Welcome to the fifth interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.
About the Book
- Title: Hungry Ghost
- Author: Victoria Ying
- Colorist: Lynette Wong
- Publisher: First Second
- Release Date: April 25th, 2023
- Genre/Format: Young Adult Contemporary, Graphic Novel
Valerie Chu is quiet, studious, and above all, thin. No one, not even her best friend, Jordan, knows that she has been bingeing and purging for years. But when tragedy strikes, Val finds herself reassessing her priorities, her choices, and her body. The path to happiness may lead her away from her hometown and her mother’s toxic projections—but first she will have to find the strength to seek help.
This beautiful and heart-wrenching young adult graphic novel takes a look at eating disorders, family dynamics, and ultimately, a journey to self-love.
Interview with Victoria Ying
Q: Last time I interviewed you, you had just published City of Secrets. Now that you have two more original graphic novels under your belt (City of Illusions and Hungry Ghost), would you say your approach to the creative process has changed? What lessons have you learned that inform your current process?
My first book was a huge learning experience for me. With the next two books, I felt like I had much more solid footing in terms of my artistic process. I knew better how long each step of the process takes and I knew what to expect from working with my editors. With Hungry Ghost, I also found a way to integrate more 3-D models into my process which saved me a ton of time!
For the writing process, I originally wrote City of Secrets as a prose novel and then adapted it into a graphic novel, so I changed the process by going straight to a script instead of prose to script. I think that this really helped me to solidify my storytelling because I could work faster and make changes more easily than I could when writing a prose draft.
Q: Some artists like to use strikingly different styles depending on the project while others maintain a more consistent style across their work. Where in this spectrum do you see yourself fitting into and why?
I try to adapt the art style for each piece to fit the audience. My two books City of Secrets and City of Illusion were both done in a scribbly ink style because I wanted it to feel hand-made, but also edgy. Hungry Ghost on the other hand, uses a tight line that gives a more sophisticated feel. I love experimenting with new styles so I hope that every book of mine feels different automatically because of the art.
Q: Sequential art has its own visual grammar and storytelling techniques that are often taken for granted as being “obvious” or “easy” to read even though they’re not things we’re innately able to decipher. What visual storytelling techniques do you find yourself drawn to as a reader of graphic works, to what extent do those overlap with the ones you like to use as a creator?
I’ve been reading comics since middle school so I feel like the visual language of comics is in the marrow of my bones now. A lot of my decisions in terms of paneling are instinctual, and that usually means that other people can also follow the work pretty easily. However I am very drawn to experimental paneling. I love shojo manga that has more of an indescribable feeling than that of more traditional panel to panel comics. I want to incorporate more of that kind of visual storytelling into my future work.
Q: If you could study under any artist, dead or alive, for an intensive training camp, who would you pick and why?
I would want to work with Rumiko Takhashi. She was my first inspiration for getting into comics and I admire the way that she can work in many different genres. She’s someone who draws in a simple way, but is actually a very clever panelist and manages to do some very sophisticated work with clear drawing and good fundamentals.
Q: Hungry Ghost makes use of a limited color palette. What motivated this decision, and how much of the creative control over the coloring process was yours versus the colorist, Lynette Wong’s?
I did the original sample pages with this color scheme. Lynette is an incredible colorist and was able to take very little direction for me and implement this color scheme throughout the book and even adapt it when the story called for it. I wanted a simple and limited color palette because I always feel like these books read more easily to me than full color. I love manga and what they can do with black and white has always been impressive and something I aim for in my own work.
Q: I really love the cover of Hungry Ghost and the story it evokes and encapsulates in one image. What was the process for creating the cover? Did you have any false starts or discarded drafts before you arrived at this, or did you have the vision for the cover as is from the beginning?
I have SO many boring sketches for the cover! I had no ideas and most of it was just Val staring out of a window looking vaguely sad. I was afraid to get too close to the subject matter fearing that it would scare people away from the book. I was eventually inspired when I googled “Hungry Ghost” and saw Ukiyo-e images of a giant skeleton eating people. The imagery struck me and I had the idea of a ribcage with flowers. The spilling effect and trying to hold it all in felt very right once I started sketching. The book is so much about what it feels like to have an invisible mental health condition and trying to hold it all together.
Q: What was the editing process like for Hungry Ghost? How much did it change from script to final form?
I did a few edits with my agent before we went on submission and then after we had chosen our publisher, I went through a major edit with the editorial team. I gave them a draft of a script and we worked together on full script approval before I went to any art. This is my own particular process that I like because when I’m working on the art, I turn off my “writing” brain. I need to have the writing in a solid place before I can make the art because I can’t write and draw at the same time. Overall, the story is very similar to the one that was on submission, but the biggest changes were ones that helped solidify and clarify the relationships and conversations between characters.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of creating Hungry Ghost, and what has been the most rewarding aspect?
I never dreamed that I would write a book that was so personal. It’s not a memoir, but it does borrow heavily from things that happened to me in real life. It was challenging to find the right fictional framework to use for a story like this, but in the end, I found that process to be very rewarding. I was in a hard place when I started writing the book but with a fictional ending and resolution, I could find a way to understand what I was going through.
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About the Author
Victoria Ying is an author and artist living in Los Angeles. She started her career in the arts by falling in love with comic books, which eventually turned into a career working in animation and graphic novels. She loves Japanese curry, putting things in her shopping cart online and taking them out again, and hanging out with her dopey dog. Her film credits include Frozen, Moana, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Paperman. She is the illustrator of the DC Comics graphic novel Diana: Princess of the Amazons and the author and illustrator of her original graphic novels City of Secrets and Hungry Ghost.
Photo Credit: Patrick Laffoon
Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!