Creators On Bringing 'Hello Kitty' To Comics [INTERVIEW]

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As big as the Hello Kitty franchise is, there’s never been a Hello Kitty comic book . . . until now. VIZ Media came out with the “Hello Kitty: Fashion Music Wonderland” SDCC exclusive comic book over the summer, and the first official Hello Kitty comic release, “Hello Kitty: Here We Go!” comes out in October. A second edition of “Fashion Music Wonderland” comes out in November (the cover will be different, but the content the same), and the volumes “Delicious!” and “Surprise!” will follow.

To get this going, VIZ hired several talented writers and artists and MTV Geek spoke with three of them. Jacob Chabot, whose “Mighty Skullboy Army” is published by Dark Horse and who’s illustrated VIZ Media’s “Voltron Force: Shelter from the Storm” and “Voltron Force: True Colors,” told MTV Geek about working on the franchise, what to expect from it, and if he’s a hero to little girls. Ian McGinty, who works on VIZ’s “Uglydoll” and KaBOOM’s “Adventure Time: Candy Capers,” talked about breaking into comics, writing and drawing for Hello Kitty, and the big surprise of Hello Kitty’s boyfriend. Stephanie Buscema, who’s been working on IDW’s “My Little Pony” and Dynamite’s “Red Sonja,” spoke about being a long-time Hello Kitty fan and her work as a Hello Kitty guest artist.

First up is Jacob Chabot!

MTV GEEK: What’s it like working on a franchise as well known as Hello Kitty?

JACOB CHABOT: It’s a little intimidating, because everywhere you go there’s Hello Kitty stuff. I feel like I have to keep it looking like that, because I don’t want anyone to be disappointed.

GEEK: When you think about it, it’s pretty surprising that there hasn’t been a Hello Kitty comic before.

CHABOT: Yeah, I was really surprised to hear that.

GEEK: Do you know the back story of why it was decided now was the right time to make a comic?

CHABOT: If I had to guess, it’s because comics for kids, and especially comics for little girls, are becoming more and more popular. It’s not so taboo or considered impossible to sell. VIZ deals a lot with Japanese materials, so it probably seemed like a really good fit. They’ve been acquiring licenses and that seemed like a good one to get.

GEEK: Why did you decide to do an Alice in Wonderland story for “Fashion Music Wonderland”?

CHABOT: That was a weird project, where they had a new Hello Kitty doll design coming out where she had ponytails and everything. And it turned into the “Fashion Music Wonderland” book. And with that name came stories about clothes, music and Alice in Wonderland. The title was given to me — it already existed. It was a different version of Hello Kitty.

GEEK: The comics are mostly done through visuals and not words. Is it challenging to write a comic without dialogue, or does that make it easier?

CHABOT: It’s especially challenging to write a comic without dialogue with characters that don’t have mouths! Especially when you’re dealing with short stories and you don’t have a lot of space. You use a lot of panels to convey abstract things. You have to really keep the story simple, and convey a lot of emotions with body language and the eyes.

GEEK: What do we have to look forward to with Hello Kitty?

CHABOT: There are at least three volumes of the regular series planned. I’d be surprised if they don’t do more. I think it will be pretty successful. The first book has to do with travel and is all about Hello Kitty going to different lands. The second book is “Hello Kitty: Delicious!” and it’s about food, and the third volume is called “Surprise!” The “Fashion Music Wonderland” was a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive. It was a one-shot special for this new Hello Kitty design. I wrote and drew stuff for volume one and volume two, and in volume three I illustrated a story. The first three volumes follow the same design as “Fashion Music Wonderland” without dialogue, but it’s regular Hello Kitty verses fancy Hello Kitty.

There’s three different artists per book, and me and one other guy do the bulk of it. Then there’s always a third guest artist, and their art can be really off-model. They can get pretty artistic, whereas the two main guys stick with the usual look.

GEEK: Can you tell us about what else you’re working on?

CHABOT: Besides all that Hello Kitty stuff? I do SpongeBob comics on a pretty regular basis, and my own comic, “Mighty Skullboy Army,” from Dark Horse. SpongeBob comes out pretty much monthly, and “Mighty Skullboy Army” comes out sporadically.

GEEK: When I saw you at the American Library Association conference in Chicago, it looked like you were mostly signing Hello Kitty posters for little girls. Are you a hero to little girls now?

CHABOT: I don’t know [laughs]. I think with eight-year-old little girls, they’re more excited with the Hello Kitty things than with the person who draws Hello Kitty.

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Next we talked with Ian McGinty!

GEEK: What’s it like working on a big franchise like Hello Kitty?

MCGINTY: Oh, wow. That’s a big question. It’s interesting because it’s hard for me, as a freelance comic book artist. Every single day I’m pretty much sitting at my drawing table pumping out pretty-looking pictures and funny stories. And then to think I’m working on Hello Kitty, which has been around since the 1970s? And this is her first comic book, so it’s a pretty overwhelming thing to think about.

GEEK: How did you get involved with the project?

