cycles.
CC: Okay, could you tell us a little about your work with Dean Koontz?
QC: Yeah sure. That is what got me away from Tokyopop actually. When I finished The Dreaming I started working with the company Del Rey who were doing graphic novel versions of Dean Koontz best-selling series and I guess I was managed to be chosen, I don’t know why, I think he probably looked at The Dreaming. Then he asked me to do that and I did three separate books which are all prequels to the Odd Thomas series and they have been very popular, fans really love Odd Thomas.
CC: Del Rey actually merged with Kodansha Comics, has that affected the Dean Koontz books at all?
QC: Yeah it has. I think it’s to do with Random House the company that owns Kodansha. I think that the publishing industry is really shrinking over the past five years and this merger thing has probably been going on in the background all along. Not just for Del Rey but for a lot of book imprints that are publishing. It’s not just a matter of Del Rey, but all manga publishers are shrinking in certain ways. But are my books affected, yes they are if you think about it in the long-run it does have some effect. I remember though back when I was working with Dean Koontz on them there were no problems at all. It was only after I went onto my next book that it all went, well you know… Since I no longer work with them I can’t talk about what they’re like now because I no longer know.
CC: Okay, so what are you working on at the moment?
QC: I just finished a book with an author called Kylie Chan, she is very popular here in Australia. She has this chinese fantasy book series called White Tiger, it is like an action fantasy adventure. It really has got a little bit of everything in it. She has got seven books out right now and she is onto the eighth. She has also got this one called Small Shen. [pulls out the book and shows it to us] It is really cool and tells you all about what happened with the characters before the story.
I actually made a graphic novel version of the book with her which is a mix of prose and comics so that was really interesting. Her book was just too long to adapt into a graphic novel so we thought to adapt parts of it into comic and left the rest as prose. You know it was a big hit actually, it sold really well. I never realised that people would be so interested in like a hybrid like this. That led to what I’m doing now, I just put a pitch to my agent for a hybrid book, its got its pros and cons, but its interesting.
CC: What else would you say is lying ahead for you in the future after this?
QC: Well depends on whether my new book series gets picked up, of course I hope it does. But you know, we shall see! My agent is on holiday right now so… [laughs] You know how these things are!
CC: So I see you’ve got a book here called Legend of Zelda: The Edge and The Light. [pointing to book on table] You gotta tell me about this one!
QC: [laughs] Yeah of course! It is a fan-fiction that I have been drawing on the internet. After I finished Kylie’s book, I thought maybe people are interested in more of this sort of thing, but I don’t know, I’ve got to test the market still. Her readers are mostly prose readers and they are fine with this – they love it. But the question is will comic book readers accept this type of thing.
So what I did was, I decided to do a fan-fiction to find out, I based it on the Legend of Zelda series because it is well-known and well I like it, people love it. I thought that it would be a good way to get an online audience. I started putting it online at various places and thankfully a lot of comic book readers are responding to it very well, they love it. So now I know that my comic book readers aren’t gonna complain and wonder what is up with all the prose in here.
CC: What is your Legend of Zelda fan-fiction all about? How different is it from the series itself?
QC: Well I went out and tried to combine a number of different story elements from all the different Zelda games. There is far less of an exploration element and more of a character element. Link especially is very hard to do, as you’d know about the Zelda series, Link is a silent protagonist. Giving him a good personality was my biggest priority with writing this fan-fiction. It was really a lot of fun doing my own interpretation of the Zelda characters and seeing how things go from there. The fans like my interpretations so that’s great, that’s the most important thing.
CC: Would you say it was a challenge portraying Link as a silent protagonist like in the games?
QC: Not as big as I thought it would be. The biggest challenge for me was getting the comics and prose hybrid thing to work right. I started working on this right after I started working on this right after I started the pitch for my book series and I hadn’t done much of this on my own so I thought it was best to start working on a single story first to see how things go. But that was that and well it has been quite a fun experience, not quite as hard as I thought it would be. Oh one moment… [fan approaches and purchases a copy of Legend of Zelda: The Edge and The Light]
CC: You just made a sale! People are liking it, it is like we are doing a sales pitch for it right now. [laughs]
QC: [laughs] Yeah just us talking about it. But nah I’m not going to go and pitch this series. The real pitch is for my other original stories I’m working on!
CC: Can you give us a hint on what sort of stories you are working on?
QC: I don’t know. I guess I’ve got some sort of superstition about this sort of thing. [laughs] I probably shouldn’t say, I’ll have to talk to my agent about it. But who knows really, I have confidence in what I’m doing with this pitch, but if the first person to read this says it sucks well then you know… But I’ll say it is completely different to things like the Zelda fan-fiction, I don’t think it is right to repackage fan-fiction and try to sell it as if it were something original. To me it crosses the line of ethics, which I’m not willing to do, but that is a completely different story.
CC: Okay, if you could tell any kind of story in your manga – free of publisher’s approval or anything like that – what kind of story would you like to tell?
QC: It is probably the story that I’m pitching right now. [laughs]
CC: But you can’t say anything about it! [laughs]
QC: Unfortunately no I can’t say anything!
CC: So the one you are working on now is the story you’ve always wanted to tell?
QC: Well at different times there was stories that I thought I always wanted to tell, like when I was a teen. But as you get older you look at what you thought was cool as a teen and you think that maybe you don’t want to do that story ever. [laughs] You realise it was cool back then but now you can do better. I think it is better if you start all over again because it is a reflection of you as a person and how you have grown. You know you get more mature and you like different things.
CC: One last question. If you had any advice for someone who wanted to become a manga artist like you, what would it be?
QC: Perserverence. As I said earlier it is not uncommon for comics companies to go bust in this industry and that can be really disparaging when the market contracts like it is now. It sucks when the avenues in which you could have gotten published are now gone. I don’t really know what to tell people when they ask me this, but all I can say is that if you keep drawing then opportunities will always come along. It is a matter of whether you’re prepared when they come along. If you are prepared then seize it. Unfortunately if you are not prepared it doesn’t make a difference if you try to seize it because you won’t have the skills to do so. My advice is to work at it. Keep going until you get it.
CC: Great advice! Thank you so much for your time. It has been great talking to you.
QC: It has been great talking to you too, thank you.
You can check out Queenie Chan’s official website here for more information on her books and Legend of Zelda fan-fiction. You can also follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook for all the latest updates on her work.