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Interview: Monkey Punch

by Allen Divers,
How often have you had the opportunity to start work on a three month project, only to see it turn into a career that's lasted nearly thirty years? Katou Kazuhiko, better known to many as Monkey Punch, had that happen when he started a little manga called Lupin III. What started off as a loose collection of one shot comics has blossomed into a series featured in countless TV series, OVAs and movies. There's even talk of a live action movie.

I had the opportunity to sit down with the man known as Monkey Punch at a little convention in Dallas, Texas called AnimeFest. Although one of the smaller conventions on the circuit, AnimeFest pulled in one of the great manga artists, distracting a bit from one of the other major conventions under a similar name.

Katou Kazuhiko sat down in a closed chat session, along with translator Jonathan Nawrocki and a group of journalists from Kyle Hebert.com, ANN and other publications, as well as a documentary crew from Strong Arm Productions. This is the conversation that ensued.

When did you first get started with drawing?

Monkey Punch's Lupin III
available from TOKYOPOP
I've been drawing manga since I was quite little, not necessarily manga in its formal sense, but little drawings here and there. Through my younger years I continued with scribbles and drawings in publications such as children's newspapers.

When I was in junior high school I started concentrating more on specific, so-called newspaper publications directed towards kids. And I continued doing that. Its not that it was anything official, but I believe many manga artists started the same way I did in creating those kinds of publications.

Then in junior high school I was writing manga strips for the school newspapers and a rivalry of sorts developed between myself and the other artists who were doing the same thing. It became a challenge; we kept trying to improve and to make our work better. Before you knew it there were these collections of our work that started to accumulate. And actually, one of my ‘rivals’ also became a professional manga artist. We started young, and a lot of people followed us.

Sometimes when we would actually get something published in a magazine we would actually receive a prize or reward of some sort. Receiving that was actually a part of the inspiration or motivation to draw manga.

Sometimes, there were cash prizes as well, but often it was merchandise. So you could say in a way that, in my junior high school years, I had a part-time job writing manga. But at that time, despite all of this, I never really thought I would become a professional manga artist.

After all these years, what appeal still exists in Lupin that allows you to continue working on that series?

I guess you could say that part of the appeal is that my works have been directed at the youth of the nation and of the world, the younger generation, so in a sense, I wasn't really ever restricted with political barriers. It was easy for me to continue writing and drawing in that sense because it was freedom.

So, speaking of freedom, I mean, it's just like when Lupin goes abroad, overseas, you never really see him have a passport. There are no boundaries for him, he's a free roamer.

I'm drawing him as a character, where he can go wherever he wants whenever he wants without any obstacles. And that's the appeal for me.

Of the characters, who do you most relate to and why?

So actually, I would probably have to say Lupin, without any doubt, it must be Lupin, I mean, everything about him kind of appeals to me.

Actually, I kind of project my desires, my interests through Lupin, he's a thief and a criminal in that regard, but I'm using that as more of a setting. What I really like about Lupin is his freedom, his boundless freedom that allows him to do whatever he wants whenever he wants and never really be tied down to anything or anyone in particular. I think I want that for myself in my own work when I do my own jobs, so for that reason, Lupin is by far the character I most relate to.

Even though I relate to Lupin the most, I really, really like Zenigata. Zenigata is Lupin's fiercest opponent, his personality, his ultra-strict, ultra-rigid, “protect every rule” personality, in a sense is something that also really appeals to me. I really like how the contrast comes out between Lupin and Zenigata in my work. That whole combination of things really, to me as a manga artist, is what I strive for.

Do you enjoy exploring other worlds beyond the ones you've created already?

Absolutely, without a doubt. I really do enjoy it. I guess you could perhaps say that it's my curiosity, but wherever there's a crowd gathering, anywhere there's a group of people bustling about something, I always tend to stick my neck in and say, "hey, what's going on?" I'm really curious about things like that. And I also enjoy looking at creations other than my own to use in my own study for my own works.

Do Lupin and Fujiko ever get together, or are they fated to continue to tease each other?

