Talking about Comics with Wendy Xu – Transcript

Raquel: Welcome to Rite Gud, the podcast that helps you write good. I’m Raquel S Benedict, the most dangerous woman in speculative fiction. In this episode, we’re going a little outside of our comfort zone to talk about visual media, in this case, sequential art or graphic novels or comics.

Joining us for this episode is comics artist and illustrator, Wendy Xu, [00:01:00] who made Tide Song, Moon Cakes, and the upcoming The Infinity Particle. Wendy was kind enough to join us and to answer some of our questions about comics from our Discord members. So thanks so much for coming on.

Wendy Xu: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here. I’m a big fan of the show.

Raquel: Thank you so much.

Wendy Xu: Yeah. I always learn other craft techniques from the show. All the talks are always so insightful, so I’m really honored to be here.

Raquel: Oh wow. Thank you. Well, I’m excited to have you on you. I, I think you had a, you were nominated for a Hugo or something,

Wendy Xu: Yeah.

Raquel: and I know, I know that Well, I mean, you were nominated for a Hugo without being part of the nepotism blob, that genuinely is an accomplishment.

Wendy Xu: Oh, thank you. I feel like I, I don’t know. I, I’m very honored to be nominated for the Hugo, because I feel like the, the Hugo’s comic choices, like they’re all great, but, but I feel like mine was maybe the first time, [00:02:00] like a young adult fantasy comic got nominated. Which feels a little, I feel like I shouldn’t have been.

So, I don’t know. I, I feel like my work should not have been an exception. But there are so many amazing sci-fi, fantasy comics that, are published by, not just the, Dark Horse, Image, Marvel, DC where the Hugo nominations usually get their names from.

But I feel like manga publishers, especially a lot of those comics are, I feel like are quote unquote more deserving of that Hugo,

Raquel: It is weird how the Hugos seem to overlook mangas.

Wendy Xu: Yeah, I don’t know why the recalcitrance, I don’t want to say that. I feel like people should be a little wider read in their comics than… and I mean, all the comics nominated for Hugo is like Monstrous. I love Monstrous, but I almost feel like, you know, Naoki Urasawa has never [00:03:00] gotten a Hugo, and that is a shame because he’s, you know, is one of the most amazing sci-fi comics, artists slash creators out there today.

Like, his stuff is just so unhinged. Pluto is the best, like one of the best comics about robots I have ever read.

Raquel: Nice. What was that name again? Just for people who might wanna look for it.

Wendy Xu: Sure. It’s Pluto by Naoki Urasawa. And Urasawa has published a lot of work in Japan. Pluto is his big title here in the west, but he’s also in Japan. He’s got Billy Bat, which is just unhinge like you guys go, I can’t even begin to explain it. People have to go look up a synopsis, but it’s very, Billy Bat is very meta.

According to Wikipedia, the story begins in 1949 and follows Japanese American comic book artist Kevin Yamagata as he draws the popular detective series Billy Bat. When he learns he might have unconsciously [00:04:00] copied the character from an image he saw while serving in occupied Japan.

He returns to Japan to get permission to use Billy Bat from its original creator. Upon arriving there, however, he becomes embroiled in a web of murder, coverups and prophecy that all leads back to Billy Bat. It’s just like bananas.

Raquel: Huh,

Wendy Xu: I just love that the main character is American, but his name is like Kevin

Raquel: Yeah.

Wendy Xu: That one hasn’t had an official English translation yet. It absolutely should. I saw Urasawa work on it while, during his episode of Manben, which is, he also has a show where he highlights different manga artists and their processes. And it’s just so fascinating to watch. Like every episode of Manben is so insightful.

I feel like I learn something every single time I watch. Like everyone has such a different process when it comes to making their own [00:05:00] comics. You know, I know one of the questions was how do, where do you start with comics if you don’t know how to draw, if you just wanna write them?

And I feel like every aspiring comics writer should definitely be watching Manben, like by Urasawa

Raquel: Huh.

Wendy Xu: Yeah, it’s, yeah. It’s a great series. Just super fun.

Raquel: Before we dive in though, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work

Wendy Xu: Yeah, sure. Um, I was raised on the northeast coast, so I live in New York. I grew up in Connecticut, a k a, the most cursed state. I really feel like Connecticut is just one of the most cursed states. I know we all talk about Florida, but I truly feel like Connecticut deserves its own place of honor,


Raquel: Hmm.

Wendy Xu: I think as I grow older, like when I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to get out of Connecticut, go to college. I went to, I went to clown school, aka NYU. [00:06:00] And I I studied psychology and creative writing. I was always drawing. I’m mostly self-taught. I’ve taken art classes here and there. I took fine arts classes in high school.

But the comics thing was mostly just me really loving to read comics and being encouraged by all of my wonderful local librarians, to do so. I’ve been drawing comics since I was, I wanna say like a kid. I think my first finished short comic I made when I was like a teenager.

I interned at Marvel when I was in college, which gave me a lot of insight. Yeah. Into, uh, into the process. And also like years later, what I was sent like a $500 check from their sub from the settlement that they made cuz they weren’t paying their interns.

Raquel: Oh.

Wendy Xu: Yes. I was like, oh, thank you. I did that internship for credit. I got to read a ton of American comics and before [00:07:00] then I hadn’t really read, many like Big Two superhero stuff. So that was, that was really interesting. And then I graduated and had, I don’t know what I really wanted to do.

I just know that I wanted to keep drawing and putting it online, so I just got a bunch of admin type jobs. Um,

Raquel: huh.

Wendy Xu: but yeah, I kind of fell into comics. I feel like people, a lot of people fall into comics as a career. But I feel like I also got very lucky because the timing of me putting my work online kind of coincided with the publishing industry, deciding to be really more into the idea of publishing kids comics.

And even before I was professionally published, I decided to make a web comic with my, with my friend Suzanne Walker. And that became Mooncakes. And we got a pretty decent readership off of like the first couple of chapters that we had put on Tumblr. And by then I had had an agent, [00:08:00] I had kind of unsuccessfully tried to pitch this kind of high fantasy Chinese mythology inspired project.

But my agent suggested, pitching Mooncakes, which we did. And it got picked up. So that became like my debut. And along with Mooncakes, I was invited to pitch like something for a younger audience. So I pitched Tidesong. And the editor who had picked up Tidesong, really wanted to hear like other ideas.

So I pitched her The Infinity Particle and that’s kind of how I got started. It’s really weird to think that I already have drawn three whole books. I feel like

Raquel: Yeah, that’s a lot.

Wendy Xu: Yeah. I feel like I’m just getting started. But to other people in the industry, I am now consider like, I’m not considered a, a quote unquote, like a debut author anymore.

And that’s just, that’s just kind of weird, but it’s kind of cool too.

Raquel: Yeah. That is cool when you suddenly realize, oh, I’m not a baby at [00:09:00] this anymore.

Wendy Xu: Yeah. Although I feel like I have to relearn my process with every single book cuz it’s so different with each book. But I think that’s part of the fun of getting to draw your books instead of sitting and drafting them, with words, right.

Raquel: Yeah. Well, I think that ties to the first question one of our Discord members asked, which is, how often do you challenge yourself narratively, structurally, stylistically in your work?

