Jem Yoshioka is an award-winning comic artist and illustrator based in Wellington, New Zealand. She’s published a few different webcomics but is best known for her comic Circuits and Veins which has over 32,000 subscribers and over 1.1 million views on the webcomic platform Line Webtoon. It’s a futuristic slice of life story about the awkward romance of two women, one an android and the other human. In addition to the hours she spends creating comics, Yoshioka has a full-time job in the communications field and works as a freelance illustrator. Yoshioka took some time out of her busy schedule on Saturday, July 28th, 2018 for a brief interview about her, her work and her upcoming Webtoon Starstruck.
Yoshioka does both the art and the stories for her webcomics and has been interested in drawing and storytelling from an early age. She says there are many photographs of her drawing as a child, from the young age of two years old and up. Her mother is a literacy advisor; someone who teaches others how to teach kids to read. She says this had a big impact on her, as her mother would bring home picture books and things to do with her work and share them with Yoshioka.
“I always, always had something on the brain in terms of that sort of thing as a young kid. As a teen, lots of sorts um fanart and fanfic, whatever was sort of the flavor at the time. I started sort of creating my own stories and building worlds up.”
Her interest in comics came from the internet. Yoshioka says she didn’t have access to a lot of comics from the mainstream publishers growing up. They were expensive due to the cost of importing them from the United States, and the ones available were often trade paperbacks or issues from the middle of a run. She had access to vintage comics like Tintin, thanks to her father, but that was about it. When she discovered webcomics on the internet it was a game changer for her own art and storytelling.
“So, sorta discovering webcomics and, realizing that this was a really efficient way for me to tell a story. I didn’t have to, have you know, learn to animate or have a whole team behind me in order to tell stories. I could do it just by myself. And that sort of freedom to be able to create stories on my own is really what’s continued to drive my love for creating comics.”
Creating webcomics can be time-consuming and Yoshioka says her main challenge when working on a big project is keeping the momentum going. She says it’s important to recognize when you need to slow down because you have to. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally is important. But she does recognize that it’s sometimes hard to come back to a project after taking a break. She says when she’s “fit” and “in practice” she can do a lot. On the other hand, when she hasn’t been working on anything for a while, drawing something simple can be difficult.
“You draw one eye, and you’re like, nope that’s wrong. You spend like an hour drawing that one eye. Whereas, you know in an hour, If I’m in a good flow I could potentially produce a whole page.”
Circuits and Veins
When asked about the inspiration for the comic, Yoshioka stated that she’s always been interested in the science fiction and fantasy genres. She became inspired by her dissatisfaction with movies like Ex-machina (2014) and HER (2013). She felt that these stories mainly centered around how these female artificial intelligence characters negatively affected the male protagonist and that there wasn’t much of a takeaway to these stories.
“You know what, I’m sick of this sort of perpetual thing, this sort of state of how artificial intelligence is represented. I think there’s a better story here, considering the themes that these ones delve into.”
Yoshioka decided to take action on her dissatisfaction and her own ideas by creating a new story about artificial life. Her story Circuits and Veins is set in a world after artificial life has been granted rights.
“What happens to a culture when you’re like, well yes, we have all these people that we made, and we say that we can’t abuse them, or ask them to do work, we have to pay them? We have to sort of work out how to incorporate them into the way we work as a society. It was these sorts of really big broad brush stories that I was interested in and delving into.”
These are big, serious ideas, which may leave the reader wonder how it became a slice of life piece. Yoshioka says:
“I really like the way that slice of life stories, they can sometimes delve into these often really large themes like this but they do it in a way that really drills down into like the interpersonal and into sorta really small moments of storytelling. So you can sort of feel a lot about the connection between two characters based on them cooking a meal together, or having some really small and relatively inconsequential meeting or discussion that might usually be cut out of a broader story. So I thought that these two sorts of concepts really work nice together. The sort of blending of these philosophical concepts of what is humanity? And actually I’m tired and I just would like my girlfriend to cook me dinner.
When discussing the main characters of Circuits and Veins, Yoshioka says that although similar, they were created so that their personality and the struggles they go through will complement each other. She says it creates an interesting dynamic when writing them, because of their natural understanding for one another, but then they also clash and have to make an effort to understand each other.
“On the surface level one’s human and one’s an android. Aki works with computers all day, whereas Ai’s job is literally handling physical books and not really much else. Aki is, um sick, and so then she has to deal with her body not being completely cooperative. But Ai is, um a synthetic, doesn’t really have to ever deal with getting tired but she does have other things that her mechanical body doesn’t provide for her.”
She describes Aki a really confident and outgoing person while Ai is relatively reserved. They bring the other qualities out in each other, which she says is nice to see.
On July 17, 2018, Jem Yoshioka debuted a new project on Line Webtoons called Starstruck. The story centers around 19 years old Maple who must help Star get home after she literally crashes into her world. Yoshioka says it’s going to be big grand, fantasy style of shenanigans, with larger-than-life characters. The focus will be on loud comedy.
“It’s going to be quite a different style of story to Circuits which is very purposely quite gentle and soft, and subtle. Yeah, StarStruck isn’t going to be any of those things.”
For Her Readers
Yoshioka wants her readers to know that they’re “all giant sweethearts.” Yoshioka recognizes that it takes people time and energy to keep up with a webcomic and she really appreciates people who invest their time in her work. She says the fan art and comments she receives are inspiring and makes her want to continue and to improve each time.
“Thank you, thanks for reading!”
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