Yes, it’s time once again for Travis Pelkie to take over the blog, as he asked if he could write about Henchgirl, a comic by Kristen Gudsnuk. It’s sort of a review, but it’s also an interview with Gudsnuk, so enjoy!
A Talk with Henchgirl‘s Real Boss, Kristen Gudsnuk.
So the other weekend I went to the River Road Expo, a local con that’s held at a casino (well, it’s not a casino yet, but they’re working on it). Anyway, I met up with Kristen Gudsnuk and purchased the first 4 issues of her new comic out from Scout Comics called Henchgirl. (I got the first issue of the new Scout version and the self published editions of the others). It’s in stores this week! If yours didn’t order any (or sold out!), the Previews code is JUL151573, if you want your store to get you one.
But what’s it about, you ask? Well, Mary Posa is a young, vaguely superpowered woman who’s living a life of crime. She’s one of the henchpeople to Monsieur Butterfly in Crepe City, but she’s not exactly happy with her work. Therein lies the beauty of the book — while it takes place in a superhero milieu, the superhero/supervillain dynamic is merely the catalyst for a book about a young woman trying to find her place in the world, dealing with roommates who wish she’d grow up, and a possible love interest who has his own secrets. Mary tries to be a good person even though she’s working for a bad dude. It’s the human side of being a supervillain’s henchgirl.
I also interviewed Kristen Gudsnuk via email, so below are some of my “amazing” questions and her intelligent and informative answers. A few minor spoilery bits for Henchgirl and for the Sopranos (wha?).
Hi Kristen, Travis Pelkie here. I met you at River Road last week and got Henchgirl 1-4 from you. I’m the dude with the beard and the box and I got your last copy of #3. In case you have a photographic memory or something. I hope River Road went well for you. I know the guys from the Heroes Your Mom Threw Out shop in Elmira NY were pushing your book to people quite a bit, when I was over at their table, so either they really really liked it or they bought a ton of the special variant cover of #1 with their store name on it and need to sell them.
Kristen: Yeah, Jared (from Heroes) is really awesome and supportive. He is seriously the best. I don’t think even my parents are as invested in seeing my comic succeed as Jared is! 😛 (Note: Jared owns the Heroes shop and also puts together the River Road Expo. He’s a cool dude!)
Travis: Could you tell me a little bit about how you got started doing Henchgirl, how long you’ve been doing it, and what led to you publishing through Scout?
Kristen: I started doing Henchgirl around May 2013, for the general purpose of entertaining myself. I started posting it as a webcomic at henchgirlcomic.com in June, and steadily improved at art and such, started self-publishing my comics *+ (I didn’t feel like waiting around for someone to recognize my genius, haha) and started doing conventions in 2014. Then I happened to get a table to NYCC last year, where I talked to Brendan Deneen at Scout and he expressed interest in publishing it. He was pretty enthusiastic, and so the book was picked up by Scout!
Travis: I was curious as to your influences. I’m guessing you’re younger than me (maybe — it just seems like everyone is younger than me anymore, and I’m only 36. No need to disclose your age if you don’t want to), as it seems that fans that grew up with comics from the later ’90s on probably read more manga than superheroes, and your work definitely has a manga feel to it. Are there specific influences from manga, or are you someone who read plenty of superhero comics too, or do you come to the superhero genre from other media?
Kristen: I feel a bit old, too – I’m 28! Shouldn’t I be a big fancy grown up by now? You’re right, I was embarrassingly obsessed with various anime and manga in my formative years. Sailor Moon has basically left a giant stamp on my identity, and I really loved Pokemon, Inu Yasha, Ranma 1/2, DBZ, and all that good stuff when I was like 10-12. Whatever was on TV and came from Japan, I would watch or read, no matter the actual quality of said cartoon or comic. I really loved the original Bryan Singer X-Men movie, and X-Men: Evolution, but most western comics were completely baffling to me. With manga, I could just track down volume 1 and then continue reading sequentially. With western comics, I had no idea where to start, and I still think DC/Marvel comics are confusing to read in the correct sequence. Plus as a kid, I couldn’t get into the airbrushed coloring, bulging muscles, and how gross and masculine everyone looks. In my twenties I got over that, and at this point I read a lot more western comics than manga. Partly because due to my boyfriend’s extensive collection, they’re more readily available to me.
Travis: See, big 2? It’s confusing to figure out what sequence to read your stuff in. Heck, it’s confusing to us long time readers!
(An example of a page from the redrawn #2 that’s kind of manga-y! Also, I love the expression on Mary’s face in panel 1.)
I’m also wondering if there’s any (conscious or not) influence from the Venture Brothers. Your comic isn’t anywhere near as vulgar as their show, but I can’t help seeing a similarity in that your Monsieur Butterfly has a similar motif to the Monarch. OK, not really a question, I just really like the Venture Brothers (season 6 soon!). Also, isn’t it weird that in Previews, your book is just a page away from a book called Henchmen?
