Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Short interviews with the 3 Mangaka at the Manga Festival 2013

Interview with Yaro Abe (深夜食堂)

I first heard about Shinya Shokudo from Connie Lam, the Executive Director of the HK Arts Centre, who is a big comics fan. Later, I found the books in the HK bookshops and that it has been made into a TV series. It is a food manga, which is a popular genre in Japan. You can find out more about food manga here.

Q: Why did you do such a story like Shinya Shokudo?
A: My stories are serialized in a magazine whose target audience is above 40 salary men and businessmen.
[NB: maybe older people like to eat?]

Q: Are you surprised by the popularity of the manga?
A: Yes, especially when I wrote it for a niche market (above 40 salary men) in Japan. It has been made into a TV series and published in Korea and Taiwan.

Q: What food have you tried in Singapore?
A: This is my first time in Singapore. I have tried the chicken rice at Chatterbox and I want to try all the food listed in the guide book. But I have no time yet!

Q: What advice would you give to young artists?
A: Don’t just draw what people like. Draw what you find interesting and focus on that. Each person is different so the manga they produced will be different.


Interview with Masayuki Ishikawa (Moyashimon/Tales of Agriculture)

I find the story of Moyashimon fascinating. A teenager entering an agriculture university and having the ability to see and communicate with microbes and bacteria. A professor wants to work with him to bring about new scientific discoveries to benefit the people. 2 other friends want him to help them ferment sake for sale. In America, he would have joined the X-Men. In Japan, he is as normal as your regular young adult who had diarrhea after eating bad curry rice. There is an anime and live action show for this. The girls in the manga are hot too.

Q: What is the genesis of Moyashimon?
A: Initially, I just wanted to draw a manga with a lot of people, big crowd, in a school setting. There is no bacteria when I first thought of the story.

Q: Why didn’t you do an action or romance manga?
A: Our daily life is not like that. This story is more about students and teachers.

Q: What sort of research did you do?
A: I visited a sake brewery. I talked to professionals, visited a lab and learned that when you put bacteria is a tank, they make sounds! I did not study agriculture as a student. But for this story, I went to the university libraries to do research.

Q: Is there a message behind your story?
A: Manga is for entertainment. The most important thing is that the students enjoy reading the story.

Q: You do not use assistants. Why is that so?
A: It is easier to do it alone.

Q: What advice would you give young artists?
A: Just enjoy trying. Do not get too pressurized. For those who want to be published in Japan, you don't need to study at a manga university. It is better to work under a mangaka as an assistant. Or go straight to the publishers or editors.


An interview with Mine Yoshizaki (Keroro Gunso/Sgt Frog)

Aliens arriving on Earth wanting to conquer us. But they are frogs and were captured by kids to become pets. Invasion failed. No way you can go wrong with this formula. Not when the chief frog, Sgt Frog has delusions of being Gundam, Kamen Rider and Evangelion. The anime is very successful too.

Q: Did you think Keroro Gunso would be so successful when you first started it?
A: I didn’t think from the commercial aspect. It was not something that I thought would sell when I first created it. But I wanted to draw something like this, so I took the risk and started the manga.

Q: Why did you use frogs as the aliens?
A: I was inspired by the Little Grey Man of Area 51. If you look at the silhouette of the Little Grey Man, it looks like a frog. Also when I look at the catalogue of frogs, there are many colours and appearances.

Q: Frogs versus men, who will win?
A: I hope they will make peace.

Q: What advice would you give to young artists in Asia?
A: I feel that the standard of comics is improving every year. Asian comics are approaching the standard of Japanese manga. We can learn from each other.

Japanese artists do not think of foreign market when they draw. They only think of their own market. This is a lack on our part. I think Japanese manga should be more opened and friendly to overseas readers. The themes should be made easier for overseas readers and contain less specific Japanese elements. Local artists are aware of this and they are more international compared to Japanese artists.

Thanks to Ashley, fsc and Sheuo Hui for helping out as translators.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Manga Festival

This is happening this weekend.

Supported by the Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and 10 Manga Publishers, this event will have 3 components:

15 Feb (Mandarin Orchard)
- lecture meetings from 2 pm to 6 pm
- forum/business matching from 6 pm

16 Feb (Kinokuniya, Ngee Ann City)
- autograph sessions with 3 popular manga artists from 1 pm to 5.30 pm
- special session with Hiroyuki Ito (Final Fantasy) moderated by Danny Choo from 5.30 pm. I expect this to be the popular event.

16 - 17 Feb (Arts House)
- manga exhibition

The 3 managka looks interesting. Yaro Abe's Shinya Shokudo is very popular among female adults in HK, Taiwan and Japan. It's a food manga.

