New to readers of the Island anthology, but well known in the Furry subculture, is an artist usually featured in Hard Blush; a series releasing extensively gay furry comics, Onta. Whilst he’s associated more with pornographic and adult comics, his entry into Graham and Rios’ anthology series Badge of Pride will be a more slice of life offering, as the artist delves deeper into the lives of his cast of characters. Marty, Taylor, Jessie and Mu show their wildly different experiences and expressions of sexuality during a local gay pride parade. Showing that even now Pride is an important part of LGBT life, meaning different thing to each person, whether they love it or loathe it.
I found myself drawn to, and feeling sympathetic towards, the quiet and retiring lion, Jess portrayed as finding it particularly difficult to identify with the more flamboyant carnival atmosphere he finds himself caught up in. He bemoans “I can’t relate to any of this shit” and finds himself “sulking like an idiot” while others throw themselves into the party with more ease and gusto.
With Island issue 6 out next week I finally got a chance to ask Onta a few questions about his newest comic.
Marfed: How did you first discover the furry subculture and were you already drawing by this point? What lead you to want to draw comics, especially furry ones?
Onta: I discovered it as many do, through erotica. Specifically Japanese gay kemono artist. There where many inspiration but Aoi Takayuki and Poju’s entry where a really big deal for my entry into furry.
I had slacked around for a while trying to commit to various projects but could never fully commit to something. I felt if I created a persona and boxed myself into a small limited area my mind would do better. I had been trying to make comics for years and had failed quite often. Miu asking me to do a page for the first edition of Cocktails was really my first major completed comic’s work which was pretty late in my career as an artist. I didn’t have fully formed characters and story, even if only porn prior so it gave me a big boost. I felt very weird after completing it as it was a new sensation.
M: How did working on Brandon and Emma’s Island anthology come about? Were you a fan of either of their work before hand and have you been following the issues of Island up to now?
Onta: Brandon approached me a year and some change ago. I believe he was introduce to my work through Fangdangler (Adriel Forsythe). I used to be pretty big into indie comics back in the day following Derek Kirk Kim and similar artists and I gradually fell out of that sort of thing as work in animation industry and later games industry took over. I have become a fan of both Brandon and Emma since my involvement.
M: Can you tell us a little bit behind the story you have in Island and what lead you to write it? What was the best part of working on this story for Island? How did you tackle including characters from your previous work that readers might be unfamiliar with?
The creation of this story was not simple and actually require a lot of outside help including reviews and feedback cycles. Understand that although I’ve made quite a few comics they all heavily rely on adult scenes to fill out the whole thing. Having to make a story that relies nearly 100% on interactions is new territory for me. , I’m having to introduce my characters to new readers meaning I couldn’t rely on previously established character elements. I wrote the story and somewhat over emphasized their characters as to catch everyone up with this entry hopefully it pays off and people get the archetypes. As for the story itself I wanted something that would both satisfy furry fans and attempt to mirror gay acceptance with furry acceptance. Hopefully the irony of hating furries but enjoying the message of gay tolerance isn’t lost on most readers. I also had to work on facial construction on Jessee as his face has always been a loose cannon as far as structures go.
The best part was honestly getting it done. It was very, very hard work. I think this is the most professional I’ve even been on a project because I feel these characters are on the end of their lifecycle with me so a lot of pushing was needed to get the story out.
M: Not only are you in the issue, you drew the cover too. How did that come about and how does it feel that in January Marty and company will be rubbing shoulders with the likes Spider-man and Batman on comic shelves?
Once again that came out of the blue when I was asked. To be frank again, it was just a “do the work and make it nice” scenario. I think 21 year old me would be handling all of this a lot differently. As an older feller I feel It’s more of a “do a good job and don’t fuck up” feeling.
M: Are there any other furry artists’ work you could see fitting into Island in future issues?
Onta: I definitely think Miu (creator of duo Peaches and Cream), Seel and Rikose would do great in Island.
M: Were you at all worried about the perception of your work with a non furry audience with a lot of it being very adult in its art and themes?
I’m only worried about Brandon book doing well or not and I’ll be working hard to get furry fans to purchase and offset sales slump from those uninterested. I’m in too deep to worry if people will respect me or my art or the adult themes. I never anticipated any serious published work ever so it showing up out of the blue is a nice treat but it’s so far off from my mind I’m in it to do the work and hopefully make Brandon happy. If it does well and people like I’m excited but I have zero expectations from my work in Island beyond doing a good job for my employer.
M: Do you feel that furry is slowly becoming more mainstream and the public more accepting of works like yours that would at one time have been considered exclusively for a furry audience?
Onta: I think as time goes by and people deal with the fact that everything is up for grabs as far as sexualizing stuff, people will learn to deal with furry as two distinct things. The Disney movie coming out won’t hurt and will probably spawn a huge new group of furries.
M: I found myself identifying with Jess a lot and his feeling of not fitting in with the rest of the Pride attendees or the typical Gay identity. Is this something you that comes from direct experience yourself or from other people you have met? Which character, if any do you feel you identify with the most?
Onta: I think the majority of gay people are completely underrepresented. I also believe there is a strong “Full gay or get out” sort of mentality from both the gay scene and in general. No one wants anything but very clear sexual labels and it just doesn’t work that way. I think Jess’s position is the first baby steps for a lot of people. Someone who doesn’t aggressively hide their sexuality but also doesn’t reveal or revel in it.
Each character represents a part of me. Not equally or even in the same way. Some characters represent desire or wishful thinking others are more mirroring my personality or thoughts.
M: The idea of Jess coming to terms with his own sexuality has been subtly hinted at in your adult work, what made you want to pick up on this thread again? What interests you about it?
Onta: I think the furry fandom has a unique appeal to people who are taking their first steps into exploring the sexuality as gay males. Furry’s and furry conventions are sort of a microcosm. A lot of niches, interest and kinks sort of converge under this one major theme and since Anthro fans are pretty much used to being social pariahs, grouping with similar folk sort of soften how much you stick out from normal everyday life.
Since my work is directed at the furry fandom to some extent I felt I should include a swathe of personality types with varying levels of sexual and emotional maturity. Jess, although my least popular character and more popular with woman was the best angle to allow new readers and furry fans in general entry into the story I wanted to present without alienating them.
M: Do you still think Pride is important even in 2016 and why?
Onta: I’m not sure. The internet is doing a lot of good (and some bad) where visibility is concerned. I think pride is more of an event for many people then a social cause at this point as it’s often presented with some level of showmanship over any real attempt to present or solve issues that non-hetero folks deal with. I wanted to present something a bit more realistic with the way I’ve noticed the crowds interact with the parade without getting too catty/snide about it.
M: Badge of Pride raises some interesting points as well as being fun, could you see yourself doing more works of this type for a mainstream audience that deal with topics like sexuality and identity as well as your adult work?
Onta: This comic took a lot out of me. I don’t know. I didn’t want to indulge in a dark, self-hatred, depressive style slice of life comic though was my first kneejerk response when asked to make a story. I felt I should focus on entertaining the people first and get my messages across somewhat subtly. I have people who have read the script and given feedback to thank for that. If the reception is good and people genuinely like it and Image doesn’t get mad and numbers are good on sales it would be a good serious consideration.