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.
Priya Huq is an illustrator and very promising cartoonist. I discovered her latest long form web comic Mana last year and was blown away by it. A fantasy comic beautifully illustrated with gorgeous watercolour. It quickly became one of the project I’ve been looking forward to the most this year. In addition to Mana, she has also done another phenomenal called Amar Shonar Bangla, an exploration of racism and the construction of identity in multicultural America. I wanted to talk with Priya about her work, her use of watercolour and the themes of identity she is drawn to.
Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Priya Huq: Yep! My name is Priya and I’m a comic artist and illustrator. I draw a comic called Mana (mindheartmemory.net) and do freelance work. I have work in two anthologies coming soon: Dirty Diamonds 8 and Secret Loves of Geeks.
PL: How did you get into comics?
PH: I thought I didn’t like comics until I read Fushigi Yuugi during math class when I was 12, and then I fell in love with shojo and shonen manga. I was discouraged from drawing and went into biochemistry instead, but after a stint in the psych ward (during which I drew comics), I changed tack. I went to art school at 23, dropped out, and kept drawing (bad, but increasingly serviceable) comics. My first published job was for Dirty Diamonds 6: Beauty in 2015.
PL: Your early comics like Amar Shonar Bangla were autobiographical, but with your latest project Mana, you are diving into fiction. I’m curious what motivated this shift. Do you prefer fiction over autobiography?
PH: I do. I’ve actually been working on Mana for about seven years in various forms. Autobio is something that I keep trying to get away from and then coming back to, either because I have this need to tell stories about essentially traumatic things, or because people pay me to do so. I’ve been trying to get away from it, because it’s painful, but when I do publish an autobio story, it’s because I know there are people out there who can benefit from it.
PL: You’ve been working on a web comic called Mana, a supernatural fantasy comic where a swordswoman embarks on a quest to find an ocean and meets a stranger suffering from memory loss. Can you tell us more about Mana?
PH: Mana is about Samudra, who had a dream about the ocean. She knows from her upbringing that it’s important that she find it, but she doesn’t know why. Along the way she gets tangled up in the problems of the land between the mountains and the sea. Mana’s about Samudra and her personal journey, and those of her friends, but it’s also my way of exploring Bangladeshi diasporic mythology. It’s my diaspora story.
PL: I like the way you are using water colour in Mana, using a palette of light blue, green and black to great effect. It goes well with the quest of your protagonists. It’s dreamlike and introspective. You do a lot of other work in water colour as well. Is this your preferred method of colouring work?
PH: Yes! I grew up in the boom of digital anime-style art and have always wanted to paint that way, but for whatever reason I’ve always had a hard time drawing and painting digitally. Watercolor was my fallback, but I decided to try and make it a strength. I also like it for Mana, since so much of the story is about water, to use water as a tool.
PL: I’m curious to know if you see Mana as a comic for the screen or for the page. Mana is available online and there have been a few printed versions of the stories thus far, printed for comic convention like TCAF or MOCCA. Are you using the print comic simply to bring people at shows to your web comic or are you envisioning Mana as a graphic novel.
PH: I definitely intended Mana to be in print. When I storyboard the pages, I’m paying attention to whether they’re on the left or right side of the book; I’m trying to guide your eye where I want it to go. I’ll delay a reveal for a page turn. I post the comic online because it’s the easiest way for people to read it.
PL: Your comics often deal with identity and the fluidity with which identity is constructed. Whether it’s your own identity shifting over time (in Amar Shonar Bangla and Cinderella) or your protagonist (in Mana), identity shifts with revelation about oneself. For Mana in particular, it seems so far that you’re exploring the construction of identity with Samudra by exploring her past and current quest. You’re also exploring it’s reconstruction with Victor who’s trying to recover his lost identity. Why do you feel these themes are important to explore?
PH: I think if you read my autobio work, it’s pretty clear that I’ve spent most of my life being told what I am by other people. One of the reasons I share those personal stories is in the hope that someone in a similar position, of feeling wrong or not like a real person, can see my personhood and realize they are also legitimate, and human. In my fiction work I think I might take that to its literal extreme, but I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll leave it at that.
PL: What do you want readers to take with them when they’re reading your comics?
PH: I want to give readers the same floaty feeling I get when I’m drawing, and when I’m reading a really amazing comic. I want people to spend an afternoon reading one of my books and then read it again. I want people to feel like they’re not alone.
You can follow Priya on Twitter, or on her website. You can read Mana either on Tapastic, or on Tumblr. You can also read Amar Shonar Bangla and Cinderella on her tumblr page. You can also buy all of her comics on her shop.
Come meet her 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.