SDCC Spotlight: Leen Isabel and Nguyen Dong


It’s always better to buddy up for San Diego Comic Con. That’s exactly what Leen Isabel and Nguyen Dong have done. The husband and wife team are bringing you two great books you have to check out. There’s nothing like discovering a new book and new creator that you have to follow. Let’s hear about their great projects …

Emily McGuiness: Where can we find you at SDCC?

Look for us as Dark Productions in Small Press. Table P-11!

Emily McGuiness: What’s your favorite part of the SDCC festivities?

Leen: I love the cosplayers. Definitely. In fact, I plan to cosplay three days of of the show!

Nguyen:  My favorite part of SDCC is meeting artists either at their tables or in discussion panels and listening to them talk about how they do what they do.  Last year we got to meet Juanjo Guarnido and Kim Jung Gi and we got drawings from both of them.  I’ve also gotten a chance to meet and speak to Bernie Wrightson and Glen Keane in previous years.  They are so talented, friendly and yet still so humble.  It’s very inspiring and admirable.

Emily McGuiness: What’s in your couples SDCC Survival Kit? Food? Hand Sanitizer?

Water. Portable Phone Charger. A protein source just in case we’re stuck at the table for too long. Maybe one of those SDCC Bingo checklists? Haha!

What does it take to be a pole dancer? This comic covers lifestyle, tricks and tips in humorous comic strips! Pre-order Volume 2 now!

Emily McGuiness: After your first successful Kickstarter Campaign for Pole Dancing Adventures, you’re doing another one for Volume 2. What’s new for this campaign?

Leen:For Volume 2, I decided to keep the campaign very similar to last year’s run. The book itself will have 100 pages filled with brand new comics from Pole Dancing Adventure’s second and third years. Last year, I was lucky enough to have the amazing pole-dancer, Natasha Wang, write a foreward for Vol. 1 so I hope to have another exciting guest which I’ll announce soon.

Emily McGuiness: Can you tell us any more about your stretch reward goals?

Leen: I have brand new rewards lined up for backers! My favorite reward at the 100% mark will be a Kickstarter exclusive journal. Perfect for note taking or sketching in. In addition to that, I also have stickers and as well as exclusive art prints. Beyond 100%, it’s going to be a surprise! I really enjoy making rewards. Whenever I back a project, the exclusive rewards make me excited. So I hope that does the same for fans of PDA.

Emily McGuiness: Pole dancing is still an unusual sport for most people. What draws you to it and what have you learned from it?

Leen: What attracted me to pole dancing are its thrills and elegant movements. On the acrobatic side, you can easily feel like a daredevil while you’re practicing drops and strength poses. In the next moment, you can find yourself dancing as gracefully as a ballerina. It gives me the opportunity to explore myself creatively and I think that helps me while I draw. Remembering what certain poses and movements feel like or even when I pose dramatically for my own reference photos, I feel like my drawings have grown to be more dynamic thanks to what I’ve learned in pole dancing.

Emily McGuiness: Tell us one thing you’re passionate about besides comics and pole dancing.

Leen: I recently got into biking! My work moved closer to home so I decided to bike instead of drive. For several months now, I have been biking at least an hour every day. It rocks. I’m saving so much money and the chance to ride clears your head. Artists need to stay healthy and the bit of exercise helps me feel good when I jump right into art making when I get home. In fact, I recently created a comic about the discovery.


Emily McGuiness: Tell us about Hiraku and what’s new for this second volume.

Nguyen: In the first issue, Hiraku’s village is burned down by Japanese police and all of the villagers including his Grandmother was transported into a camp.  A mysterious girl manages to get Hiraku out of the round up and she takes him into hiding.  In issue 2, we learn that she is a fox spirit who needs his help.  We also learn that Hiraku’s Grandma is gravely ill.  In the end, Hiraku and the Fox spirit girl form a bond because they have work together to face a fierce enemy.

Emily McGuiness: The Ainu are an interesting subculture of Japan. What can you tell us about them and why write a graphic novel about them?

Nguyen: The Ainu people are the native people of Japan.  Their relationship to the Japanese people are similar to the one between Americans and American Indians.  Their land and way of life was taken away from them from the modernizing Japanese government.  They were stripped of their rights to hunt and even speak their language.  They were forced to assimilate.  They have beautiful song and dance, and worship gods that were attributed to the elements of nature.  They were hunters, fishermen, and gatherers.  Their lifestyles were natural and simple.  I really like that.  In modern society, I feel like we’re all slaves to a big machine.  Kind of like in that film Metropolis.  It is alarming and sad to do the research about the Ainu culture because a lot of this type of oppression is still happening today.  Making a graphic novel about them helps bring some awareness to the indecency and cruelty that humans inflict on each other.  I think the first step to change is awareness and that’s what motivates me to tackle this story.  I believe that a great hero always rises from the worst turmoil.  That is my idea about who Hiraku becomes throughout his journey.  I want to deliver a message in my stories and engage the audience in a level that goes beyond basic entertainment.

Emily McGuiness: Tell us a bit about how you create a page.

Nguyen: I don’t write a full script so I work similar to what most people might coin the term, “the Marvel way.”  I write down what needs to happen on each page first, then decide what the mood and pacing has to be on a particular page.  After that, I do what a set designer does; figure out how to dress the set and how I should light it.  I always consider on what comes on the page before and the page after the one I’m working to consider how it’ll work into the flow of storytelling.  If it’s a sad or desolate scene, or if it’s a slow calm quiet moment, then I would use larger panels that are horizontal.  If it’s a fast paced action scene, then I’m more likely to use smaller panels in more dynamic shapes.  The panel borders may have slanted edges and be more vertical to create a feeling of claustrophobia or urgency.  I might even break the panel and have the character’s action extend beyond the panel border.  If there is a complex story point, then I am likely to use panels that overlap each other to create a complex layered panel design.

After I decide how many panels each page requires, I choose a focal panel.  This is the panel that I think is the most important on that page.  It could be a panel where the most important information is delivered or when the most dramatic image is in.  I think it’s important to do this because it keeps the plot on a clear track and creates a purposeful direction in the storytelling.  I do all of my black and white art in Manga Studio now because I feel like the tools there are very efficient and convenient for that but I still color in Photoshop.  I would light a scene where information is the main goal more brightly or specifically for that purpose.  A dramatic moment might be lit by a high contrast type of set up.  It could be low key or high key or it could be bottom lit depending on the environment.  Since I color my own pages, I will also think about what color would deliver the story the best way possible also.  Each color makes us feel a certain way and that’s something to definitely think about.

Emily McGuiness: Tell us one thing you’re passionate about besides comics.

Nguyen: I’m passionate about Kendo; the art of Japanese sword fencing.  Despite working long days, I feel better when I go to practice twice a week.  It helps me think and it calms me down.  It’s a beautiful art form because it requires no strength, is full contact and as real as I think I can get to being in a real sword fight without injuries.  I enjoy being a part of that community outside of art.  I’m proud to say that I’ve had the honor of having a very exceptional Sensei, and that I’m helping pass on a beautiful martial art or at least keep it going since it’s not really a popular choice compared to other martial arts.  Doing Kendo also gives me good insight to how a good sword fight might be like because I’m constantly sparring and participating in seminars and tournaments as well.  It’s exciting to be able tell that story through the comic medium to an audience who might not be aware of it or only know what they saw in Star Wars.

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