Kristen: I still haven’t seen Venture Bros. I really want to — I know I’ll love it. But that was unintentional. But when I watch Venture Bros maybe it will become a retroactive homage.
Haha but Henchmen is so different from Henchgirl! Mine’s about a girl! What a novelty!
Travis: Your art definitely improves along the way — I believe that the new #1 is a redrawn version of the original, but for the upcoming issues 2-4, are they redrawn from the B&W version I have? And when in the chronology did you redraw #1 (after 2-4?)? I’d also like to say that the covers to 2 and 3 are incredibly good. I love 2’s Little Golden Book painted design, and the design of the half open door on #3 looks great, and the coloring with the reds and purples on everything looks really nice. Had you gone to color before getting with Scout, or was that part of the deal with them? What’s your approach in coloring work originally intended as B&W art, or are you redoing things in order to take advantage of color more?
Kristen: The issues 2-4 you got are my old, self-published ones — I’ve since redrawn 2 and 3, and am about to start coloring #4 and tidying it up a bit. Actually, after NYCC last year — someone told me to redraw it because my issue 5/6 (which I sold out of, so you didn’t get) was in color and looked so much nicer than the others. And since Henchgirl is an 11-issue story arc, I figured in the long run, redrawing 60+ pages and coloring 80 pages wasn’t … that much … work? I was so wrong, but hey, I’m glad I redrew because it’s a lot easier on the eyes.
Thanks! I’m actually changing all the covers because why not (did I mention I like giving myself extra work?) — I had been going for a sort of “make every cover completely different!” thing, but in reality when you want people to come back and buy issue 2 or 6 and so on, they have to recognize it’s the same series ;D.
Travis: (The design-y image from self published #3.)
Kristen: They said they’d print B&W, but my own pride (“If this is going to be in comic stores everywhere, I don’t want everyone to think this is what I draw like now!”) caused me to do color. I also completely redrew, and also changed layouts.
Travis: You mentioned that Henchgirl is an 11 issue run. By my math, that’s around 220-250 pages, and I see on your site that you’re at page 200. Does that mean you’re winding down the series, and if so, is it weird to be winding it down at the same time that many more people will start picking it up?
Kristen: Yeah, you’re right! I think it’ll be around 250 pages. It IS weird, but also nice because I’m pretty happy with the conclusion. I just want it to be done already so people can read the whole thing in one (rather long) sitting.
Travis: Also, are there any plans for trades yet, so that people whose stores weren’t cool enough to just order the book can get the story soon? And what extras will there be to tempt those like me who bought the issues to buy the trade as well? (Compare/contrast the new and old pages?) Maybe an omnibus trade of all 11 issues? (hey, if it’s around 250 pages or so, that’d be one nice size book!)
Kristen: Yeah, I definitely want to do a complete trade version. Perks of the trade vs. comic issues? Hmm, trades are just more convenient to carry around. I will put special features, but I’m a big special features nut anyway; my single issues are full of random gag comics and gag covers and all that kind of stuff. Perks of the single issues? You don’t have to wait around for the mythological trade version.
Travis: We talk some in the Flippin’ Through Previews column about what we think we should trade wait and what to buy in singles. Greg and I agree for the most part that buying singles of indie/small press/self pub’d books is the best, and trade wait as much as possible for the big 5 up front, as well as some of the ones like Boom or Dynamite. Backfires when the trade cost per issue is as much or more than the singles. D’oh!
You redrew the early pages, was there any tweaking of the script itself, or did you try to keep what had been written but just draw it “better” (or more just in your current style)? Were there jokes or moments where after the fact you said “that could have been better” and therefore you made it better?
Kristen: I tweaked the script, but only in the first issue. I rewrote the Crepelbee’s scene in issue 1 because someone said something vaguely critical of it like two years ago. There also used to be a scene of Mary washing the grime off the stolen money, but it absolutely made no sense. She was blow-drying money and it wasn’t blowing away. It didn’t read well, and wasn’t very funny. Otherwise I added even more background gags (it’s a compulsion) but basically kept the script the same except a few parts in issue 1.
Travis: One thing that struck me in reading the issues was that many times, the “action” seemed to happen in between the panels (I’ll put in big words here — interstitial and suture). The reader really has to pay attention, because some of what happens is almost a “throwaway”, if you will. At first I wasn’t sure about it, and thought it might have just been poor writing but then I started to like that you trusted the reader to catch on to what is happening, because you aren’t spelling it all out for us. Was this a conscious decision with your writing, or has it just happened that way? (And I’ll point to specifics when I hear back from you, if the question doesn’t make sense to you) (One thing that didn’t register until you pointed it out in 4’s column was the identity of Mr. Great Guy. Duh!)
