Since 1997, Lark Pien has built up a reputation within the small press comics community and has now made the jump to her first children’s book based on her most popular character, Long Tail Kitty. Having studied architecture and pursued work in the architectural industry, Pien gradually made the transition over to comics and becoming a full-time artist. With a number of projects in the works, this is a good time to check in on her.
Blog@Newsarama: Tell us about Long Tail Kitty, the character. How far back does it go and is it a guiding force in your comics?
Lark Pien: Long Tail Kitty – Heaven was a story for my rabbit who died while i was traveling abroad in 1999-2000. LTK was almost a side character but he was well-received, and I met many people in comics after this story.
I don’t think Long Tail Kitty is a guiding force, but he’s been fun to draw, and his easy way helps me not to be so serious all the time.
Blog@: You loved comics as a kid, you became an architectural designer and then you returned to comics. What was it like starting out in comics?
LP: It was very humble and private, but I met many cartoonists early on. They were supportive and gave advice freely. Sometimes I would get a postcard in the mail from a cartoonist. My little world became a little bit bigger that way.
There weren’t many girl cartoonists. I remember meeting Andrice Arp at an Alternative Press Expo. I bought her comic and she gave me a sticker of a giant angry duck and I got it in my head that I wanted us to be friends. This wasn’t grade school but it might as well have been! Somehow it happened, we became good friends.
Blog@: Please describe for us your working methods. How do you develop your work?
LP: I write and draw in my sketchbook. I’ll draw even when I don’t have ideas. Most times I know the beginning and the end of a story, but not the middle.
I have to really work to make the beginning and the ending meet. It’s good if i can build a structure to support my story, then let it take the shape that it wants to be.
A lot of people ask about creating characters, how I come up with them. Usually I’m thinking about what the character is doing or where it is in the world, and the story comes from that. The personality and how the character looks develops along the way, and usually reveals itself later on in the process for me.
Blog@: Can you share with us how you’ve managed to turn your comics and art into a career?
LP: This is a very hard question! I’m not sure i can answer it correctly. Do we talk about money? My view on money is general rather than specific. I tend to overlook trend type offers due to a muted interest in the short term. I group projects by seasons (commissions for example, are winter/spring; conventions are summer/fall). I like to think ahead, but not plan a whole lot.
I think about political/cultural landscapes changing – and what will i be like when i’m seventy, ninety? Also there are all sorts of inventions I hope to see before I die. This is unprofessional to say, but I think my career is a semblance of self-certitude and the possibilities in the world surrounding.
Blog@: What would you like to tell us about your new children’s book, Long Tail Kitty?
LP: My publisher, Blue Apple Books, has been very generous! BAB has given me a lot of freedom in writing the stories I wanted to tell and drawing the art the way I wanted to do it. They made the book design very special (embossed die-cut cover, cloth binding, an activities foldout page, and a draw LTK bonus section!), and to see the artwork in full-color is a treat (my minis are usually in b/w). though catagorized for younger audiences the new stories in this book retain the qualities that are in my mini comics, so i hope older readers give it a chance too!
Blog@: Can you tell us something about your role as a colorist for Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese?
LP: Chinkee was a challenge to color – he was in a different style (more cartoony) than the rest of the characters, but still placed in a real setting. How yellow is too yellow? He’s supposed to be too yellow. It was hard to make those kinds of decisions. Sometimes I wanted Gene to say “Whoa! Change that color!” but he was very easy-going.
Blog@: Are there any comics that you follow? Or can you tell us about some of your favorite comics?
LP: I like Hicksville (Dylan Horrocks), Black and White (Matsumoto Taiyo) and Notes For A War Story (Gipi). They are my favorites.
Black and White I first read in the 90′s, when VIZ was in SoMA. I was given an oversized two-volume set – which I foolishly lent out and never got back (see these glittering tears? Falling like rain.) It’s out of print now, that edition, but I’ve another reading set which I don’t mind lending out still.
I just read a ton of Vagabond (Takehiko Inoue) and cartoonists who I’ve recently stalked online are Lille Carré, Eleanor Davis, Laura Park and Anke Feuchtenberger. Girls win this round!
Blog@: Any upcoming projects that you’d like to tell us about or any thoughts on what lies ahead for you?
LP: I just finished the artwork for Mr. Elephanter – a children’s book with Candlewick Press, based on my mini-comic, Brave Mr. Elephanter (2007). The graphic novel project, Stories from the Ward, is with First Second, but completion won’t be for a little while yet. FS has been very patient and supportive. There are two other comic projects with publishers, but we haven’t set a release date yet. Artwise, I’ve been developing a new series of abstracts. I’d like to squeeze in a collaborative project and/or installation project sometime this year. That’d be fun.
Keep up with Lark Pien at her blog and check out more of her work here. Long Tail Kitty is published by Blue Apple Books.