Interview: Lisa Naffziger

    If you’re following her on social media, Lisa Naffziger‘s timeline is bursting with colour and vivid imagination. Immediately, you’re hit by the primary colours, rounded shapes, and unmistakable personality that define her style. She’s brought a plethora of classic movie monsters to life with it, but her original pieces are particularly striking.

    One of those originals is her webcomic, Taking Back Toku, which follows Akiyo Tsuburaya, the special effects director for a struggling film studio. The monster movies Akiyo works on all lovingly take their cues from Japan’s considerable catalogue – making Naffiziger’s affection for the genre abundantly clear. With plans to publish the series physically, Lisa joins Our Culture to talk about her work, what inspires her, and what’s on the horizon.

    Thank you for talking with us, Lisa! Please introduce yourself for our readers.

    Thanks for having me! I’m Lisa Naffziger. I’m a comic artist and illustrator with a tremendous love for giant monsters.

    Your style is instantly recognisable. What got you into art and illustration?

    Drawing has been a lifelong adventure of sharing ideas and making people laugh. I recognized those things right away in my childhood and I haven’t stopped doodling since. Neon dinosaurs and rainbow creatures are always a part of my work, and I think my ’90s childhood of Lisa Frank and R.L. Stine is to blame! My time at Savannah College of Art and Design allowed me to really pursue visual storytelling though— I can’t express how amazing it is to spend four years taking classes specifically about creating comics!

    Tell us about your webcomic, Taking Back Toku.

    Taking Back Toku is a kaiju-themed slice-of-life webcomic that I update every Tuesday. It tells the story of an artist/single-mother trying to save her practical effects studio by using her son’s pet monsters as film props. Like any good monster story, it’s front-loaded with a tangled human dilemma before the monsters make their appearance. But hang in there! It will be worth the wait.

    I really like that the series is very domestic in its scope. These characters are struggling with everyday trials and tribulations that many of us really face, just with a tinge of Japanese monster cinema to frame it. What made you want to go with this approach?

    Thank you! Monster stories are wonderful on their own, but I’ve seen the way they can be a vehicle for more intimate, character-driven narratives. Movies like The Host and Colossal have been absolutely influential to me— I love the way human emotions and struggles are visually reflected in giant creatures. But I can’t deny the way online commentary has motivated me to make stronger human sections. I know there are many people who think these movies can remain “good dumb fun,” but I can’t help but feel frustrated when monster movies are minimized to bargain-bin bad flicks— “it’s a monster movie, it doesn’t have to be good!” I feel that we’re limiting ourselves when we think in that way.

    Is there a character you identify with most?

    I would like to think I’m a little more stable and organized than Akiyo, but she is probably more like me than I intend for her to be. Being underprepared in high-stakes situations and navigating the commentary and doubt from those around you is all too familiar to me. Sometimes we do the best we can, fall short, and still live to tell the tale.

    Covers for Chapters 1-3 of Taking Back Toku.

    The only thing that bugs me is that I wish I had Akiyo’s job! She’s certainly living the dream of many practical effects fans. But there’s also a sense of real stress and trouble that runs through her work and into her home life. As an artist with an online presence, do you feel that people don’t always see the problems that come with what some consider a “dream job”?

    It’s a wonderful to be a creator and it’s a privilege to make things, but it still feels like work. The business side of art is strenuous in ways that people might not expect. Staying motivated and being mindful of mental health is a challenge too. I remember spending a long Michigan winter stuck inside working day after day. I felt frustrated that so many people romanticized the idea of working from home— the pandemic has fortunately spread the word that it’s not always a dream come true!

    Where would you like to go with Taking Back Toku next?

    Webcomics are fun and I love all the engagement I get while I’m in the progress of working on one. But there’s something so satisfying about holding a physical book in my hands. Taking Back Toku will be compiled into a single graphic novel at the end of it all. Whether I’m able to do that through traditional or self-publishing, I’m not sure. I just can’t wait to see it on someone’s book shelf.

    What’s next for you on the horizon?

    Projects pile up on me pretty quickly. I guess I still find myself biting off more than I can chew! In the midst of finishing Taking Back Toku, I am also working on a YA graphic novel about a young girl who interviews monsters, cryptids, and urban legends.

    Your YA novel sounds wonderful, but I have to ask, who’s your favourite cryptid?

    Thank you! Lake monsters and ocean-going reptiles of any sort really get my imagination going! It was a childhood dream of mine to meet the Loch Ness monster, so maybe I can still make that happen.

    Where can our readers find your work?

    The first few chapters of Taking Back Toku are available to read at takingbacktoku.tumblr.com. I also have a YA crime thriller graphic novel called MINUS that might already be at your local library! Check it out Amazon, IndieBound or Iron Circus Publishing.

    Otherwise Twitter and Instagram are my main hubs for my artwork. Get ready for some #KaiJune drawings coming up soon!

    Thank you to Liza Naffziger for joining us! Please check out her work using the links above. We can’t wait to see what’s next in store for Taking Back Toku!

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