Audra Furuichi and Scott Yoshinaga
by Evan Miller,
Although many issues seek to divide the anime fan community today (digital fansubs, the moe phenomenon, and a million other things that someone else is probably blogging about as I write this), there is something to be said for the unifying power of "cute." I've seen plush toys carried around cons by fans of all ages and backgrounds, and the broad appeal of creators like Kiyohiko Azuma seems to indicate that most of us have a soft spot for some variety of sugary fluff in our hearts. For me, even though I'm not a huge fan of Sanrio, I can't help but find stuff like this bewitching. I mean, look at those ears. Those things are demanding respect.
This week, we welcome two manga creators who have been a part of the Hawai'ian anime fan community for quite some time. Together, they've created a web comic phenomenon that has earned them significant recognition in their home state and increased attention from fans of "cute" from around the world.
Nemu and Anpan
It's not hard to spot Audra Furuichi and Scott Yoshinaga at one of their convention stops. When I caught up with them at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco, their table was covered with plush replicas of Nemu and Anpan, the two stuffed dogs who serve as the mascots of their popular web comic Nemu*Nemu. As the eyes of the plush, cute figures stared at passers by, Furuichi and Yoshinaga were chatting with other artists and busily attending to sales. While the whimsical adventures of Nemu and Anpan may be unknown to many manga fans, it's impossible to ignore the amount of time, energy, and heart that Furuichi and Yoshinaga have put into their work. Although it takes up a lot of the time and energy this married couple has to give, Nemu*Nemu is still a labor of love for both of them.
Sample (c. 2004) - Audra Furuichi
Audra Furuichi and Scott Yoshinaga both grew up in Hawai'i. Although both of them would take an interest in manga and produce their own work, fate did not bring them together until they had both set off on their own paths through the art world. Furuichi first took an interest in drawing in the fifth grade after being inspired by the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Haruhiko Mikimoto's character designs for the Macross anime. Determined to improve her drawing technique, Furuichi convinced her parents to send her to weekend art classes starting in middle school. Despite her young age, she felt at home in the classes and learned how to work with a wide variety of drawing techniques and media. Although other classes and obligations kept her busy, she kept working on her skills. When she entered college at the University of Hawai'i Manoa, she declared a minor in studio art in addition to a major in Asian Studies.
While attending UH-Manoa, Furuichi experimented with comics by writing a strip for the school paper, the Ka Leo, called Culture Shock (pictured above). Although she preferred to work in illustration and do fan art, she had a knack for drawing comics - a skill that would serve her well with Nemu*Nemu in the future. Her work in comics paid off; in 1999, she received the prestigious Charles Schulz College Cartooning Award, one of the highest honors available to a comic artist working in the world of college newspapers. While she was finishing college, Furuichi decided that she wanted to take her art to a bigger stage - namely, the gigantic anime conventions "on the mainland," such as Anime Expo. For her, the long, expensive trip was not only a chance to promote her work, but also meet friends and other artists she previously met online. Ironically, the trips to the "lower 48" foreshadowed Furuichi's professional future; following graduation, she got a job working on backgrounds for Udon Entertainment and Marvel Comics.
Meanwhile, back in Hawai'i, Scott Yoshinaga was working on his own contributions to the world of art. Much like Furuichi, he grew up working on his art skills from an early age, but in a different field: commercial art and graphics. A fan of Japanese tokusatsu hero shows, Yoshinaga eventually became interested in manga and comics as well. Besides drawing comics in high school, he also authored a comic strip for the Ka Leo when he enrolled at UH-Manoa (The Big Picture, seen below), where he majored in Psychology.
