STGCC 2015: Adam Hughes interview

As published in Issue #69 of F*** Magazine

Text:
THE AH! FACTOR
F*** talks to pinup artist extraordinaire Adam Hughes at STGCC

By Jedd Jong



Comic book fans everywhere know those familiar initials all too well – “AH!” Adam Hughes is in town for the annual Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC), appearing as a special guest in Singapore for the very first time. Hughes is accompanied by his wife and manager Allison Sohn, also an illustrator.

Hailing from New Jersey, Hughes is a prolific comic book artist who has built a reputation for drawing some of the most drop-dead gorgeous women in all of comics. His work harks back to the golden age of pin-up art with its playful sexiness, while also coming across as lifelike, cinematic and vibrant.

Over the course of his storied career, Hughes has drawn for the likes of DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Wildstorm, in addition to adult publications such as Playboy and Penthouse. His career highlights include prominent cover artist runs on Catwoman, Wonder Woman and Tomb Raider. Sideshow Collectibles has produced a series of statues based on Hughes’ designs and his original art is highly sought after in the comic art collecting community, running for a pretty penny.

While he initially seemed a little intense and wasn’t prone to smiling a lot, Hughes is engaging, enthusiastic and humorous during the interview, giving witty, well thought-out answers to our questions. Sitting down with F*** at STGCC, Hughes shares his thoughts on the evolution of the pinup, reveals his favourite female and male comic book characters, speaks about the successful partnership he has with his wife and provides insight into the unexpected challenges of being a career artist. He also recounts his fascinating brush with Hollywood in the form of working on the teaser poster for Joss Whedon’s ill-fated Wonder Woman movie.

How has the art of the pinup evolved from the days of Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas to today?

As far as a first question goes, pretty tough [laughs]. It’s changed because of the perception of women in society. With very few exceptions, all the great pinup artists were men, there were only a few women doing it, and they were depicting idealised versions of women. As time has gone on, women aren’t meant to just be attractive or just be the mother to your children, they’re their own people; they have their own place in society and can do anything they want. The pinup has changed to reflect women’s power, as far it’s not just them in cute situations. It’s not just them going “oh, a puppy is pulling down my bikini bottoms, ooh!”
That’s one of the things that interests me and challenges me as a pinup artist: I’m hired to draw strong, powerful women and I want to make them look attractive. Nobody ever talks about the fact that when I draw Superman or Captain America, I want to make them look attractive too. My main job is to portray a character and I don’t do as much pure “cheesecake pinup” as I used to, but I still try to inject an element of humour and good-natured sexuality of the pinup into the stuff that I do. I do think the way that it has changed is that it’s trying to be a little more…I don’t know if ‘respectful’ is the right word, but aware.
You’re not just drawing a thing that’s to be looked at, you’re drawing a person, definitely more nuanced, but also more aware that you’re drawing a character, you’re not just drawing something that’s meant to be looked at and appreciated for its beauty. When I draw Catwoman or Wonder Woman or any character, I go “what’s this character thinking? What’s this character feeling at the moment?” not just “how small is this character’s costume today?” It sounds like a strange dichotomy, but it’s the way I work.
You were once named “the greatest cheesecake artist” and in response, you said that instead of “embracing” the title, you were giving it a “warm handshake”. You do more cover art than interior work; would you call yourself a frustrated storyteller?

I’m not an especially frustrated storyteller, I’m only frustrated with the fact that I don’t get to tell stories as much as I want. That’s not because people don’t offer me comics to draw, it’s because I’m so slow. I would love to be one of those people that’s just so prolific and works on everything, I would love to tell a million stories, maybe I’ve only got 20 stories, I’ve only got enough time to tell 20. That’s the part that frustrates me. As far as telling stories in single images, I don’t have a problem with that because I’m allowed to, I’m allowed to use a cover to tell a story instead of just portraying a character in a pretty way.
What’s your opinion on diversity in comics today?

There’s not enough of it. However, I don’t feel that the correct solution is a hammer. When there’s a problem in the world, whether it’s in something as silly as comics or in the real world, the workplace, in education or something like that, a lot of times people tend to go way overboard in their response to it, as opposed to a measured response and an incisive response [that] will actually get the most results. There are two responses to any great social issue: ‘I’m going to sleep through it’ or ‘let’s have a revolution!’ Maybe there’s a response somewhere in between apathy and anarchy, where you can go ‘let’s try to make this better’.
I would love more diversity across the board in all media, but I’m not a fan of ‘artificial diversity’, where you go “let’s just make this more diverse for diversity’s sake.” I believe in everything, whether it’s diversity or characters, locations, storytelling, any aspect of a creative endeavour, I think that it should always be organic, it should always come from “what am I trying to say with this story?” If you’re trying to tell a story and for some strange reason, a character has to be a white guy, then he needs to be a white guy. You should only change it to some other thing if making the character, say, a female Asian, actually makes the story better. You shouldn’t be doing it because “we don’t have enough female Asians in comics,” but because you’re saying “this story would be good if it were a white guy, but it would be amazing if it were a female Asian” or something like that. That’s what I think about diversity.
Unfortunately, today is such a reactionary era that I just realised, while I’m talking to you, that I could get into a lot of trouble and I’m just going to have to take that if it comes my way. I just want it to be for the betterment of story, not to fulfil an agenda. Hopefully we get to a point where people stop looking at, say, the cast photo of a new Star Wars film and counting the white people and black people, counting the men and counting the women, [and instead] see how it plays out.
What issues have you encountered in finding a balance in depictions of comic book women such that they are alluring and sensual while also empowering and dignified?

