The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is one of the most influential and important comic book event in North America. It’s mission is to “promote the creators of comic books in their broad and diverse voices, for the betterment of the medium of comics”. In the spirit of this mission, the Comics Beat has conducted a series of interview with some of the phenomenal cartoonists in attendance at this year’s festival. The Comics Beat will be releasing a series of interview with cartoonist in attendance. We hope that these interviews will improve our understanding of these creators voices, techniques, interests and influences.
I’ve had the pleasure to discover the latest collection of essay and comics by An Nguyen and Jane Mai called So Pretty / Very Rotten. It’s a fascinating look at lolita fashion and a deep dive into this culture. In a mix between academia and personal stories, An Nguyen and Jane Mai are able to give readers a better understanding of this culture. I’ve had the chance to ask An a few questions concerning this book and the now running (until May 15th) gallery show and display at the Japan Foundation.
Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
An Nguyen: I’ve been drawing comics for more than 10 years now working mainly in the indies comic scene here in Canada. My art practice is influenced by 60s and 70s pop culture from music to tv shows in European, North America, and Japan, sketch comedy, underground rock music scenes, and Asian philosophy. I completed my long running comic series Open Spaces and Closed Places back in 2014. OSCP is a romantic comedy about dreamy-eyed school boys dealing with the occult and supernatural.
PL: Your upcoming book, So Pretty / Very Rotten, will be published by Koyama Press shortly. It’s a relatively lengthy book at 304 containing both essays and comics. How did you find the right balance between comics and essays for this book?
AN: We started with the comics first and decided to each do three to four stories. The essays were written after the comics were completed and were built around the comics as I tried to find a way to connect the comics into a cohesive journey for the reader. Through the essays we wanted to give the reader context and tools in which to approach the comics which we couldn’t present easily through the art.
PL: There are a lot of comics in this book, either made by you or Jane Mai, or sometimes collaboratively. How did you enjoy working with Jane on this book, and how did you decide which comics to make together and which to do on your own?
AN: Jane and I approach Lolita fashion in different ways, and I really couldn’t have done the book without her. We noticed in the early stages of the projects as we ran short story ideas across each other that Jane’s stories leaned more towards the macabre and the conflicts between self and being involved in a subculture community. Her work deals a lot about the limitations of using a material culture to explore and define self. My comics were more about the connections that can be made between people through shared interests and the aesthetics from which Lolita fashion comes from. Together we were able to create a more rounded book as we were able to approach the topic from different angles. Because the taste and feeling of our comics (not just this book) are very different, we wanted to try writing a story for the other to draw to make something that we wouldn’t have been able to do by ourselves.
PL: In addition to the book launch, you’re also putting on an exhibition in Toronto. Could you tell us a bit more about this?
AN: I would like to thank TCAF, the Japan Foundation, the Southern Ontario Lolita Community, as well as my publisher Koyama for their efforts and help in making this exhibition a reality. Without their support this wouldn’t have been possible.
You can follow An’s work on her tumblr page or on her website. You can get a copy of So Pretty/Very Rotten at your favourite bookstore. You can get copies of her other comics, including Open Spaces and Closed Places on her store. You can also attend the So Pretty/Very Rotten Exhibition until May 15th. Heidi talked about it on her new podcast and loved it!
Come and meet An at TCAF, she’s looking forward to meeting you!
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.