In a particularly ironic moment, Yoshinaga's parents showed him a newspaper article about Furuichi's award, saying "this should be you!" His response? "I thought, 'Ahh, whatever'," remembers Yoshinaga, adding, "of course, I didn't even know Audra then." Although Yoshinaga kept working on his art as a hobby, his work in the world of desktop publishing proved to be the best career move. Even today, he still works with computer systems and web page design for Manoa's Pacific Institute. However, his passion kept him involved in the art community, where he was soon tapped to help put together workshops for a manga artist visiting Hawai'i from Japan. What he didn't realize was how his volunteer activities would not only appeal to his artistic side, but bring him back into the world of art.
As Furuichi continued to work outside Hawai'i, she decided that she wanted to return home to the islands and hunt for jobs. Around this time, her mother showed her an advertisement for a manga drawing contest. Although Furuichi missed the deadline for the contest, she was still intrigued by the contest and later attended a gathering for contest supporters and budding artists. This is where she met one of the volunteers and PR coordinators for the contest: Yoshinaga. Impressed with Furuichi's abilities as an artist, he eventually invited her to be an "art mentor" for kids attending the workshops. Over time, the two grew closer and began dating. Understandably, it wasn't long before the two artists decided that they should pool their talent and create a comic together.
"At first, I had an idea for a dramatic, epic series," says Yoshinaga, who had sketches for the comic ready to go. Furuichi spent most of her energy designing and developing the main characters which, according to Yoshinaga, were "exactly as I had pictured them in my mind." While it was beginning to look like the comic would come together, fate had other plans. Furuichi fell ill, which pulled her away from work and her artwork. Concerned, Yoshinaga bought her a cute stuffed dog toy to keep her company as she got better. The toy was meant to help Furuichi through her ordeal, but it ended up giving her an idea - one that would finally get their comic out there. Why not go with a cuter comic that featured the stuffed dog as a living character? Although Yoshinaga was skeptical of the idea at first, Furuichi provided guidance that, for him, brought the idea alive. After adding another stuffed dog character named Nemu (a name based off the Japanese verb for "to be sleepy"), the comic debuted online in April 2006. Although busy work schedules kept both Furuichi and Yoshinaga from devoting more time to the comic, their success gradually reached a point where Furuichi was able to leave her day job and focus solely on the comic.
The work on the web comic started out slow for the duo, who began the comic in a black and white, top-to-bottom format similar to the 4-panel ("4 koma") manga found in many Japanese manga magazines. While the web comic built an audience, Furuichi and Yoshinaga refined how they put the comic together. "The process for writing the comic starts at dinner, before sleeping, while sitting in the car ...I'll just put ideas out there and Audra will take notes," says Yoshinaga, who also mentioned that "sometimes I hear the voices of the pups in my head." In 2007, the comic switched to a color, high-resolution format that not only made the comic more detailed, but easier to work with for Furuichi, who currently produces the comic digitally with the help of a tablet.
Today, Nemu*Nemu has become a whole lot more than a web comic. After a successful first print run, Furuichi and Yoshinaga have started selling books of the comic and plush replicas of the two main characters. In their native Hawai'i, the duo has appeared as guest speakers at numerous libraries, in addition to an appearance on local TV. However, neither of them consider their work to be done yet. "I think the comic is in a constant state of growth," says Furuichi as Yoshinaga adds, "although it really has truly exceeded out expectations." As Furuichi and Yoshinaga work to bring their series to the rest of the United States, it's a safe bet that the expectations of the fans will continue to be met as the popularity of these two stuffed dogs continues to grow.
ANN: Which one of the characters in nemu nemu reflects your respective personalities best? Has the portrayal of those characters affected how you act in day to day life?
