by Evan Miller,
We're in the middle of the convention season here in North America, and among all the chaos, dancing, and photo taking I've been seeing in the hallowed halls of AX and Otakon, I'm once again reminded of the big differences between anime fans here and their Japanese counterparts. At the Japanese fan-run "conventions," which usually last for hours instead of days and feature few or no panel activities (or guests of honor for that matter), you'll never see a conga line, a saxophone player, a large group of people yelling, and no one knows (or cares) who Rick Astley is. Even the concept of Cosplay is radically different; at many Japanese events, cosplayers are required to stay in a certain area of the event hall and must pay a fee for the privilege. However, there is one major similarity: the Artist Alley. Both Japanese and North American events feature halls where amateur artists gather to sell fan art, get feedback, and promote their skills. In recent years, thanks to products like DELETER and Copic markers, fans on both sides of the Pacific even have access to the same kinds of materials for creating manga, doujinshi, and other items.
Unfortunately for the artists in North America, the similarities end there. While huge Japanese publishing firms employ hundreds of people to search for new talent to write manga for the over 300 manga magazines Japan publishes each month, North American artists have a much tougher time getting noticed. The number of anime and manga publications in the US can be counted on one hand, and many of those magazines are already publishing translated Japanese manga. That leaves aspiring manga artists here in the states with few options: crowded portfolio reviews, Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga contest, and the hope that some publishing company (most of whom are struggling financially due to the state of the industry) will notice their skills.
So: in the interest of giving the amazing talent within our own borders a little help, ANN is launching a weekly column to showcase the work of artists who have lots of skills, but could certainly benefit from some more exposure. We call it...
Of course, as the case of our first featured artist illustrates, a Rising Stars of Manga win doesn't always guarantee that the struggle to pay the bills comes to an end.
(Original work for The Gallery)
Many of the manga creators and artists I've met at cons in the US have a set of obligations that keep them from pursuing their love of art full time. Some hold down full-time jobs, while many others are stuck in classes and labs for half of their day. One can see why: art is rarely viewed as a "real job" by discerning parents and counselors, and the pull of the money and security that comes with working in the "real world" can be overwhelming. For Lanny Liu, a graduate of San Francisco's Academy of Art, the "real world job" doesn't hold a whole lot of appeal.
"I worked as a waitress in high school. That was the last time I had a 'real world' job," admits Liu, who is currently committing all of her time to her artwork. However, she admits that the work requires a lot of optimism: "I'm lucky that I can do art full time, even though I'm not making money from it. It's an uphill battle, that's what I always say!"
Lanny Liu's big break came last year, when her short story I'll Be Waiting won Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga contest in the Romance category. Since then, she's been tapped to do illustrations for a cookbook and an RPG book, as well as work on various backgrounds and comic illustrations as a professional freelance artist. As she tells it, Liu's interest in art seems almost pre-destined: "I've always been drawing and writing stories, ever since I was little. I always knew I would end up doing something with art in my life."
So why manga?
"I was interested in all kinds of art at first; I even went into fashion design for a while. But when I first saw Sailor Moon, I was hooked. I decided to go completely into manga." Although Liu is quick to mention Naoko Takeuchi's famous work as an early influence, it was the nature of manga in general that kept her interested. "Manga opened up a new world for me. I've always been drawing and writing stories, and when I found manga, it felt like I found the perfect medium to do both."
Of course, as the artworks displayed on this page show, Liu's work is not limited solely to the pencil strokes and voice bubbles of manga. "I can work with all sorts of mediums, thanks to art school. I tend to favor using watercolors because I like the feeling of how it looks." She's quick to admit that there are mediums that she avoids because of the time involved. "I used to like acrylics, but watercolor can look just as good and doesn't take as much time. With acrylics, I feel like I'm getting tired or bored sometimes." Still, she considers herself somewhat old-fashioned: "I use the [software program] Painter sometimes, but I usually stick to watercolors," adding with a laugh, "At heart, I'm a traditionalist."
As the samples here show, Liu is no stranger to drawing gorgeous, sweeping vistas and regal looking heroines. However, the artist also admits that her own style, in her eyes, is always changing. When selecting the pieces for display in today's column, she mentioned that, "I couldn't decide what works to pick because I think I am in a transitional period." She added, "I feel like I am changing and growing as an artist. You caught me at a moment in that change, so sometimes I feel like most of my old work doesn't properly represent where I am as an artist today." If the works displayed here are just the past, this columnist is pretty excited about what the looking the future holds.
