Thursday, October 25, 2018

SWF 2018 - Interview with Lewis Trondheim and Brigitte Findakly

Some of us have been hoping that STGCC would bring in indie comics creators like Chris Ware or Adrian Tomine. But the chances of that happening are higher with SWF. Thanks to Guy Delisle who made the intro, this year we managed to invite Lewis Trondheim and his wife, Brigitte Findarly for the writers fest. If you have been reading comics seriously, especially the BDs from Europe, you might know the the voluminous work by Lewis. A pioneer in the contemporary French comics scene, Lewis has been working with Brigitte for a long time - she is the colourist for his books. Last year, they did a book together, Poppies of Iraq, which is about Brigitte's childhood in Iraq. It is critically acclaimed and has been translated into English by Drawn and Quarterly.

Lewis' bio reads: Born in France in 1964, Lewis Trondheim is the co-founder of the French publisher L’Association in 1990. He is also a comics author, writer and illustrator.

Brigitte's: Born in Iraq in 1959, Brigitte Findakly has been a colourist since 1982 for many cartoonists (like Manu Larcenet and Joann Sfar). She has co-written, with Lewis Trondheim, her biography entitled Poppies of Iraq.

Their panels:

Lewis is also conducting a comics workshop with the Singapore Book Council on 12 Nov. A rare opportunity to learn from a master.

I'm looking forward to meeting them when they are here in Singapore.
(thank again to Cheryl for the translation!)

Lewis, you have worked on so many different types of comics. So what are comics to you?

C’est un moyen de m’exprimer et de m’amuser. Imagine-t-on jouer au même jeu toute sa vie ? Il existe des milliers et des milliers de jeux. En bande dessinée, c’est pareil, il existe encore mille façons de s’exprimer, de jouer avec le dessin et le texte, de créer des surprises pour le lecteur, et pour moi-même.

It is a way of expressing and entertaining myself. Can you imagine playing the same game throughout one’s life? There are thousands of games out there. Similarly in comics, there are thousands of ways of expressing and playing with illustrations and text to create unexpected surprises for the reader and for myself.

Is it schizophrenic to do so many different things - ie. hard to keep track of the different genres/ series and characters, story lines? (I supposed the same can be said for Joann Sfar...)

J’ai un cerveau qui fonctionne très bien en mode multitâche. Il est même fait pour ça. Donc ce n’est pas un effort mais c’est naturel. Je pourrais dire que c’est beaucoup de travail pour me vanter mais ce serait un mensonge. C’est du travail, si. Mais je peux aisément passer d’un projet à l’autre en 2 secondes.

My brain thrives on and is built for multi-tasking, hence, instead of being an effort, the ability to multi-task comes naturally. I could have easily said it is really tough juggling so many different things but that would be a lie. True, it is a bit of work, but in reality I can switch easily from one project to another.

What's with all the funny animals in your comics?

C’était une façon pour moi d’éviter de dessiner les humains. Parce que les humains sont plus difficiles à faire. Et comme je suis assez paresseux, et qu’au début de ma carrière, je n’étais pas dessinateur du tout, il fallait que je trouve un système graphique simple pour pouvoir raconter mes histoires. Et puis j’ai aussi l’influence de mes lectures d’enfance avec le Mickey de Floyd Gottfredson est le Donald de Carl Barks. Sans doute que j’ai voulu continuer à faire des pseudo-histoires de Disney, mais pour des enfants qui auraient grandis.

It’s a strategy to avoid drawing humans because humans are complicated subjects. Since I’m rather lazy in nature and was not an illustrator at the start of my career, I had to find a graphically simple vehicle for telling my stories. I was also influenced by my childhood reads of Mickey Mouse by Floyd Gottfredson and Donald Duck by Carl Barks. Beyond doubt I wanted to continue with Disney-like stories for children who have grown up into adults.

You even did a Mickey Mouse book - was it very tedious working with Disney? Did they want to vet everything?

Quand on a lu Disney enfant, on connait les codes et les contraintes. On sait ce que Donald, Dingo et Mickey peuvent faire et dire intuitivement. Donc les contraintes ne sont pas énormes.

When one has read Disney as a child, one is familiar with all the codes and constraints of each character. One already knows instinctively what Donald, Goofy and Mickey are capable of doing and saying hence, I did not find the constraints too daunting.

You started drawing comics late in life and learned how to draw in full view of the public. Would you recommend this pathway to be a comic book creator?

Il n’y a pas de méthode universelle pour devenir auteur de bande dessinée. Chacun doit trouver son mode personnel. Par contre, il faut beaucoup écrire et dessiner. C’est une gymnastique. Moins on en fait, moins on y arrive.

There is no one fixed ( universal ) way of becoming a comic strip writer. Everyone has to find his own way. However, one has to write a lot and draw a lot. It is like a gymnastic act, which comes easier with practice.

What would you say to someone who want to do comics but they are not sure if they are good at it?

Le principal est d’avoir quelque chose à dire. Puis d’écrire les textes proprement. Si les dessins sont faibles, peu importe tant que l’histoire tient en haleine, est intrigante, ou fait rire.

Fundamentally, one must have something to say. Then pen it out succinctly. Even if the illustrations are weak, so long as the story catches your breath and is intriguing or makes you laugh, it will capture your readers.

Are you acclaimed in Europe?

Je ne suis pas acclamé en Europe, non… J’ai un petit public fidèle mais je ne suis pas un auteur mainstream.

No, I’m not ‘ acclaimed’ in Europe. I have a small loyal following but I am not a mainstream author.

Do you want to 'make it big' in America?

