behind-the-scenes

Lots of manga lettering!


Lots of manga lettering!

Hey everyone! A couple years ago, I added examples of my manga lettering work to the site. Since then, I’ve done a lot more books (I’ve lettered 60 manga volumes to date!), but never really had the time to show examples of that newer stuff here. Well, I just posted a TON of samples of my lettering work, showcasing a wide range of techniques. You can see the extremely complex and challenging lettering tasks I’ve taken on on Real Account, the large amount of hand-written work I’ve done on Forget Me Not, the all-by-hand lettering I do on Land of the Lustrous, the crazy action-packed sound effects of Ninja Slayer Kills, and other fun stuff! Also, check out the work I’ve done on dream-come-true projects such as Akira (for the upcoming 35th anniversary box set), Die Wergelder, and The Osamu Tezuka Story. I’m still in disbelief that I got to work on Akira. I’ve been a big fanboy for that series since I was 13 years old! Also, feel free to take a look at some of the pages for manga that I’d previously posted here, such as Sankarea and Maria: The Virgin Witch, since I overhauled the pages and added new examples. I think in general, the stuff I chose to share gives a good example of my range as a letterer, and I’m excited to finally have something convenient to show to family and friends who are curious what I do. Oh and btw, I went out of my way to avoid using images that are spoilers, so if you’re a manga fan, don’t worry about having stories ruined for you when looking. While you’re checking out the samples, feel free to follow the links on each page to buy the books from their respective publishers! More manga selling means dinner on my table.

 

Anyway, you may notice that I’ve changed the location of my manga lettering pages from the Design gallery, to the Comics gallery. Even though I do plenty of design work as part of my manga job, as a whole it seemed like it would fit in better in the Comics gallery, not to mention adding a little life to that page (since I never seem to have time to make my own comics.) Go ahead and check out the Comics gallery to see everything, but if you want a handy little list of all the titles reflected there, here you go!:

 

Akira  |  Barbara  |  Cat Diary: Yon & Mu  |  Complex Age  |  Die Wergelder  |  Forget Me Not
The Ghost and the Lady  |  Land of the Lustrous  |  Livingstone  |  Maria: The Virgin Witch
Ninja Slayer Kills  |  The Osamu Tezuka Story  |  Panorama Island  |  Real Account
Sankarea  |  That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime  |  Tokyo Zombie

 

PS: I also relettered a volume of Battle Angel Alita: Last Order a couple of years ago (another dream title, seeing as the original Battle Angel Alita is what introduced me to manga in the first place), but since I just handled dialog balloons, I figured there wasn’t too much to show of that.

 

What else is new? Since last I typed here, I had a crazy busy month of work, then a lot of preparation for my wedding, then the big day itself, then showing my parents around Japan for a couple weeks during their first visit here, then a couple weeks of recharging my batteries, then more work. I’m in a brief time of respite at the moment, then back to more work soon. I have another post ready to share with you soon, however, about another neat comic-related thing I worked on. Stay tuned!



Tatemae / 建前


Tatemae

Hey everyone! I’m, uhhhh, not DEAD. I finally made a new illustrated-photography piece. (Well, I made a quick one two years ago in ink over inkjet print, but this is my first digital one since 2013.)

 

Honne (本音) and tatemae (建前) are Japanese words used to describe the contrast between one’s personal feelings (honne) and the facade that one presents to the world (tatemae). While it certainly depends on the person, in Japan it’s often difficult to get past the wall that people put up and get to know someone’s true feelings. Generally this “wall” is a friendly one, mind you, but sometimes not genuine. I don’t think this is a uniquely Japanese thing, and I think we all conceal parts of our true feelings. I thought I’d explore this idea a bit since I find it both fascinating and frustrating.

 

One thing I often found unsettling while teaching English in Japan was how many of my students would wear a mask, not just when they were sick, but in general. Some kids wore it every day. Once in a while, during flu season, I’d walk into a jr high classroom and every single kid would be wearing one, and I’d be unable to fully “read” their social cues. I think for most people it’s a matter of stopping germ transfer when a bug is going around, but for the folks who wear them every day, it seems like the tatemae mask takes on a literal form.

 

Anyway, as usual these days for a lot of my art, you can pop on over to Society6 to order a print of it, or cell phone case, pillows, tote bags, whatevs!

