I spoke with cartoonist Hwan Cho in regard to an upcoming Women in Comics show in Worcester, MA, and I thought I would put the complete interview up here and do some sharing since I enjoyed talking to Hwan and like her work a lot. Hwan is poised to begin the web comic KGB with her friend Becky Cloonan — that starts on September 9, 2009. Along with Cloonan and cartoonist Melissa DeJesus, she constitutes Estrigious, a cartooning collective that collaborates in various forms. You can find a lot of Hwan’s great work on her Comicspace page.
J: Tell me a little bit about KGB.
H: That comic is something that me and Becky, we thought of the idea almost 10 years ago as a fun project and it was based on our interest in Korean pop culture, because we thought it was ridiculous — it was fun and it was cute. We decided to see if we could do a web comic on it, but I think 10 years ago, we were also still in school, we were also, you could say, still kind of young in regard to the comics field, things like that, so we couldn’t really organize ourselves to make that into a comic. It feels like now we’re a little bit more mature — we definitely know which direction we want to go in with the comics and art in general. Plus we though it would be a fun project to revisit and to just share our stories with everybody else.
J: Does it follow this one band or will it have a wider scope?
H: It’s basically focused on that one band, but each story arc they’re going to be going against other bands, or they’ll have members changing in their group, things like that.
J: Are you using the same stories you came up with 10 years ago or are you just revisiting the characters and situation with hindsight?
H: We’re going with the general idea we had 10 years ago, just have fun with the idea of doing a comic about a popular band, like a rap poppy band, but I think we may have added some things a little here and there, but I don’t think we changed too much from our original idea.
J: It looks like it’s going to be fun — is it going to be a weekly thing?
H: Yeah, we plan on putting it up every Wednesday.
J: Have you and Becky collaborated in this way before?
H: This is the first time we’ve actually collaborated on a comic, but we have worked together over the years. Either we collaborated on doing our work together on our web site — with Melissa, as well — and I think earlier when we first started, us as a group, we collaborated at self-publishing books, our books and we made our own anthology. And we made our own movie. It’s just been a long period of time since we did it, so it’s just been recently, like the last year or so, that we decided to do more collaborations.
J: Is KGB going to be a big test for you?
H: It’s already been a big test, especially since I’m not used to trying to do a comic strip every week. The previous collaboration I did was in terms of helping print out a book or just helping color this or that, but with KGB, both of us are doing equal art chores. Both of us are illustrating — we worked on one style that both of us could mimic so that it’s not just one person drawing and one person writing. It’s the two of us, we’re both drawing it, we’re both coloring it, we’re both writing it, we’re both getting together and picking out the next story arc. Becky’s done monthly comics, so she’s already disciplined to do a certain page a week and to do things on deadline, so working with her has been a good challenge, because I’m trying to meet her standards, I’m trying to meet the standards of doing a weekly comic. It’s a challenge and a good thing.
J: It sounds like an easy way of getting starting on this sort of thing and testing the waters.
H: Yeah, especially since I don’t have that extra hour or that extra day to work on my own thing.
J: When you and Becky split up the work, are you trading off panel or splitting panels or how does that work?
H: Maybe one of us or both of us will sketch out a page. It’s basically like we’re going back and forth. One of us will finish pencilling something and then the other will ink a little bit, or maybe I’ll ink a little bit and she’s color a little bit. It’s just basically going back and forth.
J: How did your collective of three come about?
H: The group Estrogeous was an idea that we thought of back when we were all going to school at SVA. We just wanted a group, to have friends who would be with us and support our artwork, to work with, something like that. That was the general idea, just a group of us to get together, to draw, to help each other out, to support each other.
J: Did you find that there was safety or power in numbers in regard to being newcomers in comics and being women in comics?
H: I think it kind of helped. Even before we got together and before we became friends, in general we all wanted to do comics, we all wanted to be in that industry, but once we got together it did help that there were other women with us who also had the same dreams as we did, who also wanted to do comics.
