Chunky Girl Comics & Universe interviewed by Iesha Coppin
Chunky Girl Comics & Universe resonates with both younger and older generations, how do you keep your message unbiased to a particular crowd that is universal to everyone?
Chunky Girl Comics & Universe resonates with both younger and older generations, how do you keep your message unbiased to a particular crowd that is universal to everyone? -I originally created Chunky Girl Comics for women. I intended it to be for adults, like me, who needed to see that chunky can also mean strong, sexy and powerful. But when my daughter started getting teased in school, I knew that the bright, colorful and cartoon like characters would attract children as well. When I create a new print that may be more sexy or more adult, I try to balance it out and also put out something new for the younger crowd too. I love that when people come up to my table/booth at an event there is something for everyone.
How did you handle the life-altering bitter truths of “societal standards” when your 6 year old daughter was called fat at school. How did you address this topic with your daughter that transcended into the making of your brand?
I was absolutely heartbroken when she came home and said that someone called her fat. At 6 years old, kids just want to play and have fun and it’s awful that so many kids already have the knowledge and the understanding of hurting others with their words. I was raised in a home with a mother who made sure that my sister and I felt loved and cherished and appreciated. Being a mixture of several different ethnicities and having a family built of all shapes, sizes, colors and sexual orientation, we grew up just loving the person, not what may be on the outside. I have raised my children this way as well. It was definitely a tough lesson for my daughter to learn. I shared with her that not everyone has had the same lessons in life and that we should make sure that we always are kind, even if we feel like being mean. And that is how I run Chunky Girl- we love it all. If you love us, we love you. Come one, come all and be surrounded by positivity and acceptance.
Explain your year of promotional and inspirational speaking engagements and workshops, what are some of the key points you address? Walk us through one of your workshops and how you get your audience involved.
I had no idea that there would be such success with the public speaking aspect of Chunky Girl. In 2014 I was invited to share my story of overcoming being bullied (and even becoming a bully myself) at an Anti-Bullying event in Tracy, CA. I had no idea that event would start a whirlwind of scheduled appearances. I was asked by a teacher at that particular event, if I would come and speak to her class. I nodded yes and said SURE, however in my mind I was freaking out because I had no idea what I would say or do in front of a group of middle school kids. But I went home and created a workshop that I call “Superhero Within”. The last thing kids want to hear is another adult telling them what to do or how to feel, so I wanted to make sure the message I was sharing was presented in a fun and interactive way. So, I talk about accepting each others differences, recognizing similarities, inclusion, body confidence and standing up for others all with a superhero theme. The workshop involves having the kids create and draw themselves as a superhero as well as identifying things about themselves that they love and things that they hate. We also discuss the differences and similarities between heroes and villains and how personal choice can effect whether we become the hero or the villain of our own story.
I attend several comic conventions a year and have been honored to have been featured on many programming schedules. I host a panel discussion called “Body Image & Diversity in Comics, Cosplay & Pop Culture.” It usually features 2 other members of the Chunky Girl Universe and often guest panelists (both male and female) who want to lend their thoughts on the topics. We discuss body type in comics and movies and TV shows, as well as skin color and sexual orientation. We talk about whether or not Hollywood is ready for the social changes that we may all feel ready for. We talk about various stories or articles going around social media regarding body shaming or racial issues. The best feature of my panel discussion is the involvement of the audience. I LOVE having audience input and participation. I thrive on audience feedback so when we involve them, it makes the discussion that much more interesting and diverse. I have moderated panels where there are 10 people in the crowd, but have had panel rooms filled to the point where people were sitting on the floors and in the isles. I love to encourage people to come to conventions and find their tribe, their people. It’s one of the few places where we can go and fully express ourselves in an environment where it’s not considered weird. I love to have these discussions with people who are passionate about comics and cosplay and about particular characters. It’s just so incredible to be surrounded by passion and dedication.
One of my favorite stories is about a fan that I met in Stockton, California. He and his lovely wife attended one of our panels at StocktonCon. During the Q&A portion of our panel, he stood up and asked, “What advice do you have for a short, chubby guy who wants to cosplay?” My response was simple, “Just do it.” I talked to him after that event and told him to start piecing together his costume and to start by looking in his closet and seeing what will work. A few months later at an event in Modesto, CA this awesome guy and his wife came up to my table. He was in an Arrow cosplay and he came over to show me. He said that he took what I said to heart and he was there that day cosplaying for the first time and he couldn’t wait to show me. I teared up and gave him a huge hug and told him how proud I was. THAT is why I will always continue to do what I do.