 

In other news, this has been a crazy busy year so far with manga lettering, but pretty front-loaded. From now on I’ll have a bit more free time here and there to make more art and hopefully music. One of these days, I badly need to update the lettering section of my design page since it only reflects four of the 17 different manga series I’ve lettered, but that’ll have a wait a bit more. Right now, after a nice stay-cation, it’s time to get to work on the next book.

 

I will say, I got to work on a dream project earlier this year. I got to re-letter Akira for the 35th anniversary boxed set that Kodansha is putting out this fall! It was amazing! I’ve always deeply loved that manga, and it was a huge inspiration on me growing up, and to be able to observe Otomo’s art with the level of intimacy that working with it on my own computer brought, was a truly special experience. More on that later.



Back in 日本 / new art: “Honey Bunny”


It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and even longer since I’ve had much new art to show. That said, I recently did a third piece in my cute girls + cute animals series, “Honey Bunny”. Click the pic, or here, to see details!

Honey Bunny
Anyway, not much else to say, art-wise. It’s strange to have a site dedicated to my art, but not have anything to post for a long time due to being too busy working in art to make my own art. I’ll post more examples of my manga lettering eventually, when there’s time, but basically that’s been dominating my life for a while now. I don’t totally mind though, because I’m working on some cool stuff!  (I’m especially proud of something that I’m starting this month that I can’t announce until sometime next year, but it’s “dream-project” status.)

 

In other news, I’m living in Nagasaki again! I got married in August and decided to come back to Japan to live here with my wife while we do the immigration process for her and wait many, many months for that process to bring her to the states. Anyway, more later. Just wanted to tell anyone reading this that I’m not dead!



Looking back on Project Orion, and my history in and around comics


Project Orion: a restrospective, 1993-1997
(I meant to make this post on July 15th 2016, a special day, but life got crazy-busy. Oh well, better late than never. I’ll explain the significance of that date soon enough.)

 
When I was in middle school and high school, I used to draw a ton of comics. I’d usually crank out an issue per month, full-color, and sometimes two. I started several series, all of which were seen by only friends and family, and the occasional comic artist I was getting a portfolio review from. I had big dreams of exploding upon the comics world as soon as I graduated and finding a spot in said world for my manga-influenced comics – a sort of rare thing in the states, in the mid-90s. Various things eventually kept this from happening… the realities of life… I started college and didn’t have time to make comics. My interest in photography became a full-on passion and pushed the comics aside and I took on new hobbies like making music. I started having a social life in high school, and later in college at techno & house music nights. I started enjoying dating girls as opposed to just wishing I could be less awkward and shy. …aaaand my confidence in my artistic abilities and ability to network waned, but let’s keep this post positive. Anyway, let’s rewind…

 

I started drawing comics in 1991, when I was 11 years old, and began by just drawing a lot of pictures of Spider-Man and other superheroes. I made my first original character, “Electron Man”, and messed around with drawings of him fighting crime, but never really made any actual comics with him. I read superhero comics religiously during that time. I had been given a lot of superhero comics as a really young kid (like 4-5) as well, but I mostly scribbled in them. As an all-grown-up 11 year old, I devoured issues of Todd McFarlane & Erik Larsen’s runs on Amazing Spider-Man (and eponymous Spider-Man), Jim Lee’s X-Men run, and other early ’90s contemporary superhero books, and then delved back further into back-issues from the ’70s and ’80s, reading a lot of John Byrne Uncanny X-Men, as well as less popular, weird, awesome comics like Cloak & Dagger, Dazzler, ROM, New Mutants, and Moon Knight. I also was reading a lot of “mature readers” stuff that thankfully my mom knew I was mature enough for, like a lot of Vertigo stuff, Swamp Thing, Sandman, Preacher, and other more mature stuff like Matt Wagner’s amazing Grendel and Sam Keith’s The Maxx.

