Aliens have always been able to provide problems for heroes and heroines in comics, but in Mickey Lam’s debut title, Mr. Yang Fights Aliens, the aliens have met their match with the introduction of a very unlikely hero. Enter Mr Yang. High School teacher and Extra Terrestrial Ass Kicker! I was able to take a glance at this unique work and am intrigued by the adventures Mr Yang will have in the future. If you are looking for a story with aliens, interesting dialogue and a teacher that packs a punch then this title is for you! I got the chance to speak to Lam about his project and how Mr. Yang came to be.
SU: Tell us about Mr Yang Fights Aliens and the process behind it?
ML: Mr Yang Fights Aliens (Yang) is a light-hearted adventure story about a high school teacher who struggles with his job but on the other hand is very good at fighting aliens. It is half of an intended graphic novel, but due to time, I want to release half of it now while I work on the second half.
Before I started, I collected a lot of visual material that inspired the look of the book. For certain scenes set at night in London, I would grab my camera and take photos of the city. Some nights I would wander around until 2 or 3 am trying to find the right angle as well as study the effect of light and shade on London City architecture. I would photo reference myself for specific angles and body language I wanted the main character to have. It was a very fun, hands-on process.
When I had all the reference I needed and finished experimenting with the camera, I would follow the typical process of penciling and inking the final artwork. While I worked full time as a teacher, I did not sleep much to make sure this project could be finished.
SU: Where did you come up with the idea?
ML: I wanted to draw a science fiction comic book, but after a few weeks of brainstorming ideas, everything I came up with was generic or a close copy of an already existing story. None of those settings could allow me to express what I wanted. It was then I decided to look at my own life and draw inspiration from that.
SU: How have you been able to fund your project?
ML: While I worked full time as a teacher, I saved up some money for printing and materials. I also used money from commissions to help fund this book. I am hoping any profit I make can be used to print more copies.
ML: My influences have changed over time, but if I had to pick one, it would be Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Time sorts out the best from the rest and his work is up there. His work shows a passion to push his techniques, try new ones and excellent facial expressions. His stories reflect New York City urban life back in the 40’s and show the highs and lows of human nature.
Some other excellent comic book artists, Neal Adams, Norm Breyfogle, Brian Bolland, Michael Turner, Yanick Paquette, Ryoichi Ikegami to name just a few, created such strong work that I felt it was not enough to just read, but to make my own and be able to share my imagination and ideas with other people.
I am also very influenced by fashion and like to look at how different materials work with and shape the body as well as how photographers control light and shade, poses and silhouettes to bring out mood and expression or to direct your attention.
Another big influence on Yang is nature or wildlife. The aliens I have drawn are based on various insects and animals. Nature provides a very rich source of inspiration.
SU: What would you like people to take in when reading your comic?
ML: My main purpose is to entertain! Yang is mainly for a younger reader. However, I hope that whoever reads it can relate to several themes, such as how work and stress can change you into someone you are not or how you may not be able to do something well by which you are judged, but are amazing at something else that no one really understands, or even how a group of different people can work together, but overall, it’s a light-hearted story which I hope gives you at least one laugh! Later parts will show more character development, but I want to establish Mr Yang’s personality for now.
ML: Aside from personal commissions, I plan on releasing a short comic book called Fwendly Fwuit, which is an all-ages story about how a banana becomes best friends with a strawberry and they go on adventures together. I did it as a break from my usual style. You can have a look at my Etsy store .
SU: What are you reading right now, any comics right now you are really into?
ML: In terms of American comics, I enjoy Batman and Ultimate comics Ultimate Spider-Man, when it comes to Japanese manga, I like Tough and Until Death Do Us Part. As for French Bande dessinée, I really like Namibia, Sillage and Jason Brice.
SU: What are your plans for the future?
ML: I hope to complete part two of Mr Yang by the end of next year. During which I would like to do more timeline commissions for clients, where I use my comic book skills to create a storybook of events. For example, one client, for his parent’s Ruby anniversary asked me create images from important parts of their lives such as meeting for the first time, getting married, having kids…to be involved like that and get to know someone’s history and life choices and having a piece of art mean something to someone…that to me is the best part of being an artist. He commissioned it as a present for them and when they saw it, he said they welled up and that…makes the hard work rewarding.
I have written much of the next Mr Yang volume. After fighting aliens, he will be fighting something else…
SU: When will your project be released?
ML: Yang is available now via Etsy. It will coincide with the Comica Comiket festival, held this year at Central Saint Martins. It will be my first debut at a convention, so come along if you’re in London and free. I have faced many challenges to produce this book. For example, I had to learn how to draw certain things as I am self-taught, I didn’t know how to letter the comic book and so I had to read about it and learn which took time. Same for Etsy, I have to calculate shipping costs to various countries, printing costs of the book, what kind of paper I like, and other kinds of post-production admin. As a one-man operation, I am slower compared to any established company, but I will get there in the end for sure and I have much more freedom to express what I want.
SU: What is your method of writing/creating how do you come up with your content?
ML: Writing… This just comes to me. I’ll be thinking for a while with no results and then it comes together and I have to scribble everything down quickly on my notepad before I forget. When I layout the page, I experiment with layouts a lot. I like to use my own experience as a base to express certain things. Then I will begin reimagining the situation to bring those themes and emotions out more.
SU: Anything else you would like to add?
ML: As a self-published self-taught creator of a very small project, thanks for giving me a spotlight! If you like what you see, I put out new sketches and art through my website, facebook and my blog. Get ready for part 2 of Mr Yang!”