Hans Tseng is the creator of the webcomic Directions of Destiny, a tale of the students at the Alatus Institute for Magic, Summoning, Weapons and Technology. Now that sounds like a school that prepares it’s students for the
real fantasy world, not some ivory castle tower! I got a chance to interview Hans by email recently.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name’s Hans. I like being taken to different worlds through the stories I encounter, and I especially enjoy stories that I can personally relate to and that can move me emotionally. When I’m not working on my comics, I tend to be playing video games, or thinking about video games. I tend to not be thinking about my schoolwork, although my grades lately tell me that maybe that’s something I should consider. I have a love affair with fine cuisine, but as for my own cooking skills, they tend to be all over the place. I’m also woefully short, but that’s Okay!
What’s a typical day for you like recently?
I’ve been at Cal State Fullerton for a while now working towards a BFA in Illustration, so most days I’m in class. During class, however, there’s a chance that I may be diligently taking notes and paying attention to the lecture, but more likely I’ve got my comic pages out in a sketchpad as I discreetly draw away while sitting in the back of the room. After class I may do any combination of things that may involve friends, food, and/or video games before I finally sit myself down and resume work on the comic. Homework manages its way in there, somewhere.
Where are you located these days?
Sunny Southern California! In Orange County! (Here, we do not call it "the OC"!)
Do you have another job besides working on comics?
Besides being a student, no. I might go into teaching art in the future.
Do you read other comics? What are you reading online or in print?
I started out reading Japanese comics, but lately I’ve been working my way towards more western work. Online, my favorites are Gunnerkrigg Court and No Rest for the Wicked; in print, I’ve been really enjoying the Scott Pilgrim series lately, and I’m making my way through my friend’s Tintin collection.
Give me the 30 second "convention pitch" for your comic.
Mythical beasts have been attacking the Alatus Institute ever since the arrival of the mysterious new Assistant Headmaster, and it is up to the Student Council members to protect the campus. Luckily for them, the Institute specializes in teaching Magic, Summoning, Weapons and Technology. Azalea, the daughter of the Headmaster, is especially perplexed by these recent events, but her fellow council member Zephan has only one concern on his mind: Azalea’s receiving far more attention than him, which is absolutely unacceptable!
How has the strip evolved over time?
It began as a casual thing I did to dabble in the field of comics, but I’ve since revised the entire comic four times over, hoping to improve the story with each revision. Towards the beginning I tried to rely on my art over my writing, but lately I’ve been giving more critical thought to the latter, especially in terms of the structure of each individual scene up to the structure of the overall story. Many of the story’s themes have developed as I gained my own life experiences as well. Over time my fixation on suits and uniforms may or may not have grown more obtuse.
Do you have a favorite strip or storyline from the comic? Which ones do fans seem to bring up the most?
I get a lot of comments regarding IBKOD, one of the characters’ robotic cat who appears in Section 1.7; but my favorite part of the comic so far is probably Section 1.5, where the main plot is revealed. It’s one of the chapters where I knew exactly how I wanted it to unfold, where I could clearly see the scenes playing out in my head as if it were truly in motion.
Are there any of your characters you’re really fond of? Any that are particularly difficult to use?
It might be very typical of me to say so, but I really like my main characters, Zephan and Azalea, because they’re the ones whose personalities and psyche I’ve explored the most, and therefore understand and can relate to the most. I also have a soft spot in my heart for Xin, because he’s probably the kind of guy whom I’d like to sit down and have coffee with, if he were a real person. (And if I didn’t get all jittery after drinking any caffeinated beverage.) As far as my problem characters go, I sometimes have trouble writing the villains, Douglas and Luka, because it’s hard to make them seem antagonistic when I like them so much!
Do you have any long term goals or ambition for the future of the comic?
I’d like to see the comic reach at least the completion of the first arc, which ends at the eighth volume. Beyond that, if I can take it, I might go the second arc too! But because it’s such a long endeavor, I’d like to work on other comic projects too during the course of my work on Directions of Destiny. Currently I’m updating the comic once a week, but I’d also like to eventually bump that number up.
Any plans for a print collection?
The first seven chapters of the comic is currently collected in the first self-published volume, clocking in at 248 pages, and I plan on collecting later volumes for every seven chapters following. The first volume I currently I sell at various anime conventions across the state, but it is also available to purchase from my site.
How do you go about promoting your work? What seems to be most effective at pulling in new readers?
Besides going to conventions, lately I’ve also been using website advertising such as Project Wonderful to give my comic a boost in exposure, which has been pretty successful, especially when I advertise on websites where I feel the audience is similar. Generally though, I just try to make a good comic so that readers will want to share it with their friends.
Any collectives you’re working with? If so can you tell us about what kinds of things does the collective do and how does it benefit everyone in it?
