Spotlight

Androids, Sheep and Existential Crisis – Now Recharging

Maiji/Mary Huang is a happy little squirrel and also a Taiwanese-Canadian artist and writer based out of Toronto. Her work incorporates themes of Eastern philosophy and mythology and everyday human experiences. She is the creator of the webcomic Now Recharging.

Synopsis: Emmie’s world might sound familiar. It’s a place where hopes and dreams constantly collide with the ups and downs of daily life, from job interviews (scary!!) to routine chores like groceries and laundry. Except Emmie is a robot – a sheep-loving android who is bad at math and worried about nonexistence. Even the ordinary is an adventure!

Is your comic available in any other languages? If so, what language(s)?
Some text-only translations are available for early parts of the comic – Chapters 0 and 1 in Japanese (downloadable PDF), and part of Chapter 0 in German (Tumblr). You can find links on the About page! http://nowrecharging.com/about/

Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
I’m technically self-taught, but I feel odd using the term, as if I existed in a bubble or something. I’ve always had many teachers through books and comics. My parents had a manga rental store in Taiwan, and I was literally crawling all over shelves of manga before I could read them.

What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
Slice-of-life. I love observing people and things, and slice-of-life exemplifies that. It’s like travelling somewhere and, instead of rushing from one scheduled tourist site to another, simply wandering. You slowly explore the neighbourhoods, get a deep feel for the personality of the place, absorb its daily ebb and flow, and come away feeling as if you’ve lived there.

Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
Science fiction, philosophical, heartwarming/cute!

What was your inspiration for the story?
I’ve been an existential fretter since childhood. You know – what is life, what’s the meaning of life, what’s existence, ultimate reality, all those fun questions. Usually I manage to keep it more intellectual than something that hits me at a raw, emotional level, but I had a particularly intense bout of the latter in 2015.

One day during this period, I was lying in bed when the analogy of feeling like a robot mimicking the emotions and actions of a human came to mind. I followed the train of thought and it became Emmie the android: an anxious little non-binary robot hugging a stuffed sheep. They’re not designed for any purpose in particular, and they don’t fully understand how everything works and their place in it, but they’re trying their best. The rest of Now Recharging grew around that. It’s an attempt to express and address some of my biggest fears, and also share things I care about, in a gentle, amusing and comforting way.

Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
There are so many, and I discover new inspirations all the time! Off the top of my head, these are a few creators whose works I find timeless, and who have in various ways influenced how I approach a comic or story like Now Recharging: Osamu Tezuka; Yoshihiro Togashi (Yu Yu Hakusho was a formative series for me); Isaac Asimov (in particular, his short robot stories); Mary Oliver; Kobayashi Issa.

How long does it take you to complete one page?
I’m not sure because I rarely work on just one page at a time these days. It seems to take about 3 weeks to finish 8-13 pages, going from thumbnail sketches to ready-to-post image files. Within this time period, comics work is also being juggled around my full-time (non-art) job and other art projects and commitments.

What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
Ideas come whenever they come, and I jot them down wherever I can – in a sketchbook, on a random scrap of paper, on my phone, and so on. When I have time, I compile them into a Google doc, which is an assemblage of point-form notes, dialogue, and brief descriptions so that I hopefully don’t forget what I wanted to do. I continue tweaking and cleaning it up over time, and gradually things get fleshed out into something more coherent and script-like. The notes turn into scenes and they get broken up into chapters, pages, etc. as it makes sense.

As I progress to a section or chunk of pages, I sketch very rough thumbnails. As I thumbnail, I may repaginate and reorder/update the script as well. Once I’m fairly satisfied the pagination and paneling are feasible, I start drawing the actual pages with more detailed pencil lines. Next, I ink with a brush pen, including panels and speech bubbles. After that, I paint the pages with watercolour.

After the watercolours are dried and flattened, I scan and edit the pages. This includes stitching together and cleaning the scans, colour retouching and fixing any mistakes I didn’t catch until now, and adding text. There may still be fine-tuning of the dialogue all the way to the posting of the finished page.

