An Interview With HUSHICHO


Thomas Higens


Tell me a little bit about yourself as an artist.


I work hard, I feel everything I do, and there's usually some sort of spiritual experience in the whole process somewhere. I sound so casual about it! But it's there, and it's a part of the process. It always means something to me. I always look back on my work and can remember what I was feeling at the time, what was going on in my life, or at least with most of them I can.


I have a deep love and admiration for Alphonse Mucha, and Hokusai, and Hiroshige. I also love Yoshitoshi and Kuniyoshi, and Nagai Gou, and Mizuki Shigeru, and probably about a hundred or so others that I won't name here. Most of my style has a great deal of influence from art nouveau, which is probably my favorite period of art. I love the asymmetry, but with this illusion of symmetry, and it's very flowing and curving, and pleasing to the eyes. There's always this intricate detail to the images, too, that really catches the eye and doesn't let it go easily. You can look at an art nouveau piece now and see its beauty and appreciate it, and then look at it a week from now and pick up on some detail that you completely missed before. You might be looking at it a year or more later and think "I never saw that detail before!" That's what I love so much about art nouveau.



What do you specifically work in?


I tend to do commercial art, which means things like logos, website graphics, visual design, even t-shirts and things like that, but it also incorporates things like murals at shops, and sometimes even doing color coordination when people are planning out their paint schemes. Decoration, things like that. But I also do comic books, online and off, in-print and “Internet Web Comics”. I'm fairly versatile though, and I actually can do most things that anyone would want, in terms of art and media. I just specialize in the commercial type and the comics. But I do pinups and little icons and even much more elaborate work too.



How long have you been working as an artist?


Well, ever since I could make lines on surfaces, I was drawing things. This often got me into some trouble. At the time I was too little to know I shouldn't be drawing on the walls! But I've always been drawing and I've always been interested in expressing myself artistically.


In terms of how long I've been working professionally in art, it's been about a decade. I started out doing little things and training under a few other professionals, to try and get a feel for what I needed to do.



What did your training involve?


All kinds of things, really. From work that was more...secretarial, I think, to things that were more what I wanted to do. I did writing, pencils, inks, a little coloring although I've never considered myself strong in color work...and I also did kind of odd things like organizing people's filing, doing secretarial sort of work, running errands, even just keeping them company because we'd both have odd schedules and such.


Some of the people I liked, and some I didn't. And of course I wanted to be well-trained, so I thought I'd do well to look outside of just where I was at the time, and I ended up doing some work with some people from around the world. At the time, it was all sort of new to me, and I think it was new to most of them too, since that was when the internet was still such a strong developing thing. It did lead to some interesting experiences though, and I'm grateful for that. I think I learned a lot from the training, especially at such a unique sort of time. Things have really changed since then, even though it's only been a few years.



So you have had international training!

What are some of the most memorable cultures that you have come into contact with?


Well, I did some work with some European creators, and that was always interesting because you have this...sort of wide variety of things going on there, this mixture of genres and types. I was trying to concentrate on comic book work, which is's like it's a niche in the US, you can only do this or that, certain things in comic books if you have a hope of selling it in the US. But in Europe there's at least some wider variety, and comics aren't so much turned a genre, and instead they're more of a medium, like it really is.


The classification of "comic book" really is a medium, not a genre, but here in the US, one really becomes limited because there is this narrow little group that even bothers with comics, or did at the time. But I'll come back to this later, if you like.


Anyway, I also did some doujinshi work in Japan, which is like small-press comics, and that's some very rewarding work usually. It's a labor of love, but there's a lot of support for it, which is unfortunately kind of unique to Japan. There's not so much of that in the rest of the world. They even have huge get-togethers for circles, which are the groups of people that create these comics, to come and sell their work, and to meet the people who want to buy it, or have bought it, or like the studio's work. It's a great way to do things.



Your accent is unique, is that training and if not  where it comes from?


Not entirely, no. Earlier in life, my family moved around all the time, so I picked up little touches here and there. Some of them stuck more than others. I especially latched onto a great many English things, and I never really let that go, so I suppose that was one of the major influences on what I sound like. I also did some theatre work for some years when I was in school, and I have a trained voice for singing, so I tend to try and enunciate clearly.


I'm something of an accent-chameleon though, because when I talk to my friends from different countries, I tend to pick up little parts of their accent for some time afterwards. Some of my friends have joked that they can always tell when I've been talking to one of my international friends, because I always sound like them afterwards!



Since you have many friends in other countries, are you fluent their languages?


No, actually I only speak English, French, and Japanese conversationally. Many of my friends however also speak some English. It's a surprisingly common language in many countries, although it's a bit like Spanish or French here, where people take the classes in school but don't really retain too much of it!



Three languages, that is amazing!

What made you want to learn these languages?


Well I was born with the English! But the French I took in school and always had an admiration for the culture, because I had the opportunity to have an entire year with a woman from the Provence region, and that was especially wonderful. I think too many people think that, for example, Paris equals all of France, and that's just not true. Too many people judge by the large, well-known's just like how a lot of foreigners think of the United States in terms of New York, or Los Angeles. Most French people aren't that keen on Paris or Parisians. And it goes without saying that a country's government really doesn't speak for its people well, so judging them by politicians is just as silly. But I won't get into that. Anyway, the experience with her was just wonderful. For a while I was fluent in it, although because of lack of regular opportunities to use it, I've sort of deteriorated back to somewhere around conversant.


The Japanese was one of those things that just happened. When I was around five or so, I decided at the time that I wanted to learn an Asian language. I thought the challenge was appealing. But it must've been around twelve or thirteen years later before I had any opportunity to do that, and then a couple more years before I got to really apply it seriously. I made a friend who worked in a secondhand Japanese bookstore, in one of the cities we lived in. Of course, it was a larger city, so there was a huge Japanese population. Anyway, I enjoyed the books but wasn't all that skilled at reading them, and she wasn't very good with English yet but wanted to learn more, so we taught each other. I learned a great deal from her and the experience, and then I just went on from there. When I did my training, that's when I learned even more. And I had to sort of learn a lot during that, because I knew enough to communicate, and they knew enough English to communicate, but it was just a lot easier to have more words. Especially with art and description.



You were talking earlier about comic books in the US. Tell me a bit more about that.


Oh, of course! Well, the thing about comic books here is that there's this very limited crowd now, even though comics have become a bit popular again, and it's generally this young, heterosexual, male crowd, and they generally tend to want to see only superheroes. Except anymore it's not really so much super heroics as it used to be, but sort of soap-opera-style melodrama, with people with powers that they don't really use most of the time!


They go in a kind of...waves of popularity, comic books, and in the first half of the 90s there was this great boom in comics, and then by around 1997 it petered out and the whole thing crashed because companies like Marvel and DC were making some very unwise moves. Of course it's the big companies that play these trends, and without regard to anyone else making a living out of it, and they're almost always the ones that ruin it too. And they did, so comics crashed and a lot of comic book shops closed, titles were's unfortunate, because when comics were strong in the 90s, there were a lot of new titles and creators, and although some of them were ridiculous, they were at least stretching out and showing that comic books were really a medium. Then we got back into the whole superhero thing, and the recent boom has put that right out there.


There are other kinds of comics, but the more daring or non-superhero stories tend to appeal only to a very limited crowd, and much of the time they stick with people who have made themselves known in that particular genre. Either you have that, or you have “manga:, which is what they're calling anything Japanese these days. It’s unfortunate. too, because now you have people who think "manga" is a genre, and it isn't. It's a medium. It's just the Japanese word for comics, really. Some people have this unfortunate misconception that certain things define a certain country's comics, and it's not true. It's just stereotypes that get promoted, because companies carefully choose what they'll bring over and serve up to the buying public there.



What's the difference between a genre and a medium, for those who may not know?


A medium is a way that you convey your message or do your particular thing. Think of a spirit medium, for example. They're called a medium because they're the way that these spirits are supposed to talk through them, to communicate to the people there who can't speak spirit. So a medium in creative work is a way to communicate things to an audience.


Books, film, comics, each one is a medium. Together they're media, which is a word that I'm sure you hear all the time now. Media just means a collection of these different ways of presenting things.


A genre is a division within media. If you take books, which are a medium, you have several genres that you can divide them into, which you'll see at any bookstore. You'll have things like science-fiction, horror, comedy, non-fiction...those are all genres.


I always, always object to something like comic books or manga being considered a genre, because that sort of thinking leads to too much stereotyping, and when you work in it, that means that you're expected to pander to all of those stereotypes, which of course leads to getting it even further into that's this terrible cycle. Like the people who believe that manga is just big eyes and violence and boobs, which it of course isn't, those tend to be the people who believe it's a genre and not a medium. They're generally the kind of people who have only the least bit of knowledge about things like that. "Just enough to be dangerous" as the saying goes.



In terms of your own series, what can you tell us about your accomplishments there?

Well, I think I've kept much of the resolve that I set out with, in regards to my series that I work on. For example, one of them that I took up, called Incubus's this adult-oriented comic, but you could guess that by the name. But I decided to do it despite how limiting the particular genre can be, because I looked at many others, and so many of them were either no plot, or people looking constantly sad or like they were completely not enjoying their rather pleasant fantasy lives! So I decided to make this story about a cheerful sort of person who was always having adventures and always enjoying them. It's had immense success I think, in its genre.


I also have worked on other comics, like Pandemonium Renaissance, which has my strange sense of humor all over it. The plot is that the demon lords of the Abyss are upset because tourism is down in their home, which is actually a really beautiful, idyllic sort of place. But there's been this terrible PR for the past couple of millennia, so they get this grand idea to go to the human world and set that right. It's this very leisurely-paced comic that's meant to be a kind of slice of life, kind of relaxing, and makes you think a bit. It's very self-indulgently art nouveau, lots of sweeps and curves and flowers and such. But it's really been a hit with an intellectual and spiritual crowd. My art book, “Celestial Phantasia”, is more or less the same way.



What style of writing appeals to you the most?


I usually like funny things, which is why I've tried my best to inject at least some humor into most of my works. I don't like reading things that are too humorless, so I don't inflict them upon others either. I feel like, no matter how bad things get, there's always going to be some humor, somewhere in it, even if it is terribly dark or completely un-amusing. Sometimes when you're watching something or reading something, it just feels wrong, somehow. Most of the time people don't realize this, but I think there are a lot of times when that happens and it feels wrong because there's no humor whatsoever. So it comes off as completely unbelievable.


I also like stories that bring magic into living. Like a sense of wonder, a sense of beauty at simple things...I love it. I love thinking that Elves could be living in the nearby woods, or perhaps there's a Selkie in the water just a mile away, or that Pixies are rummaging in my cupboard, and maybe I'm a long-lost prince from a long-forgotten land. It doesn't have to be that drastic, but I've always loved having a bit of magic in my life. Any story that allows you believe again and see things as a child, eyes wide with wonder. I like those kinds of stories! To blazes with "adult sensibilities"! I'd rather smile and enjoy myself!



What makes your voice unique among artists?


I am me, and no one else has my experiences and my particular influences that have come together in this style. For better or for worse, the artists and styles and stories that I have experienced and loved and brought into my heart have all been blended into my style. I've cultivated it under the guidance of these people, even if they weren't right there directly to teach me. They're still important to me.


There aren't many artists anymore, especially commercial artists or comic book creators, who really feel their art, or have any sort of spiritual experience with the art. I think that's unique too, or at least having the integrity to say that it's there.



What can you do that other artists can't?


I can do what I do best, and I can do it my way. No other artist can do what I do, the way I do it. It may look similar, it may even sound similar, but there will always be something not quite the same. It won't have the same life or the same passion.


People tend to ask, "what makes you special, in comparison to Michelangelo" or something equally silly, but honestly...I don't want to be Michelangelo. I don't want to be any other artist. I don't aspire to be any other artist. I am myself, I aspire to be the best I can be at what I do, and I am happy to cultivate my own style and my own skills, rather than attempting to be someone I am not. It's a surprisingly rare quality these days, too. It seems like more people are trying to be this famous artist, or that famous artist. Imitators may have some success, but when the popularity fades of the person they were emulating, as it tends to do quickly in the modern world, it doesn't help much to have countless imitators sitting around.


I'd rather just do things my way and my style. That way, those who follow my work can always be sure that it's distinctly me, and that it's distinctly my voice.



What are some of your major pet peeves?


I don't like unpleasant people. I know that's pretty vague, but for example, I don't like people who are rude to someone, just because they can be. That really speaks poorly of them. In terms of professionally, I really don't like people who will agree to do a project with you, for example, and then once you've put in all this effort and time, they drop it and you find out you were the only one serious about it in the first place. There are a lot of people out there who consider themselves able to work on professional projects in art, but they're not. It's just a game for them, or a hobby, and not one they're really serious about. And it makes the rest of us, the real professionals, look very bad. I've had more projects than I can count where I've been begged not to do this by the person running it, because they've had so much of that kind of stunt.


But there are other kinds of people too, who aren't artists and don't care to be, or perhaps they think they are, and they want everything like it's been plucked right out of their minds, in a certain way that only a telepath could ever hope to see, you know. And they're just as unprofessional, but there are so many of them out there. That's a pet peeve really, because you can work with them, it's just usually more work than they're willing to pay for. Most of them are pretty stingy and usually want you to replicate someone else's style. And they don't really know artists or art, and they're usually very bad at description, so you end up having to draw everything over and over again.


That's just part of working in it, though. You can at least work with the last ones, but the others are just not worth it. The worst of it is, though, you don't know the ones who will ditch until they do. So you end up spending valuable time on literally nothing.


I think the worst people though, and the ones that stick with me, are the ones who are just rude because they feel they can be. I can understand and forgive, say, a cashier or a waiter or something being rude. It's a hard job and it's usually full of really unpleasant people asking more things from you than anyone should ever be expected to answer for, but when it's a manager or someone with a title or something like that...I don't have as much sympathy, really. I don't tend to go back to stores when someone like that has treated me badly.


I've been treated poorly for a variety of reasons, even because of my accent! I always try to be very friendly and likable, but for some reason, some people will look for anything. I don't have time for them. And it's sad too, because I've had to stop shopping at some stores that I used to like, but I just can't go there anymore without thinking that I'm paying the salary of that person who made me feel like I wasn't worthy of going inside. So I suppose I don’t live up to their expectations. But you know, even though I'm just one person who maybe just purchases a book or a video every few weeks I am a customer and deserve respect. And! When I am not given that respect I always tell my friends and they listen, and find somewhere else to go. You can't have the mindset that you just don't go there anymore and don't tell anyone. You've got to be constructive about it and say, "I'm not going to let anyone dear to me make the mistake I did by shopping there," and you write the company too, and tell them what happened. Sometimes it makes a difference.


I suppose it all goes back to my big and general pet peeves, and those are hypocrisy, intolerance, and condescension. Those three tend to form the foundation of most rudeness that I experience. There's selfishness too, which is really one of those things that I think has spiked a bit in the past few years. For Example: It’s one thing to be concerned for your own personal well being, but it's gone far beyond that now. Very few people these days are willing to look beyond themselves or to care about anyone other than themselves.



So your advice to people would be to think more about others?


I think that's definitely a good start. I know I went on too long about these things, but I think that it is really helpful to know...sometimes we do things, and we may not even realize how hurtful it is to someone else, but usually if we just think about it, and think about what we did, we will realize that what we did may not have been the right thing to do. It takes an immense amount of strength to come to that conclusion, and to try to make things right again, in whatever way it happens to need to be done.



Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans, collectors or readers?


Yes! I'd like to say thank you so very much for all of your support! It is always a very important fact in my mind, that no one who has ever had success with anything in creative media could have ever made it without the support of people who enjoy their work. Fans, collectors, readers, admirers, all of them make it possible. No artist should ever forget that. I certainly never will! That being said; Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for all of your support and I hope you'll continue to give that support freely as we continue together on this mad and magnificent journey!




Free Comic Download







If you or someone you know should be interviewed by Knoxville’s Spotlight on talent.