Superheroes and comic books have come a long way from tights, capes, and angelically noble heroes.
With the incredible popularity of superheroes through film, television, and literature, the genre has in turn developed into a robust umbrella category that is reliant as much on the content as the medium used.
The societal shift of looking at comic books as bodega shop pick-ups to graphic novels worthy of scholarly analysis, shows how pervasive stories of heroes are to the culture, as well as the importance of mixed media…we need pictures as much as we need words!
Our hungry ADD/ADHD brains crave information and the beautiful thing about graphic novels and comics is their ability to affect us on varying levels through image and text with the possibility of ending up on a film screen providing another layer of interpretation.
So what’s up readers?
We’ve mentioned in previous pieces the idea of doing interviews with self-starters in our community.
The bottom line is that with the internet and media connecting the world in a more deep and direct way, society has become more focused on the creator and their story than the creation itself.
In saying this, we decided to interview Austin Chuck-Yin, a local homie looking to make it big as a writer, specifically a comic book writer.
Equipped with skills from a background in dramatic arts, business savvy, and of course very refined creative writing, Austin produced his debut comic, Lady of Wrath in 2017 alongside seasoned illustrator Oliver Castenada.
Using a Kickstarter page, some strategic connections in the comic book/graphic novel industry, and stellar communication skills, Austin is pushing this amazing story of vengeance, perseverance, and female bad-assery with the hopes of making it to your bookshelf.
Seeing his entrepreneurial spirit and passion for uninhibited creativity, we had to check in and get his views on comic books, his work, and how he chooses to push the envelope.
1. Who were you before becoming a comic book writer?
So basically I was just always a fan of comic books. And even before that I was a fan of words… I loved hip-hop and I loved creative writing. Nas, Kool G Rap, Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks, Apathy of Demigods and Army of the Pharaohs, oh and Pharaoh Monche from Organized Konfusion… I really love those guys. I used to write my own raps. I used to love writing dramatic pieces as well. Like sketches, because in high school I did 3 years of drama classes and that was super fun. And so, getting a job working at a comic book store was great because I was just reading all the time. I decided to just challenge myself and tried to write a comic book and see where that goes. So before that I was just a fan that wanted to see where I could put writing skills into.
2. Describe the shift in your lifestyle, personality, and outlook on society during the metamorphosis from corporate to comic?
So the thing is like I was always like a geek, and so going into like business school, I was kind of out of my league. Like I didn’t think thoroughly about transitioning from high-school to university and I didn’t have my future like planned out. I was very purposeless back then and happened to have taken all these business courses. It was such a different environment for me. So many people that I worked with had a corporate mentality, and I found myself just adapting to everyone else’s environment. I feel like I was just the same person, just the same happy go-lucky geek, just trying to find and discover new things about myself.
But I do have to credit university, for developing my love for comic books because between classes I would go to Indigo and Chapters and that’s where I would spend my time, and then I went to BMV and that’s where I just read everything. And then I found about like individual issues like comic books. So like, it was the downtown scene where the comic books are at, that’s where I fell in love with it. To answer your question, I was never really too corporate to begin with. It was just me trying to fit in with that realm and the people around me. I had to fake it till I made it. And then I graduated, and I was really glad to finally be done. While I don’t hope to go into business, studying it in the setting I was in definitely helped me look deeper about what I really wanted to do and be.
3. How did you learn or develop the writing skills needed for comic writing specifically, and what are some of those skills?
Honestly, like the easiest way I learned to write was just by, it was just reading a lot. And consuming a lot of entertainment, especially TV series. I love TV! And I realize I need to watch everything in subtitles, because when you see the words, you see the writer’s perspective. If you read and watch everything in subtitles, it’s like reading the script first-hand. I was able to just consume and consume so much television. This helped me tell myself that I can do this too. I really motivated myself to write something.
