Chynna Clugston Flores's BLUE MONDAY is on its way back to comics with a new collection of the original BLUE MONDAY series, newly colored by Eisner Award-winning colorist Jordie Bellaire. There's really no better time for it to return than now, as the comics industry becomes more and more open to comics of all types. A tale of high school, music, teens, and surviving life in a small town, the series is intensely relatable and stylish. Clugston Flores spoke with us about where BLUE MONDAY came from and what went into its DNA.
CHYNNA CLUGSTON FLORES: It's a teen comedy that takes place in the early 1990s where we follow a core group of characters, particularly a girl named Bleu Finnegan, through the years. It was originally based on Archie comics and Japanese high school-themed manga and anime from the '80s, but adapted to '90s American culture. Well, I say American, but it's really a bunch of anglophile kids in California, loosely based off of my own ridiculous high school experience.
My plan has always been long-term, to follow these kids solidly through high school into early adult life, and then to check in on them periodically through the years to see where they're at. As life goes, things start off relatively simple and inane and progressively gets more complicated, but always with a laugh in there. It's pretty obnoxious, especially at the beginning.
The thing was, I noticed in the early nineties that there was a distinct lack of comics that had a high school theme to them, really anything relevant to my life at the time barring some aspects of certain indy comics, and even for a while teen movies seemed dead. And I loved teen flicks, so I was really feeling this void and was pretty pissed off about it. So I figured I'd try to fill the void for myself, and maybe I could connect with other kids who felt as isolated as I did at the time. I created the main character, Bleu, and came up with the idea for the comic (and named it BLUE MONDAY) when I was sixteen. It's been a huge part of my inner life ever since.
IC: BLUE MONDAY has a heavy musical influence. Are there certain songs (or even entire albums!) that you feel express the vibe of BLUE MONDAY?
CLUGSTON FLORES: Where do I start? Album-wise, obviously (doi) New Order's Substance album. Another obvious one, Adam Ant's Friend or Foe. Oingo Boingo's Dead Man's Party. The Stone Roses' debut. The Charlatans' Some Friendly. Echo and the Bunnymen, Songs to Learn and Sing. The Dead Milkmen's Big Lizard in My Backyard. The Cure, especially Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and Disintegration, and Depeche Mode's Music for the Masses and Violator.
Individual songs? "I Wanna Be Adored" by the Stone Roses and "The Only One I Know" by The Charlatans majorly encapsulate the overall feel of the series for me; they're very much of the time the stories take place. Bleu may be obsessed with New Wave, but she's also obsessed with the Madchester sound, and the ensuing Britpop invasion that's beginning to trickle in around then is a huge influence on the kids. Other tracks include "How Soon is Now?" by The Smiths; "Ceremony," "Round and Round," and "Dreams Never End" by New Order; "Kings of the Wild Frontier" and "Antmusic" by Adam Ant; "Loaded" by Primal Scream; "More than This" by Roxy Music; "Our Lips are Sealed" by Fun Boy Three; "(She's) Sexy And 17" by the Stray Cats; "Rockaway Beach" by the Ramones; "Best Friend" by The Beat; The Cramps' "The Creature From the Black Leather Lagoon;" "Make a Circuit with Me" by The Polecats; "Tiny Town" by The Dead Milkmen; "Girlfriend" by Matthew Sweet; "Swords of a Thousand Men" by Tenpole Tudor; "Cuts You Up" by Peter Murphy; "Step On" by The Happy Mondays; "Born of Frustration" by James. I really could go on for ages, so I'll stop while I'm ahead.
IC: BLUE MONDAY: THIEVES LIKE US is an all-new entry in the series. What's the status quo for the crew at the beginning of the first issue? What do we need to know going in?
CLUGSTON FLORES: Bleu's crush on Mr. Bishop, her substitute history teacher, has taken a turn for the worse. She's convinced that if she can get some, er, "experience" under her belt, he won't see her as just a kid any more, but a potential girlfriend. This is problematic on so many levels, but Bleu is convinced that this is the best route to go because she is determined to win Mr. B over. Call me crazy, but this is probably not going to go well. Luckily she has friends who are looking out for her. They know her imagination can take her to some pretty unrealistic places. Deep down I think she realizes this is a silly idea, but crushes are powerful things.
IC: In a more general sense, who is Bleu Finnegan?
CLUGSTON FLORES: Bleu is a girl who feels that she was born about ten years too late. She's stuck living in the early 1990s, but is obsessed with New Wave music (aka First Wave) as well as Punk, Rudie, and Mod subcultures, among other things. She laments daily that she was too young to be a teenager at the beginning of the '80s, going to amazing concerts like Adam Ant and The Smiths, clubbing with aerodynamic hair and New Romantic style. She's a bit off-kilter, but in a good way (usually), she's an intense daydreamer, can possibly see the supernatural in action (which she tries to ignore and pitifully fails), and really is just a bit of an adorable goof like many fifteen-year-olds are.
