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Here Be Manga!: An Inter-Review - Part 1

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This is an Inter-Review—a review and an interview in one!

Today we speak with trailblazing newcomer “Naniiebim”, the creator of Here Be Demons, the first book of which—Mephistos Chapter One—can now be purchased for $10 US from the Here Be Demons Myspace page.  For ordering use the email addy methsbaltassare@hotmail.com

Heavily influenced by manga, even published in right-to-left “traditional” manga format, Mephistos mixes eastern flavors with an oversized trim and radical new storytelling style, so that it seems, truly, the first of a new kind.

Broken Frontier Review: It’s no longer a newsflash to say that manga’s invaded the western world.  The top Indie publisher, Dark Horse, once a bastion for American-licensed properties, suffered through the industry collapse of the 90s by dipping into such hits as Blade of the Immortal, Battle Angel Alita, and Akira, and today still holds the western rights to top-selling titles Trigun, Berserk, and the like. DC began its CMX line, and even book publishers Random House and Del Rey have gotten in on the game while the gettin’s good. Tokyopop, the premiere manga publisher of the western world, has virtually flooded the market to the point of collapse, expanding most bookstores’ manga selections to greater than any other specialized genre. It’s no surprise then, that such foreign visual storytelling panache was eventually absorbed and reinterpreted by a whole new audience: us, that “other” capitalist society so capitalist we can afford to spit out an equivalent surplus of creativity.

To be fair, Indie comics have long held one fist plunged deep into manga sensibilities, Oni’s Scott Pilgrim and Skarkknife prime examples of this. Then there’s the mainstream’s slow slide into sparser scripts, widescreen art, and playful absurdity that, a decade before, would have been completely absent from our Aristotelian comic book dramatics. There’s also webcomics, many of which utilize the caricature-like figures of popular manga styles and the spastic unquenchable zaniness of eastern comedy.  Love it or firmly believe that western storytelling is in rapid decline, manga has left its mark, but what happens next? Beyond the scattering of eastern elements overtop a super-hero or slice-of-life comic script, how does manga’s influence effect a new generation of creators, those who grew up with manga available in entire runs at their local comic shop or Barnes and Nobles?

Mephistos Chapter One is a book that feels like the beginning of something new, or one possible direction of said new thing—it’s not manga, but it’s not not manga. It’s neither, and it doesn’t feel like a blend, even though it is. It feels like something natural, something grown from out of Ashley Wood hardcover art books and a penchant for long effeminate figures with big eyes and pointy noses. Wide, spacious panels, mischievous humor, and a spread-out and rhythmic use of dialogue: UK newcomer “Naniiebim” invents something all her own with Here Be DemonsMephistos being the beginning of this longer epic.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Tell us a bit about Here Be Demons, Naniiebim.  Mephistos is only the beginning—so can you say why you chose to release it as the first book in the series? And is it meant to be a “prologue” to the whole thing, or just one of many parallel stories you plan to release?

NANIIEBIM: (Laughs) The overall series I’m hoping will be the Here Be Demons series, of which Mephistos is one parallel story to it, well, I initially started Mephistos this year because I wanted to finally try and physically tackle drawing comics for more or less the first time, and needed a shorter story to work on than HBD…unfortunately, ‘Meths’ as a story just takes a life of its own. I’m planning at least another parallel story to HBD as well, all of which bring an extra view to the main story itself.

BF: And tell us a bit about your background.  Where or how were you trained as an artist, and (of course) the origin of the name “Naniiebim” (is it your real one)?

N: Pretty much from the moment I got asked “What do you want to be when you grow up” I was going to be either an artist or a scientist…and due to various things like school grades, I very nearly ended up on the science side of things, but in a mild and completely unnoticed rebellion against type, I took the art route despite doing rather badly in my final art exam. Although I am illustration trained in a sense, I’ve always had a very deep influence from manga from a very young age, and to be honest, it was something I was constantly getting told off for drawing. (Laughs)

And, ah, well, the origin of the name Naniiebim is a bit torturous, but lets just say if it boiled down to it—it’s still technically my real name, as it would, in the right language, be spelt exactly as one of my real names would be spelt. (I have two.)

BF: Regarding the manga market on the western front, where do you see it as of today?  Mephistos struck me as a book meant to offer something evolved from simply another translated book or attempt to package US or European comic material in “digest-sized” format. While adhering to so much of manga’s characteristics, your work seems a cry for manga of our own. Do you feel this is something necessary in a market now saturated with work either not meant for us as its primary audience or simply over-zealously reproduced by western publishers?

N:  Mmm, I’ve followed the British manga market development a lot over the years, and remember when it first became available beyond just Akira and the classics from over 10 years ago…at the moment, although I’m frequently glad that stories like Blade of the Immortal have been very well translated, sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of books coming in because it’s the current “in” thing. I very much prefer it that we’re given a smaller number of books to choose from, but ones that are chosen because they’re very good.  Even then, I wish there had been a bit more effort and thought put into the presentation of these books, but that’s just my view point. I’m happy with paying the slightly higher price of Blade because it has been well translated, printed and presented, but I’m not going to be a typical majority in the market.

But once you are given so much exposure to manga, and manga-styled work, or even just to comics, you find there seems to be an overriding pattern to the way stories are written, the way they flow, and the expected actions and reactions, almost as if the writer is expected to follow some guideline set for professional success.

