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Talking Night Fisher With R. Kikuo Johnson
Interview by James W. Powell
Posted September 1, 2005

Night FisherIn his first graphic novel, Night Fisher, R. Kikuo Johnson takes a realistic approach to the teenage coming of age story. The story, which ships in November from Fantagraphics Books, is as much about Maui as it is about Loren, a young man who moved to the island years ago with his father and who is now preparing for the end of high school. But after a night that includes drug use, porn, and crime, he realizes he has new pressures to deal with.

Unlike his protagonist, Johnson was born and raised in Hawaii, so he fully understands the culture and importance of the islands, which play a key role in Night Fisher. I recently caught up with the creator to discuss his upcoming book and the role Hawaii plays...

[Note: Click the thumbnails to see a larger view of the images that accompany this interview.]


BOOKSHELF COMICS — Tell us a little about Night Fisher. What's at the heart of your story?

R. KIKUO JOHNSON — Night Fisher is a coming of age story about a high school senior, Loren Foster, who moved to Hawaii with his father a few years ago but still struggles to find his place. When his best friend starts experimenting with drugs and petty crime, Loren strives to keep up. As with all coming of age stories, at the heart of this book is a young person forcing himself to mature.

Night Fisher back coverBOOKSHELF COMICS — Based on what I've read, Night Fisher will be a bit more realistic than some of the clichéd teen stories we're used to. Was that something you set out to accomplish, or did the story develop that way on its own?

R. KIKUO JOHNSON — In a way, I guess I did set out to make something "real" when I started the book in 2002. I had just read Chester Brown's I Never Liked You, and was floored by its intimacy and its candidness. That book convinced me to start with memoir as the base of my story, which is what I think gives it the authenticity you're implying.

BOOKSHELF COMICS — Sounds like you put a lot of hard time and effort into your first graphic novel. Can you tell us a bit about the work that went into it? What were some of the difficulties you encountered?

Night Fisher page 7R. KIKUO JOHNSON — It was a long process – I started it, as I mentioned, in 2002 during my Junior year of college abroad in Italy. From then on, between finishing up school and working to pay the rent, it's just been a matter of finding every chance to get the pencil in my hand.

I think the hardest part was being two years into it without having any idea if what I was doing was worthwhile or if anything would ever come of all this work I was doing. Actually getting it published was probably the easiest part. Three years after I started it, I sent a finished manuscript to Gary Groth at Fantagraphics, and he called me back with a publishing schedule.

BOOKSHELF COMICS — Is there a bit of relief to have it finished? Maybe a bit of anxiety, too?

R. KIKUO JOHNSON — Now that the actual creation part is all over, I mostly just feel anxious. Not because It's been so long in the making, or anything; it's just that now I'm supposed to promote the thing, and I generally feel uncomfortable talking about my work outside of my close friends. Everything you need to understand one of my comics is in the pages. But, obviously, promotion's important or I wouldn't be doing this interview.

Night Fisher page 54BOOKSHELF COMICS — Let’s get back to the book for a moment. What themes can we expect to explore in Night Fisher?

R. KIKUO JOHNSON — I was thinking a lot about place while writing Night Fisher. The book is centered around Loren's struggle to find his place among his peers and his place in Hawaii where the culture still feels alien to him despite having moved there over six years ago. Hawaii, and more specifically, the island of Maui, almost becomes one of the characters in the book.

BOOKSHELF COMICS — Can you expand on the idea that Maui will have a key role in the story?

R. KIKUO JOHNSON — Hawaii is the most isolated island chain in the world, and as within the Galapagos Islands, life has evolved there within its own very specific parameters. Hawaii has always been struggling to find the equilibrium that a constant stream of foreign introductions prevents. In Night Fisher, this struggle is tangible as weeds overrun his front yard, and Loren struggles to fit into the culture where he is the foreigner.

Night Fisher page 85BOOKSHELF COMICS — There seem to be some nice parallels between Loren and Hawaii. Just as the island has struggled, so is this young man. Would you say that this comparison is a fair assertion? Is that parallel structure something that you intended to develop in the story?

R. KIKUO JOHNSON — Yeah, that sounds like a fair conclusion to draw. My only intention structurally was to write a story where every conflict is simultaneously affecting the characters and the setting.

BOOKSHELF COMICS — It seems clear that you've created something a bit more than just fluffy entertainment. What would you like to see readers get from your story?

R. KIKUO JOHNSON — I hope readers will get a good sense of Maui, and some of its history. Beyond that, I just hope I've created something readers can engage with enough to arouse their own ideas.

Night Fisher is available in November from Fantagraphics Books. To pre-order the book from your local comic shop, use the Diamond order number (SEP05 2940) or the ISBN (1-56097-719-1).


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