Your typical superhero comic hinges on a cleaving of the self. A godlike being can’t walk among mortals just as a regular person can’t save the day, so Wonder Woman becomes Diana Prince, and Storm becomes Ororo Munroe—or maybe, in the latter case, it’s the other way around.
Snotgirl takes that comic book trope out of the extraordinary and into the mundane. The comic, a collaboration between artist Leslie Hung and Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley (published by Image Comics), explores the public selves we cultivate on social media, the private selves we hide behind the screen, and our anxieties about what would happen if that carefully curated public/private divide were to ever break down.
The comic, the 11th issue of which was released September 5, centers on Lottie, a green-haired fashion blogger slash Instagram influencer stricken with a severe case of allergies who fears her quest to be hot and have lots of followers will come to an end should anyone see her with slime-green snot leaking out of her nose. The onset of uncontrollable, reputation-ruining body fluids drives a lot of the tension in Snotgirl, transforming what would otherwise be a perpetually pleasant hangout between a bunch of hot fashion bloggers into a modern-day Tell-Tale Heart about never letting your friends, or your followers see you sweat (or drip snot, or bleed, or cry, or piss, or cum, or…). Not unlike the Hippocratic theory of humors, Snotgirl deploys body fluids to reflect and reveal its characters’ deep-seated anxieties and unspoken inner workings, saying things for them that they’d rather keep hidden.
“It’s more about the characters’ humanity than it is about anything else,” says Snotgirl co-creator and illustrator Leslie Hung. “There’s more to people than what’s on the surface, even in a shallow pool.”
I recently had the chance to talk to Hung about her work on Snotgirl, her interest in the influencer lifestyle, and how she navigates that public/private divide in her own life. Our conversation has been condensed and edited lightly for clarity.
JEZEBEL: In the Hollywood Reporter interview you did in May, you said one of the reasons Snotgirl writer Bryan Lee O’Malley wanted to make something with you was because he liked the way you draw women. That’s definitely the reason why I picked up my first issue of Snotgirl. I was wandering through the back of Forbidden Planet here in New York last year when I noticed the volume one anthology. I remember seeing this gorgeous sad girl with slime-green hair and snot dripping out of her nose and was just like, “I need to know her.” Have you always been into drawing women?
LESLIE HUNG: Yeah, I guess that has become my signature style over the past couple of years. I’ve always drawn women, ever since I was a little kid, but in my teens and early twenties, I got more into drawing men—these very svelte young men. One of my friends at the time—he’s a guy that draws very voluptuous women—he’d always make fun of me, like, “You don’t know how to draw girls! You’re so bad at it!” I was very annoyed at him saying that, so I decided I’m going to practice and I’ll show him. It kind of reinvigorated me. I found something in it that I wasn’t in tune with as a kid, if that makes sense. It probably had something to do with being older and having more of an understanding of women’s bodies—more of an understanding my own body—and how I wanted to celebrate that.
When you start drawing a character, do you always start in the same place?
It depends. For Lottie and all the other Snotgirl characters, we had to figure out what aspects and physical traits we wanted them to have and make sure to replicate that. With my own work, it’s a bit more of an organized chaos since I don’t have to have any kind of set idea in mind. I just let it flow from me. It sounds hokey, but my work is very focused on emotions and feelings, and I want to make sure I get those feelings and emotions across in the comic itself.
What kind of feelings are you usually trying to get into the panels of Snotgirl?
A lot of anxiety. I’m an introverted person and not the best equipped to deal with every type of situation that’s thrown at me, or the kinds of situations that Lottie gets into. I’m not, like, a fashion blogger or anything, but a lot of her anxieties are the same kinds of anxieties I had as a younger twentysomething, so that’s what I think about when I’m drawing her. I try to bring out her charm but also her brattiness and the things that make her unlikable. I feel like female characters aren’t allowed to have that level of nuance.
Reading Snotgirl, you definitely get a fully rounded sense of these characters. Like, yeah, they’re all super hot and fashionable, but they’re also constantly besieged by their bodily functions. They pee, they drip snot, they bleed… Disgusting body fluids really are, like, the “fifth lady” of the comic. Is that something that spilled over from your earlier work?
Oh, yeah, for sure. I’ve always had allergies, ever since I was little. I was always that sickly kid who was really bad at sports and everything. When Bryan and I were coming up with the story, I thought it would be so funny if there was this character who was really perfect on the outside and then had, like, horrible allergies. We both have allergies, so we both found that whole snot aspect super hilarious. Working on it, we both got so desensitized to drawing body fluids that when the first issue came out we were so surprised that people were disgusted by it. That’s kind of the whole point of the comic, in a way. Our humanity is disgusting, and we need to learn how to embrace it. I mean, I guess some people still won’t embrace it, but that doesn’t mean it’s less a part of us.
Even if it’s not on your Instagram or whatever, part of your “public brand,” you’re still pissing and shitting and bleeding behind the scenes.
Yeah, of course. Everyone’s doing that stuff. No matter how perfect their feed is or how amazingly poised they come off, they’re still people.
When you’re working on Snotgirl, what kind of tools do you use?
