Justin Shady, also known as Wayne Chingsang, became a writer for visual media by way of failing at the visual part. He went to school for animation. "I got there and realized that I sucked much more than the rest of the kids there, so I thought about illustration instead. Then realized I suck at that, too," he told CBR News. Still visual-minded, Shady switched to a photography major. "My senior year, I had a light load and decided to take over the college's school paper. That led to 'Tastes Like Chicken,' a digital magazine, which led to me writing."
What Shady has written most recently is an all-ages hardcover graphic novel from Image Comics imprint Shadowline, called "Missing The Boat." Shady spoke with CBR News about his new book, the relationship he has with his artist, and why he has two names on the cover.
"Missing the Boat" follows George and Gladys, a husband and wife from a fictional species named the Churamane. "If you've never met a Churamane before, which I'm assuming most haven't because I made them up in my brain, they are a terribly lazy species," said Shady. "They sleep a lot, eat a lot, and pretty much go through life laying around and letting life pass them by. One day George and Gladys receive a letter inviting them to be the two who will continue their species after the Great Flood. All they have to do is get to this big boat that is owned by some guy named Noah, and they'll not only guarantee the future of their kind, but they'll also get a free cruise out of it!
"Unfortunately, they get to the boat late and are locked out. Hence, they miss the boat on their own salvation. All they want to do is survive this impending tragedy, but they want to survive it with as little effort or work as possible."
The concept for "Missing The Boat" had been lurking in Shady's mind for some time before he set it down in print. "I actually had the idea years ago," said the author, "maybe even five years ago, and it just popped into my head that if Noah's Ark were a true story, there would be no way for him to get literally every animal aboard. It just wouldn't happen. So there had to be a few animals that God let fall through the cracks. The ugly ones. The dumb ones. The ugly and dumb ones. Enter: the Churmane."
"It's the first story I've ever written that didn't have a swear word in it," said Shady in talking about the all-ages nature of "Missing The Boat." "I guess as long as you can read, no matter your age, chances are you'll enjoy it."
Shady continued, "When writing this story, I looked to one of my main inspirations, Jim Henson and the Muppets, which work on many levels. They're colorful and loud and sing, so kids love them. But they're also written really well, very smart and adult, so parents and older people can enjoy them, too. Having it work on both levels was very important to me. If you're a kid, you'll love dwellephant's art and some of the more childish jokes. But if you're an adult, you could get a lot of the subtleties I've added, like the names of some of the characters, the social commentary of the overall book, and maybe even pick up on an anagram or two."
Of his artistic collaborator, the uniquely named dwellephant (no capital), Shady remarked, "He brings something to the page that I could never bring to the page in a million years: great art. He also has his own vision, his own interpretation for the work and layout, which is great. I'm not looking for someone to push over when I do a book. When I'm standing next to a bunch of senior citizens on the edge of the Grand Canyon, yes. But not when I'm doing a book."
The writer and artist met in college, and Shady has long waited for the opportunity to be able to work with dwellephant. "He's like Dr. Seuss on crystal meth, or if Walt Disney had a baby with Bill the Cat from 'Bloom County.' His work is fantastical, colorful and brilliantly stylized. I'm so glad he agreed to do the book, because if he wasn't going to do it I was going to use this other kid who only paints in the blood of the innocents. Whatever the hell that means.
"We met when I was a second-year senior and he was a second-year freshman," Shady continued. "We weren't dumb, our school was just hard! Then he and I were roommates for a really long time, like eight years, which we think makes us a common law marriage. Then again, they voted against Prop 8 out here in L.A., so it probably doesn't count."
With the right artist and the right concept in place, what "Missing The Boat" needed was a home and Shady found that in Jim Valentino's Shadowline. "Jim Valentino and I have always had a great relationship, and he really trusts me and my ideas," Shady explained. "So when this idea came along, they were just getting ready to launch their all-ages line, so it fit in perfectly. I'm not really one for big business and being worked over by people who 'just want to change that,' or want to 'just tweak it a little bit.' I have an idea, I write it out quickly, and that's that. I'm pretty much then ready to move on to the next book. I've written about Heaven and Hell ('Heaven, LLC'), the comic book industry ('Bad Ideas'), serial killers ('The Roberts') and now fictional animals. And I love it that way. I have ideas for a bunch more stories, and I don't ever want to get held up on any one tale."
Shady does not have future plans for "Missing The Boat," regardless of how well it might do in sales. "I like doing work that way. It's finite, it comes and goes, and that's it," he said. "I think if I did anything that would continue on, I'd probably get eight pages into the second book before I started to rely heavily on fart jokes. When all else fails, when you need something to fill a hole: fart jokes. They work every time."
"Missing The Boat" has a unique format, but not one Shady takes credit for. "Shadowline picked it," he said. "They basically look at a pitch and say, 'this would be good like this.' I could have disagreed, I suppose, but it worked out great, and I'm really excited to do a hardcover, full-color book. That'll be a big first for me, which I love. The book is approximately 6 x 9 inches, kind of like a Kyle Baker book, and it's going to have a nice spine, be hardcover, etc. It will feel much more like a book than my previous titles, which is really exciting to me. I can't wait to get it on a bookshelf and look at it and think, 'Wow. How long until I actually see one dollar from this project? I'm starving here!'"
As for the dual moniker the author employs, Shady explained, "When I started up the magazine I used to run, 'Tastes Like Chicken,' we all went under fake names because we wanted honest feedback from people and didn't want to sway their opinion by having them know it was us doing it. As time went on, I would do all creative work under the name Wayne Chinsang and all business under Justin Shady. So people would call for Wayne, I'd answer the phone as Justin, put them on hold, and then return to the phone as Wayne. As time has gone on, the names have started to merge into one, so I do work under and go by both names. I recently signed with a literary agent in L.A. and when I did my agent said, 'Why would you go by Wayne Chinsang when you have such a real name?'
And to be honest, I didn't know how to answer that. So that's kind of when I decided to put the name 'Justin Shady' out there. It's worked out pretty well so far, but just wait until tax time when I have to explain to some moron that there is no real 'Wayne.'"
What does the future have in store for both Justin Shady and Wayne Chinsang? "More ideas! More books! I have a few things moving," he said. "A few things going, but I don't like to talk about them until they're in stone (signed on a contract). I can tell you this, though: February 2009 is both 'Missing the Boat' and 'The Roberts: TPB.' After that, it's a bit up in the air, but people will be hearing from me again before the end of 2009, so keep your Shady ears peeled!"
"Missing The Boat" is on sale now from Shadowline and Image Comics.