Interview: Amy Reeder Hadleyby Carlo Santos,
Although her background is in teaching, Amy Reeder Hadley has quickly adapted to the life of a comics artist. She won Tokyopop's 4th Rising Stars of Manga contest and has gone on to create an original manga series, Fool's Gold. The first volume comes out July 2006, and when Amy wasn't running around Anime Expo advertising it with her light-up belt buckle, she sat down with Carlo Santos to talk about her art, her new series, and the philosophy of global manga.
A little personal history first. How did you get interested in comics and manga and start drawing?
I started out getting into Sailor Moon in high school. My senior year in high school, I had a friend who was into Sailor Moon, so that's how I got introduced to it. Although I grew up with Unico—ever heard of Unico?
Yes, vaguely. Didn't they run that on Nick?
It was when I was really little, so I have no clue. But Unico is a Tezuka animation—anyway, I'm in love with it. There's two movies. So, that was my first exposure to anime, but I didn't know. So anyway: senior in high school, I was into Sailor Moon, and then the episodes kind of stopped, and I didn't really get into any other series, because all I ever saw besides that was Ranma and it didn't seem very interesting. I felt so dissatisfied that I started to make up my own little characters in my notebooks and stuff (but they're really bad). I could just draw people standing straight up or to the side. So I went through all of college and just drew these and never improved, until I got out and learned how to draw on the computer and actually cared enough to learn really fast.
Now that you're a signed artist working with Tokyopop, making OEL or Global Manga, what do you think it has to offer that Japanese manga doesn't do, or that Western comics doesn't do?
I think that it's all about mixing cultures and mixing influences, because the longer that a certain type of influence stays within itself, the more stale and inbred it can become. I'm not trying to say that Japanese manga is stale or inbred—but to keep it growing, I think that it's a healthy thing for other people to be influenced by it.
So you think that when foreign creators are adapting manga into their work, then it makes it branch out?
Yeah. I think that's what makes manga so great, that that's how it started out. I think that every manga artist—in Japan, or in the US, or anywhere—they want to do manga because they feel somewhat dissatisfied with it. Honestly. Otherwise, they'd be happy to just go buy it. So there's some reason that they want to make something, and they want to make it exactly the way that they feel it lacks.
For me, I guess that I want more shoujo that is really deep and doesn't feel ... I guess it's hard to explain, but I just want better plots. It's why I wanted to make my own.
Do you feel that this is about "wanting to be Japanese," or does that even come into the equation at all?
It doesn't, because—I feel kind of ashamed, but I don't even know enough about Japanese culture. I probably know a lot more about Korean culture, Taiwanese culture, than I do about Japanese culture. I just had Pocky for my first time the other day. [Laughs] I feel that manga—it does have Japanese tastes and stuff, but I really feel it extends past the culture, and that's what attracts me to it. It isn't the uniqueness and foreignness of it; it's just that I have so much in common with it.
So it's not really about the coolness of Japan, but it's just that the visual language itself is interesting to you?
Yeah. I thought about learning Japanese because I love foreign languages, and because it would be fun to read manga before it gets here, but besides that, it's not because I'm ... I am fascinated with Japan, but just as much as many other Asian countries and foreign countries.
So now that these artists are out here, getting published, what do you think the next move is going to be within the next few years for these companies and these publishers?
I really think that it'll be mostly improvement in our own industry and acceptance. I think that it might be kind of slow, but it's definitely going to happen.
Speaking of acceptance, how do you feel about Internet "haters"?
Bah. Meh. [Laughs] I don't know—I've heard it so many times that I guess it doesn't really faze me too much, because people have the choice to make the judgments that they want. I think that eventually it'll break its own barriers. At first it really bothered me, and for some reason I felt tempted (regardless of the fact that it bothered me) to go to all these different forums and read all the mean things that people had to say. I guess I'd hoped to hear one of them say, "But Fool's Gold is the exception!" [Laughs]
You know what I mean? I was kind of bigheaded about it. But after a while, I stopped doing that, and I realized that I really didn't care. I definitely do think that all of it is wrong—and some of it can be very close-minded—but the thing that bothers me, that does still bother me, is when people question our motives about "cashing in." That's the one thing that bothers me. They can say that we're wannabes, and they can say that we're not talented, but to say that we're doing this just because we see that it's popular and we want to jump in and get some of that, is just ... that's where it is kind of offensive. This is something that, first of all, doesn't give us much money, and secondly, is something that we're so passionate about, that it really hurts to hear that.