I start off on the computer. I’ll sketch digitally, then we—I mean, I—I’ll print it. I was gonna say “we” as if there’s a whole team. [Laughs] I’ll print it, then I’ll use a light-box and transfer all the pages onto pieces of paper with a pencil. Then I’ll ink it with a brush or a nib, usually one or the other.
What’s your workspace like, if you have a workspace?
It’s a mess. Like, awful. It’s a drafting table with a bunch of art supplies next to it. I really wish I could have a really nice photogenic workspace, but I’m not there yet. Maybe one day.
Yeah, that always weirds me out when someone’s workspace is, like, perfect. There are some websites that do regular features where they go into writers’ homes—
Is it always amazing?
Yeah, which… absolutely never. [Laughs] Have you always had a creative sanctum like that?
This is probably the most organized my workspace has ever been in my life. I used to be the type of person who’d draw anywhere. On the bed, on the ground, while I’m sitting at the computer, which is not very conducive to doing quality work—for me, at least. Having a designated workspace is very helpful, but I have a lot of friends who have really nice, put together offices and I’m just like… I can’t relate to that at all. [Laughs]
How do you come up with the fashion? Each character’s style is so distinctive.
I’ll look at magazines. I’ll look at Instagram. I’ll look at bloggers I’ve been following for a while. I’ll save images and try to remember what I’ve seen and why I liked it, and then I’ll try to make something new with it. Lottie’s probably the most daring. She wears so many different things. I try to keep an eye on the trends I see coming up every season and what’s going to happen next and work those into her wardrobe. Certain outfits are more successful than others, obviously, but that’s what dressing yourself in real life is like [laughs]. With Caroline, I just try to think about what would look hot if a really hot person wore it but would look bad if a normal person wore it. Like, if Caroline wore something like sweatpants and a t-shirt, she’d still look good because she’s just a hot person, but if Meg or Charlene wore that, they would just look frumpy. It’s that kind of low-effort mentality with her. But then sometimes she’ll bust out a really amazing outfit out of nowhere, and you’re like where did that come from?
What’s your approach for Meg and Misty’s wardrobes?
Meg is like a Pinterest-y, sweet girl whose a little bit like Zooey Deschanel. A very Hello Giggles kind of style. She’s just, like… very lovely.
[Laughs] Like, very ModCloth-y. Misty is definitely more avant-garde street fashion. I feel like she just wants to be a cream puff. She aspires to that larger silhouette because she’s so tiny. She’s the most fun to draw because she’s just so over the top.
What’s it like to see people cosplaying as characters you created?
Super weird! [Laughs] I used to go to anime cons and I’ve lived with cosplayers before, so I’m aware of how much goes into making a costume. Seeing everything my cosplayer roommates would go through to get ready for a convention, and then seeing people dressed up as my own characters and knowing how much work went into that is so surreal. I just can’t even believe it sometimes. I still haven’t formed very complete thoughts about it, but it’s very cool.
Do you get many chances to meet fans irl?
I’ve stopped going to as many conventions this year because of work, but I try to go when I can. I’ve always been surprised how many people actually manage to make it out. It’s really humbling, actually.
Is that where you and Bryan got the idea for the influencer convention they all go to in the ninth issue? Was that based on any of your own experiences going to cons after Snotgirl came out?
That’s way closer to Bryan’s experience. I don’t really get recognized. [Laughs] That’s not really a normal thing for me. It’s also based on what I hear from friends who are YouTubers and what I hear influencers saying on the internet about what it’s like to go to an event and have people come up to them and what networking at these events is like. It’s not dissimilar from what I do as an artist, but it’s very different when your brand is, like, your whole life. Your life kind of belongs to the people who follow you to watch what’s going on. It’s a very weird world we live in, for sure.
How do you maintain a balance between doing the thing you literally do in this industry [i.e., illustrating Snotgirl] with all the social stuff you have to do in addition to it? You know, like, meeting fans, networking, being on social media—all that extra work you have to do that’s not actually the line of work you do?
I get pretty overwhelmed at those kind of things, but I also know so many artists who are introverted weirdos like me. That’s kind of what attracted me to comics in the first place. These are, like, my people. I’m one of those people that kind of grew up on the internet, and I feel like my role on the internet has changed so many times. I was a weird teen, then I was a weird adult, and now I’m just not really sharing that much about my life on social media because I don’t feel comfortable doing that anymore. When Bryan and I came up with the idea for Snotgirl, I was having so much anxiety about the way that I came off to people I didn’t know at all. I’m trying to get better at it, but it’s still a weird balance. The internet is just a scary, weird place. You don’t know what people are going to do with your information. Not everyone out there’s your friend. It’s definitely kind of a struggle. I think we all want to share more of ourselves, but it’s hard to figure out how to do that.
I’m sure the fan aspect compounds all this. Is that fair to say?
I think so. I’ve been trying to talk to my fans more. A lot of the time, people are really great. Like, I would say at least 95 percent are really awesome, but then there’s that 5 percent of people that take everything out of context and don’t like anything you say. You have to realize that, at the end of the day, it’s not personal. Those people aren’t your friends. They’re not going to like you, and that’s okay. That’s kind of what I’ve realized over the course of getting older and making this comic and thinking everything I do matters so much because it really doesn’t. [Laughs]