Kristen: Hahaha, that’s something I worry about sometimes, that I’m risking clarity when I don’t have a character spell something out for the audience. But (spoilers?!) in issue 6 you find out that Greg Gains is Mr. Great Guy quite explicitly, so I let those who didn’t realize it in on the secret. But I thought it was obvious!
Actually, one of my pet peeves is when someone hits you over the head with their revelation. I think overconfirmation kind of deflates the tension somewhat. I can’t really think of a ton of examples off the top of my head; the only one I can think of is from Sopranos. After Tony kills one of his friends, he has this fever dream where his friend is a dead fish at a fish market stand, and his friend is talking to him. Then later he sees one of those singing Billy Bass wall mounts, and Tony looks distressed, and they show you a clip from that previous sequence. I wasn’t really into that (even though Sopranos is great!! It’s usually really subtle and nuanced) because I don’t like too much authorial hand-holding. (This is the clip, if you’re interested — it’s at around :35.)
Yeah, give me more specifics, I like this question! I like talking about the writing process.
Travis: I will have more specific examples of what I meant about those transitions I was asking about. And hey, SPOILERS on Sopranos, wth?! (j/k!)
Kristen: Gah sorry for Sopranos spoilers. I didnt say WHICH character … lol.
Travis: Anyway, the transition stuff I was talking about included some of the stuff in issue 4, especially. The transition on pages 2 and 3 (or new 1 and 2, I guess, since there’s a page 0) after the car exploded was interesting to me — you passed on the opportunity to show more explodo and how Mary got out of the car, which I thought was an interesting choice. Then in issue 4, the transitions between pages 75 and 76, where suddenly the whole gang is going out to dinner, and on 81-82, where suddenly there’s a fire, seem to me on re-reading to be what I was thinking of when I talked about transitions that seemed to skip over things/trust the reader to catch up. With the later ones, was it as much a function of doing a page a week (or however often you were doing them at that point, I haven’t gotten a chance to look through the website), so you were moving on to the next scene, or are you trying consciously to move the story along and trust that the reader catches on. (Another bit where I was confused at first was not realizing that the scene with the Molotovs was a weapons sale. Maybe I’m just dumb!)
Kristen: I think smash cuts are kind of funny. Both the ‘car exploding’ and ‘sudden fire’ parts are smash cuts. Flame Girl gets mad, smash cut to the restaurant burning. I guess that requires a bit of extrapolation on the part of readers (Flame Girl burned the restaurant down because her fury, and because she has fire powers) because I never did outright say what happened, just assumed people would put 2 and 2 together. Somehow I think that’s funnier. You gotta work for your jokes! Also if I showed the fire starting, the narrative focus would turn more to random restaurant patrons and Flame Girl, while I wanted to keep Mary’s emotional state the focal point. Also in a way her fire is kind of a physical metaphor for extreme parental disillusionment, and by grounding that scene more in reality (going into the mechanics of what actually happened) it would detract from the thematic stuff I’m trying to get through. Same with the first part. It’s more about her profession being awful, and inescapable, rather than about an actual car exploding. I started the comic out on that note to set the tone for Mary’s character’s trajectory. Haha, this makes me sound really pretentious.
Travis: Obligatory question since you’re a female comics creator: how has the industry treated you blah blah if there’s something specific you’d like to address here regarding being a female comics creator, feel free. I’m not sure exactly what I’m getting at here. It seems like it should be brought up, though.
Kristen: Nothing really of note. Everyone’s been really nice to me. 😛
Travis: But related, do you know how your audience for the book breaks down? As in, is it a pretty even male/female split, or predominantly male or female, or don’t you know, or don’t you care?
Kristen: I can’t tell with the online readership, but it seems pretty even. I actually do care, but it’s not extreme enough in either direction to really know. I think I have a lot more female readers than a lot of other comics, though.
Travis: And I think lastly, have you gotten anyone cosplaying as Henchgirl yet? It seems a fairly easy costume, with the black corset (?) and black boots and the goggles. Add in a certain kind of device as the Monarch Scepter (as alluded to by Coco Oon in issue 1 …), and you’re all set!
Kristen: A few people have mentioned it, but I haven’t seen any pics yet so it is unconfirmed. On the day I see a Henchgirl cosplayer, I will die of joy, though.
Travis: (You’ll have to wait and see where the carrots come from! A page from issue 1.)
Thanks to Kristen for answering my questions and for putting out a cool comic.
So if you’re looking for a book set in a superhero world where the real story is how a young woman finds her place in life, try Henchgirl. It’s funny stuff that trusts the reader to follow what’s going on without spelling everything out. The art utilizes the look of manga and incorporates fun cartoony expressions that can look rough at first, but is ultimately charming in its way. Check out the book in comic stores or check out the website where you can read it for free!
[And thanks to Travis for putting this together. Yet another comic I have to check out!]