Interview with Joyce Chin, Part 2
When I sat down with Joyce Chin at Phoenix Comicon 2016, I enjoyed myself so much that we ended up talking for a long time. Here is part two of our chat picking up right where part one ends. In this half we talk about female sexuality, the relativity of fame and her advice to people wanting to get into the business.
Female sexuality has always been a double edged sword for me, what are your thoughts?
We see all these cosplayers who are very proud about their beauty and what they present to the world. Why look down on it? Why cast judgments on all that stuff? I’ve always been one of those super irritating people who push back against the “it’s too sexy” line. What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with women’s sexuality? It depends on the context. If it’s the woman who presents herself then you need to go back to classic primitive images of women who had power and agency.
Then people came in and said you have to cover up because women are temptation, women are sin. If you’re writing story lines where it’s the classic horror movie trope where the slutty girl gets killed — I think that’s wrong. Where any skin she’s showing is a shorthand to say that she’s the one who needs to die. But then you look at Xena who is showing skin. She’s absolutely powerful, and has agency, and can kick ass, and is sexual. Skin’s not scary to me and skin doesn’t make me observe somebody as different. I’ve drawn Vampirella. She’s hysterical, and she’s campy, and it’s a ridiculous costume but that’s part of the magic of the character.
I feel like the pendulum swung the other way since the 90s, do you?
Sometimes I look back in the ‘90s, and I think why did everybody have to poop? But that was the ‘90s comic scene. Everybody had the furrowed brow and the really tense anger. Men, women, everybody had to poop. Everything in the ‘90s was too much, super exaggerated. At the time, it was awesome. Because I drew comics during that time I have an appreciation for it. But it’s very, very different now. Now, it’s all about making the characters more relatable, more vulnerable. You watch a TV series like Daredevil where he’s all about his injuries, and his pain, and his overcoming that. And before, it would’ve been like…
Yeah, exactly! Terminator would be the classic ‘80s and ‘90s trope for the hero guy, or the villain guy. It’s very different now. It’s just the era, you know? I don’t think women during the 90s were exceptional because the men were just as extreme. Now it’s sort of all come toward the center.
Is there anything else that you would want talk about?
Buy more stuff.
Buy more stuff?
Buy more stuff that women do, or buy the diversity of things. Because that’s what supports it.
There was a lot of talk that the superhero movies were going to bring people to comics. Has that turned out to be true?
I don’t know what the actual sales number are. I think it increased the diversity of people interested in comics. I think the numbers go up and down, but I think movies are used as an intellectual property generator for larger corporations like Time Warner and Disney. Basically, Guardians of the Galaxy has been around since, the ‘60s or something. Nobody gave a shit up until James Gunn made the movie. Now everybody gives a shit about Guardians of the Galaxy. A lot of the properties that are made at Marvel, and DC, and other companies seem like a cheap way to generate intellectual property which is sort of such a boring answer. Super boring. Oh my God boring.
And I think it’s hard to say because, much like TV, the number of different comics has gone way up. So the readership has sort of spread out. Before when someone was famous on TV everybody knew who they were. Now, I could be having dinner with somebody who is the main character on a show and I won’t know who they are. We were in Australia on a convention tour where everybody’s all together for two weeks. You’re with the actors, you’re with everybody all hanging out. We realized the only guy that everybody knew in the entire room was Grant Imahara from Mythbusters. He’s the most famous guy in the room. And there were guys from Battlestar, guys from Harry Potter, people from Merlin and Alan Tudyk from Firefly. Fame is relative, you know? Audience is relative, right? If somebody’s never seen you before, you’re not famous.
I have to be honest. I own a very small number of singles from my youth. These days I only buy graphic novels.
Yeah, well, they’re expensive.
And they take up a lot of room.
But what you might want to do is just subscribe to the digital. I know it’s not like holding something in your hand. But then it’s just a monthly subscription fee, and you get to read whatever, right? And they aren’t taking up space. I read books like crazy and it’s all on the Kindle now.
I still run into Moms that tell me reading comics isn’t reading. You’re a mom. What do you think?
It’s totally reading. I was taught how to read [using comics]. My mom would buy comics, and I remember being in the crib and looking at Disney comics. She didn’t read comics herself, but she thought it was what American kids do. I quickly went to superheroes. I never got into the indie scene or have any of that stuff resonate with me. Most of my career I’ve done the rock ‘em, sock ‘em stuff. Even now — I love superheroes! But there are more intellectual comics, like Alan Moore’s stuff. Neil Gaiman. There’s lots of stuff [moms] can look at. Men In Black was a comic. Walking Dead was a comic. Captain America. Road to Perdition was a comic book. You can’t get much more serious than Road to Perdition. But [moms] probably won’t because they think it’s all for kids.
Do you feel that comics have something for everybody?
Yes! Before, I guess you had to go to Vertigo or Dark Horse for something a little different but now, it’s everywhere. There’s such a cool number of amazing ideas out there and from such different voices. I’m pretty happy with the trajectory of comics. I mean, you’re probably going to find somebody else in the hall that’s like, it all sucks, it’s all falling down. I’m not that person! Because I’ve seen no diversity. I was involved in the industry when I’m the only girl in the bar except for the hookers. No, really, it was like that. There would be hookers that would come up to the bar because it was an all male convention. It was different.
That’s so interesting. I had a mentor that would tell me stories that the company team building used to be a trip to the strip club.
I would go. I draw female bodies. I think bodies are beautiful. It doesn’t really matter to me if it’s a girl or a boy. It’s never bothered me to go to the strip club. And I think that’s a perfectly valid way to make money for a living. I knew girls in college that actually did the legend of the girl that put herself through college stripping. I don’t have any problem with it at all. I went to the strip clubs early on. They don’t do it anymore as much. But before, it was really common for everybody to go to the strip club. That was the other thing, there was a lot of the usual stories of people hitting on you and other stories of people dismissing because of gender early on. But there were also people who just didn’t know what to do, they were panicking. They didn’t know what to do with people like us [females].
What would you say to the young ladies coming up?
Just do it. People are going to say bad things, and discouraging things, and sexist things, and horrible things. In life. Not just in this industry— in life. If you want to do it, just do it. Even if it doesn’t get to where you want it to, at least you can say you did it, you know? Just try! You never know if you’re going to succeed. I know so many people that like – like Gail Simone was a hairdresser, you know? You never know if you’re going to hit it a big. It’s important to get your voice and your ideas out there. Don’t be afraid to just do it! And if bad things happen, just go – well, that jerk did it, so I’m going to keep going.
I heard a panel yesterday with a guy talking about his indie game. He said if you’re going to create, you have to have the courage to fail. Would you agree?
Yes. You have to just keep failing up.
Oh, failing up, I love that!
Fail upwards, yeah. Art is a process of failing. Because everybody I know who’s really good at art hates their artwork. Because it’s never what they envision in their head. And you just have to keep trying, and keep going and keep learning from your mistakes. So fail up. Yeah. That would be what I would tell somebody.
I truly enjoyed talking with Joyce Chin and learning about her history and her insights into the early days for women in the comics industry but also her thoughts on women working today in the industry. If you see her at a convention, make sure to drop by her table to chat! And don’t forget to buy the diversity of stuff!