comics

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.



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.



Belladonna of Sadness


Belladonna of Sadness

Hello everyone! Long time no type. I’ve been back in Michigan for about four months now and haven’t posted anything on here because my comic lettering job has been keeping me so busy I haven’t had time to make personal art. Well, I did carve out some time at the end of March to make something, and I’m finally posting it now. Click above, or HERE to see the full pic!

 

I created this for an art contest for the Cinelicious Pics release & remastering of  “Belladonna of Sadness”, Mushi Productions’ final film. It was a lot of fun to create and to experiment more with paint, a media which I don’t often use. Anyway, before you click that link, note that this one has nudity and is NSFW / 18+, like the film that it’s based off of. I’d recommend if you didn’t catch the film on its limited art house cinema tour, to pick up that Blu-Ray!

 

As for when I’ll have more art to show you, no idea… Still in a glut of work for the next few months so I can’t promise anything, but I would recommend you pick up any of the following book series, as I’ve worked on them recently and/or currently! Die Wergelder, Junji Ito’s Cat Diary, Sankarea (I did vol 2 & up), Maria: The Virgin Witch, Livingstone, Real Account, Forget Me Not, Ninja Slayer Kills, Complex Age, & The Osamu Tezuka Story.



Panorama Island – out now!


Panorama IslandIn other news, “Panorama Island”, a manga that Ryan Sands and I adapted into English is now available! It’s being put out by Last Gasp, and is now available to purchase in lots of different places, such as directly from Last Gasp, or via Amazon, for example. It was a dream project to work on, since it’s a Maruo comic, based off of an Edogawa Ranpo story. The book came out beautifully, and is a nice big hardcover. Here’s what Amazon has to say about the story.
On a remote and mysterious island, one man builds a playground of hedonistic excess – replete with waterfalls, grand palaces, and gardens – a backdrop for his decadent feasts, orgies, and dark secrets. Set in 1920s Japan, The Strange Tale of Panorama Island follows the twisted path of failed novelist Hitomi, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the son of a rich industrialist family. Hitomi learns of the rich man’s sudden passing and creates a desperate plan. He fakes his own death, digs up and hides the other man’s body, and then washes himself up starving on a beach near the home of the dead man’s family. After successfully impersonating the now-dead son, Hitomi takes over all aspects of the industrialist’s life, including his company, his fortune, and eventually his wife. The failed author soon redirects the family’s wealth to his own perverse aims. A graphic novel based on the revered novella by Edogawa Rampo. Rampo was the godfather of Japanese pulp mysteries. Stunning artwork by master manga artist Suehiro Maruo deftly illustrates this Japanese pulp classic in fine detail. * 13th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize for New Artist

 

I handled the lettering, touch-up, and book design, while Ryan handled the editing. Ryan and Kyoko Nitta did translation. Pick up a copy and enjoy it :-)



ZONE SYSTEM – remastered


Zone System - remastered

As promised, here is the remastered version of my 2006 comic “Zone System”. I gave this one a more extensive overhaul than that of Webby Crunch. It’s now a page longer than the original (21 pps now), due to rearranging some of the panel layout and flow to allow for some of the content to have more room to breath. I also redrew half of page 7, as well as making all kinds of nips and tucks to the rest of the artwork. You’ll also see a ton more tones in this one, as well as new lettering and some script rewrites. As with Webby Crunch, I changed the page layout dimensions from its original US comic “floppy” size, to the wider A5 manga standard. Anyway, enough technical whatzits, go read it!

 

Since I’m back on a comics kick, I’ve been getting ready to work on a new one… I actually have two in mind that I want to do – a shorter, black & white one, and a rather long full-color graphic novel. Needless to say, I’m putting off the graphic novel for a while, as it’s a bigger fish than I can fry at the moment, but I’ve been plotting out the shorter one, and am hoping to start making it soon. I have to get in the right head-space though, as it’s going to be a pretty depressing story… but one that is appropriate for our times. Anyway, I won’t make any promises right now on how soon that’ll be done, but hopefully reasonably soon!