Audra Furuichi: In many ways, I'm both the girls. They are extreme ends of my personality - Anise is very impulsive and very is the "leaps before looking" kind of person. She's pretty boisterous and competitive, but usually lacks the grace or ability to follow things through at times (like her self-made Henshin Rider costume.. that turned out to be a mess!) On the other hand, there's Kana, who's pretty shy and quiet. She's mature for her age and often mentors the pups and keeps Anise in line. She always tries to put her best foot forward at all times and is a perfectionist. Depending on the situation, I fall into either personality. Most people say I look a lot like Kana (possibly due to the glasses), but act like Anise. I liken Scott to the pups - but I think he can best tell you about that! (laugh)
Scott Yoshinaga: In many ways, I guess the pups are a reflection of me. Anpan and Nemu really take me back to my childhood where days were full of wonder. A lot of folks might think Anpan is "angry" or "mean" and Nemu is the "happy" or "nice" pup. While Nemu IS sweet and kind, I feel that Anpan gets a bum rap because he's just misunderstood. He's not angry, mad or mean, he just has a very intense personality. He's not really a deep thinker like Nemu is... Anpan goes with his gut feeling on something and goes for it. That instinctive aggressiveness is part of my personality, but yet I am like Nemu as well when it comes to thinking things through and being patient and calm when things seem to be falling apart around me.
ANN: Could you tell us about the moment when you decided to self publish Nemu Nemu? What are some of the stresses of the self-publication process, and how do you think that process has affected the nature of the comic?
AF: One of the biggest struggles for me was (and still is to a degree) deadlines. I'm not as well-versed in print as Scott is and learned very quickly that huge buffers are needed to ensure a quality product. For Book 1, I started off with about 3 chapters worth of strips to ride on while I had my day job to deal with. That buffer gets eaten quite quickly when you're not looking! We also needed to complete all 12 chapters a few months before our projected release date and that equated a lot of long hours working on strips while Scott was handling book layout. We also had to account for errors in our proofs (preview copies), printing time, shipping, and any other mishaps along the way.
SY: My early background as an artist was in graphic design and print, but when the web came along, I abandoned it almost completely and took on web site work instead. When it came time to do our first volume of collected nemu*nemu comics, I had to "remember" how to do things in print again. From the get go, Audra had been working with very high resolution files when producing the comic. I felt that we should work in high res "just in case" we decided we wanted to compile the comic into a book for print. I'm really glad we did that right off the bat!
AF: Honestly, now I try to have a buffer of strips at all times - especially if we have an event coming up or in book/merchandise production. Switching gears between design and layout to drafting strips can be rather jarring and it slows my process down considerably. But, one of the cons of having a huge buffer is that I feel disconnected from current events and lose some spontaneity.
SY: Self-publishing is a pleasure and a pain at the same time. On one hand you have the incredible freedom to print whatever you want, whenever you want. There's also the satisfaction of knowing you did it all on your own. On the other hand, there's the up front labor and cost of printing that you incur, not to mention the risk of sitting on books that may never sell if your book doesn't take off. Print-on-demand places like Lulu were a great way to learn the ropes of publishing your own book without too much risk and I'm glad I live in an age where technology allows just about anyone to be a publisher.
ANN: Both of you had artistic interests and paths before you met and got married. How do each of the you feel your respective styles - either in drawing, storytelling, or both - have been affected by the "other artist" you are living with?
AF: As the artist, I always struggle with that looming sense of perfection. From the get-go, I really wanted to make this strip "right" - art-wise, story-wise... and learned very quickly that the whole process is a learning experience. Scott always reminds me to balance out the perfectionist in me with the up-and-coming deadlines. In short, "Do the best work you can, with the time you have - and let the rest go". It's a constant struggle for me, but you can visually see my progression from strip #1 to our current arcs. My drawing style has simplified a lot in attempts to keep things consistent and easy to draw. I've really eased into this style and find it comfortable to work in. When the "artistic bug" in me starts scratching, you usually see much more painterly backgrounds and themes in our strips - or the occasional illustration-type cover/print.
Story-wise, Scott's really at the heart of the comic. He comes up with the wacky and off-the-wall themes that I eventually turn into strips. He gives me the freedom to pick and choose which ideas to use and how to depict them, but also helps review my drafts (both dialogue and sketch layouts). His input often sparks new ideas on how to possibly better the strip or story. nemu*nemu is really a collaborative process between the two of us.
