Nika Hits The Stage As Her Webcomic ‘Love Debut’ Comes To Print [Back Pages]
For the last few years, artist Nika, aka Deandra Tan, has been working on a long-form romance comic called Love Debut! Inspired by shoujo manga, the series follows aspiring musician Nick as he rises through the pop world, which brings him into the orbit of Sara, a former singer who is far more wary of the music world. Their romance is the center of the story, but from there Nika spirals out and creates a whole world for them to live in.
With the webcomic recently wrapping up after a three year run, Nika has taken to Kickstarter to fund a print edition of the comic. To find out more about how she created Sara and Nick's world, Back Pages spoke to her about the origin of the series, how things have developed over the years, and what people can expect from her Kickstarter.
ComicsAlliance: What’s the general concept Love Debut?
Nika: Rising pop star Nick meets loner girl Sara, and sparks and musical notes fly! It's Japanese comics meets the Disney Channel with a lesson or two about following your heart.
CA: How did you first come up with the idea? What sparked this project for you?
N: The project really sparked when I was in high school and reading a ton of Japanese shoujo manga (comics geared towards a female teenaged audience). Some of my favorite stories were the high school romances that were short, simple and sweet. Still, it didn’t occur to me to start making my own comics until I stumbled across a copy of Sarah Ellerton’s Inverloch in Barnes and Noble, which opened the whole wide world of webcomics to me!
It was really transformative to discover how many artists were out there, creating their own comics and uploading it online to share, and it got the wheels in my head turning… If I could create my own Japanese high school romance, what would it be? What tropes would I keep, and what tropes would I discard?
Eventually, Love Debut would combine some of my favorite tropes of Japanese shoujo manga --- the big and glitzy world of entertainment, the heroine with gumption, the hero who struggles to realize his feelings. There are a few of my own additions, too: Love Debut takes place in the United States in an unnamed city that’s based off New York City. There are parental figures who play a significant role in the story. And, even though there is some drama (what romance story would be complete without it?), the characters actually talk it out. As a result, Love Debut ends up being something of a hybrid of different stories and experiences that I’ve come across over the years.
CA: Who are Nick and Sara, your main characters? What sort of people are they, and how do they come into each others' lives?
N: Nick is a genuinely friendly guy who also happens to be one of the hottest emerging pop stars. He’s pretty down-to-earth considering he just won the televised music competition Teen Idol, though his inability to think of anyone as more than just a friend gets him into a little trouble.
Sara, on the other hand, is a lot more wary of other people. She grew up in the spotlight; her mom was a famous singer, and Sara herself used to sing on TV in talent shows. Now, she wants nothing more than to be left alone... or at least, so she thinks.
Nick and Sara first meet in a diner where Sara has a part-time job as a waitress. It’s not really the friendliest of encounters, but they get another shot at getting to know each other when Nick realizes that Sara is actually a student at his high school. (Whoops!) They discover that they both share similar tastes in music, and end up collaborating together on Nick’s new music.
Of course, none of this would have happened if not for Nick being a little bit pushy… He’s used to people opening up to him, and not even Sara can resist his nice-guy charm!
CA: How important is music to you, and especially as a comics creator? Was it always something you wanted to make an element within the series?
N: Music for me has always seemed really cool to me, partly because I’ve always been really bad at it. I had some painful early days as an aspiring violinist, and eventually I tried my hand at singing, but when you’re tone deaf and can’t read music, things just don’t really work out too well. Now I’m just happy to be another music appreciator.
I actually also got into listening to pop music in high school --- up until then, most of my music collection consisted of the CDs my family had around the house, which was a lot of classical and jazz, but online music streaming and mixtapes from friends changed everything for me. So I think having music in my first comic was a very natural development, albeit a decision that meant a lot more work for me down the line since I had to do research to pull it off.
Still, the hardest part of writing music into the plot? Coming up with the lyrics for Nick and Sara. At first I just drew little music notes all over the page whenever they were singing, but during their first real performance together, I felt I had to actually write up some words for them to sing. To be honest, I’ll probably give the lyrics another go now that I’m editing the graphic novel. It’s a lot of pressure to write something for these two musical prodigies, and I don’t want to let them down!
CA: What’s your creative approach as the writer and artist for the series? Do you script everything out in advance and have things planned out carefully --- or do you experiment a little, improvising and going off on tangents?
N: I tried scripting things out in meticulous detail initially, but I was pretty bad at sticking to it. Love Debut was supposed to be a 20-page minicomic, so just goes to show... the process I have in place now is that I take the story synopsis and decide what chunk I’m going to cover in whatever chapter I’m working on. Then, I’ll plot out a few pages at a time --- usually 8-10 pages. The script looks like a series of bullet points describing what happens on each page, and maybe a couple lines of dialogue that are really important.