Pas du tout. L’Europe est l’endroit dans le monde où il y a le plus de diversité de bande dessinée. Dans les formats, les styles graphiques, les styles narratifs. Il y a plein d’auteurs américains qui aimeraient « make it big in Europe ». Par exemple, Robert Crump vit en France depuis plus de 30 ans. Je pense qu’il s’y sent mieux qu’entouré de super-héros en sous-vêtements et en collants.

Not at all. Europe is the place in the world that has the most diversity for comics in terms of format, graphic styles and narrative styles. On the contrary, there are many Americans who dream of “making it big in Europe”- For example Robert Crumb who has been living in France for more than 30 years. I think he must feel better in France than being surrounded by super-heroes in underwear and tights (back in the US).

Brigitte, how did you feel when Lewis started to draw you into his comics all those years ago? (Approximate Continuum Comics, 1998) And then the children too? (Monster Mess, 2012)

J’aime particulièrement Approximate Continuum Comics parce que Lewis y raconte entre autre nos premières années ensemble et beaucoup de moments qui y sont liés. Pour Monster Mess, même si c’est une fiction, cela me touche d’y retrouver nos enfants et certains de leurs dessins. Dans tous les cas, je n’ai jamais été gênée que Lewis me dessine ou dessine nos enfants (comme dans Littel Nothings) ce sont des souvenirs qui resteront pour toujours.

I particularly liked Approximate Continuum Comics because Lewis recounted, besides other subjects, many moments closely-tied with our first few years together. For Monster Mess, even though it is fiction, it touched me deeply because you find the drawings of our children in there. In any case, I was never troubled by the fact that Lewis drew me or our children and included our family in his stories such as Little Nothings. These are our souvenirs (memories) that will stay forever.
You colored most of Lewis' books. How was the collaboration for Poppies of Iraq different? Do you still have relatives there? Have you gone back recently?

La différence pour Poppies of Iraq est que j’ai participé au scénario puisque j’y raconte mon enfance. Lewis m’a beaucoup aidé à mettre en forme chaque souvenir, chaque anecdote. Il me reste 3 cousins à Bagdad. Tous les autres membres de ma famille ont émigré un peu partout à travers le monde. Je ne suis pas retournée en Iraq depuis 1989.

The difference for Poppies of Iraq is that I participated in the scenario-making as I was recounting my childhood. Lewis helped me a lot in putting into form every souvenir and anecdote. I still have 3 cousins in Bagdad. The rest of my family members have migrated here and there all over the world. I have not returned to Iraq since 1989.

Poppies of Iraq taps into the current trend of graphic memoirs. Why do you think there is such a demand for such comics?

Heureusement que Lewis a fait parti du renouveau de la bande dessinée autobiographique en France dans les années 90, sinon, on aurait pu croire qu’il voulait juste exploiter cette mode.
Je ne pense pas qu’il y ait une demande particulière pour ce genre de récit, par contre, nous avons affaire à une génération d’auteur qui, plus jeune, a lu de la bande dessinée provenant de l’Association, cornélien, Ego comme X, tout le mouvement indépendant des années 90. Ils écrivent naturellement sous forme de band dessinée, et toutes sortes de récits, reportage, autobiographie, biographie, autofiction… Donc le type de récit s’élargie, le nombre d’ouvrage augmente, ainsi que le nombre de lecteurs.

Fortunately, Lewis was part of the rebirth / renewal of autobiographic comics in France during the 90s, otherwise the public will assume he was trying to exploit this trend of graphic memoirs. I do not think there is a particular demand for this type of story-telling. However, we do have at hand a generation of authors who have, in their youth, read comics originating from L’Association, Cornelien, Ego Comme X; all the various independent movements from the 90s. They all write naturally under the genre of comics all kinds of stories: documentary, autobiography, biography, autofiction. Hence, with the diverse range of stories, the scope of work expands as a result, along with the number of readers.

What's next? - will there be such future collaborations? Eg. Bryan Talbot and Mary Talbot have formed a very successful team.

Il n’y a rien de prévu pour l’instant.

Nothing planned for the moment..

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

SWF 2018 - Interview with Margaret Stohl

The news is real. YA comics are selling way more than your regular superhero titles. If you have not heard of Raina Telgemeier, you are missing out on the true makers and shakers of the comics industry today. Thus the corporate response by DC and Marvel in recent times - get the YA writers in to write their titles. It is not just for diversity; there is an economic imperative and it makes good business sense. This year's SWF sees the invitation of two YA comics writers - a sign of the times. I interviewed Mariko Tamaki in the previous post - she is edgy and she tackles LGBTQ issues in her work.

Margaret Stohl writes the Beautiful Creatures series and also Captain Marvel. I enjoy the Beautiful Creatures movie back in 2013. I wish there is more to the filmic series.

Her bio: Margaret Stohl is the internationally bestselling author of 12 novels, including Beautiful Creatures, which was adapted for film in 2013. She writes The Mighty Captain Marvel comics and Black Widow books for Marvel, and just released Cats Versus Robots: This is War for younger children – co-written with her husband and illustrated by her child. She is the co-founder of Yallwest and Yallfest, the largest YA book festivals in the US.

I had a great time reading Margaret Stohl's answers to my questions too. Her thoughtful replies confirm the need for us to invite and engage more comics writers to learn from them and to grow our industry. We have invited many artists for events like STGCC. We should get more writers, editors, publishers, critics and even translators in to build our ecosystem.

Margaret's events:

You can watch these videos featuring her and Captain Marvel too:

Thanks to Tori, Letitia, Shauna and Leo for setting up the interview.

How did you end up writing for Marvel, and specifically, Captain Marvel?

