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Queenie Chan: Manga artist

Queenie ChanAustralian manga artist Queenie Chan talks to The Pulse about the changing manga industry, her influences and what it’s like not having a “real job”.

You started out studying to be a computer programmer but ended up writing
and drawing manga. How did that happen and do your parents ever ask you when you’re going to get a real job?
I started drawing manga as a hobby in university, so when I graduated with an IT degree in 2002 and couldn't find a job, turning my hobby into a job seemed like the next logical step. It was a matter of good timing - in 2004, a company called TOKYOPOP that's based in LA sent out an international call for manga artists, and that's how I got my foot in the door. Through them, I got my first 3-book series published, and that's about when my parents stopped asking me to get a "real" job. They ask now when I'm going to get a "different" job.
coverIt’s cool that you have online stories available through your website. What made you want to do that?
When I first started drawing, I wanted a story to tell rather than randomly drawing things. So I started writing stories in my head and then illustrating them in manga form. At first, it was to develop my story-writing and drawing skills, and it was really the only training I've ever had. It's been a great help, to be honest - doing a full-length book is alot of work, and without having done all those stories on my website, it's possible I wouldn't be able to do a 3-book series like The Dreaming (or what came after it).
You read a lot of manga when you were growing up but you’ve said that you’re more influenced by movies than by manga. How do you think that comes out in your books?
I like cinematic angles and detailed backgrounds. I also try and make my characters more naturalistic than cartoony (but the pendulum can swing the other way on other kinds of stories). I find that using movies as my inspiration helps me with the "flow" of the panels better than if I was using manga. Still, manga is highly cinematic in its story-telling anyway, so the two kind of overlap.
Are there specific movies that have really sparked you creatively?
I think Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy helps alot. I like his sweeping epic camera angles in that.
coverHave you noticed manga “audiences” have changed since you started reading them? Has it become more mainstream now?
When I first started reading manga as a kid, it was 1984 and in Hong Kong. Most people who read manga then were children, and they've grown up since then and onto more mature works. When I came to Australia, I continued my manga habit but never spoke to any of my friends about it, since I considered it a private hobby. However, the situation has changed radically now, with alot of children reading it, mostly because of anime being shown on television. It's definitely mainstream now.
Has that had any effect on the kinds of stories coming out?
Western companies tend to translate stories aimed at a teenage crowd, whereas the Chinese ones I read will translate anything and everything. The Western market is still a market in its infancy (literally), so yeah that affects people's perception of manga and what kind of audience it's aimed at. Hopefully this will change in the next few years as fans grow older and demand more mature entertainment.
Whose comic work do you enjoy?
I like reading the Vertigo line alot. "The Sandman", "Transmetropolitan", "Fables" and "Y:The Last Man" are some of my favourites from that line, though even the ones I don't like I'll still recommend since for me it's just a matter of taste, not quality.
You co-wrote “In Odd we trust” with Dean Koontz. How did that differ from writing your own stuff?
Dean rewrote 80 per cent of the script that I did, so it was me and him carving out the plot based on his work and characters, and him fixing up nearly all of the script after that. It was certainly weird… but it was fun working with someone else's characters. Still, it's Dean's work at the end of the day and he has full control over what I do.
coverIf you could choose anyone to collaborate with who would it be?
Probably the writers from Vertigo. I'd love to do something with Neil Gaiman or Warren Ellis (just like everybody else on the planet, really).
Even though manga in general is quite light on text compared to other genres of writing, having both writing and illustrating duties seems like it must be quite a lot of work. How long does it take you to finish a project from when you have the original idea to having it completed?
It takes anywhere from 8-10 months to finish a 160-180 page project, and if I'm collaborating with someone it'll take even longer due to the validation process and any other back and forth that happens with a collaboration. It IS a lot of work, most of it grunt work too, and it's especially a difficult slog after the first two-thirds of the book.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm currently finishing up a short series of one-page shots for a "Boy's Book of Positive Quotations", and also working on a sequel to "In Odd We Trust" (as illustrator this time). The sequel is due out in 2010, being a Halloween book, so I'm guessing it'll be the latter half of the year.

May 2009