Jillian Tamaki

Hellen Jo Follow-Up

Dec 2nd, 2010

Whoa, I wrote an article! It’s about Hellen Jo and it’s in the latest issue of BUST! Pretty neat. I’ve been a big fan of Hellen’s since I bought a mini-comic (Jin & Jam, which is about bratty teens, God I’m a sucker for comics about bratty teens) of hers at MoCCA last year. Thanks to Lisa Butterworth and Emily Rems for the opportunity to share Hellen’s talents.

The BUST article is a bit of an intro to Hellen’s work… here’s some unused material that may be of interest to us art and comic nerds. So here they are in no particular order:

You’ve done a few works about Korean ghost stories or myths. What’s your favourite?
My favorite Korean ghost is the kwishin; she is the dead woman with white skin, white funeral dress, and long black hair featured in every Korean horror movie ever. She was wronged in life, so she haunts her victims vengefully, by means of various methods. Sometimes she sits on the chests of sleeping persons, and paralyzes them as she slowly drains the life from their bodies (also known as sleep paralysis). Sometimes she sits on the shoulders of her unknowing victims, creating a crushing sense of guilt or a herniated disc. She’s often wailing or sobbing, though her mouth doesn’t move.

Do you think teenagers are inherently bored, regardless if they live in suburbs or cities? That it’s natural to be unimpressed with everything at that age?
I do think teens are inherently bored, mostly because their worlds are so limited, but I also think that they adopt a sort of “uber-cynicism” as a defense mechanism. Nerds and geeks are embarrassingly enthusiastic and overeager, and the cool kids don’t ever give a shit ’bout nothin’.

Why are people SO EXCITED about Hellen Jo, even those she’s still in school?
Because they must be confusing me with some other person! Also, people are always mystified and charmed by bad students, no matter what they’re achievements. I dropped out of school to make comics, and I re-entered college life reluctantly to make better comics.

What is the best burrito in San Francisco?
My favorite burrito is the chorizo or al pastor super burrito at El Farolito (the one on 24th & Alabama, not 24th & Mission).

Is the writing in your work as important as the drawing?
Absolutely. In comics, writing a coherent narrative is the challenge. The drawings are very important as well, and both serve the other, but in the end, I know that a poorly drawn, well-written comic will be more moving than a beautifully drawn, badly written comic.

I hate questions about “influences”, but let’s try this: I find some things are “conscious” influences, for example, buying a artist monograph or watching a lot of French New Wave films because they speak to you in an artistic way. But some influences are “subconscious”, like your favourite picturebook you studied for hours as a child, or a piece of art that was in your childhood home. Do you agree? What are your “conscious” and “subconscious” influences?

I’ve always believed that everything you consume or absorb or witness in life, whether you liked it, hated it, or had no opinion about it, influences your creative output in some way. As much as I can control the quality and content of my work, I can’t completely filter what I see or hear, nor can I really control how those things will affect me. I definitely agree with you that there are “conscious” and “subconscious” influences, and I’ve had many of both. As far as “conscious” influences go, the most obvious ones are my favorite comic book creators, including Taiyo Matsumoto, Xaime Hernandez, Julie Doucet, Charles Burns, Dan Clowes, Junji Ito, Suehiro Maruo… the list goes on and on. All of these cartoonists deal in some way in their writing and art with the horror of coming-of-age, which is my primary motivation. Similarly, coming-of-age horror films fit that niche nicely for me, of which my favorites are Tale of Two Sisters, Let the Right One In, and the Whispering Corridors.

In terms of “subconscious” influences, I’d say the most important one was probably the Japanese girls’ comic, Candy Candy. As a comic, I can’t really say much about it, because I owned a Korean version when I was too young to be able to read it, but the drawings! I’d always liked drawing when I was a kid, but I think Candy Candy was the first book I’d seen where I thought the images were absolutely beautiful. The characters had large sparking eyes, they were constantly surrounded by furious floral windstorms, and everyone wore a tuxedo or frilly lace dress at all times. I stared at those drawings for hours, and I think I was eventually convinced that the only good art was pretty art. I don’t believe that now, but it has definitely affected my preferences in comics and the style in which I draw.

What are your upcoming projects?
I’m currently working on Jin & Jam #2, which I hope to finish this fall, and I’m developing a single issue, watercolored horror comic for next year, to be published by Koyama Press. I also plan to post several of my old zine comics and the entire issue of Jin & Jam #1 on Jordan Crane’s new comic website, What Things Do.