Wendy Xu: Yeah. So I try to take a different approach with each book. I know that my process for Mooncakes, because it was my first full-length book, I had never done anything like it before. So I kind of tried to go the traditional route and I was working off of a script. Suzanne wrote the whole script out and I would go through her script and draw, draw thumbnails based off of that.

So thumbnails for people who don’t know the lingo is like really, it’s like a really small crappy, like sketch [00:10:00] outline sketch. So I did thumbnails, like page by page, chapter by chapter. And because I had a script to work off of, I didn’t really have to worry about the dialogue. I could focus a lot on like the character, acting and the motion and stuff.

But for Tide Song, because I was also writing the script, I had to really think of a way to, both write and draw the book that wouldn’t drive me crazy because I am not the kind of person who wants to sit down, who sits down and writes a whole script before they start drawing. The two things are so inseparable in, uh, in my mind.

Oh, there he goes,

Raquel: There’s Harley. There’s Harley. Speaking of inseparable Harley and the Rite Gud podcast.

Wendy Xu: mm-hmm. I am, he wa he’s the, he’s the host. He wants to be the host too.

Raquel: He is. He is the co-host.

Wendy Xu: He is. So I, so I had to think of a different outline for, Tide Song. And then for Infinity Particle, I changed my process [00:11:00] yet again. Where I basically drew the whole book, like full size, but really, really crappy.

And I kind of wrote in all the dialogue, really like by hand, before I took all of those pages and made a cohesive outline and sent that to my editor so she could give feedback. Which I think is not, it’s actually not that uncommon. I think in the manga industry, they do something similar, but they have like a script kind of pre-approved before they draw the whole book.

So it’s a different process with every book. I feel like for this next book, I’m going to learn something else. I am a little bit scared of, um, what that entails, but I’m very excited. And for, structurally stylistically, I feel like I’m always pushing myself to be the best artist that I can be. I know that for Mooncakes and for, for Tidesong, which were both full color, I was [00:12:00] really is, and coloring is kind of the hardest part of, um, the process for me. I was trying really hard to figure out a way that to color that, would not make me want to drive off the Brooklyn Bridge. What make, because, um, c it’s, it’s a technical thing, but a lot of times coloring a comic digitally does not feel like making art

to me. It feels like data entry because, a lot of it is to do with clicking and pointing and I really didn’t wanna do that. Even though I know that is a, a process that’s designed by nature of like clicking and pointing to be boring, but to get the job done faster. But I really didn’t wanna do that.

I feel like at every stage of the process I have to feel like I’m making a piece of art. So I was trying really hard to figure out like a good coloring process. And then by this third book I was like, I’m not coloring anymore full color, I’m just doing screen tones. I’m doing like two colors and that’s it.

[00:13:00] So I feel like for the next project, I’m just not going to color. I feel like there’s a lot of things I could be doing compositionally. That leans more into the single color, the two color that would look really good. And I really wanna challenge myself to try, doing more of those kinds of drawings.

Like I’ve been looking at a lot of, uh, Chinese woodblock printing recently. And the, the way that woodblock, they carved it with really, beautiful like stark lines and shadow and defined forms and the, and the very simple colors. The prints I’ve been looking at have one to two colors per, per print.

So they look very striking. Kind of very something I would love to try more in a comic. I also grew up with manga, so I grew up looking at a lot of really beautiful black and white art. There is a, there’s a whole art to making, to making black [00:14:00] and white art, that I’m keen to explore more of.

Raquel: right. My understanding at least from film is you’ve just gotta, you’ve gotta be much more careful with composition for fear of making everything kind of muddy and unintelligible.

Wendy Xu: Yeah, absolutely. Zhang Leping, the guy who does, who was a Chinese artist in the 1940s, he’s a very famous cartoonist from China. His black and white comics are some of the most crisp and clear and readable work, that I’ve ever come across, which, like I grew up reading his work before I could even read words.

So it’s been really cool to kind of go back to the thing that was my earliest comic and to study it again as like a grownup.

Raquel: Yeah, that is pretty cool.

Wendy Xu: Hmm.

Raquel: S So what is next? What are you working on?

Wendy Xu: I am currently working on several different ideas. I have a idea for a fantasy comic about, that’s kind of based on [00:15:00] Chinese mythology. Not as, I don’t think it’s as like high concept as my rejected project from when I was first trying to pitch. It’s definitely a lot less elaborate, but I really just want to have some fun with the folklore. And, luckily my dad, loves art too.

So he got me all these beautiful books that’s just basically like the series full of magical creatures and stories. And I’ve been listening to a couple of podcasts in, in English of these folk tales and there’s so much there that I really, there it is just so fun to play with.

Raquel: That sounds cool. Now let’s switch gears and talk a little bit about making comics. You kind of partially answered this already, but someone in our discord asked, “I’m curious about the process from inception to finish. For someone who both writes and draws for their comics, what comes first artwork like character or setting drawings that [00:16:00] inspire a story or a story concept that inspires the character designs and look of the setting?”

Wendy Xu: That’s a really great question. I feel like for me, I am a very character and setting oriented person. Like sometimes I will go to, if I go to a place, like if, if I go hiking and I am moved by the scenery, I just like, I sit down and sketch the scenery and then I think about what kind of world

is this place that I just sketched, what makes it similar to our world? What makes it different from our world? And why? Or I’ll just be doodling and, I’ll start with what I, kind of, what I like to call, the basic, the basic me character. I think a lot of artists do this where they start off with basically a character that’s pretty generic to their style, and then they try to play with that and separate it into, into a different character.

So [00:17:00] I usually end up drawing something that I find like comforting. And then I ask myself, what if this character, what if I took the face and stretched it a little here? What if I, what if I, gave them fox paws? What if I did this? What if I did that? And then there’s like this moment, I don’t wanna sound woo woo, but there’s like this moment where I will sketch the character again after several iterations.

And like that sketch is when that character really starts speaking to me, as a character. And I think like, oh, I can put this in, in a fictional setting. And then I start thinking about what kind of fictional setting. And then I’ll look at sketches I’ve done, or I will think of where this character looks like they could fit in.

It really depends on the project. I know for Infinity Particle it was like randomly inspired. Like I remember, being at a [00:18:00] shark exhibit at the Natural History Museum and reading about like a submarine that could take soil samples with human precision because of the delicateness of like the, the little submarine robot’s hands.

And I immediately was like, what if we sent out a hot robot to take soil samples? Um, like what would, what would that look like? You know, like a hot sensitive robot. So I took, these ideas of like being underwater, of hot robot and I kind of started sketching from there. But then that project underwent a lot of different changes and it started, you know, it was first set underwater and then I decided to set it some off world entirely.

Yeah, so that’s, that’s where I get, I get a lot of ideas from a lot of different places, but I think like the best part is when you just let yourself play and, sometimes the [00:19:00] story just kind of falls together. Even if I have to do a lot of brainstorming on another page with words of actual ideas.

Some, sometimes, the pieces will be there in the drawings, and then I’ll take that and I’ll work with it.