She feels trapped in a Podunk town, which has a limited dating pool and a seemingly endless supply of antagonists to make her teenage life miserable. She dreams of getting the hell out of there as soon as is humanly possible, but she at least has a handful of fellow outcast friends that keep her interested in school life. On top of that, she thinks she's being smart when she decides to skip the dullness of dating boys her own age and pines after her aforementioned substitute history teacher, Mr Bishop. This does not sit well with her peers, naturally.
IC: What kinda town is Fresburger? What's the youth culture like there?
CLUGSTON FLORES: Fresburger is the nickname of the biggest city in Central California, so it's pretty much my hometown of Fresno. It has more going on than the cluster of tiny foothill towns where the kids in BLUE MONDAY all live. Bleu grew up in Fresburger and transferred to a much smaller mountain area to live with her dad and attend Jefferson High School, which was some pretty severe culture shock for her. Fresburger is culturally diverse, is busy and rather violent, and generally has more happening there—it has malls and a strip to cruise and a Tower Records, at least it still did in the early nineties, when the Blue Monday stories begin. At the time it even had its own alternative radio station (The Edge, now long gone), so it was a far cry from country life, even if it's only just over half an hour away.
The youth [culture] in Fresburger is just like any city with a population of 350,000+. There's all kinds of kids there, though to be fair the weirdos are still a minority. But where our gang actually lives, over the county line in the boonies, it's mostly super religious, painfully white, and none-too-friendly to those with weird hair and unconventional clothes. It's an uncomfortable setting for them!
IC: Your art style is really distinctive and cool, a little bit manga and a little bit Archie, but definitively something new. How long did it take you to grow into your style? Were you particularly influenced by any certain artists?
CLUGSTON FLORES: Thank you! Oh man, so many influences that it's probably hard to tell. While I started integrating manga into my style back in the nineties, my original influences were (as you guessed) Archie (primarily Bob Montana and Dan DeCarlo), but also Mad Magazine's regulars, Charles Addams, Los Bros Hernandez, Evan Dorkin, and many of the artists regularly featured in Deadline Magazine (RIP!) such as Jamie Hewlett and Philip Bond. I also lived for Adam Warren's Dirty Pair, especially the series "A Plague of Angels." I particularly loved Rumiko Takahashi, having started with Urusei Yatsura (Lum) which I got into as a freshman in high school thanks to a friend at the time introducing me to her work. After that I enjoyed Ranma and my all-time favorite, Maison Ikkoku.
I'm definitely an art-mutt. You can see that I'm just trying to figure out the new direction I was taking art-wise in the first volume of BLUE MONDAY. I'm not quite comfortable in it yet (it was before there were books on how to draw manga available in English in the US so I was going at it willy-nilly), but as you go through the subsequent volumes you see the style solidify more and more. Even now it seems to be ever changing, though. It kind of feels like the difference between watching early episodes of The Simpsons and watching the show now, at least to me when I look at my old work. There's a huge difference, but the storytelling is pretty consistent, so I hope any potential new readers stick with it since it's far closer to my original vision now than it was at the beginning.
IC: The first BLUE MONDAY series came out in 2000. What keeps you excited about this series and its setting? What need does it fill for you?
CLUGSTON FLORES: I really love the characters. They're very real to me, and are again loosely based off of people I knew and experiences I had back then, at least initially. I also have a real love for coming-of-age stories, especially comedic ones, and it makes me genuinely happy to have been able to create one of my own, it's not something I ever planned to give up doing.
As for the need it fills, well...I think youth is too fleeting and that's always bothered me, even as a teenager. My thought was always that you're old much longer than you're young, so what's the hurry? But I also believe it's far too easy to forget what it was like to be young and not in control of your life, and how much that aspect of it sucked. You had your parents, guardians, or your school managing what you did because you really are still a kid, and you're essentially powerless unless you choose to rebel. I think especially as a girl, someone is always trying to dictate what you are allowed to do, what to wear, how to behave, and you have to jump the hurdle of learning how to take control of your own life and ward off creeps. That never ends, really, but it's amplified in our teenage years.
We romanticize the past and the young, and are quick to forget all the problems that went along with youth, of which there are plenty. I like to be reminded so that I don't miss something too much that was really pretty lousy a big chunk of the time. There were great things, but a lot of crap, too. I think it helps me relate easier to the younger people in my life and not be as quick to laugh when I see them knee-deep in the melodramas I went through before, and it also helps me feel like I did back then when I write and draw the series. It keeps perspective in check. And it's simply enjoyable.
BLUE MONDAY, VOL. 1: THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT is available now.