The Indie Index – Interview with Jess Cate & Jana Hoffmann
The Indie Index has interviewed a handful of creators and we’re looking to interview asmany female comic creators as possible. People started recommending extremely talented female creators by the masses. Here’s an interview with the creative team behind Heart of Millyera, consisting of Jess Cate and Jana Hoffmann. Dig in!
Jess: We are an Adelaide based comic creator duo. Our ongoing webcomic Heart of Millyera is an all-ages steampunk adventure, featuring a cast of misfit geniuses and a cosmic sea creature. I am the writer of the Heart of Millyera, along with a few other mini-comics that we have worked on together.
Jana: I’m the artist of our duo, doing the the pencilling, inking, lettering, book design, web design etc. I do the colouring for the majority of our work too though we’ve recently taken on some great local help in that department. I’m also a big webcomic and kickstarter nerd.
What are you currently working on?
Jess: Right now we are full steam ahead on Heart of Millyera, but we are also working on a mini comic that is a spin-off, set in the same universe.
Jana: And with an upcoming convention appearances like ACAF and future Kickstarter plans, that is plenty to keep us busy at the moment for sure.
If you could could team up with any creators, who would be on your dream team?
Jess: That is a good question, because we have recently started working with another local artist, amazing colourist Anthea Wright. So, we are already a dream-team!
Jana: Tom Taylor would be pretty fun to work with I think, I absolutely adore his creator owned series ‘The Deep’ which he did with other fellow Aussie James Brouwer. And Ryan K Lindsay, the thought, passion and care he puts into his craft is palpable and the results show. Also I’d probably drop everything to work with Noelle Stevenson, I love her sense of humor and writing style.
How long have you been creating comics?
Jess: I have been writing comics, and fiction since I was a teenager. It’s funny to think about, but my first comics was a photocopied vampire story, drawn by my friend Jonathan McBurnie who is an incredible artist, and he got me into the idea of making comics way back then. I studied creative writing at uni, but I continued to dream about making comics. Jana and I met in 2014, through the Adelaide Ladies Comic Club, which I also organise, and we decided to work on a project together.
Jana: I have been drawing and reading comics since high school, but I didn’t start making them until I started uni in 2004. It was a slice-of-life webcomic about myself and 2 of my friends, one of which did most of the writing. It was called Le Comique and ran weekly for about a year. A lot of it were in-jokes but some of it is actually not terrible. It’s not online anymore but I’m hoping to re-post it sometime soon. I may have started a fantasy adventure webcomic in high school, but the less said about those 3 ghastly pages the better!
Is there a creator who you think everyone should check out?
Jess: Perth creator Hien Pham is doing some great stuff. I love his art style, and his storytelling. Alisha Jade is also currently working on an anthology all about body hair, which sounds fantastic.
Jana: Der Shing Helmer’s comic The Meek is amazing. If I had even a quarter of her art and storytelling skills…
What can a comic book do to attract your attention?
Jess: At first I am usually drawn in by the concept. I read the blurb, or I read a review and if the story grabs me I might pick it up. However, I find that I tend to become most invested in comics that have themes or characters that I can relate to, such as queer or female characters.
Jana: No surprises here I’m sure, but I am always a sucker for good cover art. I’m not a fan of having cover artists be different from the interior artist because I the cover is what I want more of. But a great cover has to hint at at interesting story of course, I used to read comics with not much substance just because I liked the artists style, but there is waaaaay too many good comics out there with great art AND story these days. Ain’t nobody got time for that! Well unless it involves dragons maybe.
What’s your creative process? How do you tend to create your stories?
Jess: I am still trying to figure out the best process! I tend to come up with scenes and ideas on the fly, so a lot of the time I dictate dialogue into my phone memo app and then transcribe this later, or I take notes and then expand upon these. When they are done, I send my script pages to Jana and she will then thumb-nail it out and send it back to me. Sometimes I will do some very rough thumb-nails myself so that I can get my vision across. There is a lot of back-and-forth. Ours is a true collaborative effort.
Jana: My process is still evolving also, in the past I’ve spent a lot of time on pages, between 15 and 25 or so hours depending on the script and it’s just not practical or sustainable so I’m working on improving my skills and getting fast without sacrificing quality. I work 100% digitally and as part of that effort to work faster I replaced Photoshop with Clip Studio Paint about 12 months ago and I have not looked back. Right now I ‘thumbnail’ sketch out the pages at full size and do some rough lettering and send it through to Jess for feedback. Then I’ll flesh out the sketching before moving on to the inks, then colour before returning to finisse the lettering.
Before getting to working on pages though, Jess will send me the script along with short profiles of all the main characters and some photos, artwork or imagery of what she’s thinking so that I can get a feel for it. Based on that I’ll do my own searching for inspiration and references. I’ve spent a lot of time source reference material for Heart of Millyera, probably too much to be honest. The state library has an absolutely amazing online catalogue of images available. From that reference and inspiration I’ll work on some designs sketches for the main characters before digging into working on the pages themselves.
Do you deal with any hardships with being a female creator? How do you to overcome them?
Jess: I can’t say that I have experienced anything negative first-hand. Other creators have been incredibly supportive, and our readers are very positive. I am hard on myself, and I set high expectations for what I want to achieve. It could be any number of factors, including just plain luck, that determines if it is possible for me to reach my goals. I do feel that it is important for the industry to continue to be supportive, and foster a welcoming community for everyone. This is why mentorship programs like the Banksia Project are great!
Jana: I’m the same, I personally haven’t experienced anything terribly negative in the comics community because of my gender. But that is the beauty of self publishing, there are no gatekeepers to prevent you from making the comics you want to make and getting them out there to the audience who wants to read them. The only gatekeeper is the time, blood, sweat and tears you’re prepared to put in.
What’s the biggest mistake that you see fledgling comic creators make?
Jess: Be prepared to spend your own money. Ideas are free, but turning those ideas into indie comics is not. If you are a writer and you are not lucky enough to be part of a creative team or partnership then never undervalue the time or work of the artist.
Jana: Underestimating the time and effort involved. Don’t start with your magnum opus, start small so you can work out the kinks in your process before you get to your dream project. Learn your lessons and skills on projects that aren’t as precious so you can get runs on the board and your dream project will be all the better for it when you get to it.
What’s the last comic book you read?
Jess: I just finished reading Letters For Lucardo by Noora Heikkilä, which is a Kickstarter I backed a while ago, and then never got around to reading. It is an LGBTQ erotic vampire romance! It is really beautifully drawn, and a great concept.
Jana: The issue 13 of Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. It’s such a great sprawling epic tale, I can’t wait to see where it’s all going.
Plug your work:
You can read Heart of Millyera online at heartofmillyera.com or purchase the first issue and our other comic, Great Beasts online at https://ownaindi.com/cate-
hoffmann. Both of them are also available in local Adelaide comic shops Greenlight Comics and Gamma Rays Comics.
Interview by Mike Speakman.
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