I haven’t encountered any issues until lately. It’s just a subjective thing – what offends one person is somebody else’s idea of pure art. That spectrum used to be much broader. Nowadays it’s a little rigid – there are people out there, especially in the west, who are getting upset at the way I’ve done business for 20-30 years. It’s like “I haven’t changed, was what I’m doing wrong 20 years ago or is your perception of what’s right and wrong, has it changed?” Sometimes the sheer aspect of depicting someone in a glamorous manner is offensive and everyone should look like regular folk to them. Gosh, I wouldn’t have a job if that were true! For the time being, I’m still safe, but I still lock my doors at night.
Your most popular pieces feature the characters in a more light-hearted context, since many pinups tend to be more playful. What are your views on the “battle” of lighter and happier vs. darker and grittier portrayals of characters?

I think it’s a silly battle. I think it’s not an important battle. I think everything that’s meant to be fun should be fun; I don’t like it when light-hearted characters are made dark just for the sake of shock value. I think there’s an important aspect to the darker side of things as well. I think it’s a non-issue, not a real battle.
How do you overcome artist’s block?

I spend most of my time scratching my chin and looking at the blank sheet of paper than I do actually drawing. It’s either video games, I will sit there and go “I’m gonna go kill somebody digitally and I’m gonna pretend they’re artist’s block”. Either that or I vacuum. I know a lot of artists who go “I’m not getting anything productive done at the drawing table, I’m going to get something productive done elsewhere” – that way, at the end of the day when you didn’t get a darn thing drawn, you still feel like you were a useful part of society because my floors are spotless.
What is the nature of your creative and business partnership with your wife?

Extremely productive. We’re lucky, we both have a lot of the same interests [and] we both like a lot of different things and bring new stuff to each other. My work enables to her to have the freedom to pursue her art; her work enables me to have the freedom to just focus on my artwork. We just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and we’ve been together for just over 13 years – longest relationship for either one of us. We would walk if it wasn’t working, we’re tired of abuse [laughs]. It’s a great relationship, we get a lot more done, it’s much more enriched. If we were on our own, we’d be surviving, we’d be doing okay, but because we’re together, we thrive.
You’ve drawn some of comic’s most beautiful ladies and did a pinup for Fairest from Fables. Who do you think is the fairest of them all?

I would say Catwoman. If I were drawing all the characters at the same time, I would make sure Selina is the prettiest.
What makes Catwoman one of the characters you’re fondest of?

I love damaged goods. I think the reason why people like the Batman universe so much is everybody in the Batman universe is damaged goods. I’ve always said that everybody in Gotham City is awful and the only reason why Batman is the hero is because he’s the least awful person in Gotham. Selina Kyle should have it easy. She’s beautiful, she’s smart and she’s talented, and yet, there’s something inside her that drives her towards a life of crime and she wouldn’t turn away from it. It’s not just thrills, there’s something bent and broken in her, just as it is with Batman and the Joker and probably even Alfred. If you’ve ever watched Downton Abbey, 100 people have to take care of that house and Alfred is the one guy who has to dust, clean, make the food, clean the sheets and patch up the owner every night he comes home shot. I’d be miserable too. I think that’s why.
Which is your favourite live-action portrayal of Catwoman be it in movies or TV shows?

Oh, in Dark Knight Rises. About 20 minutes into Dark Knight Rises I went “Okay, I don’t care if Batman doesn’t show up, can we just have two hours of Anne Hathaway doing cool stuff?” because it was way better than any of the Batman stuff.
Who is your favourite male superhero?

My favourite male superhero is Captain America. I love Captain America. Last year I drew my first Captain America cover ever and I was nine years old while I was drawing it.
He’s very different from “damaged goods”.

Yeah. Nobody likes a perfect character, it’s finding the character flaws and finding how the character overcomes those flaws. Those character flaws are the same as the obstacles in their careers. It’s like for Captain America, one of his obstacles is the Red Skull and the Legion of Hydra. One of his other obstacles is he doesn’t really fit in – I love him and I would kill to do a World War II Captain America story but I love the idea of a guy who isn’t where he belongs anymore and there’s no going home.
As you get older, all of us are separated from where we were born, not just by distance, but also by time. If you go back to the school you went to, the town or village you’re from, it’s changed and you go “wow, that’s not the way I remember it.” When Cap first came back in 1964, World War II had only been over for 19 years – the only thing different was “well, the Beatles have long hair”. Everybody he knew was probably still alive and I love the fact that as more time goes by, he’s 70 years out of time and soon he’ll be 100 years out of time. He’s becoming Buck Rogers. I find the tragedy of that very appealing.
What is the hardest part of being in the comic book industry?

The hardest part – this is going to sound vague and slightly Zen – it’s all the stuff nobody prepared you for. When you turn your hobby into your job, there’s that initial “oh crap, I have to draw even when I don’t want to draw?” When we’re kids and we’re all doing our favourite creative things, whenever we want, we all wish there was no school so we could do our favourite creative thing every day. The minute someone tells you to do it and says “you have to have all this done by Friday”, it can really become a chore. “Wow, my hobby’s no longer as fun as it used to be.” When you’re a kid and you want to grow up and draw comics, it’s just like “I’m going to sit around all day in my underwear and watch cartoons and draw comics and it’s gonna be great” – [but] there’s a whole brochure of stuff that nobody tells you.
I always think back to nine or ten-year-old me, if I time-travelled and went back, what I would tell him – one, it would be lay off the pizza. Two, I would say “in the future, the same guy who plays Judge Dredd plays Dr. McCoy, and it’s awesome, everybody’s happy” and three, I would sit him down and go “here’s all the stuff you’re not going to be ready for when you break into the business.” The expectations put on you, weird things – this is going to sound like I’m complaining that my diamond shoes are too tight, but career management – nobody teaches you how to manage a career.
I look at genuinely famous people, like politicians or athletes or actors and actresses and I go “your life is no longer your own” and you hope that there’s somebody somewhere that says “here’s what happens the first time somebody takes your autograph and sells it on eBay, here’s what to do the first time somebody stalks you.”
Comics fame is really dubious, but there are issues. We will get stuff mailed to our house, with a letter from somebody saying “oh my god, I love your work, could you please sign this comic that I sent you” to send it back using some self-addressed stamped envelope. The first thing my wife and I do is go “how did they get our address?! Close the blinds and lock all the windows!” It’s weird stuff like that. We worry sometimes, what if some crazy fan who didn’t get a sketch gets upset and decides to do something about it? Gosh, it could happen anywhere!
Nobody tells you when you’re a kid “by the way, you’re going to have to pay your own taxes.” In America, you’re responsible for paying your own taxes, it’s what self-employed artists do. It took me the better part of 18 years to get my tax problems sorted out because I made so many mistakes early on. So much stuff; that’s the hardest part.  
What are your thoughts on old school (pen and paper or watercolours) and new school (programs like Illustrator and Photoshop)

