by Evan Miller,
Happy Turkey Day, Americans! I'm still in Japan, so I'm probably going to settle for a different kind of thanksgiving dinner... I'm thinking that the Indian Buffet down the street might be the way to go. All-you-can-eat Naan is a nice way to celebrate any holiday.
My guest this week is a Rising Stars of Manga alum from Washington who is currently publishing a very dark (and hilarious) webcomic involving toilets. No, seriously. Join me in welcoming...
The Color to Remember Me By
Cari was born and raised in Alaska until she moved to the Pacific Northwest with her family. Growing up, her favorite moment of the day was usually when her mother would read stories to her, which sparked an interest in storytelling early in her life. Surprisingly, art was not on Cari's radar until she was about 9, when an art teacher at her school showed her a few illustrations from the Walt Morey story Kavik the Wolf Dog. The storyline appealed to her nostalgia for Alaska and the Iditarod dogsled race, and it wasn't long before Cari was drawing animals, nature, and other scenes - not to mention bringing the characters in her mind out and letting them loose on paper. "I didn't know anyone in my town," recalls Cari, "so in my boredom I would sit around and dream up characters and scenarios in my mind." Once she was more settled in Washington, one of her new friends exposed her to the world of manga through Sailor Moon. While the art style and the story of Naoko Takeuchi's classic appealed to her, the second manga she picked up was a hint at where her own work was going to go. "After Sailor Moon, I picked up Blade of the Immortal," recalls Cari, who made a habit of following both action manga and the fluffy world of shōjō. Her interest in manga grew through high school, when she became a fan of Red River (which, according to Cari, is "the only series with a heroine you never want to strangle") and the manhwa Demon Diary. By the time she was finishing up high school, her art style had developed to the point that she was creating mostly original work featuring her own characters. After high school, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offered her a scholarship, and she was off to Georgia. "I can't imagine what life would have been like without going to SCAD," says Cari, who credits art school with helping her diversify her style and develop an appreciation for European artists like Rembrandt, Da Vinci and Friedrich Cloister. "I've never had my breath taken away so quickly," says Cari, recalling the moment she first saw Cloister's work and how it influenced the tone of her own work. Although college was a mostly positive experience for the aspiring artist, she admits that it brought with it a collection of odd moments and challenges. "I went through a horrible phase where I decided to try inking superhero comics," admits Cari, who gave up on that pursuit after two months. Things got truly rough when she developed tendonitis, which forced her to stop inking and redevelop her style by toning artwork in pencil. "Eventually, I got to the point where I didn't need inks, and really liked the grit of pencil work," says Cari, who has only recently started reintroducing inking into her work.
Birds of Carousel
It seems only fitting that Cari's current style is best described as a marriage of dark hues, European-styled architecture, manga-styled expressions and detailed character designs. Her sequential work is not just a reminder of how her art style has developed, but also how much storytelling still plays a role in her work. "Even though I've been taught how to use perspective grids for developing a piece, I still draw the characters in the piece before anything else," says Cari. "I think the grids can make the background look a little sterile. I like to design the background as if it were a character itself. A setting should have personality; I've lived a lot of places and I think it's important to appreciate the character of a background." To bring such backgrounds to life, Cari usually opts for using watercolors over coloring digitally in Photoshop (which she uses for her webcomics to save time). "Watercolor has a mind of its own," says Cari. "It can make a piece messy, but that's why it's great." Carrying elements over from her one-shot illustrations, she soon translated her skills into success as a sequential artist when she was selected as one of the winners for Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga contest - a win that she credits with helping open a few doors. "My editor, Hope Donovan, helped me improve a lot of elements in my work," recalls Cari, who experimented with her storytelling style and the expressions of her characters a bit after Donovan encouraged her to do so.
Bolstered by the support of those around her, Cari's most current work, Toilet Genie, is a sign of just how far she has come. Although it is odd to say that a comic series involving toilets in its title is a solid representation of an artist's style, the series fits Cari's personality well; the comic itself is equal parts hilarity, fantasy, macabre, and solid storytelling. The comic follows the misadventures of a pug that is chased into an abandoned bathroom in a scene that looks like Dracula's castle crossed with the bowls of a New York City subway station. The dog accidentally releases a Genie from his slumber, and after "wishing" for the prerequisite scratch on the butt, wishes for the love of her master - who chased her into the bathroom in the first place. The wish turns the pug into a human female, who is then sent to look for her "master." The story itself draws on a smorgasbord of inspirations that go beyond the realm of art. The pug in the story was inspired by a pug owned by one of Cari's friends, while the clothes donned by the Genie were inspired by her former roommate, who hailed from India. The fantastical elements of the story don't ever get too far ahead of themselves; Cari does her best to keep her scenes looking as dark and, in her words, "disgusting" as possible. "Toilets are an amusing yet natural part of life," says Cari, describing one of the central elements of the tale. "I'm not drawn to fantasy as much because it isn't realistic; I like to keep things based in our world in one way or another." She also admits that the character development for the story, much like her other characters, sat in her mind for a while before coming to life on paper. "Usually character ideas sit in my head for years," says Cari, "but it didn't take nearly as long for this one to come to life."
