Hire This Woman: Cartoonist, Editor Self-Publisher Shing Yin Khor
In the overwhelmingly male comic book industry, it has been a challenge for some editors and readers to see the ever growing number of talented women currently trying to make a name for themselves. With that in mind, ComicsAlliance offers Hire This Woman, a recurring feature designed for comics readers as well as editors and other professionals, where we shine the spotlight on a female comics pro on the ascendance. Some of these women will be at the very beginning of their careers, while others will be more experienced but not yet “household names.”
Shing Yin Khor is a comics creator who, while primarily a writer, does a little of everything. She publishes many of her comics like Marie and Jeanne through her own small press, Sawdust Press, in addition to being an editor there, and also does comics on The Toast and Bitch.
ComicsAlliance: What is your preferred form of creative output?
Shing Yin Khor: They all scratch different itches! Writing is certainly the most natural and easiest for me, but I love the work of getting paint down on paper and making art with my own two hands (mostly the right one, though). I’m also a sculptor and installation artist. I’ve always been a bit ADD with my work, so I always have multiple projects going on at the same time, all of which use different skills. At the end of the day, they all get done, and I meet deadlines, so I figure I don’t really have to pick a favorite.
Recently though, being the editor of my own small press has been fulfilling in ways I never expected. I’m getting to pay artists and writers to get stories I love out into the world and spread the work of creators I adore. That just feels so great.
CA: Do you work on paper or digitally? Why?
SYK: I work on paper. I love the romance of smudges and blue pencil lines and un-erasable paint splotches, which is just the pretty way of saying that I’ve just never really taken to digital painting. Seriously though, watercolor is my preferred comic illustration medium.
CA: What’s your background/training?
SYK: I’m a scenic designer by trade, actually. There’s an English degree somewhere in there too, but I used to draw comics for fun while pursuing theatre design as a career. At some point, remaining in the field of theatre design became somewhat untenable, but comics has always been there for me and it has really always been my first true love. Which is good, because the dude I thought was gonna be my first true love was a pretty bad idea in hindsight.
So, I guess my training is an assorted handful of college classes, and a near obsessive desire to learn things about making better comics.
CA: How would you describe your creative style?
SYK: My writing tends towards the autobiographical, rude and absurdist. My fiction is pretty obsessed with untangling emotional threads, diving into awkward human relationships, and I’ve recently been really into writing about fictional organizations as well. There’s something about writing about the complex inner lives of corporate cogs that really appeal to me.
My art is pretty cute and colourful, which is why I really love juxtaposing it with my writing, which is often depressingly honest and off-kilter.
CA: What projects have you worked on in the past?
SYK: I write the historical fiction comic Marie and Jeanne (with my childhood friend and collaborator James Neish, who illustrates), write and illustrate the shoegazey near-future sci-fi Center for Otherworld Science, and the awkward monster comic Marlowe the Monster, all of which can be downloaded for free via Gumroad (https://gumroad.com/sawdustbear).
I also run a tiny little small press called Sawdust Press. We publish a horror anthology called Blood Root, the aforementioned Center for Otherworld Science, and have recently been publishing other people’s work as well, starting with Tara Abbamondi’s In Your Wake. Collectively, we were recently nominated for six Stumptown Awards -0 it felt pretty great to have my little small press nominated alongside all of these publishers and creators that I’ve always looked up to.
This year, my autobiographical/editorial comics have been published in some pretty cool places -- The Toast and Bitch Magazine being amongst them. One of them, What Would Yellow Ranger Do, has been making the rounds again after being serialized on Upworthy and I’m pretty thrilled that my grumpy bitching is apparently finding an audience. I wrote a couple of pieces anonymously as well, and it’s been fascinating watching them gain traction.
One of my “for fun” projects got a bit of a following a couple months ago as well -- a series of silly comics exploring the inner lives of A.I.M agents. That was unexpected, especially since I’m not known in any fanart communities, but still pretty cool.
CA: What are you currently working on?