I’ve got my feet in both worlds, because I draw on paper and then I scan it and colour it in the computer. I don’t care, to me, all that matters is the final product. If your best tool is digital, then do it. These purists say “it’s not really painting unless you’re using oil paints” and it’s like “well, for you, but for this other person over here, they sing with a stylus and Cintiq tablet.”
If you make art and you only use ketchup and mustard and you only make these glorious Iron Man paintings by just squirting condiments onto a board because that’s how you’re most comfortable, then do it. I used to try and paint for real all the time, and it never works. Very frustrating. The minute I started colouring digitally, everything gelled into place, because I think that art medium, they should be like your shoes and your car and the chair you sit in. They should be so comfortable, you’re not thinking about it. Imagine walking somewhere and thinking about your shoes every step of the way – you wouldn’t get where you’re going because you’d be going “oh, the left one’s a little tight, the right one’s squeaking” – you wouldn’t think about where you’re going.
As an artist, if you’re thinking about your tools while you’re working, you’re not spending time being creative. You’re thinking about the mechanics of drawing, which you should have worked out already. That’s why every artist should just draw all the time; to get to the point where your pencil or your stylus or your paintbrush is an extension of your hand and you’re not thinking “oh, this paper’s fighting me today” or “I don’t like this pencil” – you’re just sitting there and going “Batman is sad! He needs rain, rain will make him seem sadder.”
That’s why I don’t care about the medium at all. When I see a beautiful piece of artwork, I never seem to ask what the medium is anymore. I used to be concerned about that; now I just go “that is a beautiful, wonderful piece of art that tells a story.” Don’t care where it came from. Unless it’s like “oh my god, I need to steal that, let me find out how that person drew those clouds.”
What was it like working on the Wonder Woman poster for the Joss Whedon film that didn’t pan out back in 2005?



When Joss Whedon was making the Wonder Woman movie, I got a call from DC saying “you’re going to get a call from Joel Silver”, who was the producer of the Matrix films, the Lethal Weapon films. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, he was the crazy director at the beginning and I was like “him, he’s calling my house?” So he called, and the character he played at the beginning of Roger Rabbit was way more normal than how he is in real life. I said to my wife, we were just dating at the time, “this guy’s a cartoon!” He then said “hold on, hold on, I’ve got Joss Whedon on the other line.” So, all of a sudden, I’m in a conference call with the producer of The Matrix and Joss Whedon, and I’m going “this is the weirdest day ever.”
I only had a weekend to work on it, I only had two days. They had no costume design, and I knew this film was not going to get made because they were both telling me what to draw and it was all different. Joel Silver’s going “make sure she’s buff, make sure she’s really strong!” and Joss Whedon’s saying “but not too buff!” I felt like a divorce attorney. When they announced that it didn’t go through [it made sense]. It was fun, I wish I could’ve drawn more of Wonder Woman, but there was no costume, there was no actress, and if I had an extra day or so, I could have made it something real special, but now it’s just “hey, I worked in Hollywood for eight seconds! Yay me!”

STGCC 2015: Jim Cheung interview

STGCC 2015: JIM CHEUNG INTERVIEW
by Jedd Jong
British comic book artist Jim Cheung is in Singapore for the first time as a special guest of the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention. Cheung has drawn for Marvel and CrossGen and has risen as one of Marvel’s superstar artists, having been named a “young gun”, a potential superstar, by Editor-in-chief Joe Quesada in 2005.

Cheung is probably best known for pencilling Young Avengers. Alongside writer Allan Heinberg, Cheung created characters such as Iron Lad, Hulkling, Wiccan, Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) and Speed.

At CrossGen, Cheung pencilled Scion and has gone on to draw such titles as New Avengers: Illuminati, Avengers: The Children’s Crusade and X-Force for Marvel. He has also done cover art for Avengers vs. X-Men and World War Hulk: Warbound.

Speaking to other journalists and I, Cheung looks back on his career, shares his inspirations and influences, weighs in on the aesthetics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and talks about his persistence in getting a page right.

It has been ten years since you were named one of Marvel’s “young guns”.

Oh, don’t remind me! [Laughs]

What was that like and looking back over your career, what has the journey been like so far?

It’s been a hell of a journey, I would see. It was definitely a surprise to be named a “young gun” back in 2004…2005, because I’d already been in the business a good ten years, so to be named a “young gun” was definitely unusual. It was definitely an honour, definitely a privilege to be amongst so many artists and such enormous talent. I guess it did in some ways further my career a lot. Thanks to that book, Young Avengers, it really helped my career a long way, because that was my big return to Marvel because before that, I went to work for CrossGen for a few years. It was an unusual point to jump in, the fact that it became a hit was definitely a big bonus.

What are the main inspirations for your current art style?

Current art style? It’s really like a bastardized style of a lot of my favourite artists. I kind of look at artists that I like and critically break it down, take different elements of what I like and try to incorporate it into my work and then it just becomes natural, that’s just the way it’s always been. I’m more an assimilator in a way, because if you look at my early work, you can see it’s very crude but then it gets more and more refined, because I’m looking at other people’s work and getting influenced by it. That’s why when I went to CrossGen, I was able to be in a studio with a whole bunch of artists for the very first time, and I was able to “steal” from them quite comprehensively.

Who were some of these artists who inspired you?

