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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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10/29/2006 Archived Entry: "Interview with Toko Kawai"

Interview with Toko Kawai

I was lucky enough to sit down with Ms. Kawai and her editor at Libre, Ms. Toshiko Maki, on October 19, 2006, right before Yaoi-con (which I was not able to attend [yes, the wound still aches]). This interview was superbly translated by Ms. Amelia Cantlay, courtesy of Digital Manga, Inc., for yours truly and my trusty tape recorder in DMI HQ's spacious conference room with its lovely panoramic views of Gardena, California.

Interview by Ginger Mayerson

Ginger Mayerson: This is kind of a funny question to start with, but do you speak French?

Toko Kawai: No, I don't know French.

GM: I ask because there are so many references to France and French words in "Our Everlasting" that I was wondering.

TK: I have a bi-lingual friend and she gave me advice on the French parts.

GM: I'm not bi-lingual, but I do understand French and the French in the books was very well done. I was impressed.

TK: Thank you.

GM: What are you working on these days?

TK: I just finished the serialization of "After I Turn the Corner." It was a five episode story in Be Boy.

GM: When did you start making comics?

TK: As a professional?

GM: Well, no, I mean, when did you start drawing?

TK: I started drawing when I was younger, but I started drawing manga when I was twenty. I started a little late.

GM: Well, it's never too late, but what brought that on?

TK: I was working full-time when I was 20, and one day I woke up and asked myself. "Is this how I really want to live the rest of my life?" I had a friend who was a manga artist and I'd seen her do work and I thought maybe I could do that. I started submitting my work, and after three submissions, I got picked-up and have been drawing manga ever since. I've always loved to draw and my mangaka friend really influenced me.

GM: What were your goals or direction before you went into the manga business?

TK: I'd been studying package design. I was working for a design company when I decided to start making manga.

GM: Really? Range Murata was also an industrial designer before he got into manga and anime. Has your design background influenced your manga making?

TK: I think so. I really love art in general. I like Mark Rothko's work.

GM: When you started making manga, did you take drawing and life-drawing classes, or did you use your design training?

TK: I didn't have any formal training in manga, I just watched my friend and copied what she did.

GM: What about life drawing?

TK: I didn't go to school for that kind of drawing. But I did go to a High School that emphasized the arts and a design college. So I had about six solid years of formal art education and some of it was drawing, but not life drawing, more like draftsmanship drawing. When I was in high school and college, no one ever said they liked my art.

GM: But I think that makes you a stronger artist because you're still making art for yourself, not to hear other people say they like it.

TK: I hope so.

GM: Where did you go to art school?

TK: I went to a two year school in Osaka. It was kind of a technical school.

GM: What is it about Osaka that produces so many manga artists?

TK: We see Tokyo as our rival.

GM: Ah. Is Tokyo such a stressed out fast-paced place that they don't have time to produce artists?

TK: (laughs)

GM: Did you move to Tokyo? So many manga artists from Osaka more there when they become famous.

TK: I love Osaka so I still live there.

GM: What Japanese artists, not in manga, do you admire?

TK: I like a lot of them, but I'm particularly fond of Ito Jakuchu, from the Edo period.

GM: What artists outside of Japan, not in manga, do you like?

TK: There's a photographer named Bernard Fulcom, I like a lot.

GM: Do you feel that the artists you like have influenced her work in manga at all?

TK: I'm very influenced by Bernard Fulcom. He takes single frame pictures of scenery and French antique manikins and I study those for their composition.

GM: Do you read any American comic books?

TK: No. I look at them in the bookstore but I never buy them. I prefer French comic books.

GM: What do you read to relax?

TK: I read Japanese poetry. I'm really into Mutsuo Takahashi right now.

GM: Do you do any research for your mangas?

TK: I don't do much research because my stories are about things I've been around a lot, but when I do need to do research, I read.

GM: Are you drawing from your life experiences?

TK: Mostly from my life and things I've seen and done.

GM: Do you only draw yaoi?

TK: For now, yes. You might like one of my titles, In the Walnut, because it has a lot of art elements in it.

GM: I'll look forward to it. What attracts you to making yaoi manga?

TK: One of the reasons is that a relationship between a male and female character has consequences, like kids, that aren't very romantic. But when you draw a relationship between two guys, it's more about the love and romantic relationship in a fantasy world. And that's what I enjoy about it.

In real world gay relationships there are more consequences and more and different stress, but this is Boy's Love, and we can just enjoy the fantasy. As a woman, reading about a male and female love story, it would be much harder to remove yourself from the woman's point of view. But with Boy's Love, that's not an issue. Most yaoi readers are female, so if you write a woman into the story, there's the possibility of jealousy from the reader. With two guys, that doesn't happen.