From videogames, actually. After I became known as a YA writer from the Beautiful Creatures novels, an editor at Marvel Press discovered I had worked on Spiderman for the original playstation and Fantastic Four for the Playstation 2; that led to a job writing two prose novels for Marvel -- Black Widow Forever Red and Black Widow Red Vengeance -- which is how I got to know Sana Amanat, Marvel's VP of Content and Creative Development. I had never written an ongoing monthly comic at the time -- just a few standalone issues called "one shots" within comics -- but she had a lot of faith in me. And now we've done -- let's see, for Captain Marvel we've released Alien Nation, Band of Sisters, Generations, Dark Origins, and Life of Captain Marvel, so we've created more than four hundred and fifty pages of comics together. It's been a wild ride.

How different is it writing for comics, and writing novels and for games?

Sometimes very different, and sometimes no different at all. Some truths are always true -- like, hard things are always hard, whether in comics and books and games -- and hard things take time, in any genre. The best work I do always correlates painfully and directly to my greatest investments of time and greatest number of iterations. I wish there was some secret to getting to the good stuff, but there isn't. The secret is...that there is no secret. Important things are usually important across all genres; for example, characters are always the handle by which we hold on to any world, and readers only care about them if they feel real, which usually happens when you are feeling vulnerable and truthful and human, on the page. But still, some things are different. My first attempt at a novel, Beautiful Creatures (cowritten with Kami Garcia) was about twice as long as a usual YA book -- so try to imagine how many dialogue balloons covered my issue zero of Mighty Captain Marvel! I learned the hard way that no matter how beautiful or clever or funny I thought my dialogue was, my artists' panels were usually better. And comics taught me to think visually as well; for each comics script, I had to describe the general visual detail of every panel, even the basic "shots" as if I were defining camera angles for a screenplay. Before that, when I wrote novels, I would normally "hear" my characters tell me their stories. Now find myself writing out what would have been the panel descriptions for my comics scripts, even in my novels, before I let my characters open their mouths at all!

You tackled the refugee issue in Captain Marvel. How did the readers respond to it?

Predictably, some readers were moved, while others accused us of being social justice warriors. That's comics for you, especially as a girl creator. I actually love how passionate Marvel fans are, comicsgate bots notwithstanding. But Sana and I wanted to do that story even before the refugee crisis was getting much attention, and it was horrifying to watch how the real life version of that crisis unfolded. Marvel has always been really brilliant at telling the human side of superhuman stories, and I think alien stories are always stories that investigate the nature of humanity. And Bean, the Kree "Hala Child" refugee that Carol discovers, is really just a foreshadowing of the larger storyline that inscribes Carol's whole personal identity. It's a story that took two years to tell, so I do really love that my time began and ended with Captain Marvel on this same theme of what it is to be alien and what it is to be human.

(Margaret's appearances at this year's SDCC)

Was it difficult to navigate the Marvel continuity? (keeping track of the history and what happen to Captain Marvel in other books)

Yes, so difficult! For Captain Marvel and for Black Widow, before that, when I was writing the books. I always started by sitting down and reading every single issue I can get my hands on -- single issues, trade paperback collections, digital issues. Then I picked the brains of all my editors over the years -- Sana, Mark Basso, Sarah Brunstad, and especially Charles Beacham, who was like a Captain Marvel encyclopedia. After a while, you eventually get your own sense of the convoluted comics timeline, and how you fit into it. But until you do -- it's very intimidating!

You are the second female writer to attend the Marvel creative summit. What was the experience like?

Those creative summits were sort of incredible, like a crash course in modern comics, especially listening to Mark Waid and Tom Brevoort, who between them can recite the entire storyline of every Marvel (Tom) or DC (Mark) hero. Until Kelly Thompson arrived, I was the only girl creator in the room, and aside from Ta-nehesi Coates, the only novelist, so that made me a little nervous at first. But honestly, the guys were great, my brothers from another mother, right off the bat, and it took maybe a day until they were scrapping with me just like I was one of them. Gerry Duggan, who wrote Deadpool -- Nick Spencer, who now writes Spiderman -- and Mark Waid, who has done everything -- they're my neighbors in LA, and we became great friends as a result of the room. The comics community is really tight. They're just good people -- and yeah, totally brilliant.

(NB: Mark Waid was a former SWF guest while Nick Spencer visited Singapore before for STGCC)

Female comics writers are in the news these days. Marjorie Liu (who we invited for SWF last year) won a Hugo and an Eisner for Best Writer for Monstress and the book also just won the Harvey Award’s Book of the Year. These add diversity to the creative pool. Eg. Black Panther (Ta-Nehisi), Mockingbird (Chelsea Cain) and the previous run of Captain Marvel (Kelly Sue DeConnick). So putting it to you - who else would you want to write?

Everyone at Marvel knows my bucket list is Tony Stark. He's my favorite character to write in the whole Marvel universe; I have a bad Tony Stark sitting on my shoulder telling bad Tony Stark jokes the way some people have an angel or a devil there. But I also happen to love Dan Slott, who currently writes Iron Man, just as I loved Brian Bendis, who wrote it before him. So I've made peace with writing Tony into most of my comics as a side character, as well as both of my Black Widow novels. I think Sana cut about seventy pages of extra Tony Stark dialogue out of my first book; I was so excited to be writing him I may have gone *a little overboard :)

More published writers are engaged to write comics now. What are the pros and cons of this arrangement?

So many of my YA friends are now writing graphic novels, I think it's amazing. It's not as easy as they expect, so there's a little bit of learning there for everyone, just as there was for me. But I do think the YA community is incredibly diverse in comparison to the mainstream comics community, so hopefully this will help.

