Today’s interview is with May Li, aka KTom, the webcartoonist behind OTENBA Files, a science fantasy webcomic with strong yuri (lesbian) themes. I must admit I’m quite happy that KTom agreed to be interviewed, given that some of my reviews of her comic have been fairly critical of certain elements in the story (though part of that was my fault for not realizing one of the secondary characters was female), and I hope you all enjoy her answers.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and what do you do for a living?
Comics are just my hobby my real job is being a boring sales assistant. A little bit about me? Well…my parents are originally from Hong Kong but I was born in the sunny and scenic region of Cornwall where my parents owned a Chinese Take-Away business. I got into art from a young age after I fell in love with cartoons, specifically Tom and Jerry, but it wasn’t until around age 11 that I really got into the Anime/Manga scene.
Other than my art I enjoy animals, cooking, and eating lots of tasty foods but if you’re wanting to know about entertainment then horror movies followed up by a good healthy dose of surrealism.
Oh and gaming, love gaming!
What got you initially interested in creating your own webcomic, and what led you to choose this specific genre for the comic?
I was actually interested in small press to begin with – the ‘do it yourself’ side of comics. It fascinated me so I started with that and it lead me to making my own little comics from scrap paper and other things I could get my hands on but it wasn’t until I got older that I really delved into it. 2003-ish marked the year I began to take Small Press seriously – going to conventions in the UK – and from my experiences there I found popular outlets to post comics on. The internet is an amazing thing! One day out of sheer boredom I decided to try roughing out a comic. At the time I was heavy into Yuri Anime as well as playing Shadowrun. Something about fantasy mixed with science fiction that appealed so much to me that it just happened to combine on paper. OTENBA Files isn’t heavy into the Sci-fi aspect right now but the comic isn’t over yet.
As I posted OTENBA the feedback really struck home and because the readers at the time really enjoyed it I decided to continue on. It got to a point where free hosting couldn’t keep up with what I wanted to do so I moved to building my own site with my ‘awesome’ html skills.
Could you tell us a little of the world and background setting of OTENBA Files?
It’s set in a Cyber Punk world but OTENBA itself hasn’t been heavily influenced by that world. I mean, it’s there, but where OTENBA is taking place it’s kind of out in the middle of no where –rural if you will. It will work it’s way in though, just not quite yet. The whole the world is in a state of Anarchy and wars but OTENBA focuses more on a Psychic ‘war’. Certain organizations don’t like the Psychics and want to eradicate them with extreme prejudice.
OTENBA focuses on two girls and their relationship but along the way you get to see more of the world, other characters, races, organizations, and political things. If you haven’t noticed OTENBA is a bit slow moving in certain aspects but that doesn’t mean all won’t be revealed eventually.
To be honest it’s a world that I can easily expand upon…like…another comic or even a browser based game [laughs].
Background setting of OTENBA Files? Well I wanted it to be an Action/Romance comic…a little Shonen mixed with a little Shoujo. Tomboys just happened to be a favorite and the market for that had very little in it especially very little that I enjoyed reading. That influenced a lot of background for OTENBA but if I reveal too much background setting it might take a few surprises out of some storylines I have.
What are some things that have influenced your artistry, and what is it about them that you find inspirational?
Wow where to start? I grew up liking the stories that Rumiko Takahashi wrote because she was very popular at the time and I have to say that for a while I even tried to mimic her work. I was uncomfortable with doing that, though I did learn a lot, and decided to add in my own style. Believe it or not I found drawing girls very difficult, I still do, so I drew a lot of male characters –specifically Anthros – and the women I did draw back then looked very androgynous. I considered myself an Anthro Artist then and I suppose it helped that Anthros were extremely popular around that time as well. With that in mind I would have to say then that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles depending on where you’re from), Biker Mice from Mars, and Usagi Jimbo (HUGE Stan Sakai fan) were on my list. Humans were just so boring to draw!
The next artist I admired was Akira Toriyama. His artwork was simple but amazing effective! He has an amazingly clean style, it wasn’t difficult to learn the male figure with his art, and I loved that there were no screen tones in any of comics that I was able to get my hands on (I wish I could have a background artist like he does!). My art actually evolved from Dragonball and anything else Akira drew.
Do you read any other webcomics? If so, which are your favorites, and why do those stand out for you?
Actually you caught me out on this, I don’t really have any webcomics that I read to the point of “OMG they posted!” or anything. I usually read over RogueTomboys’ shoulder the comics she reads like Khaos Komix, Spinnerette, Red String, and Misfile. Granted RogueTomboy reads a few more than that but those are the ones I seem to catch more than the others. Though now that I think about it I do read Dark Legacy and a few other MMO comics. Dark Legacy has great comedy and I can relate to the genre since I’m a gamer.
Call me old fashioned but I really enjoy reading things in print. I understand the need for webcomics and I applaud everyone who gets their work out there in that manner – I mean I do to – but there is just something about the smell of ink….
What is your opinion on webcomic criticism, and how do you cope with negative or destructive criticism?
In a simple sentence I’m easy and laid back so it really doesn’t bother me. Dealing with angry customers at work actually is horrible and a wonderful thing in that it’s taught me to just grin and bear it.
My views on criticism is that everyone has their own opinions and everyone has their own rights to express that opinion. I am consciously aware of what people say but at the end of the day it’s a free webcomic, I’m not making anyone read it. If they like it then that’s great and if they don’t like it that’s okay too because I can’t please every reader out there nor do I try to. I just tell my story.
I don’t have a tolerance for slander or for criticism that has no grounds. I realize in my comic there are some ambiguous scenarios (especially if the middle of a specific story falls on a Friday with no posts over the weekend) but how the reader takes such scenarios is up to them. I’m not a fan of someone reading the comic and before the scene has played out they start assuming incredibly hateful and rather farfetched ideas when my work has never really implied such things. Granted touchy subjects happen or even terrible things but I am not a hateful person and my work will never reflect that.
I won’t back down from criticism, I actually don’t mind it at all, and everyone’s comments will always stay on the site unless it pushes an incredible button with me. My comic is what it is, I hope you can like it but if not that’s fine just don’t be a prick about it.
If someone asked you for advice on creating their own webcomic, what are a couple pointers you’d suggest?
1. By far the most important pointer I could give is make sure you have the time to do it, to devote to it, because if you don’t update somewhat regular it puts people off.
2. Make sure you make a story, characters, and themes that you enjoy. If your comic becomes a chore or work then you should really stop or you could have blocks/burn outs really easy.
3. Make your website is easy to navigate and not too cluttered. Simple and clean is the way to go if you’re just starting out because you want your readers to focus on your comic but you still want it to be attractive as well