Back in January I was able to share the news that Jen Lee Quick’s Off*beat series would be going back to print, and with the long-awaited third volume finally being released after some long legal struggles. Today I’m pleased to say that not only do we now have more details about these upcoming books but also an interview with the creator herself!
Jen Lee Quick, comic artist and creator off Off*beat, and the staff of the newly announced, Chromatic Press – the publishing company behind the series’ new editions – were kind enough to organize an interview for me so I could ask some questions about the past, present and future of one of my favourite graphic novel series.
You can read the full interview after the cut, as well as see a bonus Off*beat image by Jen drawn just for this interview!
First off, congratulations on the upcoming publication of Off*beat volume three! I know I speak for many when I express my joy with some excited squeals and hugging of previous copies.
I can’t thank my readers enough for all the support they’ve given me and my stories after all these years. You guys have given me the courage to continue to pursue my dreams and it really means the world to me.
Hoo-boy. I always struggle with this type of question! I guess I would describe it as a quirky, coming to age story of a young, introverted teenage boy, growing up in Queens, New York. He’s gifted, cynical and very bored. He’s got a strange neighbor, who becomes his target of growing obsession.
There’s so much depth to your Off*beat characters and a great sense of reality to their actions, especially Tory’s vigilance, Colin’s stand-offish personality and the growing connection between them. Can you share a bit about how you were inspired to create Off*beat and its characters?
I had mainly written high fantasy stories until I came up with Off*beat. I guess it was a personal challenge for me, since I don’t really connect with stories in modern settings. I was living in Queens and getting to know friends who grew up there, so it seemed like a natural choice for Off*beat. I could just look outside my window for reference! I also felt compelled to portray New York in a way that matched my own personal experiences. I guess my life and friends were just…a whole lot more mundane than what I saw in the movies growing up! I decided to give the story a small fantasy element because I tend to find slice of life stories heavy handed. I wanted to preserve the integrity of characters and setting while having a fun little twist. First and foremost, I want to entertain above all else.
As far as characters goes, they are loosely based on people I have met in my life as well as personal memories. Though I’ve never taken formal classes on psychology, I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing the possibilities as to why people behave the way they do. I’m not ashamed to look back at my teenage years and realize, “wow, I could be really arrogant/selfish/melodramatic!” and then allow my characters to behave in a less than sympathetic way at times. This also reminds me when a close friend once asked me, “What made you write a gay teenage boy character? You’re a woman, why not write about that?” I told them I didn’t think of my characters strictly in terms of gender, age and orientation. I think of them as human beings, of which I happen to be one! I won’t pretend that Off*beat realistically deals with the specific challenges of being gay, but I guess I wanted to treat the romance aspect in a more innocent, whimsical manner that is depicted in many young, light-hearted, heterosexual romance stories.
There’s been a lot of talk about Tokyopop creators having trouble getting full rights to their works after the company originally ceased publications. Are you able to divulge about long have you been working to regain the rights to Off*beat?
I can’t take any credit for that work. I’m miserable at legal stuff. It’s all thanks to the lovely people at Chromatic Press.
Speaking of whom, Off*beat is scheduled to be printed by this new publisher, including reprints of volumes one and two. Can you tell us a little about how you became involved with Chromatic Press?
Lillian Diaz-Przybyl was my editor for Off*beat when I was working for Tokyopop. One day she contacted me to tell me about the forming of Chromatic Press. She asked me if I would be interested in finishing Off*beat. Needless to say, I was overjoyed at the prospect. I already knew the integrity and vision of the company was right in alignment with my goals as a creator. I think it’s a perfect match and I’m really excited to be working with such wonderful people.
Volume three of Off*beat has gone through a lot of creation phases, including Tokyopop’s abrupt shutter, the unfortunate loss of your earlier scripts to a nasty computer virus, and now your editors with Chromatic Press, not to mention a lot of time passing. Do you feel the story you’ve completed now will be a lot different than what it would’ve been years ago, or have you had a solid idea of the ending since early on?
