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New York Comic Con 2013
Wikia [LIVE] Presents: Learn from The Masters

by Crystalyn Hodgkins,

Eric Moro moderated the "Wikia [LIVE] Presents: Learn from The Masters" panel on Friday evening to a room that was about half full. Moro started the panel by introducing the guests (pictured at right, from left to right): Dark Horse Comics' president and founder Mike Richardson, Sin'Ichi Hiromoto (Hells Angels, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, STONe), Masao Maruyama (co-founder of Madhouse and MAPPA producer), Kazuo Koike (manga creator of Lone Wolf and Cub), and Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai). Hiromoto, Maruyama, Koike, and Okazaki are a part of "The Masters of Animanga: A Wikia Collaborative Writing Project."

Moro then asked each of the "Masters" in turn a few questions before opening the panel up to a Q&A from the audience. Moro first mentioned to Koike that Lone Wolf and Cub is Dark Horse's highest-selling series, with more than 1.3 million copies sold. Moro asked Koike what he thought made the story so good, and Koike said that he thinks that part of the appeal is not just about the samurai, but this 3-year-old boy tagging along with him growing up. Koike said it makes him very happy knowing he has a lot of fans of his characters.

Moro asked Maruyama what were some of the greatest challenges he faced in his 40+ year career. Maruyama said that when started out, TV animation wasn't very popular in Japan, so when he started out every day was challenging because he was creating something that never existed.

Moro asked Okazaki if there was any Western work that influenced him, and Okazaki said he is influenced by everything around him; whatever he listens to and watches, he tries to incorporate those things into his works. For Afro Samurai, he was influenced by Lone Wolf and Cub, and Okazaki said to be sitting next to Koike at a panel is an unimaginable honor.

Moro then mentioned to Richardson that manga has come a long way since Dark Horse first published manga (the company's first manga title was a Godzilla title), and asked him to talk about the history and significance of manga. Richardson said that he was always interested in Japanese culture, and he spent a long time trying to get Lone Wolf and Cub. Richardson said that it was because Koike beat him at rounds of golf on two continents that he decided to let Dark Horse publish the manga. Richardson had started going to Japan in 1989, and when he went he would stand in bookstores and look for new titles. Richardson added that it was the late Toren Smith who was instrumental in growing Dark Horse's manga line.

Moro then asked Koike what he thinks is responsible for the rise of manga in the United States. Koike said that he thinks the road was paved by live-action period pieces for samurai manga, so Lone Wolf and Cub was one of the first samurai period manga in the United States, and it was popular among samurai aficionados. Koike also said he thinks the popularity of samurai manga in the U.S. is because of Dark Horse.

Moro then asked Maruyama if he thought about the global expansion of the anime titles he worked on when he first started in the anime industry. Maruyama replied that when he first started making animation, he tried not to limit his audience, but he never expected that foreign audiences would like his works. Maruyama added that once the foreign audience was developed, he never had to worry about what audiences were watching.

Moro then asked Hiromoto where does his distinct and intense art style come from. Hiromoto said that his master in life, Bruce Lee, said "Don't think. Feel." Hiromoto said his style is as it is because he doesn't think as he draws.

Next Okazaki was asked what advice he has for young artists, since he self-published his first manga. Okazaki said that at the time when he was making Afro Samurai, he wanted to put out something that was the most fun for him to write or draw without restrictions from publishers. But now he looks back on it and wonders if he really should have done that.

Moro then asked Richardson about the current trends in manga publishing and what is on the horizon. Richardson said he's seen a decrease in book store sales, but Dark Horse wasn't affected as much by that decrease in sales. Dark Horse's manga has been steady and strong, and Richardson said he thinks there will be ups and downs, but that it will come back strong. Richardson added that manga has done a great job at bringing young girls into the comic book market.

Moro then asked Koike how has his artistic approach changed since the early days of his career. Koike said he thinks technology has advanced for creating manga, but from a technical standpoint, it's not the story that's the most important, but good characters. Koike said another way to look at it is you have a sphere for manga, a sphere for anime, and a sphere for games, and at the intersection of all those spheres is good characters. Koike added, "once you have good characters, you can make good manga, you can make good anime, and you can good games. That has not changed from the past to the present."

Maruyama was then asked how things were going for MAPPA, and what was on the horizon. Maruyama said that currently, MAPPA is working on several titles that will be released this year and next year. Maruyama added that the reason he founded MAPPA was because he thought he had stayed at Madhouse too long, and he wanted to have a new challenge, so he decided to start a new company.