Masayuki Ishikawa's Tales of Agriculture is food related too. The artist won the Tezuka award in 2008. 2 volumes of the manga has been translated into English and published by Del Rey Manga. There is also an anime series.

Mine Yoshizaki's Sgt Frog' sounds like a lot of fun with its frogs as alien invaders storyline. The frogs have delusions of being Gundam. There is an anime and Tokyopop used to release the English editions in the US.

CoFesta (Japan International Contents Festival) is also involved. Set up in 2007, CoFesta is an initiative to promote Japanese content abroad. The Tokyo International Film Festival is one of its events. Since last year, CoFesta started its Student Ambassador Programme - getting international students to promote Japanese content in their country and the rest of the world. This is part of the Cool Japan Strategy.

Some details here:

I've been asked to be part of a public forum to talk about manga together with 3 other Singaporean students. We are the 'opening act' for the autograph sessions, between 12 pm to 1 pm at Kinokuniya on 16 Feb.

While it'd be interesting to hear the views of young Singaporeans on the influence of J-pop on local culture, I wish there could be interaction between local artists and the 3 mangaka. Maybe that will happen. After all, one shouldn't just absorb and consume. But it is to learn, transform and create our own content that is important.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

九龙城寨 BL

What makes a comic book BL?
2 criteria: because the artists intend it to be so and when the readers embrace it as BL. I suspect the latter is more important because the fans will do the pairings. We found this popular HK kung fu comic at Sino Centre and apparently it's popular among BL fans in HK. The artists may have no idea about the BL market. After all, male bonding stories is the norm in action comics and movies. Eg. HK gangster movies of the 1980s and Hollywood cop buddy movies like Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours.

What has changed is the pretty boys factor in HK kung fu comics. It is not so much the artists are tapping into the BL market, but they are borrowing images of pretty boys from K-pop (and earlier, J-pop). That is the look now. Not the rough demeanor of Tiger Wong, but even the best street fighters should be using Gatsby facial wash to achieve that Super Junior style.

You can understand why all these appeal to the BL fans whether it's intentional or not. That's the thing about intent - it is very hard to establish. But what is important is that the BL community reads into it and embrace the comic as their own. It is a big fan base and helps the comic to sell more.

Another HK example: The Ravages of Time/ 火鳳燎原

Even Southeast Asian comics have come onboard the BL wagon. A review of Love is in the Bag by Studio Studio in the Philippines talks about the hint of yaoi in the comic. In Singapore, The Resident Tourist?

Enough BL musings on CNY. Huat ar!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The 6.9 question

Given my last few posts on the impact of foreign influences on local culture, this ties in with what is happening in Singapore recently - the 6.9 debate.

More food for thought. By Terence Chong, first uploaded on ISEAS Perspective yesterday and reprinted in Today and also The Malaysian Insider.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Complex Relationship

In my last post, I wondered how the Filipinos felt about the invasion of manga. Especially when you know that the komiks pioneers fought against the Japanese during World War II and supported the Americans to return.

Francisco V. Coching spent the war years as a guerilla with the Kamagong Unit of the Hunters-ROTC resistance organization. It was his unit that conceived the clever idea of smuggling arms in coffins past Japanese checkpoints.

As a boy during the occupation, Alfredo Alcala (Voltar, Conan, Boba Fett) would spy on Japanese installations from a distance, memorized the details and location, hid somewhere to draw it put and passed it on the Americans. He was a spy boy.

The tensions I mentioned are real. Ace Vitangcol, the writer of the popular Pinoy manga series, Love Is In The Bag, hesitated when we asked about the reaction towards manga by some in the komiks community.

He said this was a slippery slope and he has been burnt before by this: the manga backlash.

In the early 2000s, a new group of young Filipino comic artists influenced by manga and anime emerged. These were the people behind Mangaholix and Culture Crash and pretty soon, they were receiving hate mail. When Ace started Love Is In The Bag in 2007, he was warned that he would encounter the same thing. "Some factions were not keen towards us."

"This made me asked what is a Philippine comic? I came to the answer: it is anything done by Filipinos."

"We are not in the Philippine market and we are not in the purely Japanese market as that focuses more on manga from overseas and local doujins. We are in between and filling that gap. Our books are sold in bookstores like the National Book Store, and not at events."

For younger female artists like Columbia Kho, she draws comics because "we love manga and not because we want to revive the komik industry." (Columbia contributes to Oh No! Manga) So in that sense manga allows them to better express themselves as compared to other styles or genres. Kring from Cebu proclaimed herself as one of the newer generation of comic artists influenced by manga. Since high school, she saw the dynamism of manga in telling stories. She found manga to be a deep way of storytelling, especially shojo manga which put a lot of feelings into the story. It is the same for Tin Tin Pantoja. "Manga is a natural way of telling a story for me."

