Ant Sang: Dharma Punk — WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Ant Sang has worked on a diverse range of projects, ranging from solo novels such as Dharma Punks and Shaolin Burning to collaborative projects such as working on bro'Town, or their most recent collaboration with screenwriter Michael Bennett on graphic novel Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas. Writer and comics fan Tracy Farr questioned Ant on his artistic process, the ideas behind his works, and his progression as a cartoonist.

How does he translate someone else's words into pictures (as in Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas)? Through reading the script, trying to get a feel for the characters and the world and what that looks like, and doing a lot of sketches. This can take time because they aren't his creations, having to figure out what his connections are to the characters. This is often an evolving process — for example, Helen at one point had a shaved head, but Ant joked that she looked a bit too Charlize Theron in Mad Max and so her hairstyle changed.

When asked about his decision to include strong female characters in his work, Ant seemed understandably baffled.

I didn't set out consciously to do it... I write a lot of Asian characters because I am Chinese, but I didn't set out to represent them, it just felt natural. I'm very interested in where you fit in the world, what makes you comfortable in your skin, as I always feel like an outsider. In pākeha culture I'm conservative, coming from a Chinese background, but I'm a weirdo in the Chinese community. I'm looking at how we find ways to fit in.

This comes through in his exploration of martial arts and training in his novels, as a transformation physically, emotionally and mentally — "How you get from one state of mind to another is really interesting to me."

Regarding his use of colour, it all comes down to practicality. The Dharma Punks was in black and white because in the 90s most cartoonists were photocopying their comics — "We'd exchange tips on which photocopiers in Auckland produced the purest black with no smudge lines" — whereas Shaolin Burning was intended to be sold in bookshops and therefore required a more subtle shades of grey approach. Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas is in colour due to the go-ahead from the publisher, which suited the vibrant and hopeful Helen. Similarly the decision to tailor the story to young adults came from the publishers, who thought it suited a teen audience. Ant and Michael bounced some ideas off each other and Helen became an environmental activist rather than an unhappy wife.

Ant's next project will be smaller scale, a futuristic dystopia featuring a young character on the run being hunted down by a sinister group. Something to look out for!

Helen and the Go-go Ninjas