Interview with Author Reimena Yee

Reimena Yee is an illustrator, writer, and designer. Hailing from the dusty metropolis of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she is now based in Melbourne, Australia. She once was a STEM student, but left to pursue her passion for the world and all its histories and cultures, which she weaves into her art and stories. She is the co-founder of UNNAMED, a comics collective that builds community and resources for visual-literary creators in Southeast Asia. She is the author-illustrator of the gothic comics The World in Deeper Inspection and the Eisner- and McDuffie-nominated The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya. Séance Tea Party was her debut middle-grade graphic novel.

I had the opportunity to interview Reimena, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a strange and fancy graphic novelist, illustrator, and designer, originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I am the co-founder and co-organizer of UNNAMED, and I am an editor and admin assistant at Hiveworks Comics. I love the gothic, spooky, and whimsical.

What can you tell us about your upcoming comic, My Aunt Is a Monster? What inspired this story?

My Aunt Is a Monster is about a girl who dreams of going on adventures just like the protagonists of her favorite books. A tragic accident leads her to an unexpected meeting with a reclusive, distant aunt she never knew existed, who used to be the World’s Greatest Adventurer. Unfortunately, the aunt has a terrible secret that prevents her from going out into the world. But a great adventure will soon come their way, including such strange and wondrous things as a moody secret agent, an invisible creature, and a skeleton king.

My Aunt Is a Monster is inspired by all the middle-grade adventure novels I loved: the Mysterious Benedict Society, the Ottoline series, and the Far Flung Adventure series (especially the Hugo Pepper book). The book originally started as a comedic novel for adults, so I have Alexander McCall’s influence, particularly the Professor Dr. Von Igelfeld series, to thank. Anyway, I just like fun, silly, whimsical stories with weird characters, and I wanted to make my own version that I could pass down to the next generation of quirky bookworms.

Considering the protagonist of My Aunt Is a Monster is a blind girl, did you have to do any particular research when depicting this type of disability?

The blind and visually impaired communities have been incredibly generous with their time and labor in providing resources and space to discuss every aspect of their lived experience—the mundane, the fun, and the frustrating. There is the r/blind subreddit, and numerous blind YouTubers (here’s a sweet guy Ross Minor who streams games and talks about his life), the Disability in Kidlit review site, and this National Federation for the Blind review on books discussing the stereotypes of blind representation in kidlit. I am also indebted to the consultants who looked through my script and provided feedback. 

More important than research, though, is simply making each character as nuanced and interesting as any other character or real-life person. Each one is written with consideration to how their identities would emerge in their characterization, and how that impacts their interaction with the world. Basic craft stuff, but there have been many cases when people forget, and that forgetfulness affects the lens they use in their research process and in storytelling.

As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

The who and what inside my inspiration pool have changed over time. My Aunt Is a Monster is much closer to my earliest influences—who I used to read, how I used to draw (in my mid-teens), the sensibilities. It was nice to reconnect. 

I am primarily a historical fiction creative, so I take my influences from art history. I love the decorative arts and looking back at the works of our elders. There’s a lot to learn from them.

I like exploring all kinds of media and admiring craftsmanship—wood art, music, dolls, theater, fashion, poetry, etc. The world is full of endless wonders.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the mechanics behind it? And how would you describe your own creative process?

For My Aunt Is a Monster in particular, I’ve documented its production from the start on Twitter—from script to thumbnails, all the way to copy edits and book cover creation. 

The process changes slightly depending on the work I’m doing, but generally, once I have a concept/story for an illustration or a comic page, I sketch out the composition or page layout via thumbnails (on a piece of paper or an iPad Pro). For illustrations, I usually have several thumbnails from which I pick the best one, and for comics, I only have one thumbnail per page. The stages are more straightforward after that. I do a fully realized sketch in the actual dimensions of the work so I can correct any issues with placement and fine details, then immediately jump into the rendering.

With my own comics, there is a writing stage before all this drawing. Please read The Onion Method: How I Outline a Story, and The Onion Method: How I Art Direct a Graphic Novel. My Resources page contains links to Twitter threads where I’ve documented every stage of my comics creation process for each book, alongside selected blog posts where I talk more generally and deeply about how I come up with ideas, bring an illustration to life, write stories, and exist as a creative.

Are there any other project ideas you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?

I’m developing a couple of YA pitches, while juggling my current major webcomic, Alexander, the Servant, and the Water of Life.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Fully embrace all the things you love. Allow yourself the space and time to define your own goals and ambitions, and figure out practical, realistic steps to achieve them, taking into consideration your financial and personal situations.

