The webcomic creator is never far from their audience. Be it through social media, public email addresses, Discord servers, or simply the comments section beneath a page, there is a rapport and a conversation that is developed that is unique to the medium. We’re continuing those conversations here, albeit a little more formally, by interviewing webcomics creators to pick their brains about craft, storytelling, and their personal experiences with the medium.
This month, we sat down and had a chat with Diana Huh, creator of “The Lonely Vincent Bellingham” and former storyboard artist for the first two seasons of She-Ra: Princess of Power. Eagle-eyed readers of The Webcomics Weekly might recognize the comic from Gustavo’s review from a few months ago. And yes, shameless (self-)promotion is this interviewer’s middle name.
To start us off, what was your prior experience with webcomics before starting “The Lonely Vincent Bellingham?”
Diana Huh: I grew up with webcomics and, if I remember right, one of the first comics I ever read was through the internet. I think the very first one I read was probably “Mega-Tokyo” by Fred Gallagher. I read that and “Gunnerkrieg Court” and “Hark, A Vagrant” and a bunch of others I can’t quite remember off the top of my head just now but I’ve always been a huge fan of webcomics as a kid and I think because that was my first influence as comics, I always wanted to make one myself.
Your primary work is as a storyboard artist, correct?
DH: Yeah, currently, that’s my main job. Right now, I’m at Cartoon Network.
For those who don’t know the difference (or are woefully ignorant like me,) what is a storyboard artist vs an animator™?
DH: I guess it depends on the discipline, like, if you’re in feature vs TV animation — I’m currently in TV. Basically, we provide the blueprint for what the animators would have to animate. Because TV budgets are so small, and we have a quicker turnaround than feature films do, storyboards typically have to be a lot tighter and when I say tighter, I mean we have to make sure the layout is 100% accurate, we have to make sure the characters are fairly on model and have all the acting choices that we want in there.
Then the animators take what we do and flesh it out. They’re the ones who really pose out the entire movement and draw it directly on model and so on and so forth. Storyboards on a feature level is not quite the same mainly because the animators for features are usually in the same studio as the animators of storyboard artists whereas TV storyboards and TV animation is done in completely separate countries most of the time.
Is that consistent across the industry?
DH: Yes, yeah. So far in all my experience in animation, all the animation was done overseas.
Which studios have you worked with?
DH: For She-Ra, our primary overseas studio was NE4U and they did a great job.
A quick aside: you mentioned earlier that you’re now working at Cartoon Network?
DH: Yeah, I wrapped on She-Ra and moved onto a new show that I can’t discuss yet.
Gotcha. How much did working on She-Ra affect your work on “The Lonely Vincent Bellingham,” schedule-wise?
DH: Oh, completely. It completely derailed my schedule for “TLVB,” actually. It was just a very demanding show and we weren’t provided the resources that we could or should have gotten and that is not the fault of the showrunner or anyone on the crew, it’s just the nature of the business. Animation budgets just keep getting smaller and smaller, so we have to keep having to doing more and more with less people. Because of that, I had to shoulder quite a bit more responsibilities and tasks than I normally would have on my previous shows.
It got to the point where I became really burnt out and I knew I couldn’t keep concentrating on my day job and my comic and I knew I had to put one of them down. And, unfortunately, it had to be my personal, baby comic because it wasn’t making me the money to pay for rent.Continued below
The showrunner for She-Ra, Noelle Stevenson, was also a webcomic artist. Do you think her approach to the show, and yours, was influenced by your shared webcomics background?
DH: It’s kind of interesting because, when I came on the show, and this information may be wrong, but from what I’ve heard. . .well, basically, I turned in my application blind. I threw it in through the Dreamworks website because I was just rolling off my old job and I was like, “OK, I need work. Let’s see what happens.” And from there, recruiting put my name with the She-Ra applicants and, from what I’ve heard, Noelle looked at my work and liked it because she saw I had a webcomic, so it was kind of fun talking to her about webcomics at the time.
And in the beginning too, we were really looking at quite a bit of webcomics for inspiration on how to treat the characters and what type of feel we wanted for the show. I would say you can really feel the indie comics influence on “She-Ra.” And not only me, there were a couple others that were on the crew that came from indie webcomics.