I was also inspired by certain stories in comic books where I was so blown away that I had to do more research on the writers behind the story. Looking into the lifestyles of my favourite writers, they’ve also inspired me to write as well. So you just have to like how I learned to write it’s just by, you just have to write. Like you just have to do it! You have to do it first. And then you just see what works and what doesn’t. Talking to my team and myself, talking to my friends, and seeing if this or that sticks on the wall became a daily routine along with pushing myself to write every day.
4. What is your creative process? How do you get in the zone to write?
I always had this creative energy, and I let it build up and let it out like word vomit. I pull up a Microsoft Word document and just jot out all my ideas. Absolutely everything! Just word vomit all over. After that I kind of organize it into a working Google document with concept art. I’m just all over Pinterest, or like, different artist pages. Scrolling through galleries and saving all the photos into like different folders helps a lot. If you see my laptop, I have a bunch of things that inspire me to write.
Just looking at different artwork that resonates, it inspires me to build a mental story around the image. A picture is worth a thousand words, and I really believe in that. With that in mind, many ideas come out by using these images as triggers. And so with all these different ideas attached to certain pictures, I try to weave them all together into an actual story.
So my process is basically, no music, sit alone, drink tea, and start gathering all this word vomit and tighten it into a script format that people can understand and read. I keep doing that until I have 5 scripts, because 5 scripts equals 5 issues which is one story arc. That is what I did to write the first script for Lady of Wrath. It took a long time initially because I had to learn different shots, like a movie director, when they are story boarding and have to differentiate a full shot, bust shot, head shot, different angles, all of which I had to implement them in my mind.
5. Lady of Wrath is the feature comic that you have with you today that is also found on your Kickstarter page.
Among the amazing visuals that I can see here on first glance, I noticed the small blurb on the Kickstarter stating that it is “a fiction-fantasy story about revenge, self-realization and accepting your past rather than running away from it”.
Talk to me if you can very briefly about the plot around this but more importantly these themes you mentioned and why you chose to focus on them.
So, let’s look at the idea of revenge. It is an action based off of someone who did you wrong and it triggers this very angry negative emotion, causing you to do things in a blind rage. For Maria Crossheart, she was wronged when her father was ripped away from her at a very young age and she was traumatized by this and which ignites a fire for her to enact this story of revenge and that’s really the first part of this story.
Then it is the journey to self-realization that really propels this narrative. Realizing that revenge was not worth it in that it did not fix the pain or help to remedy the past is an interesting development in Lady of Wrath because it allows for the protagonist to then redefine themselves. Maria’s path from revenge to self-realization and then to re-define herself against the backdrop of blood, guts, and crazy fight scenes is how this comic book can really draw you in.
I really like these 3 themes stringed together because for me it was really relatable, and that’s what I really wanted to see in this character. Seeing Maria very human, and making human mistakes, is something any reader can totally relate to in terms of doing something really stupid and in the end knowing they shouldn’t have and the only option is to accept it and confront the true demons. This relatability in human flaw was part of the pitch as well because creating a character that anyone can identify was a big priority for this story.
6. I can’t get over some of these pictures. Talk to me about the choice to go black and white. As a fan of that style, I feel like it really emphasizes the dichotomy of light and dark but how about you tell me your thinking process around the art design and how a writer goes about collaborating with an illustrator.
So I didn’t have an idea of how the comic book would look like at first. I left it all up to the artist, to Oliver Castenada. With his talent and resume, I wanted him to interpret the script however he wanted to, and it was really important to me that he had that creative freedom to do whatever he wanted, as long as he still stuck with the script. So this is the style he came up with, and it’s a very anime and manga inspired aesthetic given the black and white colour-way.
So obviously I ideally wanted colour. I love color so much, and the choice of black and white was basically because we couldn’t find a colorist who can do true justice to this art. And it was either that or that or the colorist was way too expensive for us. So we tried 3 different colorists, 2 of which were local ones who didn’t really hit the mark for my vision. That being said, I love these guys as colorists but when I had a specific image in mind, I could not compensate. The third was a really expensive guy from the Philippines who’s worked with DC comics and was charging 120 USD per page! It was way out of our budget, so I chose to just keep it black and white.
