Cruz: What has your partnership with Sana Takeda been like?
Liu: Early on in X-23, we needed a fill-in artist for a couple of pages. Sana came on and only drew two or three pages, but they really stuck with me. Later when we needed a new artist, I specifically requested her. It was a wonderful process; it felt like she was reading my mind. Eventually, as it happens with all books at Marvel, the series ended, but I never forgot what a great experience it was to work with her. So two or three years later, I was in Japan [where Takeda lives], I looked her up and we had lunch, and I said, “Hey would you ever want to work together again?,” and she was like, “Sure, sounds great!”
Working on Monstress has been a very, very different experience than when we were working on X-23, and not only because that was a work-for-hire book. Both of us, in those years apart, went through our own journeys of growth, and when we came back together, we were in very different places.
Cruz: What do you mean by that?
Liu: How do I put this ... while I was working on X-23, I was dealing with a lot of depression. I was feeling really burned out as an artist, as a novelist specifically. I was really unhappy, and I felt really guilty for being unhappy. I was writing for a living, I was living a dream. So why in the world was I so unhappy?
Writing is very isolating, and I didn’t have a lot of balance in my life. There was always a reason for me not to be out in the world, because I could just say, “I have a deadline.” For someone who is already sort of shy and occasionally socially phobic, that was a very deadly trap to fall into. So I woke up one day and realized, “If I’m not careful, this is going to be my life forever until I die, and I’m going to be profoundly alone.” I told myself, “I can’t do this anymore. My writing does not matter more than my life.”
I had to make certain decisions. I mostly stopped writing novels, but I kept writing comics because A) I needed money, but also B) I still enjoyed it. Writing comics wasn’t draining me. Between X-23 and Monstress, I underwent this huge life change where I moved, I quit writing novels, and I focused on what I wanted for my art and from life. Now, when I look back on who I was then and who I am now—it’s not that I’m unrecognizable. But there are days when it feels close to that.
Sana had gone through a similar journey, but in the opposite direction. After X-23, she couldn’t get work at Marvel or DC. They basically told her that her style was “too manga.” There was no room for her. So she started doing other things: designing, working for a gaming company, teaching. She thought, maybe, she wouldn’t ever do comics again.
Without those years of growth, Monstress would not be the book it is today. If you look at Sana’s art in X-23 versus the art in Monstress, chances are good you’d think they were done by two different people. Sana wanted to push herself. I don’t know many artists who could change so radically even in just a couple of years. It wasn’t like a leap forward, it was more like a leap sideways, going from one incredible style to another.