The Chunky Girl Universe prides itself on loving YOUR Body and being empowered by the skin you’re in, now and always. How do you remain consistent throughout your message to your fans?
This is tough one because we are all forever changing pieces of art. While I am a confident, full figured woman, I have my bad days where I feel unattractive and hate how I look. I’m guilty of fad diets and wanting to be a certain size. But, I also have been larger than I am now and I have been smaller than I am now and no matter what size I am, I know that I am worthy of love. I definitely try to make people, especially women, know that they can be sexy and confident at any size and at any comfort level. While we may be comfortable in short shorts and tight fitting clothes, not every woman may be that comfortable, so I try to make a conscious effort to encourage women to wake up every morning and be comfortable in whatever they put on. Curvy women are often overly sexualized and we try to not be anyone’s fetish, but just be strong and confident women who people may find sexy. I have good days and bad days, in regards to how I feel about myself, but the key is, the good days far outweigh the bad.
Through Chunky Girl Comics you introduced the world to four distinctively different women, including: Rosie, Candy, Sage, and Sweet Pea. Can you describe each superhero and their significance to the comic book?
The great part about being a writer is that you get to release all of these ideas out into the world. These 4 women are all different versions of me. They all represent different parts of my life and in some cases, they are women that I would love to be. Rosie is the leader of the group and is the character that I created after myself. She’s stoic, level headed and the one friend that everyone turns to for advice. Rosie always has a shoulder to cry on for her friends. Superhero Rosie is the same. She is level headed and would much rather come to an understanding when there is a conflict rather than hurt anyone. She rarely resorts to violence and her weapon of choice is a bullwhip that she can use with great accuracy. Rosie subdues enemies, rather than kill.
Candy is the strong, silent member of the group. Standing at just about 6ft tall, she is a police officer in her day job and the “muscle” of the Heavy Response Unit by night. Candy is a very private person who loves her friends and always makes sure they are safe during their nights out. She hates to use her incredibly powerful physical strength, but when she gets pushed too far, she unleashes a power that only the likes of the Incredible Hulk can compare. Candy is a bisexual woman who still has not confided in her friends that she is attracted to women. She’s very private and likes to keep it that way.
Sage is the crazy, firecracker of the group. She short, chunky and covered in tattoos. She was raised in an urban neighborhood and she enjoys fighting. She grew up dealing with schoolyard fights and standing up for herself. She often has to be restrained by Candy because of small confrontations- don’t step on her shoes at the nightclub, or bump into her and make her spill her drink! She’s the life of the party and when it comes to fighting bad guys, she has no fear and will lead the charge. Her weapon of choice is any projectile- a gun, a crossbow, an old fashioned bow and arrow.
Sweet Pea is the baby of the group and she’s just as sweet as her name. Sweet Pea was raised in a wealthy family and has never wanted for anything. She has never had a job and will never need one. She may be spoiled, but she is not a brat. She is beyond generous with her family’s money and often funds the Heavy Response Unit trips and outings. She was made fun of quite a bit as a child because none of the other kids in school were dropped off in a limo or had fancy, name brand clothes. She never leaves the house without her full face of makeup. But in times of extreme emotion, danger or in a battle against evil, Sweet Pea can unleash her power of extreme speed, which is why her uniform is a one piece, catsuit. It’s sleek and allows her to move freely.
The characters are all different skin colors. Their ethnicities are not stated, however, I wanted anyone to be able to look at the four women and find something they identify with. There are four different skin tones, four different body types, four different hairstyles, four different clothing styles- there is something for everyone in these women. I love when someone comes up to the table at an event and gets so excited when they find a print of a character that looks like their mom, or their sister or their best friend. It makes me so happy to know that people identify with these women.
Like many of us you are not the most artistically inclined, but had a vision of bringing a universally acceptable comic book to the forefront, how did you source local talent such as Grant Miller and the Heavy Response Unit to illustrate and assist in bringing your vision to life?
