Snotgirl isn’t like other Image Comics series. Heck, it isn’t like most other comics in general. One minute, it’s a blogger comedy, the next a vengeful spirit appears, and maybe someone’s little brother is an ax murderer? Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and artist Leslie Hung have a singular creation on their hands, one as informed by girls manga as it is by the brutal superficiality of Los Angeles. A true collaboration, Snotgirl has seen O’Malley and Hung growing together as creators over a dozen issues and two trade paperback volumes, taking each surprising new narrative turn that comes to them. Hung is particularly influential on the book, bringing her sense of style and fashion to life on the cast of Instagram-influential fashion bloggers. With the book’s third arc just getting started, Paste exchanged emails with the duo to discuss their creative journey, reflect on the book’s unusual pace and tease what’s next for Lottie and the rest of the cast.
Snotgirl Vol. 2 Cover Art by Leslie Hung
Paste: Maybe it’s because we knew about the seven evil exes up front, but Scott Pilgrim felt pretty structured from the first volume on. Snotgirl, on the other hand, has an almost stream-of-consciousness flow to its narrative, one issue detouring to a haunted hotel, the next exploring a burgeoning crush. How much of Snotgirl’s outline is set in stone and how much is changing as you go along?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: Everything I write is driven by the main character’s energy, whether it’s stupid confidence like Scott, or anxiety and ambivalence like Lottie. Scott Pilgrim is a story in a straightforward genre to begin with, and it’s structured like a video game—you know the hero’s going to win. In Snotgirl, the heroine doesn’t even know what’s going on half the time. Hopefully we know a bit more than she does.
Paste: Snotgirl has a lot to say about the divide between how we present ourselves online versus how we feel about ourselves IRL. Do you think that dynamic has changed since you first conceived of the book? Are we getting better or worse at managing this balancing act?
Snotgirl was definitely born from anxiety both of us had about social media and the way we present ourselves—we obviously have different perspectives and experiences, but that anxiety about posting the right thing was something we could both relate to. I go back and forth on how I feel about our society’s relationship with social media, and I think a part of it is that we feel comforted by the filter people put on their lives, and we love the spectacle of it all. Lottie always feels like she’s messing things up, but to the people who look up to her, she’s perfect. I think that contrast is the driving force behind the story.
O’Malley: I feel like the dynamic online has shifted towards this pre-emptive “I’m garbage” mode. Like a defense mechanism: write in your bio that you’re garbage, so nobody can be surprised when they find out it’s true. I don’t think performatively being a garbage person is any better for your brain than pretending to be perfect, though.
Paste: I know you get asked about it every interview, but can you talk a bit about how your collaboration works? Monthly-ish comics are a new venture for both of you. How have your partnership and working habits evolved over the course of the book?
Hung: We’re still working on it! We’re taking our time with the book, because its story and characters are important to us, and they need time to grow.
O’Malley: Also, we need time to grow. It’s our first time doing this. We’re on issue #12 now and our process is just beginning to make sense to me, but at the same time the complexity of the story keeps increasing, so we’re always challenging ourselves.
Instagram Art by Leslie Hung
Paste: There are some central (murderous?) mysteries to Snotgirl, but you don’t seem in a rush to answer them. Should readers expect firm answers down the line, or are you comfortable with a bit more ambiguity in the mix?
Hung: I guess you could say we’re more interested in the characters than in the mystery, at least in terms of straightforward plotting. We always talk about how life is confusing and ambiguous. People are inconsistent and do senseless things. That’s what makes them interesting, and also frustrating.
O’Malley: You know, Snotgirl is full of big emotions and in-depth character work, but it’s a comedy. There’s a mystery in there, but the main character literally doesn’t seem to care. I guess we’re more interested in the stupid parts of the story. We’ll get to the end and hopefully it’ll be satisfying, but we’ll also pass a lot of interesting things along the way.
Paste: Likewise, how deeply do you plan to incorporate the supernatural aspects of the book into the ongoing plot? Is there more to Lottie’s ghost sighting than a one-off haunting?
O’Malley: Oh, it’ll be weird. One of the ongoing joys of writing Snotgirl is the realization that things are only going to get weirder.
Hung: If you’ve been paying attention, the supernatural elements have been there since the beginning, but they’re low-key.
Paste: As the cast expands, are you surprised at all by who you’re gravitating toward on the creator side, or how fans are responding to individual characters? I know I’m obsessed with Virgil and his stylish short shorts.
Hung: I like most of the characters for different reasons. My relationship develops from drawing them over and over, coming up with their individual styles and thinking about how that changes over time. I love drawing Virgil and Charlene, who are both vastly different in style and attitude. I think many fans gravitate towards Caroline, which is a small victory for me, because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to portray the character I envisioned in my head on paper. She’s probably the character who has changed the least and lives up to my expectation of her the most.
O’Malley: It’s tough to juggle all the characters and give everyone equal time. I enjoy writing passive-aggressive dialogue for Normgirl and stupid stuff for Ashley to say. I feel like Leslie and I both love the most annoying characters. I’m also happy with how Virgil is coming across—he hasn’t spoken a single word since like issue #8, but he’s still in the script… I still have to write those parts…
Paste: Aside from fashion and the anxiety of social media, what influences are feeding into the book? The lettering and nearly slice-of-life pacing reminds me of manga conventions we don’t see often in American comics.
Hung: I grew up exposed to more manga than American comics, so it’s always been a huge part of what made me want to draw and create characters from a young age, and is obviously a part of Snotgirl’s DNA. Josei comics are primarily about women, for women. It’s not really a category of comics in America, but josei manga have always been compelling to me because, like Snotgirl, they’re primarily about the relationships we have with ourselves and the people around us.
Instagram Art by Leslie Hung