Thieves Like Us: Clugston on Blue Monday

Cartoonist Chynna Clugston has over the last decade created an impressive body of work for a variety of publishers and with a wide range of characters. She's written and illustrated books for Oni Press ("Scooter Girl," "Strangetown"), created one of the debut books for Scholastic's Graphix imprint ("Queen Bee"), illustrated titles for Marvel and DC ("Ultimate Marvel Team-Up," "Loony Tunes," "The Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century") and contributed to various anthologies including "Dark Horse Presents," "Four Letter Words," and "This Is a Souvenir."

Clugston is best known, however, as the creator behind "Blue Monday," a series of miniseries and one-shots published by Oni, depicting the quirky and odd high school adventures of Bleu Finnegan, comics' favorite blue-haired Buster Keaton-loving Adam Ant-worshipping teenager, whose antics have been described as "Archie on crack."

December will see the release of "Blue Monday: Thieves Like Us" #1, and CBR sat down for a talk with Clugston about the new miniseries and the other projects she's working on.

CBR: What are you willing to spill as far as the story goes for "Blue Monday: Thieves Like Us?"

Chynna Clugston: Well, I can say that there will be a new character introduced about halfway through the new series, and we're going to finally address "Lovecats." Other than that, I don't want to reveal a whole lot. Though if you've seen Previews you know that Bleu is on her new mission.

What is it about Bleu and her friends that keep you returning to these characters?

It was never my plan to abandon them in the first place, so returning isn't some kind of afterthought, it's just the nature of doing multiple miniseries as opposed to monthlies, which I'm pretty sure I'm currently incapable of doing yet- my attention span is enough to fight with as it is! I plan to allow them to be, er... observed, I guess, until at least their late twenties before they get too tore up for anyone to want to look at much longer.

Though I have thought about what it would be like to see them in an old fart's home. I suppose I'll probably have a nightmarish flash forward at some point just to get that out of my system.

How much time has passed in Bleu's life in the four "Blue Monday" volumes to date?

For the most part, all the [stories] so far take place during Bleu's sophomore year, we're not out of that yet. I know, right? In fact, we're only in Winter in the coming series. I like to jump around time-wise, and that said I'm not concerned about how many books it'll take to get them where I'm comfortable leaving the characters. I figure I'll stop when I feel the time is right, or my hands fall off, or Oni stops being able to sell them, or the internet collapses and I can't even put them online, or whatever.

Their late twenties is a rough estimate, age-wise, since I might choose to say, jump from their graduation to them at twenty-three or so, and go on from there, or jump again to them at age 30, with occasional jumps forward and backward in their lives at any given time. Sometimes I like to do that just to fuck with people, to be honest. It kind of depends on my mood when I'm writing it. I'm considering parallel dimensions and time travel as well, just to throw readers off some more.

Many elements of and stories in "Blue Monday" are directly inspired by your high school days. Is that still the case?

It's always been just roughly inspired by my high school days with occasional autobiographical bits tossed in, most of which are exaggerated -- with the exception of a few unfortunate accuracies. Like when the mascot gets felt up by the snot-faced kid and accused of being a boy. Yeah, that whole story happened pretty much panel for panel if I remember my panels correctly. For the record, I was wearing a sports bra.

One of the key elements in "Blue Monday" that fans have latched onto is the way the kids hold onto each other because there's pretty much nothing else to do. Is that also from your life?

There was definitely nothing to do when I transferred to Yosemite High and had no car to get around in. You felt like you were withering away into oblivion if you were stuck at home, and if you were lucky enough to be in Oakhurst (which was the McDonald's stop for tourists on the way to Yosemite National Park) we were so bored that we considered a verbal exchange at Danny's Pizza an exciting time. The interpersonal relationships were (amazingly) even more of a mess than in the comic, there were way more kids involved and everyone was usually at odds with someone else at any given time- there's only a few periods of calmness that I wished had been more the norm that I mainly draw from.

That said, a lot of the bullshit is also where I get ideas for material from, so it was a necessary evil. Even the people I didn't care for much in school, I still keep tabs on to some extent, these days. Once you grow up, you usually stop caring about the crap and realize you all went through this sort of bootcamp together to prepare you for dealing with the instability and stress you're bound to encounter in adulthood. Some of them I've been close to the entire time, and even if you get on each other's nerves or hurt each other at some point, you don't let go because after all that time, you still understand and care about them. You'll always have that shared past in common. They're like extended buttheaded family.