J: Has your gender ever had an effect on your experience in comics? Or has it just never mattered at all?
H: I wanted to go into comics ever since I was a little kid, sometime when I was 11 or 12 years old, and back then I was never like, ‘Oh, no, I’m a woman and I want to get into comics,’ I was just like, ‘I want to get into comics because this is something I love and something I do.’ I follow that belief even to this day — I don’t see that because I’m a woman I can’t do things. And the Internet helps a lot, because it helped me realize that there are a lot of other women cartoonists out there who probably feel the same way I do — we’re all doing this because we love it. I never felt the intimidation like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m a woman, so I can’t get into this industry.’
J: You said X-Men #1 was the one that convinced you that you wanted to do comics.
H: It was the one that Chris Claremont and Jim Lee did — I must have been 11 or 12 when it came out.
J: It seems like a fairly recent realization for a lot of people that there were girls out there who liked superhero comics — and not just girlie superhero comics. Before you got online and discovered other women cartoonists, did you have much contact with other girls who liked comics?
H: With the lack of Internet at the time, I didn’t know that there were any women’s communities that liked comics, so growing up I was definitely pulled into comics because there was something about the idea of art and writing mixing together to form a story — that’s how I fell into it. With the characters in the comics that I read, which were mostly Marvel Comics — for some reason, I couldn’t get into Wonder Woman, I thought that she was just a cheesy character — I just loved the fact that in comics, even though the women wore skimpy outfits, they were very strong individuals. They had super powers and everything and they looked hot! They were empowered! That’s the idea I took away from comics — I never thought that comics were objectifying women. I guess I grew up with that idea.
H: I didn’t know a lot of people who were interested in comics when I was growing up. I was the only person I knew who was interested in comics until I got into college and met Becky and everybody else — and pretty much around that time was the Internet boom, so that’s when I started discovering that there are other people out there who grew up with the same things I was into who were also into comics.
J: When you do shows, do you meet girls who want to be cartoonists?
H: Actually, I haven’t been to shows in a long time, but I was teaching comics a year or two ago at a community college and what I noticed from when I was growing up to this present day was that there were more girls interested in comics. I see more girls wanting to go into comics and when I go to the few conventions I do go to, I see a bigger presence of women. I definitely see more women in comics and I’ve been surprised by how many women are now getting into comics, whether it’s American comics or the Japanese influenced versions or anything like that. I was actually surprised that there are so many out there now and I think that’s a good thing.
J: It has seemed to me that Manga getting big in America was the real tipping point for girls getting interested in comics, in that it was a high profile, mainstream way to highlight that comics could be used with loads of different subject matter beyond the traditional superhero stuff.
H: Yeah, I think it’s definitely invited more women to feel more comfortable reading comics. I grew up with superhero comics, but as I grew older, I felt that there was so much you could do with this genre. At that time, without Internet, you basically read what you get from the comic book stores and that was all superhero comics, so that’s what I was fed when I was a kid. Growing up I felt that there should be more to this medium and it wasn’t until I discovered the Japanese comics — that helped me, especially because there are stories that are specifically geared towards women. That opened my eyes that comics can go in a different direction — it doesn’t always have to be superheroes. So in a sense, it’s a good thing that the whole Manga thing is a big hit here in America, especially since I think that more girls are going to that because they find that they like the stories, they like the pictures.
J: Where do you see yourself going with your work? What kinds of stories do you see yourself doing as you move along?
H: It’s hard for me to say, because I don’t really do comics regularly. KGB will be my first venture into doing a serious regular comic. It’s pretty hard because I have a full time job and doing that in addition to trying to do the comic workload is impossible for me. I think mostly just doing more short stories, more collaborations — I think it’s just easier for me to do more collaborations. I just like writing stories that I would enjoy reading, so it could be fantasies or dramas or comedies. I guess I could go any direction because I’m not in that place where I’m doing comics for somebody else, I’m doing them for myself.