Is your comic a finished work? If not, how long do you think you think it’s going to be when it’s complete? Is there a definitive ending or will you just keep going for as long as possible?
Lengthwise, whatever feels natural, or if I get tired of working on it one day, I suppose. With slice-of-life, there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of how one might get from point A to B. I do have a sort-of conclusion in mind, but it’s very vague right now, like a hazy picture in the distance that I haven’t made out all the details of yet.

How many pages do you have complete at the moment?
Over 500.

How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
Not very long. Between conceiving Emmie and the actual posting of the first page, it was about 1 month. This means any “planning” was days or weeks overlapping with the creation of the first few pages. I should note that this isn’t typical for me; it’s pretty unique to this particular project!

What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making of your comic? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
I’d probably say, “Keep doing what you’re doing. It’ll come together.” Before Now Recharging, all the comics I had drawn were short one-shots. (Though Now Recharging technically started with the framework of being mostly self-contained chapters too.) I’d never been able to pull off a longer narrative story, I didn’t think I had the sort of discipline needed for a webcomic, and most of all I had doubts about my own ability to create characters I felt emotionally attached to.

With Now Recharging, at first I was mainly curious to see if I could even keep up the interest and effort. The world-building upfront was quite minimal. I tried to figure out the minimum to make it work and feel “real enough” at any given point, then figure out the rest on an as-needed basis. It’s been growing organically since.

What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
Imagining the interactions between the characters!

What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
Haha, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing as “the most difficult”. But I guess one that stands out at the moment is managing my own expectations around things being “good enough”. By that, I mean not spiralling down tunnels of obsessive research and nitpicking things to the umpteenth degree, trying to polish everything to perfection. Which, as we all know, is impossible. At a certain point, good enough actually is good enough, and if I can’t move on nothing will ever get done.

Overcoming this involves a variety of strategies. This includes: taking a break to give myself some much-needed distance and perspective; getting feedback from people I trust to make sure my approach has been thoughtful and reasonable; and being realistic about what I can do and what my priorities are.

Also, remembering that other creators – including those with decades of experience – run into the same kinds of issues helps a lot with getting over it! I used to panic about every error or oversight I made, every mistake I caught or didn’t catch. Now, with more experience, I get less worked up about it, and it’s easier to let go because I know it’s not the end of the world. Most days.

Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
I don’t! I really do love them all. This is amazing to me because, as mentioned earlier, I previously struggled a lot to create characters I cared about. One thing I’ve learned is that seeing the relationships a character has with other characters brings them to life.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
Maybe the laundrybots. They look pretty much the same aside from their numbering, and definitely seem interchangeable when you first meet them. But I try to give them little nuances in speech and reactions to help differentiate them.

Do you have a favorite character to draw?
I enjoy drawing everyone, but Emmie is definitely the easiest! They have such an expressive face for all sorts of fun reactions, and their long fluffy hair makes it very easy to cover up mistakes. Drawing them is low-pressure.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
Morio probably gives me the hardest time. His design has no significant flourishes, so if I make a mistake there’s nothing to hide behind. I also have a hard time keeping him consistent. Actually, I have a hard time with consistency in general, but it feels particularly noticeable for him.

Where can we find you?
My main site: humangray.com
Webcomic: NowRecharging.com
I’m currently most active on Instagram, Pillowfort and Tumblr… and I usually remember to post comic updates on Twitter!
https://www.instagram.com/humangray/
https://www.pillowfort.social/maiji
https://maiji.tumblr.com/
https://twitter.com/maiji

You can also find me on Ko-fi! https://ko-fi.com/maiji

Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
Now Recharging is meant to be enjoyed as a story, but it also seeks to help raise awareness of topics that are important to me. This includes things like asexuality and asexual relationships; being able to talk about death and dying in everyday life; and helping more people understand what palliative care is and why it’s relevant to all of us.

In the case of the latter two, the website [http://nowrecharging.com/resources/] includes links to various resources I’ve come across in my research and personal experience. There’s also a little educational comic about palliative care basics that you can print out and colour! [http://nowrecharging.com/2019/12/16/what-is-palliative-care/]

Thank you very much for this opportunity to share my work and thoughts with you! ♥