I’ll then take the page-by-page breakdown and turn it into very roughly drawn pages. This helps me get an idea of the flow; do I have too many pages? Do I need another page to smooth out the transition? Is there enough plot development on each page? One of the unique demands of doing a webcomic is that every page matters; readers will wait days for a page, so you want to make sure that it delivers. I do have a couple pages that are nearly blank for dramatic effect and pacing, but I try hard to keep that number down as much as possible.
As far as improvising --- yes, I definitely do it! That’s one of the key ways you keep yourself engaged with your own story, by letting yourself explore those what-ifs. Sometimes it happens at the story synopsis level, sometimes it’s a quick joke on the page. The bigger the idea, though, the more time I let it sit. I’ve avoided some pretty bad tangents that way...
CA: Over the course of three years, have you been surprised by how the story has turned out, by the reaction from readers, and at your own creative development? It’s quite a thing to start a comic and then, years later, be able to bring it to the end you wanted.
N: I’ve been pretty faithful to the original storyline I had in my head, despite the story blowing up to be the 200-page story it ended up being. There are a few shenanigans in the middle that are new --- I learned that my readers are pretty patient with my silly sense of humor --- but the ending is more or less exactly as I’d imagined it when I started.
I definitely don’t think I expected how much I’d improve my art over the course of the comic, though now it sounds obvious. You’re drawing every day for three years, you’d hope that you improve! Still, my linework and shading is unquestionably stronger. And I’ve been forced to make my peace with drawing backgrounds. I don’t love them, even now, but at least I’ve learned to grit my teeth and block out the time to get them right!
Probably the most surprising thing about Love Debut! readers is how protective they are of Sara and Nick’s romance. Anytime any girl who was a potential threat entered the story, I’d get reactions anywhere from readers gripping their seats in trepidation to gearing up for battle. It was kind of sweet and also kind of intimidating!
CA: What made you want to bring the project to Kickstarter? What made this the right route for you?
N: I was debating whether or not to do a Kickstarter or pre-orders, but I ended up landing with Kickstarter for a couple reasons. For one, I think it’s more fun for the readers --- that element of risk and suspense --- but also it opens up the opportunity to create more than just the book. While I was working on Love Debut, I was so focused on finishing the story, I didn’t set aside a whole lot of time to create fun things for fans like stickers or prints. I really regret that, and so I see this as my chance to make up for it! I also like that the Kickstarter model is flexible enough to accommodate things like stretch goals, which allows you to improve what you’re offering.
Kickstarters definitely aren’t for everyone, but I thought that Love Debut would be a good fit for the platform given that it was a self-contained graphic novel. Also, I knew that I had 6,500 readers on Tapastic and about 100 give or take on my main website, so if I could get just a small percentage of them to back the project, Love Debut would succeed. Making the decision was still a little bit scary, since this was my first Kickstarter campaign, but I’m glad I did it!
CA: What stage are your currently at with production of the comic? How much has already been completed?
N: The story is all done, but right now I’m working to reformat the pages. I didn’t know when I started Love Debut whether I wanted to print it, so the pages are very much designed for web publication. At least the resolution is good! I’m going through and doing things like adding bleed and moving dialogue away from the inside fold, since this is going to be a big book. This is also a chance for me to touch up some of the earlier art and streamline the narrative. I’m budgeting about a month and a half to complete this process.
CA: Do you have any stretch goals planned for the comic?
N: Yes, definitely! We blew through the first four I’d prepared before the campaign launched, so I was actually scrambling over the weekend to draw up some more.
The first few goals were all about add-ons --- a desktop wallpaper, music playlists, more stickers and an additional acrylic charm. It levels out the reward tier a little so that backers pledging at the $5 and $12 levels will receive more stuff. The next two stretch goals, $3,500 and $5,000, start investing more of the funding into the existing rewards. For instance, the $3,500 stretch goal will allow me to print double-sided bookmarks and upgrade the cardstock for the Love Debut! prints. The $5,000 lets me jazz up the Nick and Sara acrylic charms.
I think we might hit $3,500 by the end of the campaign, but $5,000 is definitely a stretch. Still, we’ll see! Fingers crossed, it would be amazing to meet all of the goals.
CA: What’s your estimated delivery on the final product?
N: I hope to have everything wrapped up and delivered by July this year!
Love Debut will run on Kickstarter until 25th February 2017, having already hit the funding target of $2,000. To find out more, check out the Kickstarter page!