The Gallery Hans Tseng
by Evan Miller, Sep 6th 2008
As many artists have lamented in the past, there are a few fans out there who commission some pretty disgusting stuff. I'd like to add another complaint to the mix, based on a few observations: if you commission an artist who just happens to be heading back to college this week, don't complain about delays too much - give them a little extra time, okay? Your all-too-important sketch of Pikachu and Mokona demolishing a city together on their first date can wait until your artist has finished their first test of the semester, right?
Our featured artist for this week also finds himself back in school this week, and his experience with being a manga artist could become one of the things that keeps him there as he pursues the path to becoming an art professor.
Sample from Directions of Destiny
CSU-Fullerton senior Hans Tseng first released the first volume of his manga, Directions of Destiny, about 2 years ago. Since then, he's spent considerable time and energy selling and promoting the book at Artist Alley tables and conventions across the nation. Unlike the single prints and small booklets that many artists opt to print, Directions is a far greater undertaking: it's a full volume of original material that Tseng spent over a year developing and drawing. The kicker?
He didn't stop there.
Since finishing and printing Directions of Destiny, Tseng has returned to the material and re-edited, reviewed, and re-drew various parts of the story. Of course, this kind of dedication and work has taken up a lot of his time, and he still finds himself working on the second volume of the series more than two years after the first volume was published. However, according to him, the entire process has helped him develop as an artist - and influence the professional life he intends to pursue.
Born and raised in Taiwan until he was five years old, Tseng grew up watching Japanese anime on television. His uncle let him borrow tapes of full-length anime films when he was growing up, and he became a fan of the work of Hayao Miyazaki at an early age. He quickly developed an interest in the fantasy genre, naming Laputa: Castle in the Sky as his favorite film when he was a child.
After moving to and growing up in the United States, Tseng found himself drawn more and more to anime and manga where character development played a more central role. He lists Escaflowne, Utena and Princess Tutu as anime that have influenced his style - not only because of the art direction and poetic feel of those series, but because of the "sense of emotion" and focus on the relationships between characters that the series present. "[Escaflowne character designer] Nobuteru Yūki has been a huge influence on me," admits Tseng, who also mentions Yūki's video game character designs as inspirations. Escaflowne - which is regarded as a "mecha" show by many fans - reminded Tseng that any story can feature detailed characters and still feature the action, drama, and other elements that appeal to the casual fan.
Tseng started drawing in 2001, and it was not long before other manga fans and Artist Alley aficionados took notice of his work. At the same time, he and a friend began drawing up plans for a role-playing game based in an online forum. The game never took off; however, the story - with its multiple character types interacting in the setting of an elite school for students with magical powers - became the basis for Directions of Destiny. At the time, Tseng was only seeking to practice his drawing skills. However, after a two chapter sample of the story found a few fans in the Anime Expo 2005 Artist Alley, Tseng made the decision to put more time into the story. He wanted to publish it, but rumors of overediting and poor treatment of artists by various publishing companies convinced him that his work should be read as it was. So, although it was an expensive decision, Tseng printed the first volume of Directions of Destiny - coming in at over 100 pages - on his own.
While publication may seem like the end of a long road for some, for Tseng, it was a beginning. Pre-orders and sales of his manga at Anime Expo 2006 led to praise and accolades from fans. "It was really flattering," says Tseng, who thanks his entrepreneurial tendencies for convincing him to just publish his work by himself. Energized by the praise for his work, Tseng took another look at the work he published - and felt that rather than keep on going, he should go back and work on making the art he was presenting to the fans even better.
What followed was a two-year period of reworking. The feedback from people for Directions of Destiny was either praise or snide comments from "trolls" who offered little in the way of constructive criticism. Lacking an editor, Tseng decided to look back at the methods he had used to produce his work. Feeling like he "winged it" when working on Directions, he began to re-work the feel of the piece and experiment with various planning methods to produce the tale. This process kept going until Tseng found himself reworking his story from the ground up. Cosmetic edits gave way to edits of every other element of the story. Meanwhile, fans began to wonder: would there be a Directions 2? Did the artist lose all of his time to school, like so many others?
Fortunately for his readers, Tseng finished reworking the look of his work and, as of the date this article is being written, has begun to move into the second volume of the series. At the same time, Tseng's personal reflection on his work has been accompanied with a few other notable experiences. Although he did not join a manga club while he was there, Tseng spent a year abroad in Japan and found a whole new set of inspirations in the culture and feel of the country. At the same time, he kept working on other projects and fan art, including a compilation with other artists from the Artist Alley scene titled Something Colorful.
