Interview: Shaenon K. Garrity
Shaenon K. Garrity was one of the international authors invited to Amadora BD 2013. We had the opportunity to discuss her work as a manga editor and as a comics teacher, her webcomics, the comics she wrote to Marvel, the american comics market and the future of comics. Here’s the interview.
Nuno Pereira de Sousa: Since 2003, you have been the editor of over twenty Viz manga series, including “Naruto”, “One Piece”, “Inuyasha”, “Kingyo Used Books” and “Case Closed”. What task is more rewarding to you and why: rewriting, copyediting, or supervising the publication of the English editions of Japanese manga?
Shaenon K. Garrity: I love rewriting. Japanese and English are very different languages, and changing the Japanese text into appealing and believable English dialogue is an interesting challenge.
NPS: Is there a manga you would love to edit but (still) didn’t?
SKG: Oh, many. There are a lot of classic manga I’d love to be able to work on. Atagoul, a fantasy manga about a big yellow sake-drinking cat and his friends, is my dream project. It’s still untranslated in English, and it would be wonderful to help bring it to English-speaking audiences.
NPS: In the last 10 years, how did the U.S. English editions of Japanese manga market evolve, regarding sales, diversity of readers, public perception, and institution attention ?
SKG: Wow, that’s a big question. Through the early 2000s the manga market grew a lot in the U.S. Manga really caught on with kids and teenagers, and libraries started to stock manga series. The U.S. manga market dropped off a few years ago, with the economic recession, but it’s slowly recovering now. One thing that gives me hope about the current manga business is that publishers now seem more willing to translate titles for more varied audiences; we’re seeing more translations of manga for adults, for women in particular, and different niche genres like history and literary adaptations.
NPS: And what about the evolution of Original English-Language (OEL) manga in the last 10 years?
SKG: In one sense, OEL manga has more or less died out, in that one doesn’t see many comics marketed as OEL nowadays. But in another sense, more and more American artists are growing up influenced by manga, so a lot of current American comics have a noticeable manga element whether or not they call themselves “manga.” So it depends on how you define OEL. In general, American comic artists seem to be more aware of the work being done in other countries than they were in past decades.
NPS: You were also the editor of ModernTales.com since August 2006, one of the foremost online comics anthologies, that was online between 2002 and 2012. What lessons did you take from that experience and why did it end?
SKG: The job ended because Modern Tales (MT) ended; after ten years, it went out of business. I was involved with MT from the beginning as an artist, and later as an editor. It was a great experience for meeting other cartoonists, especially in the early days of online comics, but it was always hard to make money. Comics is a tough business, especially online.
NPS: You teach comics scriptwriting for the Academy of Art University. What major advices would you give to someone who is starting to write scripts for comics?
SKG: Everyone has their own approach to writing, but I advise students, even if they’re not artists themselves, to sketch out the pages before they write anything. Comics are a visual medium, and writers need to be able to think and work visually, even if someone else will be drawing the final art.
NPS: Lately, your prose fiction started to be published. Tell us the major differences you find in writing prose and not comics scripts.
SKG: It takes longer to write everything out! Seriously, prose and comics are very different art forms and require different approaches. One pleasant thing about prose writing is that I have a lot more room to play with language. There isn’t much room for flowery writing in a word balloon.
NPS: “Narbonic” was your first daily online comic strip, that run from 2000 to 2006. Tell us a little about it.
SKG: I started Narbonic right after college, at the same time I moved to San Francisco. It was a daily strip about a mad scientist and her laboratory staff. I’d been drawing comics for a while, and I’d also gotten into online comics. One thing I liked about online comics was that the Internet made it easy to tell long, ongoing stories in daily comic form, like the early American comic strips.
NPS: Where did you get the idea to do a Director’s Cut version?
SKG: Another webcomic, Queen of Wands, did a rerun with commentary after it ended. I emailed the cartoonist and asked if I could steal the idea.
NPS: In 2008, you returned to the same universe of Narbonic with a new daily online comic strip, “Skin Horse”. This time, however, you have Jeffrey C. Wells as a co-writer. What’s the major difference between writing on your own and co-writing?
SKG: I really enjoy collaborating on comics, and I’ve done every possible type of collaboration: as an artist working with a writer, as a writer working with an artist, swapping off art duties, etc. I love Jeff’s prose writing and always wanted to work with him on something, and I’d also decided that I’d only do another daily strip if I could get help on it. So when I got the idea for Skin Horse, I sent it along to Jeff and asked him if he’d be interested in collaborating with me on it. Fortunately, he liked the idea.
NPS: If you could choose only a word to define Jeffrey C. Wells , what would it be?
NPS: You wrote for Marvel Holiday Special 2005, 2006 and 2007. How did that happen?
SKG: One of the editors at Marvel at that time had worked on Modern Tales, and he was instrumental in getting some online cartoonists involved in Marvel comics. I was invited to pitch a story for the Holiday Special and ended up writing a story a year until Marvel stopped doing the Holiday Specials. I pitched some other ideas to Marvel, but nothing that got published. Personally I always wanted to do a series set in AIM, an evil science institute in the Marvel Universe, because I love mad scientists.
NPS: Describe us the two weekly online comics your write: “Lil’Mell” and “Smithson”.
SKG: I don’t write either of those at present. In both cases, it was because the comic wasn’t making enough money to pay the artist. Li’l Mell, which I may start up again one day, was a spinoff of Narbonic (and takes place in the same universe as Skin Horse, more or less), and Smithson was a graphic novel set at a college that has a lot of odd things going on. Smithson was something I’d been working on since high school, and for a long time it was the place where I put all my ideas that didn’t fit into other stories. I still like it a lot.
NPS: You also co-wrote “Trunktown”. How was the experience to work with Tom Hart?
SKG: It was great! Tom is a brilliant cartoonist and I’d been a big fan of his work since I was in high school, so it was a thrill to get to work with him. He runs a school for comics art now. He and his wife, Leela Corman, are experts in the medium.
NPS: Do you believe webcomics can be profitable to the authors?
SKG: Oh, sure. Some webcomics are profitable now. For most people it’s hard way to earn a living, though.
NPS: How do you envision comics will be published 10 years from now , regarding print and digital formats?
SKG: Everything’s moving online, I suppose. I’m starting to sell a substantial number of my comics in e-book form. I’m kind of behind on tablet technology myself, but it’s becoming an essential part of the publishing industry, so I have to learn it. I think books will still be important, but not necessarily the default format. It will be important to make them beautiful.
NPS: What about the comic genres published in U.S.? In your opinion, how will it evolve in the next 10 years?
SKG: Comics in the U.S. are still largely seen as superhero comics, but in actuality the superhero market doesn’t seem to be expanding. Science fiction and fantasy may grow more important in the next few years. Graphic novels for children are an increasingly important niche.
NPS: What kind of opportunities appeared after you start to win several awards, like Friends of Lulu Award and Stumptown Trophy Award?
SKG: Not a lot, really. I don’t know how much the businesspeople in the industry care about awards.
NPS: Women in comics: how did that change since you started working in the medium?
SKG: There are a lot more women in comics, as readers and as creators, than there are when I first got involved. I think I started out during a low point for women’s participation in comics. The 1990s comics world was very male-dominated. That’s much less true now.
NPS: What’s your opinion of Amadora BD 2013?
SKG: It was wonderful! In particular, the art shows were all very impressive. I loved the shows for Mutts and Spirou.