“Draw Something for You”: Liana Kangas on Building a Busy 2020 and Beyond

Liana Kangas is a lot of things now. Artist. Writer. Kickstarter maven. The She Said Destroy co-creator has had quite the rise the past couple years, going from newcomer to hyphenate at rapid speed. But I think most people that know her know her as something beyond those other titles, and that’s this: she’s the best.

While she’s talented at everything she does, it’s impossible not to root for Kangas because of how kind and likable she is. And the good news is for those in the rooting for Liana business is she’s like a Los Angeles-based sports franchise right now: all she does is win. Amidst the insanity of 2020, Kangas has thrived, putting together a wildly successful Kickstarter for her new book TRVE KVLT with writer Scott Bryan Wilson, colorist Gab Contreras, letterer DC Hopkins, and more, co-writing a new TKO one-shot Seeds of Eden with Joe Corallo, artist Paul Azaceta and letterer Jeff Powell, and a bevy of other upcoming projects, several of which are unannounced. It’s been a big year, with even more promise on the horizon.

With that in mind, and with TRVE KVLT’s Kickstarter counting down the hours to its completion, I chatted with Kangas over the last week or so over email about what she’s been up to, managing all of this, why community is so important to her, Seeds of Eden and its story, Paul Azaceta’s greatness, TRVE KVLT’s atypical approach, what she’s learning from all of this, what’s next, and more. You can give it a read below as this is open to non-subscribers, and if you enjoy this chat, consider subscribing to SKTCHD for more content like this, because it’s sort of what I do.

Let’s start with the basics, Liana. How are you doing, this week where you were revealed as not just an artist but a writer as well as a Kickstarter superstar? Is your plan to world domination going well, or do you still have some kinks to work out?

Liana Kangas: Honestly, I’m a bit overwhelmed…but you know, in that really anxious GOOD WAY. I had to step away from my phone for two days after the sweltering amount of announcements last week because I’ve been riding a high of complete excitement and worked so hard that I completely burnt myself out. I keep re-reading wonderful things people wrote about me last week to recharge, saying that I was their favorite artist or a triple threat or my favorite one by Eric Palicki who I often get to collab with, “As a writer who can’t draw, I believe Liana must be stopped at all costs, but also, I adore Liana, so buy her debut story.” – these things still ring in my head and make me even more excited to create so…(laughs) call me Victor Von Doom because I’m ready to take over. But first, I plan on conquering a burger to celebrate.

As a person who had a burger last night, I know first hand its power as a victory cigar. I did want to ask about that triple threat nature, because to some as outsiders, it might seem like you’re coming out of nowhere. Even me, someone who just met you in the mythical, pre-pandemic time of ECCC 2019, I was like, “oooo new person!” before I learned more about you. But that path to the triple threat you are these days was quite the run. Does the grind that led up to where you are make the experience of hitting more rewarding? And what did that process of building connections, honing your skills, looking for new opportunities, etc. help you learn in the process?

LK: I’m so glad you’ve seen me push myself as hard as I’ve felt like I’ve been experiencing the grind of making comics more recently physically. (I’m one of those people who thought trying skateboarding again would be a great idea at the start of the pandemic.) I think Scott Bryan Wilson (the writer of TRVE KVLT) and I had a conversation at one point recently that made me realize I’ve been trying to create and make up for lost time, as if trying to draw everything I didn’t in my twenties. I try to celebrate small victories, mostly with friends, which is my favorite part of the job (you know, besides drawing…) but I think midway through celebrating I start thinking “I should still be drawing.” I think though, that for all of the experiences and opportunities that so many wonderful people have given me, I’ve hopefully output that energy back into the community in some way. That’s a very rewarding part as well.

You mentioned how important it is to put your energy back into your community, and while some say that, they don’t always back it up. You do. I’ve always loved the selflessness you have when it comes to comics and your community. Why is that so important to you?

LK: Thank you so much, that means a lot. I think I have been making up for years that I felt lost with imposter syndrome or too scared to ask creators how to pursue the industry with more clarity. A decade ago, working in comics retail on and off, things were a lot different and I never had a creators community to be a part of. Without that, the industry seems very daunting or hard to break in, so my hope is to share with others that there’s always a place for everyone. 

So Seeds of Eden is your first stab at writing, and you’re co-writing with your She Said Destroy pal Joe Corallo. We’ve talked about how the writing efforts came together before, but I do want to know how taking your first step into that arena with a trusted collaborator changes things. Does that make it a bit easier and perhaps less intimidating?

LK: I actually only wanted to write knowing I had a co-writer like Joe prepared to be an educator and collaborator. I’m lucky that I could ask something like that of Joe having worked together for the year prior to. It seemed like we had a lot more unfinished business, so Seeds of Eden was a killer way to collaborate and have the opportunity to create. On my end, I got to ask someone for help who I already felt comfortable communicating with on a daily and project basis, which I’ve grown as a creator and learned another area of making comics.

