To St John’s, With Love: An Interview with Leon Chung on His Upcoming Graphic Novel
Evidence of Leon Chung’s passion for art, especially animation, is present throughout his home. Art books, graphic novels, and DVDs are stacked neatly in shelves, along with figurines. The space also doubles as his studio where he’s creating his first graphic novel, This Lovely Rock by the Sea. On the wall is a dry erase board with a production schedule tracking his progress, with an end date in 2019, when he hopes to publish. It will consist of seven short stories set around St John’s, all written, illustrated, and coloured by Chung.
It’s “a love letter to St John’s,” Chung says. “It’s a graphic novel to make you fall in love with the city again.” The stories are from the perspectives of locals, immigrants, and tourists, contained in 130 to 150 pages.
It’s not limited to just romantic love either: some stories feature parental love, others letting go of love, or lost love. One, The Hike, is a hushed and bittersweet tale of an elderly man and his dog making the trek up Signal Hill for a final goodbye.
Chung finds plenty of inspiration in his surroundings. “Just look around, how can you not be romantic about Newfoundland, right?
“I’ve always read romantic stories of some of the greatest cities in the world, like Paris, Tokyo, Rome, New York, you know? And to me, St John’s is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Maybe I’m biased because I’m from here, but you look out and it’s a certain feeling that’s so unique when you go out, it’s so beautiful,” he says. “Walking downtown, the people are great and the buildings are beautiful and the sea, the air! I just want to celebrate being here.” Which is what he plans to do in This Lovely Rock by the Sea.
In his bedroom there’s a drawing board set up with various works in progress. After sketching a page he goes over it with a blue pencil and then ink. “It’s like a very traditional animation process.” Then out come the watercolours. After the artwork is scanned, he sets up his drawing tablet in the corner of his living room, colouring it digitally and making any necessary corrections.
Chung’s love of graphic novels stems from his childhood, and it’s a medium he considers underrated. In 2007, Chung headed to Toronto to attend the (now defunct) Art Institute of Toronto, where he studied animation, and later returned to study at OCAD University. “So I’m really traditionally taught when it comes to drawing. One of my main inspirations is Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki, who are like animation masters.”
It was during his time in Toronto that he started to think about a graphic novel that would turn into This Lovely Rock by the Sea.
Like plenty of other artists, Chung has side gigs, taking commissions and selling prints. He also co-owns the Water Street board game café Mochanopoly. “You have to work hard as an artist in Newfoundland. I wouldn’t want to be an artist anywhere else though, I love this place.” After he left Toronto, “I came back here and was so inspired.
“It’s been a dream of mine to make a living from drawing. Drawing is kind of like an old friend for me. If I could do it for a living, drawing, I would. I’ve never considered myself a business owner, I’m always an artist first.”