GM: But there's stress and struggle in the relationship, and then the happy ending, in "Our Everlasting" makes it a wonderful story. What was the inspiration for "Our Everlasting"?

TK: It was from my life experience.

GM: Do you surf?

TK: My boyfriend used to surf.

GM: Oh. Did he look like Horyo?

TK: He didn't look like him, but his personality was like him.

GM: Horyo has a nice personality. He's very sure of his love for Shouin, and that's nice to see in a manga when so often one or both characters are freaking out.

TK: Thank you.

GM: Oh, no, thank you. I love the fashions in "Our Everlasting." Is this how surfer dress in Japan?

TK: It is and it isn't. There are some people who dress outlandishly, but I picked out my favorite styles and used them for my characters. How do surfers over here dress?

GM: Similar. They wear the long shorts.

TK: Board shorts?

GM: Is that what they're called?

TK: Yes.

GM: I don't think they wear shirts, but I don't really know. I never go to the beach. Was there a person who inspired Shouin?

TK: Umů

GM: I'm sorry, if that's personal...

TK: His kind of negative side is modeled after someone who first thinks through all the negative sides of anything she wants to do, and then goes ahead and does it.

GM: Is that negative or just prudent?

TK: I wonder.

GM: Um, if I may switch to the technical questions. What kinds of pens do you use?

TK: G-pen and Crow Quill pens.

GM: How much do you draw before you scan into, say, Photoshop?

TK: I actually draw everything by hand. I don't use the computer at all.

GM: Do you have many assistants?

TK: I don't have any assistants. I'm all by myself.

GM: Wow.

TK: If I'm really pressed for a deadline, I go to Tokyo and people help me out.

GM: Ah, but still... mostly by yourself is impressive. When you're laying out the panels what size and what paper do you-?

TK: (gets out an original panel) I work on this kind of paper, Kent paper, they make it in Japan.

GM: Oh. And this is all G-pen and Crow Quill? No charcoal? No conte crayon?

TK: In addition to the pens, I use a brush and ink for the hair and some of the shading.

GM: How lovely. It's nice paper. Are you hooked on this paper? Is this the only paper you can draw on now?

TK: For black and white work I only use this. For color work, I use watercolor paper.

GM: That was my next question. Thank you very much for showing me this panel. How do you make the covers? What media do you make them in?

TK: I use color inks called Dr. Martin.

GM: Pens or brushes?

TK: Brushes.

GM: That's very labor intensive.

TK: It takes about two days to color a cover.

GM: Have you always been a solo creator?

TK: I've always worked by myself, but I work closely with my editor.

GM: Which is more challenging? The art or the writing?

TK: The hard part for me is the writing, but that's the part I like best.

GM: If you could work with a writer, anyone from any time period or place, who would that person be?

TK: Yasunari Kawabata. He won the Nobel Prize for literature.

GM: And if you could work with an artist, who would that be.

TK: Not really anyone. I like my drawing best.

GM: Are you reading any mangas now?

TK: I'm reading a series in Shonen Jump called "Gintama."

GM: Is there anything you'd like your fans reading this interview to know?

TK: Being in Japan, I can't see the fans reading my work here, I'm very happily surprised that people actually like my work because there's nothing really fancy about my stories, nothing out of the ordinary, they're just about normal people. So I'm surprised that people enjoy reading them.

GM: I loved your stories, the ones I read, I think they have a lot of soul, and a lot of heart, and that's why people love them. Your characters are loveable, they have depth, and dimension and, well, flaws; they're, y'know, human. And your fans are female, and women need a connection to, and a way to feel fond of the characters they read. A character like Captain Harlock or Alex Row, who are heroes mostly for boys, can be admired, but you can't really have much sympathy or emotion for them. At least I can't, because I find them rather cold. So when you give women characters like Horyu and Shouin that they can care about, we will love your work very much.

When I was preparing for this interview, I did some research on the web, and there is much love out there for your work. I believe this is because the art is beautiful and the characters are fascinating.

TK: In Japan I've never received any compliments for my artwork.

GM: How strange, your work is lovely.

TK: Thank you. My stories are popular.

GM: The stories are wonderful. I think there might be stronger artwork out there but the art is so appropriate and meshed with the story, it's perfect for the story, so maybe it's taken for granted. I mean, if the art was bad, I'm sure you would have heard about it by now.

TK: (laughs)

GM: Thank you so much for this interview.

TK: You're welcome.

Please visit Juné Manga for more Toko Kawai titles, published and upcoming.

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