At CrossGen, there was a whole bunch of people. I worked very simply back in the day. When I was in London, I never worked with a lightbox before, then when I went to CrossGen, I saw people working with lightboxes so I got very curious. I developed a style where I started doing layouts very roughly and placed them underneath the finished board, whereas before I used to draw everything straight and I didn’t think about moving it over, once I started doing that, pieces started becoming starting much tighter. And looking at other artists’ work, like Greg Land who was also in the studio, seeing how much photo reference he was using, how he was using it, how Steve Epting was using the blacks in his pages, things like that were adding to my work.

What went into creating the characters who formed the Young Avengers, alongside Allan Heinberg?

Basically, I was just given the descriptions from Allan and from Tom Brevoort, the editor, and I just went away and did some rough designs. I kept doing multiple designs until I was comfortable with something to hand in to show them. A lot of them were very crude to begin with because they just basically said “do younger versions of the Hulk, of the Avengerscharacters.” So I was trying to give it a more modern twist while retaining a lot of those classic elements in making those characters, so it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of playing around, a lot of moving things around.
Is there a project you’ve worked on that you’d like to tackle?

I haven’t done any DC stuff in a long time and I’m very curious about that. I’d love to do some Batman stuff, some Justice League, although I really should be shying away from doing team books because it takes me forever to do them. For some reason, they keep hiring me to do team books, like Axis and certain characters.

As an artist, what are your thoughts on the visual style of the films that form the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

I love the fact that they kind of look like superheroes, although in some ways, I’m less keen on some of the complicated outfits because I like things clean, simple, visually arresting. With the movies, sometimes they can get overly complicated with their designs, I think it takes away…it kind of gets generic after a while. If there are rivets and buttons everywhere, then there isn’t that much colour, it can look very samey-samey. That’s some of the issues I’ve had with the movies, some of the characters could be interchangeable and it wouldn’t even matter. I understand that, because they have to make it sophisticated for the movie audience, but at the same time, it can be overdone. The good thing with the Marvel movies is that at least they still somewhat resemble the comic book versions, they’re still very distinctive.



How do you overcome artist’s block?

Partly why I’m so slow is because I’m constantly struggling to get things right, that’s why when people ask me to video myself and put it up on YouTube, my process and how I draw, I’d be like “70% of the time will be erasing what I’ve just drawn so it will be a very, very boring video.” I get artist’s block, unfortunately, I’m too stupid to walk away, I just keep hammering at it. Sometimes I will switch to other pages and they’ll come easier.

What do you struggle in getting right, is it the composition?

The composition, the way I draw a face, it can never come out right sometimes. Sometimes I think it’s important to have a different perspective on things, which is why with the lightbox it lets you switch things over, so you turn the page over, everything’s completely different, so sometimes that helps as well.

If you had a chance to work on a movie or television series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, would you be willing to do it?

I don’t think I’m really suited to it. I’d certainly be interested; it’s a whole different field.

Which series would you be interested in?

I want to do a Young Avengers series, yes [laughs].
Is there a character in particular that you enjoy drawing the most?

I really enjoy drawing Thor, I kind of like the Thor eras that I grew up with. I don’t think I’m the best at drawing Spider-Man [but] I do enjoy drawing Spider-Man. I’ve become very comfortable drawing Captain America, even though his costume just becomes more and more complicated. Favourite character…default characters are usually those guys. I’m so used to drawing Marvel characters, that’s the problem, when I’m finally asked to draw DC characters, I’m like “how do you draw Batman again?” [Laughs]

How much leeway to you get to re-interpret a character? When you’re assigned to a book, do you get a chance to redesign the characters’ costumes?

Sometimes. If I’m asked to redesign a costume, then I will try to stay faithful to…I grew up in the 80s so I have a certain image of those characters, so if I’m asked to redesign those characters, I often refer to those as a starting point in a way. Some of the costumes have deviated so much, they look so different than how they used to look that it’s a completely different character with a totally different costume. So I like to bring it back sometimes with more familiar elements. I try to play around with that.


What was your gateway into reading comics?

Very early on, it was Spider-Man. In the UK, they used to reprint all the comics, the weeklies, so I used to come home, after lunch, and read it.

So it was always superheroes rather than war or horror comics?

I did read some of that stuff, but I didn’t really take to it. I read 2000 AD, but I always went back to Marvel characters. I just like the Spider-Man character, maybe it’s because with 2000 AD the stories progressed too slowly, they were always too short, six pages, there was never enough story and by the next week it was another six pages. It just didn’t flow as well.

Most British creators cut their teeth on 2000 AD, how did you break into comics?

I just didn’t start like I was “supposed” to. Back in the 90s, I didn’t really know how to break in. I didn’t know you had to do samples, you had to show them to the right people, so that’s what I did, it just happened to be that the people I showed them to were from Marvel, so I was lucky enough to get my foot in the door there.

What would you say is the hardest part of working in comics?

The hardest part is keeping your game up, I would say. The quality of the artwork these days is amazing. There are kids coming out of high school with better Photoshop skills than I can achieve right now. There’s a level of technology that I never had, they’re so comfortable with those programs, it’s a challenge to try and keep growing.

Does your process involve any digital work?

It does, yes. Nowadays, I do a little fumbling, I scan them in and I play around with them a little bit, I move around elements until I’m happy.



If you were tasked with reimagining the Young Avengers as they are now, what changes would you make?

The way it currently is? I would probably bring it back to the old team. No disrespect to what Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen did, it’s just wasn’t the same team for me, because they were introducing all these new characters and for me, it didn’t quite come across the same way. Maybe it’s the writer; Allan had a certain way with the characters as well. I enjoyed those core characters that I helped design, it’s very personal.

What was it like creating the Comic-Con promotional poster for the new season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and would you like to see movie posters return towards hand-drawn art, as unlikely as that may be?

