Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I am an expat writer and cartoonist living in Beijing, China. I have studied Mandarin for about fourteen years now. My fiancee and I run our business here and create comic books that are mostly geared toward the China market, but Westerners curious about China will also enjoy them as well. So far I have made about 10 books for the series, but there are always at least two more in the pipeline at any given time. It is a series that I can foresee working on for a very long time.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
The title I’m working on currently is called Final Destinations, the first part of which is an introductory mini-series whose English title is Mort in China. It follows the employees of an afterlife tourism agency as they go about their daily lives in China. The series is a product of years of living in and studying China paired with my love of folklore and legend, specifically legends surrounding Death and other Thanatotic entities.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
That is hard to say. Aside from myself, I really don’t have any other baseline to go off of. Since I work in comics instead of prose, everything goes in an ordered pipeline. Our books start with a premise which becomes an outline, which in turn becomes a script, which in turn gets edited and then drawn.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
We started Final Destinations with the intention of creating an animated series. For that reason the comics pull more influence from western animation than from literature. Animators like Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, and the Tom Ruegger have heavily influenced the work. We like the idea of creating fun and fast paced stories that still have some educational value. Ruegger did this very well when he was working with Spielberg on things like Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. We really want to preserve that kind of spirit in the work we do because China has never really had anything like that. That said, authors like Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Norton Juster, Jhonen Vasquez, and Joseph Campbell have had a big impact on how I approach story telling. I also draw a lot on traditional Chinese folklore and stories like Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio and the works of authors like Lu Xun.
What are you working on now?
For the moment I am back to drawing. I’m pencilling the next instalment of ‘Final Destinations’, which won’t be released for quite a while yet. I challenged myself to write an issue to pass the Bechdel test and what resulted is what I feel to be a good commentary on some of the major issues young women in China face.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
For reaching a Chinese audience, there are a multitude of comic websites to connect you with your audience. Apart from that we try to attend Conferences and Expos when we can. The scene here is a lot different from the one in the west. I’m usually the only creator sitting around at a booth waiting to engage the public. Most other comic creators don’t bother, which I feel is a missed opportunity on their part to really get to know the readers.
For the West, we’re still trying to figure that out. We’re publishing our series in English on Amazon now. Those books will be available on Kindle starting January 8th, 2018. Aside from that we try to maintain a steady web presence and make ourselves available. We have a Facebook presence and we keep a WordPress blog as well.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Nothing terribly profound. The best I can say is read as much as you can, try to have as many life experiences as you can, and just keep writing. If you really want to develop your own style, avoid spending too much time at things like writers’ feedback groups. They’re good every once in a while, but my experience is that they often pull people toward mediocrity. You spend enough time there and you might begin to notice that your work is starting to sound too much like everyone else’s. It’s better to find a number of authors you really admire and try to internalize their styles as much as you can. After a lot of reading and practice you’ll find that you’ve forged your own unique voice.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Never trust a man without a vice.
That was certainly one of the most memorable pieces of advice anyone ever said to me. At face value it may seem like a horrible way to think, but I feel that it applies more than we’re willing to admit. It’s right up there with the adage ‘If it’s too good to be true it probably is.’ Anyone that looks too polished on the surface usually has something a lot darker going on underneath. Whereas someone whose vice is readily visible has probably come to own their shadow a bit more.
In writing this makes for better, more relatable characters. The best characters are flawed, they have some kind of weak spot that makes them vulnerable. When your character is vulnerable, your audience can understand them better. Personally, I feel this is a lot of the reason someone like Batman resonates a lot more with the audience than Superman. Superman is, at least for most of his publication history, a squeaky-clean vice-less character. It makes him hard to relate to. Batman however is a character based entirely around the vice of self-indulgence. He indulges the pain and sorrow he feels for his parents’ deaths and it becomes the relatable crux of his character.
So, never trust a man without a vice. Ipso facto, if you want your character to be relatable and trusted at the very least give them a vice; it can often turn a Mary Sue into a passable character.
What are you reading now?
Not as much as I want to be reading. Living in China puts a limitation on what English language books you have access to. I can read Chinese, but not to a level that reading a novel comes easily. I tend to go through audio books while I’m drawing. The last one of those I remember listening to was Murakami’s IQ84. Having never read anything of his previously I really wasn’t ready for it. Perhaps in a few years I’ll try for Norwegian Wood or Kafka on the Shore. I really didn’t know what I was getting into with his work but I will need a while before I’m ready to give it another go. I am slowly working my way through Gaiman’s Sandman series between books. Finding the time for that on my writing/drawing schedule isn’t always easy.
What’s next for you as a writer?
My current series should keep me going for a while. It is steadily gaining momentum here in China and I have a backlog of about seventy topics and story ideas that should keep me busy for quite some time.
What is your favorite book of all time?
Favourites are such ephemeral things, but given the number of times I have read it and how much I push it off on others, I will have to go with Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. It is a great example of an entertaining story that can teach valuable life lessons to people of any age. I feel it gets overlooked far too often.
Author Websites and Profiles
Christopher (Vali) Rumage Website