Then overall, you have to remember, Manga is Japanese written for a Japanese audience.   I’m not Japanese, and even translated, there will always be something lost in translation if your first language is something else, which would be more subtly captured if you write it in your own language.

But ‘Meths’? As a comic, it probably is a reaction to not quite being able to embrace manga because we aren’t the primary audience. But it also is a slight rebellion against American comics, too.

BF Review: Enough with the preamble, let’s get to it: what is Mephistos Chapter One, specifically? A young woman named Maria returns home to her flat and finds a strange man trying to break into a neighboring apartment. This man sports hair ruffled to look like two horns and, most importantly, a triangle-tipped tail! More than just a touch unnerved by this (though the man doesn’t seem to care that he’s observed) Maria decides to take action and enacts a rather pedestrian albeit hilarious attack. The hubbub of hostility eventually dies down, and when it does, it’s revealed that the man is locked out from his own flat, so he’s not a thief, but the real problem lies in the fact that Maria shouldn’t be able to see his horns or tail!  His name is Mephistos, or “Meths” for short, and he’s a Soul Recruitment Junior Field Operative, Demon Third Class. And thus begins the beginning.

Mephistos Chapter One is published in a uniquely oversized format (going entirely against the traditional manga grain). I think the cut is 7 x 10 or thereabouts, which offers the look and feel of an NBM or otherwise European graphic novel. The pages are slightly shorter and wider than traditional US comics, and the layouts inside are handled with a cinematographer’s eye—panoramic, spacious, quiet and yet dynamic.

BF: Why the particular format size and shape and why not traditional manga “digest” size?

N: Um….because I could? (Laughs) Some of the reason was partly because of the kind of paper I was working on (it’s got little markings on for the page size) but also because I have a basis of interest in self-published comics by the Japanese (Doujinshi) which are about B5 size, but while I was developing the book for making it, as I was getting the book printed by myself, I also wanted to make something as I would want to be made myself… In this case, I had no guidelines, or set rules for the making of this book, so in order to show the art as best as I could, I chose the larger format. But at the same time, decided against using the oversize book sizing because I myself can’t comfortably hold a book that is too big. Looking at the American size format, I find the page sizing a bit too narrow for what I had in mind, so the book is indeed a little shorter than B5, although about the same width. It goes against the idea of mechanical sizing, and using up as much space as you have, but for me, it felt ‘right.’

BF Review: Naniiebim is unerring in her sparse use of dialogue.  Mephistos reads, pacing-wise, like authentic manga, with poetic moments and lines that seem either external exclamation or internal musing with little in-between. Stillness abounds, with frame-worthy giant-sized shots that are mixed with smaller, action-oriented ones. The storytelling is calmer and more exacting in its movements than authentic manga, or so it seems: the art matches the story flow rather than moving to any sort of format or reader expectations (the way authentic manga creators stick loyally to where the double-page spreads, pin-ups, and character posture shots go). The script, while recognizably manga in appearance, is closer in feel to arthouse French cinema than anything else.

BF: On the subject of your writing style in Mephistos, while it’s the closest thing to true-blue western manga around and not just western comics with vague manga-esque underpinnings (thinking of OEL or “Global” Manga, wherein western creators release properties through Tokyopop that, beyond the simple size of the book, is largely small press comics in a different packaged format), there’s a lot to Mephistos that struck me as heavily influenced by auteur film directors and small press super-stars like Daniel Clowes. The quietude, the measured pace, the highly camera-like angles of the panels—is this a conscious mingling of influences? And do you think Mephistos is, indeed, something other than Original English Language Manga?

N: Although I’m making a guess at this—and I would be hesitant to put myself in the same circle as Clowes and directors of films—simply because I wouldn’t have put so much thought into my work as I expect they would have—is that they were never significantly or originally pressured by who or how much of an audience they would have. It was always the work they produced they were interested in. It was never about numbers or money I don’t think, just ideas, and a love of what they were doing. With ‘Meths’, I’m writing the story as I want to visualize it myself.

And I think of my comics as a bit of a “Mutt” compared to other comics or manga. Being a hybrid or none of the above appeals to me, and widens the boundaries of what I can explore with it, and—it makes it much more available to other people. I don’t want people just to pick it up because it looks like manga, I need them to realize that, despite its influences, it might not have a category at all.

BF: Who would you say were the creators that most influence your own work, both from the east and the west?

N: Mmm, I’m almost constantly, subconsciously influenced by stuff I see just in passing, in everyday life, and in the images I see, and I’m a real sucker for black and white inkwork. Western creators, Ashley Wood, Ben Templesmith come to mind, Bengal is another in both line and color. Eastern influences include a whole multitude of manga artists, Hiroaki Samura (probably not a surprise), Reiko Shimizu, Kaori Yuki, Banri Hidaka, Oh!Great!, Shirow Miwa, Kubo Tite, Chie Waseda, Masami Tsuda, Kazune Kawahara, Hisaya Nakajou… Yeah, I’d better stop...there’s about 15 years worth of creators I’ve read and been influenced by even in passing that it would be a bit too much to list them all.

Be sure to join us tomorrow for part two of our Inter-Review with Naniiebim and her new western manga book, Mephistos.

###

Mephistos Chapter One can now be ordered at the Here Be Demons Myspace Pagefor $10 US.  That page’s blog also offers all news and updates on the series.   For ordering use the email addy methsbaltassare@hotmail.com

For all things Naniiebim, check out her own personal Myspace Page as well!

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