Will there be a Beautiful Creatures movie sequel?

Never say never! In this world of streaming content, who knows? I still keep in touch with the actor who played the main character in our movie, Alden Ehrenreich, so it was especially fun to see him play Han Solo this year; he's building an amazing career for himself, but still, I'll probably always think of him as our "Ethan Wate.”

Monday, October 15, 2018

SWF 2018 - interview with Mariko Tamaki

Mariko Tamaki requires little introduction. From her coming of age graphic novel, Skim to She-Hulk, Mariko has been exploring issues of identity and what it takes to be comfortable in one's own skin - well, green or otherwise in the case of the She-Hulk. An unlikely writer of mainstream superhero comics, Mariko is enjoying herself writing the adventures of Supergirl and X-23 in recent years.

Her bio reads: New York Times bestselling author Mariko Tamaki is the co-creator of graphic novels, Skim and This One Summer, with illustrator Jillian Tamaki. Mariko has received Eisner, Ignatz, Caldecott and Printz honours. She is currently working on a Harley Quinn comic for DC Ink with Steve Pugh.

These are the SWf prograames she will be in:
(with Margaret Stohl, the current writer of Captain Marvel)

How did you end up writing for Marvel and DC, specifically, She-Hulk and Supergirl?

I was invited! By that time I had written a few graphic novels (Skim and This One Summer with my cousin Jillian Tamaki), and I had worked with Dark Horse on their Tomb Raider series (With Phillip Sevy), and Adventure Time, amongst others. I suppose at some point I came up on someone’s list and someone emailed me.

Was it intentional for the mainstream to get you to write female characters like She-Hulk, X-23, Harley Quinn, Supergirl and Tomb Raider?

I’m not sure. I’m very pleased to have had the chance to write such incredible, complicated characters.

How different is it writing for the mainstream comics companies as compared to your own indie / personal stuff like Skim?

It’s very different and in some ways not at all different. The format is different, writing in issues of 20 or so pages, in arcs where the individual issues have to connect into one long story, but work as individual issues. Writing someone else’s character, writing into an existing mythology requires different writing muscles. I write, I think, different stories when I am working “my own” books, which is to say when I’m creating an original work with an artist. At the same time, both processes involve figuring out story and character, and sitting down and writing.

How have people responded to Skim (2005) after all these years? (That's the first book of yours I read)

I have talked to people who have a very strong connection to Skim. For some people, it was their first queer comic, which to me is such an honor, because I have a VERY strong bond with my first queer works.

How much of your own life is in your stories? For example, Emiko Superstar features performance art and you were a performance artist. (btw, there is quite a vibrant performance art scene in Singapore)

I’m very glad to hear that! Emotionally a lot of what I write is inspired by my experiences, and from what I’ve observed in the world. I definitely mine my past for inspiration. I try to think of things that have meant something for me that I haven’t seen in other books and use that where I can.

Would you say a central theme in all your comics (Skim, This One Summer, She-Hulk, Supergirl, Lumberjanes) is about growing up, coming to terms with oneself, that need to belong and the desire to resist?

I would say identity is definitely a common theme: the identity of the outsider, the struggle with identity (which is a big superhero thing), how it is we come to embrace an identity, or leave one behind.

This One Summer was number one on the list of top 10 most banned and challenged books in USA in 2016. Were you surprised by this? Are cultural wars still being fought in America, especially in this age of Trump? (Singapore is also trying to deal with LGBTQ issues currently. The National Library had its own Penguingate 4 years ago.

LGBTQ content is a large reason for books being on the challenged list in the United States, which is not to say it is a good REASON to challenge or ban a book. I was not surprised because This One Summer had received quite a bit of attention after receiving a Caldecott Honor, but I was sad to hear how many amazing books about LGBTQ experience were being pulled from shelves and made unavailable to young readers.

Female comics writers are in the news these days. Marjorie Liu (who we invited for SWF last year) won a Hugo and an Eisner for Best Writer for Monstress and the book also just won the Harvey Award’s Book of the Year. These add diversity to the creative pool. Eg. Black Panther (Ta-Nehisi), Mockingbird (Chelsea Cain) and Captain Marvel (Margaret Stohl). So putting it to you - who else would you want to write?

There is a long and amazing history of female comic writers that I am honored to be a part of, people like G. Willow Wilson, Gail Simone, Alison Bechdel, and now writers like Nalo Hopkinson, are making amazing works. I have been so thrilled with the characters I have written so far, I would love to write a Hawkeye, and Batman, and Batwoman, and Jessica Jones. Really, I have a VERY LONG list of comics I would like to write.

More published writers are engaged to write comics now. What are the pros and cons of this arrangement?

Are their cons? I think it’s a good thing. I think more comics are always a good thing.

Can you tell us more about the new project, adapting Carole Maurel's Luisa: Now and Then?

I was given the translation of the comic from French to English, and my job was to make sure the comic read well in English, to make sure it felt…I guess the word could be “natural.” I compared it to moving around the cutlery on a well dressed table, just making sure everything is in the right place. Maurel is an incredible comic artist and writer.

What comic books do you read these days?

A LOT. I’ve recently discovered Warren Ellis, so I’m reading a lot of his comics. Also I’m really enjoying Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s Runaways. I loved Emil Ferris’ My Favorite Thing is Monsters, and Eleanor Davis’s Why Art?