 

In 1993, I picked up a copy of Battle Angel Alita #1, and instantly became a fan of Japanese comics. Around this same time, I was watching my brother’s old Robotech VHS tapes, and then realized – via an ad in Battle Angel for said manga’s anime adaptation – that there was a whole world of Japanese animation to explore. Thus began my otaku days. Back then the only way to get anime in the US was on outrageously-overpriced VHS tapes, where in order to collect a series like, say, Ranma 1/2, you’d have to shell out $30 each for a bunch of two-episode tapes. I would get some of my anime this way, and some via bootleg fansubs of Japan-only titles that I would pick up at conventions. As for manga, that’s when companies like Viz and Dark Horse were still releasing thin floppy US-style releases, where you’d get one chapter, and then have to wait a month for the next one, and eventually be able to get it in a collection. Manga was flipped to read Western-style, and the sound effects were totally replaced. Also, many manga being released in the states involved actual ink-based lettering, as opposed to the comic-friendly fonts we have access to now. (In my current job as a manga letterer – jumping a head a moment here – it already takes crazy-long to do each tankoban volume I work on, and I can’t imagine how much longer it took to do it all in ink!) There are so many titles that brought me so much joy throughout middle school and high school… Akira, Ranma 1/2, Maison Ikkoku, Urusei Yatsura, Macross, Mai the Psychic Girl, Crying Freeman, Cutey Honey, Devilman, Caravan Kidd, Dominion Tank Police, Ghost in the Shell, Dirty Pair, Lupin the Third, Baoh, Xenon, and last but certainly not least, anything by Osamu Tezuka!

 

In those early days, I started a comic that was very inspired by all the manga and anime I was taking in. I called it “Project Orion

 

Project Orion covers
It was a space opera, very much inspired predominantly by Macross / Robotech, and by Star Trek TNG. I also worked in inspiration from Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Battle Angel, Chrono Trigger, and Go Nagai anime. “Worked in inspiration” might be a generous way to word it. Looking back on the comic years later, I basically copied a lot of stuff from those inspirations, but I suppose that’s to be expected when you’re an adolescent. Art doesn’t come from a vacuum after all, and when you’re learning how to draw and craft stories, it’s a good idea to take ideas from things that interest you, and reshape them to fit your vision. It took me over a year to make the first issue, because I just didn’t have the work habits for it yet. After that, I cranked out monthly 22 page issues until my later high school years.

 
So why is July 15th 2016 a special day for me? Well, that’s the date where the story begins, when the big space station launches from Earth. When I was a kid, 2016 seemed like an impossibly futuristic time – a time where it wouldn’t be unreasonable to imagine things like warp-drive, teleportation, transformable mecha, contact with aliens, and the world’s governments allocating as many resources to space exploration as the real 2016 allocates to warfare and corporations. Back then, twenty years seemed like an epoch of major size, and yet, twenty years since then, it feels like it flashed away in a second. The me of today doesn’t have much confidence that we’ll be doing much in space in 2036. We’ll probably be more isolated from each other than ever thanks to the trends of our “social” technologies, meanwhile fighting over resources and trying to fend off the ravages of climate change here on Earth. But I digress… The story revolved around a group of teenagers picked to travel on this giant spacecraft and see what the outer reaches of our galaxy holds. (Of course it’s teenagers. It’s always teenagers. Maybe if I were doing the comic now, it’d be a bunch of flabby disillusioned 30-somethings. Art reflects life.) Anyway, this peaceful mission doesn’t stay peaceful for long, as they are ambushed by space pirate aliens. The first story arc, issues 1-9, mostly focused on the story of dealing with them, with themes of revenge, and overcoming the urge for said revenge. The villains became a bit more sympathetic over time, as a younger member of their group falls in love with one of the human characters, and a new villain is introduced who is intent on wiping out this band of space pirates and their entire species. The story of this genocide would take place in the background during the second story arc…

