Big Biz-ness: An Interview with M. Alice LeGrow [Full]
Plus, you can pre-order Bizenghast Vol. 8 now!
Good things come to those who wait and Bizenghast fans have now been waiting over a year for the thrilling conclusion to M. Alice LeGrow's gothic fantasy. Fortunately, patience is a virtue, and we are now proudly able to offer Bizenghast, Vol. 8 both via print-on-demand through Right Stuf, Inc. and digitally through a new partnership with Graphic.ly, as well as our previously announced Hetalia, Vol. 3. Although Bizenghast, Vol. 8 won't be here until July, we caught up with series creator M. Alice LeGrow to talk being an American manga creator, her creative process and what manga means to her.
TOKYOPOP: The success of Bizenghast has proven that OEL manga is something that readers want and can be commercially viable. How does it feel to be on the vanguard of American manga creators? What are your thoughts on the "can non-Japanese creators make 'manga'" debate?
M. Alice LeGrow: I never really thought of myself as "the vanguard," really...I think American-made manga style comics are really in more of a resurgence now, since titles like GoldDigger and the like have been around so much longer. It was early manga-influenced comics like that that really encouraged me when I was young, and made me want to become a comic artist myself. As for the debate on "Japanese/non-Japanese," I can only speak for myself and say that I never really felt my work was truly trying to be manga, per se. I feel that I was heavily influenced by it, especially when I was younger, but now I'm settling on a style that is a hybrid of many different influences.
For everyone else involved in that argument, I say just draw your comics, throw 'em into stores and let the world sort it out.
TP: What are your influences - writers, illustrators, even sources outside the comics/manga world - when it comes to manga?
MAL: Early on I was very influenced by Brian Froud and Jim Henson, plus older artists who excelled at black and white illustrations like Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley, Edward Gorey, etc. And my earliest influence of all were the beautiful illustrations by Henry J. Ford for Andrew Lang's Colored Fairy Books, which I read constantly as a child. Nowadays, I try to take my inspiration from different outside sources...fashion designers, architecture illustrations and from the cultural art of different countries.
TP: After a longer than intended wait, Bizenghast, Vol. 8, the final volume in the series, will give closure to many fans. Given that hindsight is 20-20, is there anything you would have done different creatively? Did you always have a clear sense of where the story was going or did it evolve as you went deeper into the world of Bizenghast?
MAL: I would probably have designed Edrear's armor to be simpler. All those little details on his chest-plate really bugged me after a while. :)
I used to say that I wished I was more experienced as an artist when I drew the first 3 books or so, but everyone has to start somewhere and you always end up hating your first work, so I don't let it bother me anymore. I think the story followed the initial outline very well...the ending was exactly how I pictured it six years ago, although the route to it has many more twists and turns than it did when I originally wrote out the series. I actually ended up writing this 8-volume story arc as the first "season" of Bizenghast, with two more planned to follow. So who knows if this will actually be the last book!
TP: Is there any chance we could see a Bizenghast animated series at some point down the road?
MAL: I wish! No seriously, I wish. I'd be up for it if a studio became interested! I already promised the part of Vincent to Vic Mignogna.
TP: What is it about manga as a medium that excites you creatively?
MAL: Comics in general are exciting, because you get to pull together so many different aspects. Writing, drawing, fashion design, environment design, technical drawings, vehicle and weapon design, etc. I used to love manga when I was younger because there were more titles aimed at female readers, and they had lots of intricately designed clothes (I'm also a seamstress, so I love clothing). Now I don't really get into anime or manga anymore, but the early influence is still there in my art.
TP: Were you an anime/manga fan growing up? What were some of your favorites?
MAL: I got into anime in high school with Sailor Moon, and then Ranma 1/2. After that I grabbed up whatever anime and manga I could find! One of my favorite shows was always Nurse Angel Ririka, because I was given it on VHS by a friend who is no longer with us.
TP: Congratulations on The Elephant Book; we saw that you successfully funded it through Kickstarter. What can you tell us about that project?
MAL: Well it's been a long, hard road to finally arrive...at the very start of the actual project. I had been working on The Elephant Book for a few years as a concept, while doing Bizenghast. A fan suggested I try Kickstarter as a way to raise the money to actually start developing the series. I wasn't sure I would get enough backers, but everyone has been so generous in donating and getting the word out, and we actually finished up the project a little over the goal! So now I've been hard at work actually drawing the first book. The first volume will most likely be self-published, although I hope to have a publisher pick up the full series.
TP: What advice would you give to an aspiring manga author or illustrator in today's climate?
MAL: Work very, very hard. Take every opportunity you can. Accept criticism happily and with thanks, not resentment. Just keep trying and don't give in after one or two failures!
TP: What are your thoughts on the future of otakudom in America? Do you think anime/manga's big moment in America has passed or is it back on the rise?
MAL: I think the giant wave of anime/manga enthusiasm has pretty much passed, but it will still hang on as a successful medium in one way or another.
TP: You must be buried in comics and manga. What are you reading and enjoying right now?
MAL: I actually don't collect comics! I used to, up until after college, but that was when I had free time. I work all day and don't take many breaks for anything, so I don't often have time for even short comics. But unusually enough, I did just read a comic called Dwayne's Super by Paul McCreery. It was actually funded by a fellow Kickstarter project, and I enjoyed it very much! I try to fund other comic projects on Kickstarter to give back to the community, so there are several comics that I'll no doubt be reading when their projects end.
TP: Apart from Bizenghast, Vol. 8 and The Elephant Book, what projects are you working on that you can share with us?
MAL: Not much, just trying to make a living is hard enough! :)
TP: In a perfect world, what manga-ka or illustrator would you want to collaborate with?
MAL: [Uzumaki and Gyo author] Junji Ito, hands down. He's just SO COOL. :D
Bizenghast, Vol. 8 is available for print-on-demand pre-order on RightStuf now and digitally on Graphic.ly (along with Hetalia, Vol. 3!). For more information on M. Alice LeGrow, please visit her website.