YA comics are huge right now with many publishers launching young adult platforms, and Boom! Studios is no different. Their imprint BoomBox! has had a great year with Fence, a Yuri on Ice-esque story about an elite high school boys' fencing team, turning into one of their most popular titles.
The first thing you notice when you read the comic is how much the art style looks like manga and anime. The next thing that you'll notice is the artist's pen name: Johanna the Mad.
Born and raised in Mexico, Johanna pronounced (yo-HA-na) was a big fan of fashion design and Japanese manga before she ever saw an American comic. She was also a fan of the Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat and was thrilled when Boom! teamed them up to create the story of the aspiring fencers of King's Row Boys School.
SYFY WIRE got a chance to talk Johanna about her influences, the diverse characters, and how much fencing she had to learn to shape the sports-manga-type story.
When did you first start drawing?
I've been drawing since I can remember. I was super little and, at that time, I was obsessed with Disney's animated films. You'd find me constantly drawing princesses, dogs, cats, etc., all of it based on Disney's style. Along with this, I was also very interested in fashion as a kid, so I'd always watch fashion shows on TV and draw my favorite outfits every single time.
When did you decide to become a comic book artist?
I was around 16 or 17 and super influenced by manga and anime; I wasn't sure about what to study in college, I just knew I wanted to draw. I wanted a job in which I could draw 24/7 and that's when I discovered manga. Having never really been exposed to American comic books before, I completely fell in love. I remember thinking to myself, "This is it. I don't know how, but this is what I want to do."
What are your favorite Manga and Anime and why?
My favorite manga are Berserk, Eyeshield 21 and Dragon Ball, mainly because of the art styles; since I'm a very visual person, whenever I see any type of art that appeals to me in manga, there's just no way for me not to like it as a whole. As for my favorite anime, it'd definitely have to be Gurren Lagann, Mononoke (not the Ghibli movie), and basically any anime from the '80s and '90s. I'm a huge animation nerd, so any fun series with good quality animation is definitely a yes for me.
Which artists inspire you?
My biggest inspirations for the past six years or so are Russian artist Phobs and super talented HamletMachine, who we had the pleasure to work with when she did the covers of the most recent issues of Fence. I follow many more artists on my social media and seeing their work is a constant source of inspiration for me. I always look at their profiles whenever I want to get any new ideas for my own creations.
How did you get involved with Boom!?
I was contacted by Boom! around six months before I was invited to work on Fence; I did a few test pages for a different comic but it wasn't what they were looking for. Later, Boom! editor Dafna Pleban contacted me again telling me the news about Fence and C. S. Pacat being involved and, of course, I said yes.
How did you team up with C.S Pacat to create Fence?
We haven't met in person yet (but we definitely want to ASAP)! I was contacted by Boom!, they told me they were working on a story similar to the sports manga genre with C. S. Pacat as the writer and asked if I wanted to do some test pages to see if I could work on it. I was already a big fan of Cat's work on her amazing trilogy Captive Prince when I was told about Fence. Later, she told me she was also a fan of my work and was super excited that I could work on the project with her. So basically, without having any idea, we both had been fangirling about each other the whole time hahaha.
What's your process like? Do you work digitally or do you start with pen and paper?
My process is mostly rough sketches (I spent quite some time in them until I feel they're "ready"), then add the line art and, finally, color. Though I must say, my drawing process changed quite a bit since I started working on Fence; I used to simply do messy sketches and color them but now I've become a lot cleaner. My relationship with pencil and paper is long gone, ha ha — I do use my sketchbooks from time to time but it's very rare nowadays. All my work is done digitally, be it on the computer or with my tablet or my iPad.
Does C.S. give you very specific scripting for your artwork? Or does she just make suggestions for each page?
I'd say it is something between those two. Cat gives me the main focus of each panel and, if needed, includes important details I should add to it. The rest is up to me, and then I make sure she agrees with the liberties I take in case she wants me to change something.
What was the inspiration for the story?
Cat used to fence herself so she's really into the sport and had already the main idea for the story before writing it for Boom!. I think it is important to add that both Cat and I always loved sports manga so working on Fence is really a dream come true to us.
Do you have fencing training or did you have to study it in order to draw this comic?
I had to study it. I have never tried fencing so Cat had to explain to me how the whole thing works. She actually made PDFs for me with information about every detail: the uniforms, the piste, the swords, etc.
Why did you choose the name Johanna the Mad?
The nickname was inspired by a book I read when I was a teenager, called The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner. It's a historical novel that tells the story of Joanna of Castile (also known as Joanna the Mad), queen of Spain in the 1500s. I completely fell in love with the book and thought it'd be funny to use it since the way our names are written is quite similar.
King's Row's is an international school with kids from all backgrounds. How did you conquer the fear of drawing such diverse characters?
I know it can be scary, it may seem like too much of a challenge, but believe me, it's so much fun once you lose that concern. If you don't know how or where to start, ask for references from people around you, do some research, whatever helps you understand more what you want for your character. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to fully enjoy it.
Will Seiji and Nicholas ever get together? The "hatemance" is real!
We're super excited about what's coming for Fence, but that's something you'll have to find out when more issues come out so stay tuned!