 
Project Orion pages
I was feeling heavily influenced by the SNES game Chrono Trigger, I made issue 10 the start of a time travel story arc. It was to be much longer and varied than the first arc. Around this time I decided to reinvent my art style, and started drawing characters with a little bit smaller eyes and less bizarre face shapes. (Masakazu Katsura and his Video Girl Ai and DNA2 series were a big art style inspiration on me at the time) Anyway, in this first issue, one of the characters discovers a stone that teleports her to a mysterious dimension where she meets a pantheon of space gods. She is instructed that stones like this grant the power of at-will time travel and teleportation. Our space explorers are each given one of these stones, and instructed to use them with the guidance of the god of time, in order to right wrongs and seek knowledge. Two of the characters, a brother and sister, play a little loose with the timeline and save their parents from the car accident that killed them. Another character travels a few days into the future, to Christmas 2016, to walk around Central Park and enjoy the lights and snow. She then witnesses something terrible – the total destruction of New York. She and the other characters learn that in a few short days, the Earth will be ravaged by an alien being that feeds off of planets, moving from one world to the next. (This alien being, “Anuo”, was admittedly quite inspired by Chrono Trigger’s “Lavos”) The team of the Orion are tasked with using their best technology and training to try to defeat Anuo, but they are slaughtered in quick succession. They are reincarnated by the gods and told that they must learn more before they can defeat the beast. The god of time then casts the thirteen main characters into wildly different time periods and locations, without the immediate aid of their time stones. They have to find their stones in whatever ways they can, in order to return back to modern day. I only managed to do two of the characters’ solo stories – one girl was thrown into a post-Anuo dystopian future in an underwater city, and one guy was cast into ancient Egypt. I had planned lots of other interesting settings… World War II Germany from the sides of two lovers, one a Jewish girl cast right into the fray, and one, her boyfriend who landed there 40 years earlier and never found his stone. I also had a samurai story in Japan… a wayyyyy distant future story… a western… an ’80s Los Angeles story… and lots of good stuff planned…. Then I rebooted the series from scratch.

 

I started the reboot in 1997. I felt the need to reboot since a lot of the story was based off of things that I started to realize were carbon copies of plot elements of different anime. I wanted to make a more truly original story, using the same characters, redesigned to be a little less ridiculous… some of the original designs had absolutely dumb hairstyles and inane personalities, and some were the products of my puberty-addled brain, which in my high school years was starting to embarrass me (let’s just say that the redesigned females had more realistic proportions). I rewrote the history of the characters, planned out more distinct personalities, erased things that originally caused gaping plot holes and trimmed the fat. I also planned a new pacing that would take things in a more deliberate and detailed fashion, as I realized that my original series had a lot of shortcuts and places where I didn’t feel like drawing scenes out, so things jumped all over the place. I had big plans to retell the general story arcs that I’d worked on, but from new angles and with new plot devices that came from lots of thought and advice from my family and friends… I also had plans for a big third arc which would wrap up the story of the original crew, helping their alien former-foes escape genocide, and then a sequel focusing on the children of the original characters, dealing with sentient technology gone awry and, then even further on, a second sequel that would be set a couple hundred years in the future, after said gone-awry-tech basically brought an end to man’s space exploration as it was once known. Big plans…. but I only made a few pages of that reboot issue 1, and soon got too busy with friends, love life, and homework, to continue.

 

Zakkanti, diving into the teleportation bath

After that, I had some false starts on other comics, including a cyberpunk police drama in the vein of Ghost in the Shell (called “Neo Necropolis”), and then a story about an American foreign exchange student in Japan (“Tokyo Jack”). Neither made it past a few pages. College changed me in a lot of ways, and as I was growing jaded about a lot of anime, my interest in making comics inspired by it also waned. There are times where I wish I could go back to those young days of making lots and lots of comics, but in retrospect, it was a simultaneously happy and sad time. I was happy to be making comics all the time. I brought my in-progress pages to school and drew them in class, then immediately got to work on them once home from school until I went to bed each night. I didn’t have many friends until junior year of high school. Before that I was a fat awkward shy kid who found much more solace in drawing comics at home, away from my bully classmates in the outside world. In the summer before junior year, I lost a ton of weight and got a car and suddenly I had a bunch of friends and confidence. After a couple months, the kids who were mainly interested in me because I had a car faded away and in their place were very solid friends, some of whom I’m friends with to this day. It was very valuable to me that I put in so much work drawing comics at a young age, as that taught me art skills that lead me down the road I’ve taken through the art and publishing world. In retrospect, it was equally important that I put the pen down once in a while in high school and went to parties, went to proms, went out driving with friends and listening to music, and all the other things that I may not have experienced had I not came out of my shell.