Actually, it's kind of interesting. I think men and women in general as... rather than saying tease, say they enjoy each other. They use their attributes; Fujiko uses her beautiful body and her sex appeal as a weapon and Lupin uses his cunning and his wit as a weapon and they like going at it with each other in a fun sense. Not necessarily lovers, not necessarily husband and wife, but more just having fun as man and woman with each other and using their weapons against each other, but in an enjoyable way. That's how I think of that.

So even, I mean, I fight with my wife, too, but we have fun when we fight, it's not an all-out brawl!

How do you feel about Lupin's growing popularity in America?

When I started drawing Lupin thirty-six years ago, I was really only supposed to draw him for 3 months. It was more of only a contract project. At the end of that 3 months, it became popular and I continued drawing it for 10 years. And over that time, I never expected that I'd be invited to America multiple times, to attend these conventions, have so many fans and people that have read my works and have come to talk to me and express their gratitude. It's really an amazing feeling and at the same time it's bizarre in a way. I don't understand the popularity. I'm happy for it, but I don't understand it.

Is there anything you feel Americans may be missing out on in any of your works?

Yes, I do think there are some things that don't come across, especially the humor. There's a lot of Japanese humor that doesn't make it outside of the country and is not felt the same way. However, I think its not just America, I think it's worldwide. I think there are a lot of different cultures that do affect how people interpret my work. But it's not something I really worry about too much.

Any words of advice for those looking to create their own manga?

If I was to give some advice, I would have to say there are a lot of good artists today. But, at the same time my art isn't necessarily the best art there is. I would say “Don't concentrate just on drawing.” It is probably more important is that is to have a story that fits well with modern times, with your day, and to keep that in mind when you draw your work. Also, don't over-concentrate on one thing, try to diversify. Learn a little about many different things, it'll probably help you more in the long run.

For example, when I was younger and I started writing manga, we only had pen and paper. Today, there are all sorts of different mediums with which to express yourself creatively. Although it's important to continue to figure out ways to improve in your chosen medium, be it digital manga, be it traditional manga, I think its more important still to keep your readers in mind, your audience in mind when you create your work.

Your questions are Pretty Tough.

Regarding his early Inspirations

I would probably have to say as far as inspirations are concerned, maybe some of the more famous mystery works, just worldly mystery works. I think they probably helped me out creating my stories quite a bit.

Even things like, you know, Treasure Island or Monte Crisco, I think even those works influenced me quite a bit. I even enjoyed reading about D'Artagnan from the Three Musketeers. It might be my own analysis, but I even feel that Lupin might be very similar to D'Artagnan. M'lady the character that comes out from the D'Artagnan stories, I think that person might even be similar to Fujiko. So, those kinds of works I really think they did affect me at an early age.

In 1967, when the publication of Lupin the 3rd began in Manga Action Weekly, you were also involved with another series called Pinky Punky, was there any pressure working on 2 mangas simultaneously?

Not really, I didn't feel much pressure at all. All my works kind of are similar in a way. I do enjoy making outlaws my main characters. I wrote Pinky Punky as a female outlaw, and even Lupin is an outlaw, so no, I didn't feel much pressure at all. So instead of writing about a heroic character, a good guy, I really enjoy writing about bad guys so much more.

What drew Monkey Punch to the mystery Genre?

Just like I mentioned a little while ago, I really like riddles, puzzles, mysteries and even, you know, the Agatha Christie movies and novels. I like Columbo. I'm a big fan of Mission Impossible so I've even taken hints from those different programs and series and included them in my works.

How did the name Monkey Punch come to be?

To be honest, I don't really like the name Monkey Punch, I never have. Actually, the way I got this name was from the editor of the magazine that discovered me when I was writing doujinshi. He chose the name for me. I really don't know how he came up with it, but I couldn't really refuse him or disagree with him, so it just kind of stuck, and I've been stuck with it now for 36 years.

Actually my editor told me just keep the name for a year, keep writing for a year and then we could figure things out, so I was like “Ok”. So, I wrote for a year, then Lupin became popular and I couldn't give up the name, so now it's stuck for 36 years. As I mentioned earlier, Lupin was originally supposed to be a 3 month project, had Lupin not become successful I'm sure that after less than a year that name would have disappeared.