SYK: My major upcoming project is launching a website by the end of 2014 that will be publishing essay-length comics criticism from an intersectional feminist perspective. We are very intentionally curating both our editors and contributors to make sure that at least 50% of our contributors are women of color, and that a similar diversity is reflected in the rest of our contributors as well. It’s called the International Harpy Agenda, we’re paying contributors, and I’m very excited about seeing this thing come together.
CA: Approximately how long does it take you to create a 20-page issue?
SYK: I prefer working on editorial comics, and I negotiate those deadlines upfront so I can be sure to meet them on time. But, I can draft out a 20-page comic in a few hours, and I usually take a few more days to revise it. Drawing takes quite a bit longer, but I can probably complete about 20 pages a month.
CA: What is your dream project?
SYK: Editorial, educational and autobiographical work on intersectional feminist themes. I’ve got some other passions, mainly -- online privacy, immigrant stories, getting women comfortable with woodworking, the ridiculousness of our current copyright system, the postcolonial role of the museum, cats...okay, I might have a fairly wide range of things I am into. I like working on comics about topics I’m passionate about, is what I’m saying.
CA: Who are some comic creators that inspire you? What are some comics that have inspired you either growing up or as an adult?
SYK: I am in awe of Spike Trotman, as an artist and writer, but also as a sheer force of nature in the self publishing world. I’ve been following and loving Erika Moen’s work for over a decade and it has been a honest delight to see her work and her voice evolve into what is now. More recently, Sfe’ Monster and his comics have taught me the value of being less subtle in my writing, especially when it comes to portraying marginalized populations. I have a habit of writing very subtly gay characters, or POC characters where their race is merely a side thought, but I also very strongly believe that representation matters, and now, I’m constantly reevaluating my work to consider that my usual writing style might actually be so subtle as to be unwitting erasure.
Mari Naomi’s autobiographical work resonated with me on many levels when I first found it in 2010, and I’m not sure that I would ever have started writing my own autobiographical work without having seen her work first.
My introduction to comics was in collected editions of The Beano and The Dandy (I’m from Malaysia, a former British colony). I don’t think I quite digested it at the time, but looking back, there really was a wonderfully slapstick sort of cynicism to those kids comics.
I’ve slowly started reading Big Two comics again lately, and the quality of work that comes out of the Fraction/Aja Hawkeye collaboration is just astounding to me. Although the issue that sticks with me the most is not the ones that get all the attention(the dog issue, or the sign issue, for instance) - it’s issue 13, which is just a nine panel grid all throughout. It’s such a quiet and restrained exploration of grief and tension in human relationships, and it truly made me feel claustrophobic in a way that no other comic has really managed.
I also count a few critics/writers/editors as really influential in helping me come to terms with my own editorial voice - Rachel Edidin, Darryl Ayo, David Brothers. Following and reading their work has given me the fire to realize that my contrary opinions sure as hell matter, and as a bi Southeast Asian immigrant woman, maybe I’ve got to rage about some of my own stories, because there aren’t all that many people out there telling them for me.
CA: What’s your ideal professional environment?
SYK: My ideal physical environment is the one I already have now, which is my backyard studio with atomic tangerine walls. It has a desk my father built, and it is right next door to my garage, which smells like sawdust and maybe a little bit like old cat. I mean, being a freelance artist and writer, you basically make the place where your laptop sits the best professional environment it can be, right? :)
I like working with passionate people that have strong opinions about the stories that they want to tell. I like people who are angry about the inequality they see in the world casually and unthinkingly reflected in their favorite medium. I like working with people who champion a true intersectional diversity in comics, who love sharing their work they want to see in the world, who are actively working toward a landscape of comics where they feel respected and at home.
CA: What do you most want our readers and industry professionals to know about your work?
SYK: People think I’m funny, and I also meet deadlines.
CA: How can editors and readers keep up with your work and find your contact information?
If there is a woman you’d like to recommend or if you’d like to be included in a future installment of this feature, drop us a line at comicsalliance-at-gmail-dot-com with "Hire This Woman" in the subject line.