JesnCin are two of the brightest stars in the writing/illustrating community. A double (quadruple?) threat, they have also founded multiple organizations to help budding artists and writers in marginalized communities.

JJesnCin Interview questions #APIpit (answering in a mix of singular first person and “we”)

1. What inspires you two to write/draw? Where do you get your ideas?

I’m best inspired when I have a message I believe in that I really want to share! That message could manifest in a story, character design, character relationships, or environment. I get especially excited when I’ve read a bunch of graphic novels and think, “What if we did something else? Has this been done before? And if not, what’s stopping us from trying it?”. I’m very motivated by challenging stories.

2. Tell us about your books!

We’ve been published in a variety of anthologies from Valor (Volume 3: Cups of Fairylogue Press), Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology (Volume 2), and Wayward Kindred (TOComix Press). We’ve also served as colorists for Tomboy (Actionlab) and Astronaut Academy: Splashdown (First Second). Recently we illustrated the cover for the first queer middle grade anthology, This is Our Rainbow, which I’m extremely excited about! The lineup of creatives is incredible, and Sylvia Bi is an amazing book designer.

3. Can you pitch your current project (for upcoming/unpublished books)?

I’m illustrating a middle grade graphic novel for First Second while also writing and illustrating for my own middle grade graphic novel, Lunar Boy, for Harper Alley. Lunar Boy is about Indu, a boy from the moon who deals with culture shock, familial struggles, and first crushes when his mother marries and moves them to Earth. It’s a sci-fi slice of life (slice of fi) magical queer coming of age story featuring an all Indonesian cast of characters. Whoa!

4. Tell us about your writing/art journey and how you got where you are today.

We originally majored in animation for art school, but after taking one sequential art class we realized that was what we actually wanted to do and switched majors almost immediately. We drew comics and read webcomics since high school, but it wasn’t until we studied under it did we realize it was something you could make a career out of. We always wanted to make comics for kids but back then the market was strictly adult and superhero comics. We decided to take the webcomic route for a while, but felt we weren’t connecting with the audience we wanted.

It wasn’t until we studied for our Masters in Sequential Art that the market went through such a visible change to the point it was impossible to ignore how middle grade graphic novels were outselling cape comics. We read and studied all the top selling books including Raina Telgemeier’s books and all of Svetlana Chmakova’s Berrybrook series. It was thrilling! These books were exactly the kind of comics we always wanted to make.

So, we and Dani Chuatico (our Southeast Asian solidarity partner) studied and researched everything about the traditional publishing industry. Agents, pitch packets, pitching events, publishing imprints, editors, trends, everything. This market was so new that even our professors couldn’t help us, so we took the initiative. We pitched on #DVpit, ended up agented, and now have 3+ book deals. So I think we’re on the right track, haha.

5. What advice do you have for writers and artists?

Fit mandatory breaks into your work schedule! This is both for writers but especially for artists. The industry doesn’t always prioritize artists’ health but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Avoid unhealthy mindsets like thinking you need to complete X amount of work before you “deserve” a break or that it’s worth sacrificing to meet a deadline. Breaks are a basic necessity for any creative like food or water. You’ll burn out quickly if you don’t prioritize your health.

6. Specifically, what advice do you have for creatives from marginalized/underrepresented backgrounds?

Believe in yourself, and find or create communities with other marginalized/ underrepresented creatives! I know exactly how soul crushing and stressful it is to be underrepresented in the industry and although I have a lot of self-confidence, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have without our incredible community of graphic novelists and artist friends from a variety of backgrounds.

Don’t be discouraged with pitching a story that hasn’t been done before. “No story is original” and “every story has been told already” is a saying from the privileged. It’s hard when you don’t see stories like yours reflected elsewhere because it feels like you’re either doing something wrong, breaking some rule, or going into unexplored territory. But that’s how new stories get made. Push through it!

7. How do you weave your culture(s) into your book(s)? How do(es) your culture(s) influence your writing/art?

It was hard at first, growing up as Third Culture Kids and constantly switching back and forth between cultures, because we had a complicated relationship with our Indonesian identity. We didn’t fit in with sourceland Indonesians or diaspora either, so we distanced ourselves from it entirely. But now it’s something we want to reclaim in our life and art, regardless of what other people think.

When people think about Indonesian cultural stories, they tend to think about adapting folktales or folklore set in ancient history. But I like to portray how culture informs not just the past but our present and future as well! What does a “magical sci fi Indonesian fishing village set in the future” look like? How does the intersectional experience of being both Indonesian and queer inform a character living in a world like that? How do the cultures adapt in this setting? Our experiences are inherently different even in the mundane, and I desperately want to read a graphic novel that portrays that experience.

8. What is your writing process like?

We work from general to specific! I like to start with an overview that details all the big events in the graphic novel in paragraph form before going into page breakdowns where I separate the events into more detailed scenes and estimate the number of pages each scene will take in dot point form. Once that’s revised, we go into full script with page numbers, panel descriptions, and dialogue plus narration all written out. I prefer a tight script where the main intentions are clear instead of a loose script where I have to figure it out as I draw the thumbnails. I like it when each step makes the next easier.

Optional questions, pick however many you like!

a) What are you currently reading?

[skipping this because I haven’t been reading anything sob]

b) Who are your top 3 favorite comic artists?

If I had to pick (and this is so hard)!! Yuhki Kamatani (mangaka of the greatest manga of all time Our Dreams At Dusk), Svetlana Chmakova (author and artist of the Berrybrook series Awkward, Brave, and Crush), and Kate Beaton (Hark! a Vagrant, King Baby)!

c) How long on average does it take you to write a graphic novel?

Not including the time it took to conceptualize the story, the time it took to sit down and write the overview to page breakdown is about a month or less. Scripting the whole graphic novel takes me a little over a month. I get very sucked in when I script!

d) How long on average does it take you to draw a graphic novel?

I haven’t finished drawing a graphic novel yet, but it’s looking to be about two years for each book. I’m drawing two books at the same time. If you’re not a twinchronized artist duo I don’t recommend it, haha!