 

In the years since, comics have held various roles in my life. I’ve done a few short stories here and there… I’ve continued to read a lot of manga, even after getting jaded by anime (its own separate topic, but manga is still a very creative and vibrant scene. Anime not as much)… I’ve collaborated on comic and zine projects with friends… and that all lead me to where I am today, so many years after high school, finally working full-time in comics… just not the way I could have expected as a kid. I did some manga lettering projects just for fun early on (Same Hat!), then professionally with Last Gasp and Digital Manga, which lead to my current work with Kodansha Comics, a very fruitful relationship. I’ve been lettering, doing touch-up work, and interior book design on some of their titles for three and a half years now, and have lettered around 9000 pages of Japanese manga to date. My 16-year-old self probably would have been disappointed to be working on other people’s comics as opposed to my own, but my 36-year-old self is quite pleased with the work I’ve had the opportunity to do, and am looking forward to doing a lot more of it. While the behind the scenes people working on manga – like letterers, editors, proofreaders and translators – tend to be invisible to mainstream manga fandom (as we should be, since the original creator’s work should take precedence), it’s nice to get the occasional Tweet or see the occasional review bit that says something nice about my work. It’s a job, and there are times when my schedule gets so oppressively busy that I get crazy stressed, but then I remind myself that I’m working in comics, and that makes me feel better. The ego I had at age 16 would have wanted to be in the center of the spotlight, but the internet-world-weariness of current me is just fine being behind-the-scenes.

 

It’s been a long and stange road leading me to this point, but I thank my old friend Project Orion for sending me down the comics path. To this day, whenever the Orion constellation is in clear view in the night sky, I smile.



New art “Smooch”, and big news for next year!


Smooch

After a long time of being too busy to work on personal art (still sort of am), I made a sequel to last year’s “Her Best Friend“, and this one features a pretty lady with a cute shiba inu! Like the last one, this was done on a big shikishi board, with Copic markers and metallic washi paper (the hair). The red is a really vivid washi paper with lovely texture that looks great IRL. I may do another one or two illustrations in this series.

 

In other news, I apologize for the long time since last post. I’ve been super duper busy with the day job + manga lettering, and now…. getting ready to move home! Yep, after three years in Nagasaki, I’m leaving Japan to go back to the states. Couple reasons… the reason that’s been pressing at me for a long while is that I need to help my parents clean up and move out of the house I grew up in so they can get their finances in order and so we can all sort through our respective collections of stuff. I was going to hang in there with my current teaching job in Japan until August ’16 and then move home to help out, but a very nice opportunity came up that I couldn’t pass up. As you may know,  I’ve been lettering manga for Kodansha Comics / Penguin Random House this past three years, and have built up a nice relationship with them and have worked on a bunch of fun books for them. For next year I had the opportunity to either take one one new books series (in addition to the ones I’ve been doing), and keep trying to balance that with the demands of my day job, or quit the day job and take four new series. Truthfully, it’s been exhausting this past year, doing a book per month in addition to day job, in addition to spending time with my girlfriend and pals, and getting sleep, and I enjoy doing the publishing work more these days than teaching, so it was time for a change. As of January, I’ll be back in Southeast Michigan, focusing on my manga lettering work (and cleaning the house, and going on Fallout 4 binges). The pay will be better and the workload lighter, on average. This is great as it’ll allow me more time to work on my own art in my spare time. I’m not 100% sure how long I’ll be back in Michigan, but it depends on how long the house takes to get ready, and how long I want to enjoy socking away extra money from living cheaply before I run myself through the ringer of living in a “hip” place again. Also, the plan is my girlfriend will stay with me there for three months in the spring (the longest she can stay in the states as a tourist), and we’ll decide what we want to do from there, in terms of staying together and where we might live. Anyway, I’ll be busy for the rest of the year and most of January, so I probably won’t be updating this blog for a while, but once I have my current two books done, have moved out of my apartment, and have tied up loose ends in Japan, I’ll be resettling back in my old home and will have many more updates for you. Exciting times!



OK, everybody online and looking good…


Hello everyone!

 

If you by any chance read my art blog, then you may have noticed it’s been down for the past month. Now the blog’s back online, but it’s in a state of flux, with some shifting page design, and missing blog posts. Well, you can thank yours-truly, Evan, for that. See, programming stuff has never really been my forte, and I slog through it whenever I redesign this art portfolio site, but I’m by no means a wizard with such things… even less when we’re talking about databases, SQL, and all that. Blahblahblah… long story short: I didn’t properly back-up my blog posts when I updated from my ancient version of WordPress to the modern one and lost all the blog posts since 2008!  Luckily, I was able to snag the code for all of them up until a year ago off of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (it’s saved me more than once now!)  *whew!* Also, special thanks to Ken at Doteasy for being super helpful in getting my database stuff straightened out! Anyway, I’m in the process of reposting those old blog posts for posterity, correcting dead links and typos I missed the first time around, and just generally tweaking the old before I get to… the NEW!

