Sanrio's aggressive red panda mascot Retsuko makes her comic book debut this week thanks to Oni Press, writer Daniel Barnes, and artist D.J. Kirkland.
Spinning out of the hit Netflix animated series, Oni Press' Aggretsuko brings Retsuko as well as her office-mates like Fenneko, Haida, Komiya, and even Mr. Ton in for their hyper-active office shenanigans.
Future issues will have stories by writer/artist Jarrett Williams (#2) and Brenda Hickey (#3), but as the series begins Newsarama talked with Barnes and Kirkland about their debut issue - and their own personal karaoke jams.
Newsarama: Daniel, D.J., Retsuko is a relative newcomer to the Sanrio universe. Why do you think it's resonated with people so?
D.J. Kirkland: Much like Retsuko, I’ve had several desk jobs and have worked under a few unsavory bosses through my 20s. Not only that but trying to date in my 20s was...a challenge to say the least. Trying to balance work, friendship and love are universal concepts that I think resonate with everyone.
Daniel Barnes: I think it largely has to do with how relatable both Retsuko and her circumstances are. We’ve all had our souls sucked out by the workforce, we’ve all had awful bosses, and we’ve all felt like screaming at the top of our lungs about it, but had to bottle it up instead. Creating a character who’s dealing with the same existential life problems as all of the people who grew up with Hello Kitty in the first place is pretty brilliant, if you ask me.
Nrama: What's her day-to-day life like?
Kirkland: I think Fenneko said it best: “Work, home, phone, sleep”. [Laughs]
There’s more to it than that. Some days, she’s still trying to have a better working relationship with Anai or helping Fenneko uncover the truth behind Tsunoda’s social media posting habits. On others, it’s trying to avoid calls from her Mom trying to set her up with “eligible” bachelors. She has a lot on her plate!
Barnes: Wake up, question her life decisions, drag herself to work, do Tsubone’s work for her, get ridiculed by Mr. Ton, bottle up her rage, get off work, go to her secret karaoke bar with Gori and Washimi, scream, go home and sleep, rinse and repeat.
Nrama: So you both are launching the title, but it will eventually rotate with other creative teams, what can you tell us about your introductory story?
Kirkland: That’s right! The Aggretsuko series has a bunch of creative teams behind it. I’m so looking forward to seeing what the other teams have in store for Retsuko. In our story, a lot of the staff at Carrier Man Trading Co. is sick and Retsuko, Fenneko, Haida, Komiya, and Mr. Ton are doing everything they can to not catch the C-Virus. We had a lot of fun coming up with this. Daniel’s writing is so fun and he really manages to capture the personalities of the cast perfectly.
Barnes: I don’t wanna give too much away, but let’s just say it’s a cautionary tale that warns against coming to work while sick.
Nrama: Will fans need to have watched her Netflix series to grasp the comic series?
Kirkland: Definitely not! I hope that the comics can be another entry point into Retsuko’s world and that they’ll also want to check out the show too.
Barnes: Yeah, not at all! The comic is a great entry point for newcomers! Though, I’m hoping readers will get hooked and decide to look into the Netflix series and the TBS shorts afterward. They’re so good!
Nrama: You've worked together before obviously on The Black Mage so what did you learn about one another when you signed on to do licensed work?
Kirkland: Danny and I have been working together for about four-and-a-half years at this point so I think we have a great dynamic as a creative team. We immediately hit it off when we started working on Black Mage together. That book was an incredible learning experience for both of us. So I’d say we just took all of our learnings from that and brought it to Aggretsuko. I think we’re developing our own voice together as a creative team and I hope it comes through in our Aggretsuko stories.
Barnes: DJ has been an amazing artist and collaborator since I first met him, and working on Aggretsuko with him hasn’t changed that fact at all. We’ve both been completely in-sync, since the very beginning of Black Mage. I can’t really picture myself working on comics with anyone else!
Nrama: Was adapting your art style difficult? Was Sanrio pretty hands on during the process or was it pretty slack?
Kirkland: Adapting my style wasn’t difficult. It was actually a great exercise in letting go of what I normally draw and try something new. I try to view every comic I draw or illustration I make as a learning opportunity and working on Aggretsuko was no different. As for Sanrio, they were very hands-on. These characters have a very specific look so it’s important that they meet their standards.
Nrama: What do you think it is about sanrio characters that keep them relevant and exponentially popular with each new generation?
Kirkland: I remember watching VHS tapes of Sanrio cartoons as a kid and loving them. All the characters in this universe have something for everyone. Personally, I think that Retsuko stands out for a few reasons. First, she’s a red panda. Red pandas are adorable. Second, she’s a hard-working 20-something trying to enjoy life when she can. So many people in this age group or beyond can see themselves in her. Especially when she turns into Aggretsuko!
Barnes: They’re simple, iconic, and their cuteness is so universal and timeless. There’s no need to reboot them or constantly reinvent them all the time. Cute is cute, no matter what generation you’re from.
Nrama: Retsuko blows off steam at her karaoke bar, do you have karaoke go-tos? And if so, do you prefer the private booths or in front of the whole bar?
Kirkland: I can barely carry a tune in a bucket so private karaoke booths are the only option for me. I don’t want to subject a whole bar to my terrible singing. If I’m going to sing anything, it’s “No Scrubs” by TLC.
Barnes: It’s not karaoke unless I sing the theme songs to Space Jam and Pokémon! They’re absolutely mandatory!
I’m a private booth kinda guy myself.