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Good Times

Jen Wang is the creator behind Koko Be Good, the exciting and beautifully rendered story of a woman desperately trying to change her ways…to varying degrees of success. It’s a heartfelt and often romantic book as well as an unflinchingly honest one. Here’s how its creator describes the book.

Where did the idea for Koko Be Good originate?

I was going through a lot of changes in my life when I was 19 and the character Koko sort of emerged from that. Through her, I was able to reflect on how I was feeling. I did the short comic in 2004, but even at the time I felt like I had more to say. So I waited until I graduated in 2007 to expand it into a full-length comic.
 
What do you think of Koko? Do you like her? Do you relate to her?

I’m not sure that I like Koko, but I love her. Since she is a reflection of what I feel are my personal flaws, there are a lot of things I dislike about her character. But I also understand her, and she embodies a lot of characteristics that I admire too. Her energy and her optimism. She’s like your pet cat. Such a bitch, and yet you can’t help but love her.
 
Your bio states that you worked on this book at various homes and cafés in Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. What were you doing at the time?

Well, since graduating, I’ve been moving around trying to find a place to live. I’ve lived most of my life in San Francisco, and I love it, but I just needed to branch out. I drew most of Koko during my year in Portland and I finished the inks and colors in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where I live currently.
 
How long did you spend working on the book?

It took about a year to write and pencil the book. It took another year to find a publisher and get the inks and colors done. Then it took an additional year of printing and marketing and basically waiting around on my part for the book to come out. That last year was the hardest!
 
The book has a lot of emotional ups and downs. Did they take a toll on you?

Oh, you bet. To be honest, making this book was one of the most emotionally trying times of my life. In addition to the problems I had in my personal life, I had that internal roller-coaster that happens when you work on a book. One day everything falls into place and you’re on a roll, the next day you don’t know where the story is going, and everything is on the verge of falling apart. The highest highs and lows you’ll ever get. In the end I do think the emotional vulnerability added something heartfelt to the book, so I don’t exactly regret it.
 
How would you describe Jon? And how would you describe how you related to him as a character?

Jon is definitely my neurotic side. Strangely enough, I find myself most frustrated with him by the end of the book. Whereas Koko’s flaws are on display, so to speak, Jon is expected to do the right thing but is in the most denial. In the end, he does make the right call for himself, but it takes him a long time to commit to it. Also, I would’ve totally gone to Peru!
 
The art is beautifully rendered here. Could you talk a little bit about how you chose the color palette and the overall look of the book, and how you made the art come together?

I think color can be really tricky in comics. You want to set the tone but you don’t want to dictate too much. You’re already showing your readers what to look at, so there needs to be some form of interaction left, some room for the reader to fill in the blanks. A limited palette felt like the right compromise. I was inspired by the look of cartoonists like Gipi and Joann Sfar who have this really expressive watercolor style. The intimacy and warmth just felt right for the book.
 
What are you working on next?

The script for what I hope will be my next book. Fingers crossed!
 
-- John Hogan