The following interview appeared in Sequential Tart Zine.
What’s In A Name
by Mariah Huehner
It’s pronounced “oh ne zoo me”, and she’s ready to take over the world, one webcomic at a time.
Sequential Tart: So, Onezumi, give us the low down. What’s your comic about?
Onezumi: This is where it gets complicated. We’re rated PG-13. We swear a lot. We have a lot of poop humor. We’re violent, crazy, and can be considered offensive to some. We’ve been compared to South Park and Ren and Stimpy. A lot of people enjoy just this aspect, which is perfectly fine, but to say that is what the comic is about is completely missing the point. Everything I do has meaning, theory, and depth.
My comic is really about life as I experience it as well as my reaction to it. There are a few levels to this. Onezumi and Harknell are obviously based off of me and my partner, but my method of storytelling is heavily couched in metaphor. The characters are archetypical, and I use them to point out problems, joke on pop culture, vent frustrations which stem from my position in life, and of course to give people a good laugh.
In addition to all of this, and above all, my message is that people shouldn’t be limited to what life dealt to you. Girls can be bad-ass and funny, and you don’t have to necessarily be girly to do it.
ST: Is the main character like you at all?
O: The answer is yes and no. Since the comic is about how I see things, Onezumi is based on me. However, she is more of an alter ego. The character Onezumi is me magnified by 100 if I didn’t have an off switch.
When people meet me at conventions I get a lot of different reactions because of this. Some people expect me to be criminally insane and are reticent to approach me. I’m actually pretty easy to get along with. Sure, I don’t take crap from anyone, but the only thing I hate worse than feeling bad is making anyone else feel bad.
A lot of the stuff that comes from the character’s mouth was indeed something I said. Often I’ll transcribe something that happened in real life into the comic. I have a talent for crafting elaborate profane expressions on the fly. That usually happens with friends at parties and such, not when I’m meeting someone’s parents.
ST: On your site you have a blog where you get to rant and vent about various subjects. Is there a particular pet peeve you have about comics in general?
O: Oh yes, two main things. I don’t agree with the clear bias the field has against comics that aren’t in print format. It may be the case that easier access to the internet allows amateurs to self-publish. However, it doesn’t mean that everyone online is an amateur and it also doesn’t mean that in a few years time that same amateur might not become a professional.
For example, I have a professional background in the creative field, but I chose to self-publish; I didn’t end up doing this because I had no other option. I also didn’t want to get involved with the primarily male dominated world of comic book politics. I refuse to do free work, shop it around and hope that someone likes me enough to give me a break. I want to make my own break on my own merit. I won’t let anyone else tell me to censor my work to be more marketable. I also produce all of my own merchandise and closely control where my brand appears. I think the mainstream comics field is slowly coming around and understanding that the internet isn’t the lowest common denominator. It’s evolution, really. I feel the internet is great because the comics creation field is now more accessible to people of all classes.
The other thing that sets me off is when people, especially kids, come to my table and tell me that another comic creator was rude to them or said their art was lame. This happens pretty often, believe it or not. I hate rock star attitudes. It’s even worse in this case because one comment can possibly change someone’s mind from following their dreams. You don’t have to be everyone’s best friend, but you do have to be civil and you should never flatly insult a hopeful person’s artwork. There’s always something that you can point to in a work as a decent start, and you can positively point them in a direction to grow. When people fail to be civil to their fans at conventions, in my mind they are failing to do their job as a comic creator. Part of the job is not being an asshole to your fans.
ST: From your blog it sounds like you go to a lot of cons and do a lot of panel time. What question/s do you field the most?
O: The most common question I get is, “Where the heck do you come up with this stuff?” since my work is so off the wall at times. I pretty much answered that in the first question – I have an odd take on life. I also get a lot of questions about how someone can break into the field, which of course, I’m more than happy to help out with.
I actually started my tutorial section on my web site that answers a lot of the basic questions. I update that pretty often. I also actively participate in my forums over at Harknell.com to walk people through the more difficult parts.
ST: What are you favorite cons?
O: Katsucon is an anime con that has been very good to me. I just got an invite from Philcon, a sci fi con in Philadelphia, PA. I haven’t been there yet, but they seem very nice. I’ll be there on the 18th of November as a panelist.
ST: Without putting you on the spot, what’s the toughest thing you find about being a woman in comics?