 

This all sort of leads into something exciting. For the past month, whenever my busy schedule has allowed, I’ve been working on a total redo / redesign of the site, and will be posting that soon! It’s been a ton of work, and everything is different, bigger, and better! I’m not 100% how soon I’ll be posting it. It’s about 90% done, but the remaining couple sections are a little tricky. Also, this blog is going to look a weird sometimes and will have some broken links (fixed later) while I tweak it, so hang in there! See you soooooooon!



Clair


Clair

So the good news is that since moving to Japan, I’ve been super inspired and in a great mood most of the time (which is conducive to making art for me). The bad news is that I’ve been so dang busy that I haven’t been able to make as much art as I’d like. Also, my model network here is basically nonexistent, and despite the large amount of pretty girls and handsome dudes in Nagasaki, it’s hard to find people who want to pose for fashion-type photos. That said, I’ve done a couple shoots for my friend Mai, who runs “Clair”, a dress and accessory shop!

 

Recently, Mai’s friend Ren posed with a bunch of different dresses. It was her first time modeling, and I think she was stunning! There are a lot more on the gallery page for it, so click here, or on the Ren pics to see more than what I’ve posted here. Here’s a sample…

 

Clair

Next up, a few shots of Mai herself, rocking some fabulous dresses and jewelry. As with before, click here, or below, s to see more! Mai looks quite good here too, I think :-)

 

Clair

Clair

Despite having to leave my big Profoto strobe set back in the states, due to size / weight / cost restrictions, I’ve not been without strobes as you see here. I bought an extra Speedlite, a wireless trigger, and some various accessories. I don’t have quite the power and consistency of light quality that I have with my Acute 1200s set, but the tradeoff is that my Speedlite setup is battery powered and super compact, so I can shoot anywhere without being tethered by a power cord. Also, if things break, it’s a lot cheaper to replace a Speedlite than a strobe head…. Stay tuned! As I get to know more people around Kyushu, as well as planning ahead for shooting when I visit other places, I’ll be posting more fashion and portraits once again!

 

I should add, as a post-script, that I’m still taking tons of photos. I shoot about 8-10 Gigs per week here, just in snapshots, and I’ve been doing more event photography for the schools I work for. Pretty fun!



A new chapter


a new chapter...As I type this, big changes are afoot in my life. Good changes! I’m mentioning them here because they will have an appreciable effect on my art and my workflow – I’d imagine for the better. So what’s happening?

 

On January 22nd, I’m moving to Japan!! A month ago, only a brief time after moving to Los Angeles, I got a surprise phone call from the JET Program, asking me if I could come to Nagasaki to fill in for one of their Assistant Language Teachers (ALT) who would be leaving the program early. Of course I said yes. I’d actually applied for JET a year prior, had interviewed back in February ‘12, and hadn’t gotten picked for the initial wave of hiring. I had thus moved on to “Plan B”. I was finally starting to get some traction going in LA with more contract work in the photography business, but the truth of the matter is, things weren’t going smoothly enough with regular enough pay for me to pass up a rare opportunity such as this. I’ve been wanting a steady paycheck, structure, health insurance, and something new for a while now, and this will fit the bill.  I’m crossing my fingers that the US economy will have rebounded a bit more by the time I get back to the states, but this new English teaching job will give me financial security for the near-future, and I’ll be living in a beautiful area of Japan!

 

The whole experience so far has been like what I would imagine it would feel if you spend all of your teens and early twenties trying to be an actor, but it never really happens, so you move on. Then, at the age of 32, a big movie studio calls you up to offer a leading role in a summer blockbuster. Well, that metaphor might be a bit hyperbolic, but it seems somewhat apt. I studied the Japanese language from age 13-23, at first on my own, then in after-school classes in junior high & high school, then in college. I’ve been to Japan five times thus far, in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, and 2007. Despite my love of Japanese culture and the language, I’ve become a little distanced from it in my day-to-day. I’m 32 now, and it’s been almost ten years since my last Japanese class. I stopped studying the language due to having taken all the classes my university offered, as well as a lingering question of how the skill was really going to help me in life, especially since art was my main focus in life. I got pretty cynical about Japan, and didn’t see how I could fit into that world in a way that would also nurture my creativity. My interest in pop-culture & traditional culture used to be very Japan-centric, and in the intervening years it has become about 10%-20% of my cultural intake, with an expanded interest in the rest of the world. I no longer have the otaku tunnel-vision of my youth, and you know what? I think that makes the 32-year-old me a much better fit for living and working in Japan, than the 20-year-old wearing the rose-tinted glasses.

