The Lunar New Year was this past weekend, the annual Chinese celebration marking the start of a new lunar cycle and the coming of spring. The history of the Spring Festival’s many traditions is rooted in an ancient legend about a creature, called a Nian, threatening a small village year after year, and the person who was brave enough to stand up to the monster and end the cycle of destruction.
Dark Horse Comics’s new graphic novel, Jia and the Nian Monster, adapts the legend for a young audience. The book centers on Jia, a young girl, and her friend Deshi as they hunt for the Nian Monster and look for answers about the fate of Jia’s parents, who disappeared years before. Mixed Canadian artist Megan Huang illustrates the graphic novel, which is written by Dark Horse founder and president Mike Richardson. Jia and the Nian Monster is the first graphic novel for Huang, who has previous credits on books like Action Lab’s Princeless (with Jeremy Whitley) and Image’s Life (with Stephanie Cooke). With Jia, Huang’s storytelling abilities, energetic linework, and often-vibrant, always-evocative colors combine to create an immersive world for readers of all ages to get lost in.
The Beat had the opportunity to talk with Huang about her experience working on Jia and the Nian Monster, how this project compares with her previous work, and what she’s excited for people to see in the book.
Joe Grunenwald: How did you come to work on Jia and the Nian Monster?
Megan Huang: I actually got an email out of the blue on my birthday about two years ago, asking if I wanted to work on Jia with the one and only, Mike Richardson. It was such a weird, yet very cool coincidence. And of course I said yes to the offer!
Grunenwald: How familiar were you with the story being adapted before you came on to the project?
Huang: I really wasn’t all that familiar with many Chinese legends, aside from the Chinese zodiacs. So Jia was all new to me. The book will have some differences in comparison to the original legend (Where in one version Jia was an old woman, I believe) but I think we did a good job staying true to the core ideas of Jia and the Nian Monster, which is actually about how Chinese New Year came to be.
Grunenwald: How much research, and what types of research, did you do in preparing to work on this book?
Huang: Having a convincing world was important to me, so I looked into the differences between Chinese architecture vs other Asian architecture styles. I didn’t want the reader to be pulled out of the book when a big ol’ Japanese temple was smack in the middle of a Chinese village, which would just take away from the experience, so I did my best to avoid that. I also looked into ancient Chinese attire, so rich vs poor clothing, headwear, hairstyles, makeup, patterns, etc…So a bunch of research! And of course, I researched the original Jia legend as well!
Grunenwald: Your first project for Dark Horse and right off the bat you’re working with the company’s founder and president. How has the experience collaborating with Mike Richardson been?
Huang: Working with Mike was really amazing! We mostly communicated through our editor, Randy Stradley, but Mike was always so positive. It’s still weird to me that, like you said, right off the bat I was working with founder and president, Mike Richardson, but it’s also really epic at the same time! To this day I feel flattered that they decided to reach out and ask me of all people to work on the book.
Grunenwald: With Jia and the Nian Monster being your first graphic novel, how would you compare your process working on this book to previous, shorter projects? Do you prefer one over the other?
Huang: The shorter projects definitely had their upsides, but I really enjoyed working on this graphic novel. With shorter books you can have them hit shelves faster, but I think more people respond to collected trades/ graphic novels, so they can consume the entire story at once, like binge-reading. I don’t think I prefer one over the other though. However, process-wise I think working on a graphic novel was easier on my drawing hand, since despite the longer story, there was actually less to draw. Meaning I only had to do the cover and all of the book’s page roughs once, so the cycle of doing all of that every 24 pages didn’t happen.
Grunenwald: What are you most excited for people to see in this book?
Huang: I love monsters! So I think I’m most excited for people to see the Nian Monster. He’s a big lion/ bull monster with elements of Chinese lion statues and dragon dance dragons. So a very strange, yet menacing looking creature. I really tried to stay to true to Mike’s description of the monster while adding my own flare. I do hope readers can see what I see in his design and in the overall book!
Published by Dark Horse Comics, Jia and the Nian Monster is scheduled for release in comic shops on March 18th, 2020. It’s available for pre-order digitally now.