An Interview with pOnju.com's Henry Chiu by Leah Fitzgerald
Henry Chiu, creator and webmaster of Ponju.com, was born in Detroit, moved to California and studied at MIT. He works for a software company and spends what spare time he has on his comics â€“ PiggyHunter! and Chiga & Kaput (completed in 2001). Over the past year and a half, he's seen $22 in returns from his site, and had never heard of fark.com until a side conversation to this interview brought it up.
Comixpedia: So how did you start up pOnju?
Henry Chiu: Well, I used to have this nickname, "pOn ju" which means "fat pig" - more because my head was big than anything else.
And err.. yeah â€“ I'm a little on the chubb-o side. :P So the prices went down on hosting, so I took out the domain name and hostiing account for ponju.com. It really sat around for about a year doing nothing but acting as an email gateway for firstname.lastname@example.org accounts. Then one day a dear friend of mine went away on a trip, and to err.. show her how much I missed her, I drew some comics about a girl and her pig.
CP: So why did you decide to keep going?
HC: Well, I've been drawing less and less as I get older so this is sorta like my last stand from conformity... :P Lovarian Adventures and Fate Martyr Sapphire are really big inspirations for me. They're really what got me into wanting to do a webcomic... and really what kept me going after the first few strips. But yeah, it really did start out as a "welcome back" surprise for my friend. :) I really don't update as much as I should these days... but work just keeps on getting busier and busier.
CP: But you do color pages?
HC: Sometimes. Not all that often. I think my coloring process can be excessively anal; its not the most efficient way to color, but it's hard to mess up too badly using my techniques. I'm really a pencil person â€“ I don't like to ink or color all that much, although I do love the results.
CP: How do you color?
HC: Photoshop â€“ it's a fairly involved process, but the skinny is that I keep every color on a separate layer, so I usually end up with 60-80 layers per file. I have a tutorial on it. The nice thing about having color on separate layers is that you have a lot of control over the tonality, so if you [have] bad color sense like I do... it's easier to correct things.
CP: What influenced you to choose the style for PiggyHunter!?
HC: Well, as most people would say, it's really my own style, but yeah - a lot of inspiration comes from Rumiko Takahashi, Nobuteru Yuuki (Lodoss War, Vision of Escaflowne), that guy who did the original character designs for Bubblegum Crisis (damn I can't remember his name now [EIC's note: the creator's name was Toshimichi Suzuki, the primary character designer's name was Kenichi Sonoda, and the mecha designer's name was Masami Obari]), and Masamune Shirow.
The piggy, er... is my own design. :P
The dragon in Chiga & Kaput is definitely a Lodoss War-inspired dragon. :)
I like to think of Asian-influenced webcomics sort like those old SNES videogames whereas the big media companies here in the US... they were really effective in keeping foreign influences out of US, but it still leaked in via videogames and with webcomics. I think you can see a more accurate reflection of people's preferences... as in what they are into.
CP: What do you think about being called a Manga artist?
HC: A lot of people will get really whiny about being labeled as a "manga-artist" even though really, it is what their style reflects, I really like Korean manhua [EIC's note: Manwhua is Korean for 'comics'] these days â€“ like the actual Ragnarok comic book â€“ that's pretty cool. :)
I know there's a lot of, erm... resentment towards manga. A lot of people like to give it a "all manga is perverted" twist, but to me, the truth is that the old art form will always criticize the new and do their utmost to discredit and destroy it. Well, maybe not THAT much, but there are a lot of print guys who see webcomics as "not legitimate" even though print comics themselves have been struggling for legitmacy since their inception. Webcomics are GREAT, it's just that there's so much less quality control... and really no barriers to entry.
CP: What do you think about the stuff that should have quality control?
HC: It's too late now to implement effective quality control measures. Companies, like Compuserve or AOL historically have been very responsible about content control, which I guess is why their version of "the Internet" never really took off properly.
Whereas the current free-form system we have really has no quality control. I think, and I strongly do think that while you are free to do whatever the heck you want within your sphere of control, AKA your-name.com. EVERYONE who publishes something on the web ought to have an inherent sense of moral responsibility, meaning if it's not appropriate for kids... don't make it easy for them to stumble onto it. I don't have kids but if I ever do â€“ I want to be the one who educates them about sex first, not some random website. Although it's very possible that could happen.
It's the Internet, you can be anyone you want to be, so why not be the person you've always envisioned yourself to be? For me... it's not really so true in real life but here, on the Internet, I've ALWAYS stuck to my guns, ALWAYS done what I felt was RIGHT at the time. I've never done anything I thought compromised my sense of values â€“ on the Internet. In real life, that's not so true â€“ you've got $$$ to worry about, social crap, etc,etc. But here, online... the rules are a bit different, the consequences are a bit different. But underneath everything, it's still really live human people. So yeah â€“ you really do gotta respect everyone.
CP: You have plenty of other stuff on your site besides your comics. Why did you expand so much?
HC: Well, it's all about infrastructure. When you draw a webcomic â€“ it's all you. You stop updating, then people stop coming. I decided that I wanted the website to be first and the webcomic [would] contribute to the website as opposed to the other way around. That reduces the dependency on my webcomic for traffic, and allows me to create as opposed to update.
CP: How do you like running all those forums?
HC: It's not too bad. We've always been really lucky about the caliber of people who come by. We have a really good bunch of people. And I say "we," because I really do get a lot of help from friends I've met online.
CP: How do you like oekaki?
HC: Sheesh, that's nothing new. Everyone and their dog has oekaki these days. I used to run a paintchat server â€“ I still plan to bring that back up, but I've been having software compatibility issues recently, and that thing sucked up around $13 worth of electricity every month, too (I ran it from home). The best place to look at oekaki is oekakicentral.com. There's some really amazing stuff there, practically photorealistic/publishing quality works. It's kinda cool to see people "get better" over time, though. Some people improve at a frighteningly good rate. I originally saw it on verunne.net, which is run by the very talented Clio Chang, and she graciously pointed me towards the install software for it. I'd say oekaki is part of webcomic culture. I really don't see it as being all that special, to be honest, but it's a fun thing and definitely a bandwidth-sucker.
CP: Why did you start with pigs?
HC: My friend that I drew the comic for (yeah, she's my ex :P ) really likes pigs and pigs are really cute... and smart too! :) Well, while they are young at any rate. :P But [drawing] pigs is really somewhat recent â€“ I drew dragons before, and before that I drew horses a lot.
It's really weird. Very few people really bring up the Pokemon issue even though there are some fairly obvious parallels. I'd like to say that my ideas are completely original but I'm sure there's some level of subconscious inspiration going on. I've been watching Pokemon since they premiered the first English episode on UPN 4 or 5 years ago. :) Although I really don't keep up with it all that much these days. My favorite Pokemon is Bulbasaur, who incidentally happens to be a tentacle monster, but he's really cute. :)
CP: I've never understood the whole tentacle monster thing.
HC: Me neither. I think it's easier to draw tentacles than a penis with an entire human body attached to it.
CP: Definitely. No worries of body position.
HC: Yeah, you know how it is: draw one person â€“ not too hard. Draw two people next to each other, in proportion and interacting â€“ orders of magnitude more involved.
CP: Do you think there is any money in webcomics?
HC: Quite honestly? I don't think there's really any $$$ in it. I mean, print comics are such a small market already, and online people really expect everything for free. I don't really see the trend reversing towards people paying for stuff. Sure, some people are making decent money, but no one's a millionaire or anything. It's sorta why I work full time, myself. I like to say on the forum, "The only ads we run are yours!" It has a nice ring to it.