Maiji/Mary Huang interview

Maiji/Mary Huang’s Now Recharging was just announced on GoComics at the end of September. I like the artwork, and I wanted to give the story a try. As I went through the comments on the first two pages, I was seeing the same pattern, with readers saying that they like what they’re seeing, then turning a little more impatient at having to wait a couple days to get past the splash pages. So, I found Maiji’s website and went through the archives for the first chapter of the story. Now Recharging is a manga-influenced series about a haphazard android named Emmie, and their less than successful attempts at finding their purpose in life. There’s a lot of light-hearted humor and child-like wonder in this comic that takes a bit of time to build up and establish itself. Be patient, Now Recharging is worth the wait.

BC: How often will NR update?
MMH: Now Recharging started in September, 2015, and continues to run there. The third chapter (numbered 2 thanks to my attempt at being clever with a chapter 0) just started September, 2016. Originally, updates were whenever I finished a page, but it’s since settled to twice a week, usually Mondays and Thursdays (sometimes I’ll stagger a post just to line it up with a certain date, like a holiday or an anniversary). The GoComics schedule is Mondays and Thursdays, starting from the very beginning of the comic.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
MMH: I’m a Taiwanese-Canadian artist and writer based out of Toronto. My name is rather common and has resulted in some identity confusion in the past. So in my creative work I go by “Maiji/Mary Huang”, or just Maiji. (The Maiji is a little squirrel-like creature I began drawing in elementary school that turned into a long-running in-joke with friends and family. It’s pretty much my avatar for everything!) This still seems to cause confusion at times in terms of name ordering, how many people I actually am, etc., but at least it’s a bit more distinct!

MMH: Mostly I think of myself as someone who loves communications – words, pictures, art, storytelling, design, media, language, books, etc. – and who makes things and babbles about stuff I like. I guess that counts as an artist! In some ways my creative work is “just” a hobby, as I have a different full-time job I also enjoy. But it’s really all a continuum of stuff I do. (I’ve written a long blog post on some of my thoughts on this, as well as how I work, for anyone who might be interested.)

MMH: I love comics in particular because they’re such a flexible, accessible and powerful communications medium. You don’t need anything fancy to tell an engaging and/or immersive story, and it always blows my mind how much you can do with it.

BC: How did you get your start then?
MMH: I’ve been drawing and reading comics for as long as I can remember. My sister is probably the reason I love both things so much. When we lived in Taiwan, my family had a manga rental store, so comics were simply a part of life growing up. I have lots of memories of my sister reading them to me, doing voices for all the characters.

MMH: My biggest break was being born. It’s easy to take that for granted, and it’s something I think about a lot (I realize this makes me sound like a blast at parties…) Next is having family and friends who are supportive of what I do, even if they don’t always necessarily understand it. It makes a world of difference! Then, probably my family coming to Canada – mainly because this event set the course for my experiences.

MMH: In terms of things more specific to comics, getting to exhibit at TCAF (the Toronto Comic Arts Festival) opened the door to many other things. This includes TCAF in Tokyo (exhibiting at Kaigai Manga Festa/Tokyo International Comic Festival and Design Festa); meeting and hanging out with other artists who really inspired me and helped me develop my thinking on where I want to go creatively; and this GoComics opportunity. I’m very excited – and a little nervous – to be able to share this little comic with more people!

(Nod, from the short story Sleeping Aid.)

BC: What led up to your starting Now Recharging?
MMH: Conceptually speaking, Now Recharging brings together various things that have bothered, amused, or comforted me for a long time. Even as a kid, existential fretting was and is something that comes all too naturally. Long story short, after working through a particularly intense bout of it last year, I ended up with the character of Emmie the android. The rest grew from there.

MMH: Technically speaking, I’ve always dreamed of creating a longer narrative comic, but I wasn’t sure if I could sustain something like that. I’ve made comics and zines for a long time, and I’ve also coordinated and participated in a couple of anthologies for Suddenly Sentai, a local comics collective of friends. These have largely been one-shots, not long-term projects. Now Recharging is the most involved thing I’ve been able to get off the ground to date. Right now there are over 100 completed pages in a box under my bed. Compared to many other creators’ outputs, that’s really nothing… but it’s something I never thought I’d manage, so I’m very proud of that!

(Zine cover for Wash my dreams with ink.)

MMH: Lately my creative focus and time has mostly been on Now Recharging, but I still have plans for other things. I do a couple of serial zines: My Life As A Maiji, which are silly autobio comics about my life, family and friends, and Wash My Dreams With Ink, which features brush pen stories, poetry and thoughts in comics form. A project of some sort about Taiwan has also been on my list for a while. I’m on the fence as to how much to talk about something before it’s realized. I’m a bit fickle. Sometimes talking about it seems to help make it happen, other times it just keeps getting deferred to eternity.

BC:What would you like people new to NR to know about it?
MMH: Now Recharging is intended to be like a collection of short stories, where each chapter – not always chronological – is relatively self-contained. The reader can assemble these pieces into a more unified vision of this world and these characters’ lives. (Think Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack.)