All the intricate detail that Oliver puts into his inking is what I, and readers ultimately love the most. The art sells on its own, and Lady of Wrath was to showcase what Oliver’s capable of doing, because there’s a difference between artists who can do just covers, and artists who can do interior artwork. Interior artwork is so challenging and impressive, because you have different angles you have to incorporate, so many different elements to capture the motion and tone of a scene and on top of that, you have to make room for the lettering and text as well.
So there are a lot of different little micro skills that you have to know about being an interior artist as opposed to just doing a cover. A cover is also important because it’s the face of the comic book, people will judge a book by its cover but as a writer, I concede that I’m always valuing a great interior artist like Oliver Castenada because really, it’s like the meat of the comic book right?
People are more immersed because there’s so much more detail in his art especially, even though there’s not that much color to work with. You just got black and white. I think, readers are able to just immerse themselves into the story, without that as many distractions. Just pure detail.
7. Let’s look at writing for a female protagonist’s perspective as a male. Is it even a conscious thought to consider the gender roles?
You know, basically the short answer is that I was inspired by male writers who are still able to write a strong and bad-ass female character. That really created a trajectory for what I was able to do in the creative process. So Brian Azzarello’s work on Wonder Woman was something that definitely resonated with me a lot because of his individual take on one of the most popular female characters and just building this world around her and while still being human, having human qualities but reinforcing her strength as the God of War.
So you take this strong and bad-ass female character and still have weaknesses or flaws driven more by character than gender stereotypes. I was also very much inspired by Studio Ghibli’s products like Spirited Away also with a spunky female protagonist as well as Princess Mononoke. I loved both of those films especially for having a female character, because you just never see female lead characters. This is true in comic books as well, especially in independent comic books and so I really wanted to tackle that gap and have her as a strong and brutal assassin. In a fictional fantasy world where my pen is the final word, there are no gender roles. Anyone can be whoever they want, and so people are not really used to female assassins as lead protagonists in fiction fantasy (without some overt sexualization), so that’s what I wanted to do.
I wanted to differentiate myself, differentiate the story and differentiate the writing of it. I had five scripts out and one of my editors stated that my protagonist Maria Leita is the only female character so far, and that I should have more female characters. Realizing this, I had this other bounty hunter character, a male android bounty hunter to be specific, and we decided to gender swap this character! It’s just a testament to saying there are no intrinsic gender roles, and anyone can be whoever they want. It’s fiction fantasy, and as a writer you have the creative freedom to do whatever you want and that includes taking shots at dated views of society and people.
8. If you don’t mind putting your businessman hat on again for a brief moment, talk about the current state of the comic book/graphic novel industry and how you plan to storm the scene in Toronto.
So right now, Marvel and DC are clearly the biggest players in the game. With Marvel having its reach of millions of people because of their movies, it brings flocks of people to the comic book store I work at. Like right now people want Black Panther stuff, and so that’s where trade paper-backs and graphic novels come into play to differentiate the industry.
What a trade paper-back and a graphic novel is basically, is a compilation of issues. So let’s say for Black Panther, the Volume 1 compiles issues of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Volume 2 would be 6,7,8,9,10 and so on and so forth. Individual issues come out first and then they get recollected into a trade paper-back, and then it becomes progressively harder to collect individual issues. Prices across the board then spike with the hype, such as Black Panther 1, which is like a $20 book. While these releases are mainly for collectors, for people who just want to read, that’s where trade paper backs come into play, making them a great idea for new comers leaving individual issues to the collectors.
With regards to Lady of Wrath, it is an independent comic book and I think the Toronto scene is really supportive of indie comic books. With different events like the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) which is a celebration of indie comic books, and a growing amount of indie book and comic book shops, the city’s creative hub is certainly a luxury. I was able to attend TCAF the last two years, where they bring a bunch of different artists and writers who are new or already established in the game, promoting their own, creator-owned products.
