The Marvel exclusive color artist and writer of the new webcomic The Fox Sister takes a seat in The Outhouse to talk about her life and career in the comics industry!
After studying graphic design at Louisiana State Universtiy, Christina Strain entered the comics industry as an eager young artist who still had a lot to learn. After short stints at Crossgen Comics, Udon Studios, and Aspen Studios, she grew into one of the most prolific colorists in comics. As a colorist working exclusively for Marvel, Strain helped define the look of such surprise hits as Runaways and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, as well as working on the such event comics as World War Hulk and buzz books like Jonathan Hickman's SHIELD.
Strain recently announced that she would be leaving comics in order to go back to school, but she hasn't ventured too far away. She has re-emerged, this time serving as a writer, with a new webcomic called The Fox Sister, with artist Jayd Aït-Kaci. Serving as Strain's reaction to traditional Korean folklore, The Fox Sister is something of a mystical thriller with some horror and even some comedic elements thrown in.
Christina Strain recently stopped by The Outhouse to talk about growing up in Korea, making the switch from visual artist to writer, and why she refers to Runaways penciller Adrian Alphona as her "comic book husband."
The Outhouse (OH): Is writing something you've wanted to do for a long time? Was that always an aspiration for you?
Christina Strain (CS): Yeah, it's funny. When I was in high school, I wrote a lot. It didn't really occur to me how much I wrote just because I wanted to do comics, and in Asia you have to do a little bit of everything. I wrote a lot, I drew a lot of really crappy comics, and I also wrote a lot of prose that I totally forgot I did, because the moment I realized I wanted to work in American comics, I picked coloring and the rest of it fell by the wayside. For years, penciling was the one thing I kind of wished I hadn't given up; not because I wanted to pencil for a living, but because I wasn't terrible. If I hadn't stopped drawing, I would have been halfway decent, but now it's a pain to draw. But I kind of got into writing to do something other than coloring, just to give my brain a break because I had been doing so much of that. I kind of rediscovered [writing]. I knew I wanted to do personal comics, but I always assumed I'd always end up plotting them, and then working with a writer. I respect writers. It's such a hard job. I don't think just anyone can do it. Which is why I'm going back to school, to try to do it well.
OH: When did you decide that comics would be what you want to go into?
CS: I always knew that I wanted to. Growing up in Asia, I read a lot of them, and a lot of my friends read them, and we all kind of liked them. But, I have a Korean mom, so... [laughs], I didn't really think it was a job I could do for a living because she was very set on my doing something very academic. It was kind of a pipe dream until I was nineteen and I went to [a convention] in New Orleans and met Amanda Connor, and I showed her some of my stuff, and she said "You need to do art. Why are you doing programming, that doesn't make any sense. Do art." I decided then and there that I would be doing comics, I'm not going to pussyfoot around it anymore.
OH: Who are some of the other people who have helped you out in comics?
CS: [Peter] Stiegerwald! That's always the first one who comes to mind. When I worked at Aspen, I worked directly under him in the studio. He made me cry! A lot! [laughs] He was really good at knowing what I needed to work on, and some of the crying wouldn't be from him being mean but from knowing the things I need to fix. [...] He was a really good teacher. Everyone likes to be instructed in different ways. I like to have a little bit of positive feedback, but more than anything I like to know what I need to work on.
Laura Martin was fantastic. She was kind of the opposite side of the coin, but in a very "Let me sit you down and walk you through this" kind of way. I remember sitting down and watching her color for three hours at Crossgen when I was really young. That was such an amazing lesson because there were so many things I didn't even think about trying or asking about on a technical level in Photoshop. I was like, "I didn't know you could do that! What was that?" I learned all kinds of hotkeys, and my workflow changed completely because of that. Peter too. Peter sat me down and looked over my files and said "this is not efficient, let me show you a better way to do it."
So those two, and Justin Ponsor. God bless Justin Ponsor! He emailed me and I don't even know how he had the patience to put up with me, because he was trying to teach me how to do flats. I understand from his perspective now how difficult it is to explain to somebody who doesn't color daily what a flat it, and he was so sweet. He had so much patience. I was like "I don't get this, I don't get channels." But those three have definitely molded me.
OH: It sounds like being in a room with other creative professionals at Crossgen was an effective way to learn how to problem solve with color.
CS: I got there a little too late to know whether it really was helpful. For me, I would immediately say yes because I was really green. All of these guys were there, I could look at their files, I could see how they did stuff, and they were always really available for me if I had any questions. For me, that environment was really helpful. I know there was a lot of politics involved that I never really got to see unfold. I know a few things, like on a social level, there was a weird pecking order in some places. In general, I think I'm one of the few CrossGen employees who says "I liked it." I learned a lot, I made a lot of friends, it was a really cool place.
OH: How long were you there for?
CS: Two months [laughs]. It's awesome, because I can legitimately say I was the last person they hired and moved there, and then they let me go right after I signed my lease. It was terrifying. I was like twenty-two, there was a lot of crying. It was good, though. There was this little artist's community, and even to this day there are still a lot of people who live there.
OH: Did you stay in Tampa afterwards?
CS: Only for ten months. About a week after everything fell apart, I was really lucky enough to get a job at UDON, and working on Runaways for Marvel. And I got to work for Aspen on a Superman series called "Godfall." After working with them for a few months, they were like "Come to L.A. Work in another studio environment, you liked it!" So now I'm in L.A.
OH: How did you get about getting those jobs? Submissions?
CS: It's so weird. Ok, Aspen originally wanted to hire me, and I went to CrossGen. If I had to do it again, I would do it in the same exact way. But with Aspen, I was really lucky because they hired someone else, and I guess that person dropped the ball, so I was able to pick up where they wanted to hire me in the first place.
At Marvel, I got that job (I hate to say with social skills, but) totally with social skills. I met [UDON Studios Editor-in-Chief] Erik Ko many times at multiple conventions, but I never showed him my portfolio. When CrossGen fell apart, and everybody was scrambling to get a job, everyone was super sweet and helpful, and they were like "Honey, are you ok? Let's get some feelers out there, you need to get some work." One of the things I did was email Erik because, at the time, UDON had such a great coloring house, and I said "I know you and I have only just hung out, but here is some of my work. CrossGen just folded, do you have anything for me?" So he had me try out this thing for Marvel, it was some Wal-Mart thing. It was just three pages long. It was mostly this Can You Hit a Deadline test. He liked what I did, and then he said "Ok, there is this book, they need a new colorist. Can you do some test pages? It was Runaways, and it was funny because my boyfriend at the time loved that book, and I loved [Runaways writer] Brian K. Vaughan. So I did test pages, they liked them, and that was it.
I kind of fell into Marvel and it was amazing. I was so lucky because I was the youngest colorist out of the bunch, and I was one of the first to get regular work. I was thrown on a monthly, and I had only colored one other book ever, and it was for CrossGen, and I had two days per page, and suddenly I had to do a book in two weeks, and I was like "Oh my god, I have to make this work somehow!" So I was really, really lucky.