MMH: The central character, Emmie, is a rather scatterbrained robot who’s not really designed for any particular application. Like any person, they want to be useful and have purpose. Part of this story is about that search for meaning, as well as our own worries about what might – or might not – ultimately be behind it. And regardless of how much deep metaphysical talk you throw at something, life is still happening. This story is also about that: the ordinary, lovely little things about being alive in this world, and the people who accompany us on our journey. Chapter 2 introduces another robot, the other major character whose job and experiences will help add to Emmie’s perspective.

MMH: Many robot stories are more about ourselves than anything else – our own hopes and fears. My hope is to explore this in an amusing, charming, gentle way. There are specific things I’ve planned for, but there’s definitely some making stuff up as I go along, too.

BC: Why a sheep (Emmie’s stuffed toy)?
MMH: As for why sheep – well, androids and sheep have a bit of history, don’t they? There are a few nods to SF classics here and there, as well as other things I love. And there’s something very comforting about how fluffy and cute sheep can be when you draw them. It seems to me they’d be the perfect companion for an anxious little robot to hug while recharging!

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
MMH: You can see my self-published works, including the books/zines mentioned above, at my store (there’s some cute Now Recharging things there!) I also do conventions, comics and small press events, mostly in Toronto (Canada). There’s a list of upcoming events on my site!

MMH: I’m also trying out Pay What You Want digital downloads for some out-of-print works.

(Character art)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet when you start your next page?
MMH: For me, it’s a rather circular, overlapping, ongoing, organized chaos-type process. There’s too much going on for it to really be a blank sheet. I write down ideas and flesh things out whenever it comes to me, and whenever I have time – usually notes on my phone or in my sketchbook when I’m waiting, commuting, etc. For Now Recharging, these get consolidated into a Google doc of chapters and scenes that are gradually fleshed out into scripts.

MMH: As the idea or scene becomes more defined and coherent, the script gets broken down into pages, which I then start thumbnailing. I post wips/process photos on my instagram every so often if you’d like a peek! My thumbnails are very scratchy and terrible. Sometimes if I leave them too long I have no idea what’s going on anymore, but it takes the pressure off trying to recapture something perfectly when I start to draw the “real” page. And at the “real” page stage, sometimes I’ll redo the composition and even rework pagination as I go.

BC: What would NR sound like?
MMH: If Now Recharging were an anime, I’d love the opening and ending songs to be like Onitsuka Chihiro, Bastille, Streetlight Cadence. I imagine music with a bright or even cheerful quality and interesting vocals/instrumentation, while the lyrics are unusual, ambiguous, or simply not what you’d expect based on the sound of the song. Something that makes you feel happy even while the lyrics are not, exactly. Other than that, something cute, I guess?

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
MMH: Ahhh, this is hard. There are so many incredible artists and writers who have affected how I think or approach my own work. And I’m always stumbling upon new (and old) creators whose work astounds me. Here are a few who stand out in my mind at the moment. I haven’t met any of them (and some are sadly no longer around…), but I’ve gone back to their works time and time again for pleasure, refreshment and inspiration.

Osamu Tezuka. Frequently referred to as the “god of manga”.
Yoshihiro Togashi. The 90s manga/anime Yu Yu Hakusho was/is one of my biggest obsessions.
Isaac Asimov. I read a lot of his robot short stories when I was a kid.
Mary Oliver. I find her poetry evocative and just plain beautiful.

(Happy Lunar New Year.)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
MMH: Two I’m really into right now are Chirault by Ally Rom Colthoff (Varethane) / and Interstellar C.A.T. Crew by Sheharzad Arshad.

MMH: I actually learned about Chirault when I met the creator at a Toronto indie arts event a few years ago; we tabled back to back. Her commitment to this story and this world – over 9 years and over 1000 pages now – is breathtaking, and I love the character interactions. The artwork is beautiful, and she also works in traditional media.

MMH: I follow Sheharzad on instagram, and I’ve been getting my Interstellar C.A.T fix there! His style and focus are quite different from what I do. I find his work very clever, and I really like all the thoughtful, playful little touches he adds, like how the speech bubbles overlay the actual meowing of the Catilians (read the comic to see what I’m talking about!)

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
MMH: I’m a very visual person, so art is definitely the first thing that catches my eye! More than just the art style, however, it’s the skill in composing a page layout or panel sequence, and how the artist brings you into a scene or a moment, sometimes even viscerally. The skill sets are quite different. You can have comics with gorgeous art but less solid paneling that can make it hard to get into the story or the action and feel like it’s alive. Also, a well-done, cinematic action sequence (something I wrestle with) impresses the heck out of me! Shounen manga artists are particularly good at this.

MMH: Content-wise, it depends on the format and the story. There are lots of really charming and hilarious comic strips and strip-a-day works that just kill me with a great idea or punchline combined with brilliant and often understated execution. For longer narratives, I tend to be drawn to stories with strong character interaction and family-type relationships. I also love supernatural stuff, whether it’s paranormal or science or speculative fiction. And slice-of-life.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
MMH: I do! Not for myself at the moment, but to support and pledge to others’ work. Maybe in the future!

BC: Do you have any other projects coming up?

MMH: I’ll be at these events:
Anime North Doujinka Festival: Toronto, Oct. 28, 2016
Canzine: Toronto, Oct. 29, 2016

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Maiji/Mary Huang © 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

Poll: Do you like manga?


2 thoughts on “Maiji/Mary Huang interview”

  1. I do like (some) Manga, like Akira, but in general I prefer European and American comics, most likely for cultural reasons.

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