I met Kristen at New York City Comic Con in 2016. I was very anxious about being at such a large event, and she was the first artist in Artist Alley that looked up and said hello with a smile. I immediately went over to her. We chatted for a bit, and I walked away with the first two issues of Henchgirl, the comic she writes and draws, and a reminder to come back and pick up a commission she was going to make me. When I returned, there was a loooong line to get to her. I chatted up a guy in line and he said her comic was brilliant. Now I was more excited than ever to start this series when I got home. That’s when I learned two issues was not enough. When I ran into Kristen at Emerald City Comic Con this past March, I knew I had to scoop up the rest of the issues as well as share her story for Geek Girl Boss. Lucky for
me us she released a hardcover collection of Henchgirl available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Q: Origin story time – what were you doing before and what led you to this?
A: I was working a regular 9-to-5 in an office, and it was a pretty good job, but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled creatively. I started working on Henchgirl, and it’s been a pretty straight trajectory from there: I published it online as a webcomic, then once I had a few issues done, I printed some copies on demand from Ka-Blam and tried my hand at the local comic conventions. I fared somewhat well, despite no one having heard of Henchgirl and the shaky art of my self-published Issue 1 (I later redrew it completely!). So I kept at it. Sometimes I’d hear back from an enthused reader. At New York Comic Con I met an art director from Hachette, who liked my style and thought I’d be a good fit for a series with the amazing Jen Calonita. So I was hired to illustrate a kids’ series called VIP, along with an original graphic novel from Kyle Gnepper called Toolbox. It was too much work to balance with my old job, and I’d felt somewhat stagnant, so I made a very scary decision about two and a half years ago and became a full-time artist/writer. It worked out (for now, haha)– and gave me more time to work and build connections, leading to more work.
Q: What resources and tools helped you grow as a writer/artist? (i.e. Self-learning, school, books, mentors) What would you recommend?
A: I took some comic classes at the Art Students League of New York, which provided a great foundation, in terms of what supplies I should use, and how to ink a comic, but also in terms of constructing interesting composition, getting information across… it was very helpful. In college, I had a professor, Faye Moskowitz, whose creative writing class was a highlight of my scholastic experience. She not only gave me a lot of guidance and advice about life and writing but also directed me toward a lot of my favorite stories (for instance, “How to Become a Writer” by Lorrie Moore and “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather).
Then there have been other resources, like local Drink & Draws, where you can get a few hours of figure study in. But the biggest tool is probably reading, watching movies and TV, and just taking in other people’s fictions.
Q: Can you name a time a mistake has led you to success?
A: Sometimes I find new keyboard shortcuts in Photoshop from clicking the wrong key.
Q: Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night.
A: Well, in comics the “challenge that keeps you up at night” is deadlines! I’ll frequently work around the clock to finish my work on time, or even just because it’s fun. But in all seriousness, probably the lack of structure. Working on a freelance basis means you don’t necessarily get paid every two weeks.
Q: Time management – how do you fit it all in?
A: I’m actually really enthusiastic about time management and productivity. I love Todoist, which is just a nice, streamlined To Do List app. I find it so rewarding to check something off my list. Productive is a good app for structuring your day and building daily habits (although I’d say start small), and Pomodoro (or the Pomodoro technique) is a handy way to get through difficult work.
Q: In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
A: I am an expert at blocking things away, so after a bit of wallowing, I just put them in a little box in my head and don’t look into the box.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out?
A: I would have told myself to apply myself a little more, and to take it seriously. I started Henchgirl without any hope of it becoming successful, so I didn’t really try to do comics seriously for a good long while.
Q: What are some key personality traits needed to do what you do?
A: If you’re self-employed, you need to be a self-starter, otherwise you won’t do the work and whatever project you’re attempting will languish. Being organized would be an excellent personality trait to have. But clearly it’s not necessary, or I’d be in trouble.
Q: If you were given $100 million, would you run things any differently? How so?
A: I’m not an entrepreneur like many of your interviewees so I would run things from my castle, where I would be basically doing what I do all day anyway– drawing, writing, making comics!
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Next up I’m working on a project with Scholastic! It’s a graphic novel that I’m writing and drawing, and it should be out next year.
Kristen is a great example of someone who had a side project that morphed into the thing they wanted to do all along. What’s the one thing you want to do but life and lack of resources have gotten in the way? What are little tweaks you can make in your daily life to make this a reality? Let us know in the comments below.
For more info on Kristen, Henchgirl, and her other projects check out the following links: