Today we’re going to interview Khalid Birdsong, creator of Fried Chicken & Sushi as well as Tales of Tritoria: YOUNGBLOODS. We’d like to take this moment to thank Khalid for his time as well as his superb answers!
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Khalid (pronounced KAH-Leed), and I like to describe myself simply- as a cartoonist, writer, educator, black man.
Tell us about your work?
I feel new to the humorous webcomics world, but thinking about it, I’ve been creating them for almost ten years!
After college, before making webcomics, I was seriously into drawing comic books and graphic novels. Humor was not in my wheelhouse and seemed way too difficult. My love lay in tales of adventure and fantasy!
My vampire adventure comic, Tales of Tritoria: YOUNGBLOODS, is a two hundred page graphic novel about a girl who lives in a city full of vampire gangs. She has to fight her way through the city in one night, to reach her family. It ran weekly on the website DrunkDuck.com back in the day, and I collected the entire story and published it as a graphic novel through Amazon.com several years ago.
After completing that comic, I began work on Fried Chicken & Sushi. It was also planned as a comic book, but an adventure about living in Japan as an English teacher -who gets periodically sent back to feudal Japan by a magical tanuki spirit to fight demons and monsters. Crazy, right?
The concept was inspired by my two years living in Japan and helped me become a finalist in the Comic Book Challenge contest put on by Platinum Studios in 2007. It was kind of like the American Idol for comics. I had to pitch to a panel of “celebrity” judges during Comic-Con International in San Diego, CA. It was a ton of fun, but alas, I didn’t win.
You can watch my pitch video here:
That experience was encouraging and helped me see that this idea must have legs! So, I continued producing the comic. Funny comic strips on the web were becoming popular at the time, so I decided to try making it a comic strip instead of a long-form version to get more attention.
I read tons of books on writing humor and drawing comic strips to learn how to be a comic strip cartoonist. When I was in high school, I had an interest in becoming a syndicated humorous strip cartoonist but hadn’t created any sense then.
Turns out, I loved the process of creating a four-panel comic! The more strips I made, the more I improved, and each page took far less time than a comic book page. I was hooked!
The original comic strip, Fried Chicken and Sushi (FC&S), began about nine years ago as a webcomic on friedchickenandsushi.com. It was a humorous way to loosely reflect on my experiences living in Japan and teaching English in Junior High Schools.
It ran for four years. FC&S gained a small amount of popularity due to humorously tackling some of the challenges of living as a foreigner and encountering racism, culture shock, and dating difficulties coming from being an African-American male in Japan, who did not speak the language. I would like to think it made people laugh, and they came back each week to see what the characters Karl, J, Tanuki, and Mai were up to. The comics website GoComics.com expressed interest in syndicating a version of FC&S where the characters are kids, and I jumped at the chance. A fantastic opportunity to have my work on the same platform as famous strips like Garfield, Pearls Before Swine, and classic Calvin and Hobbes strips.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time, or energy, to produce both the original FC&S and the new Little FC&S comics at the same time. To the disappointment of my readers, I ended the original FC&S.
In some ways, I regret doing that today. FC&S was the more popular strip, and I had more of a chance to make that into a business than Little FC&S.
I will say that with the Little FC&S comics, I have a chance to write a wider array of storylines that revolve around adult issues, via the parents and also kid issues around friendships and school, that I couldn’t do as easily with FC&S.
Where did you get the inspiration for the name Fried Chicken & Sushi?
My wife is Japanese, and when we were dating in Osaka, her family loved having me over to eat KFC fried chicken and a platter of sushi. This was a meal they loved eating together for many years but I joked that it represented the stereotypes of Japan and America. Both seem very different but go together well!
My first plan was to title the webcomic The Black Samurai, but when I thought back to those family dinners, Fried Chicken and Sushi seemed interesting, funny, and quite apropos.
With over 500 strips of Fried Chicken & Sushi and Little Fried Chicken & Sushi climbing to reach it, you’ve got yourself quite an archive! They’re all delightful to read (Especially when Tanuki shows up), but do you have any particular favorites? Why?
Thanks so much! Some of my favorite strips are from the original FC&S when Karl imagines he is the Black Samurai. It was a lot of fun getting to do my own version of Space Man Spiff from Calvin and Hobbes. Thinking up ways to connect Karl’s adventures as a Samurai and then jump forward to modern-day expat frustrations was enjoyable.
The art for Fried Chicken & Sushi has really grown since you started it! Could you tell us your secret?
You guys know the “secret.” Draw every day.
Dedicating myself to updating new strips twice a week forced me to draw more and improve. The look and style of the characters changed slightly over time, and it was amazing to see how much faster I could draw strips after working on them regularly over the first year.
The character’s expressions really convey a lot of emotion. I do wonder, however, what do you imagine their voices sound like?
Most of the main characters are based on real people, so I hear their voices. One of my favorites, Principal Glossy Gleam, is not based on a real person so he speaks in my head like Star Trek actor George Takei.
I’m still not sure what Tanuki’s voice sounds like. I’m sure it would have a sarcastic tone to it, though. Any suggestions?
Could you tell us a little about your technique and process?
When I started creating FC&S comics, I was all about the bristol board and Sakura Pigma-Micron pens. After the first two years, I heard so many good things about how drawing comics digitally in Manga Studio (now Clip Studio Paint) is so much faster. I just had to make the jump. It’s been worth every penny I paid for the software and my used Wacom Cintiq.
I enjoy writing out dialog ideas in a sketchbook and trying out different possibilities for gags or punchlines until I get just the right one. If it’s going to be a complicated strip visually, I will sketch each panel for practice. Typically, I go straight into Clip Studio after the dialog stage and sketch with digital blue pencil inside each panel. I love inking and coloring in Clip Studio! Everything was done in one program and ready to post online.
One strip takes between two to three hours to complete in total.
Is it strange working on a prequel-like run of Fried Chicken & Sushi with Little Fried Chicken & Sushi? We know where Fried Chicken & Sushi starts, is the goal to get Little Fried Chicken & Sushi to that point?
I already received a lot of flack for ending the original Fried Chicken & Sushi. My goal is to continue improving my writing and art for Little Fried Chicken & Sushi with the hope of keeping it going for many years. It’s easier to think of Little FC&S as being its own strip instead of a prequel. That way, I never worry about trying to connect it to the original FC&S.
What would you do if you were approached by someone to develop Fried Chicken & Sushi into a show?
I would say, “Where do I sign?” Seriously, it would be a dream to have a team of creative people working on the FC&S show. I would love to see it animated, but live-action, with a CGI Tanuki, could be fun too.
So… What other terrible wishes has Tanuki granted throughout the years?
Tanuki is still learning how to use his magic, so most of the wishes he grants do not turn out so well.
One extreme example was when he made Ryan grow to the size of a giant while everyone was on a class trip to Kyoto. I’m pretty sure Ryan was a jerk, so he probably got what he deserved, but it was a pretty scary experience for the cast.
Where can someone find more of your work?
You can read all FC&S comics and find links to my book collections on www.friedchickenandsushi.com.
If you follow me on Instagram @khalidbirdsong, you can read the latest Little FC&S comics as well as my new strip The Honeybuns -about a family of bunnies living the fast tech life in Silicon Valley.
If you’re a giver, consider becoming a patron via patreon.com/birdsong.
Hope to see you there and thanks for getting to know my work!
Honeybuns, eh? I’ll have to check that one out! Thank you very much for the interview, Khalid. It was a blast and your answers provided us with some excellent other works that we will be more than happy to dive into!
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Thanks for joining us! See you on the next Comicadia Interviews!