WEBBY CRUNCH – remastered


 

Webby Crunch - remasteredWell, I decided to “pull a George Lucas” on one of my old comics, and make some modern-day tweaks. (hopefully my tweaks are more meaningful than Ewoks who can blink)

 

In 2005, I did a short comic called “Webby Crunch”, and passed it out at the San Diego Comic Con. It was a little project to get me back in practice with making comics, which at that time, I hadn’t made in five years. More recently, after lettering a few manga localization projects (more on those later!) I got to thinking that I should re-letter my old comics, as I’m better at it now, and have a much better-looking dialog font I use these days. As I started looking at the old pages, I found other things I’d tweak, if given the chance… The problem was, the full-size files of my 2005 / 2006 comics were all lost when my hard drive died in ‘08, and all I had left, digitally at least, were the low-res page files that have been on this site. I decided rather than just lettering those, that I’d rescan the original art pages, redo every digital thing that I’d done previously (hopefully better), replace a couple panels that I was never happy with, and rebuild it at 1200DPI, so it can be printed again. I also changed the page format to a more standard size (A5), and did a lot more with dot-tone and a lot less with the sketchy cross-hatching that pervaded much of the original.

 

Anyway, click above, or here to check it out!

 

Next up, I’ll be doing a remastered version of my 2006 title “Zone System”, and will be posting that in due time. I’m also preparing to do an all-new comic soon. Not a horror story like these two, but pretty dark in realistic ways that I haven’t really covered in comics before. Stay tuned!



come to APE!!


Hey kiddos, it’s that time again! Alternative Press Expo is almost upon us, and you should come and visit my table! I will be there with my buddies Ryan Sands, Hellen Jo, Derek Yu, Calvin Wong, Anthony Wu, and Ryan Germick, and we will be selling all kinds of comics, zines, prints, and other goodies. Keep reading for info…

 

APE 2009

INFO…
Saturday October 17th, 11am-7pm  &  Sunday October 18th, 11am-6pm
at The Concourse (620 7th Street, San Francisco CAView Map

 

Here’s a map of where we’re gonna be in the building (we’re called “Bang Gang”, and are at table #418)

 

APE MAP 2009

 

This will be the debut of issue 2 of “Electric Ant” – the comics & literary anthology zine that I do with Ryan Sands. Several of the contributors in the book will be at the show, so be sure to come. Come on by, say hi, and buy some shit!!!

 

EDIT (from the fuuuuuture!): Click this photo of my buddies and I to see a ton of photos from APE 2009!

APE 2009



GO (to) APE!!


Hey everybody. Things have been very hectic with packing up for the LA move, but there’s a big event you should attend this weekend if you’re in the Bay Area… Alternative Press Expo (APE, for short)

 

SATURDAY November 1st 11am – 7pm
SUNDAY November 2nd
11am – 6pm
The Concourse  – 620 7th Street, San Francisco  (Directions here)
More info here.

 

This will be my third year tabling at the show, with my usual gang of comic-making buddies…  Ryan Sands, Hellen Jo, Anthony Wu, Derek Yu, and Calvin Wong.  We will be at table #415, listed in the program as “The Bang Gang”. That’s in the back-left corner of the main exhibition floor (here’s a map). Ryan and I will be showcasing our two recent big projects:

Electric Ant #1 / Tokyo Zombie

Electric Ant issue 1: Our baby. A collection of comics, short stories, nonfiction, art, lists, etc. Some of the many awesome contributors include Hellen Jo, Aaron K, MC Lars, Gea, Derek Kirk Kim, Anthony Wu, Michaela Collette, Derek Yu, Eric Nakamura, Julia Wertz, and many more.  Ryan created, edited and published it. I did much of the layout and illustrations. Also edited by Alice Kim. The official launch date is November 1st.

 

Tokyo Zombie: Yusaku Hanakuma’s slapstick zombie judo bonanza that we adapted into English.  Ryan was editor and translator. I did lettering, touch-up art, and book design.

 

Also, I will be selling prints of my illustrated-photography.

 

buy some illustrated-photography!

Hope to see you there! Come on by and say hi :-)

 

EDIT (from the fuuuuuture!): Click this photo of my buddies and I to see a ton of photos from APE 2008!

APE 2008 pictures!