When I first started seriously considering getting this first book done, I had no idea how to find someone who could take what I had in my head and bring it to life on the page. I actually placed an ad on Craigslist and received several responses. I had so many people submit “test” pages to me and while they were all very talented artists, none, except Grant, was able to capture what I envisioned. I love bright colors and characters that look like they are going to leap off the page and start singing. I’m very inspired by Disney-type artwork and animation. Grant was one of the few people that I spoke with who was able to draw curvy women without any difficulty. It was hard to find someone who was comfortable drawing outside of the normal stencil of what a “superhero” should be. I hope to work with Grant again on future projects. He is such a talent.
Chunky Girl Comics has become a familiar face at Northern California and Nevada comic conventions; do you have any plans on expanding toward widely known conventions such as Comic Con in New York City?
If I could travel all over the world and speak at conventions and do workshops I would. I dream of spending all of my time traveling all over and reaching people in other parts of the country. However, the cost is generally what keeps us from being able to travel so far. We are gaining success, but locally, so travel costs aren’t required or needed. However, traveling across the country would be an enormous cost to us, so until we are able to have enough notoriety to be invited as Con guests or have financial sponsors, we are pretty much locked to the West Coast at the moment. We have had interest from events as far as the Netherlands and Australia!! We would love to go EVERYWHERE!
There has been talks about you releasing a children’s book in the near future, can we get the inside scoop regarding the premise of the book?
I am so excited about this project. I wrote a silly little poem called “Why In The World Would You Call Me Fat?” It was again inspired by my daughter. It’s a little girl, the child version of our Rosie, reciting this poem and asking why she is being teased when she is a regular kid, just like everyone else. My favorite aspect of this project is that it is completely hand illustrated by the teenage daughter of one of our long time fans. Kaitlyn Lundelius is a high school student here locally and her dad, Eric, has been a supporter of Chunky Girl from the beginning. We have watched his girls grow up! Kaitlyn shared some of her artwork with me on a few occasions and she is so naturally talented. So when it came time to determine the artwork for the children’s book, I thought to myself, how cool would it be to have a teenager do the artwork on this project! It’s a different art style than what I would usually go for- it’s more anime/chibi style, but it’s so adorable and fun. I plan on officially launching the book in December and booking some book readings at elementary schools in the spring time.
Where do you see The Chunky Girl Universe headed in the next 5-10 years?
I think about this a lot. I have a very love-hate relationship with Chunky Girl. I know that sounds weird, but let me explain Chunky Girl takes up so much of my time, energy and brain power and it’s really hard to nurture Chunky Girl while being a single mom with two kids, work a full time job and take care of a house. It’s not easy. So there have been days where I have said, NO MORE and have wanted to just stop Chunky Girl all together. But I realized how sad and empty I would feel if I didn’t have this. My dream would be to be able to do this full time, as in full time speaking engagements all over the country and then spending weekend at various comic conventions. I would love to be able to have a full series of comics as well as several children’s books as well. I believe that it’s possible, it’s all about finding the right support. I have also toyed around with the idea of turning the Heavy Response Unit into an animated series, but that’s a whole other avenue that will take a lot of thought. Can you imagine? Chunky Girl on Cartoon Network or some other major TV channel!?
What are your thoughts on the plus-size community past vs. present, and how can we continue to elevate one another in a society that may not be so supportive?
Social Media is a blessing and a curse. When I was growing up, I’m 35 years old now, I didn’t have anywhere to go to see people who looked like me. There were no strictly plus size fashion magazines or stores who catered to chunky kids. There wasn’t a place to go to see beautiful curvy women on the runway or posing in bathing suits. There wasn’t a place to get support or to find other girls who were going through the same things. Acceptance isn’t what is it now. Now you can go online and find anything and everything. You can find strong, confident women. You can find fashion. You can find empowering videos and articles. You can read about women overcoming their insecurities and changing their lives for the good. You can find support from other people and get the encouragement you need to keep going and to be inspired. It’s really a great thing to have all of this at your finger tips. Now, it also opens you up to internet trolls and criticism, which we receive on a regular basis, but I don’t pay any mind to the opinions of trolls. It’s fantastic to be able to find your people online and find the love that you may be missing in day to day in person interactions.