Kristina Luu, she/they, is a queer Vietnamese Canadian comic artist and illustrator from Vancouver, BC. She loves making colourful worlds and stories full of diverse characters and little moments of magic and joy. The first volume of the BESTIES graphic novels series written by Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino is available now. She’s also the creator of “Intercosmic“, an all-ages space fantasy webcomic published through Hiveworks.
I had the opportunity to interview Kristina, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT and congratulations on your new book, BESTIES: Work It Out. Could you tell us a little about yourself and the project?
Hello! Thank you for having me here. It’s a real honour and pleasure. I’m Kristina Luu, a queer Vietnamese cartoonist based in Canada! My pronouns are she/they, with no preference for either.
BESTIES: Work It Out is my official published comics debut and I couldn’t be more excited and proud of it. It’s a Middle-Grade graphic novel written by the incredible duo Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino. I had the honour of illustrating the adventures of Beth and Chanda – a pair of best friends who have a knack for fashion, big dreams, and mayhem. The book is all about learning what it means to be responsible for your actions and behaviour.
How did you get into illustration? What drew you to becoming an artist?
I’ve loved drawing cartoons ever since I was a young kid! I used to draw on piles and piles of printer paper and on the walls. My parents did not like that particularly. I also used to spend hours watching animated films and shows every night and the love of animation and cartoons never left me honestly.
I’ve always loved how artists can turn something vague, mundane, or even empty into something. With a single drawing, you’ve made a whole fantastical world I can dive right into and spark my imagination. At the same time, I loved how art was a way of communicating too. It’s a voice, or a story, or an idea, put on paper or canvas! It’s the closest thing to turning your imagination into reality and the appeal of it has never left me since.
Were there any artists or books growing up that inspired or influenced your style?
For me, the biggest inspiration was actually Adventure Time. I watched a lot of it during my middle school years and would draw fan art all the time trying to imitate the style and designs of the show. I was honestly obsessed with it and had my own fan characters, t-shirts, merch – you name it! As a teen, I read Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet and Tony Diterlizzi’s Wondla series and was utterly obsessed with both of those too. So much of my earlier art draws inspiration from them, as well as some classic Disney films as well. I only got into manga and anime much later in life, but that also completely shifted how I drew in my college years.
For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe it?
I think it’s fair to say that creating graphic novels is a lengthier and more complex process than most people expect. It seems quite simple at first glance, but then you realize each page is a piece of artwork in itself! Each panel is a drawing, and that’s not even mentioning the writing and planning that goes beforehand too. Comics aren’t just “drawing what happens”. When you think about “who says what in each panel” or “what page layout works best for this story”, you realize there’s a lot of thought and care that goes into drawing a page. And gosh, can you imagine how many hours it takes to make just one page? Think of that but times 100 now! It takes a lot of time and effort to make comics, so it’s truly a labour of love.
What are some of your favorite things about making comics?
Comics are a fusion of art and writing – two of my favourite creative outlets! I love how versatile and honest comics feel and how it allows creators to share their own unique and independent voice. You usually don’t see that kind of thing through more “mainstream” media, like a TV show or something that has a massive creative team behind it. Until recently, webcomics and indie comics were one of the only places I could find really honest and nuanced representations of LGBT+ people for a long time because they were made by other queer people who just wanted to share their own voice. Comics are also so accessible for audiences and creators alike. Almost anyone can make one, and it’s so easy to just put them on the internet for people to read. It’s a medium that allows for some truly unique creator-driven storytelling and human connection, and that is what I love most.
When you’re not drawing, what do you enjoy doing or consuming in your free time?
I love writing! I suppose that goes hand-in-hand with drawing when you’re a comic artist. I have absolutely no intention to publish a written novel, but I still love writing in my spare time all the same.
As for hobbies, I play a lot of video games and read lots of novels. I’m a big fan of fantasy RPGs of any kind. As for reading, I tend to read mostly Middle-grade, Young Adult, and Adult Science-Fiction/Fantasy and LGBT+ stories. I try to read almost every night. It helps calm my brain down after a long day.
When my head isn’t staring at a screen or in a book somehow, I also really love delving into craft hobbies and outdoor activities too. I’m a big fan of hiking, biking, camping, and just recently picked up bouldering. It’s been so nice to have an active outlet when I spend so much of my days in my own head or in front of a screen.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
I wish more people would ask me what I like drawing most. While I do love beautiful scenery and fuzzy animals, for me, it’s always been people. I don’t necessarily mean character design or portraits. I really just enjoy drawing characters emoting and interacting! Particularly, dancing. While drawing action can be fun, I just love how much emotion there is in dancing. It’s an act of pure joy and self-expression.
The world is filled with so many people and they are all so much more interesting beyond the way they look! You can tell so much about a pair of characters just from how they interact. Are they lovers, family, archenemies, best friends? We all express so much with just our faces and body language. I’ll always find it intriguing.
What advice would you have to give for other aspiring artists?
YOU are more valuable than your art.
I’ve always been a huge advocate for taking care of yourself first and foremost as an artist: body and mind. I’m not just talking about making art. I also mean how you think about making art. Art can and should be fun but you should never compromise your wellbeing for the sake of art. The idea of the “tortured creative artist” is so harmful! You will always be able to make better art when you are healthy and happy. Don’t hurt your back by drawing 24/7. Get up and take care of your body. Don’t let “not being good enough” hold you back from drawing. That’s not good for your brain. Surround yourself with good friends who elevate you. Your peers are NOT your competition, but your support system. Learn how to be kind to both your body and mind, and it’ll carry you a long long way as an artist.
Are there other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to discuss?
Absolutely! I’m currently developing my own original graphic novel. There isn’t much to show for it yet, but I’m hoping to make my author/illustrator debut some time in the future so stay tuned! I’m also still working on Intercosmic, my all-ages space fantasy webcomic. It’s been on hiatus this year, but there are plans to return to working on it next year and I’m very excited for it! I’ve also got a few smaller independent comics in the works that I’m making mostly for myself, such as journal comics and experimental short stories. With my upcoming projects, I’m hoping to explore more topics such as queer identity as person of colour and the complexities of Asian diaspora and generational divides.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics would you commend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Oh, where do I even begin!
For LGBT+ comics and manga, I absolutely love Nimona by Noelle Stevensen, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani, Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Lane, and of course My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi.
As for novels, I read mostly fiction and fantasy. Personally, I really enjoyed Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Happy reading, everyone!