Raquel: Neat. That is neat. I’m not a super-visual person. I, so I’m, I’m always curious, like, how, how do the, where do the pictures come from? How do, well, that’s hard. It looks so hard. Okay, so I’m, I’m gonna ask a variation on a question you probably get a whole lot. Imagine that I’m a writer and I want to make a comic, but I cannot draw for shit.

Wendy Xu: Ah,

Raquel: Like, maybe I’m gonna write the comic script and find an artist to illustrate it. How would one do that? What is your advice?

Wendy Xu: Yeah, totally. First of all, watch all of Manben just to make yourself appreciate, all of the effort that is going into the art. But, and then I would [00:20:00] say try, try to draw it. If you are first starting out, making a comic for the very first time, if you wanna write one, make a very short one, like one page to four pages.

And honestly, just try to draw, like even if you were a terrible artist. Play around with layouts. You can make a, a pretty decent layout with stick figures. But I find that, sitting down yourself and trying to at least visualize it, with the layouts, even if you have to, do a little scribble in the background and write into, into the panel, ” this is supposed to be a city scape,”

Um, at least you have got given yourself a sense of several things. You’ve given yourself a sense of, how much dialogue can potentially fit into that panel. You’ve given yourself a sense of how many actions a character can be doing per panel, which is a mistake that a lot of writers tend to make.

They’ll [00:21:00] have a character be doing too many things in one panel. And you’ll be giving yourself a sense of, like the scale of what you wanna put into the panel. If you have a small panel, you’re probably not gonna wanna put an epic space battle in there, right? But giving yourself the freedom to make a small comic, finish a small comic, draw those layouts yourself.

Take it all the way to the point that you can, because anyone can draw a layout. It’s just, making it look nice. That is the very daunting thing, right. But I think, I, I, I really don’t think it can hurt to just, just try. I always teach from, I teach from Linda Barry’s book Making Comics.

I’ve taught, I, I teach mostly middle and high school students now, but I’ve taught senior citizens in the past at like a senior center, um, which was great. But it’s really interesting because,[00:22:00] teens and kids are a little more eager to dive in, even if they’re really, really self-conscious.

But old folks will sit there with their arms crossed for about, 15 minutes and say, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” Yeah. And I like, as the teacher who is, looks much younger than all of them, I have to try to be like, no, it’s okay. Like, it’s, it’s fine. We’re, we’re here to have fun. You know, you’re retired, you’re supposed to be having fun. Have some fun with it.

And by the second or the third class, they’ve loosened up and start to have fun. And they make some like really amazing work that’s like, is it publishable? No, but they’re not looking to get published, you know? And I really don’t like, if it’s your first comic ever and you’re trying to write it, please be, give yourself realistic expectations of whether it’s gonna be publishable or not.

Right? It’s just like, writing your first short story ever writing your first novel ever. So, you know, have some fun with it. Make [00:23:00] some, some shitty little sketches and, take that experience and learn from it. I feel like there’s such a, a rush these days for people to want to get published straight away, that they’re forgetting to have fun and find joy in the process of the work.

And that’s really a shame because you know, if you are doing a comic, you’re gonna, as an artist, I’m gonna have to be drawing this thing for like, 250 pages. If I don’t love it, then it’s, it’s just gonna be the worst thing, the worst experience ever, you know,

Raquel: Yeah. Yeah.

Wendy Xu: I feel like a lot of people come into comics and they, they’re like, I wanna be the ideas guy.

And like, I, I’m sorry, the artist is, the ideas guy too. Everybody is the ideas guy. But if you’re giving something to an artist to draw, you have to be flexible. You have to be humble, you have to accept that it’s not gonna, if you have like some grand vision, it’s not gonna be exactly what you envision.

Cuz they’re bringing, an artist is [00:24:00] bringing their own vision to it. That’s part of the exciting thing about, writing comics. I’ve written like one comic, I wrote a short– have you played the game Dream Daddy?

Raquel: I’ve heard of it. It was a dating sim, right?

Wendy Xu: Yeah. I wrote like a single issue of a Dream Daddy comic and I just did the writing. But it was, it was so cool to see, to see Ryan, uh, Lacount the artist take that, what I had written and, put it into pictures, like it was so brilliant. But I couldn’t help but feel that, Ryan was the one who did most of the work.

Like I just kind of gave stage direction. I know we always venerate the director. I know we always venerate the writer, but I feel like with comics we should be venerating the artist cuz they’re doing most of the work.

Raquel: Yeah. Yeah. That is the lion’s share of the work.

Wendy Xu: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: It is very interesting. People will, will kind of flat out say, oh, “I can’t draw. I can’t draw. It’s impossible.” But then not really value [00:25:00] the work, the labor of art either.

If it’s that easy, then you do it.

Wendy Xu: Yeah, exactly.

Raquel: you know.

Wendy Xu: My one rule of thumb when people are like, “oh, I wanna pitch a graphic novel,” is, what is the idea that you are bringing to the table that an artist can’t come up with themselves? Like, what are you specifically, because that’s on you to bring something interesting, something exciting, something that will be fun to draw, that someone will really want to, want to like, collaborate with you on the project.

Like, if you’re just bringing, something really boring, I’m not saying that like, all writers’ ideas are automatically boring, but if you’re bringing something that an artist could just as easily have come up with themselves, like there’s tons of, writer illustrators out there, then what are you doing? Why can’t you just write a novel if you want this to be like your singular vision, you know,

Raquel: Yeah, it, I don’t know. I don’t get it.

Wendy Xu: I think it’s an ego thing. Like I think people, like everybody wants to be the director, right? Like everybody wants to [00:26:00] be I don’t know, James Cameron

Raquel: Yeah.

Wendy Xu: But, but also James Cameron is a terrific, technical skilled artist

Raquel: He’s very good at what, yeah, he’s a really good artist and incredibly thorough too. He’s not coming up with ideas. He’s just like, “okay, well I’m gonna go under the water in a submarine to just look to study water better.” what you, you didn’t have to do– okay.

Wendy Xu: right. And I

Raquel: He’ll just do it.

Wendy Xu: he’ll, he’ll, he’s got experience as like a background painter. The man has been there, like he’s done the work.

Raquel: Right

Wendy Xu: so I mean, I’m gonna just ignore the terrible writing on his latest movie. I’m gonna try my best to forget the writing and just, just sit there and be like, okay, this is James Cameron’s, original characters, you know, do not steal.

He just really likes water. His OC do not steal. He really likes water. He likes whales. Everything else is just embarrassing

Raquel: Oh no. You know it’s funny, I haven’t seen either [00:27:00] Avatar movie. I’m not like deliberately avoiding it. I just haven’t gone to it.

Wendy Xu: It’s just

Raquel: I don’t have strong feelings.

Wendy Xu: no, I’m just like, James Cameron, why didn’t you, why didn’t you hire a team of indigenous writers? If this was the story you really, really, really wanted to tell if, if you were dying to tell this, like, if you just wanted to make a cool, if you just wanted to play with like sci-fi graphics and really cool shots of whales, you can do that. But for the love of God, you don’t need to be the ideas guy for for everything either,

Raquel: Right.

Wendy Xu: Like, he didn’t need to be the ideas guy for the, for the writing on this, but I feel like he insisted and that’s what made it suck narratively.

