Note: I originally wrote this as a piece for an ex-colleague in a small, local mag. Unfortunately, by the time it came to submission, I was informed that the company policy had changed that article contributions for the magazines could only come from current staff or authors (I suppose they mean people who have actually published a book). With her permission, I am reprinting this interview for my own self.
Intro: Geminianeyes, or more commonly known as Naoko Kensaku among her friends, is a young copywriter who stumbled into the wonderful world of Japanese comics when trying to escape the boredom of UPSR. She started off by reading Dragonball, Sailormoon and Doraemon, before widening her horizons to other comics to now include series like D.N.Angel, Katekyo! Hitman Reborn, Tsubasa Chronicles and Hellsing, just to name a few. Her taste runs to fantasy-adventure with a healthy dose of religious irreverence and pop-culture references.
What kind of comics do you like to read?
I tend to gravitate towards shoujo-style and action-driven manga like Tsubasa Chronicles, D.N.Angel, G.S. (Ghostsweeper) Mikami, Ayashi! No Ceres, and Angel Sanctuary. Most of the manga I end up reading also have a large dose of religious irreverence and mythological references.
How did you first become interested in manga?
It actually started off when my brother broke his arm and was hospitalised. My dad bought him a few comic books from the bookstore in the hospital and he brought them home to read. I feel in love with the story and the character designs immediately, and wouldn’t stop reading. As most manga are relatively short, I could finish a volume in less than an hour, before going back to re-read all the details.
I actually gave up on reading manga when I was in college because I had been bored with Malay-translated comics. A friend later introduced me to several online sites that talked about manga and the latest releases, and before I knew it, I was hooked again, line and sinker too.
For someone who is not so knowledgeable about comics, what are the differences between manga, comics, and graphic novels?
There’s actually very little difference except in terms of origins, drawing styles and story content. Manga is merely the Japanese term given to comics, regardless of what the purists say, so to call manga Japanese comics would technically be correct. The biggest difference between the two (comics and manga) is the drawing styles.
Manga drawing styles tend to focus on large eyes, hopelessly slim bodies (even for the men) and drawing the characters out of frame or even against a blank background if it suits their purpose. Comics (normally American comics) tend instead to focus on the characters being muscular and details rather than a graceful shape.
However, the biggest difference I would say is in terms of story. Culturally, I relate closer to the issues brought up in manga, especially alienation, parental disapproval and personal identity. That’s not to say that comics can’t do the same, it’s just the way manga approaches the same subject and story feels far more real to me than the American comics.
How can a literary-inclined (ie. bookworm) person understand comics?
There’s very little to understand, actually. It’s just that instead of reading every detail that’s been written down, one has to pay attention to the visual nuances in a comic. It’s almost like watching a movie or listening to the radio; pay attention to the words, not how they are presented. Sometimes the most delightful part is in discovering the little hidden references within a comic that pertains to literary sources.
Comics and manga also provide me with a visual reference of what’s happening.
Dialog appears to be very important in comics. That sounds like the common ground between comics and novels to me!
What are your favourite quotes/dialogs from comics?
My current favourite is from Ludwig Kakumei, in the Sleeping Beauty arc. It says: “From the moment people are born, they are alone. Don’t even imagine that you can gain anything by waiting for a miracle.” It reminds me that if I want something, I’ll have to do it with my own hands, and not rely on anyone else.
My all-time favourite though, comes from Gensoumaden Saiyuki. It’s called, “Vanities of Vanities:
Kill the Buddha when you meet him,
Kill the Father when you meet him,
Never be captivated by other words or actions,
Live life the way you are living it.
Brutal, but life is brutal now, isn’t it?
What about the comic scene in Malaysia in general?
Malaysian comics have seen a large improvement in terms of artwork and storytelling. However, whether it’s due to the current trends or our dismal education system, many commercially-run comics aren’t really as interesting nor outstanding as they could be. There have been a few notable ones like Powder and Gempak, but on a whole, most tend to follow the current “hot” trend of manga-styled drawings without giving a thought to the most important part: the story.
