Life After TOKYOPOP: Jen Lee Quick's "Renascence"

Cartoonist Jen Lee Quick first came to notice illustrating the Oni Press book "Once in a Blue Moon" before moving to TOKYOPOP where she wrote and illustrated two volumes of the three- book series "Off*beat", a title that stood out in the company's OEL line for its voice, sensibility, and for not easily fitting into any manga subgenre, a fact that it earned the book both wide praise as well as some criticism.

Quick is now releasing through ComixPress "Renascence," a series of self-published standalone comics, the first of which is being released this month. Each book shares the common theme of re-invention of self, but depicted through the prism of Quick's urban fantasy style.

Quick was kind enough to take some time out from a busy schedule (which includes blogging and updating her DeviantArt page) to talk about her new endeavor.

CBR: How did you come to the format of "Renascence," whereby each story is standalone but shares a common theme?

Jen Lee Quick: Each story is self-contained but hints at the possibility of a longer story.  This is due to the fact that they are all based on larger story ideas that I have either drawn in the past or done considerable concept work for. I'm planning on eventually expanding on at least one of the stories to a full sized book.

Since I've been working on stories inspired by larger ideas I've had kicking around in my head for years, I think there is a lot of back-story implied in these shorts.  It's been tempting to write much more details since I have plotted a bunch of it in the past.  However, I have been making a very conscious effort to stick to my script, and keep things as concise as I possibility can. As Mrs. Danos, an English teacher I had in high school, once eloquently stated, "An essay should be like a woman's skirt.  Short enough to be interesting and long enough to cover the essentials."  It's been very liberating in the sense of getting some of these ideas finally off of my chest.  I feel that if I never get to write and draw them all, at least they won't haunt me anymore!

What's the first "Renascence" story?

The first story is comedy about a teenage boy who wants to fit in to the stereotype of a normal, average American but can't because he is half-alien.  The second story is a bit darker, and more serious.  It's a fantasy story of a human ghost who tries to get an elven spell weaver to save her twin brother. 

After working for so long on a long multi-volume story like "Off*Beat," how does it feel working in short stories?

It's challenging but also very fresh and exciting.  I am pushing myself as a writer to streamline my storytelling more.  I have always thought that being effectively concise is one of the most difficult and useful things a person can learn to be in life. 

I definitely want to do another long project.  I just want to be a little more cautious as to what I commit myself to long term.  I'm using these short stories as a way of "testing the waters."  That's why they are different types of content, mood and style.  

"Off*beat" was in part an effort to tell a story with a realistic setting and to get away from fantasy. It seems like with "Renascence," you've chosen to return to tell fantastic stories. Was that just a question of wanting to try something different?

At the time that I wrote "Off*Beat," I was looking to write something different.  I was afraid I was using fantasy settings as a crutch, to avoid dealing with accuracy and realism.  Now I feel like I can work on any type of story I want to tell, regardless of setting.  I just happen to have a lot of fantasy stories backed up in the storage of my mind. 

I was definitely an escapist when I was growing up.  I loved high fantasy, folklore and mythology.  These days I'm just as interested in documentaries, history, social studies, and crime stories.  I think earlier influences have still left a great impression on my style of drawing and writing, but I try to add elements from more current interests in underlying ways.  For instance, I think a lot about the history of my fantasy world from a sociological, economical, and ecological point-of-view in contrast to when I was in high school, I would just concentrate solely on character development.

The first time many readers came across your work was in the Oni Press book "Once in a Blue Moon," written by Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis.

"Once in a Blue Moon" was my first graphic novel.  The first time I was published was in White Wolf's "Vampire the Masquerade: Kindred of the East."  The first comics I had published were in Studio Iron Cat's anthology, "Amerimanga."

And after that you jumped to TOKYOPOP and started "Off*Beat?"

I was in the middle of working on "Once in a Blue Moon" when TOKYOPOP visited my college to do a portfolio review.  They were interested in my work and asked me to pitch them a comic idea when I was available. At the time, TOKYOPOP was looking for less fantasy and more modern day, real life drama stories.  My goal was to expand myself as an artist and break out of the fantasy genre for a bit to prove to myself that I could be versatile. 

The first two volumes of "Off*beat" were released and the fate of the third volume remains unknown. What exactly is the status of it?

The third volume is said to be on "hiatus."  I have no further knowledge as to the future of the project. 

Why did you go the self-publishing route for "Renascence?" Did you look into putting this title out through a publisher?

I was feeling a bit lost after "Off*Beat" got put on hiatus.  I wanted to concentrate on getting some comics done without worrying about making submissions or contract details.  I felt I could accomplish more and re-kindle some inspiration if my attention wasn't divided between actual work and networking.  Also, I've never tried self-publishing (outside of Kinkos anyway!) and I wanted to see what it was like. 

You've become somewhat disillusioned with comics. Is it just a question of the business side ruining the art, and to what degree were you pondering a new career, perhaps becoming an accountant?

I think everyone goes through periods of self-doubt at some point in their career.  In my limited experience, comics can be tough, even though it's a great love.  There's not much time or energy left to spend on other aspects of life, like family, friends and health.  At times it's very financially difficult and that lack of security can really add up to stress over time.  I don't really blame the industry.  I think it's more my own personal life struggle to find a balance between moderation and fulfillment.  

If someone approached you to just write or just illustrate a project, would you be interested or are you only interested in telling your own stories?

It really would depend on what kind of project.  I feel that my writing and drawing compliment each other, so I'm not as confident about my art or writing standalone.  I certainly would not rule out the possibility in the future, though.

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