Toronto is the place to be and I learned this especially while showing the Lady of Wrath issue at FanExpo and being in the Artist Alley. Some people just go to FanExpo just for the Artist Alley, just to see what the local and prominent talent fair and I couldn’t thank them enough for giving me a space. It’s such a well-respected and supportive community within the convention scene, that I’m free to create my own sales pitch without judgement. The growth of the city and the genre, make Toronto a great place to be.
I guess, coming from a business background, like I explained to you guys earlier, I was able to apply like ability to pitch ideas from marketing and entrepreneurship classes to comic books. Learning salesmanship and integrating my drama classes as well, helps being able to communicate, project yourself and just be confident in what you’re saying to convey the passion of what you’re selling as well. You have to believe in what your selling! And because I put this together, I put my heart into it, people can see the passion behind my words or my pitching. So mixing all that, all the stuff I’ve learned from Ryerson was able to help put together, and sell this comic book.
So there’s a creative process to make it and there’s the business aspect to actually sell it. Unfortunately, a lot of creatives in this industry lack that ability to sell and are a bit too introverted. Looking back, at certain conventions you see people just sitting with heads down with their product out, and those are the people that lack the salesmanship that could increase the amount of time a passerby lingers around your work for a precious few extra moments. For me I’m standing, I’m bringing customers and attendees in, pitching the book as much as I can. No matter if I sound like a broken record, I just keep doing it. Even if they reject me, that’s fine, just move on to the next person. I just don’t want to make a comic and just like keep it to me and my friends. I want to use my skills to expand to a bigger audience. That’s my take on the business.
9. If there was a real life societal problem that you wanted to explicitly target in an upcoming story, what would it be?
So during my undergrad, I took this liberal arts course about sexuality and just tackling issues of the LGBTQ+ community. Being in that class really opened up my eyes to the LGBTQ+ community and all the issues they have to deal with and so I really want to focus on the the idea of coming out. I can’t express how much I think it’s so brave and courageous for someone to just be able to accept themselves and just blatantly go against the norm. Not being afraid to be who they are is a power I think a lot of people can admire. And so I think coming out is just a strong expression of self. Someday, I really want to incorporate this subject matter within the next issues for sure.
10. So, what’s in store for the future?
For 2018, hopefully I can mimic what I did for 2017, with just a few more goals. So again, push my work at FanExpo, in September, launch Lady of Wrath issue 2, and continuing to bring different artists on board doing my covers. I also applied for this grant called Creators for Creators, and it’s basically compiled by artists and writers who work in Image Comics. They put together this grant for people who are creating their own comic book and if you get selected, not only do you get a $30,000 fund to put together your comic book, you get to work with a writer or artist of your choosing, and be published under Image as well!
I applied at the start of the year, deadline was just March 31, so if I ever hear back from them, that would be the biggest win – it’ll definitely jump start my career in comic books. That would help so much. Hopefully I hear back from them soon, let’s see. I am pushing new merchandise as well like this shirt I have on today, and I am putting out a new website as well. And after that, towards the end of the year, I’ll just do a bunch of showings, back to back to back, from the summer onward including conventions, libraries, schools, and whatever new opportunity arises I’m always down.
11. So the Omelette is an extended metaphor for the way in which people are able to integrate aspects of culture together as various ingredients and seasonings to make one piece of digestible creative experience.
My last question for you is… how do you like your eggs?
Ha ha definitely scrambled. I just love the chaos of it all! But in the end it just tastes so well… and just put some ketchup on that, and I’m good to go.
Jeez Austin, you have a lot going on. Thanks a lot for taking the time to interview with us. In the future, some brews and vinyl is a must for sure. It was an inspiring and informative conversation, and we are more than proud to have a small peak at your journey. Wishing you the best of success moving forward, and to our readers, check this dude and Lady of Wrath out whenever you get the chance.