By LJ Douresseau
Mar 2, 2004 - 10:57
The deadline looms for TOKYOPOP's Rising Stars of Manga Contest 3 (March 15, 2004), so all you aspiring manga ka should be tying up those entries. Heck, you wannabe cartoonists should be hot for this contest, as it means that you have more options to enter the comics biz, unless you've been living your life and honing your skills specifically to draw that bad @ss Wolverine sneer-shot cover.
This installment of Mr. Charlie Opens the Door (#18), we visit with M. Alice "Marty" LeGrow, a RSoM2 winner for her short "Nikolai." According to the introduction to her winning story in THE RISING STARS OF MANGA 2 anthology, Marty or Mary, was born in Olathe, Kansas. She currently lives in Connecticut where she works as a costumer.
On Wed., February 25, 2004, TOKYOPOP sent out a press release announcing that Mary had signed a multi-volume book deal with them to produce a manga entitled BIZENGHAST. Ms. LeGrow is the third RSoM2 winner to get a book deal. Grand prizewinner Lindsay Cibos has already signed a contract with TOKYOPOP, and runner up Tania del Rio will be reinventing Sabrina the Teenage Witch for Archie Comics.
The following statement from Mary is quoted from the press release, "I'm really happy to have this chance to work with TOKYOPOP. I've always been a big fan...and it's great to be published by such an awesome company," said LeGrow, who regularly admits to being an aficionado of the superhero Flash. "I'd also like to point out that the Flash is the best member of the Justice League."
Having read Mary's Nikolai, I have high hopes for her new manga. Her art combines beautiful, intricately drawn line work with rich spotted inks. It's a melding of things both ornate and sumptuous, and Nikolai's story is part gothic romance and part teen romance. Think Evanescence meets Nancy Drew - maybe.
Mary participated in the RSoM2 question and answer survey back in November 2003. Her responses were some of the liveliest, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting this column together:
What was your first experience with comics? What kind of comics were they, and what were the titles?
MARY: I never really had an interest in comics as a child, because I grew up outside the US and comics weren't as prevalent in everyday society. You couldn't get them at just any bookstore or supermarket and there were very few comic shops, so it didn't occur to me to want one.
I wasn't really exposed to comics until my first year of high school, when the first mainstream animes were being aired on American TV. I think the first comic I ever really got into was THEIVES AND KINGS, which is an independently published comic from Toronto done by Mark Oakley, a very talented guy with whom I correspond a lot now. His storylines were so thought-out and well conceived that it really drew me into the series. I also loved that the art was so simple and unassuming. It really moved the story along better than flashy characters and explosions could have.
A lot of other people at the comic shop in UConn [University of Connecticut] also liked the series, and I had to be the first queued up to get the one of new issues that month or it would be gone.
At what point were you first exposed to manga and anime, and what were your initial reactions to it or your feelings?
MARY: I guess my first exposure to anime was "Sailormoon" - the heavily edited version on Channel Six my freshman year of high school. At first I was skeptical of the art style and story and used to mock it with my little brother. But after watching it a few times, I really got into the unique style of art and started looking around for similar things to watch and read. After that, I was a regular at the Paperback Trader IV on the UConn campus in Storrs. It was a very small shop at first that mainly bought and sold paperback novels and had a small rack of comics in the front, only some of which were manga. But to me, it was the coolest store I'd ever been in. J
What was it about the form that attracted you to manga, and what were the particular titles and creators who appealed to you?
MARY: I guess I enjoyed that fact that a lot of the stories weren't the regular colorful spandex superhero fare with tons of adverts stuck in the middle of the stories. I read a lot of things like Kenji Tsuruta's SPIRIT OF WONDER, NAUSICCA VALLEY OF THE WIND…as well as more mainstream books like AH! MEGAMISAMA and INU YASHA. It's kind of funny to see "Inu Yasha" on Cartoon Network now…I can remember reading it almost seven years ago, when Viz bragged that it was published concurrently with the Japanese version. Anime and manga in America has come a long way since I first got into it.
When did you first become aware that there were U.S. based publishers of manga (like Eclipse, Dark Horse, TOKYOPOP, etc.) and what titles did you like?
MARY: I think the first sample I got of American-based manga was Fred Perry. Never liked it *laugh* and sorry to Mr. Perry, whom I met at conventions and who is a very nice person. I just never liked the early American-manga attempts because they didn't seem very solid to me. They looked too much like normal alternative comics and not like the real manga I was reading at the time. But I think overall that genre has improved considerably.
Were there elements of manga and titles that you didn't like or found off putting? What about them didn't you like?
MARY: I guess I wasn't too fond of catgirls *laugh*. I mean I'm not too fond of very commonly-recurring things that a lot of American-manga artists like to latch onto, such as catgirls, or the ominous "giant sweatdrop" or the sudden change of a character into an SD figure. I was never crazy about things like that. I don't mind them too much, but I don't use them in my own story.
I'm also not too happy about the substitution of random patterns and shapes for backgrounds. I think it encourages a lot of new artists to be lazy with their work.
When did you become aware of TOKYOPOP and the Rising Stars of Manga contest?
MARY: At this year's Otakon convention in August. I was walking down the hall with my friend Aja on the way to get judged, and she mentioned that TOKYOPOP was doing a manga-drawing contest and that I should enter. Unfortunately, I was busy with work and basically had all of eleven days to produce the whole comic. But I'm glad I made the effort now.
Was the second contest your first entry in RSoM?
MARY: It was my first, as I hadn't even heard of the contest until then.
Was your entry something you'd been working on for a long time, or was it something new for RSoM? Did you have to rework the concept to make it fit the preconceived notions of what manga is?