 

A few years in the workforce, having to handle the full brunt of the recession and its underemployment and insecurity, have strengthened me greatly as a person, and taught me some valuable lessons. If the overly-idealistic 20-year-old me had to deal with the ups and downs of working in a foreign country, I think I would have cracked under the pressure. For so long Japan was just a vacation / study-program destination for me, and I didn’t have to deal with the negative aspects, as I was just “sampling” the country for a while, each visit. As I’ve grown up, experience has taught me that every job sucks in some ways, even the ones you most enjoy. The trick is to use the knowledge of that occasional suckiness to help you better appreciate the good times. Also, when you live in one of your dream places, as I did in San Francisco for several years, not every day is going to be paradise. Even dream cities contain exhaustion, heartbreak, parking tickets, noisy neighbors, and worrying about paying the rent. As an adult, I can view Japan as what it is: a country with good and bad traits like any other, and not as the everything-is-perfect “nerd’s paradise” I once might have. Plus, I’m planning on using this opportunity as a way to turn around and enhance my life. I’ll finally be able to put money into savings each month, as I’ll have enough money to live on and then some. I won’t have my car with me, and with a ton of cycling, walking, and eating better, I intend to get in great shape again. I also intend on getting my Japanese ability better than ever. I used to be pretty good, and nowadays I can speak on the level of a Japanese 4 year old on a good day. Good enough to get by, but I can’t discuss deep things. When I visited in ‘07, my language ability came back quite a bit, and I imagine with living there, it’ll rebound and become much better!

 

So what does all of this have to do with my art, and why am I posting this blog entry on my art site, and not on a seemingly-requisite “American in Japan” blog? Well, it means a few things….

 

I’m not sure what my workflow / productivity will be on new art while I’m there. It’s hard to say because I don’t know yet if I’m going to be one of those ALTs who is very busy all the time, and has a lot of extra-curricular things going on outside of work, or if  there’s going to be a a lot of free time to make art. That said, my productivity this past 3 or so years has been a pale shadow of the pre-recession days, and maybe now that I won’t have the malaise of unemployment / money stress weighing down on me, maybe I can embrace my creativity again. Also, I traditionally get super inspired in Japan, and tend to at make art a lot when I’m there. I think that may well balance out with the potential lack of free time.

 

The kind of techniques I will have at my disposal for photography will change while I’m there. I can’t bring very much at all with me, and will only be shipping a small amount, so much of my usual supplies will be back home. For example, I won’t have my strobes with me, so that’s going to put a limit on the lighting I can do in my photography. I’m thinking at some point I’ll buy a second Speedlite, and a remote transmitter, and have sort of a lower-power, more portable strobe solution, but that’ll have to wait until I have paychecks coming in. I’ll be relying more on available light that I have been with my more recent shots, and continuing to use my Speedlite to make things “pop” a bit.  I also don’t know what the situation will be with models over there, so it’ll be interesting to see how much of my photography & illustrated-photography even includes people. It would be a nice challenge to get back into more abstract work again, or at least non-people subjects supplementing my portfolio.

 

I intend to return to some neglected kinds of art that I can make on my own, in my apartment… music, comic books, and illustration. I’ve been planning out some new comic ideas, and have been waiting for a time where things stabilize so I can dive deep into a graphic novel, or at least some short-form stuff. My illustration – my first artistic skill, sort of neglected due to my focus on photography – needs to make a more prominent return in my life. As for my music, I’ve been itching to make a new album. After making a noise album a year ago to get back into practice, I’ve been spending a lot of time, building parts of new songs. Having some new toys at my disposal, and feeding off of the inspiration I feel in Japan, I intend to return to music in a major way soon!