Katou Kazuhiko Answers a quesion
What is it like to see your creation, Lupin, Animated?

I'm happy to see that it's been animated, however anime and manga are quite different and when a company approaches and asks to create an animation of my work, I really just want them to create something that is good. I'd like to leave the animating to the animators, the professionals. It's not my field of expertise and so when it comes down to it, I'm pretty much, well, “Make it good,” and I leave it up to them. So, you know, the directors will go ahead and make their own Lupin and add a twist to their own Lupin character and I enjoy watching those.

I particularly like Miyazaki's Castle of Cagliostro. I really enjoy that work and I just like him and another famous manga artist in Japan, Testegawa-sama, their works, I enjoy them from a distance. I don't try to do it myself; I enjoy it from a distance.

What was it like to direct your own Lupin Movie?

I really don't want to talk about this too much.

Basically, in the case of Dead or Alive, which is the movie I directed, it wasn't something I wanted to do on my own. I was approached to do it, we were on a real tight time-crunch. The movie was produced in 5 months and basically it was decided that this movie was going to be made and they didn't have a director so I unwillingly accepted the role. However I feel it was the voice actors and the other people involved in the project that saved it.

The one thing I learned from doing this is that, more than even myself drawing manga by myself, it took more than a thousand times the energy to produce and direct this movie. And I really don't want to do it again.

Regarding any new anime or manga Monkey Punch is developing?

It's not a TV series, or anything right now, but there is something new that I'm working on. In Osaka, there is a national citizen's museum. In 2004 there is going to be an Arabian Nights display and I'm creating an animation for that. It's actually going to be done in Computer Graphics, CG, and NHK is producing it. So I'm sure it will be ultimately broadcast on NHK, but for now it'll be at the exhibition.

There are pretty good stories in Arabian Nights and this one is about a black horse. It's currently about 50% finished. There's actually a portion of that, that they are talking about making 3-D where you would need the special glasses.

What kind of information can visitors find at your website, MonkeyPunch.com?

Right now, it hasn't been updated in a while, there's not a lot of new information you gain from the site, however my plans for it in the future, probably the next two years is to have a digital manga series on it. Me personally, I'm more in the preparation stage, getting ready to do this project, so please, look forward to it.

One of the dreams I have, one of the things I would really like to see happen in the future, is more of a collaborative effort using the internet community getting other artists in Japan and perhaps from other countries to come together and create a masterpiece.

What is J-Mac (Japanese Manga Artists Club)?

It's kind of an interesting thing, J-Mac. It wasn't really ever meant to be a club, it wasn't a group I formed to invite people in, its more a couple of people I knew who were using Macs to do artwork and I gave them a call, and say, hey, want to get together for a little bit, and before you knew it, it had 1500 members! They're not all manga artists, they're just people that are into art on the Mac, but that's kind of what it is.

There's something else I would like to let everyone know about, in addition to J-Mac there is something else I created called Digital Manga Group. This is a group where I've invited many professional manga artists including Leiji Matsumoto of Galaxy Express 999, Gō Nagai of Devil Man and Cutey Honey, Terasawa Buichi of Cobra and Goku: Midnight Eye, Tsukasa Hōjō of City Hunter and a female artist by the name of Sato Naka. We're in the preparation stage, but this is a completely professional digital manga group I've brought together and hopefully we'll be able to create some fantastic things for everybody. And ultimately I'd like this to expand beyond the borders of Japan to other countries to other professional comic book artists that want to use the digital medium. I would love for them to come and join our group. Sony and various game companies have taken an interest in our group; they want to learn a lot more about us, so we're just now starting talks with them. So hopefully, this will be something big.

Do you have any plans to retire?

No plans whatsoever; I'll draw manga until I die! It may not be on paper, it may be on the computer. I've actually gone back to university studying digital art, digital computers further to hopefully further my self and hopefully further a movement in Japan for digital manga. I will continue writing until I die.

Please note that Anime News Network has refined the translation. Mr. Nawrocki is a fine translator, but on the spot translations are difficult and require editing if they are to be published. We have also paraphrased the questions (but not the answers) posed by other reporters.

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