A few months ago, I got a chance to do a review of the first collection, from the up and coming comics publisher, InHiatus Studios, which has well of talent from the Bay Area in California, I got a chance to talk to each of the creators. This interview was with Mathew Ng, who works on the books, Strays. Below is a brief back ground on the book and my interview with Mathew, about the book, his start in comics and what drives him.
Strays begins with a runaway princess, who drags her unlikely companions into the adventure of a lifetime. Iroha, the first princess of Izumo, is caught in a massive conspiracy threatening to disrupt the delicate balance of power sustaining the trade route, the Silk Road. Bound together for their own reasons, the group makes their way across the world and back, with trouble never far behind.
Graphic Policy: What were your favorite comics growing up?
Mathew Ng: I didn’t have too many comics growing up. Among the InHiatus Studios, I’m probably the least familiar with American comics haha. There was a run on Batman known as KnightFall where Jean Paul Valley takes over for Bruce Wayne. My cousin was reading Batman at the time, and I went to his house to read, so I got really into that arc of Batman all the way till Azrael.
If you want to talk about manga, that’s a whole other story though!
GP: Is there a specific comics creator that influenced you?
MN: Chuck Dixon and Jo Duffy come to mind… yeah it’s the two main writers for Knightfall.
Are there any influences outside of comics which you draw upon in your art?
Personally I hold the opinion that 90% of your influences should come from outside the medium you’re working in. Film and photography is definitely a big one, but that probably comes from my preference for manga.
For Strays, my interest in history and mythologies definitely come into play a lot. My snootiness about food makes me pay attention to what my characters would be eating. I also am using techniques found in the Horse Bench form from Choy Li Fut, in a bar fight scene I’m planning for volume 2.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is, the more information you can personally draw from, the better your stories will be.
GP: What influence do your parents have on your work? What was their reaction, when you told what you wanted to do for a living?
MN: My parents do have a big influence on my work. Strays is literally an adventure story that travels between the east and west.
We don’t really talk about what I want to do. My parents are “talk is cheap” people. You can talk about doing something all day and it’s not worth a damn. Go do it, and if it makes money, keep doing it.
GP: How did you get started in comics?
MN: Like so many others, by writing a failed screen play!
GP: When did you know working on comics would be your career?
MN: I still don’t honestly haha. I think it’s cartoonishly simple to think of your current work as a permanent fixture that will never change. Flexibility is really the hallmark of successful creatives. The idea is that the medium isn’t as important as finding a place to be successful using your own skill set. For In Hiatus Studios, comics happened to fit crossroads between our skillset, budget, and potential to grow.
GP: What lead you to form InHiatus Studios?
MN: I was looking for a way to improve my storytelling. My demo reel was just torn apart at a portfolio review at Disney, but the main thing was to take away was that I was technically proficient, but lacked story telling. At the same time Don, Pip, and I were just let off a project that fell apart, and Don contacted both of us after a month to see if we were interested in working together since we had a lot of momentum together at the time.
At that time, we thought about working on a collaborative art book, where we could pull our resources together to make something a little higher quality than what we could afford to do so individually. After some discussion, we came to the conclusion that perhaps comics would be the way to go, and here we are.
It may have sounded like I was disparaging comics in my previous answer, but I have nothing but gratitude for the medium and its fans. Writing a story, then drawing it all out has really shown how much we stepped up to finish Shards vol.1. Being at InHiatus studios has really pushed everyone here to grow as artist, and has given us more insight on where we might want to expand beyond comics.
GP: What was your inspiration behind Strays?
MN: A lot of Strays comes from the time I spent playing MMOs. I never was in a big clan, but the ones I joined were always tightknit wonderful groups. We almost never did meta builds, or fought for high level bosses the “right way” but we all knew how to play what we had, and PK/PvP was always fun. We could conquer castles and steal bosses from larger clans by causing a little PvP chaos, although we’d have to run pretty quickly once that happened.
Even now, I enjoy adventure stories about a group of general screw-ups. Dogs: Bullets & Carnage, Black Lagoon, and Konosuba are all stories I really enjoy.
GP: What can you tell me about the world and characters of Strays?
MN: Strays takes places at the height of silk-road trade. I took a page from Togashi Yoshihiro’s Hunter x Hunter, and built the world to support multiple kinds of stories. The first arc of Strays is the coming of age story for Iroha. The next arc, I wanted them to engage in a Wolf of Wall Street style campaign resulting in complete disaster. And that would lead to another arc with Ashe as the Prodigal Son.
And for each arc, I want each of my characters to grow. Either in a way that makes them more loved or more hated, I want them to be human in that their experience will change them. Individually… in MMO terms, Iroha is the buff support that constantly pulls agro, Fatima pays more attention to discord than healing, Ashe is the attack built knight the party forces to play as tank, Lili is the smith that never makes money cause the party needs the extra DD, and Kanade is the DD that the moment she loses a single Hitpoint emergency teleports back to town.
GP: Do you have any favorite comics you are reading right now?
MN: I mentioned Dogs: Bullets & Carnage, Black Lagoon, and Konosuba already. I read a stupid amounts of manga, but if I were to go back to the one that started it all it would be I”s by Katsura Masakazu.
Seriously if it’s a manga, I’ve probably read at least one tankoban to see if I like it.
GP: What do you think is most important when capturing a moment in time to render in a panel for the reader to take in?
MN: Coming from animation, I treat my panels as story boards. Murata Yuusuke is a master of this. If you line up his panels back to back and play them, it plays out like an animatic for preproduction. And just like illustration you must have the panels with the story beats be the focus of the overall composition. The story is everything, so make sure the readers know what’s happening.
GP: When was the first time, you identified with a character on TV/in the movies/ or between the pages of a comic book?
MN: Never. I really don’t get this idea that I would see myself as one of the characters. I can empathize with the characters as if they were a friend. But a good story should have multiple characters with something you can relate to, but they aren’t you.
If it were character I empathize with the most with, it would be Seto Ichitaka from I”s. When I”s was being written it was 1999, so I was the same age as Ichitaka. The story is a very simple boy crushing on a girl, but it’s written completely from the view of Ichitaka, so a lot of the story is just his mistakes because he’s just a really awkward dumb teenager.
GP: How important is representation in comics to you as a creator and to your target audience?
MN: Zero. Haha seriously it’s zero. I relate to characters through their character, for who they are as individuals… not as a set traits. I can safely say this is true for my audience as well.
GP: Are there any current artists/writers out there you admire and would like to work with?
MN: I mean there’s so many… but I don’t know about letting any of them work on Strays. It’s currently a one man show, and if I decide to stop working on Strays, I’d rather end the series rather than pass it on to anyone else.
If Studio Trigger’s Nakashima Kazuki, or Ufotable’s Sadou Tomonori wanted to buy the rights to Strays and make an animated series, I’d be so down for that haha. But I’d just be handing them the production notes and leaving it at that.
GP: What kind of reception have you had with Shards Volume 1?
MN: Sold Out! ‘nuff said.
GP: What do you want our readers to know/or expect from Strays?
MN: I don’t know how to really respond to this… personally I don’t like dictating expectations to the audience. It’s like the comedian who preps the audience that he’s “funny and get ready to laugh.” You know that guy is going bomb on stage. But definitely stick around if you enjoy car chases, kung-fu action, and bar fights!
GP: When can we expect Strays?
MN: I’m working on it okay?! I hope to have the first chapter out Q1 2018. Yeah I know it’s delayed, but finding that balance between speed and quality is most definitely a struggle.