Raquel: Oh, no,

Wendy Xu: So, so yeah. We can’t all be the ideas guy. Some of us are better at some things than others. James Cameron, please stop. You know? Yeah. Stop

Raquel: Well, what’s [00:28:00] funny is the ideas people in comics , there are the ideas, people in in novels and short stories, and they don’t really write the book either. Most of the time they post a lot about writing, but then they don’t.

Wendy Xu: oh god.

Raquel: There’s a lot of those.

Wendy Xu: So,

Raquel: We’re getting that the ideas get better while you’re actually trying to do it.

You get, you get new ideas and you refine your ideas while you’re actually doing the work.

Wendy Xu: I’m like, can you please just write your book? It’s okay

Raquel: They won’t do that either. I guarantee they will not.

Wendy Xu: The thing is the draft is always gonna suck, right? The script draft, the novel draft, it’s gonna suck. But like, you have to do it. Just do it. And then move on to the next one. And I think people, again, I think it ties into just how eager people are to, I don’t know, like brand themselves almost, that they are… I mean everybody, everybody sees the person who, I don’t know, writes for comics.

They’re [00:29:00] like, “I wanna write for comics.” But then they don’t understand how much of, being a, just a solely a writer in comics is, is being humble. I had a really great time working on Mooncakes because, Suzanne just let me do what I wanted with the visuals cuz she knew that wasn’t necessarily her strong suit.

She just gave input when it came to, one of our main characters. There were a couple scenes with her hearing aid and Suzanne gave me really good visual input on that because she is hard of hearing and I, as someone without those experiences would not have known how to visually depict that, but she had some really good ideas about that.

But everything else, the magic, the creatures, she left it to me and that was really nice to be able to fully go in and, and play with the world. So, hashtag not all writers, um,

Raquel: Yeah,

Wendy Xu: but, but yeah, if you wanna write for comics, you have to, be humble.[00:30:00]

Raquel: All right.

Wendy Xu: and oh, and the other thing is that really bothers me is when a comics writer has published a graphic novel or is promoting a graphic novel and they say,” oh, my book,” and it’s not your book, it’s, at the very least it is our book.

Like, I really wish they would stop saying “my book.” I know that it’s not just me, but like a lot of artist friends notice this and it really grates on them because they’re like, “you didn’t do the majority of the work on that.”

Raquel: Yeah. No kidding. Now, um, another question from the Discord: “is the so-called Marvel method where the writer comes up with an idea, the artist draws it, and then the writer adds the text afterwards easier for artists to work with than a full script, or does it just depend on the writer?”

Wendy Xu: Oh my gosh. It really depends on the writer sometimes. I personally find that putting in dialogue… let me, I’m trying to think of how to phrase this. I personally [00:31:00] find that it is much easier to do layouts if you already have dialogue to work with. If the person has given you a script and there’s like a ton of dialogue and you see that the dialogue is like a paragraph long, you’re like, there is no way this is gonna fit into a panel.

I feel like as the artist, I know that perhaps like this is not an industry-wide standard, but I really feel like it should be standard for artists to be able to give feedback on scripts just to say like, this is way too long. You need to cut it. I’ve seen a lot of Marvel comics that has– I mean, letterers are doing like the Lord’s work here, right?

In these Marvel comics. They are making everything fit. God knows how. Sometimes in ways that are more effective than others. But I’ve seen, Marvel comics where they have taken what is obviously like a paragraph long script it, paragraph long dialogue in the script and broken it into readable chunks.

Which again, I feel like it’s really important for writers to watch people draw comics and [00:32:00] read a lot of comics, just to get a sense of like how much of dialogue can fit into a panel. If, especially since Marvel has, been hiring a lot of, sci-fi fantasy prose writers, which for a lot of them have self-admitted,

“This is my first comic that I’ve written.” And, I look at the comic and I’m like, I can tell because this is way too long of dialogue and

Raquel: is too many words.

Wendy Xu: too many words. And people don’t speak like that, they…

Raquel: oh, no.

Wendy Xu: I understand, you know, it’s your first comic, that’s fine. But, and not everyone, I, I think at some houses they give people like a crash course on how to write them, but not everyone kind of gets it.

And it’s still too long. So I really, yeah, I feel like the rule of thumb when it comes to writing a script and writing dialogue is make it as short as possible.

Raquel: Hmm. Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. No one really likes the giant text bubble. When you see one of those in a comic, it’s like, oh, [00:33:00] no.

Wendy Xu: Also, giant text bubbles are just ugly. When they are stretched out long ways and they take up the whole, half of the panel, that just looks bad. You know, you’re covering up what is supposed to be like, it’s a, it’s a visual medium. So if you’re constantly covering up all the images with, with words.

I don’t think it necessarily makes for a very effective comic. And once again, why didn’t you just write a novel?

Raquel: All right, so another question from the Discord. “I’m sort of selfishly interested in the page per scripting process. Years ago I tried experimenting by writing a standard superhero 24 pager script, and the hardest thing I found was pacing out the plot points to give my imagined artist the proper leeway to create uncluttered and dynamic art.

I’ve got a bad habit of hyper compression.”

Wendy Xu: Again, if you are experimenting with writing, you know, a standard comic issue that they sell at the store, at the, at the comic store is [00:34:00] like 24 pages. So I think that’s what this person is referring to as opposed to a longer graphic novel. I really find that if you want a script page by page, it is helpful to actually once again draw, 24 pages out.

Or if you’re not, and I don’t mean draw as in even make a layout. Sometimes what really helps is I will make a grid of 24, two by two. So I’ll have like a 12, quote unquote spread grid. I will have, so I’ll have what looks like a spread, uh, which is two pages, side by side. Repeat that 12 times and then, draw like the panels.

But instead of drawing, stick figures or, anything in the layouts, I, you can go into each panel and write what happens in each panel, and then you can kind of pull a script from there. I mean, if it helps to draw like stick [00:35:00] figures talking, like if people are talking, you should absolutely do that. But sometimes I will have, when I’m scripting out a longer book, I did this for Infinity Particle, actually, it’s just, I did a series of, spreads of the whole interior.

So it was like about 260 something pages I gave myself. I think I gave myself 270 pages to work with, but I, went through each. I went through each spread and I wrote a very basic outline of what happens in that spread. And then I would kind of break it down further into, if there’s a really important moment happening in a particular panel, I would sketch it out very roughly just because I’m a visual thinker.

But if it was a panel of a background, I would literally just write “cityscape here.” And I would, I would kind of pace out the dialogue, panel by panel. I don’t know if that makes [00:36:00] any sense. I feel like this is hard to explain without

Raquel: I think I get what you’re, I think I get the idea though. I think I know what you’re, yeah.

Wendy Xu: You’re almost making a book map for yourself. I think that’s, what I would call it. You’re making a book map, so you are. And it’s almost like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Like you’re starting with the, or at least when I do a jigsaw puzzle, you start with the outer edge and you kind of work your way in.

Yeah. So you start with, your outer edge, which is how many pages is it? And then you draw your spreads. Those are gonna be your, your, all the outer edge pieces. And then you kind of take each piece and you try to find pieces that build off of that until you got like a complete, puzzle map.

Raquel: Yeah, that makes sense.

