An Interview with Jem Yoshioka of Circuits and Veins

Bobby: Today I am here with Jem Yoshioka, author and artist of the popular romantic sci-fi comic, Circuits and Veins. For those who might be unfamiliar with you and your work, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and your comic?

Jem: I’m Jem, I’m a comic artist from Wellington, New Zealand. I love making comics, and especially love creating webcomics. Circuits and Veins is my freshly-completed Webtoon Canvas series, which is a soft, queer sci-fi story about an android and a human falling in love.

Ai and Aki embrace
Ai and Aki embrace © Jem Yoshioka

B: When did you first come up with the idea for Circuits and Veins? Was there anything fictional or nonfictional that inspired you to create it?

J: I came up with the characters in 2014, so they’d been kicking around in my head a long time. I’d been doing a lot of short autobio comics and was really looking for something new to work on that was fiction. In 2014 there were two really big AI movies that came out, Her and Ex Machina. I had, what I can only describe as, a really allergic reaction to Her. I just didn’t like the way the AI was written, or how the human/AI romance was treated.

I enjoyed Ex Machina because to me it felt like the story of an oppressed Other getting their revenge and their freedom. It’s very much flavoured as a horror movie though. I think you’re supposed to feel sympathy for the white dude protagonist. But it’s a better movie if you side with the android.

Overall these stories got me thinking about the ways we represent femininity as this unknowable ‘other’, how often queerness is also tied up in these concepts, how hypersexualised, degraded, and designed for consumption androids are. So I wanted to tell a story that stepped away from that.

I was also deeply interested in what happens after the androids win the right to be considered sentient. What does that mean for a society? I liked the idea of having a story that focused on the little everyday things, rather than the large sweeping changes. So, in the setting, the lawmakers are concerned about enacting an android wage rather than proving or disproving androids are people. That fight’s already been won.

The other half is the human side. I thought a lot about the kinds of things I personally would want or need from society to feel more comfortable, or more equitable. I’ve suffered from chronic fatigue in the past, so a more accepting and understanding working environment is something that would have made my life easier. I wanted to show chronic health conditions as still being present in a utopian setting because even though technology or scientific advances might help, these things will likely always be present in human lives. And a society that accommodates more abilities and needs for people is a healthier one, in my opinion.

It’s actually really fun designing futures!

B: You mentioned films and settings like Ex Machina and Her. Were there any non sci-fi, or even non AI-focused sci-fi films (television/books/etc.), that inspired the way you wrote Circuits and Veins?

J: Actually, there’s some non sci-fi! I got super into Yuri on Ice at around a similar time to when I got serious about writing Circuits and Veins, so there’s actually a lot of influence from there. I really liked the way the show handled having two core characters who grew stronger because of their connection to each other. I also really liked Flying Witch and how it handled and wrote slice of life moments, so I think I wanted to capture some of that within my story.

Oh, and I can’t forget Janelle Monae’s “Metropolis Suite” was also a big influence.

Ai and Aki kiss
Ai and Aki kiss © Jem Yoshioka

B: As a bisexual woman growing up in New Zealand, what works did you find connected the most with your personal experience? Are there any that you would recommend to people who might be looking for something to connect with?

J: Ah, that’s a really tough question! Being from a small set of southern hemisphere islands, being mixed Japanese, being bisexual, it’s all a lot of experiences of being small, othered, outside of the norm. I gravitate towards media that showcases people like me, not necessarily because we might share ethnicity or sexuality, but anything that really gets that experience of having parts of you that aren’t always seen or acknowledged. I find myself looking in the margins, in the subtext, for the meaning that I’m looking for. That’s a part of why I find a lot of strength in creating works; because I can put what I need into it.

If readers are looking for other works that showcase wlw [woman-loving-woman] relationships in a soft slice of life, sci-fi setting, I recommend Always Human by Walking North on Webtoon.

I do love that animation is pushing to be more explicitly queer, too. Shows like Steven Universe and She-Ra are healing for me as an adult, but I’m even more heartened to think about the difference they’ll be making to their target demographic. I think about how much my heart needed that as a kid, and how it just didn’t exist. I’m glad that shows that put queer relationships on screen are accessible to so many more people now.

B: Now that you’ve finished Circuits and Veins, how would describe your overall experience making the comic? What would you say was your favorite/least favorite experience working on it?

J: I really loved making Circuits and Veins. There’s something really rewarding about making a regular webcomic, about getting to share a story with readers in (more or less) realtime. My favourite was always update day, and getting to see people’s reactions for whatever I’d been working on. Seeing people’s reactions to what I’d put together was always a treat.

Least favourite? There was always a point in every update where I’d feel the grind of working on such a gigantic project. Usually, it’d hit at about 2/3rds into working on an update, after I’d done all my favourite parts, and I was just needing to polish up the drawings and get everything coloured right, get all the speech bubbles set correctly, etc. Every update I’d ask myself if it was worth it, to put this much effort into this thing. It’s during this window I’d have the biggest doubts about the project, the story, everything I was pulling together. Were people enjoying it? Was my point coming across?

It can be the hardest to get through that, and I’m pretty sure I had a moment like that for almost every episode I put together.

But then you publish and I’d get people laughing or crying along with me, or someone would notice a small joke I’d put into the details, or someone would say they finally felt seen. So that was always enough to get me to keep going.

Ai and Aki on the Circuits and Veins Valentine's Day cover. Ai is holding a heart shaped box with a bow, Aki is holding a boquet of roses.
Ai and Aki on the Circuits and Veins Valentine’s Day cover © Jem Yoshioka

B: Have you ever thought about publishing physical copies of Circuits and Veins?

J: Maybe! I’ve got a bit of a mess of files to sort through if I did decide to do that! I experimented a lot with different workflows. I used to work on print pages, but ended up moving towards a format that worked better for the scrolling format on Webtoon. Also since the project spans three years I’d find it difficult to let the older art be published without touch-ups.

But if there was interest in it I’d love to see it in print.

B: Do you have any other projects planned for the future or are you going to take a break for a while?

J: I’m working on my next project right now! I am taking it a bit slow and getting some rest, but I’m really excited about what’s next. It’s going to be quite different from Circuits and Veins, and I’m really looking forward to working in a different genre and setting.

I’m also considering doing some mini-comics about some of the background characters I didn’t get to have much time with in Circuits and Veins. I’m doodling and writing some ideas down and seeing if anything sticks.

Jem Yoshioka surrounded by panels of her artwork
Jem Yoshioka (center) surrounded by panels of her artwork © Jem Yoshioka

B: Exciting to hear! I think that just about wraps up the interview. If you’d like, do you want to tell people where they can find you on the web?

J: @jemyoshioka on twitter and instagram!

B: Alright, well thank you again for stopping by. If any of our readers would like to read Circuits and Veins, you can find it through this link on Webtoon.

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