On the same topic, there seems to be a large overlap between animation professionals and webcomics artists. Why do you think this is? Or is it just a coincidence?
DH: Oh, I mean, I think that’s a totally valid question. It’s just the simple matter of how easy it is to find indie talent online now, and this wasn’t even the case when I started in the industry five or six years ago but definitely now, recruiters go online on Twitter and Tumblr and look up what people are doing and hire them to be storyboard artists, storyboard revisionists, character designers, background painters, etc. etc. I think the reason why there’s an overlap is just because of the ease of which you can find these portfolios.
In terms of the other direction, animation going into webcomics, I think a lot of that is that a lot of artists feel almost stifled in their positions. It’s not to say it’s a bad job but you are extremely limited by your job description so, there’s a lot of people who just want to work on their own stuff. And when they see webcomics, they see that as a really good way to express themselves and express their work outside of the studio system.
I hadn’t really thought about it that way, that animation feeds into webcomics in the same way webcomics feeds animation.
DH: Yeah, I definitely feel like it goes both ways. It’s been really cool and it’s refreshing and it’s definitely needed because for a long time, the people I worked with primarily old white guys. And no offence to them, they’re great artists but I’m happy there is more diversity in the voices we see and also the crews that make up the television shows that we’re seeing now.
Has your time working on the show shaped the way you’ve approached the characters and story vs when you began?
DH: I’d have to say no, just because. . .everything I did on She-Ra was the kind of stuff I always wanted to do and I only expressed it previously through my webcomic because before She-Ra, I worked on the same kind of comedy shows geared towards little boys and I had exec notes where “the characters can’t hug” or “the girl characters can’t be mad” etc. etc. And because of all that, I channeled that through my webcomic.
But on She-Ra, I was able to make character be mad, I was able to let characters hug each other and be angry and upset. What She-Ra did influence on my webcomic was my skill level. I’ve gotten better at drawing figures and drawing backgrounds because I had to do that so often on the show. In terms of the actual story, that’s always been in me.
Speaking of, before we get too far into things, give us the elevator pitch for “The Lonely Vincent Bellingham.”
DH: I’m always so bad at the elevator pitch because I’ve got such a derisive attitude towards the main character.Continued below
To be fair, he is a bit of a trash panda. I, and this is a bit off topic, when I was first reading “TLVB,” I didn’t see Vincent as that bad but re-reading to prepare I was like, “Wow. He’s quite an asshole.”
DH: Yeah, I mean, that’s why it’s hard for me to describe because I’m almost too close to it. But, basically, the elevator pitch is: it’s about this guy named Vincent and he’s just running away from his problems and he thinks the best way to go about that is to trespass the house of a vampire and her two kids and chaos ensues. It’s about him growing up in the worst way possible and hopefully at the end of the story, he will become a better person.
A bit of a trial by fire for him.
DH: Haha, trial by stupid fire that you insert yourself into.
What’s been the hardest part of the comic for you so far? Besides having to put it on hiatus, which was because putting food on the table comes first.
DH: It’s kind of weird. The hardest thing I’ve had to deal with is the feeling that I’m not allowed to make this story because I am an Asian woman and I should be making content that is centered on Asian women. And it’s not like anyone has been pounding at my door asking “Why are you writing a story about a white guy?” But it’s definitely a constant conversation within the community and I’m really happy that people are really focused on having more diverse characters on the page.
But sometimes I feel like, because I chose to write this story, I’m not allowed to be part of that conversation even though I feel I’ve imbued a lot of my personal experiences into this comic, it just doesn’t look that way because of Vincent’s background. It’s kind of like a weird mental hurdle I have to do with myself.
Especially as I’ve gotten older, and I constantly have to re-evaluate, “OK. Is this a story I want to be focusing on?” And sometimes I waffle on it. Sometimes I’m like, “I need to move on, I need to make a new story.”
Then, at the same time, the themes I want to tell with my webcomic, they’re still themes that are important to me today, and that is kind of the reason why I haven’t given up on it.
What themes are they? Do you have different ones for Vincent, Urusla, Luke and Victoria?