Wendy Xu: Okay. Good. ? I was like, I wasn’t sure if the, of course, I was like, is the metaphor working?

Raquel: I, yeah, I think I get what you’re, I I’m not a, a comics person, but I think I get what you’re saying. Yeah, that makes a [00:37:00] lot of sense actually. That’s cool.

Wendy Xu: Yeah. I think comic scripting, instead of writing it like a screenplay, the way that a lot of people think, they should approach it more like putting together a puzzle.

Raquel: It almost sounds kind of like storyboarding a movie before you shoot it.

Wendy Xu: Yes. Yes. There we go. That was, that was the word.

Raquel: Okay. cool. Yeah, that makes a lot more sense that, that I can definitely see that helping with the pacing a ton.

Wendy Xu: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: Because I could see myself, if I ever tried to write a comic, I would absolutely be one of those people who puts too many fucking words in there,

Wendy Xu: It’s a very common mistake. I mean, people just like, people just don’t know how, visually it’s gonna look on the page until some poor bastard tries to draw, you know? So

Raquel: Yeah,

Wendy Xu: I think people have seen like Rian Johnson’s storyboards for Knives Out. That’s the level of shitty art I’m talking about, but it was effective and [00:38:00] readable.

So, you know, you don’t have to be, you don’t have to be Bong Joon-ho, levels of storyboarding, where, all of the, all of his storyboards were like collected to make an actual comic for Parasite.

Raquel: Oh yeah. I, I find it so interesting what storyboards look like. Some, some director’s storyboards are beautiful, uh, illustration that could legitimately be a comic on its own. Some are just clearly stick figures and scrawls and just look like absolute shit. And the movie comes out great somehow. Anyway,

Wendy Xu: Yeah, definitely. I mean, let Rian Johnson be your guide when it comes to, when people are like, “oh, I can’t draw.” Well, you know, that man can’t either, but he’s got a vision. and,

Raquel: I’m I’m looking up the storyboard. Oh, these are great.

Wendy Xu: yeah, I mean, I,

Raquel: terrible. I love them.

Wendy Xu: I think they’re charming and they’re, you know, you know, most importantly they’re readable.

His intent is coming across as to like what, the vision is. And that’s, that’s the most important thing. So, you know, even if you can [00:39:00] only draw stick figures, do as he does

Raquel: Yeah. Yeah. The idea comes across. That’s cool.

Wendy Xu: mm-hmm.

Raquel: Oh, that’s so funny.

Wendy Xu: I know it’s just like the stick figure, like the lollipop head haloed by knives.

Raquel: Yeah, And the knives are just X’s.

Wendy Xu: Right. It’s great. It works

Raquel: Yeah. All right. So let’s move on to questions about the industry. What are some common misconceptions about the comics industry that you’d like to debunk?

Wendy Xu: I think we’ve talked about this, but like that being the writer gives you, makes you the most important person in the room. I’m very art forward in my practice. All of my colleagues who make really beautiful work are also art forward in their process. They are writing and drawing their own comics.

So yeah, I think that, and I mean the industry, the industry kind of reinforces this because [00:40:00] they put ” written by so-and-so” in like huge letters and the artist gets a tiny sidebar and that sucks. That really sucks. I feel like people are pushing a little bit harder to have equal billing.


Raquel: Yeah. I’m thinking of just the Sandman comics. It’s all, it’s Neil Gaiman’s Sandmans, and it’s Neil Gaiman Sandman. And I know he, there were different artists for each book, but they didn’t really get the same billing.

Wendy Xu: Right. I think that they should have, and I think it’s a shame that they didn’t, because there’s some really beautiful pages in Sandman,

Raquel: Yeah.

Wendy Xu: and in Books of Magic, which I read as like a very impressionable 12 year old, I was like, “this is, this is bananas.” But I remember Neil Gaiman’s name and I don’t remember any of the artists, even though the images are the ones that stick in my mind.

So like, that sucks.

Raquel: Yeah.

Wendy Xu: Yeah. Other misconceptions? I’m thinking, you know, all the AI bros are like, are like, “I [00:41:00] could use AI instead of paying you a million dollars.” And I’m like, “who is making a million dollars?”

Raquel: Right.

Wendy Xu: None of us are making millions of dollars. Okay. Comics, for better or for worse, everybody wants to make money off comics. Film people, TV people are always plucking, ideas from the comics industry, but they’re not necessarily paying the creators what they’re due. And that really sucks.

I’m thinking about some of the Marvel franchises that have taken shots that are just the panel and the art. I’m like, where’s the money for the artist? Like, I hope the artist got paid. I don’t know if they did or not,

Raquel: Probably not.

Wendy Xu: oh, that sucks.

Raquel: Yeah, it does.

Wendy Xu: So I would like to debunk the fact that, we are all rich and famous. That’s hilarious.

Raquel: Yeah, all those, all those rich, famous artists. Artists, famously rich, all of them.

Wendy Xu: Oh my God,

Raquel: [00:42:00] notoriously wealth generating profession.

Wendy Xu: I don’t have to pay you a million. I’m like, who is, I wish, I wish we could be charging, you know, a million dollars. That would be nice. What else? Common misconceptions.

The conception that like, oh, it’s just prose with pictures, I think is one that really sticks in my craw. As we’ve discussed, it is an art form on its own, and if you write prose that’s great and good for you, but do not think you can write an effective comic because I’ve seen some of those Marvel titles and they’re not great.

You know, you can tell when someone has studied how to write comics specifically versus, a prose author who is venturing into this territory for the first time.

Raquel: Yeah. And even then, I mean the difference between comics versus, uh, prose with illustrations. I mean, we’ve read prose with illustrations. We [00:43:00] probably had illustrated children’s books as a kid, and they’re not the same as comics.

Wendy Xu: Yeah,

Raquel: differently. It’s a very different experience, and I’m not trying to knock them.

I mean, they’re great. It’s just they’re not the same thing at all.

Wendy Xu: Absolutely. But also I, I honestly, I find the term graphic novel to just be like, it’s just a little pretentious. It’s just say like, oh, it’s, it’s not like, you know, it’s not like a 3. 99 floppy, I think they’re like $5 now. Ew, , like inflation is getting all of us. It’s not like a, a $5, you know, 24 page, floppy that you’d buy at the comic bookstore and like, okay.

I mean, I guess, I don’t know. It’s. They’re all comics, they’re all, they’re all good and bad in their own ways. The only difference, between a graphic novel and a floppy is that a floppy is being produced by a people who have a very in-house way of, of proceeding with their [00:44:00] talent, their writers and artists versus like, if you’re doing a graphic novel sometimes, your editor has never edited a, a comic before.

And there’s a little bit of, there’s a learning curve there for them. Es especially as a lot of, a lot of publishers are now, especially in kids comics, which is like where I work, turning to, middle grade and young adult stuff. So there’s been, I’ve heard from, not, not me specifically, like I’ve had a really great team and I feel so fortunate that I’ve had good experiences, with my editor and art director.

But several of my colleagues have said, ” well, they don’t understand just how long it takes us to, to do the art.”

Raquel: Oh no.

Wendy Xu: Yeah. And, and it sucks. I mean, that’s another misconception that an artist can just think like Charles Xavier and, and brainwaves go out and the picture just appears. And like it takes so long to do a page, especially if it’s full color, that people just have this really bizarre sense of [00:45:00] how long it’s gonna take.

Which again is why everybody should be watching Manben,

Raquel: Well, yeah, I mean we, deep down most of us know that well, at least a lot of us know that a painting can take a super long time,

Wendy Xu: yeah.

Raquel: you’re doing that like 24 times.

Wendy Xu: Right, right. Or you’re doing like, you know, you’re doing hundreds and thousands of drawings over hundreds of pages and sure sometimes a panel can be very simple, but you’re still just drawing it repeatedly. And there’s a special kind of shorthand and language and visual language to those, to those drawings too, which is, is really cool.

Artists have invented, shortcuts for how to draw like a person and draw a simplified person and to do it in a way that isn’t gonna be boring to them, a hundred pages down the line. Like, it’s a really cool medium. And I wish more people would take the chance to appreciate the nuances of this specific medium instead of [00:46:00] demanding that every comic be like hyperrealistic and hyper rendered.

I don’t think people looking at a Marvel comic, or like an American comic or even a manga realizes that a lot of times these, these books are being made by teams.

Raquel: Oh yeah.

Wendy Xu: there’s people have assistance. I mean, in the manga industry, they have an insane publication schedule, and so everybody, a lot of the creators have assistance, but in, you know, American comics, someone is doing the writing and passing it off to someone doing the pencils and then passing it off to someone doing inks and then colors, and then lettering.

So a lot of times, it’s not like a one person job. It’s a, it’s a four or five people job, and that’s not even including editors and, um, copy editors and designers and everybody who puts in the effort to make the book happen.

Raquel: Mm.

Wendy Xu: so it’s never, it’s [00:47:00] never just the genius of me, you know,

Yeah. But I think the team sport part about it is also what makes it fun. Even if I am writing and, and drawing it all by myself, I’m still getting feedback from my colleagues. I’m still getting feedback from the editor and the art director, to try to help me figure out like what kind of process works for me.

Which like I was super grateful for, my editor and my art director on Infinity Particle because I was so struggling to figure out how to like color it in a way that wouldn’t make me wanna yeet myself off the Brooklyn Bridge. And finally we decided on this two tone thing and it was really nice to hear that

my art director said like, “Hey, we really want you to enjoy the process. We really want you to ha have a book that you’re proud of. We don’t want you to finish it and just feel burned out and defeated, like you hate it.” And, which is like, isn’t that so kind? I wish more [00:48:00] people would be like this.

They were just so receptive to my personal vision and what works for me as someone who can’t afford to like, hire an assistant to help me with all the work. So that was really lovely. They don’t take a short time to, to draw. If you think they take a short time to draw, that’s because publishing schedules are bananas.

Raquel: Yeah. Now, are there any storytelling fads in the contemporary comics industry that you’d like to weigh in on?

Wendy Xu: Storytelling fads. I’m seeing a lot of, it’s not necessarily a fad in the story, but it’s a fad in the art for a lot of stuff for younger readers. I would like to say that there’s a difference between something that’s drawn in a simplified style where the artist knows what they’re doing and something that’s drawn in a simplified style because the person does not know how to draw.

Raquel: Oh.

Wendy Xu: There’s a huge difference. For someone with an arts background, it’s really easy to tell when,[00:49:00] when someone just does not know what they’re doing. And it’s unfortunate that, some of the editors who are not as visually literate can’t tell, can’t seem to differentiate. Because when something is simp is like simply drawn but effective, and kid friendly, it’ll be done in a way that… I’m thinking of Mo Willems’s pigeon books.

Like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. That pigeon is a great design. I’m not just saying this cuz I love pigeons, but

Raquel: I gotta look this up. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

Wendy Xu: yeah. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

Raquel: Well, that’s super cute.

Wendy Xu: It’s a very cute pigeon design. It translates well to, it translates well to like a hand puppet. I know they did a pigeon puppet show, sometime back for like small, small children and the pigeon puppet was really cute.

And then, but Mo Willems had the kids draw their own pigeons. And that pigeon is something that a kid would want to imitate, [00:50:00] right? The shapes are so simple and so nice.

Raquel: Yeah, it’s really appealing, but it’s distinctive.

Wendy Xu: Yeah. And I think a lot of, uh, I’ve been looking at a lot of like vintage Japanese children’s books, illustrations, from the fifties and the sixties. And those designs are simple but effective. There’s a lot of really great… I follow this book account called like 50 and they post a lot of just like vintage books from around the world.

And those designs have been really great. There’s a design of some bugs that I just loved at a table, they’re having a party. But there’s some kids’ books that I look at the design for and I am like, “what was the thought process behind this?” Because like I look at the pigeon design for, the pigeon books I look at like Richard Scary’s designs for Busy World.

Do you remember, do you remember Lowly Worm from Busy Town?

Raquel: Lowly worm.

Wendy Xu: Yeah. That’s a [00:51:00] really great design

Raquel: Oh, in the apple car? Yes.

Wendy Xu: That’s a

Raquel: God damn right. I remember the worm in the apple car.

Wendy Xu: I just like, he, he’s just a little worm with like a cute, he’s just a worm with a foot and he’s got like a big eye. He’s got like his little apple car.

Raquel: Yeah, the apple car rocks.

Wendy Xu: yeah.

Raquel: such a simple image, but it’s so good.

Wendy Xu: Right. And those are, those are what I consider– also also Pokemon, for kids, those are really great creature designs. As a kid I always wanted to draw the Pokemon because they were like, the proportions were so simple, but they were

Raquel: simple, but they’re really distinctive from each other, which is pretty impressive considering there’s so many of them.

Wendy Xu: right. So there’s those and where you can see that there was clear thought process, you can see that like, this design has been workshopped. Whereas if, I mean, like, I don’t, I don’t wanna name names, but , [00:52:00] I’ll look at, I’ll go around the kids section and I will just be like, “what was the thought process behind this figure?

It looks like 10 of these other books. Where are you getting these ideas from?” Like proportion wise, this just doesn’t, this doesn’t look put together. It doesn’t look cohesive. It doesn’t necessarily have like a strong vision. I mean, this is more for kids’ books than for comics, I feel like for comics…

I really personally, I gravitate away from kind of the hyper rendered art of, the big two superhero stuff. I just feel like that’s very harsh on the eyes. I grew up with, I grew up with like black and white, Chinese comics. The design sensibility is different. Like manga and which is all black and white.

Like, I feel like that was just so much easier on my eyes. Then if you have someone doing a really beautiful job on the inks, but then you have someone going in with 20 [00:53:00] colors and then there’s gradients and there’s this and that, and you’re just like, where am I supposed to look?

Raquel: Yeah, it’s busy.

Wendy Xu: Yeah. Those are my, you know, personal tastes, I guess. I guess, uh, there’s a, there, there’s a market for everyone.

Raquel: Yeah. I mean, people are buying it so someone likes it.

Wendy Xu: Other, other storytelling fads. I really wish that editors of children’s comics would just be a little bit more adventurous in what they think is quote unquote appropriate for children or not. I feel like they’re buying a lot of stuff because, and this is no, no shade to Raina Telgemeier, her books are wonderful.