Your new book Fool's Gold has just come out. Tell us about it, and why people should buy it and read it.
It's about a girl named Penny who's an aspiring fashion designer, and she comes to the realization that all girls are drawn towards jerks, so she forms an underground club to identify those jerks and basically ban girls from going out with them. She puts them through a ritual and tries to train them to go out with good guys, and so rid girls of their addiction. One thing I do want to point out is that it is not a guy-bashing book. It's hard for me, because I really want to talk about the book and what it really is, and I have the premise, but it doesn't really say what it is because my book is very satirical. In telling anything, I feel like I'm going to give away what it is. Penny has a lot of learning to do, basically [laughs], and that's what it's about.
I think the thing that it has to offer is that it really does have some depth to it, as you read along in the series.
I noticed that it sounds very shoujo-ish, if you just describe the premise straight out, but how is it different?
Story-wise, I think it's a lot more like a high school film, like movies that are set in high school. I think it has a lot more to do with those story-wise than shoujo. I think the way that I tell it, though, is more like comics.
I see. So, translating one medium to another?
It's like, the plot is film, but then the way it's told, is comics.
So with all that drawing, it must take a lot of time, but do you ever have time to read other comics, and what are your favorites?
I really don't have much time to read comics; it's too bad. My favorite comic is Paradise Kiss, by far. I think that it's heads above most manga that I've read, just because the people are so deep and complex, and I love the way they interact, and I think it really has something to offer that other's don't. I like other ones mildly, to be quite honest.
I mean, that might offend people, but, I like Tramps Like Us, and I'm getting into Nana, and there's just a few that I like. I'm trying my best to branch out of shoujo, because—to be quite honest—I haven't done that much, and it's kind of a bad thing. I'm also trying my best to branch out and learn about American comics. Right now the only series that I've followed is Runaways, which I absolutely love. And that's a little bit more manga than I think is typical of Marvel and all that.
Do you read other OEL series and who are your favorite artists there?
Yes, and actually, those are probably the ones I read the most of, and I really do like those a lot. Dramacon's really good ...
Everyone says so!
Everyone knows that [laughs]. I don't know ... I feel bad because I don't want to pick out some and then forget others, but let me think. I am really excited about Go With Grace, and—I don't know, I really like them all. In fact, I enjoy them more than I enjoy most manga. They're a lot closer than Paradise Kiss in my heart, honestly.
Do you think being able to get to know the artists and meet them has some sort of influence on that?
I think it does. I think it kind of spoils it in a way, though, because I end up knowing more about their story. For instance, there's the previews online and stuff, and to be quite honest, I'd rather read it all in one sitting. I like to be surprised. One thing that's kind of tough is that I've seen a lot of their stories, and things coming to fruition, and I know all their characters so I think it kind of spoils it for me. But it's too tempting to look at it, so I can't keep myself away from it. So I think that almost hurts it. [Laughs]
Since it's like a little community, and other artists are creating this original manga, what have you learned from them and taken from others as you've been getting to know each other?
Oh my goodness, I've learned so much. That's how I improved quickly in art—that's one of the big things, just being online and being able to interact with really good artists, learning a lot.
Rivkah, I know, has helped me a ton, just reading a lot of stuff, that helped me a lot. I learned a lot about toning from her, and she had some helpful critiques of my stuff early on that really helped me out. She actually once said that I had a lack of detail, so you can see what that did to me—so that helped me a lot. And then later on, they helped me learn how to get into the industry, and they've made me be more competitive, of course. I'm a very competitive person. Even though I really like them all, and they're my friends and everything—watching them be really awesome makes me be ...
Want to be awesome-r?
Yeah, basically. Some people don't really like that, but yeah. I am so competitive, and that's really how this whole thing started, because of Rising Stars of Manga. I wouldn't have done it without that, because I was like: "Competition!" Just seeing that there was a competition made me very motivated.
Right. Anything else you'd like to say?
[Long pause] No, I can't think of anything! [Laughs] I'll probably walk away and regret something.
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