Toilet Genie (Chapter 1, 21-22)
Now, with her Rising Stars win and college in the rearview, Cari is pressing on with the work she enjoys so much. She plans to self-publish a print version of the first part of Toilet Genie in March 2010, and will also be a part of the forthcoming anthology Art for the World to raise money for breast cancer research. The publication of Genie represents a very special milestone for Cari: "It's been my lifelong goal to print my own comic. It's nice to be going in this direction, but working with a publisher would be nice as well." Regardless of how her art gets into the hands of the public, Cari is committed to improving her skills more so that she may more easily bring more of the character concepts she has in mind to life. "There's never a shortage of character ideas in my mind," says Cari. "They usually develop a story on their own in my head!" While some people may like their manga with cute, bright imagery, for those readers out there that appreciate a darker, sarcastic, imaginative look at their world, Cari will be there to provide them with more reading material for years to come.
Cari Corene: TG is set in Savannah, GA. One of my endeavors with comics is to also record an interesting setting for my characters to exist in. I've lived in many fascinating places - Alaska, Washington, Georgia, and recently Los Angeles. Savannah is one of the most naturally beautiful civilized places I've ever seen, with its ancient live oak trees, colonial architecture, and ornate graveyards. It is also a severely haunted city. The look and architecture in TG are taken straight from Savannah; the color choices are almost subconscious choices after living there. Chapter One's blues and half light are the shadow that falls before a hurricane comes to shore.
ANN: Tell us a bit more about how your process for developing a story has changed since you first started writing and drawing. Have you ever felt as if you were "stuck" while developing a story, and if so, how did you get things back on track?
Cari: The big difference is after SCAD, I now go through the entire scripting and thumbnailing process. Stories I drew prior to SCAD were badly planned and very confusing to read because of a lack of preplanning. When I'm stuck, I just draw something else. In fact, there were two very large stories I was developing shortly before TG. I got stuck while working on each of them. And so I moved to the next thing, and the next - but when TG was in my head, it didn't get stuck. I scripted the first chapter and felt good about it, so I started drawing it. I'm now scripting the second and third chapters (the story ends at 3). Sometimes I've felt stuck with chapters 2 and 3, and I've skipped over it to write a short story about something else and then come back to the offending portion of TG. In this way, the plot has worked itself out gradually. I must now figure out how to panel it, which is the bigger battle...
ANN: Much of the art you submitted features animals - dogs in particular - rather prominently. What inspired your inclusion of animal characters, and how do you think they reinforce the themes you like to include in your work?
Cari: Dogs are a symbol of fidelity. I think I have an affinity for them because of their faithfulness. It's a quality I am constantly at war with, because I am an intensely faithful, enduring person. I often hate that part of my personality and want to quit, but I stubbornly hang on just for the sake of hanging on. More often than not, it is a good thing, but there are a handful of instances in my life regarding relationships and projects where I wish I had understood how horrible the situation was and dropped it entirely immediately. Dogs are also a key part of the Iditarod, my first childhood passion. I've had four dogs in my life and loved them all. <3 My current dog is Molly, an Aussie shepherd with one brown eye and one blue.
ANN: You had to overcome a bout with tendonitis to keep on going in art school. What kind of advice would you offer to other artists that find themselves in a similar predicament?
Cari: Whatever you're doing, drop it immediately and let your body rest. My professors and editors had no pity on me; they told me if I stopped working, they would flunk me or the book would not go to print. Well, if I could do it over, I would punch those people in the face and flunk. I don't want to bore anyone with my angst. In summary: I have turned down several jobs, even one or two dream jobs because now, even three years later, I barely have the health to do one page a week. What was the point of going to art school if I haven't got the health to hold a job? If you ever find yourself with hand, wrist, and arm pain, it's going to be awful, but you must stop immediately and rest. These tendons and ligaments take as long as a bone to mend. After that, do physical therapy and massage therapy. A combination of the two are what has finally allowed me to work again. If you address the problem immediately, it isn't the end of all things.
ANN: What do you think has changed most about your drawing style since your Rising Stars win? What kind of criticisms did you have to face before, during, and after the contest, and how did you deal with those criticisms?
Cari: One change has been the inclusion of color. After years of drawing strictly black and white comics, I feel like I've really excelled as a designer, but adding this last dimension to my work almost feels like adding gut instinct and raw emotion to a scenario. The big thing I learned from RSOM has to do with narration, storytelling, and shot choices. Namely, it was finally drilled into my head that you MUST tell a story chronologically OR you need some sort of narration, caption, or speech to indicate how a non-chronological scene fits chronologically with what the reader has just read. This sort of thing doesn't naturally come to me. For the past two years I've been devouring any sort of storytelling I haven't yet seen. My big discoveries have been the first "Alien" movie (a lighting and pacing masterpiece), a Palestinian indie film called "Private" (an intensely emotional story that contains nearly none of the conventional American entertainment standards like guts and sex), Marvel's "Identity Crisis" (a story organized not chronologically, but by an idea), and porn. Yes, porn. How do you get a physical reaction out of a viewer without any plot, just shot choices? It's a challenge. After watching a large amount of porn, I've gotten keener at recognizing good and just plain boring shot choices. I feel like for all this research, my work should be better than it is... but oh well. I'm drawing TG because I want to improve, and then the next story will be better.
For those of you in the mood to check out the entire first chapter of Toilet Genie and Cari's other recent comics, visit her official site, Story of the Door. She also maintains a Deviant Art gallery right here. If you would like to support Art for the World, visit their site here.
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 be baked in olive oil and slathered onto mouthwatering pieces of fine prime rib... before being doused in a decadent Hollandaise sauce. How much would you pay for this kind of a meal? Well, let me tell you folks, it's available for the low low price of $13.49 right now at...), to evan [at] animenewsnetwork dot com, and you could be featured in a future Gallery column!
All works © Cari Corene.
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