Mariko and Jillian

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

SWF 2018 - Interview with Meguru Hinomoto

Fans of shojo manga would be happy to know that another shojo manga artist is coming for SWF next month. Meet Meguru Hinomoto who made her debut as an artist of girls’ manga in 2003. According to her bio, her works can be found as web and mobile manga, which include girls’ manga for school children, adult manga for female readers, and manga focusing on teenage romance. Meguru is also talented in turning novels written by other authors into manga.

Her SWF panels are:

Thanks to Keisuke Koizumi for the translation, Kitakyushu Office City and JCC Singapore.

You started out very young as a mangaka. What are the advantages of being a professional manga artist when you are fresh out of high school?

I started writing manga when I was about 12 years old. I had intended to keep doing so as my hobby even if I didn’t become a professional manga artist by the time I reach 20 or 22 years old. I posted out as many works as possible to the publishers and several publishers started approaching me when I was 16 years old. In the year of my graduation from a vocational school, one of my works got awarded and I debuted as a manga artist.

Did you have a regular job before becoming a full time mangaka?

Not before my debut. I concentrated on my own manga work and school. After the debut, I worked as an assistant for other professional manga artists until my own manga works were constantly published.

At SWF, you want to share about the sensitive emotions woven in shojo manga. How does shojo manga express such sensitive emotions in the storytelling?

Girls and ladies often treasure something cute and tiny, like a treasure box only for herself that she wouldn't show to anyone. Manga is like this small treasure box. I consider manga as a treasure box in which the readers put their private memories, emotions or passion, like memories about family or friends, emotions for the persons they love etc. I would draw carefully but it is also to describe such important emotions woven inside the characters' words and the whole scene itself.

What are the conventions of shojo manga? How is shojo manga different from shonen manga?

I guess one of the characteristics of shojo manga and a main difference from boys' manga (shonen) is 'monologue', where characters' emotions are expressed by sentences. In shojo manga, together with the drawings, monologues often emphasize how harsh their (characters) agonies are, how different their reality is from their ideals, how ugly they are inside and so on. Many of the shojo manga artists keep making efforts to improve their skills of monologues.

How is your manga different from other shojo manga?

I am trying not to make my work too sensuous because I expect male readers to read my work too even though they are meant for girls and ladies. And especially in shojo manga, panel layout can be often complicated, I usually try to avoid that.

What are some of your favourite shojo manga?

I loved the 'Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon' anime when I was 10 years old and its comic was the very first comic I bought in my life. Apart from Ms. Naoko Takeuchi, the artist of Sailor Moon, there are many authors I loved, for example Ms. Nami Akimoto and Megumi Tachikawa whose work were published through the shojo manga magazine 'Nakayoshi' at that time. Other than that, I often read the manga by Ms. Rina Morimoto whose works were published through another shojo manga magazine "Ribbon" and the ones by Ms Jun Fukami who is a ladies' manga artist.

What is the future for shojo manga?

In 1990's, though I know only the latter part of it, Japan faced a new trend where adults read manga which was originally meant for boys and girls and it was the era when the manga culture or industry was enriched. After that, manga played a big role in the movement of women into society too. I truly hope Manga will stay as something to lead the society as it has been doing.

I have read some of your manga - A Cup of Perfection, My Boyfriend the Home Boy and Host Taxi.
Are you a big fan of coffee? (you should try Nanyang coffee when you are in Singapore)

Thank you very much for reading my works. You may have realized some are expressed with poor skills because these comics were published quite long time ago when I was not a fully matured manga artist yet. Well, coffee is indispensible when I am working, I would love to go to a local coffee shop in Singapore.

There are some negative portrayal of male-female relationships in Host Taxi and the male character in A Cup of Perfection forced a kiss on the heroine. Maybe male characters should be non-aggressive and be like the reclusive male lead in My Boyfriend the Home Boy. What do you think?

To be honest, I was very much worried when I was working on those comics.

I believe there are many things and events that we should absolutely stay away from in our actual daily life. From my comics, I expect the readers to experience such things virtually, feel disgusted and think what to do if it was them through the eyes of the characters in the manga. And eventually I hope my manga will be a trigger to review and improve readers’ own daily lives and their relationship with the people around them.

Social problems are being reflected in manga. I never avoid such problems when I am starting a new work or content. I always aim to describe a woman who can value the people around her as much as she value herself.

You are interested in the collaborations between different artists. What is your experience like working with other artists?

I wrote manga works with my own stories originally, but the story making gradually lost its attraction for me and that triggered my collaborations with other artists. Even though it is not easy to express someone else's thoughts and stories with my own drawing, and I feel a very heavy responsibility in re-making their work, those jobs are worthwhile and enjoyable for me, I think. I want to do as many collaborations as possible. 5 years of experience in collaborations have reconfirmed my own strong points too.

Can you tell us more about more about the Kitakyushu Manga Museum? How does the Kitakyushu City Office support manga and mangakas?

Fukuoka prefecture is big and it includes Fukuoka City, Kitakyushu City and some other cities. While the biggest city, Fukuoka focuses on IT, games and performance arts mainly, Kitakyushu City focuses on manga as the first priority. In typical small cities in Japan, people read manga as part of mass entertainment. On the other hand, Kitakyushu wants to transform such pure mass entertainment into something more meaningful by organizing popular events like pop culture festivals, manga contests and exhibitions and also by transmitting the latest information related to the manga industries. It becomes a culture or tradition for the city, which would become a place to 'experience' and not just 'reading' of manga. Kitakyushu City and the Manga Museum is indeed a manga hub that entertains you with various aspects of Manga culture.

I met you in June at the 17th International Comic Artist Conference (ICC) in Taipei. The Mayor of Kitakyushu City attended as well as the city will be hosting the 18th ICC in October next year. How did you find the ICC event in Taipei? What are your impressions of comics from other Asian countries like Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Macau?