Moro mentioned to Hiromoto that this year is the 30th anniversary of Return of the Jedi, and asked what drew him to adapt the film as a manga. Hiromoto said he wrote the manga 10 years ago, but he had wanted to work on Star Wars since he was a boy; he was a huge fan of Darth Vader. He said he was drinking at a bar one day and a publisher asked him if he wanted to work on Star Wars and he said "Hell yeah!" Then his dream came true. Since episode 7 of Star Wars is now being made, Hiromoto said he would love to work on the property again if he had the opportunity.

Okazaki was then asked if he could change one thing about the manga industry, what would it be. Okazaki answered that he's personally very satisfied with how things are now.

Moro lastly asked Richardson what words of advice he would have for those at the panel who want to create. Richardson said now is a great time to create, whether it be manga or comics. Richardson said it used to be that you had to live in New York to create comics, but now with technology someone can create comics from anywhere and publish them online. He mentioned that Dark Horse has found a number of creators online that now publish with Dark Horse. Richardson said that aspiring creators must continue to perfect their craft. He said it's hard work, but it can be done. Richardson added that Maruyama was a man of many talents. Maruyama is also a restaurateur, and he has a few restaurants and creates dishes for them that only he can come up with.

Then Moro opened the floor for questions.

One attendee asked what the the panelists' favorite Japanese authors and movies are. Koike said he doesn't think there are any, but clarified later that since he is 78 years old, all of the directors and other creators he admires have already passed away. He then quickly added with a smile that he likes Maruyama's work though. Okazaki then said that he thought one of the Lone Wolf and Cub live-action films was really amazing.

When asked who they think might be a female "Master" of anime and manga, Richardson mentioned CLAMP as a model for female artists.

Another fan then asked if the men had any advice for artists who are starting out. Maruyama said that as long as you have talent, you can make it if you work hard enough. Koike said that if you start with a main character, then the story will peter out pretty quickly. But if you start with the villain, and come up with a really good villain, then naturally a good main character will develop. Richardson then added jokingly that instead you could start your own publishing company and then the company has to publish your work.

Another attendee asked Koike what experiences inspired him to make Mad Bull 34. Koike said that instead of making it evil, he wanted to make it a little lecherous, and it was quite a hit because of that. In terms of genre, American police stories and crime fighting stories are some of his favorite genres. Koike said he leapt at the opportunity when it was presented to him. He likes shows like Castle and Criminal Minds.

One fan then asked Okazaki what he meant earlier about wondering if he should have made Afro Samurai as a work for himself. Okazaki said back then, he was young and egotistical and he wanted to do what was important to him. He said that if he went back and created Afro Samurai now, he would be much more cognizant of trying to please the audience instead of putting out just what he wanted to put out.

One attendee asked why each of them decided to enter the anime or manga industry. Koike said when he was 28 he joined a production company, and he went solo at age 33. Koike said fundamentally, he always wanted to draw, because it was his passion. Maruyama said that when he started, there wasn't really something called anime at the time, and he worked for Osamu Tezuka at the time not really knowing what it was, and when he realized it, 50 years had passed.

Hiromoto said he started at Konami as a character designer for the Gradius game. During the day he'd work on the game, and at night he would draw manga. He added that when he was confident, he submitted his first manga, and received an award for it. He decided then that it was his destiny to become a manga artist. Okazaki said that he wanted to be a manga creator since he was a child. He studied art, but he majored in sculpting. Then one day, Afro Samurai came into his head and wouldn't let him go, so he put it down on paper and returned to manga.

When asked what inspired Richardson to establish Dark Horse, Richardson said he had always loved comics. His mother wasn't afraid to bring comics home and let her kids read them. She would sit and helped him to learn to read to those comics. He was a commercial artist out of college, then when he heard he was going to be a father, he quit his job and made the decision to go into the comic book business.

Moro then mentioned to the audience that if they want a platform to create, they should go to the Animanga Wikia community and create there.

Another fan then asked what's each of their favorite personal work. Koike said Lone Wolf and Cub. Maruyama said that his works are like his own children, so it would be unethical for him to choose. However, Maruyama said that in Japan there's a saying that a badly-raised child is cuter, so he thinks that projects that don't do too well business-wise are cuter. Hiromoto said that his current project is usually the most fun one. Okazaki said Afro Samurai, and Richardson said his favorite was the 47 Ronin comic that he wrote with Stan Sakai and Koike.

Koike was then asked that if he had the opportunity to direct another Lone Wolf and Cub live-action film, would he do so, and he said yes.

Lastly, the group was asked what they think of time-travel stories. Koike said he's a huge fan of Back to the Future, so he definitely likes those stories.

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