DH: I guess I always hesitate on saying themes outright because I think the work should speak for itself but, you know, whatever, this thing is taking me forever to write so I’ll just say it. I have very specific themes for all four of them and it’s all about how to be a better person and how to be a person that doesn’t live just for themselves anymore. Because I think. . . that’s always been a theme that’s important to me where, you know, everybody starts off selfish, it’s just unavoidable. You’re a selfish, horrible person and you have to learn how to not be that.
And that’s clearly Vincent most of all.
He needs to figure out how to be a part of society and not just be a passive observer of it. That’s what’s important to me. In terms of Ursula, Luke and Victoria, they all have their arcs later on that will become more relevant once I finish chapter 3 and set the pieces for the rest of the series.
I think for Ursula, her main theme has always been about natural talent vs taught talent. She’s a natural talent at being a witch but she will come across obstacles in the future where she’ll have to figure out what to do when her identity shifts from that. For Luke, that’s also later on. I probably shouldn’t say what Luke’s is because that’s a little. . .that’s really spoilery.
Probably for the best to let people discover them on their own?
DH: Yeah, I hope so. I don’t ever want it to be completely on the nose where, basically, Victoria sits down Vincent and she’s just like “You’re a selfish person and this is what you need to do to fix yourself.” I don’t think in real life those conversations happen that way. It’s when you encounter enough people that are different from you, you start to understand what you need to change about yourself to keep those people in your lives. That’s kind of what I want to do with Vincent.Continued below
The first three chapters I always knew were gonna be focused on him but then, what I hope to do with each chapter is we slowly expand who he meets and from there we can see him battling with what he previously thought was the norm and figuring out, “What do you want to do from here? Do you want to stay the same or do you want to join the rest of the world and change?”
Do you find you enjoy watching Vincent be miserable? Because I certainly know I do.
DH: I mean, it’s not like I like having him miserable. . .No, I do, it’s really fun. I enjoy that so much but, yeah, I just want him to keep meeting different people and see how he reacts to it. That being said, it’s still going to primarily be focused on these four people. Just because, again, I feel like that’s reflected in life.
You meet a lot of people but you have your tribe and you want to follow what your tribe is doing, so that is how I’m approaching it. But, each of them are going to have their own people that they have to deal with too and that, in turn, is going to influence everybody else, especially Vincent.
The comic kind of reminds me of the Shirley Jackson book “We Have Always Lived in the Castle.”
DH: Oh wow, I’ve never read it.
It’s. . .well, it’s not a great 1-to-1, because that’s a horror book but both have a similar setting, a house far out from town with an eclectic family, and much of the novel is dedicated to, among other things, characters who have retreated into their comfort zones and what they learn as they start to leave them. . .also death and the toxicity of New England. . .now that I think about it, they really only share a setting and a few thematic notes.
DH: Yeah, I do think it’s interesting how much you can learn once you step out of your comfort zone. Vincent just very much does this head-on bullish leap just because he’s not thinking but it’s going to end up working for the best for him. Like, sometimes you need to leave the place you came from just to be better. Not everyone can become better just from staying where they are.
On the craft side of things, I totally love how each of your chapters has this slow roll into the titles, where the reveal of the title is as much a beat of the story as the action on the page. And they’re so funny!
DH: Oh, thank you so much. Yeah, I think. . .that was kind of a weird discussion with myself way in the beginning where I was just like, “I don’t know how I want to separate these chapters.” Because usually, you know, it’s just the chapter page and then you start the story but I kind of always wanted a kind of seamless. . .I want it to seem like they all can roll together. I always want to find a nice place that stops somewhere in the middle to drop a title.
And I also never come up with the titles previously, it just has to come to me while working, so they can be really bizarre.
They all have the same construction too, beginning with that Dickensian “In which. . .”
DH: Oh, I completely stole that from Diana Wynn Jones because of, you know, “Howl’s Moving Castle” and all of her books. I always loved how simple it was and how it was a summary of the chapter but it also wasn’t because it was an oversimplification, right? I always found that kind of cheeky and funny so I just copied it.
That’s who I was trying to think of earlier! I can see it now that you mentioned it.
DH: Oh yeah. Diana Wynn Jones has been a massive influence on my work and I love how, for example that book, it’s just kind of a bunch of really shitty characters and they’re all thrown together and you see how they grow from there. I always found that fun, throwing people together. It’s kind of like playing “Sims.”Continued below
What’s your process for each chapter like?
