I originally planned to call this “Kayarath’s Adventures in Ambush Interviewing” but I’m trying to cut back on click bait sounding titles. While it was arranged at the last minute, it turned out be an in depth discussion about manga. I expected nothing less when I interviewed manga otaku Jason Thompson during Anime Fan Fest. Note that some grammar editing had to be done to ensure readability. You might want to grab a drink before you start because this will take a while…
Kayarath: Please introduce yourself.
Jason Thompson: Hey, my name is Jason Thompson. I was an editor at Viz for ten years. I wrote the book, “Manga: The Complete Guide” after that. I’m currently a manga editor for Otaku USA magazine and I written for a bunch of sites, including Anime News Network. I’m also an illustrator and comic artist.
K: Cool. Talking about being a comic artist, when is volume three of King of RPGs coming out?
JT: Oh, my gosh. This is an ambush interview.
JT: Unfortunately, King of RPGs has ended. We decided to retire it. It kind of was caught up in the collapse of OEL (original English language) manga around the time when TokyoPop and Del Rey stopped doing their OEL manga lines. It came out at probably the worst time for any manga really; at the end of 2009/beginning of 2010. It was just around when Borders closed. It kind of got caught up in that sadly. It is a shame; because I really loved working on it, and I’m really proud of the characters and the story. I think we’ll leave King of RPGs where it ended; with the characters driving off into the sunset, in search of new adventures.
K: Well that’s good, or bad. Business happens…
K: So what’s it like being a “herald of manga”?
JT: Did you say a herald of manga?
JT: I like that. It sounds like one of the Heralds of the Apocalypse, which is very appealing. You know, I’m just a person who likes manga. I’m an otaku so I enjoy knowing about stuff, and I enjoy categorizing and discovering things. I always really loved the storytelling of Japanese comics specifically. I’m happy that the manga market is doing better then it was a couple of years ago. That it seems that manga isn’t going any where. It’s always cool to go to conventions and talk to people online and realize that people are discovering new manga like Tokyo Ghoul, or Food Wars. I guess people are still discovering Attack on Titan. Now even Jojo’s, which I loved since the nineties, is now popular in the U.S. It’s really an amazing time.
K: Why is Jojo’s so popular and meme generating?
JT: Well, it’s really different from everything else, right? It’s obviously got an individual art style. If you look at a lot of manga; let’s say if you take World Trigger for an example. The story’s really good and people love it. But in terms of art, it’s a lot like other manga. But Jojo’s is very unique. Because he divided the story into parts with different heroes, he managed to keep sort of a continuity going and have sort of a universe almost like in Marvel or DC Comics; but he doesn’t have the thing where it’s like its been going on for like 90 volumes and its like “Oh no, you defeated the King of the Universe before, now you have to defeat the Emperor of the Universe!” He manages to keep it fresh and when the characters finish their story arc, they retire and sort of go away like Joseph and Jotaro. They did awesome stuff; and then time for a new story! There’s not a lot manga that manage to do that.
K: You probably read a lot of it.
JT: I try.
K: How many volumes do you read per week, on average?
JT: I don’t know. That’s a tough question. I kinda read manga in burst. For the manga I’m a Hero, I’ll forgot about that for a while; then I’ll read another four or five volumes when I’m reminded that it exists. I don’t have a consistent schedule. I try to keep up with things that I like. I really like Crunchyroll’s online service. I really enjoy that. It’s a shame they don’t do a manga only service because I may have been one of the few subscribers for that. And now it has to be everything.
K: I understand. I guess you have to read a lot of manga since you are the manga editor of Otaku USA?
K: What’s that like?
JT: Fun. It’s good to keep up with everything that’s coming out. I don’t review everything myself. I often give the things I’m less interested in to other people to review. I’m not so interested in manga that are based on light novels. I’m more interested in manga that are original stories that come out of manga.
K: What would be the different between manga based of light novels and original manga?
JT: Well, with stories that are based on light novels, I’m not getting the original material. It’s like I’m watching a movie adaption of something. I feel like I really should go back and read the original book. With light novels, I feel that if I really cared, I really should go read the original light novel. But I’m not that into light novels. I’m not interested in the story telling and the style. But there’s a lot of that coming out lately. That’s one current trend I’m not so in to, because for me it’s all about the manga.
K: That’s good. Since you are the manga editor of Otaku USA, you’re a guest at Anime Fan Fest, talking with me right now. Isn’t this your first east coast con in a long time?
JT: It is! I don’t think I’ve been out to an east coast anime con… man, it’s been a long time. It’s been embarrassingly long. Let’s just leave it at that.
K: You live on the west coat so it’s understandable.
JT: Yeah. I like Sakuracon and Fanimecon.
K: Have any particular opinions on this con?
JT: Yeah, it’s really nice. I think it’s really cool that they’re doing a co-branding with Otaku USA. I seen a lot of great panels. Like Charles Dunbar’s panel; his historical panels are great. Mike Toole’s panels are incredible. I frustratingly missed all of Daryl Stuart’s panels but I really want to see some of them. There’s a lot of cool people here. It seems like its gonna be here next year so I’m excited for it.