It was actually quite an honour to do that poster for Comic-Con. I don’t think I’m the strongest guy when it comes to likenesses, so I try to shy away from that as much as possible, but when I was asked to do it, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try and do something that was like the movie posters, James Bond-style, all the elements, like similar to the old classic James Bond movies. That’s what I wanted to do. Luckily it turned out okay, I think. There’s a few things I would change, but there are always things I would change.

Are there any things in geek culture that you’re looking forward to, be it movies, TV or other media?

I’m trying to stay away as much as I can from the Star Wars stuff, you can’t escape it unfortunately. I’m kind of looking forward to seeing how that turns out. I’m also curious to see how the Marvel movies progress, to show the Infinity War. Like everybody else, I’m excited just the same, even though we all have a rough idea of what the story’s going to be like from the comics. It’s always cool to see on the big screen.

In your opinion, what is the most important component of visual storytelling?

The most important element is just clarity of storytelling, making sure the reader can follow everything that’s moving along. One of my rules when I’m laying out a book is that every issue can be somebody’s first, so you’ve got to make sure that it’s clear enough for somebody to pick up, or they aren’t going to be able to follow the story. I’ve picked up books where I’ve tried to read the story, but it’s so confusing because things are bouncing around all the time, it’s lost me even as a seasoned comic book reader. When I see that, I think that’s just missed opportunities – but again, that’s just me being very, very critical. It’s always easy being critical of other people’s work, failing to notice your own flaws.

What do you feel is the reason behind Marvel putting you on a lot of event books?

I don’t know, I think maybe they think I can handle the multiple characters, that’s why they give it to me. I also consider it a privilege, they think that I’m worthy to work on those tentpole events. I don’t question it too much, I just enjoy the opportunity.

Are you involved much with the planning of events?

Not at all, not at all. They just bring me in and show me the script.

Has there been a moment in the industry where you geeked out on a meeting a hero of yours?

I tried to avoid meeting my heroes as far as I can. Sometimes, it can affect your perception of the way you read it, I don’t know if you’ve ever met your heroes, sometimes if they give you a disappointing [first] impression, it affects everything you see from them afterwards. In some ways, I try and avoid that, but the people that I have met are great.
Thanks for an excellent interview Jim!

STGCC 2015: Stella Chuu Interview

STGCC 2015: STELLA CHUU INTERVIEW 
By Jedd Jong

Cosplayer and burlesque performer Stella Chuu, something of a celebrity in the American cosplay circuit, is in Singapore for the first time as a special guest of the 2015 Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention. She has captured the imagination and attention of geeks everywhere with her portrayals of characters including Psylocke, Irma from Queen’s Blade, Ivy Valentine from Soul Calibur and Rei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Stella is active in the “nerdlesque” scene, integrating geeky elements into her performances. Her Tron burlesque routine, in which she portrays Quorra, is particularly well-known. She’s even done a performance as Firefly’s Jayne Cobb. “I’ll be in my bunk,” indeed.

Over STGCC weekend, fans geek out over getting to meet Stella in person and there are selfies aplenty. On Preview Day and Day 2, Stella dons the cape and bracelets as Tharja from The Fire Emblem, and on Day 1 she wields the giant shuriken as Yuffie from the Final Fantasy series. 

At the convention, Stella speaks to other journalists and I about the craft of cosplaying and how she deals with the various responses she has gotten. Read on to hear her thoughts on the portrayal of Asian women in western popular culture, how cosplay has helped her self confidence and the nitty-gritties that go into learning a burlesque routine. It’s apparently really easy to look goofy instead of sexy while removing a bra.

You recently cosplayed as Mako Mori from Pacific Rim, who is a good example of a well-developed lead female character in contemporary movies. Who are some of your favourite female characters in film and television?

Furiosa from Mad Max[Fury Road], definitely. She’s a really great role model as a woman who can really lead a movie with her character. Who else? Mako Mori’s really great, I feel like she kind of started a trend, which is really nice. There are always a lot of problems in American films where the studios think that it’s more important to cater to male audiences but they don’t realise that there’s also a huge female and unisex market. For us in America, we’re definitely in an age where we’re fighting for feminist ideas.
You work is a cross between cosplay and burlesque, do you view it as performance art?

Yeah, I find it really empowering for me to be able to perform burlesque and it’s really great that I’m able to do cosplay with it too because back in the day, burlesque was very different. It was very classic and beautiful and elegant. Now, it can be anything. It can be artistic, it can be strange, it can be funny and it still can be sexy. I perform burlesque because it makes me feel empowered. It’s also an outlet for the artistic side that I can’t express through cosplay.
How would you compare STGCC to the cons you’ve been to in the West?

The convention itself is very similar, the way it operates, but I would say that cosplay is very different here. There’s more of an emphasis on pretty makeup, which is nice. I’ve actually learned a few things while I was here, just looking at other cosplayers. Cosplay photography is very different as well, it’s very cinematic. They definitely take their time to ensure the shots are really beautiful, whereas the difficulty of cosplaying in America is that America is so big that the only time that photographers get any time to shoot cosplayers is at conventions and cosplay photographers have learned to shoot really, really fast. Like 10 minute photoshoots. The photos are really beautiful but they don’t tell a story, it’s not cinematic, there are many limitations to it. It’s unfortunate. I would love to see more planned photoshoots in America. I would love to see more in-depth collaborations between cosplayers and photographers.

Do you feel that the representation of Asians, particularly Asian women, in American popular culture has improved?

Oh, definitely! I mean, back in the 90s, we were the girls who were the waitresses and the sex symbol of the bad guy, like the sidekick, doing kung fu.
The “Dragon Lady” archetype.

Yeah, the “Dragon Lady” stereotype. I mean, it’s not a bad stereotype because it’s sexy, it’s not gross or anything like that, but it is not as empowering as it could be. There are TV shows coming out like Fresh Off the Boat, which is great, it is so perfect. It shows the other side of Asian culture. And movies like Pacific Rim, showing Mako Mori being a powerful woman who’s just fighting for her place. That’s what I feel like we’re doing in America, we’re fighting for our place, fighting for people to understand that we’re more than just this cute Chinese or cute Japanese girl. We’re not submissive, we’re actually very outspoken, we’re very independent and we have a lot of ideas.
Would you say you’re using cosplay as a platform to communicate these ideas?