That was my first time joining a comic conference and I was shocked to see how much overseas artists admire Japanese manga culture. I realized that manga is one part of the Japanese culture that we can be truly proud of. It was great to see different types of manga there, some reminds me of the Japanese ones and some don't. They clearly had characteristics of the countries or culture where they are from.

Recently, we can enjoy so called 'Panel reading' (1 page 1 panel only) and 'webtoon types' (scroll vertically) on our gadgets thanks to the new technologies developed in mobile phones and the internet industry. There are pros and cons about that idea depending on the characteristics of each manga. But it convinced me manga culture will keep expanding from now on.

What are your aspirations? What's next for you?

I recently introduced to 'webtoon' and started working on vertically scrolled manga. In traditional manga, the artists lay out the panels on each page and carefully arrange the content so the most exciting or thrilling moment comes just after flipping the page. This method is called 'Mekuri' In Japanese, meaning 'Flipping'. But for webtoon, there isn't any chance for 'Mekuri'. This is a new challenge for me. It's a really exciting challenge and I am trying my best to find my own expression or method in webtoon.

Is this your first trip to Singapore? What do you hope to visit? Or hope to eat!

Yes, this is my first time in Singapore.

Sadly, the Merlion and Marina Bay Sands are the only things I know about Singapore for now. Thus, I want to experience as many places and food as possible during this trip, especially the famous food among the Japanese people, though I can't enjoy some of the food because of my flour allergy, lol.

SWF 2018 - Interview with Aisha Franz

There are so many good comics out there these days that it is hard to keep track, especially those from Europe and not translated into English. I wish I could read French or German, but I can't. So I am glad that publishers like Fantagraphics, Self Made Hero and Drawn & Quarterly have been translating these new graphic novels. Aisha Franz is one of the most exciting comics creators from Germany in recent times and we will have a chance to interact with her when she is here for the Singapore Writers Fest next month.

Her bio:

Aisha Franz is a Berlin-based comic book artist. In her work, she explores the possibilities of self-publishing while trying to push the boundaries of storytelling within the comic medium. She has published three graphic novels, her latest being Shit is Real. She teaches illustration at Kunsthochschule Kassel, a college of fine arts in Germany.

Here are a list of her panels:

How did you get started drawing comics? I understand you only got into comics when you were in art school.

In my first year as a student I was moving in between illustration and animation but wasn’t really aware of comics as an option because I had such a limited idea of what it was. Our professor Hendrik Dorgathen who is a comic artist from the 90 German avant-garde introduced us to everything there was aside from the mainstream and it instantly made so much sense that that was the thing I needed to do!

What happened after that?

Earthling was my thesis project which then got published by Reprodukt, a Berlin-based publisher of independent comics. Kassel, the city I studied in, is quite small so I was eager to move to a bigger and culturally interesting place with a bigger DIY scene. So Berlin it was.

I visited the Millionaires Club, the annual comics and graphics festival in Leipzig, in 2014. What is the German comic scene like these days?

You might have gotten a pretty got idea of the German comic scene if you went to the Millionaires Club - that’s definitely the right festival to visit for that. In the meantime, I think the scene has been constantly growing, more young artists joining the game, small publishers becoming more established and style-wise it has gotten more diverse I would say. The Millionaires Club is still happening every year and has moved from a complete diy project to a funded event which now manages to invite international artists and therefore bring the community closer together. The German comic scene has definitely gotten more international. Many artists from all over Europe and overseas have been moving to Berlin (it’s still relatively cheap here).

Can you tell us more about the Treasure Fleet comics collective (now defunct), and Colorama and Clubhouse?

Treasure Fleet was a distribution collective. We were 7 comic artists self-publishing our own work so the idea was to get together and promote our work at international festivals as a group rather than each of us trying to do that on their own. You create more visibility this way, you share cost and it’s just more fun! It’s important to have a project or a close community to give meaning to what you do. The Clubhouse project is trying to do a similar thing in essence - to provide a reason and platform for all the artists scattered around in the city or close-by to come together. It’s a collaboration project co-curated by me and the riso studio and publishing house, Colorama. Several artists are invited to come in person and collaborate on a small zine or book (clubhouse week) which is printed on the risograph right after being finished. As a publishing house, Colorama has managed to bring the Berlin comics scene closer together and to publish projects that wouldn’t really fit into any other publishing house.

Tell us about your first long form story, Earthling which was published in 2011 and translated / published in English by Drawn and Quarterly in 2014.

As I mentioned, Earthling (orig. Alien) was my thesis project in art school so I already had the ambition to make something longer. I didn‘t plan it to be that long though, the story and content just kept evolving in the process and I was happy to take on the challenge of developing an entire storyline from beginning to end.

Your second book published by Drawn and Quarterly just came out, Shit is Real. How is it different from Earthling?

Shit is Real is my third book published in German (2nd in English) so there was quite a big time-gap between the two. During that time my drawing style certainly changed (and keeps changing constantly) but also my interests and ideas. Not sure how to answer this question otherwise though - it‘s a whole other book so it has to be different from Earthling?

How has the response like for Shit is Real so far?

I guess quite ok or at least the bad reviews haven‘t reached me yet :)

Both books deal with alienation and the worlds that may or may not exist only in our minds – are you a fan of Philip K Dick and alternate realities? (you said you are a fan of David Lynch and Haruki Murakami)

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of Lynch and Murakami but I can say that I‘m interested in how they deal with reality and dreams or parallel realities. For me, it‘s a very natural thing that in our lives these two collide sometimes or get mixed up - the lines are not always clear.