In the early books, especially "Blue Monday: The Kids Are Alright," the art had a very solid manga influence in the way characters were drawn, emotional reactions and so forth, and the pages were more crowded. But over time you've given the art more room to breathe. Any particularly reason why?

It might be a reflection of my own preferences as I get older. When I was a bit younger, I preferred everything to be crowded and to have a more manic feel to it. My bedroom was plastered with posters and stickers top to bottom, magazine ads and Xmas lights- it was a visual assault. I liked my comic art the same way. Now I almost feel claustrophobic in that kind of environment. I still like to look at a lot of interesting activity and multiple things in small spaces, but they need to have a sort of symmetry or theme to them, cleaner lines, etc.

I don't know if that makes sense at all. I guess what I'm saying is that I like my mess to be slightly more orderly now. And I'm trying to become a better artist, adding a little dash more of realism to the mix. Trust me, I still love manga, but I'd rather look like a healthy mix of different influences than leaning too far in one direction than the other, now. But I still intend to let Bleu and the gang be just as slovenly and obnoxious as they're supposed to be. I mean, I'm still a slob, I just clean up my shit more often than I used to. I'm attempting to do that in my work as well. I'm not always successful at it.

Do you have a master plan for "Blue Monday" or are you making it up as you go along?

I have a general master plan, but new ideas always pop up. And depending on my mood, occasionally the fate of the characters will alter slightly. Sometimes I consider having Erin pushed in front of a runaway street sweeper, stuff like that. But it's there, most of it.

Why do you think Buster Keaton cooler than Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin put together?

It might boil down to his modesty combined with his genius. He went for impish hilarity and didn't put on intellectual airs, which appeals to most everyone. He wasn't a dope, but he wasn't a dick, either. He only acted badly when he was treated badly by his first two wives and peers, and when his creative freedom was finally taken away entirely. Plus, deadpan humor wins every time, doesn't it? He doesn't mug you for laughs, you just can't help yourself!

When are we going to see more of "Strangetown?" There was one issue released and then... nothing.

I'm going to be drawing it as a graphic novel now, so the plan is to have "ST" come out hopefully in OGN form by the end of 2009. I have to tell you I really love the story and really am looking forward to seeing it completed. It's the problem with comics, though, that it just takes so damn long to do everything. Ian and I wrote it, then had some hiccups and some schedule conflicts that threw it off track- but it's still happening. Think of issue one as a prologue.

What's changed with "Strangetown" as far as making the transition from X number of issues to a graphic novel?

Same book, one fell swoop. It could be considered an apology for only releasing one issue and then getting thrown off course for so long, anyone still interested has waited long enough, we're aware of that. Here's the punchline, we've been planning on two miniseries for "ST" the whole time. You might see the second trade in, oh... 2029.

Every now and again you draw an issue for Johnny DC or Marvel, what's the appeal of that work for you?

Probably that I'm just drawing. I would write, too, but I haven't done any scripts for them yet. Naturally it goes faster when you're only pencilling and inking instead of writing, pencilling and inking. Plus, I tend to do one-shots, so even if I was writing on top of everything else it'd still go that much faster than a miniseries. Also, everyone I've worked with has been great, and they've given me really amusing scripts. I enjoy doing the kiddie books, too, because I can let my little half-sisters and nephews see my work. That and I get to see my stuff in color, that's always a kick. I tend to have less anxiety attacks over the Johnny DC books.

Do you have plans to produce one of your own books in color?

It's not up to me at the moment. If I ever get money to burn, though, maybe you'll see it happen.

What's the status of "Brains on Vacation," you book about the history of the punk scene in London?

That's still happening as well, I just need to make my way back to London at some point to do more interviews with Marco Pirroni and continue to read even more source material. I exchanged emails with him just recently and he's still up for it, happily. Again, it just takes so long to pull everything together, sometimes things get postponed much longer than I like.

What's surprised you the most about working in nonfiction?

Though I enjoy doing research, this requires a lot more attention than the casual research I'm used to doing for my own amusement or for my other stories, which can be a little overwhelming. My only real surprise is how long it's going to take to get it all sorted out and coherent, it might be quite a while longer before the finished product happens. There's been a couple false starts. It's not meant to be a history book- a personal history is going to be imperfect as a rule, it's the subject's view, but I'm going to get it as right as I can without killing myself in the process. The great thing about something like this is that it's still character-driven, it just happens that the characters are real people, most of who didn't or don't take themselves nearly as seriously as the public at large likes to imagine.

"Blue Monday: Thieves Like Us" #1 goes on sale December 17 from Oni Press.

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