I don’t have an agenda, I’m not trying to communicate an agenda. I guess it’s a by-product of what I do. I tend to be attracted to characters who are powerful. I don’t like to cosplay characters who are weak because I don’t identify with them. I like to cosplay characters who have strong personalities. The character I’m cosplaying now, Tharja, she is crazy! All she talks about is killing people and summoning demons and being evil, so I find that really entertaining. I don’t want to cosplay a girl who’s weak-minded because I don’t want to have those feelings in me while I’m cosplaying – but I don’t choose characters specifically to show others that I’m powerful. I just choose characters that I feel comfortable with.
How important a role do you feel self-expression plays in building self-confidence?

I think that in all of these years that I’ve been cosplaying, my confidence has sky-rocketed. It was because of cosplay, burlesque and also putting myself out there and meeting people. I still kind of am really shy, I’m a mixture of introvert and extrovert, I guess. When I’m not cosplaying, when I’m not at a convention, I’m actually really quiet, I don’t like talking to people. I think another reason is maybe they’re not geeks so I have nothing to relate to them; I don’t like to have conversations with people who don’t understand where I’m coming from. I’ve noticed, especially recently, that I feel much more comfortable going up to random people at conventions and striking up conversations, especially if I’m not cosplaying and they don’t know who I am. I like talking to people as a normal anything. It’s a nice feeling, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that four to five years ago. I want more people to see the power of cosplay, what it can do for you in developing who you are and who you want to be.
You have a lot on your plate, how do you juggle it all?

It’s really hard, I work 40 hours a week. It takes me one hour to get to work a day, so another one or two hours after that, then when I come home I work on cosplay for about six hours. Give or take a few hours, when it’s off season and I don’t have any conventions coming up, I work on cosplay for maybe two hours a night before I sleep, but if it’s a really busy week, like the week before a convention, I can work on cosplay for anyone from six to nine hours or more. If I’m not working on cosplay, then I trying to hang out with my friends. Each time I get to see them I like schedule it out, I write it down on the calendar. I schedule out my lunch meetings with my friends like three weeks in advance [laughs].
How do you deal with any negativity you might encounter in the community?

There is a lot of negative attention that cosplayers get. I’m a much more risqué cosplayer, I’m so comfortable with my body. I don’t care if there’s nude pictures of me or derpy pictures of me or bad pictures of me, I don’t care, it’s fine. Because of those pictures, people will try to use it against me or something, and I’m like “you have no power here!” And then there’s people who are just saying stupid things all the time, so I like to troll them and just come back at them with really dumb comments. I feel like perpetuating anger and hate on the internet doesn’t help. If you’re mean to somebody else because they’re mean to you, you’re just going to continue being mean.
It’s a vicious cycle.

Yeah, it’s a vicious cycle, it doesn’t help anything; it doesn’t make you feel good. What I like to do when I troll people is to kind turn it around and get them on my side somehow. The best example was recently, I had a photo [of me], someone else’s photo, and the person said “this is a time when PhotoShop just destroys the photo” and I said “’destroys’ as in ‘destroyed it!’” [throws up the horns sign] and he’s like “no, kind of ruining it” and I said “’kind of’ like ‘kind of like it?’” and I kept trolling him until finally he’s like “sort of?” and I said “sort of awesome?” and he was like “…yeah.” You can see the comments getting more and more confused until he finally accepted it. It was great; that’s what I like to do.
What is your process when it comes to devising a burlesque act?

I need a stroke of insight; it’s really hard for me to just sit down and brainstorm, I have to be like “Eureka! There’s an idea!” I don’t like burlesque-ing just to burlesque. One of the common problems with nerdy burlesque is performers will just come on stage in character, they’ll dress as the character and just striptease. There’s no storyline, it doesn’t make sense – why is this person stripteasing? I always make sure with my burlesque that I tell a story, that there’s something happening that the audience can understand the effect because if you’re just stripteasing without any context, then it’s not nerdlesque. Nerdlesque is about being the character and portraying the character.
How do you prepare for a performance?

First, there’s a lot of training, definitely. I take classes and stuff – in New York they have a place called The School of Burlesque where they teach classes, because not only are you dancing, but you’re learning certain techniques that are very complicated. You’d think it’s easy to take off your glove – it’s not, there’s a process to it. Learning how to dance with fans, learning how to take off your bra the correct way without looking stupid, taking off your corset on stage is really hard as well. One of the hardest things is being able to engage the audience, because you’re not just going on stage to take off your clothes, you’re like “hi, I am here, look at you [points], look at you [points]”, you’re staring at the audience, your eyes are meeting with them. Those are things that take a long time to learn. The first two years that you’re performing, you’re going to suck! You’re going to suck so bad! Over time, I’ve gotten better and better and what’s great about burlesque is that it lasts forever. You can start burlesque-ing when you’re 20 years and you can keep going until you’re 50, 55. I know plenty of people who are in their late 40s and are still performing, who have been performing for the last 20 years. Keep practising, I guess.
How have your family and your friends who are outside the geek circle reacted to your fame?

I just don’t tell them about it. If they don’t know it, I just don’t talk about it.
What are some of the most unconventional or unexpected materials you’ve employed in 
constructing a costume?

I was cosplaying Yuffie yesterday and I have a big shuriken. One of the things is there are rivets in it, but instead of actually putting rivets in, I put googly eyes then I spray painted them. They really have the perfect size and shape, so when you shake my shuriken, you can hear the googly eyes shaking!
Big props have become something of a cosplaying trend. Do you have any advice for cosplayers who are constructing and carrying around big props?