This is similar to the reactions I got from younger Malaysian artists I spoke to a few years ago about being influenced by manga and Western comics when there was already a more indigenous style that has emerged in Malaysia in the 1980s in the form of Lat and Gila Gila. To them, there was nothing wrong if their comics look like a Western or Japanese comic. Maybe they are right. We can't fight globalization.

Diplomacy and politics play a part too. From The Straits Times, 11 January 2013: "Tokyo, Manila to boost ties amid regional changes: Japan offers Philippines help over Beijing's 'threatening' activity in South China Sea".

And 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of Malaysia's Look East Policy introduced by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1982 to improve bilateral relations between Japan and Malaysia. The Look East Policy will continue. (New Sunday Times, 23 December 2012)

In the March 2012 issue of Oh No! Manga, a detective tries to solve the case of Serial Vandalisms of 2896. In this future, the culture of the Philippines is slowly deteriorating because of colonial mentality and dirty politics. The people have forgotten their own history and the vandal is a promotor of nationalistic ideals and relives the past through vandalism. He is sending out a message about the country's dying culture.

The detective has a Japanese name, Ysaganni Ibarra and lives in Neo Manila, which is populated by robot maids from Japan.

I wonder if the irony is intentional.

Manga and the Philippines

A recent trip to Manila got me thinking about manga in the Philippines. Given the long history between US and the Philippines and the strong connection till today, when and why the turn towards manga? Part of the global trend? Any resistance given the traditional stronghold the US comic art style has over the Philippines?

I found my answer in pages 132 to 134 of John Lent's The First One Hundred Years of Philippine Komiks and Cartoons (2009). I will quote extensively here.

Basically, Japanese manga and anime is much responsible for the renewed interest in comics in the Philippines. Anime was a formidable force in the country before Marcos banned it, especially "Voltes V", in the 1970s. (Fans remembered the beloved series well - celebrity cosplay photographer, Jay Tablante, was gushing about "Voltes V" when we met him in Manila)

By the late 1990s, manga and anime had made a comeback with Filipino artists doing their own manga in magazines like Culture Crash and Questor. Other titles like Mango Jam and the Mangaholix series appeal to the Filipino manga consumers - mainly females in the 8 to 25 age bracket and buying their books at specialty comic shops and bookstores.

Not all were happy about the manga invasion. Gerry Alanguilan, for one, felt it was inappropriate to use a style that is so uniquely Japanese and to call it "Philippine-made comics." He said that in 10 years of observing Filipino artists who started out with manga, he did not find any who have evolved their own style. Manga's "danger" is that it has a strong and recognizable group style not found in American comics drawn by artists from other parts of the world. (of course, this is debatable - is the style of Ardian Syaf from Indonesia and Carlo Pagulayan from the Philippines that much different from their counterparts in America?)

Alanguilan went on to say:

"Our culture is defined more by what we create, than by what we consume. We are no less Filipino when we eat Japanese food, and although we are no less Filipino citizens when we use Japanese art to create Filipino comics, it does put into spotlight that we no longer have a voice of our own."

Pretty strong words from one of giants of Filipino comics today.

However, for artists like Melvin Calingo (aka Taga-Ilog), he felt that it was "strange and utterly unfounded" that by accepting manga, Filipinos were accepting and promoting a foreign culture. Claiming the major difference between Japanese and Philippine manga was the audience, Calingo pointed out the unique qualities of Pinoy manga to be:

a) having Philippine cultural and linguistic nuances and local settings
b) being oriented to the youth subculture compared to the mainstream in Japan
c) using Philippine humor, drama and cultural values even in fantasy stories

Calingo felt that manga had been appropriated and transformed into something "quite unlike itself back in Japan." For him, Pinoy manga "suggest an intermarriage of influence between Filipino ingenuity and the usage of Japanese and American aesthetic conventions in creating comics."

Writer Joel Chua said that the decision of Filipinos to imitate manga was pragmatic because more work opportunities opened up for artists working in that style.

As in elsewhere, the Japanese government has promoted manga in the Philippines as a valuable cultural and financial export. Filipino artists have been encouraged to enter international and other manga competitions organized by the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

For more info, see Herbeth Fonddevilla's article, "Contemplating the Identity of Manga in the Philippines" in International Journal of Comic Art, 9:2 Fall 2007: 441 - 454.

I will be writing more about this in the next few posts.

Friday, February 1, 2013