MCGINTY: I went to Savannah College of Art and Design as a graduate program through their sequential art program, and I think there are only two or three colleges who have a legit program for graphic novels. They have an event here every year called Editor’s Day. They fly down ten or twelve major editors from major comic book places. It’s a two-day thing where students get personal time with editors to show their work and get editorial reviews and just talk with them. I met pretty much all my contacts through there, showing up every year. I met Traci Todd, who is editor of VIZ Kids, who’s putting out “Hello Kitty,” and she seemed to like my stuff. She contacted me about doing the “Uglydoll” series, doing an audition. They ended up liking my audition and it snowballed. Traci said, “Would you like to audition for the ‘Hello Kitty’ series we’re doing?” And it’s been really fun.

GEEK: What’s something you know about Hello Kitty that you didn’t know before?

MCGINTY: I had no idea she had a boyfriend, and I had no idea he was also English. I knew there were other characters in the Hello Kitty brand, but I didn’t know they got that specific, like, “Hello Kitty has a boyfriend. His name is Dear Daniel and he’s British and this is how he acts and these are his manners.” That was mind-blowing to me.

GEEK: Is it challenging to draw comics where so much of the story depends on the art, because there aren’t words?

MCGINTY: You know what? It depends. I had a really hard time when I wasn’t writing the stories myself. But with the last book, since I was writing it all myself, it was easier. I actually find it a little bit easier to do when you don’t have specific words. I have fun in the challenge of getting these really simple characters — Hello Kitty’s almost literally two circles with eyes and whiskers and stuff — and get expressions from her and her other characters. It’s challenging, but it was also a blast.

GEEK: What’s it like both writing and drawing Hello Kitty?

MCGINTY: Writing it was a lot easier because I didn’t have to go through another person to say, “Well, what exactly did you mean here?” I just go right to me. I sort of wrote the stories out after the fact, after I figured out what I wanted to do with it, and I wanted to make sure I could convey the emotion. From there I kind of wrote about the specifics of what would happen. I like writing just as much as I like drawing.

With “Fashion Music Wonderland,” I just did the art for a story. I had nothing to do with “Hello Kitty: Here We Go!” but I was just an artist in “Hello Kitty: Delicious!” and I wrote and drew in “Hello Kitty: Surprise!”

GEEK: Can you tell us about what else you’re working on?

MCGINTY: “Hello Kitty” just wrapped up, and I’m about to finish the fourth “Uglydoll” book. “Uglydoll” is kind of like “Hello Kitty,” because it’s a toy brand that’s branching out into other things, like comics. The people who are into it are really dedicated. When they learn I’m working on an “Uglydoll” book, they’re passionate.

I’m also working for KaBOOM — that’s BOOM! Studios’ kid brand — and I’m doing an “Adventure Time” miniseries for them called “Candy Capers,” which is pretty great. I’m not writing that, but I’m drawing it. I’m also wrapping up a digital-only series for Zenescope called “Suckers.” It’s a vampire comedy that’s oriented for adults. It’s about two vampires who get into these [laughs] weird situations. Next year I will have my own book, “CHOMP!” coming out through Top Shelf. A lot of stuff’s going on!

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Last we spoke with Stephanie Buscema!

GEEK: I’m told you’re a big Hello Kitty fan! Can you tell more?

BUSCEMA: I grew up with her. She was one of the first characters I was into outside of cartoons and comics. I was drawn to the graphic style and the look of Hello Kitty. I was obsessed with Hello Kitty: Hello Kitty toys, Hello Kitty bedroom stuff, anything you can name. I love the character, and other Sanrio characters, too, especially Tuxedo Sam and a lot of the earlier Sanrio properties.

Whenever I’m around Times Square, I’m still dipping into the Sanrio store, picking up things here and there. I’m really excited to be part of the project and I want to see what the other artists and writers have come up with. I only did little one page gags for “Hello Kitty: Delicious!,” but I’d love to see the longer stories. It’s going to be something for everyone. I’m in my thirties and I’m stoked about it. I have some little ones in my family who will be stoked about it, too.

GEEK: How did you become a guest artist for Hello Kitty?

BUSCEMA: The editor wrote me an email, saying, “I think your style would fit the book.” That was it for me. At first I didn’t know what the project would be. I had to sign a disclosure agreement and they said they had an iconic character, but I didn’t know who. I had to sign paperwork, and they came back to me, saying, “It’s Sanrio properties” and I pretty much lost my mind!

GEEK: How did you get creative with Hello Kitty art?

BUSCEMA: It was really interesting because there’s no dialogue. I did a few one page gags that are self-explanatory, with Hello Kitty and her friends. I was kind of just thinking about her like a silent movie. Very simple, very fun. I paint everything by hand, so that was a challenge working with her.

GEEK: What else have you been working on?

BUSCEMA: I’ve been working on a lot of different licensed properties. The majority of my painting work and illustration work is for comic book covers, picture books and a lot of gallery shows. As far as comics go, I’ve been working on comics for “My Little Pony,” “Adventure Time,” Archie Comics, “Red Sonja” and “PowerPuff Girls.” I have a lot of fun interpreting characters my way.

GEEK: Where would you like to see Hello Kitty go in future comics?

BUSCEMA: She kind of fits everywhere, right? I would love to see Hello Kitty horror comics. I would be so stoked to see monster-horror Hello Kitty craziness. Like a Halloween Hello Kitty? Sanrio was making these really cute Halloween Hello Kitties for a while and I was picking them up like crazy.