really followed any comics til I was introduced to Dharma
This excellent, eight-parter comic zine about a group of
anarchist punks planning to blow up a multinational - fastfood
restaurant on their opening day blew my mind away (no pun
intended). When I was in Auckland, I got to hang out with Ant
Sang, the creator of the zine, who turned out to be a really
warm, friendly and down-to-earth guy. Here's an interview that I
conducted with him recently.
How did you
get started in comics?
I've been drawing ever since I could pick up a pencil. When I
was a kid I'd do crazy drawings of talking animals and that,
which when I look at now are completely incomprehensible. I
really got serious about comics though when a friend
introduced me to American and Canadian alternative comics in the
early nineties. Artists like Chester Brown, Daniel Clowes, Julie
Doucett really opened my eyes to the possibilities of what comics
could express. This was a time when autobiographical comics were
everywhere and the idea of doing personal stories, as opposed to
superheroes and sci-fi and that stuff, was a real awakening for
me. It was like, "Finally, a venue for my pent up emotions
When did you
first start conceptualising ideas to do Dharma Punks? What were
some of the issues you have planned to weave into Dharma Punks
and how successful do you think you have been?
I'd been doing a minicomic called Filth since 1994. I had put
out seven issues and thought that it had run its course. I had
moved on from the characters and the angst that had started that
minicomic off, so I wanted to do a big story which would be the
end of these characters and that period of my life. This was
around 1997. Only problem was I didn't know anything about story
structure at that time, so for years it really went nowhere. It
wasn't until I started researching story structure and writing
for plays and movies that The Dharma Punks started to take
A lot of the
problem I had in the early stages of writing Dharma Punks
was that I didn't know what the whole thing was supposed to be
about. There were too many themes and issues which I wanted to
include and it was turning into a really jumbled story. Some of
the themes were coping (or not) with death, friends growing
apart, multinational corporations, and spiritual awakening. As
for how successful I've been juggling them all, I'm not sure. I'm
often my own worst critic and the comic falls short of what I
originally intended... but hopefully there is enough honesty in
the story to make it worthwhile anyway.
Punks comic series is of epic proportions, an eight-parter
spanning a couple of years. What has your work process been
Really sloooow. Over the last couple of years I've become way
too familiar with my drawing board. I juggle doing Dharma Punks
with freelance illustration work, so often the only time I get
to work on my comics is late at night or in between paying jobs.
you’re finally working on the eighth issue and approaching the
end of this massive project, what are your thoughts on it? What
have you learnt from undertaking Dharma Punks?
I'm fairly happy with it, but like I said before, there are some
things I'm not so happy about. I'd like to go back and redo
parts of it, because the story evolved and changed over the two
years. Apart from that I'm really pleased the end is in sight.
Here in New Zealand, Dharma Punks was really well received (for an
'underground' publication I mean). When I released the first
issue I was absolutely terrified that people would think it
sucked, that nobody would buy it, and that I'd be stuck with
boxes and boxes of unsold comics.
What have I
learnt?... People do read comics! Sort the story out properly
before starting to draw it...
Dharma Punks, you do a lot of freelance illustration. What have
been some of your most interesting or challenging projects?
Some of the most fun projects have been the children's books
I've illustrated. Doing illustrations of various bands and
musicians for a local music magazine was cool too. The most
enjoyable jobs are usually when I'm getting paid a good amount
and have quite a bit of freedom to do the illustrations as I see
fit. The worst jobs, on the other hand, are when clients don't
want to pay much, want the artwork yesterday and expect great
Can you tell
us more about the comic scene in New Zealand?
The local comic scene is full of really talented, passionate
artists who produce some amazing comics. The only problem with
the scene is that it really struggles to find a decent
readership. New Zealand's so small - just under four million
people live here. The percentage of people who read comics, let
alone local comics, is usually absolutely tiny. Most comic
artists here do their comics 'on the side' - some, like me do
freelance artwork, others have jobs as animators, web designers,
or whatever else. Being so far removed from any real comics
industry, the comics people do here are often really beautiful,
personal works which are produced without the restrictions of
what is or isn't commercially viable - so I guess being so
small and remote has its advantages and disadvantages...
You are a
fifth-generation Chinese living in New Zealand. How connected or
disconnected do you feel from your roots? Also, how has this
affected/influenced your work?
It's not something I really worry about, but when I do think
about it, I guess I am pretty darn disconnected from my roots.
In terms of language and culture I don't know half of what I
Like I just
mentioned, I don't usually think about this issue too much, but
perhaps it does seep into my work. The main protagonist
(Chopstick) in Dharma Punks is juggling his punk lifestyle
with an exploration of Buddhist ideas. The next project I'm
planning on working on will be something involving kung fu and
based in ancient China, so I'll be doing a lot of research about
that particular time and place. Hell, maybe I think about it
more than I realised!
will life be like after Dharma Punks?
I've got a lot of projects planned. They've been bubbling away
over the last few years as I've been working on Dharma Punks, so
I'm really looking forward to working on something new. To
be honest, I can't wait to get started on them. Dharma Punks has
taken much longer than anticipated to finish (sorry readers!)
and hopefully within the next couple of weeks it'll all be
wrapped up and it'll be onwards and upwards."
this article originally featured
in Red Letter Day issue 3