O: People who discover us at a convention often start talking to Harknell as if he is the artist and writer just because he’s the only guy behind the table. I do get people who won’t even look me in the eye, but they are fine talking with him about my work when I’m standing right there. Harknell is my webmaster and editor. He supports the comic and occasionally writes an editorial on the site, but the comic is purely mine. I have the right to final cut.
I also get a lot of problems over the fact that I swear a lot in my comic, and the type of humor I use is seen as over the top. I honestly don’t think the comic would be perceived as extreme as it is perceived if it were written by a guy. It is almost as if people are upset that I stepped out of my gender box and broke their world view. People have actually said to me that I should be like all the other comics written by women. I like their comics fine enough, but I’m not here to copy anyone or fit in with what the other girls are doing. I am here to stay true to my vision.
ST: Besides your comics and blog, what else can be found on your web site?
O: Well, we have a tutorial section full of advice in plain English about how to make art as well as how to treat it like a professional business. I have one video tutorial up now, but we’ll be expanding that section to demonstrate everything with video clips.
We also have our forum at Harknell.com Forums. We just added a Java-based Photoshop-like program, called an Oekaki board, so everyone can draw together, no matter what type of computer they have. The site started out as a great support area for independent artists, but it grew into like a second family for many of the members. We just got a group together and went to Six Flags Halloween Fright Fest together.
Very soon, we’re going to be launching AWSOM, which is something Harknell is working on. It’s basically an artists’ web site package that requires minimal tech knowledge to use. It will have three configurations to choose from in the beginning and will be fully customizable through CSS. It will be free. No more excuses from artists who tell me that they can’t get their website to work!
ST: If you could meet/talk to any comics creator living or dead, who would it be?
O: Hmmm … Steve Purcell, creator of Sam and Max.
ST: Do you think there’s such a thing as “women’s” comics and “men’s” comics?
O: I think that there are certain types of comics that appeal more to one sex or the other, but … heck; I got most of my male friends to read Peach Girl, which is a very girly manga. They loved it!
ST: What tips do you have for aspiring comics artists/writers?
O: The first few thousand rejections you’ll get are meaningless.
ST: As an “indie” web-based comic, do you find having a community that can discuss and interact with you as the creator helps keep you going?
O: Definitely. I think my initial resolution to truly do this came from having positive interactions with fans. Back when I first started doing conventions this little girl e-mailed me after I got home. She said that she decided to follow her dreams and write comics after meeting me. She said that I was the first person to tell her that she was worth something. Both Harknell and I cried after we got that email. I definitely saw a lot of myself in this girl because my parents didn’t approve of me entering this field either. That was actually what led me to expand so fast and start Harknell.com. I realized that I need to be here. I need to do this.
ST: When did you first discover your love of comics?
O: Probably before kindergarten. I used to read Peter Porker: The Amazing Spider Ham and Disney comics. Of course I also read the Sunday comics in the newspapers. I eventually moved on to being a major X-Men geek by the time I was in high school.
ST: What are you reading right now (comics, books, whatever)?
O: I’m reading the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter book series by Laurell K. Hamilton. Anita is the first heroine I’ve encountered that thinks a lot like I do. I’m waiting for the newest hardcover compilation of Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore to come out. The rest of the time I’m so busy that I try to keep up on what my friends are doing … they are all on my links page.
ST: One of my favorite things about your comic is the sense of humor. Is any of it autobiographical?
O: Sometimes. I have a small story arc called “Origin” that talks about my past trying to fit in with the mainstream. I try to keep my actual personal life a bit more out of the spotlight. The comic is lighthearted and sarcastic, but the actual story behind it is pretty depressing, because that was when I was having a hard time with my body image. Eventually I’m going to write an autobiography, but it’s not time for that yet.
ST: Crazy hair, leet speak, monkeys. Is there anything your comic doesn’t have?
O: Pregnant cows. Oh wait … I actually do have a pregnant cow in the archive. She’s flying. Scratch that ….
ST: If there was one thing you could change about comics in general (the books, the fandom, etc) what would you change?
O: I can’t really think of anything. I think the Internet is doing exactly what I’d like to see done with the field. Most people have access to the Internet these days. It’s making creativity more accessible to the average person regardless of skin color or gender because you don’t have to pass a popularity contest to make a website. Back when I started, you had to know someone to get into the field. Sure there will always be politics and prejudice, but I see the gap closing a tiny bit. Yay technology!