 

Okay, I’ve rattled on long enough. I’m not sure exactly yet how long I’ll be in Japan, but at least through JET, it’ll be a minimum of six months, and as long as four and a half years. I’m hoping to put in at least a solid 2-3 years, to save up a good nest-egg of money, and I don’t see myself as a “lifer”, but who knows? The future is hard to predict, and who knows who I’ll become? Anyway, thanks for reading this. Unless I manage to make some new art in the busy next couple weeks, my next update will most likely be from Japan. I don’t know exactly how long it’ll be until my next content update, but I’ll try not to let it be too long. See you soon!



“Automaton JDM” – remastered


Automaton JDM

I’m on a roll right now, in terms of working on creative projects. A little over 24 hours ago, I posted my brand new illustrated-photography piece, and I just finished finished something that is both new and old at the same time.

 

In 2008, I made “Automaton JDM”, the image you see above. At the time, it was a personal milestone, in terms of detail, concept, and execution, and I think it blew my first Automaton piece (from 2006) out of the water. More recently, you’ve seen the third piece in the Automaton series, from last year, which is even crazier than the 2008 example. Anyway, back to 2008… After making “JDM”, as well as a couple other pieces around that time that I was quite proud of, my hard drive died and I lost the original hi-res / layered files, as well as a ton of other stuff. (PROTIP: Back your stuff up kids!) I was devastated at the time (it still stings a bit to think about), but I plugged on ahead with new work, and rebuilt / salvaged some of my older pieces. Lacking the digital files, I made high-res scans of prints that I’d previously made, redrew things, and tried my best to smooth out the colors and textures. On one particularly challenging salvage, I didn’t even have a print to scan, since I’d made the piece a few days before the crash. All I had was a tiny jpg, and an insanely difficult task of scaling it up to a decent print size, redrawing the whole thing from scratch, and doing a lot of damage control on horribly-enlarged pixels. Despite my best efforts, I was never fully happy with the results of some of these salvaged versions, as they always looked muddy and dark compared to the original digital files, but after the hard drive disaster, I didn’t have much that I could print out for art shows, so I had to make do.

 

Anyway, I was especially bothered by how much less vibrant Automaton JDM looked after salvaging, compared to its original form. All I had left of the original was a 750px wide jpg (which you’ll see top-right.) I salvaged that one in early 2009, but was never happy with the results. It was too dark and murky (see bottom-right.) It basically did the job for printing, but I felt a pang of guilt selling prints of it, as I knew it was not as good as it originally was, but there was certainly no way I could sell prints of a 750px wide jpg, unless I was going to go into the postage stamp business! (Actually, HMMM… new business venture?)

 

Since that first attempt, I happened to find a DVD with some of the layers of the original high-res 2008 file. Just the background, and the ladies in the foreground, but it was a start. Also, I’d purchased a better scanner since ‘09, and rescanned my original 8×10 print, getting much better results. Still not as smooth as the original file (it can’t be, given the dot-tone), but more subtle color shifts and shadows. Armed with this elements, I got to work last night making a second salvage attempt, and in the process, I decided to update / improve the piece as well, using newer techniques. Maybe it’s disingenuous to go back and do a “director’s cut” of old art, but I’ve done it before, on my comics, and I enjoy it. It’s like visiting an old friend and finding that they are doing better than ever!

 

The main improvements center around making the robot stand out better from the background. I simulated depth-of-field with the background, getting blurrier as it gets farther away. I also added a bit of a faint glow to the night sky, not just to make the robot stand out, but also because when you’re in a busy, electrified metropolis like Osaka, there’s a ton of light pollution in the sky. The other change I made to the background involves glow. I thought that the insanely bright neon signs of Dōtonbori were not properly represented by my original, so I added a subtle glow to the signs. I also tweaked the robot a bit to add more light reflection on its edges, to better fit it in with its brightly-lit background. The other change I made, was cropping things to make the piece as a whole fit better with my now standard dimensions. My old pieces were all over the map, which made framing a nightmare. Anyway, I think this new version is a success in that not only do I feel better about having an “Automaton JDM” that I can print without being slightly embarrassed, but I think this version’s better than the original one in multiple ways. I’ll probably do this with more of the pre-crash pieces that are in limbo, as well.

 

Anyway, I hope you enjoy seeing this old friend again, this time wearing a fancy new set of clothes :-)