It’s allowed me to start writing my own work (like a short I did writing and art with Contreras and Schultz in Insider Art anthology.) I think it’s given me a stronger voice with my storytelling and I feel much more excited to take more risks and spitball ideas with some of my writers. It comes full circle for me as a creator. I highly recommend artists try it at least once. I am however, more intimidated posting on social media with my overly casual grammar and spelling. (laughs)

It does seem like you had a nice first project from a writing standpoint between Joe and the fact that your artistic collaborator is another pal in Paul Azaceta. But I do have to ask: was it weird being on the writing side? Did you have to try and turn your art brain off when talking with Paul, or do you think that helped you because you might have had a different perspective than Joe in that regard?

LK: When we sat down to write the actual script, after research and planning phases I was calling both Paul and Joe struggling so hard because my brain was trying to visualize what I would draw but in Paul’s style, which inherently made my brain break, until I think at one point, I had even called Tim Daniel to ask his advice if that part of your brain ever turns off while writing. In any case, I think that conversation along with Joe’s support made me embrace that side of my brain, and us stressing to Paul that it was inevitably his decision however he wanted to execute it. It was fun to pass off a piece and trust what your collaborator would make of it. Joe and I had so many calls discussing pages and panels and layouts and came to write it in a collaborative artist sort of like a regular writer / artist team would except now it was writer / artist-writer hehe.

So let’s talk about some specifics with Seeds of Eden, your aforementioned short story with Joe Corallo, Paul Azaceta and Jeff Powell at TKO. It’s about, as the solicit says, “When a space pioneer attempts to create a self-sustaining colony on Jupiter, her visit takes an unsuspecting and deadly turn.” The idea of a self-contained sci-fi/horror story of a sort sounds extremely appealing to me, especially as a one-shot like this. How did the story come together for you, and what made it an appealing one for you as a creator?

LK: Tze (Chun) and Sebastian (Girner), our editor at TKO, originally asked us to pitch horror ideas to begin with. Space stories are among my top tier favorite to ingest as well as create, so I think because Joe and I were already at the time just wrapping up a space fantasy series at Vault, we organically had a lot more of a robust idea for Sebastian to shape. It just so happens I did my final thesis for my graduation on 2001: A Space Odyssey, and though I don’t remember much beyond just that, it doesn’t stop my love for horror in space — give me a sit down watching Alien any day of the week.

Was the format – a self-contained one-shot, which is pretty rare in comics – challenging given the aforementioned rarity? Or was it nice to look at a story and know that this would be the beginning, middle and end all in one shot?

LK: I am primarily used to working in short anthology formats, so the limitations were fun for me to work with. Joe had a lot of experience being an editor for anthologies, that gave us a preparedness I hadn’t stressed about — I’m sure the serialized arc format will be what I try to tackle next.

Paul Azaceta’s art from Seeds of Eden

Paul Azaceta is, clearly, a rather big deal. He’s one of the best of the best. What made him the right for this story? And did his coloring palette stay comfortably in the Liana Zone, or was that just in the initial teaser image?

LK: I still call Paul thanking him, months later, after he’s clearly finished the project by now where I’m like “hey, thanks bro.” or something along those lines, or perhaps trolling him via social media, because I am still so grateful that he agreed to do it. It is a little intimidating to be a follow up to Robert Kirkman, but after seeing the pages come in, I felt like we were mentally all on the same page. I’m reminded of all of our chats about manga and certain films, and it now clicks for me- we have a lot of the same tastes in media.

I’m convinced he picked that incredible palette as a gift to me, and no one can convince me otherwise. (It’s much more wild than the page previews even SHOW!!!)

Now that you’ve worn a co-writer hat a little bit and now that you’re seemingly jumping into a bit more on that side of things, could you see writing and co-writing future projects as a complement to your regular work as an artist? Is it really just about taking interesting opportunities as they come up more than trying to fit any single role?

LK: I’d love to continue co-writing especially on original projects with co-collaborators. I have a lot of artist friends, so writing feels like an opportune way to collaborate with them in a way I couldn’t normally. Most projects for me this year like Seeds of Eden, TRVE KVLT, The Inevitables or East Side Saints (with Glow writers Mendez and Garcia) that had concepts and genres that fall right in my line of interests. That’s why I love the comics industry; You can shape how you as a creator are going to deliver a story into one that you’d love to read yourself, and particularly, I find that those are projects that I align with and work really hard, experiment with, and push myself. 

So you have TRVE KVLT, which I learned is apparently a metal thing thanks to the internet? Here I was just thinking this was a burger/supernatural comic and it’s a whole thing. You have this squad of pals. But I wanted to first ask about it in the context of where the world is today. Let’s say we have the Time Stone from the Infinity Gems and we can somehow create a parallel world where there was somehow no pandemic, which sounds amazing of course. Do you think this is where you’d be? How do you feel that changed your path and maybe sent you in different directions than what you might have went otherwise?