DH: Usually what I do, and it’s kind of weird, I think this is definitely influenced by my animation background, but I have a script written out and I kind of write it like a screenplay. I don’t really write the way most comics’ people write their scripts, where they write it page by page, and they write what they want to happen on the page. I write it out very, well like I said, like a TV script, and then I print it out, I read it over a couple times, and I find the places where I want to cut it up into pages. That’s why I can’t ever say how many of my script pages translate to comics pages.
Like, for example, chapter one, the script for that was 11 pages but that ended up being, like, 45 pages of comics and I was like, “How did that happen?” [laughs.]
It’s easy to write “Vincent Walks into Town” and then expand that into ten pages of comics.
DH: No, yeah! That’s the thing. Sometimes I would choose to elongate a simple dialog between many pages or sometimes I’d choose to express an action really quickly. That’s why . . .basically my entire process is digital but I also do thumbnails on top of my script page, and write out what I want to do there and then I translate it to clip studio paint and that’s where I do my actual comic making.
What’s the best part of the process for you?
DH: Oh my gosh, the best part of the process is thumbnailing, hand down because it’s so fun and I like being able to plan out exactly how I want the beats to land. I didn’t think about this earlier but now I’m really trying to think more about page turn reveals especially since I want a page turn reveal for this current chapter to be pretty big. Yeah, thumbnailing is the best. I don’t have to tie anything down yet but it’s almost close to becoming a real thing. It’s an endless world of possibilities. . .and then I have to sit down and actually draw it and I’m like, “Uch. Why’d I decide to draw this?!”
Not a huge fan of drawing?
DH: I am one of those weirdos of the art world where I really don’t enjoy drawing. I only enjoy thinking up the story and I enjoy the finished product where I’m like “Wow. [Chef’s hand kiss sound.] It’s done.” But while I’m drawing it, and this is the same as my storyboarding job, it’s just, like, hell. I’m just waiting for it to be done, like “why aren’t you a thing yet?”
But at the end, you can say that you created that with your own hands.
DH: Yeah, I mean, I’ve joked about it a lot but I’m also serious, like, if I was a horrible person, I would hire an intern to do it for me. But . . I do also like having the finished product done by me and it’s like, “This is mine. No one else can claim it except for me.”
It’s a love hate thing.
Well, it’s hard to tell from your art, and especially your backgrounds. They’re so lush and full of life and they compliment the foreground beautifully.
DH: Oh, thank you so much. That’s so sweet. I actually think my backgrounds are crap. Um, yeah, I don’t know. I’m not strong at backgrounds at all. I have so many friends in the industry, in comics and in animation, that are incredible draftsmen and I’m like, “Wow, I don’t have that.” Basically, whatever I try to do for the backgrounds, because it’s a weak point for me, I try to make sure whatever I draw there is highlighting the characters 100% because I don’t have the skill. Like, clutter in a room is one of the hardest things for me, I do not know how to draw clutter. So, if there’s something I can’t draw, I either take it out or I make sure I draw it in a way where it doesn’t conflict with the characters.Continued below
At the end of the day, the characters are the most important part for me and I draw the backgrounds with the intent of supporting the character’s presence on the page. But yeah, thank you for complimenting me about that. I’m very self-conscious of my backgrounds so that means a lot.
That’s probably why they work so well, each background is filled with cool little details that make them an extension of the scene rather than just a flat backdrop.
DH: Because all I care about are the characters, I always try to pepper the backgrounds with stuff I know they would have or like and hopefully it tells you something about them. And this was just on one page of chapter one but I really had fun drawing Ursula’s room vs Luke’s room vs Victoria’s room, which you don’t even see. I had a really fun time with that sequence because I wanted to highlight what type of person each of them was through how they saw the room.
And the door is closed for Victoria because you don’t get to know her yet Vincent, you butt.
And Ursula’s room is just a complete wreck of stuff and junk.
DH: Yeah, she’s a mess and a half; I was exactly like her as a kid. Just a ball of energy and not caring who took care of me or anything like that but she’s still at the age where that’s charming and not a total nuisance. Meanwhile, Vincent is still at that stage and it’s just like, “Come on buddy, you gotta buck up, you can’t stay like this forever.”
