Interview with Joyce Chin, Part 1

Joyce Chin has been working in comics for over 20 years. Starting at DC, she has gone on to work for Marvel, Dark Horse, Top Cow, Dynamite Entertainment and others. Over the years, she has worked as a penciller and cover artist. I sat down with Joyce at her table in artist alley at Phoenix Comicon 2016. We chatted about how she got started in comics, what she loves about comics, the obligatory women in comics panel and more.  This is part one in a two part series.

What was the first thing that got you headed down the path of drawing and writing comics?

I always read comics. I think I was the only girl I knew that really read comics in school, and I didn’t even know that many boys who read comics. I just really liked comics. I got the idea in my head that I would like to draw comics for a living because I didn’t want a boss. You do have a boss in comics but they’re often thousands of miles away and over the phone or over the internet.

My first jobs were at DC Comics. I did Guy Gardener: Warrior, and a Green Lantern story, and Legion, and fill-in pages for Supergirl. I think the one page Supergirl is the very first thing I did professionally. There was a lot of lead-up, a lot of craziness that happened before that. But the short version is that my first job was at DC. I didn’t work for any indie comics. I didn’t do any smaller publishers — just DC.

Thor by Joyce Chin

Thor by Joyce Chin

Were you also always into drawing?

I loved drawing, but I mostly drew animals up until about sophomore year in high school when everybody wanted me to do the stupid spirit posters. I had to force myself to draw people. Even now, as a cover artist, I always manage to work animals in. I just did a Thor cover. I wound up putting a Pegasus in the background, which is not in the story, but I sent it in as a cover sketch and they wanted the horse!

You’re self-trained then?

I never went to school for art unless you count high school art courses. I’ve have no real formal training. For comics, you kind of don’t need it. I talked to people who did comics and I was around a lot of people who did comics. I learned a lot from other people and through observation.

Who were the artists that spoke to you the most?

It was everybody. I came to comics in an odd way. I followed characters; not artists nor writers. The idea that any writer or artist was famous was very hilarious to me. Basically when I was a kid, I loved Spiderman. I would read everything Spiderman. Everything Daredevil, all the X-Men, New Mutants.  I didn’t care who was drawing it and I didn’t care who was writing it. My brain works differently. I’m friends with Bruce Timm, and I was telling him all this, how I didn’t really care about artists or writers. And he’s like, you’re not one of us, are you? I’m like, not really, no.

As a Spiderman fan, was there ever a writer for Spiderman that turned you off?

Yeah, I had that with Secret Wars. When Spiderman beat all the X-Men by himself. I was so pissed off because I loved Spiderman and I loved the X-Men. You have a telepath and somebody who can throw lightning. There’s no way Spiderman could win! That was my sort of geek rage and fan rage moment when I read that book. I also have a copy of Spiderman and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. I got that from like Mile High Comics mail order just because it had Spiderman. 

Being such a character-driven person, who are a couple of characters that you haven’t the opportunity to work on yet that you really want to work on?

When I came into comics, I really loved – and even though I was a die-hard Marvel girl – I loved how wretched and vile Lobo was. Just this disgusting, horrible completely the worst human being alive! I thought he was great. So at some point, I’d like to draw Lobo.

Cover by Joyce Chin

Cover by Joyce Chin

Elektra. I love Elektra.

Yeah. Elektra’s really cool. I did get to draw Elektra already, though. I did a Spiderman annual with Spiderman and Elektra. I was hoping it would be crazy with ninjas all over New York. But, no, it was actually about 1940s boxing. Michael Golden was the one who called me to do that. I had just come off of Xena and I’m thinking, Michael Golden’s asking me to draw Spiderman. YES! And he’s a great guy. We’re friends now to this day. He’s a good editor and a fun guy. And an amazing artist.

You have done a lot of female-lead titles. Is that by choice?

I love doing them, but I think people are just so happy to have a female artist they think, let’s have her do a female book. I’m happy to draw anything, really. Maybe not Transformers, but for the most part, anything. Many of the characters I loved growing up were male. I’m pretty gender neutral as far as what I prefer [to work on]. But yes, I get to draw a lot of female books.

It’s funny because now I get – can you draw Thor? Yay, Thor’s a girl. Can you draw Wolverine? Yay, Wolverine’s a girl. Right now I’m doing all these characters that are gender-swapped. They’re great, and they’re powerful, and the stories are amazing. But It’s not what I grew up with. I did a Ms. Marvel cover, and Ms. Marvel’s now Muslim. Captain America was on the cover, but it was with Sam Wilson. And Thor was on the cover, but it was the female Thor. I thought it was hysterical.

We’ve come a long way, baby…

Exactly. I just did a panel of women, the obligatory women in comics panel that I have to do it every comic convention — it’s either diversity or women in comics. That’s always the panels I get stuck on. So many people who don’t read comics are mad about the diversity issue in comics. I don’t just draw old white guys, or young white guys, or whatever. When I say that I just drew a cover with a lot of diversity people always seem surprised. My response is, why aren’t you paying attention if you’re going to be mad? But doing these diversity or women in comics panels, there are so many people who just go to be outraged without actually knowing what’s going on.

Does it feel trite to tell stories about being a woman in comics at this point?  You’re not just a woman in comics, right? You’re a comic artist, period.

I’ve got a lot of crazy stories and I should be able to tell them. I think you should be able to tell the whole story, not just one facet. It’s weird and it’s complex. I’ve obviously sort of had a weird trajectory because of things that were gender-based in comics. But for the most part, I’m working, and I’m pretty happy with where I am right now. I’ve been really thrilled over the years. We went from having no women at cons to about probably 40% at every con I go to. And lots of women are now involved, doing articles, and blogs, and there are lots of female editors, tons of female writers, tons of female artists. It’s such a multi-layered, much more diverse group of people who are doing the creating now. It’s fantastic!

The offending outfit from Captain America: Civil War.

The offending outfit from Captain America: Civil War.

I’ve always felt strongly that if women are really going to go for that concept of equality, that means we all get to be whatever we are.

What we want to be, right! You don’t have to be defined by something. At the panel that I just did, somebody was super upset that Scarlet Witch, in the Civil War movie, had her cleavage showing. The woman was very upset. Part of me thought, you know they were filming in Atlanta in the summer, right? I know a girl who was on that [film] as a costumer. She said they were having to call cut because the actors were about to pass out from the heat. So in fact the boob cleavage, that was just the costume, was more helpful than say, the Ant Man costume. That costume was the muscle shirt underneath the foam-muscle layer, and then the costume, and then the armor on top of the costume, and then the hood, and then the helmet, and then the mouthpiece. In Atlanta. In the summer. Plus, why shouldn’t Scarlet Witch be able to show her cleavage? Why is that not okay anymore?

Or when Supergirl came out, there were complaints online because she was showing a bit of thigh. Oh, that’s obviously to cater to the man’s gaze. What if she just wanted to wear a damn skirt? She should be able to [wear a skirt] without saying that she’s this, or that, or that she’s failing other women.

Our conversation continues in part II with discussions of female sexuality, the relativity of fame and her advice to people wanting to get into the business.