MARY: Well, since I had less than two weeks to do the story, I had to come up with a script very quickly, so on the ten-hour drive home from the Baltimore convention center, I basically ran through all the scripts or stories I'd written and set aside for emergencies in my head. I hit on "Nikolai" because it was a thirty-page short story I'd written ages ago, and it had a simple but engaging plot that had a definite start and finish, so it seemed perfect for a one-shot.
I had to rewrite the story to make it fit inside a twenty-page comic. I sketched out some ideas while stopped at rest stops and gas stations on the way home. I had to rename the main character and passed a sign for "Notch Road" while driving, so I named the character Sally Notch, and I later designed her after an Asian model from one of the Gothic and Lolita Bibles I had at home.
When I got home, I got out a lot of copies of architectural magazines I keep around for reference and began designing the house and some of the furniture inside.
I never try to "manga-tize" my stories…I usually rely on things like pacing and style to carry it off as manga. I think the story naturally worked as a manga story because it had a lot of emotional content and a supernatural theme. But although the story didn't change much, the characters changed a lot. Sally was changed a little in hair and wardrobe for the comic to make her more interesting and I think Aunt Ellen got a little less personality, because of the space constraints in the final version.
How does your work fit in with the "manga style," and I'm asking this knowing that manga encompasses an incredibly broad base of genres and storytelling techniques?
MARY: I…don't really think of my work as manga. I know a lot of people would classify it as manga because the characters have big eyes, it has a lot of spot blacks, and the figures are not very typically American-drawn. But I primarily consider myself an alternative comic artist who's manga-influenced. I think it edges into the manga category because of the pacing and planned pauses I put into my stories, and also some of the style choices. But I don't take my drawing or writing cues from manga or try to emulate that kind of storytelling or style...I just like to do my own thing.
I think the main reason I fit in the manga genre is because I love to draw lolita-style clothing and characters, although with my own twist. I do a lot of short stories that take place in the Victorian era (I'm a huge Sherlock Holmes fan), so when a friend first showed me the lolita style in Japan, I totally latched onto it. I think it's just the cutest style.
Is it your goal or dream to be a cartoonist, and how are you working towards that goal in terms of educating yourself about the history, form, and content of comics?
MARY: Well, I just graduated with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design, majoring in comics books, so I guess that takes of the education part *laugh*. I read a lot of different things, I collect references sources in the form of architecture and design magazines, fashion books, nature books, botanical books…anything I can use to improve my drawing or make my stories more accurate. I'm especially interested in drawing real plants and trees, not just "a tree" or "a bush," so a lot of the trees and flora in my art are real specimens that I find in the woods in my backyard, or look up in a botanical reference. I also have a large collection of animal sketches, either from friend's pets, zoos or lab specimens.
I surf the internet and bookmark a lot of contemporary comic artists' galleries, then go back and try to glean something useful from their style and try it myself. I study a lot of early independent comic artists like Robert Crumb to see what they were working with…I just do a lot of reading and looking and remembering, and try to experiment with new techniques whenever possible.
Describe the feelings you had upon being notified that you were a RSOM winner.
MARY: "How'd that happen?" *laugh* I was very surprised, because "Nikolai" wasn't the best work I've done, having so little time to work on it, and the more I looked at it, the more I was sure it wouldn't win. I thought it really could have used a lot more work. I also knew a lot of very talented people who had entered and I didn't think I had much of a chance against them.
Actually, when I first got the call as a finalist, I didn't hear Mina [TOKYOPOP] say the words "Rising Stars." All I heard was, "Guess what! You're a finalist in (blank)!" And I was like, "Oh boy! Um…a finalist in what?"
It was eight o'clock in the evening when she called me and I had just woken up (I work at night), so I was very tired and when she explained, I couldn't drum up any more enthusiasm than, "Oh…well, that's nice. Thanks for calling." I think poor Mina was a little confused, probably because other finalists were shrieking happy or at least excited. But I WAS very happy when I had woken up a little bit more.
Did winning change your long range plans in terms of your work and/or budding career as a cartoonist?
MARY: Not really…as a matter of fact, the contest came right after I had submitted some projects to various editors, so at one point, I was more anxious to hear back from editors than from TOKYOPOP, since I figured I had a better chance with the editors than of winning. I think it definitely helps to have another credit on my resume, so it's definitely been very beneficial. But I don't think the contest really cemented my ideas of being a comic book artist in any especial way.
What is your artistic background as far as training and learning, even if you are self-taught?
MARY: I got my BFA at SCAD, and that helped a LOT with my comics, but I was doing artwork unrelated to comics before SCAD. I was always interested in art, even before I got into comics. I did a lot of sculpting and painting before college, and I think of comics as just an extension as that. And since this is the last question for the interview, I'd like to state that Christy rules. J
THANK YOU, MARTY. I must always give super shout outs to PR/Marketing goddess Mina Sung at TOKYOPOP for her help in getting this together. The truth of the matter is she continues to go out of her way for a nobody like me when some PR people at other publishers show so little courtesy. Much props to her for her professionalism because people like Ms. Sung are the reason that TOKYOPOP is doing so well. Remember, TOKYOPOP books are available at major book chains and finer bookshops, as well as at such online shops as Amazon.com and Walmart.com.
If you want more of Mary LeGrow, visit her website www.bizenghast.com where you can see more of her absolutely gorgeous art. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to speak with Mary in more detail about her upcoming manga series.
And if you are a comics creator or publisher and you want to send me material for review consideration or you just want to talk about your book in a Charlie column, punch the click-able name link to send me an email. Holla!