That Interview Series on Ash's Patreon #4: H-P Lehkonen of Life Outside the Circle
 
One of my favorite modern webcomic artists active today is H-P Lehkonen, so much so I interviewed her when she was doing her colorful "Immortal Nerd" (IN) run on LINE Webtoons English from 2015 to 2017. 

[H-P Lehkonen profile picture on H-P's twitter @hplehkonen]

IN has since ended and H-P has returned in 2018 with the heartwarming, monochrome "Life Outside the Circle" (LotC) also on LINE Webtoons English. It was at a glance a complete departure aesthetically from the neon colors of IN. And It seems like it's due time for another conversation with the talented and lovely H-P. But first, I'll let H-P intro herself!

Wednesday Ash (ASH)  

Heyya, can you please introduce yourself to my Patreon audience and what you are known for and what your main project currently is?  

H-P Lehkonen (H-P) 

Hey! I'm H-P Lehkonen. I'm a Finnish comics artist and I have worked for LINE Webtoon as one of their featured creators for a couple of years now. My previous comic there was called Immortal Nerd and I have just recently launched a new series called Life Outside the Circle. I also do some comics that are published on paper in Finland, USA and France and I try to educate people on comics and how to make a living with them through twitter and just lecturing in schools and comics events!  

ASH

Does your identity influence the themes of your comics? I know you are a non-binary person. But for someone unfamilliar, how would you describe what being non-binary person is?

H-P

Yes, I'm non-binary and when I started making Immortal Nerd, I made the main character Nokia a non-binary femme person, like me! Later on, while I was drawing Immortal Nerd, I realized I was more masculine leaning and I started my transition. Now the new comic, Life Outside the Circle, has a main character who is a trans man! So you can totally see how I put my own identity into my characters. Being non-binary can be pretty much anything, there's so many variations, but basically it just means you don't identify with either men or women! 

[Line Webtoons banner for Life Outside the Circle, illustrated by H-P Lehkonen]

ASH

Do you find it hard bringing up non-binary themes in comics in Finland, or are you encouraged even to do so by your readers there?

H-P

I think in general, Finland is quite a good place to talk about nonbinary issues. Our language only has one pronoun that is gender neutral, so no need to battle with he/she/they. Sometimes that makes translating my comics to English a bit challenging! There are some older comics fans who still think comics should just be about westerns and superheroes, but that time is slowly passing and the Finnish Comics Society (biggest comics organization here) is very interested in supporting diverse comics! I'm even a board member of it myself! 

[Panel from Immortal Nerd, written and illustrated by H-P Lehkonen]


ASH  

Your two webtoons works, Immortal Nerd (IN) and Life Outside the Circle (LOtC) seem to be superficially worlds apart. One high up in space, the other grounded on earth. One depicted in vibrant color, the other in understated monochrome. You mentioned this in your answer, but is that reflective of your own self-discovery in your identity exploration? I don't want to assume to much, being ignorant of the experience, but is that a conscious transference of idea from identity to page, or was it shall we say...just how it came out?

H-P 

Well the reason behind the differences in the series is just that... I drew IN for two years and I really wanted to do something different this time! I wanted traditional coloring and more down to earth plot! But still, I want to make queer comics! So there's no bigger reason behind the change in the style and colors, just me wanting to try out different things.  

ASH  

Indonesian also lacks a gender pronoun, but the fear-mongering against the LGBT community is still very strong owing to religious pressure, I gather in Finland such forces are very minimal to non-existent? Are you religious at all?  

H-P

Finland is actually a country where we have a national church that can gather taxes! It's the Evangelic Lutheran Christian church. I belong to the church but I'm not super religious. The church itself is also very liberal... But still, over 70% of Finns belong to this church and pay taxes for it! 

ASH

Wow, that's progressive! Back to comics then, what is the main difference between drawing for IN than LotC, something you didn't think was going to be different up until you were actually doing it and through...wow this is different! ha ha 

 H-P 

 I guess it's the time one LOtC episode takes. IN had about 35 panels per episode, LOtC normally has under 30, but it still takes so much more time to draw! Mainly because the ink painting and ink-wash technique is very slow to produce. I knew it would be slower, but not this slow! But I do think it looks awesome on the pages! 

[Panel from Life Inside the Circle, written and illustrated by H-P Lehkonen]

ASH  

Oh yeah I totally agree! The ink stuff looks stunning, you have certainly leveled up from the IN days. How about the writing side of it, is it easier to write LotC because of its real world setting or do you feel more "free" writing something like IN where literally anything goes? 

 H-P 

Actually in writing there's a big difference! IN was made by me alone, but LOtC has an editor, Bekah Caden from webtoons, who helps me with the writing. So that has actually also been surprising! Working with an editor is very different from working alone. So yes, IN was way more free, not because of the setting, but because now I have an editor. But in this case, the "free" is not better. I absolutely love having an editor! 

ASH  

Oh! Can you please describe what the workflow is working with an editor, I'm sure inquiring minds want to know, especially people who are just starting out or have been "their own master" for so long making their own personal webcomics. 

 H-P 

Well, I draw thumbnails of my comic, send them to my editor, then she gives me feedback and I draw the chapter based on that and send that to her. Then we might do some minor changes, but mostly at that point it's just spell checking... And that's it! Basically she checks that I don't make weird plotholes in the comic and that the comic is easy to read! 

ASH  

Wow that sounds like a productive workflow! So tell me about your current slate of work, are you purely focused on LotC or are you working on other comics and art parallel to it? How many? Anything you can name? 

 H-P 

Well... I have two secret projects going on... I can name one but not the other. I am working on re-launching my old comic Silly Ghost. It's a story of a small girl, a small ghost and two medium size moms. It will be drawn by Arvi Tammi and I am the writer! I am also working on an extremely secret romantic comic with my partner... But that will later on be launched as an early access thing on my Patreon! 

ASH

Oh wow more cool rewards for your Patreon, by the way how has Patreon been treating you? I see you have a healthy amount of patrons now, which is great for a just launched campaign! 

 H-P 

Yes! I think it's the fans of LOtC wanting to become characters on the background of the comic haha! That was a thing that's going on only during January, so I think that made people jump into it right off the bat! But yes! I've been doing very well! I'm really happy people have been interested in the stuff I'm offering them!

ASH  

Is this crowdfunding thing the way forward you feel, not talking about individual platforms but as a concept. I guess in a way it returning back to ye olde ways where patrons fund the arts but now its the common folk instead of aristocrats? 

 H-P 

 I think crowd funding is fantastic, but due to Finnish very strict laws in accepting donations, some crowd funding is seen as donations and for that reason I personally can't use Kickstarter for example... But I'm really happy I can use Patreon! That is seen as a subscription service by the law! So yes, crowdfunding is awesome! 

ASH

Alright H-P anything you want to say to your fans from IN and LotC maybe something for supporting you all these years? 

 H-P 

I am amazed to see some of these people who have been following my work for ages! Some have even become friends of mine through that! All my best greetings to the long time readers... And all the best to the new people just joining in too! I am so happy my comics have been able to grab the attention of some new people and I can't wait to build these awesome online relationships with all the new readers I now have. I love meeting everyone in conventions around the world and replying to everyone's tweets and messages to me! So a huge thank you to everyone! 

 [Panel from Life Inside the Circle, written and illustrated by H-P Lehkonen]

And that's the interview! 

Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did :)


I've been Wednesday Ash,

And have a nice day!

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