I’ve read comic books for over 35 years now. You could say I’m obsessed with the medium.
I grew up on a steady diet of Captain America, Superman, and both well-known and obscure characters of the Marvel/DC Universes.
As I grew, I branched out to more independent comics. I was a fan during the B/W heyday that spawned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I remember watching anime series like Voltron and Gundam Wing when I was a younger child, but I never put it together that they were from a different country. They were just cartoons; ya know?
I learned about Manga when I visited a friend’s house in middle school.
He had a ton of manga from Dark Horse and Viz comics. He even had a few by American creative teams (but, TBF, they didn’t have the quality of the imports.)
Another thing I noticed was the genres ran the gamut.
Romance comics, action comics, occult comics, spy comics… but not one spandex-clad superhero anywhere. I read Oh My Goddess!, Ranma ½, Akira, Appleseed, etc., and never once did I see a character that even remotely reminded me of the very two-dimensional American comic characters.
I decided that American comics were more my speed, but after that exposure to different genres I sought stories that didn’t contain the superhero dynamic and found many excellent examples, primarily from the UK writers of the British Invasion - Morrison, Millar, and crew - and Neil Gaiman with the spectacular Sandman series.
Fast forward to my time in the USAF and they stationed me in Japan for almost 9 years.
Being immersed in the culture of Japanese society was a real eye-opener. It gave context, which was something I found fascinating and welcome.
Then I learned that manga was a huge part of their national culture. Everyone read it! No matter your age, there were millions of manga readers. It was an accepted and even revered profession.
In my eyes, that was amazing! Every time I had mentioned making comic books previously as an adult was met with deriding remarks and how I needed to “grow up.”
But here was an entire culture that loved the same thing I loved, telling stories via comics, and they weren’t the only ones. All of Asia was the same, more or less.
That was when I truly accepted manga and dove in a bit. It still took awhile for me to adjust the style of storytelling and the cultural quirks you come accustomed to, but I looked at it as a learning experience.
And the art and story mechanics grew on me.
I think in America there’s this attitude that manga is less mature or emotionally complicated than American comics. After years of reading both, I would say it’s the exact opposite.
American comics deal with issues superficially. They only skim the ideas they put out there for the surface elements, and it never gets much deeper than that. The characters are all super confident that they’re morally and ethically right. They all represent perfect and idealized versions of masculinity and femininity.
I found them lacking.
Japanese manga has characters that do amazing things, but they remain grounded. They do shopping; they worry about relationships; they fear failure. They aren’t perfect. They’re relatable.
It very much reminds me of the early issues of Spider-Man, which is probably why the character is so popular there.
The manga I was reading just had so many layers I had never imagined because I, like a lot of Americans, dismissed it for its seeming childish cartoon flavor.
But upon closer inspection, I found layers of complicated skill in how the art was produced. It was more character-centric, more story focused.
It was less about looking cool than telling the story. The story was the most important part. That changed my perspective completely.
So, for years after I left Japan, I still tried to remain steeped and familiar with the culture. I also read a LOT of manga. I also knew that somehow, some way, I wanted Verone to be in a comic book where I could use the styles I had learned.
The bad part… I can’t draw very well right now. I can sketch, but it’s nowhere near the professional level I desired.
I needed to find an artist. One that fit in my budget.
I was extremely lucky in finding Jay Vasquez, a Pinoy artist just graduated from art and animation school. Although he’d never done a comic book, he was eager to give it a go.
And now we’ve done what I wanted to do, bring out a manga-style comic based on a character I created and love. That fills me with an enormous amount of pride in our accomplishment.
Admittedly, I still have a lot to learn and I embrace that with fervor, but learn it I will. Eventually, I hope to draw issues myself. That will take some time, though, and a lot of hard work.
One thing I miss is living in Japan.
It was a beautiful country with a beautiful culture that I enjoyed. I wish I had become more enmeshed in their day to day lives while I was there. I’m very grateful for that experience. One day I hope I to return.
That’s all for today. Until next time…