It’s come about full circle. At one point while working with Tokyopop, I started to over edit and rethink my original ending, but now that I’ve had such a long hiatus from the story, I decided to stick with my original ending. It’s more fleshed out and I’ve become more bold in my writing, but the overall message and concept is in line with the original plan. There are some weaker aspects of the story that in retrospect, I would change if I could rewrite the entire series but at this point, I think closure is most important.
The little multi-genre snippets you put in for Tory’s dreams are really fun. I love how they let you slip in some fantasy and sci-fi elements to an otherwise normal setting. It also helps fill out Tory even more as a character. Will we see more of these in volume three?
I had decided at one point that Tory would “out grow” his daydreams by the end of the story and have since decided to keep his dreams. I think this is largely due with my own rediscovery of my inner child, lol. I think he matures enough in other ways that he doesn’t need to give that up. I’ve become less cynical over the last 10 years. I find that writing about things that are relevant to my current views and feelings are more important than sticking precisely to a script. I have a wonderful freedom in writing and drawing my own material. Even if it’s not perfect, at least I can be honest.
For Off*beat volumes one and two, you mentioned drawing and inking the work traditionally and then scanning it into the computer to tone digitally. Is this the same method you used for volume three? Has you preference for comic creation method changed a lot over the years?
I still work in basically the same way. I just draw and ink much faster traditionally than digitally. I have switched to color in my most recent comic works, but I still plan on working in black, white and tones for certain projects if I feel it works best.
Excitement is definitely continuing to grow for Off*beat volume three – and who can blame the eager readers after that cliff-hanger! – do you know yet how readers will be able to buy the book when it’s published? Or if pre-orders will be available?
From my current understanding, book three will be released by chapters on a monthly schedule in the Chromatic online magazine. It will be available as a full printed novel shortly after it is fully released online.
Lillian Diaz-Przybyl, Chromatic Press Head Editor: Our primary business model is digital, but we’ll be producing print books for selected series as kind of a “premium” for readers who particularly like having physical copies. In the case of Off*Beat 1 & 2, that’s going to mean new covers and bonus content to incentivize people to check them out again, plus some minor text corrections versus the TP editions. We plan to have Off*Beat 1 & 2 available in print at about the same time the magazine launches online (if not sooner), so new readers can pick them up and then continue with the story in the digital magazine, but they’ll also be up in the digital magazine archives so people can enjoy them that way as well.
With the new editions, what can readers expect to see different in the Chromatic Press releases of Off*beat volumes one and two? Will both print and digital volumes be available and will they have any difference in content?
They will have different cover art and design/logo as well as some extra content. I am assuming they will be available in both print and digital volumes. I’m not 100% sure of all the details yet.
Along with printing new editions of your books, Chromatic Press is also going to be launching a digital magazine. Can fans expect to see some of your work featured in it as well?
Off*beat 3 will be part of the digital magazine. I have a few other comic ideas that I have already started talking to Chromatic Press about for after Off*beat ends. I hope to be working with them long term.
You recently shared the news that you’re moving into comics full-time – congratulations on that as well! It sounds like 2013 is already shaping up to be a big year. Can you share some information about what other projects you’re currently working on?
Thank you very much! It’s definitely a huge year for me! I am currently also working as a premium artist for MangaMagazine.net. The comic is called Witch’s Quarry and it’s a high fantasy adventure comic with some fun character dynamics, magic, GBLT themes, and mature (or immature depending on how you interpret it, ha!) humor.
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My thanks to Jen for her responses and the bonus image above, as well to the staff of Chromatic Press for helping to organize the interview! I’m really excited to read Off*Beat (Vol.03) and have high hopes for the new content we’ll see in the future from Chromatic Press.
More information and work from Jen Lee Quick can be seen on her DeviantArt page and MangaMagazine.net. You can see more sample pages and bonus artwork from Off*Beat in Jen’s Deviantart gallery. Jen is also scheduled to attend the upcoming Toronto Comics Art Festival in May.