I’ve been in some anthologies in the past, including a robot-themed anthology called "Disposable Parts," and last year an artbook with a few local artists called "Something Colorful." I’m also a part of the sporadically posted-on Livejournal community Mechanical Penguin where many other webcomic artists in the fantasy genre post their art.
What conventions are your favorites to exhibit at? What advice do you have for others just starting to show their work at conventions?
I think my favorite convention at the moment is Fanime Con, a spring convention in San Jose, CA. The people there are friendly and the area around the convention center itself is very nice and accessible, plus it’s in my own state so I don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on transportation. I also like Anime Expo, because it’s the closest one to me and I’ve been going there for about a decade consecutively now, so it’s sort of like my baby. (Except this year I’m disowning AX, because the Artist Alley was tucked away in the far corner of the convention hall. I’ll MAYBE consider accepting it back into my arms next year if the situation improves.)
My suggestion to people displaying at conventions is to pay attention to the presentation! Since there are so many good artists nowadays, I think it’s very important to have an attractive yet elegant display for your art to make yourself truly stand out.
Do you have a favorite convention story?
Not one favorite in particular, but it tickles me when I see somebody come by my table several times without saying anything before they come by one last time to finally confess that they’re a fan. IT’S SO CUTE!
Of course, that also kind of describes myself when I try to approach artists whom I admire. :[
Do your fans bring you cool things at shows?
There’s a big folder sitting near me containing fan art that my fans have drawn and given to me at conventions, and looking through them makes my heart happy. Some people have expressed their interest at cosplaying my characters for future conventions, so the prospect of seeing that is pretty cool too!
When you create a comic, how do you approach it? Do you start with the words and then think about the scene that should go with it or do you start with more of purely visual approach or none of the above?
I often have various individual scenes brainstormed before I organize them into a script format, and from there I try to play through the scene in my head. When I feel like I’ve got a good grasp of each scene in a chapter, I break down the script by making marks next to the script where I feel one page would end and the next would begin. After I’ve broken down a script for a chapter into 32 pages (I’m very exact about having this number for each chapter), I then move on to thumbnailing the scenes out on paper based on how it played out in my head.
What tools do you use to make comics? Can you give us a brief walkthrough of your process?
After thumbnailing the pages, I sketch them out using blue pencil lead on letter-sized cardstock, ink the art using Micron pens, scan it, and then in Photoshop I add the panel borders, speech bubbles, text, and tones.
Did you do your own website? What software are you using on it?
I use Photoshop for the graphics and text editors (like Notepad or Notepad++) to code the HTML. My website is updated using SixApart’s Movable Type blogging software, so after I have the basic layout coded locally, I paste the code into their template editor and replace stuff with all the necessary tags to make it happen. I’m sure there are easier ways to do this, but I’ve kind of got this irrational obsession with coding HTML, so who’s to argue with the power of inexplicable neuroses?
How would you describe your relationship with your fans? Do you engage in a lot of online interaction with your readers?
I read all their comments, e-mails and guestbook posts with joy and anticipation, but I don’t respond too often because I don’t want to
influence how they interpret the comic, although at times withholding my comments has required a great deal of will power! I have a forum, and although ideally I’d like it to be a bustling mecca of character voting and plot speculation, alas, it has not been very active at all lately.
Did you read comics as a kid? Which ones? What are your influences from comics today?
I didn’t read too many comics as a kid, but…
…I did watch a lot of anime! Truth be told, my favorite series as a child was probably -cough- Sailor Moon -coughcough-, but nowadays I think my top three are The Vision of Escaflowne, Utena, and Princess Tutu (which aren’t really as girly as they sound!). But honestly, more than anime, I think video games have had the greatest influence over my comics; my all-time favorites are Breath of Fire III, Legend of Mana, Final Fantasy VIII, Super Mario RPG, and Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance/Radiant Dawn.
What is it about comics that leads you to pour your creative impulses into that form as opposed to writing or some other art form?
I like drawing and I like telling stories. Comics blend the two together. There’s not much more I can say about that!
Any other creative endeavors you’re working on?
I’ve got some other comic ideas bouncing around in my head, and some ideas for standalone illustrations. I’d like try doing color comics in the near future, so I’ve been playing around with ideas for that as well. I’m also thinking about my professional future, so occasionally I like to brainstorm the possibilities of my own freelance art firm. In the comics class I’m taking this semester at school, we’re doing a sort of anthology project which we plan to self-publish as a class. The workload is kind of breaking the minds of most of my classmates, but nonetheless I’m excited for the finished product, in a very masochistic sort of way?
Anything else you wished I’d asked you about?
You should have asked about my cat! His name is Rupert, he’s a Maine Coon, he’s almost a year old and weighs about 14 pounds, and he’s a classic brown tabby with a white chest and cute white booties! When he gets locked out of a room he sits outside the door meowing relentlessly until he’s let in. When he’s not meowing, he tends to make this trilling sound which I haven’t figured out yet. As of late, he’s taken up the responsibility of acting as my muse.
He’s also potty-trained.