She was a mystery; someone I felt comfortable with and knew nothing about. I can’t explain it. I had just watched one of my projects slowly fizzle out, unfinished. I was considering going back to conventional writing and she found me. She had read samples of my scripts and she favored the voice behind my blog posts. I can still remember the message. . . sort of. She said something like, “If you ever want to do a noir style comic let me know”. I remember thinking, “I have just the right idea”. That is what has led us to this point in our partnership. Angela Zhang has been a godsend. She has absolutely lived up to the etymology of her first name, which means “Messenger of God”. You can think what you will. I may actually be delusional, but I have truly told myself that I believe my artist was put on this earth to deliver peoples stories in a method that brings life to them. However, these are my opinions of her and with that you would just have to take my word. Some of you are absolutely fine with that, but for the rest of you who are like me and require further resolution I have just the post for you! I decided to give my audience a chance to become her audience by giving them this one chance to go into the mind of Zhangah.
SG: Everyone has a story and we’re going to find out what yours is. I know that we have known each other for a few months now, and we have already had to overcome some obstacles in this process. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you, and I thought it would be a great idea for our supporters to have that same opportunity. That being said, why don’t you tell us about yourself?
AZ: Thank you Seth for putting this interview together. I’m truly honoured to be featured on your blog. It’s also been a great pleasure to get to know you over the months while making the Gale comic.
In a nutshell I am an illustrator living in Toronto. The way I see it I use my drawing skills to help people or companies tell their story. I’ve worked in this capacity to create storyboards and concept art for film, concept sketches for architecture and very detailed paintings for jigsaw puzzles and more.
Growing up as an only child, I had to use my imagination a lot to entertain myself. My mom, who’s a professor, used to have all these boxes filled with old thesis drafts. I drew on the back of these pages to create an ongoing series. The pictures weren’t accompanied by text because I would make up the dialogue and act it out loud while drawing. This is where my interest in comics originated.
SG: I want to get into your head just a little if that is okay. What is your strongest childhood memory?
AZ: My strongest childhood memory would be coming to Canada at the age of 6 to live with my mom. None of my relatives could accompany me on the flight so I travelled solo. I remember thinking what an adventure this was and that I was quite the little hero for flying across the ocean alone.
When I started school I didn’t speak a word of English. I was super shy and awkward too. However, I managed to learn the language in no time with the help of classmates and Saturday morning cartoons (the 90s were the best).
SG: All artists have to start somewhere. Everyone’s beginning is different and no one starts in the same opportune situation. What brought you into the world of art, Angela, and what steps did you take to get to where you are today? Were there any roadblocks? Did people try to discourage you? Were you always taken seriously?
AZ: I was always doodling as a kid so my mom put me into extracurricular art classes at an early age. I would continue to study art throughout high school and university. However after I completed my fine arts degree, I was completely lost. It hadn’t occurred to me that there were other options besides teaching or becoming a gallery artist – options that didn’t really appeal to my deep desire to create visual stories.
I took a 7 year hiatus from drawing and meandered through a graduate degree in Art History and then took on administrative jobs that were related to art or arts education. It wasn’t until years later that I found my way back to drawing and storytelling, thanks to the internet.
No one really discouraged me from pursuing arts because I was hardworking and quite stubborn. I think the biggest external roadblock was not knowing about the possibilities in illustration and commercial art and thus not having a clear goal to work towards. When I did start researching my options and made a plan to shift into illustration, self doubt and fear became the main obstacles. The friends I had around me were very encouraging and supportive. I’m very grateful to have this opportunity to live my passion.
SG: I know on your blog you talk about another part of you that has helped “enliven” your creativity. Tell us about Zhangah, your alter ego. Does she still have reason to exist today or have you found an equilibrium.
AZ: Haha, so Zhangah (a nonsensical nickname derived from my last name) was created for fun towards the end of my 7 year hiatus from art. One summer, my friend Glenn and I decided to buck adulthood and just geek out at Fan Expo. Our lives at the time were about grey cubicles and paperwork so it was quite liberating to surrender to our creativity and be someone else in another world. I was so inspired by all the artists at the convention and the whole experience really sparked my determination to make art central to my life again.
After a few years of developing my art skills privately, I decided to blog to keep myself accountable for my progress. However, at the time I was really shy and neurotic about posting stuff. Then Zhangah came to the rescue! Having an alter ego made it a lot easier to put myself out there because having a character made me feel less vulnerable.
Nowadays I definitely feel more comfortable in my own skin and that means being vulnerable sometimes. I’ve learned that vulnerability isn’t such a bad thing after all and makes people feel connected to each other. However, Zhangah will always be there to remind me of a humble beginning 🙂
SG: Let’s talk about style. Angela, you know that I have always been a fan of your artwork from the moment I laid eyes on it. There is a certain feel to it that I knew I had to incorporate into my story, Gale. Could you please tell us what your preferred art style is and why you have felt compelled to use it?