I Philip K Dick‘s work a lot but I wouldn’t place it next to mine. His work is very universal and touches bigger philosophical ideas and problems while my stories circulate within very personal and small universes of the (female) character‘s mind and issues.
To me, Earthling is about growing up and Shit is Real is about adulthood and loneliness. Is there a connection between the two books?
Not intentionally but, well, they come from the same author. I guess it‘s all here. These are the things that occupy my mind that I feel I have to deal with. In general I would see certain themes reappear in my work over and over again and I wouldn‘t even have to do it intentionally.

Male figures seem to be marginal in your stories. (even for the character of Anders in Shit is Real – Salma ‘chose’ Yumi over him..) Is that intentional?

Not really intentional but then again yes. It’s more like my focus lies strongly on the female characters so that there’s not so much space left for the males. Sorry guys :)

I’m happy though to enforce positive and empowering female representation in comics as a female comic artist in a still male dominated industry with very objectifying imagery.

I found your comics to be quite different from some of the other German artists I have read, Mawil, Sascha Hommer or Carolyn Walch. For your comics, you are going for a raw and almost naïve art look, especially the pencil drawing in Earthling. Is there a movement? (I am thinking of someone like Chihoi and Jesse Moynihan..)

Not sure if there is a movement as such but like in any other subculture there is certainly a connection between a certain group of people creating work simultaneously and sharing particular aesthetics. In my case I was inspired a lot by Art Brut and ”trashy” diy aesthetics but also by the bareness of only needing a sheet of paper and a pencil to spontaneously create whole universes.

You used the comics form to tell your stories – using panels instead of just words to push the narrative and emotions. Is this a conscious decision to tell your stories this way?

Of course! Not everybody would be crazy enough to start making comics :D I would be far better off mentally, time-management wise and probably financially if I had decided to be a writer but I’m bad at writing so I hardly had a choice. On the other hand anybody who has discovered the comic form for themselves will have to admit that it’s the most magical and most fun to work with!

You have said that graphic novels are mostly about historical things, autobiographical stories and famous people, but not so much fiction. Have things changed?

It’s just that these are the type of graphic novels that sell. Fiction is still niche on the market but I’m optimistic it will keep changing as there are more people who get into reading comics.

Graphic novels have entered the literary festivals like the Singapore Writers Fest. What are your expectations of SWF?

To be honest, I have no idea of what to expect! I can say though that I really enjoy being part of events that exist outside of the comic bubble. It’s a very recent thing that comics are being represented elsewhere as an artform of iots own and I’m very glad it’s happening. The comic form can only grow and be enriched by stepping out and meeting, mixing up with and competing with other art forms. And the other artsforms would also benefit from meeting us comic nerds! :)

When you do your presentations and slideshows, you will play music to create moods. What sort of music do you play during the slideshows and what is on your current playlist?

I write the music and record sounds for each specific scene I’m reading/showing. Image + music works very well together and is super fun to do.

What kind of future do you think we will live in?

Um... my guess is a very dark one. Unfortunately.

What kind of human relationships/ interaction will we have in the future? Will it be like what you described in your books?

Shit is Real is not so much about the future actually. It is already happening now. The social dynamics are pretty much the same from what I experience right now: individualistic and egotistical tendencies. If I think of human relationships in the future my guess is that we will have to rely much more on one another if is in times of actual war or nature catastrophes - not to mention surviving on planet earth without any resources...

Monday, October 8, 2018

SWF 2018 - Interview with Harumo Sanazaki

Shojo manga has always been popular in Singapore, although we may not always be cognizant of the differences between shonen and shojo manga. From the classic Candy Candy series of the 1970s to Sailormoon in the 1990s, girls comics cut across the gender divide among the manga reading audience. As I graduated from Shonen Tai to Shonen Knife, I also learned there was much to research about shojo manga within and outside of Japan.

In February 2011, a women manga conference was held at the National University of Singapore. This year, SWF is featuring two shojo manga artists - Harumo Sanazaki and Meguru Hinomoto. The following are Harumo's programmes:

Here's a short interview with Harumo ahead of her visit. (an interview with Meguro Hinomoto will be up next)

Did you have a regular job before becoming a full time mangaka?

I worked at small graphics workshop. I designed some characters for stationery like Snoopy.

What are the conventions of shojo manga?

Shojo manga is lyrical…delicate expression.

How is your manga different from other shojo manga?

At the start of my professional career, my editor said to me, "Your manga like a movie or stage." That is a good comment for me. Because I hope it is so.

What are some of your favourite shojo manga?

The Rose of Versailles, The Heart of Thomas, To Terra…Yes, I love them all. And I love Toshie Kihara, Kyoko Ariyoshi. After the 70s, many kinds of shojo manga appeared. Currently, there are many good artists who worked closely with the editors. So through collaboration, shojo manga has also changed over the years.

What is the future for shojo manga?

No border, many types, but sensitive.

Yaoi is very popular in Japan and other parts of Asia like Singapore. What do you think is the appeal of BL for readers and who are some of your favourite BL artists?

I have many friends who are BL manga artists. I like their works. The story is fantasy for girls and far from real. BL has become shojo manga. Beautiful, not real, is an important element of Shojo manga which BL has taken from. My favorite BL manga artists are Romuko Miike and Makoto Tateno.

I found some BL elements in your Hamlet puppet adaptation: between Hamlet and Horatio. Is that an intentional pairing?

My story portrays the friendship of boys, and sometimes between men. (Like Sherlock) My friend who is a manga artist has said to me, “Your manga story has elements of BL.”