Finally, what LGBTQ books/comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen, and The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

Interview with Illustrator Wendy Xu

Wendy Xu is a bestselling, award-nominated Brooklyn-based illustrator and comics artist. She is the creator of the middle grade fantasy graphic novel TIDESONG (2021 from HarperCollins/Quilltree) and co-creator of MOONCAKES, a young adult fantasy graphic novel published in 2019 from Oni Press. Her work has been featured on Catapult, Barnes & Noble Sci-fi/Fantasy Blog, and, among other places. She is currently working on two upcoming graphic novels from HarperCollins. You can find more art on her instagram or on twitter.

I had the opportunity to interview Wendy, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

On a good day I have anywhere between twenty and thirty bees in my head, on a bad day there’s like forty to seventy. That is to say, I’m a comics artist who lives in Brooklyn with my partner and cat. I like to cook when I’m not drawing, but I like to eat marginally more than I like to cook.

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to this medium?

When I was a very small kid, some of my first books were collections of children’s comics. They were all in Chinese, which I couldn’t read, but I enjoyed deducing the story from the images, and I loved trying to draw like the illustrations I saw. When I got a little older, I started reading manga. I was really fortunate to have a great librarian at my town library in high school who loved comics and manga too, and because of her collection developmentI had an amazing stash of books to check out and read while I was there. I believe it was Lynda Barry (whose book, MAKING COMICS, I frequently refer to when planning drawing exercises for my own students– she has worked extensively with kids) who said that to a very young child, words and pictures go naturally together and only when they get older do these two categories become distinct and more rigid. As a child, that distinction was never really made for me, and I am thankful that comics have been with me my whole life. 

As an artist, would you say there are any other artists or comics that have influenced your creative style or inspired you personally?

CLAMP, Rumiko Takahashi, Fuyumi Soryo, and Hayao Miyazaki are some of my earliest and biggest influences.

What are some of your favorite parts about creating a graphic novel?

Conceptually: worldbuilding. It’s fun to play in a universe and figure out the mechanics of it, as well as how the environment contributes to all of the aesthetic sensibilities that exist. Technically: inking, when all of the hard writing and art bits are over with and your only focus is to make it look polished and good.

Your first published graphic novel, Mooncakes, explores queer characters, magic and witchcraft. Where did the idea for this project come from and what was it like working on the comic with your co-creator, Suzanne Walker?

I’ve always wanted to do a love story between a witch and a werewolf– I think the earliest inspiration for that comes from reading Amelia Atwater-Rhodes in the library when I was in middle school, but also a smutty witch/werewolf romance that got passed to me in eighth grade as contraband. A ways out of college, I asked my friend Suzanne if she wanted to do this comic together with me, because she wrote fun fanfictions and I occasionally drew little accompanying art for them, and I thought she could do the part I didn’t like, which is piecing the story together, and I could do the fun (although in comics, way more labor intensive part). All of the creative visual executive decisions were left to me, although Suzanne gave input on things she had direct experience with, like Nova’s hearing aids.

What advice would you have for those who want to make comics? 

Draw your own comic. I don’t care how crappy you are at art, you will never understand pacing or visual storytelling if you don’t sit down to draw. Use stick figures if you have to, but piece together a story panel by panel, visually, and you will learn what comics are about more than sitting down to write a script and then passing it off to someone else to draw. 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)? 

“What brushes do you use”; the answer is: too many. I am a digital brush hoarder and I like to experiment with all of them. I feel like I am trying to find the elusive White Whale of Brushes, but that’s never going to happen. I can keep trying though.

Are there any other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to talk about? 

I am currently working on my second solo graphic novel, THE INFINITY PARTICLE, a young adult book about a girl and robot who fall in love. It’s set on Mars in the distant future, and grapples with a lot of thoughts I have about technology and consciousness, and it is also a response to the invasive encroachment of Big Tech into all of our daily lives. My biggest fantasy that I put into this book is that in the distant future there is no Internet, no Web 3.0, and most of all, no tech billionaires or NFTs. I’m also playing around with ideas for a few more projects, including one inspired by the Neolithic in East Asia.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/ authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Estranged by Ethan Aldridge, O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti, Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens, Don’t Go Without Me by Rosemary Valero O’ Connell, On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden, Girl Town by Casey Nowak, Witchy by Ariel Ries, Hotblood! by Toril Orlesky, and K. O’Neill’s upcoming Mothkeeper. I love Casey McQuiston’s wit. If we’re allowed to talk about short stories, Kimberly Wang’s new comic “Of Thunder and Lightning” on their gumroad is some fantastic visual storytelling. The short story “Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall was the most refreshing thing I’d read in sci-fi in a minute, if you can find it online.