ANN: What kind of setting did you have in mind for Romantique? What about that setting appeals to you?
Lanny Liu: It's generally a fantasy setting, which was intentional - it was a commission piece, and the person wanted a kind of Yoshitaka Amano feel to it. I was really going for a general fantasy setting; no particular meaning, just castles, and clouds. When I drew it, I really liked how it turned out, so I kept a scan for my profile. The original is long gone though... (laugh)
ANN: Caged Bird seems to convey so many things; longing, privilege, perhaps romance. What was the inspiration for the piece?
LL: The title of this piece is pretty straightforward, the girl is pretty much like a caged bird. The drawing is inspired by story that I have been kind of working on but have not been able to complete. The girl is basically – I don't want to give the story away – she's trapped in this privileged space. She's a ruler/queen-type figure, but she's lonely because she cannot leave her position. The rose comes from a person who “invades” her life, so to speak, and she stares at it longingly because it represents the feelings of freedom that she longs for.
ANN: You did Romantique in 2006 and Caged Bird this year. How has your approach to the medium of painting and watercolor changed since the time you drew Romantique?
LL: Cage was more personal; more in tuned to me, whereas the girl who commissioned Romantique is actually in the picture! (laughs) As far as painting goes, my approach hasn't changed; it's just become faster.
ANN: What inspired the coloring on Rosy? I really like the "sunset" look of the piece...
LL: I was inspired by looking through a fashion magazine. I saw pictures of a Kate Moss fashion shoot where she was shot against the sunset, and right then, I wanted to create that same kind of “backlit” feeling in a painting. I was in an artistic slump at the time, but when I saw that photo, it was as if a fire was re-ignited in me.
"I'll Be Waiting"
ANN: You won The Rising Stars of Manga "Best Romance" category with I'll Be Waiting, and the judges mentioned in the intro that your use of space and tones. What inspired those creative decisions?
LL: I was very inspired by the Bride of the Water God manhwa. The way that the work is set up inspired me to aim for a "softer" art style, and from there things just fell into place. In my eye, I saw how everything should go – the pacing, the lighting... everything. The plot was inspired by a Chinese folk tale that I first heard about 7 years ago, where a captive woman jumps off the tower and turns into butterflies as she falls. I wanted to tell that story in my own way.
ANN: What inspired you to go from the flowing beauty of romance in I'll Be Waiting to the jarring approach to relationships and "mature" content in Ginger?
LL: I like to try a lot of different stories and styles. I'll Be Waiting is a style I wanted to experiment with, and I probably won't revisit that style much. However, Ginger reflects my personality more – I have an odd sense of humor, and my mind is in the gutter! My best friend, who's a redhead, not only inspired the story but mentioned that she saw an episode of South Park where the redheaded characters are inhuman beings called "Ginger." Building on that idea, I liked the idea of flipping around other concepts - stereotypes about who the "dominant" characters are and so on. Making the female characters dominant – I think it reflects my own personality a lot. It was a piece I wrote for my own personal amusement with the intention of pleasing myself and no one else. I think that's why it's crazier than anything else I've ever done.
ANN: Tell us about how you came up with some of the character designs for Ginger, and what kind of people or things inspired them.
LL: Like I said, Ginger was inspired by my redheaded best friend. Other than that, there's no real inspiration except for the characters' names. The characters are named after actual friends or something similar to their real names. Aside from their names, their character designs were created without much deep thought. I just wanted the guy to be geeky, and I wanted to make sure that Jasmine's character was as "cool" as possible. She's kind of responsible person, but she's also cast into a dominant role where she's just doing her job. That's just what she does; she makes sure the guys go where they're supposed to go.
If you want to check out Lanny's work for yourself, here's where to go:
Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga Volume 7 includes the entirety of I'll Be Waiting. Ginger is currently serialized on Wirepop. Of course, there's also Lanny's webpage, which has a gallery that features some of the works seen here and more.
That's all for this week! Be sure to drop us a few comments about the column and the artworks displayed on the forums!
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? Well then, do something about it! Submit two links to your work (no file attachments please! File attachments shall be fed to the starving Stray Cats that live near my apartment) to evan [at] animenewsnetwork dot com, and you could be featured in a future Gallery column! Isn't that something?
All works © Lanny Liu.
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