Have you met the writers of the Harlequin books you adapted like Marion Lennox and Lynne Graham? What do they think of your adaptations?

I did not have the chance to meet them. But I did receive messages from them. Someday I want to meet them to thank them.

How are your own stories different from your adaptions?

My own stories are very different in terms of visual expression. The adaptations required more visual expression for the characters.

What do you think of the stereotypical portrayal of women and male-female relationships in stories like Married to A Mistress? (part of the Nancy Leeward's Goddaughters series)

I sometimes feel the need to resist …to tell the truth. It is difficult for me. Romantic novels have these kind of stereotypical portrayal of women and male-female relationships in their stories. I try to change that sometimes as far as it is permitted.

What's next for you?

I hope to adapt Othello and Beauty and the Beast. For my own stories, I want to do more Japanese historical fantasies.

Is this your first trip to Singapore? What do you hope to visit? Or eat!

Yes it is. I want to feel the energy of the people. I would like to visit the markets and I love chicken rice! So I hope eat Singapore food.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

SWF 2018 - Interview with David Collier

In March 2002, David Collier and I were driving around in his car in Hamilton and we were tempted to visit Devan Nair, the at-that-time disgraced ex-President of Singapore. We didn’t, wanting to give the old man some piracy. Like why would he want to meet a Singaporean comics researcher and a Canadian comic artist from nowhere? Would he throw us off his lawn? Did he even have a lawn? I don’t know and I have since regretted not plucking up our courage to say hello to Devan Nair.


Anyway, Collier is coming to town for SWF. Here’s the spiel on him:

As the only uniformed member in the history of the Canadian Forces Artists Program, David Collier has participated in the therapeutic benefits of soldier’s art. An inveterate traveller in a big country, he explores these twin themes in his most recent book-length comics, Chimo (2010) and Morton (2017).

Collier has his comics published by the great Robert Crumb in Weirdo and later he was published by Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly (D&Q) and now, Conundrum Press in Canada. To me, he is up there with Chester Brown, Seth and Joe Matt in terms of autobiographical comics, when all four of them were active in the Toronto comics scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Collier is featured in the following SWF programmes.

Your books are about history, memories and the disappearance of our past – how do you avoid sentimentality in your storytelling?

By putting my present-day foibles in there.

To me, Chimo is about masculinity and Morton is about mortality. Do these two issues weigh heavily on your mind?

Yeah. Told my wife Jen a statistic from a newspaper: When your kids graduate from high school, you will have spent 93 per cent of your in-person parent time with them.

When we started corresponding in the 1990s, you were living in Saskatoon and you would tell me about your Chinese landlady. You visited Saskatoon again in Morton – how is the old girl doing?

She’s dead.

What did D&Q publisher Chris Oliverios say when he found out what you did in his garden in Morton?

He was relieved, it seemed, to find out Jen wasn’t there in real life. The book Morton is fictionalized to the extent that about seven separate trips were rolled into one manic adventure. The travels in Quebec were just my son James and me while Jen finished a university degree. So Chris saw, after we talked, my reluctance to leave James alone and I had to do what I did in his garden.

After taking train rides throughout the whole book, you went home on a plane. Isn’t that irony?


You also did not mind putting yourself in unflattering situations like your encounter with a counter staff at a train station and you were thinking how your dad would do in such a situation. It’s almost a R Crumb moment of just putting yourself out there. How does it feel?

They say literary fiction is valuable to the reader in that it lets us see others making decisions.

How come you didn’t approach Fantagraphics for your recent books?

Geography. Conundrum Press is based in Canada. My most recent, a “25th Anniversary Edition”, of Collier’s #3 was published by Anhtry Pham, who runs his press out of his family’s Vietnamese sandwich shop, down the street.

We connected because of the army (both of us were combat engineers) and R Crumb. What has changed in the 25 years since we have known each other? Are you still in the army reserve?

Have realized that an artist is a “man of the people” and that it’s good that I’m still a corporal that few are intimidated by.

Train connections remind me of connections in life. 20 years ago you got off a plane for a ticket to anywhere in the world and you came to visit me in Singapore. After that, you even took a train to visit Lat in KL. What places in Singapore do you hope to visit again in 2018 and where would you bring your son, James? What is the one Singapore dish you would like him to try?

Would like to explore the history of Singapore’s industrial seaport. James can’t come, after all, due to his studies. Would’ve liked to have taken him to that area near your parent’s place, where we shared a meal.

You used to send me political cartoons by Heng Kim Song that appeared in the Canadian papers. Have you been following Singapore news since the 1990s?

People here are most interested in how Singapore deals with housing. As shelter gets too expensive everywhere in the western world, Singapore’s approach is treated as a positive example to be studied.

How do you think Singapore is like now? (would it still be a Disneyland with the death penalty ala William Gibson?)

It seems to be an outward- looking place dealing with the tensions of living in a tough geo- political neighbourhood with art.

We last saw each other in 2002 when I visited you and the family in Hamilton. I had a great time playing with your dog Large who has since passed on. I miss Large…

Here’s a photo of Large for you.

Would you want to work on other people’s stories like what you did for Harvey Pekar’s Unsung Hero (2002)?

Working with my old boss Gary Topp from the days of helping to stage concerts in the early 1980s, now.

Do you still exercise every day? Skipping? You gave me a skipping rope!

Yes, paddling my boat or skiing. Dead friends give me motivation.

Are you still taking cold baths?

Yes! Hope my room in Singapore has a tub.

What’s the next book about?

Gary Topp (see above).

A bonus question - did you listen much to Joni Mitchell when you were living in Saskatoon?

Listened to Joni Mitchell not far from where she grew up.