Earlier you mentioned that, you had to put “TLVB” down so you could focus on your main work. Do you feel you’ve reached a place where you can start up again? Or, I guess, do you have a plan for starting up again?
DH: Luckily, I feel like I am in a space where I can focus on the comic again, which is really great. It’s just been noodling here and there but I’m currently sketching through the pages now. I think my plan is to make sure I have all of chapter three done before I make any announcement about coming back. And I do feel bad that I haven’t been telling people anything. I do sprinkle in replies here and there to comments on my webcomic but sometimes I get some really mean-spirited comments and instead of replying. . .I just don’t. [Laughs.]
I reply to the ones that are nice and yeah, I am currently working on my webcomic. I hope to release pages soon but I don’t want to say when because I don’t want to disappoint anybody.
I do feel really bad; I know I’m breaking, like, all the webcomic laws by doing this. . .
I dunno, I’d say you’re actually following the law on that one.
DH: [Laughs.] Hey, that’s not true, there’s a lot of people that update their comics really regularly now.
That’s true, there are lot. And, like, “Namesake” updates three times a week.
DH: Oh my god. Isa and Meg, they are treasures. I love them so much. They work so frikkin hard and the work is gorgeous all the time. “Unsounded” too. She’s amazing, Ashley Kope, and just so many others. I look at them as the gold standard and I’m like, “Wow, I totally fall beneath these guys.”
I guess that’s why I don’t feel too bad because I’m like, “There’s so much good stuff out there guys. You don’t need to follow the story of this dumb idiot. I’ll show you other things.”
OK, one last question before our regular closing one. What’s your process for lettering and coloring your comic? You integrate both so well into the page, especially the lettering, which is given plenty of room to breathe by the art.
DH: Oh, yeah. I’m still surprised there’s people that lay out their comics without putting the word balloons in, like it’s a complete afterthought for them and I just don’t understand how you do that. You can’t have a comic without the dialog in the word balloons, why wouldn’t you integrate that into your layouts?Continued below
But, yeah, for me, my coloring process is kind of ridiculous. When I think about how I do it, I’m just like, “that is the most dumbest, and backwards way, you could’ve done this, Past Diana. Why did you do this?”
Basically, I have the same color palettes for the all the main characters and then I have the color palettes for the house and stuff and I adjust the lighting as I go. I use a lot of multiply layers and overlay layers, you know the go-to methods for all artists that don’t quite understand color theory.
I like to have soft and hard edges to my shadows. In the beginning, or, before I started the webcomic, I had this proto-version of the webcomic I started years and years ago, and it had a completely different beginning, but I only used hard edges for the backgrounds and really robust linework.
But as I kept working on it, I realized I wanted to play up the color and to do that, I put less of a focus on the lineart, so that it’s pretty wispy, just to support the colors that I want in the comic. It’s a lot of multiply, overlay layers. I keep some sharp edges to the shadows and some soft edges on others and I mix it up until it kinda looks alright and then I’m like, “Alright, I’m done.”
As for lettering, I bought the license for this font ages ago, I forgot what it was called. I make sure I have all my word balloons laid out and then I hope the dialog fits and if it doesn’t, I adjust the artwork so it fits better.
Alrighty! Last question: What three comics would you recommend to fans of “The Lonely Vincent Bellingham?”
DH: Ooh, well, I have comics that I like and they’re not always that similar. Like, I freaking love “Unsounded.” Absolutely not the same content. “Unsounded” is this epic drama on the scale of “Lord of the Rings” only way more interesting and way more heartfelt, in my opinion. So, I would recommend “Unsounded.”
And, like you said, “Namesake.” Incredible storytelling and both these comics have been running for years and years and I’m always amazed at how they are able to accomplish within the medium.
Oh! I love “Tiger, Tiger” by Petra Nordlund.
And that was just nominated for an Eisner.
DH: I know! I was so happy and excited. If “Tiger, Tiger” does not win, I swear to god. . .[Editor’s Note: Sorry Diana.]
It’s up against some stiff competition though.
DH: That’s true, yeah, yeah. I just love “Tiger, Tiger.” I guess at the end of the day, those three comics also have some idiots just running around. Maybe I just like that, yeah. There we go. There’s the common theme.