AZ: Wow, thanks so much for the kind words 🙂 These days I don’t consciously think about style but rather focus on how to portray the story to the best of my abilities. I believe I’m a painter at heart, in other words I find it easier to build characters, settings and mood through tones while line work is used sparsely if at all. Right now, I am interested in portraying realistic characters that are also relatable as opposed to idealized, unobtainable super humans. That’s what drew me to the Gale comic.
SG: I know in the art world there are so many avenues to venture down. So many opportunities. I guess my question here would be: Why comics?
AZ: Making comic pages offers the challenge of employing different skills and that’s what I love about it. Aside from designing characters and environments, you also have to think about layout, typography and cover design. To me comics involve a lot of interesting visual problem solving in order to dramatize the emotion of a character or scene. I’m constantly learning new things as I finish the pages in Gale and that keeps me engaged.
SG: We have spoken a lot about society and a bit of politics. You know a little about how I see the world, but I know even less about how you see it. One important thing that I have been dying to ask you is; what do you feel is your role in society as an artist?
AZ: This is such a great question. I believe that my role as an artist is to help people tell stories through images because I think stories can be a transformative experience that heightens empathy. Think about the last time you watched or read something which really affected you emotionally. You tend to remember it, even think back to the experience. Perhaps the story gave you some insight to the human condition and even altered the way you view the world. Even though we’re not saving lives, I believe art and stories can be pretty powerful stuff.
SG: So we have discussed your role. Obviously it was a journey in life to find this role. How has this realization changed you and are you still growing as an artist?
AZ: When I began to see my role as helping other people tell their stories, I found that I grew a lot professionally. Art was no longer about me. This gave me a greater sense of purpose and allowed me to distance myself from my work so that I can continuously improve. I don’t think you ever stop growing as an artist and I hope I never stop asking ‘how can I make this better?’
SG: Art is a process, writing is a process, and they are all a part of a major process of processes called Life. How do you see life?
AZ: It’s interesting that you ask because I’ve been thinking a lot about life as process. I used to think that once you reach a milestone, like getting a degree or switching careers, it’s time to cruise into a plateau. But what I’ve found is that the struggle, the discovery and the growth don’t have to stop and also it’s more fulfilling to take on challenges to expand your potential.
SG: I used to tell everyone that there was nothing I was afraid of. But I was a liar. Often times I was afraid of admitting the truth. The truth which is, we are all afraid of something. What do you fear most as an artist?
AZ: My biggest fear has always been failure which I think many of us share. The failure to create something worthwhile, the failure of being accepted or acknowledged by others, the failure of not realizing one’s full potential. Many of these thoughts, which can be paralyzing at times, place the focus on the outcome of the journey which no one can control. Lately the fears have subsided as I gradually learned to adopt a healthier mindset. Interestingly this goes back to the life as a process question. As a wise professor once said, focus on the process and the product will take care of itself.
SG: Why do you want to be a part of Gale? What about the story is compelling to you? Do you think it will have the same effect on others?
AZ: The main reason I wanted to be a part of Gale is because the characters are believable and relatable even though they are put into extraordinary situations. I was initially drawn to your scripts and the way you’re able to portray characters through subtlety and dialogue. In Gale, the story builds gradually and makes room for rich character development. Without spoiling anything, there are action sequences throughout the series but I feel the pacing and frequency are thoughtfully considered to progress the story. At times the tension is built through the dialogue which is great. In terms of the genre, I became interested in film noir for a similar reason as realistic fiction – because it’s storytelling at its core without having to be so loud. Noir can have this minimalistic aesthetic which is quite dramatic at the same time, for instance, the dynamic shadows created by lighting. Gale is the kind of comic I would want to read at this stage of my life on a rainy Sunday, curled up with a blanket and a hot cup of tea. The story will transport you into Gale’s mind as he discovers the twisted truth about the world he lives in.
I hope you all have enjoyed learning about this extraordinary person that I have had the privilege of working with. If you have made it this far, I would like to give you the opportunity to view the cover design for Issue 1 Gale: The Calm. I believe the cover alone catches the heart of the story and sets the tone for the whole piece. I hope that you will all come to love it as dearly as I do. I know that is probably unrealistic since I look at this as a child of mine that I am watching grow. But still, I hope for your excitement. Stay tuned. We are now in the process of purchasing a domain and building the proper website to advertise GALE. Also we are in the midst of developing a plan to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo!
Seth Greenwood AKA Rubbles
I will just sit this here and let you stew on it for a bit . . .