Dr. Ray Hsu and Jonathon Dalton are two of the creators featured in our latest anthology, Welcome to Mina’s. Ray Hsu, author of two award-winning books of poetry, is co-founder of Phare, a venture that seeks to democratize mental health. Join them at https://wearephare.com/. Jonathan Dalton is Cloudscape’s current president. He is the creator behind the webcomic Phobos and Deimos. sat down with them [virtually] to get some insight into comics, diners, and the creative process.
KG: What’s your go-to diner order?
RH: Spaghetti at Mitzie’s in Vancouver’s Chinatown, which I just found out has closed. Sometimes I’d cross Main Street to show up multiple times a day to grab a bite there and they’d say, “You again?” I wonder if they closed during the pandemic, which gives me a pang given the final panel of our comic.
JD: I’ve moved around a lot and had a lot of favourite diners over the years. But after not going to diners very much for nine months, what I most crave right now is a teriyaki sub and fries from Duffin’s in south Vancouver. I think they’re still open, but with the Cloudscape studio and Langara both closed, I’m never in that neighbouthood anymore.
KG: This anthology is set in Vancouver. What’s your connection to the city? How would you describe the city to an outsider?
RH: The world of Vancouver is a roiling mix of conflicting ideologies. I think the version of me that came to be in Vancouver is a living response to activisms, disillusionments and re-illusionments. Vancouver is where I began to feel as if old modes of social action were no longer sufficient and that I needed to find new ways that would be legible to the world rather than relegated to the communities I used to organize with.
JD: Vancouver is several cities overlapping each other and not interacting more than they have to. The Vancouver you might experience as the owner of a multi-million-dollar bungalow in Point Grey is very different from the one you might come to know as a condo-owner downtown, or renting a basement suite in the suburbs, or living in a crumbling hotel in the DTES. There’s a Matthew Good line about Vancouver that “we all live downtown, we step over ourselves,” that I think about a lot.
KG: What was the inspiration behind your story for this anthology?
RH: It was originally inspired by early collaborative conversations I had with Patrick Wong (who is in another collaboration in this anthology) in which we talked about the lynching of Chinese residents in Los Angeles in 1871: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_massacre_of_1871
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to flesh out this story with Jonathon, who breathed life into a story that is, in more than a few ways, a challenging story to tell.
JD: Since I was on art duty for this comic, I was mostly focused on how characters and locations looked and how to present them to readers. I’ve been mining every photo reference I can find for what Vancouver looked like over the timeline of the story.
KG: How did the two of you come to collaborate on this story?
RH: I knew Jonathon from back when Cloudscape folks used to hang out at a cafe with zero air circulation on Thursday nights on Main Street. I think the seeds of the collaboration began back then, more than a decade ago, not just between Jonathon and I, but with the places where we’d sit and have late night coffee there in silence among all the others, pencils scratching. Was that a decade ago? Holy cannelloni.
JD: I think I was the one who suggested to Emily that she get in touch with Ray to see if he wanted to write a story for Mina’s, because I knew he’d be able to come up with something good. Originally my plan was to write and draw a story of my own, but inspiration never struck, and when I found out that Ray had a script and Patrick wasn’t able to do it, I jumped at the chance.
KG: What is your favourite part of the creative process?
RH: It is opening my inbox to see an email from Jonathon. Every new file attachment makes a world feel more real. Now that Jonathon and I finally had a chance to collaborate, I’m hooked. I can’t wait to see what kind of weird ass thing we come up with next.
JD: Now I’m blushing. For me the biggest thing has been learning about the nasty side of Vancouver’s history. I’ve heard a lot of stories about racism in Vancouver, from the destruction of Japantown to Hogan’s Alley to recent news about anti-maskers causing a scene in a T&T supermarket. And yet when I read Ray’s story, it was full of even more events, big events like the anti-Asian riot in 1907, that I somehow hadn’t even heard of. I think it’s really important that all of us know more of our local history so it can inform the present discourse, and I consider it an honour to be part of bringing Ray’s story to readers.
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If you haven’t already, check out the Welcome to Mina’s KICKSTARTER!