Friday, March 20, 2015

Kata Kane, Baltimore's Altar Girl

by Mike Rhode

Kata Kane has returned to her Altar Girl webcomic, after a decade away from it. She's moved in the meantime from suburban DC to Baltimore, but was back in town recently for the Smudge Expo in Arlington.

 "Ashley Altars is a typical high school student, attending a prestigious Catholic school with a long history. Seth Charming is a boy who died in 1929. They are both the keepers of mysterious key necklaces, and through them Seth has been brought back from death and to Ashley's present day, assisted by the Gemini Twin angels and guardians of the keys, Sera and Cherry. Ashley now has to deal with angels, demons, and bullies... but she just wants her crush Adam Evenine to finally notice her." - Kata Kane

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

I draw “shoujo manga-style” comics, and I’m best known for my original comic “Altar Girl.” My art style is really inspired by both American comics and Japanese manga influences. “Shoujo manga” means “girl’s comics” and usually have themes of school life, friendship, and romance. Someone once said my comics are like Archie and anime combined, so I think that’s a pretty good way of putting it.

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

I do a combination of traditional sketching with finishing done on the computer. I start out with rough
pencil sketches, scan them in, and then I ink, color, and use screentones digitally. I use a Wacom tablet, and a combination of programs like Photoshop, Illustrator and Manga Studio.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

I was born in 1984 in Takoma Park. I grew up in Silver Spring!

Why are you in Baltimore now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

I really like the vibe of Baltimore. It’s an interesting city with a small town feel, and a great art scene too. When I first moved here in 2009, I lived in Hampden, but I now live in Mt. Washington. All of my family is still in Silver Spring and my siblings are in DC, so I’m there plenty of weekends too!

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

I didn’t go to art school, but ever since elementary school I took any art classes that I could. I always liked reading the Sunday funnies in the Washington Post while my parents read the newspaper. I tried making my own comics based off of that, and really since then everything I did was mostly self-taught and inspired by my own interest.

I was always drawing at home and writing my own stories, looking at my comic collection for references. Taking classes like Life Drawing & Design in college really helped me learn proportions and refine techniques. I feel like I learned a lot more specifics on-the-job as a graphic designer and illustrator than I did in school.

Who are your influences?

When I first read Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi as a tween, that was a game-changer for me. I already liked comics – but this was my first “manga” and I was totally drawn to the story and art style.

My biggest influence is Rumiko Takahashi. Her manga “Ranma ½” is hands down my favorite of all time, but I love everything she’s done, and especially her one-shot comics in “Rumik World.” I also really admire Chynna Clugston, the creator of “Blue Monday” and “Scooter Girl.” Her style is also an American-manga influence, and reading her published works when I was in high school & college made me feel like someday I could do the same!

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

I would have pursued a full-time career as a freelancer in comics much sooner. I went to school for graphic design, and at the time I felt like comics could only be a hobby: that I couldn’t really be a success at it. But I’ve learned to measure success not by the biggest paycheck but by hard work and happiness. If I can make even one person feel inspired to keep drawing and follow their own dreams by reading my comics, that’s success to me. It sounds corny, but it’s what keeps me motivated!

What work are you best-known for?

Most know me for my webcomic Altar Girl, which I originally ran online while I was in school. I never fully finished the story back then, so in July 2012, exactly 10 years after I had published the first page of Altar Girl online, I decided to start over again, but this time using the skills I’d learned as an illustrator & graphic designer to fully pursue it. Last year I did a Kickstarter to get Book 1 printed, which was successfully funded, and I think helped some new readers discover the comic too. I’m hoping to do a Kickstarter for Book 2 this year, so keep an eye out!

What work are you most proud of?

I’m proud of Altar Girl. The comic is very much ongoing, but it’s already given me so many opportunities to meet comic creators and artists I admire, as well avid comic readers and aspiring young artists. I’m especially proud to meet the young women who come to comic cons and feel a connection with my art and my book. It’s really wonderful and also very humbling.

What would you like to do or work on in the future?

I’m a full time freelancer, so I want to keep working on my own comics and stories, but I also love getting opportunities to work on other comic projects I can lend my skills to - especially pencils and inking. I’d really love to work with all-ages comic publishers, and help get new and exciting titles out there for young women especially.

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

I like to watch or read something that inspires me. Sometimes I’ll turn to a classic comic or anime I really like, and other times I’ll try to find something new I’ve heard of or just been meaning to check out.

What do you think will be the future of your field?

I hope to see more independent artists able to create their comics and tell their stories through their own means. I think we see a lot of that in webcomics now. Self publishing can be really rewarding!

What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

I’ll definitely be at SPX this fall, but sooner than that I’ll be doing some library events in DC, Creators Con (which is happening at my old high school – James Hubert Blake!) in April, and AwesomeCon end of May. I’ll also be at Baltimore Comic Con, and I’m always doing Bmore Into Comics shows, which are smaller one day shows happening at cool hang outs in Baltimore. I recently did SmudgeExpo for the first time, and I really enjoyed it!

I love the smaller shows for an all-ages crowd that encourage creativity. It’s really inspiring for me too!

What's your favorite thing about DC?

The museums, the zoo, and eating delicious food in Chinatown.

Least favorite?

Driving. I always end up getting lost and losing track of what street I’m on somehow!

What monument or museum do you like to take visitors to?

I love the Cherry Blossom Festival, and especially the Kite Competitions by the Monument. My first job out of school was illustration and design for a kite company, so there are a few kites out in the world with my art on them! I used to do the Rokaku Battle, where you try to cut your opponent’s kite strings out of the sky using your own strings. It was a lot of fun to do, and fun to watch too when we’d inevitably lose!

I always tell friends if they can only visit one museum, make it the Museum of Natural History! I personally love going to the National Gallery.

How about a favorite local restaurant?

Daikaya Ramen! I also really like brunch at Zengo on the weekends.

Do you have a website or blog?

Altar Girl’s website is, but I post on Twitter @ashleyaltars, Facebook (, and Tumblr ( too! You can find more of my illustration and design work at as well! I'm usually available for illustration commissions and more.

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