Sloane Leong On ‘Clutch,’ Colors And Creating [Interview]
One of the true joys of comics is that, if you're willing to stroll around the medium, you inevitably encounter new work that makes you feel like you opened the door to the wrong house and made yourself comfortable before realizing your mistake. Artist Sloane Leong's comics have been hitting me that way for awhile, but it wasn't until the increasingly prolific creator and contributing colorist on comics including Prophet, Change and Sabertooth Swordsman's latest solo release that I could pinpoint why her evolving style resonated so well. It's the mystery. Available to read in its entirety at Vice and as a paid download on Gumroad, Clutch is a haunting black-and-white short that takes place as much on the page as in a reader's psyche. ComicsAlliance got in touch with Leong to get some insights into her latest work, her approach to creating and why sometimes the best coloring is no coloring.
ComicsAlliance: Clutch is a mysterious comic that invites reader interaction in the purest sense. It tells you almost nothing but shows you a ton. What was your thought process going into telling this story? How much did you consider what elements you wanted to control vs. how much you want to be filled in by a reader's imagination?
Sloane Leong: I’ve never been attracted to conventional methods of storytelling or stories that spell everything out for you. I enjoy being dropped into a situation and having to parse whats happening by what I see just like I would do in any spontaneous event that crops up in real life. I don't actually think about the readers so much as I think about what kind of story I want to read. I leave space for the readers imagination because I also enjoy having that space. I find that faith in your readers intuition grounds them in the story on a visceral level rather than an intellectual one where they're trying to pieces things together while they read. That comes after, like grout between tile, and I think that makes the story more engaging because there is space for you to insert yourself in it.
I was tempted to add some narration at some point but ruled against it because I find it causes arguments between our intellect and our intuition when reading, especially if the art is already delivering all the information you need. Narration can also be distancing and for this story I wanted the readers to get close and intimate. I’ve also been watching a lot of Taiwanese New Wave films and, while they're not silent films, a lot of the time its quiet or else you can only hear digetic sound. Car horns. Moths hitting a light bulb. Clutch is ‘silent’ only in the sense that there isn't any dialog but I hoped to get across that humid tropical heat that permeates rural places like that. Cicadas clicking, the buzzing of mosquitos over still water, the sound of teeth hitting the ground.
CA: In a lot of ways, Clutch feels like a horror comic. Would you consider yourself a horror fan? If so, I want to use this as an excuse to ask you what some of your favorite horror stories (in any medium) are.
SL: It is and I am though I tend to lean towards more surrealist forms of the genre. Lynch, Cronenberg, Jodorowsky, Tsukamoto, Carpenter, Argento, Fukui and Miike have all created an amazing quantity of the most astounding body horror films and I don’t think I can pick just one from their body of work. Comics-wise I’d have to say Junji Ito, Suehiro Maruo and Shintaro Kago are masters of this genre in the comics medium. Hanazawa Kengo’s series I Am A Hero has been great lately and I’ve recently reread an old favorite which is Homunculus by Hideo Yamamoto.
SL: I think a lot about the lack of integrity and fragility of the body. My own personal brand of dysphoria constantly reminds me of how uncanny and unrecognizable the body is and yet we are completely subject to it. They’re like these tiny interior worlds with foreign landscapes that we never get to see except only in the most brutal of contexts. The types of stories I like that deal with terror of the body are meant to dismantle that fear. There is a liminality that you experience in stories like that and the same thing goes for the fragility of our perception and reality, we are open to all sort of transgression and thats also terrifying to the point of abject sublimity.
CA: Speaking of the mutation stuff. It seems like a bit of a recurring thing in your work, although this is perhaps the most literal manifestation. Aside from its power as a storytelling device in your comics, is there a part of you that finds these kinds of things just plain fun to draw?
SL: Definitely! I really like science fiction and enjoy subjecting human characters to non-human experiences. This one was particularly inspired by parisitoid wasps who inject chemicals into other insects to become zombie hosts for their children. There is a terrifying biological behavior control that they are capable of as well that causes the host insect to allow itself to be eaten by wasp larva and also forces it to nest and guard them. Humans already get eggs laid in them by botflies and bug bites can cause all sorts of hallucinations so I just wanted to expound on that idea of making a spiders reproduction behavior dependent on a symbiotic relationship with a human scouting for a promising body/host and that host suffering the effects of that cycle.
SL: I actually prefer reading comics in black and white the majority of the time. I love that Goethe quote: “Every decided color does a certain violence to the eye and forces it to opposition.” Color can destroy a comic or elevate it but either way it is a dangerous element to play with and can complete skew how your story is read. Color can make a panel you wanted to be glossed over quickly suddenly a huge dramatic point. You have to neutralize and control it or else it fights against the image itself. Color can be a knife to the heart of the reader or a blunt club to the head. I find this is especially true with comics that are colored as an afterthought. Black and white comics, or comics with a limited palette, come across more natural and easy to read because theres less visual noise to distract you from the expressiveness of the image and the actions and narrative taking place.
CA: You're pretty outspoken about the problems you see in the comic book industry -- especially in the work-for-hire model. What are some ways you work around/against these issues to pursue your own goals as an artist?
SL: Talking about the problems and trying to work solutions into how I conduct my own business is how I’m attempting to begin solving them. Also keeping myself out of situations where I’m contributing to the issue which can be kind of a tricky line to walk. Mostly I do illustration, coloring and other freelance comic making work on the side while I work on my own personal projects. I’ve been self-publishing my own short comics since I was 17 and want to continue doing that with my bigger comic projects this year.
SL: I’ve always looked up to webcomic artists and indie comic artists the most because its encouraging to see an artist take their comic from conception to fully formed creation by themselves and then being able to make a living off of it. People like Brandon Graham, Study Group Comics, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Meredith Gran, Mare Odomo, Sam Alden, Connor Willumsen, Jesse Moynihan, Jen Lee, Emily Carroll, Evan Dahm are all people who have have really inspired me when I first started getting into comics or are inspiring me right now to name just a few (and to exclude so many, many more ugh!). I currently live in Portland, OR and moved her specifically because of how fantastic the art and comics community here is and its really encouraging to be in this sort of environment while I try and reach my comic goals.
CA: You work in a variety of media, but most of what people see is your illustration and comics work. What's a corner of art that you love that perhaps people aren't as aware of? Is there anything you'd love to work on if you didn't have to sleep or pay rent?
SL: I like animation a lot and wish I could dedicate more time to developing interactive fiction games too!
CA: What are you working on right now and what can fans expect to see in the coming months?
SL: I have a few personal projects that I’m aiming to start publishing this year, some of which are excitingly top secret! One of my favorite comics I’m developing right now is called Prism Stalker which is a cute magical girl school drama set on a war-torn alien planet. The other is the next chapter of my shoujo wolf comic Alpha Princess which will be published in an anthology my friends and I are curating called Wolfen Jump. Lastly, I have a goal to put out short comics online every month. I feel like I’m missing something. Probably everything.