But do we really need another middle grade memoir about a kid who was bullied for like, having glasses or something? Her books are successful because she writes them and draws them a certain way and, but you can’t copy her. I feel like a lot of the editors who are buying things, they just want like a [00:54:00] carbon copy of her so they can make all the money.

And that’s not fair to illustrators with, a different sensibility and to people who don’t wanna tell stories about a kid who was bullied. Like none of my students, particularly enjoy reading those things. I wish that contemporary American kids comics could be a little bit braver with their content choices,

Raquel: Oh

Wendy Xu: and their, their art, their artistic choices.

I feel like they always veer really safe. And again, that’s not on the illustrators necessarily, that’s on the people who are purchasing the projects.

Raquel: Right. You gotta eat, so you gotta make what people buy.

Wendy Xu: Right. But there’s like a lot of, there’s a lot of comics artists who are making really exciting work outside of their stuff for kids. And I, I wish those would be getting more attention. I wish that, I wish that people would be allowed to do stuff that’s a little bit edgier.

But I feel like when people in publishing buy kids comics, they’re like, “we [00:55:00] only want it to be edgy to a certain extent.”

Raquel: Yeah. Yeah. There, there’s very much, I think a trend in terms of being afraid of scaring any, probably not afraid of traumatizing the kids. More like fear of pissing off the parents.

Wendy Xu: Right. I understand that library banning and, and book banning is a huge problem right now. And I just, I feel for everyone. I just don’t think that a fear-based response of like, “oh, well we’re not gonna buy it because we’re gonna piss people off.” I don’t think that’s the correct way to go.

Raquel: Yeah. That I feel like that’s giving ’em what they want.

Wendy Xu: Right. I used to work at Junior Library Guild just reviewing comics for kids? Yeah, middle grade, young adult, like I did all the comics. And for those who don’t know j l g is like a children’s library catalog, it was kind of like a book of the month club for librarians. So if people, if the library was short staffed and didn’t have, didn’t have someone skilled in that category of [00:56:00] collection development, they could subscribe to the company and get a box of books that have been vetted by J LG editors.

So I worked on all the comics and I just saw so many middle grades about things that kids were, I feel like contemporary kids were not interested in. That were just drawn not great.

Raquel: Oh no.

Wendy Xu: I think there was one book where execs were like, “well, kids love Dungeons and Dragons,” which sure they do, but this was, it was like about some kid in like the seventies playing Dungeons and Dragons. And it was just written and drawn in such a way that was so,

Raquel: Oh God.

Wendy Xu: I felt like it was so boring is the most correct way to put it.

I was like, but what do you bring to the table that kids right now want to read about? What is it about the seventies that will make it interesting to contemporary kids? I’m not saying the seventies can’t be timeless, you know. There’s books set in every era that are [00:57:00] timeless, but like, what, what are we, what are we doing?

Raquel: Yeah. Yeah. What is that 40? What was that? Is that 50 years ago? So I’m trying to think. Little 1990s Raquel. Would 1990s Raquel want a story about a kid playing a game set in the 1940s? Well, probably not.

Wendy Xu: I mean it was also not just a kid, it was a white suburban kid, and I was like, there’s 8 million middle grades about white suburban kids. And I am just like, why though?

Raquel: yeah.

Wendy Xu: I think that’s, I think that’s a problem with all of publishing, to be honest.

Like all of kids publishing.

Raquel: Oh yeah.

Wendy Xu: Other storytelling fads. Mostly just that I’m just seeing a lot of safe choices made by execs and it’s such a versatile medium. Indie comics are some of the coolest things to read, I think. Why aren’t we [00:58:00] bringing more of that, to kids? They can handle it,

Raquel: Yeah, kids can handle a lot more than adults give ’em credit for. And I think another thing that kids can do is figure out when something is too old for them and decide, nah, I’m not reading this anymore. This is gross.

Wendy Xu: right? Absolutely. And I mean a comic… all books are, are safe, physically safe spaces where if you are made very uncomfortable, you can simply close the book and walk away

Raquel: Yeah,

Wendy Xu: You are not physically harmed in any way.

Raquel: I, I definitely remember stumbling across some R Crumb comics when I was too young for that, and then going, “you know what? I’m not gonna read this. This is really nasty.”

And just walking away,

Wendy Xu: Oh God. He is. He was nasty.

Raquel: He was a gross human being. Jesus Christ.

Wendy Xu: Oh, he was nasty. Not a fan. I [00:59:00] remember when I was a kid, I found I was always hanging out in the manga aisle at Borders, or Barnes and Noble, and, um, I found, excuse me, this incredibly violent spread, of like a bar– it was like so bloody. And the, the guts were everywhere. From like a, a post apo– from like a tale about the apocalypse by one of my favorite art teams who had done this very cute, magical girl story. So I was like, oh, cool, it’s by Clamp. I will, I I will probably love it cuz it’s by Clamp. Oh my God. What’s happening

Raquel: Oh no.

Wendy Xu: So I had, but, but again, I was like, okay, well this is not for me.

I put it away and tried to find something else. And I feel like kids are,

Raquel: kids are pretty good at that.

Wendy Xu: They are, they are. So I feel like I would love if the, I would love if kids comics speak were just skewed a little bit less conservative

Raquel: Yeah, definitely.

Wendy Xu: It’s so weird [01:00:00] because you’ll do, there will be young adult prose books with smoking and drinking and sex. But when it comes to a young adult graphic novel, they’re like, oh, we can’t show that. There’s something about showing

Raquel: The image.

Wendy Xu: and I’m like, what?

Oh, what is, what is the standard here? There is like a double standard. It’s okay in prose, but it’s not okay in images because images are somehow more visceral.

Raquel: I, I, I kind of see that in general though with fiction. Like I’m thinking of the novel, the Naked Lunch, when it was adapted for film. They just, legally, you cannot film half of that book, even if it’s all fake and simulated. You just cannot do that. You will be arrested. So there’s a lot of things that are like alluded to or that are done symbolically that were very explicit on the page because you just, when you make it into an image, it, it disturbs people a lot more or something.

People find it a lot more offensive.

Wendy Xu: Yeah, I definitely think there’s, there’s some, a little bit [01:01:00] more of like emotional distance with, with words, which is what makes, which is what makes comics as a medium so interesting to me. The viscerality of the image and what we can do with tho those images. And what we can do with shorthand of those images and what we can do with representing an idea by like drawing a light bulb over someone’s head.

I just think that’s really cool.

Raquel: Yeah, Harley agrees if you can hear him.

Wendy Xu: I can, thank you Harley.

Raquel: Yeah. Good boy. All right, so another question from our Discord. Any advice for pitching to agents and publishers for someone who also wants to write more middle grade graphic novels?

Wendy Xu: Uh, yeah. Read Manga. Read actual published middle grade graphic novels, but write something that, if you’re drawing it, you wanna create. If you’re both writing and drawing it, you’re gonna wanna create a pitch deck. There’s some online resources on how to create a pitch package.[01:02:00]

You’re basically selling on proposal when you’re selling, a graphic novel. So there are lots of different ways to write a proposal and, always include sample art with your proposal. If you are, just writing it, you can hire someone to draw those sample pages with the stipulation of either, you want them to be your partner on the project, or if it’s just to show what the final pages could look like. Make it very clear to that person and pay them a little bit, pay them more upfront, because, if they’re just making work for the sample, like if they’re making work for something that, could potentially be bought later, there will be more money in it for them.