Today, Tseng is moving into his senior year in college. Once a business major, he shifted to a business minor to major in Art with the hopes of becoming an Art instructor one day. "I've found a bit of harmony," says Tseng, adding "studying to teach art has motivated me to study the techniques that other professors and teachers use, which in turn influences how I do art and how I view my work." Of course, he is quick to mention that his new-found focus on art instruction hasn't meant that he's given up being an artist, saying, "I just think of it as a part time job now. Although I can get kind of lazy with that over the summer."
Hopefully, Hans Tseng won't have a huge lazy streak. If the praise for his work from his peers is any indication, if he truly did stop drawing, many people - this columnist included - would be pretty disappointed.
Directions of Destiny Characters
Hans Tseng: It hasn't happened yet in the comic itself (because the first book is more or less an introduction to all these characters), but finding a plot device to use that can bring out the personalities and outlooks of these individuals has been pretty tough, because honestly they weren't designed around the main plot of the comic! Their original conceptions were as separate entities each with their own unique back stories, but if their stories have nothing to do with the main story, then it all just becomes episodic filler material, which I HATE. So trying to come up with a way to make each character directly relevant to the main plot, and more importantly the main THEME of the comic, is something that I've struggled with long and hard in the past, even till now. Incidentally, a lot of this planning all seems to come together in the comfort of a warm shower, which seems to be the place where I get most of my story writing done. I'm also finding this semester that the droning voice of my Accounting professor has a similar effect.
HT: The thing I like about Japan is that with all its new technology and its giant urban metropolises, right next door you can easily find a temple that dates back hundreds of years. My illustration of Fushimi Inari is mostly based on my personal observation of seeing a few high school joggers training at the shrine when I first visited. In addition to that, however, I wanted to do something that shows how Japan has become this place where modern everyday life has blended with the country's ancient history, thus the jogger running after the Inari fox god. Some people have mistaken the fox in the picture to be a cat, which also kind of works too because we also did see a pretty handsome white tomcat while we were there. He had one blue eye and one gold eye, and he was super friendly. More impressive was the fact that he sported the hugest set of balls I've ever seen on a cat! I mention this only because it was pretty hard not to notice them.
ANN: I sense a bit of the "regal" mystique of series like Princess Tutu and Utena in the drawing of Azalea. Which element of her clothes and the background did you construct first and why? What kind of aspects of her character did you want to convey with this piece?
ANN: What inspired the use of the kind of "fish eye" lens effect on Station Exit?
ANN: As someone who's worked with many other artists in the community via Something Colorful, what do you think is the most crucial aspect of developing a good working relationship in collaborative art projects?
HT: It's hard for me to say because I was the only one in the group who wasn't in the same time zone as everyone else (since the project was done while I was still in Japan). But I think one of the keys to a successful group environment is finding the balance between actively collaborating with one another, and also giving each other some space. A little bit of pressure is still a good motivator to get everyone moving on a project, but on the other hand, I don't think you can always be bouncing ideas off one another, because you'd never get a chance to take a breath and really put your thoughts together if you're constantly under the pressure of your teammates. For Something Colorful, if I were to do things differently, I think we would've all benefitted from pressuring each other to start the project earlier, so that by the deadline we would have had paced ourselves more evenly and avoided becoming overloaded with each others' presence during the last two weeks of the project.
ANN: You've incorporated many fantastical elements into Directions of Destiny thus far - mythical beasts, sweeping campus landscapes, and more. What other elements - either story or background related - are you hoping to incorporate into the story in the future?
HT: Mecha, medieval castles, summon beasts, blood-stained battlefields, legendary lone warriors, alternate dimensions, twins, astrology, mythological references, werewolves, and catboys! And, um, more uniforms. Clearly I've got more ideas for this story than I know what to do with.
If you're interested in checking out the works of Hans Tseng, here's where to point your browser.
For those of you who want to check out Directions of Destiny, go here.
Are you an aspiring manga artist looking for some extra page views? Do you have a friend or loved one who draws extremely good original manga but needs a boost? Don't just sit there! Submit two links to your work, including one original piece (no file attachments please! File attachments shall be converted into plastic bags for supermarket use), to evan [at] animenewsnetwork dot com, and you could be featured in a future Gallery column!
All works © Hans Tseng.