SY: I'd really love to get back into drawing again one day but I really need to dedicate time to do it. I guess you can say that I've found my artistic "voice" through Audra. She really has an incredible talent for taking the ideas I have in my head and putting them on paper. I wish I could do it as well as she does, but I can't... so I leave the artwork to her.
Audra has a much wider knowledge of Japanese culture, anime, and manga than I do. She balances me out. While I did dabble in manga and anime when I was in college, my real love while growing up was American comic books. I was an avid collector and a huge fan of various American comic artists and I learned a lot about storytelling through reading all of those comics. I was also a huge fan of "Kikaider" and many other Tokusatsu TV shows that they showed here in Hawaii during the 70's and 80's. We each dabble a bit in our respective fandom and bring those aspects into the comic strip when needed.
ANN: What elements, if any, from your older Ka Leo-era comics do you think are most apparent in Nemu Nemu?
AF: CultureSHOCK! was written from my personal experiences - either I lived them in some way, shape, or form, or friends or people I knew did - albeit exaggerated a bit! In some ways, I incorporate some of my own interests and experiences in our nemu*nemu stories. Scott is a big fan of old tokusatsu shows like Rainbow Man, Kikaider, and Kamen Rider. He had such a wealth of knowledge of the genre that it made it easy to add our our sentai hero, Henshin Rider. I also enjoy cooking and food and you see a lot of really delicious food drawn into our strips.
Mia and Chris from CultureSHOCK! also make a cameo appearance in one of "Hawaiian Ai" arc strips: http://www.nemu-nemu.com/2008/07/02/hawaiian_ai_young_at_heart.php
Also, one of my "trademarks" is the nose-less-ness of my characters. It was something I had a lot of trouble inking properly.. so I left them out completely - thinking they looked cuter that way. ^_^; Somehow even our pups lost their noses in the first year of our strip! However, the girl's noses are starting to appear back into our strips from time to time - usually during more mundane moments. (I often play it by feel.)
SY: I'm not sure there are any elements from my Ka Leo-era comics in nemu*nemu aside from the wackiness. My college cartooning days were fun and I learned a lot doing them. If anything, nemu*nemu allows me to fulfill that dream that I had when I was in 6th grade: becoming a comic creator.
ANN: You mentioned that Hawai'i is where Nemu-Nemu is most popular, and your art seems to reflect a love for the area as well. What do you both like most about the state, and how much influence do you think Hawai'i has had on your comic?
AF: Hawai'i is really home for the both of us. There's something about being here that's so different from everywhere else I've ever traveled to. Most don't get to experience the "local" side of Hawai'i - the unique foods, the huge mix of ethnicities and cultures, the year-round "balmy" weather, the general laid back feel of everyday life, even the language!
There are some words that we bring into our strips like "botcha" - a local term for "bath/wash" based on a Japanese onomatopoeia for the swishing sound of water. Scott and I both used this word regularly when growing up. ^^ On that same token, we try to write in things based on our own childhood into our strip.
SY: I've lived no where else my entire life. Some of the ideas for nemu*nemu are based on experiences I've had growing up in the islands, so in a way you could say that sometimes the characters are reliving my childhood.
Henshin Rider is our take on the Kikaider phenomenon that happened in Hawaii
during the 70's. It was a huge hit and spawned a tokusatsu craze of sorts
for kids growing up here during that time. I believe that Kikaider was much
more popular here in Hawaii than in Japan. Henshin Rider is our tribute to
that time and Anise is the biggest Henshin Rider fan.
If you're interested in checking out the nemu*nemu phenomenon for yourself, the main site for the comic is here. Audra Furuichi's non-nemu work can be found here. There's also a few pieces related to the nemu*nemu comic on deviantArt.
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 will reappear RIGHT BEHIND YOU RUN QUICKLY!), to evan [at] animenewsnetwork dot com, and you could be featured in a future Gallery column!
All works © Audra Furuichi, Scott Yoshinaga and nemu-nemu.com.
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