If you are, working with an artist, be prepared to hand them the majority of the advance. If you are just writing the script again, they’re doing most of the work, right? So yeah, think about, think about the kind of aesthetic that you want your book to have. And, try to find, I hate saying this, but [01:03:00] try to find market examples of stuff that’s already sold that will make the publisher feel like, oh, okay, this could, we could fit this in with stuff that’s already out on the market.

I hate that personally,

Raquel: Yeah. But you gotta,

Wendy Xu: yeah.

Raquel: you gotta. I, I guess you gotta do comp titles if you’re trying to sell a, a prose novel, unfortunately. It’s like, ehhhh,

Wendy Xu: right?

I mean,

Raquel: I gotta,


Wendy Xu: know it sucks. I think, I mean like if you have, for comics, if you have like a similar prose novel or like a video game, those, I think those can help too. Maybe not a video game, maybe like a, maybe stick with the stuff that’s in the publishing industry, but, but yeah.

Raquel: yeah. Okay. Another question from the Discord. Any underrated comic creators you’d like to recommend as well?

Wendy Xu: Yes. So right now I’m reading rereading Sanmao Liu lang ji, which is the Adventures of Sanmao [01:04:00] by zhang Leping who, who is the author. I know it’s pretty hard to, it’s probably pretty hard to get your hands on a copy of that book. You probably, you might have to like, find it on eBay or through like a Chinese bookstore or a library, but if you can, I think it’s like a masterclass in comics

art. He’s very well known in China, but he’s not, he’s not as well known in the West. So, I don’t know if he’s underrated, but he’s great. I highly recommend his work and you don’t need to re be able to read Chinese. I mean, it helps because he does all the titles in Chinese. But I, it’s great to give to, it was great for me as a kid to read it just to like figure out, pacing and stuff.

In terms of contemporary folks. uh, Shivana Sookdeo. She’s a good friend of mine. She does Autobio comics on her Patreon. She’s a brilliant designer and I really can’t wait for the book that she’s working on. Cuz I’ve got, I’ve gotten to see some of the designs of the creatures in that book and they’re amazing.

Also for kids [01:05:00] and, uh, Mel Gillman who does a bunch of queer fairy tales that they publish on their Tumblr, but they also have a book that just came out recently called Other Ever Afters. Mel works exclusively in colored pencil. It’s always such a treat to see.

Raquel: oh,

Wendy Xu: Yeah.

Raquel: You don’t see much of that.

Wendy Xu: no you don’t. Right. And a lot of it’s funny because I think I saw a person ask them like, “what digital brush do you use to get that colored pencil effect?”

And I think Mel was like, well, I just use colored pencils. Olivia Stephens is a Pacific Northwest comic artist who, drew and wrote the children’s book, Artie and The Wolf Moon. A book about a preteen werewolf, which is super fun and beautifully drawn for, for the kids. And she’s working on, uh, adult bloody sickos werewolf comic called Darling

Raquel: Oh, nice.

Wendy Xu: Yeah. And I’ve seen the 19 page. I think it’s, she’s [01:06:00] reworking it. But I saw a 19 page, the 19 page original comic. It’s just gorgeous. Olivia’s landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, very inspired by her environment. And we love to see, we love to see some shady white people like getting ripped into so you know. And Shannon Wright, also, I mean, I’m just listing my friends, but Shannon’s.

Raquel: That’s okay.

Wendy Xu: Yeah, Shannon Wright’s work is beautiful. I’m really, Shannon did, a kid’s comic called Twins, but I really love the way her work has been veering into a different style lately. She’s been doing a lot more experimental, more adult stuff, and her designs have gotten just, the designs in Twins were really fun, but her recent designs have just gotten better and better.

So I look forward to seeing where she goes with that. And then, uh, I just finished reading, Box of Light by Seiko Erisawa who, I think box of light won a manga prize in [01:07:00] Japan. . Um, and it’s gotten English translation from Seven Seas and it’s about a little convenience store on the border of life and death.

And I think it’s a great example of a book that doesn’t have the most, it’s not like Berserk level of, technically skilled drawing, but it’s clear and fun and the drawings work, very well in and of themselves. And I always love looking at artists who, who are kind of early career.

It’s really great to see the masters, you know, like Hayao Miyazaki’s Shuna’s journey, which I recently read was one of his like, Shuna’s journey was actually one of his earliest works. And it was just really cool to see, this book that he had published in the eighties and to kind of compare that to his body of films.

Yeah. I don’t know. All the people I just listed, I look forward to seeing what they do with the exception of, Zhao Leping, cuz sadly he passed away in 1992. He was an old man. Oh, and like, I would love to plug [01:08:00] just the entire catalog from Peow Studio.

They are, uh, indie, indie studio. I think they still have some physical books left to ship out, which you should definitely get because the printing is so beautiful. If you can. They had to shut down the studio. They’re taking a, a long break, but they still have eBooks available in their store.

And some of the most innovative, fun, visually striking work out there these days, definitely check out Peow.

Raquel: Nice. Alright, we are winding down cause we’re running out of time. So before we go, what of your own work would you like to plug?

Wendy Xu: Yeah. So I have a book coming out on August 29th called the Infinity Particle. It is ironically before all of this, like AI art bullshit started. It’s about a girl who falls in love with a robot. But I would, I would like to think that it is a love letter [01:09:00] to having, a soul, to having a body, to like, enjoying the sensory experiences of being alive and to enjoying… like I made it super clear in the book.

I think I made it overly clear that this is a future that I envision that does not have billionaires. I think I had, I felt like I had to because it’s set on Mars. It’s set on Mars with like cities and stuff. And someone once tagged Elon Musk in some concept art I had drawn and I blocked it so, so fast.

so disgusting. So I was like, I had to make it so clear. But it’s also a love letter to public transportation and to, free public spaces such as libraries. I just really wanted to, like, I, I wouldn’t say it’s utopian. I just wanted to write a love story between two kids who are traumatized in their own ways and they kind of find each other and they need each other in this.

They need each other to like [01:10:00] heal. So that’s my book coming out August 29th. It’s for teens. And my two other books, Tide Song, which is for middle grade and Moon Cakes, which is a queer young adult love story between a witch and a werewolf. Those are both currently available. And yeah, those are, those are the all the things.

Raquel: Very nice. Well, thank you very much for coming on.

Wendy Xu: Thank you so much for having me. This was so great.

Raquel: Yeah, this is neat. I’ve wanted to talk about comics for a while, but I, I don’t know anything about them,

so I’m glad you could come on

Wendy Xu: Well, if you want any more comics, guests, I have a whole roster of friends who would love to do that.

Raquel: Oh, fantastic. I will probably hit you up on that at some point.

Wendy Xu: please do.

Raquel: All right. Well, thank you all for listening. That’s all for this episode. If you like what you heard, head to and subscribe. Until next time, keep writing good.