Using Cory Doctorow’s short story “Anda’s Game” as inspiration, illustrator Jen Wang created In Real Life, a graphic novel that divides it’s story between gamer Anda’s real life and her character in a role-playing game. We talked with Wang about the pressure of adapting for a legend like Doctorow, the challenges faced by women and queer artists, and what running taught her about art.
Bookish: In Real Life is a graphic novel adaptation of Cory Doctorow’s short story “Anda’s Game.” What was your first step in turning the story into visual art?
Jen Wang: I ended up writing a couple different drafts of the script. The first one was very close to the original short story, but we decided to keep pushing it. The settings changed from London and Mexico to the US and China, and Raymond became a gold farmer. In the meantime, I played World of Warcraft for a few weeks which my editor, Mark Siegel, found very amusing.
JW: It was great! Cory had written such a flattering review for Koko Be Good, I remember being very struck by that. When First Second asked if I wanted to adapt In Real Life, it felt good to know I was an artist whose work he appreciated. It would’ve been so much more intimidating if he didn’t know me at all and there was more pressure to prove myself.
Bookish: Do you have a favorite panel or piece in this book?
JW: I love drawing Real Life Anda. Her hair is wild, her body is thicker, and I just like indulging in the little details of her home life. Pretty much any Real Life Anda scenes were my favorite scenes to draw.
Bookish: What was the most challenging aspect of adapting a story that wasn’t your own?
JW: The most challenging part was writing a story that felt true to both myself and Cory’s vision. I can only imagine what it’s like to allow someone else to mess with your baby, and I wanted Cory to be happy with whatever we ended up with. At the same time, making comics is a very personal experience and I wanted to feel connected to the final product as well.
Bookish: What was the easiest part?
JW: The easiest part is the drawing! As long as the story works, it matters less what the book looks like.
Bookish: Anda becomes involved in a multiplayer role-playing game after a guild leader comes to her class to recruit more female players who use female characters in the game. Have you noticed any similar gender struggles in the art world?
JW: I think by nature the indie comics community is more open to women and queer cartoonists because it is made up of people who aren’t being served by the mainstream. On the other hand, I don’t want to say gender struggles don’t exist. It’s easy for a self-identified progressive community to give itself too much credit and assume we can do no wrong when there’s always room for improvement. I’d like to see more women and queer cartoonists get the attention and respect they deserve from the comics reading public at large and not just within the small circles they represent.
Bookish: Anda ends up learning a lot from her passion for gaming. What’s one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned as an artist?
JW: This is a tricky question because I feel like being an artist has always felt natural and it’s the things that are less natural to me that I’ve learned the most from. I’ve learned a lot from running, for example, which is something I’m terrible at. But keeping at it every day and sticking to a training schedule, I was able to complete a half-marathon, and that’s kind of amazing for someone who has never been athletic. I can apply that to a lot of things in life, including art.
Bookish: You’ve said that you’d love to collaborate with a game designer. Any ideas on what kind of game you’d like to help create?
JW: I’d love to work on a visual novel! There’s a lot of interesting experimentation in interactive fiction games going on right now and it’d be a fun challenge to work on one.
Bookish: If you could adapt any other story or novel, what would it be?
JW: I don’t have anything specific in mind, but it would be fun to do a romance, or something with queer themes, or both.
Bookish: What’s your favorite graphic novel?
JW: I don’t have a favorite, so I’ll just say reading manga in high school was my gateway into comics. I was really into Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki and Revolutionary Girl Utena by Chiho Saito and you still see some of that influence in my comics DNA.
Jen Wang grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, where she lives today. She enjoys nature shows, biking, libraries, and something new all the time. She has also lived in Portland, Oregon, and Taiwan.