LK: The metal aspect is like the cherry on top of the already fast food crime heist, it’s like the packed book of weird stuff that keeps on giving!

I know this might sound weird but I see two clear paths that this book could have taken: either it would be fully drawn / completed by now with a publisher, or half drawn pitch, possibly back-burnered until I dip into my fun drawing free time (which is when I get to draw most of my pitches). Having discussed this book for over a year with collaborator’s support allowed me to actually continue drawing it in my free time when cons were cancelled, until one of our collaborators, Jazzlyn Stone suggested Kickstarter – so every meeting we inched closer to that decision mapping out how it would work.

It’s weird how carefully it has been planned as a backup plan in hindsight. I do however, wish I had the infinity stone to stop myself from the aforementioned skateboarding incident, which I am still laughing about (mostly so i wouldn’t have had to embarrass my bro and fellow artist, Kelly Williams at the skatepark with my sick wipeout).

Now over to close out with TRVE KVLT and one other thing. What were the origins of TRVE KVLT? What made this story something you all wanted to tell? Did it mostly start with a group of pals wanting to make a concept, or was it idea first?

LK: Scott and I had been tossing around a few ideas to collaborate on something (including a horror one about…a koala?) and he asked what I wanted to draw. Prior to that, I am not sure I really ever had an answer to something like that, until at one point, I realized I had wanted to make a comic adaptation of Ocean’s 11 (the remake). It’s hard to answer when there are so many cool things you could work on. Scott had this idea of a fast food heist book, which had the core elements of what you see today, but it was a bit different from its current version. I think he’s always been open to taking my thoughts and throwing down ideas together.

One thing I find really interesting about this project is the formats. It’s mostly digital, with some print copies of the first issue being made. Why did you all want to go that route? Was it all about making this project as cost effective as possible while still delivering on the story, or was it something else?

LK: You 100% called it. Mostly, I thought it would be great to have this art book/issue 1 idea for collectors that care about books like I do, but we weren’t just yet ready to jump in the deep end with self publishing an entire trade paperback for the first time we all did Kickstarter. Jazzlyn Stone helped us nail down the most clear and direct ways to offer tiers by communicating with Scott and I what our wishlist items were for our readers, which I think it all came down to delivering the story as soon as we could, which meant digital for the rest. It’s nice we get to stay close with that Kickstarter/support community and connect with them when we release the issues. 

In a lot of ways, this is considerably different than other projects you’ve drawn before. It’s certainly more grounded in reality than others you’ve tackled before (well, parts of it), and from the little I’ve seen, it seems to agree with you. Do you think working in this genre has helped highlight some of your strengths, and that it’s been a fun exercise to try something different like this?

LK: The biggest piece of advice I had ever gotten in comics was never applied in my career until this book specifically, in that Mike Mignola said “draw something for you, draw something you’d want to read” and I hadn’t really ever knew how that advice applied until I found that I lose time working on this book. Hours and free time spent on this book seem to melt away because I am having a great time, excited about the world building I get to control. This book has my two (maybe three, you’ll have to see) favorite genres mixed, so I feel like there’s been less guess work and more leaning into drawing the acting on the page which I’ve been complimented on a lot, and I really take that to heart.

I have to ask about Burger Lord, the fictional burger joint in the comic. I love how that’s become a key part of the promotion of the book, with backers even being able to become employees of this fictional spot as part of the campaign. We talked about the importance of community to you before, but do you think there’s extra value to doing that kind of thing when you’re working with a crowd-funded concept?

LK: David, are you wanting to apply for a position as a night shift manager for Burger Lord? Because… I know people, and I think I can put in a good word.

But in all honesty, I have always wanted world building to be incorporated in one of my books, so we knew Jazzlyn, previously having had done merchandising work with Bitch Planet, Sex Criminals, and The Wicked + The Divine, would be a KILLER person on the team to help us bring that to life. She treats marketing and merchandising as an opportunity to further the world build on a story. Together, we’ve spent months doing the smallest easter eggs and creating the most heinous inside jokes that are fed back into the book, because… it’s great to feel like the foundation or brick and mortar of the series when reading it, if not including everyone who’s been supporting it.

We covered a lot here. You are still doing more than just that, which is wild. What else should people be looking out for next from you? And do you see this being your path of a sort going forward? Always cooking, but typically smaller projects, or are you hoping for something larger in the future?

LK: This feels like my busiest year yet, like I am always spinning many plates. I have such a high regard for you vocalizing that, and you were able to take the time to talk about things like this. I really enjoy having fun small projects to experiment on, especially to collaborate with new people and friends. It’s why I love doing covers, shorts and anthologies so much. I am so excited to start writing a bit more later this year just for myself, and dig in to work on the rest of the TRVE KVLT series. Surprise though, things may finally slow a bit as I’m actually scheduled for a graphic novel starting 2021, so I am sure I’ll be working on really fun small things in between.

Thank you for reading this conversation with Liana Kangas. If you enjoyed this chat, consider subscribing to SKTCHD for more of the same.