Diana Thung's August Moon
In August Moon, writer/artist Diana Thung creates a dark yet gripping fantasy tale. The Indonesian native talked to us about the story behind the mystery, which is set in a small town full of secrets.
I’m curious about the comics scene in Indonesia when you were growing up. I assume American comics were present there, but is there also a combination of graphic novels from all over the world? Is there a thriving Indonesian comics publishing business?
We actually get a lot of manga in Indonesia. They are printed on crappy paper, which is awesome because they are very cheap and so we can buy tons of them. I think there are more manga translated into Indonesian than English!
I read a lot of Doraemon and Conan, and all other kinds—romance, horror, mystery, humor. We also get a lot of Disney comics in Indonesia, mostly Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. They come as cheap, thin zines. We also get stuff like Asterix. We don't actually get much of the American superhero stuff in Indonesia, which is fine by me. The Indonesian publishers that translate foreign comics are probably thriving, but I'm not so sure about publishers of original comics. I've only ever seen imported stuff there. But I haven't been back there in a while, so maybe.
How did you first get interested in comics? What were your earliest favorites?
Growing up in Indonesia, foreign comics were readily available, and my parents never skimped on buying us these cheap comics (or any other books). Comics kept us (five kids) out of their hair, I guess. One of the earliest mangas that I read and liked was Candy Candy. When I moved to Singapore at nine years old, I got introduced to stuff like Calvin and Hobbes and Tin Tin, both of which I love.
What inspired you to get into the business professionally?
I drew a lot, since I was a kid, and just never stopped as others seemed to grow out of it. I would create my own characters and imagine little stories. But I never thought I would actually do anything art-related because in the Indonesian/Singaporean society, a comic artist/writer is not a job. Plus, I was good at maths, science, etc., so it was just a given that I would become a doctor or something along that line. Pressure from family and my own stupidity made me almost become a dentist. One year short of graduating from dentistry, much to my mum's disappointment, I quit and took up Fine Arts in an Australian university. Sometime in the three years I was studying dentistry, I started reading comics like Bone and Blankets. And I think that was when I started thinking about making my own comics. It was also probably fuelled by the fact that I hated doing a dentist's work (no offense to my friends who are dentists), and my imagination was a great refuge. I spent all my lectures doodling and daydreaming.
While studying Fine Arts in Sydney, it felt too awesome to be real that I was drawing and painting for homework. It was also during this time that I wrote Captain Long Ears, the first real story that I actually finished. And now I can't stop, no matter how much money I'm not making.
Tell us a little bit about the story told in August Moon.
It is about Fi, a girl who befriends a weird boy named Jaden. And through him, she is introduced to this whole secret and magical world of giant rabbit-like creatures. And through it all, only a select few special people know about this secret world.
What type of audience do you think this book will appeal to?
I think those who like stories with a sense of magic and wonder will like it.
When did you first start working on this book, and how did you go about getting it published?
I think it started in December 2007... and slowly the little vague idea I had of it developed into a whole story. I had been submitting stuff to Brett Warnock for a couple of years before this, and even though he knocked back some of my earlier stuff, he always encouraged me to send him my next work. And August Moon is the one that finally made the cut for Top Shelf.
What inspired the city of Calico in the book? Is it based on any real city you know?
The architecture is based on the suburbs of Sydney, where I have been for years now.
And the street vendors and the close-knit community would be from where I grew up in Indonesia and Singapore.
Fiona Gan is a wonderful heroine. How did you go about creating her?
The idea of August Moon started with me seeing the huge rabbit-like creatures hanging around where I live. And they always had this little human with them. And in the early stages, the human looked more like Fi. I had done a few paintings of her, too, and she always had small eyes and her fringe hair tied up, even if she looked different otherwise. I knew she was someone strong, and mature for her years. But also quite reserved, only letting her guard down with a select few.
And then later as the bits and pieces of the story come together, Fi became the one who is "normal," while Jaden is the weird, mysterious one. Fi (Fiona) is the name of my favorite character in the John Marsden series, Tomorrow When the War Began. In those books, Fi was not the central character, but I always liked her because she was quiet and strong.
And I gave her one of my best friends' surnames. I like to sneak my friends' names into my stories whenever possible.
Do you plan to do more stories starring Fiona?
No. It seems like everything that needs to be told has been told in August Moon. Things that readers don't know about Jaden or Fi or the Rabbits or the Monkeys should remain that way, I think. It is a special, secret world. And Fi would have to be more grown-up in the next stories, and I don't like writing adult protagonists! They are less likely to believe in magic.
What are you working on next?
I have two digital-release-only comics coming out from Top Shelf later this year—Splendour in the Snow and Requiem for a Golem. Those are already inked and handed over to the loving arms of Top Shelf, so now I'm drawing another comic book called Astrolabe Road. And writing another one.