It’s tough because the problem with big props is that they’re fragile and they take up too much space, they’re really hard to transport. If you can avoid bringing them to a convention, you should just bring them to a photoshoot but not to a convention. I have very big cosplays with big feathers and big wings and I only bring them to photoshoots – what I do is I make smaller versions of those to bring to conventions. Make mini versions of your props, I guess – it depends on what’s important to you. If you want really good cosplay photos, then save your good props for cosplay photos. If you want your cosplay to be seen at a convention and you want people to look at your cool costume, you need to pick your battles.
How do you deal with people who might be a tiny bit creepy at cons?

I’ve gotten really good at it, to the point where I almost don’t worry about them anymore. We’re geeks, we’re all socially inept [laughs], we hide in our basements. I do get a lot of creepers but to be honest, the people who are the most inconsiderate and rude are the people outside the convention. When I’m walking from the hotel to the convention centre, there are dirty old men who’ll just be like “hey baby!” whereas at conventions, people are a little bit more respectful, it’s just that they don’t understand what’s the right thing to say. They’re not trying to be malicious, so I always see [it as] “okay, why are they saying this word? It’s because that that’s rude or something” They’re coming from this different place. I never try to be angry or yell at anyone, I always try to read between the lines and see where they’re coming from. I know how hard it is to be a geek.
That’s a very empathetic approach.

Yeah, if I stay angry, it’s not good for me.
Do you still meet people who don’t view cosplay as a viable art form, and if you do, what is your response to them?

I feel like I haven’t met them in real life, but definitely online, there are a lot of people who complain about cosplay having more attention than the artists who created the comic books and I don’t know what to say to them, because they might be fighting for something and I represent what they don’t like. I can’t change their minds, I’m just going to keep doing what I do, I’m not going to call them an idiot or anything like that. They’re entitled to their own opinion; I just hope that over time, they see more stuff that will change their opinions, but I’m not going to waste any time to argue with them.
What are your cosplans for the future?

My plans for the next convention, New York Comic-Con, I’m going to be doing a Gundam Girl and because I live in New York City, it’s easier. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to bring it to another convention. Also, I’m going to be cosplaying from Evolve, which is a game where you’re a bunch of people fighting the monster or you’re a monster where you’re trying to kill all the people, a really fantastic game. I haven’t picked out what I want from that yet. That’s it for this year, yeah.
How many costumes have you made this year?

This year specifically, I’m going to have in total 12 costumes that I’ve made. Last year, I think I had 15-20. There are fewer this year than last year because I wanted to concentrate on the craftsmanship to make sure that the costumes are whole and complete and well-made. Some of the problems I’ve had in the past is that my costumes fall apart really easily or pieces of it weren’t very well-made, so I just want to make sure that as I get better at crafting, my costumes get better because of it. 
Thanks for the excellent interview Stella!
Photos that aren’t my own are used for illustrative purposes only and belong to their respective owners. 

STGCC 2015 Day 2: Mega Picture Post

And here we go with Day 2! Let’s roll. 

The family that Star Wars-es together stays together

Yub nub!

Elektra

Black Bolt

Felicity, complete with Windows 8 Surface!

Selfie with CW!Ollie’s main squeeze

Darth Revan

Sabermarch’s wares

Dear Mistah J!

“Yub nub!” “Utinni!” 

Black Cat-scratch fever!

You will notice a running theme with Harleys and lil Mistah J.

“Hello Zepp”

Hot Toys’ Millennium Falcon interior diorama

Vacationpool!

Joking Snake – Batman and Metal Gear Solid mash-up!

Lil Ms. Marvel and Lil Hulk! D’aww.

Pitted as many Jokers against as many Red Hoods as I could

“All this fighting, it’s senseless”

Younglings in training at Fightsaber’s workshop

M. Bison says “YASS!!”

Actual levitation!

Attempt at a vaguely arty shot

“Girl I work out”

Bewitched, Bebladed and Bewildered 

Who watches the Watch_dogs? 

Mind-blowing Bumblebee.

Rul as Jason – destiny

“Now fight!”

Maro, who makes a most adorable Babs. 
Skyline Sirens 
“My name is Max. My world is fire and blood.”

Ready to believe you, Egon!

“MOM! DAD! UNCLE BEN!” 
In anticipation of the all-female Ghostbusters movie

Beardbusters!

Shaun’s really rad Arkham Knight 

Felicity being wistful

Kylo Ren, the mysterious villain of the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Neptys Ennoae as Wasp with Gwen as Ant-Man!

WASP AND BUMBLEBEE. This gave me so much satisfaction.

It’s not a comic con unless there’s at least one Slave Leia

M. Bison has his sights set on time travel – beware!

Doof Doof Doof! 
Ahh Jim Cheung’s smile. *Melts*

Ants at a picnic

More Ame-Comi Wondy action!

Old-school enthusiasm!

Conner!

Hi again Stella

Shaun the Jurassic Park ranger with Bessie the Dilophosaurus! Good girl Bessie! 

The Hooded Photobomber

“BLOOD BAG!”

Drag!Wonder Woman!

Slade has destructive designs on the Bat *flicks*

Epic showdown! Onlookers are most amused.

Back to back badasses

Bullets and bracelets!

The family that Avenges together…

Hey Sally!

Jaye as a Portal Turret, with her Companion Cube of Holding

Elevenapalooza!

Princess Kory in the house

Shiny shiny Ollie

Yes yes, I don’t know who these characters are and took the photo because Theresa and friend are attractive.

See son? That’s a professional. I have no idea what I’m doing.

Kai with Red Hood Beyond!

You wot m8?

Re:Spawn

Whovian selfie

11 photobomb 
“Come along Po…I mean Clara”

Everybody wants Clara!

Clara doesn’t know what to make of the Attack Eyebrows 

Adam Hughes, comics pinup artist extraordinaire

Orkabat Cos and Judith as Bishoujo Psylocke and Ms. Marvel respectively

I blurted out “look, a Dick!” without thinking. Way to go Jedd. 
SHAZAM!

Team Arrow and a Feline Photobomber

Theodora as Selina and Lil Bruce
Selina and her mini-me

What evil lurks in the hearts of men? 

Selfie with Aunty Shirley, everyone’s favourite neighbourhood cosplaying Aunty! 

Scarlet Witch

V8!

“Bruce why?”

Nothing to fear but fear itself

Frasier as Peggy Carter and Jenny as Skinny Steve

Selfie with my Batfam friends Sarah, Kie and YQ!

Dead Jason party – bring your own crowbar 
“I am a failure lol”

“Dick you’re irreplaceable!” – Bruce circa 1942 or thereabouts 

All will cower in fear of Darth Cass! 

Go away Wade.

“Drive me like one of your Italian cars”

Clara and the Stig – it’s a veritable BBC party in here!

Twinsies! 
“Dad Dad DAAAD Dad Daadddd” “Arrgh kids!”

Missy’s cookies tempt the Doctor

People mountain; people sea

Catwoman, Harley and Lil Bruce!

The thorn among the roses

KA as Spider-Woman 

YQ giving the Kotobukiya statue pose a go

Invinc is very pleased with the shuffling trick – exactly why it’s silly doesn’t show up in stills, you had to be there.
“You’ve been struck by a smooth criminal mon ami”

Very esoteric.

Ellie!

Pirates have shoulder parrots, Catwoman has shoulder kitteh.

WITNESS IMMORTAN JOE!

STGCC 2015 Day 1: Mega Picture Post

Here’s the first part of my annual Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention Mega Picture post! Brace yourselves, it be a long one.

A very Imperial welcome

Hot Toys’ First Order Stormtroopers

Mysterious Force Awakens baddie Kylo Ren

KidsLogic’s actually-hovering DeLorean

Life-sized Hulk vs. Hulkbsuter display

“Get me outta here!” 

Fightsaber’s demonstration

I do know the power of the Dark Side

“Not so tough without your ship, eh?” “Ditto”

Well, technically an Ant-Man figure of any size could be considered “life-sized”

Michael Keaton and Adam West Batmen

The very epitome of cool.

Rocket and Groot, cosmic besties.

Loki conspires, as he does.

Anyone seen my daughter?

Cosplay celebrity Stella Chuu

“LET OFF SOME STEAM, BENNET!”

The King of the Seas on his pincer throne

Beguiling, even as an unpainted prototype

Writer Wayne Ree and artist Gene Whitlock, who together form Global Beards!

Raven

My pal Jaye as 2015 edition Marty McFly

She’s got the worried Michael J. Fox face down.

Assemble!

Hoverboards that can actually hover! Disclaimer: not intended for use over water.

Immortan Joe takes shape.

With my friend Gwen as Han Solo

Neptys Ennoae as Shao Jun from Assassin’s Creed Chronicles

First of many Red Hoods this weekend

Honey Lemon from Big Hero 6

Digging the “Jabba as satay vendor” diorama

Stay!

Agent Peggy Carter

Red Hood

Harley Quinn, an ever-popular character choice.

Alexander Jameouson Tan as the Joker, all too proud of himself for having killed Jason Todd

Brian Dennison as a thoroughly on-point Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish

A double serving of Harley! 

Digging the combination of biker and tactical gear this Red Hood is rocking

Mezame as Margarita Guy from Jurassic World!

Tadashi and Hiro from Big Hero 6

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

Exquisite craftsmanship on that crown!

Ghostbusters and Back to the Future – so 80s I can’t even

Check out the detail on those proton packs!

First Order Stormie backpack! So cute. 

Jack Frost and Booker DeWitt – eh, I’ve seen stranger mashups

Party like it’s 2099

Booker, catch!

Cap and an old enemy

“Put me down Quill! This is demeaning!” 

Baroness and Storm Shadow from GI JOE

“2015 is all this and no Jaws 19! We’ve got to fix things Doc!”

But soft, what light from Yondu window breaks?

Talking comics with C.B. Cebulski, Adi Granov, Jim Cheung and Adam Hughes

Capn’ Spidey

Theodora as Black Widow taking it out on lil Loki

Ame-Comi Wonder Woman

Deathstroke

Green Arrow

Goofing with Ollie – just about my fave selfie of the day

People mountain; people sea

Daenerys and her dragon.

Deadpool, perfectly in character

Ollie Evolutions

Joey as Ms. Marvel

Peggy and plushie Cap!

XM Studios’ phenomenal work

XM Studios Daredevil

XM Studios’ conceptual Japanese-styled Batman

All of these designs are really well thought out!

There’s always a Man…

Sam as Hulkling, chewing on Loki

Kie as Wiccan with Sam as Hulkling

Talking comics with C.B. Cebulski, Adi Granov, Jim Cheung and Adam Hughes

Marvel superstar artist Jim Cheung, best-known for co-creating the Young Avengers with Allan Heinberg

Such a handsome fellow. Swoons.

Stella Chuu getting her Power Ranger groove on

Wait, I thought you guys were brothers! Nevermind.

Jenny as Elsa

Frasier as Rorschach from Watchmen

Wonder Woman, Supergirl and lil Batsy

Quicksilver is not impressed

Trench run diorama! 

The Simpsons enjoying a live performance by the Bith musicians. Yes yes the genre of music is called Jizz, I know.

Glowy glowy

Jim Cheung with his creations Wiccan and Hulkling

The 12th Doctor and Missy

Not a hugger.

Regeneration makes you taller?

The ever-lovely Belle as Zatanna Zatara!

Z is for Zelfie

Darren as Slender Man – those proportions are perfect!

Rorschach vs. Slendy

Michael Baypool

Rorschach and Baypool!

F***in’ Money!

Matching Mum and daughter Leias

Dave as Leonidas, making me feel inferior as always.

Ant-Man

Suicide Squad Joker and Harley

Suicide Squad Joker and Harley

Natasha has red on her ledger, but Blue Sky on the brain.