Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our continuing look at the best of the web. For this installment, we talk with Christina Strain, who’s best known as a colorist on such acclaimed books as Marvel’s Runaways, but has branched out onto the web as a writer for a tale of sisters and strange creatures.
South Korea, the 1960s. A young girl named Yun Hee sees her family killed by a mysterious force…except for one member who seemingly survives. Seven years later, she has grown into a beautiful but distant young woman, who carries with her an old photo and a sword. A force of evil is closer than she realizes, and their paths are on a collision course in The Fox Sister.
Strain spoke with us about her decision to create her own comics, the possibilities offered on the web, and Runaways artist Adrian Alphona in a fictional hot-dog-eating contest. It’ll make sense when you read it.
Newsarama: Christina, how did The Fox Sister come about?
Christina Strain: Well, it sort of just happened. I know that's the worst response ever, but it really did. I was talking to a friend about how much I liked Jayd (Aït-Kaci, the story’s illustrator)'s art and how I would love to work with her and then my friend was like, “She's a buddy of mine, want me to put you in contact with her?"
And then the stars all lined up and the two of us clicked and I started pitching a few different story ideas to her. The Fox Sister was the one she liked the most and then I started plotting it out keeping some of Jayd's tastes in mind and sort of tailored it to "fit" us.The whole thing was scary serendipitous, and we're both super happy that things played out the way they did, ‘cause we wouldn't have it any other way.
Nrama: Why did you decide to do this as an online strip, as opposed to a GN or miniseries?
Strain: The plan from the beginning was to make it a webcomic and then print the book in 9X12 hard bound sort of French album-style issues. I chose this route for several reasons. Web publishing is the easiest way to publish and for rookies like us, and it's the best way to advertise the book.
Nrama: What's the process of moving to writing been like? Had you scripted anything before this?
Strain: It's been easy/hard? How's that for an amazingly nebulous answer?
I was comfortable coloring--I had a routine, I knew how to do my job, and I was comfortable in my role as a colorist. At the same time, after eight years of it, I knew I needed something different.
I initially thought I would stay within the art field and move into 3-D, but I took a comic-writing class on a lark and realized that really, I just want to tell stories. Even when I was coloring, my favorite thing to do was add drama to scenes and enhancing the storytelling with effects and colors. So making the decision to go into writing wasn't really difficult, but actually learning to write decent stories has been an interesting challenge.As a colorist I read a ton of scripts, so I've innately picked up on some nuggets of knowledge on story structure and pacing. but I'm also taking comic writing and screenplay writing classes because I want to learn more. I mean, I wrote a ton of terrible prose in high school and I'm used to sitting at a computer for 20-something hours a day, so the discipline's there, but I want to NOT suck at it, and that's really, really hard!
Pre-Fox Sister I had scripted a few things, some of which I'll admit to, some I won't... (laughs) I will admit that I did write a kick ass competitive eating manga script that basically had Adrian Alphona as the main character in it. And YES I can objectively say it was kickass, because it had Adrian shoving a lot of hot dogs into his mouth like a champ.
Nrama: Do you see yourself moving from coloring to writing permanently? What do you feel have been the biggest advantages and disadvantages of writing a script coming from a background of an artist?
Strain: Oh yeah. I still enjoy coloring on occasion, but seriously, it was taking over my life. I was really starting to miss my husband and the light of day.
I can tell you right now, for sure, that the biggest advantage to writing a script coming from an artists' background is that it's a lot easier for me to visualize everything. I can't even read someone else's script without picturing each panel and whether or not the logistics of it work, so it's a lot easier for me to mentally suss out what I can and can't get out of an artist.
Plus, I know what I want out of the colors. I've already written out scenes where I used color as a story telling element, and I don't know that I would've been able to do that had I not been a colorist.One of the disadvantages – and this may be weird – is that I think I'm terrified of writing too much on a page? I tend to try to keep my dialogue shorter and a little more to the point, because I'm terrified it'll cover up too much art or leave the artist without any room to work with. I've had stuff I spent a long time coloring covered in word balloons, and I hated that.
Nrama: What do you feel Jayd brings to the story?
Strain: She brings the art to the story, which means she brings it to life. Jayd's amazing. She's so good with putting life and emotion into the characters, there's a real bounce and dynamic feel to her stuff. She's also really patient because she's coloring it, but she lets me do color editing.
It's hard for me to let go of the one thing I felt I had control over for the entirety of my career, so I'm so lucky to have someone who's really chill about letting me steal back the steering wheel at times. I can't compliment the girl enough!
Nrama: How do you feel you've evolved as a storyteller since you started this?
Strain: I have a tendency to inject comedy into everything, and The Fox Sister is a supernatural/horror story, which is out of my comfort zone, so it's taught me a lot about embracing the genre you're working with. I've had to really push myself to make it darker than I initially planned, but I think it's way better now than it was.
I'm writing issue three and it's been a real struggle, but I'm happy with how it's coming out, it's a lot more suspense-driven and a lot bloodier and there's no one there making amazingly inappropriate jokes. It's like I'm learning impulse control and yet not, because I'm killing everyone in this book. Livers and guts everywhere.
Ok, so maybe I've learned nothing.
Nrama: What's the most interesting feedback you've gotten for this so far?
Strain: Up the body count. Seriously. And I don't say that in like... a mass murder sort of way, I just mean that I'm really skittish about gore and stuff, so the original outline had... not a lot of scary in it?
I mean, I even considered killing a small animal over a random person cause I was like, "I killed her family, isn't that enough!?" I'm taking a class with Nunzio DeFilippis, and he's been great about helping me intensify everything. I'm such a pansy.
I just gotta remember to channel George R. R. Martin sans incest.
Nrama: How long do you see the story running, ultimately?
Strain: Four issues, 36 pages apiece.
Nrama: What opportunities do you feel have been opened up by the web and by new media such as iPads and smartphones, and what do you feel creators and larger companies can do to embrace these opportunities?
Strain: Oh man. This is a hard question to answer. Things are so wild west right now with web publishing, and I don't know that there's any one set model that works for everyone yet. For me though, I thought it was a great time to dive in and finally start working on the stories that I'd like to tell.When you work for a publisher, you're at the mercy of working with the stories they have within their stable, and it's great feeling free to do whatever story I want, and even do it however I want to do it.
I feel like now is a good time to expand on the types of stories being told within American comics, because we can capitalize on using the internet/mobile devices to tell these stories to people in other countries.
Nrama: If a fox spirit messed with YOUR sibling, what would you do?
Strain: Oh man. I'd probably be dead. Chances are my little sister would have a better shot at survival/revenge than I would. I'm too clumsy to escape without tripping constantly, plus I'm not very good at being sneaky so I'd give myself away instantly. Yeah... I'd be missing a liver.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Strain: A nap? I'm not too sure just yet, right now I'm just taking everything a step at a time. I have a crapload of writing to do so I can't imagine doing anything other than slugging through what I've got on my plate already.
After The Fox Sister, I'll probably want to do another comic, but I'm not really sure what and when. I have two stories I'd love to do right now, but a lot of it's going to depend on what the artists I have in mind for them are doing. Either way, I'm sure I'll be busy doing something!
Nrama: Anything else you want to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Strain: COMICS. BUY THEM. READ THEM. TELL YOUR FRIENDS ABOUT THEM. And thank you for reading!
The Fox Sister updates with a new page every Thursday at www.thefoxsister.com.
Next at Wide World of Webcomics – we have a slew of interviews with some of the best new webcomic creators out there, including several of this year’s Eisner nominees! Be there!Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!