Interview with Beautiful Creatures Manga Artist Cassandra Jean Part 3
This is Part 3 of my in-depth interview with Cassandra Jean, the talented and prolific artist of MangaMagazine‘s Land of Lions and the artist adapting Beautiful Creatures for Yen Press. Part 1 can be read here.
Black-Eyed Susan is your first completed work, (though also open to further adventures.) Can you tell me a little bit about the origins of this Wild West story?
I’ve always wanted to do a western. I don’t know what it is about the wild west that fascinates me so much. Maybe because it’s one of the more interesting and adventurous times in America’s past (in my opinion anyway). The story of Frank Valance was inspired by Eugene Francois Vidocq (a real man) who was the first private detective, and also a former crook. The story is still open enough that some day I’d like to go back to it and continue, with perhaps little Josh Beaufort taking the lead roll, but right now I’m too busy.
I love the way your characters interact with each other. They have a great dynamic and one thing I noticed reading Black-Eyed Susan right after Land of Lions was a consistency in great character personalities that are funny and endearing. How do you come up with such great characters?
Hah! Thank you. Personally I always worry that my characters come across as boring. I don’t think they -pop- the way a lot of popular characters do in manga, but when writing lines for someone, I always lean toward the more subtle side. I try to never underestimate my readers, I hope that they can follow how the characters feel about each other without having to completely shout it out all the time. I guess I try to come up with personalities that are recognizable. Not someone who you would expect to see in a book, so much as someone you would like to know in real life. Someone who can be funny and a little quirky, but is perfectly capable of their serious side too. Someone who is 3-dimensional, rather than a character who is just always telling jokes or always frowning.
A person can be serious most of the time, but still crack a joke at another’s expense. And someone who is known for being jolly still has their dark side, even if it’s hidden. I like characters this way, and I hope that’s why you find them endearing, though it does make it harder to show their character development over the course of a story, since every little change is a more subtle thing.
Your current ongoing series Land of Lions feels like a much more ambitious and epic story in contrast. How did you come up with the unique world setting in this series?
Land of Lions really is my little brain baby. It has taken on so many forms before it became the way it is now. Originally, it wasn’t even titled Land of Lions and it had been a full blown medieval story. With knights in shining armor and the real christian Holy Grail. The main characters were the same though, the King, Faris and Gates. As I was plotting out the story, I concepted that one of the countries they passed through would be the “Land of Wolves”. Where it was just severely overpopulated with animals. I ended up really attached to the idea of the Land of Wolves, and started wondering what it would be like if different countries were populated by different animals… like snails, or crows. The story lost it’s medieval-ness and started to become more tribal… and that’s how the story began to morph into how Land of Lions is now. Ironically, there is no Land of Wolves in the final version, that ended up becoming the Land of Jackals.
Wow, that sounds completely different from its current iteration! I love the way it’s presented now because this feels like such a fresh take on the heroic ensemble quest story. I really appreciate the tribal quality to the work which I think is evoked particularly by the African landscapes and animals, the stylized drawings in some of the pages and of course costumes the characters wear. Are these all elements you came up with on your own or something you came across in your research?
I can’t claim to have done any research for the character’s outfits. They’re just a combination of wardrobes I’ve seen all my life through movies, comics, photos and art. Though I do lean toward one fashion or another depending on each Land. The Crows wear things that could almost be called modern with shirts and feathers and slacks. While the Tigers were almost nothing except the bare minimum of pants. It’s hard to explain my thought process… I’m not very good at that, hah. I just attempt to do my best to have the fashion reflect the environment that the tribes live in (More layers for the Jackals in their cold climate, and more fashion in the lands of Crows where they are more artsy.)
As for the stylized drawings, that’s a style I’ve been developing for awhile that was heavily inspired by both African and Native American art. I actually began drawing that way in college when working on my senior thesis. If you look at my series of “Acrobat” drawings, that was my thesis in college, and really the first time I started drawing those stylized animal tattoos. It just carried over to Land of Lions because it suited the story well, I thought.
I’m fascinated about the interactive nature of Pass the Rubicon. What’s the reason behind this experimental approach to sequential art?
I’m glad you find it interesting! Thank you. Actually, I was putzing around with the idea of doing a BL comic, but I wanted to do something abnormal, since the internet really is full of boy love comics. I got to thinking about those simulation games, I’ve never played one myself but they always look fun. So I was wondering if I could try to do that, only in comic form. This way I could have a comic with a lot of “choices” for the main character, but I could put it into the readers hands to decide how it all goes. It’s fun, I’m enjoying it and it’s the kind of project you can only do on the internet. Sometimes I get frustrated because I want the story to go a certain way (hey I’m rooting for my favorite couple too!) but I think that’s part of the fun of letting the readers collaborate and vote. So far the comic seems to be really successful so in the future, I’d like to try this kind of interactive comic with a different genre.
I agree! For some reason, comics + the internet gave rise to some great out-of-the-box ideas about narrative and the feedback loop with readers. Whether that’s infinite canvasses so a reader just keeps scrolling down the page to read the comic or reader-generated content as in video games where you control the story.I’m definitely curious to see where this story takes you.
Do you consider yourself as a risk-taker? I feel like the most interesting, original artists always manage to dream up new and thoughtful connections like this SIM-like comic or the unique world in Land of Lions and I wonder what your thoughts are.
Risk Taker? I’ve never considered myself to be one. I don’t even eat spicy food and I’d rather spend all day laying in the grass than doing anything exciting. But I guess I don’t have to be a risk-taker in real life in order to be one in my mind with artwork. I don’t know, I never considered myself to be taking risks, I just thought they were good ideas and wanted to try them out…. huh.
Part 4 will go up Wednesday! Stay tuned! You can read Part 4 here.