Five questions with Jo Chen

As an accomplished cover artist, Jo Chen‘s work is the first thing readers see when picking up issues of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 among other titles. But Chen, who has been working in the comic book industry since she was a teenager, has also created video game box art as well as her own comics (most notably The Other Side of the Mirror, published in the U.S. by Tokyopop) and more.

Chen will be appearing at Baltimore Comic-Con on Oct. 10-11 and was awesome enough to answer my questions about her work through e-mail.

Comicsgirl: You’re probably best known for your covers for Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 series, a comic that seems to have brought in a lot of readers who probably weren’t comic fans before. How much responsibility do you feel to the fans of the TV series?

Jo Chen: Well the responsibility really flows down from Joss thru Scott Allie and Dark Horse to Georges, Karl and me. My part of that responsibility is to ensure that the covers are recognizable enough and compelling enough to entice the fans of the TV series, who are not necessarily comic book readers, to slip between the covers of an issue and take the ride. My guess is that the fans of the show know the characters (and the actors that portray them) and their voices so well and simply project those things onto the pages while reading. As a result, they accept that the books are indeed an extension of the television series. It’s hard not to do. So, to get people to trust/take a chance on the books is part of my job with the cover art.

CG: I love the glimpse into your creative process that you offered with your tutorial on Dark Horse’s site. While I’m sure it varies from project to project, what kind of direction are you initially given for each cover? How much freedom do you have?

JC: It depends. Most of the time, the writer of the arc, Joss or the Dark Horse editors, who already know what is in the script before I do, have definite ideas about what elements he/she/they want to see on the cover and I work to create that within that framework. It’s easy enough to ask for people drinking yak butter tea on top of a submarine that is wedged on in mountain peak with beasties roaming the grasslands underneath and another to attempt to work in all of those elements into a sound and attractive composition while still keeping the players recognizable. Whew! So, that is where my skills as an illustrator enter the picture (composition).

Conversely, there are instances when whatever is being asked for just doesn’t work. Sometimes, it’s too many elements to include; sometimes it’s the angle, etc. When this happens, I communicate that the idea isn’t working and that the concept needs to be modified or rethought entirely. That happened on one of my Runaways covers. It was a cover to feature Cloak & Dagger (Runaways #9) in a kind of split screen thing with Cloak on one side and Dagger on the other. The finished cover simply didn’t look right and I told them that it would be better to just have Cloak with the NYC skyline in the background. I can’t recall if this has happened on any of the Buffy covers. I think it has but I can’t recall right now which one.

CG: You’ve been in the comic industry for a number of years, both in the U.S. and Asia. What changes have you noticed since you first started?

JC: Not too many. I’m not really an industry-observer. Oh, I mean I hear when Disney acquires Marvel and things like that but I really don’t keep an ear to the ground for details of what is hot, what is now out of favor, what changes are afoot. I’m more acquainted with what is happening in Taiwan because there are fewer players and many of my closest friends still work and struggle there so I hear more. Sorry, that is a lame answer but there it is.

CG: While you’re probably best known for your covers, you have created your own comic, The Other Side of the Mirror. Do you have any more plans for your own comics in the future?

JC: Sure. As I’ve stated previously elsewhere, I love doing interiors and telling stories. It’s just that it is so time consuming that with kids and the workload I currently have, I can’t even entertain the idea of creating interiors for an ongoing series. The Buffy short “Always Darkest” was me getting to put my toes back into the water and splash around a little It felt good to do and I’m glad that it came off as well as it did. I will state that after its publication, I did receive an increased number of email messages suggesting that I should draw a Buffy one-shot from cover to cover and while that is both intriguing and flattering, it is simply too much work for me at the moment. I must sound like such a wimp given the crushing monthly deadlines met by Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline, Adam Warren and other interior artists I know and have worked with. But for me, right now, I simply cannot consider it. When I do venture into panel territory, it is to create some short story interiors for myself and friends’ doujin. That helps keep the rust scraped off.

CG: Is there anyone at Baltimore Comic-Con that you’re looking forward to meeting?

JC: Well, I hope to meet with Scott Allie who will be there and with C.B. Cebulski who may or may not be there. Both are editors/former editors and people I consider friends. I don’t get to cross paths with them very often in person so it’s nice to see them. As far as others whom I’ve not met or whose work I like, there are many on the list. So, when I get a break from my table, I will be moseying up and down the aisles like everybody else rubbernecking at great artwork.

See Jo Chen at Baltimore Comic-Con on Oct. 10-11. On Oct. 10, she will be apart of the Dark Horse Comics Buffy Season 8 Panel at 2:30 p.m. On Oct. 11, hear her discuss her work during Spotlight on Jo Chen at 12:30 p.m.

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