Here Be Manga!: An Inter-Review - Part 2

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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” format, Mephistos mixes eastern flavors with an oversized trim and radical new storytelling style, so that it seems, truly, a first of new kind.

Be sure to read PART ONE of this two-part article before forging ahead.

Broken Frontier Review: The interaction between the two main characters in Mephistos, and even the way in which Maria and “Meths” are inwardly vocal, struck me as far more accessible and understandable from a westerner’s perspective than any translated manga has ever been. The tropes of eastern manga can be learned and loved, no doubt, but in the end they forever feel staged, like an overly-stylized play rather than a naturalistic drama. And in the end Mephistos is a romantic drama, and one meant to connect with those of us raised on Love and Rockets, Clowes, Kubrick, Goddard, and Buñel. It’s absurdist and fantastical, but only gently so. The execution is practically inseparable from its western or eastern roots, and therein lies the claim that this book is something that isn’t exactly either. It’s more the fully baked cookie than just the dough.

BROKEN FRONTIER: If you were allowed to make one major criticism about authentic manga and its wide, wide world, what would it be?

NANIIEBIM: I don’t really have a criticism of it as such. Its market and its stories cover a huuuge and much wider variety than western comics, so if I criticized one portion, it would probably be covered by another area I haven’t walked into yet.

If I was to criticize it—and this will be from a non-Japanese point of view, which will be unfair—my crit would be that there’s a tendency of overuse in dramatic and poetic or even clichéd language and posturing in these comics, but that’s because it’s not my country or language, and although these things may stand out as being criticisms to me, what I’m criticizing are simply things that don’t fit into the culture I’m familiar with: my own.

Alright, plus a tendency to be very commercial these days, but that’s a global phenomenon. (Laughs)

BF: Let’s extend that to the western world’s translation and offering of eastern comics—one major criticism, go for it.

N: With the whole translation and availability thing—let the people who know about stories and aesthetics do the picking and choosing, not the marketing people please.

BF: Is there anything in particular, then, with your Here Be Demons saga that you hope to instill within the comics world that isn’t currently there? It’s okay to sound egotistical on this one, it’s a question formulated to make you sound so.

N: Mmm, nope…I’m just having fun (that’s an understatement, I’m having a lot of fun with this project), and I’m happy for people to join the ride.

BF Review: Naniiebim is an artist, first and foremost, and so of course the key ingredient to Mephistos’ style is its visuals. Utilizing a rough sketch-like line that is, uniquely, nevertheless inked in precisely the same rough sketch aesthetic, Naniiebim achieves an intense final product. The art hits the reader with a one-two double-impact in the way of first impressions—it’s wild and forceful, and yet it’s also astonishingly tranquil. Somehow, Naniiebim has developed a cultured enough eye to create a book that wields more still and silent beauty than it does brute strength. We’ve all seen still beauty before, especially in art, but hardly ever, if at all, via such paradoxically spastic lines.

Imagine Ben Templesmith or Bill Sienkiewicz blended with Andi Watson, or if either of the former superstars turned completely anime and/or manga with their art. That’s the nearest mainstream interpretation I can think of. Naniiebim’s backgrounds are unusually barren, panel to panel, the art entirely figure-based, until moments where the background suddenly appears and with a blueprint draftsman’s straight-line detail, as though the world were only ever in part a solid thing. This allows the book a certain ebb and flow, with the world coming and going, in and out of focus, the characters at the forefront and then suddenly just a part of the scenery, overpowered by the meticulous detail out of the blue surrounding them.

BF: So tell us about the development of your style in Mephistos. How did you come to use the aesthetic you do and apply it to a “western whimsical picture book” of your own?

N: I think “spastic” was probably a very good description for the way I draw my artwork, (laughs), but for years and years, I was trying to follow the neat clean inking style of manga…and it used to drive me insane because first you have to pencil and sometimes, what you drew in pencil, you simply couldn’t recapture it in ink, and there was a little something lost every time I did careful, neat inked work. (Not to mention the inking nib pens used to drive me nuts too.)

When I sketch, I naturally use a very fast untidy way to try and visualize something that I might not have reference for, but very often, although it wasn’t ‘accurate’, it was right. It was an odd moment when I finally decided to break away from following manga inking aesthetics, and simply learning and admiring them rather than slavishly drawing them.

BF: Which comic or animation styles have been primary influences on your work?  Have art styles outside of animation and comics had any impact?

N: I think this would be a question better answered by people who are familiar with the artwork I produce. I’m a much more instinctive artist than a person who studies something specifically to learn how to do it, and sometimes it takes an outside person to point out what vein I’m drawing in at any time.

