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Tania del Rio burst onto the comics scene through Tokyopop’s Rising Stars of Manga contest, followed not long after with a “manga makeover” for Archie Comics’ Sabrina. On the heels of the release of her first work for Marvel Comics, the Spider-Man & Araña Special, del Rio stopped by to talk with Broken Frontier.

Broken Frontier - Who influences your writing and art?

Tania del Rio - My biggest influence is probably Japanese manga in general – not only in the visual style, but in the pacing and storytelling as well. As for specific people, I would say my biggest influences are Wendy Pini and Hayao Miyazaki, but I’m also greatly influenced by the Disney animators of the early 90’s.

BF - What guidelines did Archie Comics give you in terms of Sabrina’s “Manga Makeover?”

TdR - They actually gave me a lot of freedom to re-imagine Sabrina’s world. They trusted that I knew about manga and that I would apply this knowledge to Sabrina and her world. As a result, I made the stories focus more on character relationships and growth and less on slapstick hijinks. Also, rather than have there be 3-4 short stories per issue, each issue is now a complete story. Each story stands alone, yet they also piece together to create a larger whole. The overall appearance of the book has also changed from the traditional Archie house style to my own shoujo-influenced manga style.

BF - As is often the case on the internet, reaction regarding the “Manga Makeover” tended to be quite passionate. How did you feel as you waited for your first issue to hit the stands? 

TdR - I have to admit that before my first issue came out I was nervous about the public’s reaction. Some people seemed interested in the change, and some people – namely the manga purists – were very harsh in their criticism - even before they had a chance to read it for themselves! I actually heard more negative comments before my issue hit stands than after. People are quick to judge based on limited information. Once they actually read my comic, I think people realized that Archie isn’t just trying to “jump on the bandwagon” and that this is a quality book drawn and written by someone who is truly passionate about manga. Now, going into my second year of working on Sabrina, I’m proud to say that I’ve been hearing more positive remarks than ever before!

BF - What do you think the long-lasting appeal of Archie Comics is?

TdR - Archie is great because their comics are the kind that each generation can enjoy. Parents who read them growing up can always feel safe giving them to their own kids. Personally I like how, even though Archie comics have entertaining storylines that are appropriate for all ages, they are never preachy. They’re just good, clean fun. As far as Sabrina goes, it deals with themes that are a tad darker and more serious than what you might find in Betty & Veronica, but it’s still age-appropriate. Parents who might feel nervous letting their kids read other manga due to nudity, violence, or suggestive themes, can still feel safe giving Sabrina to their kids. I like to see Sabrina as a sort of “starter manga” for kids!

BF - What is the Spider-Man & Araña Special about?

TdR - The special ties up some of the loose ends and unanswered questions that were raised during Araña’s regular series. The Sisterhood of the Wasps, in their desperation to gain the upper hand, have found a way to prematurely revive their Hunter who has been lying in intensive care since his previous resurrection was botched by the Spider Society. Araña and her partner Miguel must stop them at all costs but the threat turns out to be much more than they expected and that’s where Spider-Man comes in. Spider-Man not only helps out on the battle-field but he also ends up helping Araña personally as she comes to terms with a major disappointment. This is an issue of changes – not only does Araña change as a result of the story, but so do her relationships with the other characters.

BF - What was it about your work that made Marvel realize you were the right person for the Spider-Man & Araña Special? On the other side of the coin, what attracted you to the project?

TdR - They knew of my work on Sabrina and that I am primarily influenced by manga storytelling and I think they may have thought I would provide a unique voice to Araña. After all, I write dialogue for female teen characters every day! I’m also not a traditional super-hero writer so I think they were curious to see what I could bring to Araña’s character – both in terms of personality and plot.  I was attracted to the project because I love writing teen-girl characters. As a Mexcian-American, I’m also really attracted to the fact that Araña is Latina and I wanted to write her in a natural, non-stereotypical way. In terms of the story, I enjoyed Araña’s past series because of her fun mentor/sidekick relationship with Miguel. I also liked the elements of magic and family history and secrets that were prevalent in the series.

BF - How was writing a superhero comic different from the work you usually do?

TdR - It was very different! I did struggle at first with finding a balance between action and character-driven plot. I tend to focus more on the latter, so I had to push myself to keep the story moving at a good pace and not to let it get bogged down by character drama. But once I got the hang of it, I had a lot of fun writing in the action and destruction! That’s not something I get to do too much in my other work!

BF - If you had the opportunity to write or draw any comic character, which one would you choose?

TdR - I’ve always had a soft spot for Jubilee, formerly of the X-Men. She was the reason I even read superhero comics at all when I was a young girl. I could relate to her and the fact that she felt inadequate compared to her peers. I also understood how she made up for it by trying to get attention all the time. So she would probably be my number one choice! But, in some ways, writing Araña was a lot like writing Jubilee, especially since Araña’s relationship with Miguel reminded me of Jubilee and Wolverine!

BF - What do you think the comic industry needs to do in order to appeal to a broader audience?

TdR - I think manga has shown us that comics can appeal to a wide range of people – both males and females of all ages. As much as I love my comic shop, I also think comics should be more accessible to the general public and a larger selection should be sold in places like Borders where parents go with their kids. I also think it’s important to target girl readers. With manga, girls have proved that they will read comics if comics are made for them. I also think it’s important to make comics that appeal to moms. I know my mom didn’t like taking me into the comic store when I was a kid, and she didn’t like the kinds of comics that showed women as sex-objects. A lot of times, parents are the ones who buy things for their kids and they are less likely to buy a comic that offends them. Comics need to offer more choices in terms of genre and we need more female creators too!

BF - What other projects do you have on tap in the near future?

TdR - In addition to my continuing work on Sabrina, my next big project is a book that I am editing and producing called Mangaka America. It features art and tutorials from 11 talented and emerging North American manga artists. That will be published by Collins Design (an imprint of HarperCollins) in November. I’m also working on a couple of personal comics that I can’t say too much about yet! I also have a new web comic that I update each Sunday: www.mypoorlydrawnlife.com

For updates on my future projects, check my blog out: http://taniadelrio.livejournal.com.

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