Newspapers have an entire section about it; there are cosplay conventions and other events. Do enlighten us.
Cosplay and anime conventions have been on the rise in the past two years or so. It’s a gathering of fans to indulge what they love the most; manga, anime and cosplay!
Cosplay conventions are the most common ones, as fans have a reason to dress up and be their favourite characters for a day. Most often these conventions often have a competition aspect, but the competition isn’t to judge the person with the best costume. They’re looking for the cosplayer who is the most in character. That’s the biggest difference between a cosplay competition and a normal costume competition. You’re not judged by how fantastic your costume looks, but rather on your skill in portraying that character.
Manga and anime events are often held to gather their fans in general. These events do have a certain cosplay element, but in many cases, they are fans getting together to share and talk about their favourite series and fandom. They don’t just offer fans a reason to get together though; what makes them unique is that they allow local doujinka* artists (comprising mainly of teenagers and young adults in Malaysia) to sell their works and reach an audience that is interested in such works.
*In Japan, according to Wikipedia, doujin normally refers to amateur self-published works, and a doujinka is someone who makes them.
When one talks about doujinka, one imagines fan-made works. Thus you can have a doujinka who specialises in making plushies, for instance, of Mokona and Modoki from Tsubasa Chronicles or even Usa-chan from Ouran High School Host Club. More common doujin include posters and artwork of popular characters like Son Goku from Dragonball, Roy Mustang from Full Metal Alchemist and sometimes, even original, fan-made comics starring those characters. These artworks are normally called fan-art and fanfictions, but there are also a lot of original doujinshi up for sale for the avid collector. Doujinka, therefore, can also mean anything made by amatuers.
The two biggest and looked-forward to conventions of the year in the Malaysian anime and manga fan circuit are usually GACC (the Games, Anime and Comics Circle) and Comic Fiesta (a purely volunteer-run event). GACC normally brings in popular voice actors from Japan (with help from the Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur) while Comic Fiesta is focused mainly on doujinshi. Both events are the highlights of the year; one’s held in March (usually) and the other’s in December.
What are your thoughts on comic books, cartoons, and computer games relating to each other?
It depends on the stories they’d like to tell. In most cases, after the game is over, the manga and anime serve to give a deeper perspective and history to the series. I do enjoy such adaptations if they are done tastefully. My favourite series so far are D.N.Angel and Ouran High School Host Club. The manga for both series came out before the anime, but I was introduced to the anime first and so fell in love with the series. There are often more details in the manga than there are in the anime, and so I read and watch them both to understand what’s happening.
Are cartoon adaptations any good? What about live-action and movie adaptations?
All these adaptations tend to depend on who’s doing it. Some studios, like Production I.G., are known for top-quality work that rarely leaves you disappointed, especially when translating from manga to anime. Their animation and sound is top-notch, and they stay very close to the series. Live action and movie adaptations tend to be quite funny but often stay true to the book or original series.
Who are the talented local illustrators we should look out for?
There are quite a few on the Malaysian circuit. Most have made a name for themselves without the help of traditional media, and have very different artstyles from each other. They’re spread mainly by word of mouth, sometimes gaining international reputation and getting invites to speak overseas (and most are below 30, I’m told). They are:
Kidchan (not the photgrapher):
Her art style tends to use bright colours and are quite whimsical at times. Her most recent public appearance was at SMASH! (Sydney Manga and Anime Show) all the way Down Under as a guest speaker.
She dabbles with a healthy mix of fanarts and original work. Recently, she was invited to the San Diego Comic Con (one of the largest and most popular comic conventions internationally) as an industry guest.
A local comic artist, Eisu’s work has appeared in popular local comic magazine, Komikoo! His artwork styles tends to be rather varied. If you need a break, you might want to check out his webcomics on his site.
Digital Malaya Project
A project to gather and highlight Malaysian illustrators, this ambitious project is maintained by Muid Latif. It highlights talented Malaysian illustrators. Check out their latest blog posts for more info.
In fact, you might want to check out the Digital Malaya Project for a full (though not necessarily complete) list of upcoming local illustrators.