BF Review: Mephistos Chapter One ends with a special two-part mini story (one page per “part”) done in the spirit of authentic manga “omakes” (those bizarre little things at the end of manga volumes starring super-deformed cast members and a completely indecipherable sense of humor). The story here is called “Robots”, and features a slew of heretofore unseen members of the Here Be Demons cast, going up against a small army of giant-sized mechas.  It’s swift, cracked-out, an obvious parody of certain manga conventions, and then the volume comes to a close. It was a sweet note to end on, although slightly jarring as the main story is done in right-to-left and this two-parter is left-to-right, likely because it was published online or in a different anthology. Though this means even the pages were, in a way, out of order (page one on the left, page two on the right). It doesn’t take more than a handful of seconds to figure out what’s going on, but if you read this here you’ll be one up on everyone else about it.

BF: Do you plan to continue with having an “omake” at the end of each Mephistos volume?  And what was the origin of “Robots”?  Will all the characters from that short be prominent in future Here Be Demons books?

N : I’m planning to maybe have a few special things at the end of each volume I put out, mostly because I myself rather like having little extras at the end of books that I might not have seen before- pin-ups, info pages, mini comics etc. ‘Robots’ was actually originally drawn for another anthology (Fat Chunk by Jamie Smart), but when I was putting the book together for print, the printer told me I had an extra two pages, and well, ‘Robots’ is exactly two pages, and part of the HBD universe. So in it went.

And, yes, Beez, Angry Rabbit, Happy Gecko Fig and the stray kid feature in HBD itself.

BF Review: Due to the sum total look of the book—the trim size, art line, and layout design—reading Mephistos is like reading a superstar’s b&w hardcover sketch book, only said superstar secretly turned the whole thing into a story. In fact, it’s almost exactly like people came up to Naniiebim at conventions and asked for pencil-and-ink sketches, anything the artist wanted to draw, and Naniiebim decided that each and every sketch, over time, would in truth be the next panel or page of an ongoing story. Then, years later, she revealed the truth to the world and everyone scrambled to find all the panels and create the first GN collection, another to follow as more sketches are recovered. Wow. That’s actually a really cool idea. Somebody in comics needs to start doing this. It's insane and utterly impossible but that’s why somebody in comics needs to start doing it.

So manga, sketchbook style, European GN look, pacing of a French art film and characters entirely relatable to western audiences, artful and lowbrow in equal measure, that’s Mephistos . Eastern manga has influenced such industry-altering giants as Frank Miller, Adam Warren, Stan Sakai, Ben Dunn, and many more, those who changed the face of the form in the 80s and 90s by bringing such worldly influences to the then centralized western comics market. With all due luck, Naniiebim is but one of many next-generation illustrators that will push comics and manga to where they need to go next—somewhere truly global, to become something all its own, a product of every corner of the worldwide comics industry.

BF: So where does Meths and the Here Be Demons saga go from here? How many volumes will Mephistos be and will there be anything, eventually, online? Webcomics or downloads or a homepage website or what?

N:  The saga goes on and on and on….   I have it all planned in my head, but it’s subject to the ebb and flow of what I experience, I guess. For me, it’s going to be a life’s work, as I’m still building up my illustration career at the moment, but specifically, I have no set plans for it—just to keep it running, and reveal new stories to anyone who happens to have picked it up. It might make for an unreliable schedule, but it means that I can check over everything and not be rushed by the pressure of a deadline.

In terms of it being available as a webcomic, or download, or being online at all—well, yes, of course I would do this, as having it as a physical book limits the number of people it can be available to, and actually getting it published is something that ends up being a very serious decision for me, as I produce it entirely by myself.

With the strength of the internet as a communication medium these days, it’s almost imperative to have something online…although like having a physical book, it has it’s advantages and disadvantages.  People can get swamped with the amount of work being produced, you just get lost. Which is why, if I am able to actually continue with it, I’d like to keep up both, print and online. Plus running it on the web means faster updates.

I’m actually just pretty happy with continuing it just as a creative challenge, alongside drawing professionally. I really truly like being able to pick it up occasionally and enjoy it as it is, with no real plans of world domination. (Consciously anyway, I don’t keep too many tabs on my subconscious!)

Cheers, BF!

BF: Awesome.  Can’t wait to see where you go from here.  Thanks for being with us, N!


Mephistos Chapter One can now be ordered at the Here Be Demons Myspace Page for $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!

And click on the thumbnails below for a more detailed look at some of the pages (remember to read from right to left!):

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