OH: You made the announcement that you were leaving comics to go back to school, and you’ve mentioned the writing program at UCLA, but at the time you said you were going to be going into 3D. Is that still happening?
CS: I swear to God, I need to go back and explain this. I feel bad because I’ve had to explain this so many times because I’m so bad at life. That was totally the plan. The thought was: I was going to finish up my commitments at Marvel, I would finish SHIELD in February, and in April I was going to go back to Gnomon [School of Visual Effects] because I had taken classes there before, and I liked them, and I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to go into texturing and lighting, and test them out and see which one I wanted, but in the interim, I took some writing classes just for fun. At one point I was talking to my husband, and I was like “I think I’m going to keep taking writing classes while I take 3D classes.” And he was like “What do you mean?” And I was like “I think I’m going to keep taking the screenplay writing class that I’m taking, because I really like it, and I’ll take two 3D classes and a screenplay writing class.” And he just looked at me and said “No. You like writing. What are you doing? Just do writing. I can already tell you just want to write. Don’t feel obligated to go into 3D just because you said you would.” And this is another instance where somebody was blunt with me and made me change my direction. He was like “You like it, and you’re getting great feedback on it, just do it. If you’re doing it, do it wholeheartedly, don’t do two things half-heartedly.” So now I’m going to take the next year to write like crazy, and then if I suck at it, then I’ll go back to 3D.
I actually took my first writing class last October, so it’s been almost a year. I took a comics writing class, and in that I was like “I want to take another writing class, and there’s only this class. I can’t keep taking this class over and over again. What about screenplay writing? It’s the only thing I can think of that’s even remotely similar to comics writing.” And one of my classmates who was a screenplay writer was like “I teach one here,” and I was like “I like your writing and I like you. I’m going to take your class!” And that was it. While I was taking that first screenplay writing class, that was when I made the decision to stick with it.
OH: Is the story of The Fox Sister based on actual Korean mythology or folklore?
CS: Yes and no. When I pitched The Fox Sister to Jayd, it was super loose. It was essentially a supernatural story that takes place in Korea in the late 1960’s, basically revolving around this Korean religion that hardly anyone worships anymore. Basically, it’s this religion that the main character is. My initial idea was just to basically show how Western culture came in post-Korean War and in handing out aid and helping South Koreans rebuild, a lot of Americans just brought Christianity with them. There was already this push to head towards Catholicism or Christian beliefs, but the nail in the coffin was definitely the Korean War; because when you’re receiving all this aid from these people preaching to you, you’ll listen. By then, Westerners figured out the best way to convert Asians, and the best way to preach to them, and they modified the way they talk about things. Instead of talking about forgiveness and guilt, they talk about good fortune. They changed things, and I thought that was fascinating.
I grew up there, and I never really knew about this religion. I kind of knew a little bit about it, but not enough, and as I was doing more and more research, I was amazed at how underground it had become, and how people had to practice out of their houses, and nobody would ever admit to being a follower of this religion. Plus, the rites that you had to go through were kind of ridiculous. And one of the few things I found is that the leaders were predominantly female. Now, I’m not the type to gravitate towards anything that is focused on gender, except for this partially because, I mean, I grew up there, and I know how men treat women in Korea, at least when I was growing up. Like, my mom had so many things that she had to overcome, so it was fascinating for me to see that, and the more research I did on things – the other thing I thought about doing was a retelling of a Korean folktale – and the more I looked into them, the more I was kind of horrified at just how many of them were like “so the girl dies,” or the lesson is to not put your daughter on a pedestal. Confucian beliefs are not very nice to ladies.
So the whole idea behind The Fox Sister came out of a combination of me wanting to kind of highlight a strong female character in the 1960’s in Korea, which was very rare, and the idea that most Korean folklore involves terrible women [laughs]. So I thought it would be interesting to have that dynamic of the Korean nine-tailed fox, who’s always a woman, and always a terrible human being, and I was like “well, what if a woman took her down.” [laughs] “Maybe that would be nice and level the playing field.” [laughs again]. But there is a Korean folktale called “The Fox Sister.” It’s nothing like this story, but because it did loosely inspire this, I thought naming it The Fox Sister as kind of a nod to that terrible, terrible folklore wasn’t a bad idea.
OH: What is your relationship to Korea?
CS: My dad was an Air Force officer, and he met my mom when he was stationed in Korea. Actually, my mom’s from Kunsan, which is why the characters [from The Fox Sister] are from there, and I used my mom for questions and contacted her for a few little things. I was born there in 1981, and my parents moved to Illinois in 1983, when I was a little kid, and then we moved back in 1986, and then my parents got divorced, and I lived there until 1999, so basically fifteen years of my life. I just turned thirty, so now half of my life has officially been in the US. I spent fifteen years in Korea, and all my formative years were there, from Kindergarten to senior year in high school. It was at the Seoul American Elementary School and High School. When I graduated, I had to move back to the States.
OH: You have a Western character in The Fox Sister, Alex, who is kind of an outsider. Did you ever feel out of place when you were in Korea, a la Alex, even though you were born there?
CS: It’s funny because I took a friend of mine to Korea last winter, and we stayed in Seoul, where I grew up, and one of the first things she said was “I’m shocked by how many non-Koreans live here.” I grew up in a school where most of my friends had Korean moms and dads from somewhere else, so we were all half-something and half-something-else. I didn’t have many friends that were just straight-up Caucasian or some other race. Sorry, culture, I mean, not just race. I have a half-Samoan half-Korean friend; it’s like “How did that happen?” I didn’t feel out of place until I moved to the States. I was so used to growing up with so many different cultures, and I lived in an area near a military base, so it wasn’t that unusual to see Americans, and it wasn’t that unusual to see half-Korean kids. I speak a very rudimentary, lazy Korean. Very conversational. It was very easy for me to get around. I was very comfortable there. It was a metropolitan city. It was a lot more liberal than I remembered. When I was a kid, I thought it was so conservative, but it was a lot more liberal. I moved to Baton Rouge to go to Louisiana State University. That’s conservative! That environment was the polar opposite of what I was used to, so I had a lot more culture shock when I moved to the States than I did when I was in Korea.
My sister and I used to have a discussion about this. My sister lives in New York, and I live in L.A. I’ve always compared New York to Seoul, and L.A. more to Japan. I just got used to them watching me. Like they wouldn’t trust me because kids steal, so I wouldn’t have a problem with people staring and making sure I didn’t steal stuff. I will definitely say that post-9/11, when the rest of the world started hating Bush, Korean attitudes towards Americans changed drastically, for sure. One of the times when I went back [to Korea] when I was in college, they were protesting against Americans, and there was all these terrible things that would happen, and I was weirdly surprised at how there were instances when I was uncomfortable with Koreans when I had never felt that when I was living there. I think a lot of that is a global thing, and a cultural thing. When I go now, if somebody’s just watching me as I’m shopping, I don’t really care, they’re just making sure that I don’t steal their stuff. But there were definitely instances where it would be like “That sign says ‘No Americans,’ What the f? Where is that from?” That was years ago; that was not recent. But it’s changing. When I went back in November, it had been eleven years since I’d moved away, and I was really surprised because I lived by the one mosque in my neighborhood. Oddly enough, while it was once American and Korean restaurants when I went back, there was this amazing plethora of Persian restaurants and I’m like “That wasn’t there when I was a kid!” And it makes total sense, and it’s awesome because I couldn’t get that food there before, but I could now! So it’s changing, it’s definitely changing, but they’re very outwardly distrustful. They don’t trust you, and there’s no question in your mind.