Nun Greater: Yamino and Ash Share ‘Sister Claire’ [Webcomic Q&A]
Characters dubbed the "chosen ones" in their stories are always surprised at the moments when their destinies are revealed to them, but arguably no character could be more caught off-guard than Sister Claire, who was abruptly interrupted in the nunnery lavatory when a mermaid rose from the toilet. Not everyone can get a letter from an owl.
ComicsAlliance sat down with creators Yamino and Ash to discuss the zany world of Sister Claire, gay nuns, and kittens inspired by Sailor Moon.
ComicsAlliance: What was the genesis for Sister Claire? And what genres and inspirations does it build from?
Yamino: I majored in Sequential Art at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and Sister Claire became kind of a pet project that evolved from my scripting and concept art classes. It went through a lot of big overhauls in that time, but the main influences at the start were retro-style American cartoons Powerpuff Girls and very thick, chunky character designs like those seen in the art of Junko Mizuno.
At the time I was also traveling back and forth between the US and Belgium (where my parents live) and buying tons of contemporary European comics, which came in as a later influence on the art style and world building. Although the story started out as kind of a weird comedy, it soon developed a lot more emotional depth. It’s hard to nail it down as one genre, but if I were to try I’d call it a queer fantasy adventure.
CA: What’s it about?
Y: In an the aftermath of a great war between Witches and Nuns, young novice Sister Claire wishes for a purpose. Uh-oh! She should have been more careful what she wished for. After her life gets thrown into chaos by a mysterious messenger, Claire embarks on a journey of self-discovery, and every answer leads to more uncomfortable questions about her world, her past, and herself.
Also, there are lots of really cool monsters and everyone is queer. Literally everyone.
CA: Could you introduce Missing Moments and discuss what prompted its creation?
Y: The Missing Moments started off as a Christmas Special. Ash wrote a fanfic for me before she was officially on-board with the comic, and I loved it. About a year and a half later, we were in Hawaii getting married, and it happened to also be the five year anniversary of Sister Claire. We released the fanfic as an illustrated story, which became the prototype for future Missing Moments. It was so popular, we decided to continue making them.
CA: Who is the intended audience? Do you suggest any age restrictions or content warnings?
Ash: We write our comic for a queer audience. We’re delighted when people not on the queer spectrum enjoy our work, of course, but our main goal is to craft a story to which queer people can relate and in which they can see themselves reflected. Sure, not many of our readers grow horns when they’re really upset, but plenty of our readers know what it’s like to question gender and sexuality. We know what that’s like. This comic is our love letter to those readers and, by extension, to ourselves… we try to make Sister Claire the comic both of us would’ve appreciated seeing as young queer people trying to make sense of our identities, trying to decide what it meant to be happy and comfortable in our own skin.
We believe Sister Claire is appropriate for readers 13 and up. We do include trigger warnings on some pages for body horror, blood, and occasional suggestive content.
CA: Why nuns?
Y: I went to Catholic school in Rome, Italy, and this is my way for working out my trauma.
CA: How has both your creative approach and the webcomic itself changed since inception?
Y: When I started the comic, I tried to script the story, but I have never been very good at sticking to scripts. I’m always editing it right up to when I’m working on the actual page, never satisfied. I’m a very indecisive person, but also a perfectionist, so sticking to one idea is hard.
My process is making things up as I go, or making a script and then tweaking it beyond recognition. I like to have a lot of freedom to make changes up until the last minute, which has been both a blessing for our comic in that it lets us be flexible with our story, but it makes it more complicated now because I don’t work on the story alone anymore. Ash came onboard a few years ago and she’s been insistent about hammering down larger portions of the story, including backgrounds for each character, which means we’ve had to compromise more on flexibility.
That’s a good thing, though! It’s really helped to stabilize the story and make it something more substantial than toilet humor and gags. I think comedy is my safe place, and I lacked the confidence to make my story more sincere and emotional until Ash joined my team. It’s largely thanks to her that our story feels more grounded, and that more and more readers are finding our story to be meaningful and are relating to it on a personal level. Our audience is often surprised to find a compelling story wherein the main characters are a bunch of gay nuns, but hey, we know how to bring it to the table.
CA: What drew you to webcomics and the platform you currently use?
Y: I went into studying comics as a Sequential Arts major at SCAD because I wanted to tell a story in the scope of a Disney movie, but you can’t do that on your own, and at first I saw comics as a kind of compromise… more and more, though, I see comics as a medium where there are so many unique opportunities. Readers are able to imagine the characters’ voices, and timing and pacing are both so flexible… not to mention comics are accessible to nearly everyone, webcomics in particular. Webcomics are the ideal medium for niche stories that minorities or marginalized groups are actively searching for: having my comic on the internet means the queer audience I’m drawing it for can find it.
A: Queer audience member here! I started out reading webcomics because the stories I wanted to read weren’t available on the shelves at the local Barnes & Noble. I had to go on the internet to find stories with queer characters, or stories that featured romantic relationships between women that didn’t ultimately end in one of those women dying horribly. When I connected with Yamino and was eventually offered the opportunity to write for Sister Claire, I thought it was a fantastic chance to tell some of the stories I’d been seeking out in the first place. The reception has been so overwhelmingly positive that it’s hard for me to consider not continuing to work on webcomics.
CA: What’s your process like?
Y: Discussion, discussion, discussion. It helps that we’re married and live together: we talk about Sister Claire and other comic projects on drives, while grocery shopping, or sometimes while we’re waiting for Netflix to load. When it comes to planning the comic in particular, we often visit local cafes and plot out the story page by page, panel by panel, word bubble by word bubble. Our scripts aren’t set in stone, but unless an absolutely genius idea occurs to one of us at the last minute, we do tend to stick to them pretty closely.
A: Planning the Missing Moments is generally left to me. Although we talk about the basic ideas behind each one, Yamino prefers to be pretty hands-off when it comes to my prose, giving me freedom to do what I think is best.
CA: There are a lot of pop culture visual homages in Sister Claire — what goes into choosing where and how you deploy them? Most that I’ve seen remain one-off, but at least one recurring character sure reminds me of a small green teacher from a galaxy far, far away.
Y: Usually they are whims that come to me as I’m working on a page! There are a lot more of them earlier on in the story, partly because there was more room for Easter eggs in the busy interiors of the abbey than there is now where it’s mostly trees.
One of my favorite Easter eggs are the “Sailor Kitties”, cats inspired by the Sailor Moon scouts. I created them for fun and made some minicomics about them on Tumblr, and liked them so much I wanted to include them in the comic somehow. Since one of Claire’s quirks is being obsessed with and followed by hordes of cats, it wasn’t hard to find ways to work them in. They’re not only making cameos all over Book 2, they’re also featured on the cover of Book 1.
CA: Do you think self-publishing this story granted you freedom that you might not have had elsewhere?
Y: Absolutely. As we’ve mentioned in other answers, publishing the comic the way we do allows us to be flexible with the story’s plot and pacing in a way that mainstream comics would doubtless constrict. We’re also able to write a story that’s, let’s face it, very niche: our comic, at its core, is about gay nuns. We don’t have to worry about censorship because we self-publish. Our story is just that: ours. We’re allowed to make it as gay as we want, and we’re so glad.
CA: Which other webcomics would you recommend to readers who like yours?
A: Witchy (for a beginning that will hook you and a story that will keep you), Apothecia (for kids and how they deal with monsters), and a second endorsement for Daughter of the Lilies (because Ash loves plants, and this comic has a character who is all about plants).