K: One of the things that makes Anime Fan Fest different is that the panels have a lot of insider information because most of them are run by knowledgeable guests; like you!
JT: Yeah! I’m happy I got to be here. I actually never meet so many people from anime Twitter in one place.
K: (chuckles) You did a lot of panels here, and I missed most of them because I’m lame.
JT: What? Not at all!
K: What was some of the panels that you did?
JT: I’m only doing three panels this convention. I applied for four. I was gonna do a panel on Japanese gaming, and tabletop gaming specifically. They didn’t have space for that one. I did a panel on art and self publishing with Tommy Yune and Liz Jimenez. I did the Mangaka panel that you were at. In two hours I’m doing the Best and Worst Manga of 2016 featuring Daryl Stuart and AM Cosmos! So that is really exciting and I’m looking forward to them.
K: Sadly, your advertising here won’t help because this will be published after the con.
JT: Yes, but you can go to the panel and tell everyone how awesome it was. You should put an editorial note here telling everyone how awesome it was. (Editorial note: it was okay)
K: You said one of your panels was about Mangaka: The Game, which you created.
K: Tell me more about that!
JT: Mangaka, the fast and furious game of drawing comics! It’s kind of like Pictionary for comics, with a manga theme. Basically, you get to play as a manga artist and create weird crazy comics. Each round you’ll have five minutes to draw a page of a comic. The time limit is to actually make it more accessible to people who can’t draw. With that little amount of time, you have to draw stick figures. It sort of levels the playing field. The cards are about different themes of anime and manga. For example; friendship or desire for revenge or giant monsters or military or body pillows; and you mix them up to make a comic. You also have to deal with trends that are becoming popular like cute stuff, shojo manga, shonen manga, horror, violence, science fiction and so on. Me and my wife have been working on it for four years. It’s finally coming out in August from Global Games Distribution and we’re super excited about it.
K: I’ll probably get that when it comes out; at my local gaming store.
JT: You should link to Global Games Distribution here! (Note: links will be provided at the end of the article.)
K: Well I have a friendly local gaming store. I think one of the interesting things about the game is the time limit. Doesn’t that simulate the constant time crunch where you have to produce tons and tons of pictures every single week?
JT: Yes! That’s the point. That is exactly it. My original idea for the game was a simulation of a life of a manga artist. In one of the original playtests, there were negative cards that could get played on you or your opponents. They were things like carpal tunnel syndrome or poor circulation in your legs or alcoholism which would make your life harder as a manga artists. Those were a lot of fun but in order to keep the game simpler we left them out. For a lot of people, drawing itself is king of scary; even in a game. Having to draw then, “Guess what? And you broke your arm!” is a little too much. But I thought it was very funny. It made me think of manga like Bakumon or Disappearance Dairy where it’s like the troubles of the life of a manga artist.
K: Well, there’s always an expansion.
JT: Well, fingers crossed.
K: You’ve been working on that for a long time, haven’t you?
JT: Well I have. I originally play tested it with some friends in early 2011 and at Sakuracon that year. I’ve been working on it on the side for a long time.
K: Speaking of things you done in the past, weren’t you the first editor of Shonen Jump in the US?
K: That’s a very pivotal position.
JT: I’ve always loved Shonen Jump manga. It was pretty clear that if Viz wanted to become more successful, they would have to get those big titles like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Naruto, One Piece, and Shaman King. Those were the big titles that were popular in the early 2000s. I was more familiar with those titles, and I was very enthusiastic so I got to be the editor. It was a big responsibility and I was really happy to be involved with that.
K: Nowadays, it’s all digital.
K: What do it think about that?
JT: Well, I think it’s inevitable. If people buy magazines or books nowadays, they typically want something nice; that’s more collectable. Like the new JoJo’s, The Jojoian ones, they’re in hardback and they have pretty nice paper. They also have bonus material. For magazines, like Otaku USA, it’s full color and you got lots of nice art and stuff. It comes out every two months. It’s not something you’ll lose pace of and have to throw away. I think it’s natural. If you want speed, then you got to do it digitally. I think the way that Shonen Jump and Crunchyroll are doing it with the simu-publication is incredible. I would have never dreamed it possible ten years ago.
K: You’re right about that. It’s one of those things that are commonplace now but really are amazing once you think about it. Like smartphones for example. Everyone has one but they’re marvelous pieces of technology if you actually look at it.
JT: You know, technology is moving along excitingly. And it’s really interesting how many manga in Japan are now coming out of online manga magazines like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun or Watamobe for instance. It’s very cool. I wonder where its gonna end up but you can’t see too far into the future. But manga seems to be doing pretty good. At least if you combine the print and the digital, it’s doing pretty good. I’m happy with that.
K: How is the industry going on? It’s something that’s so obtuse to most people?
JT: I don’t know what the sales figures are for the things in the U.S. precisely. I know the companies like Viz are definitely doing better then they were four or five years ago; and they’re publishing a lot more manga. In Japan, I know that the major magazine circulations are still going down. I gotta hope that’s offset by bookstore sales and by digital manga. I think it’s going good (Editor’s note: this should be taken more like hopeful guesstimation then a statement of fact). Certainly doing better then it was at the bottom of the pit; like in 2009/2010.
K: It’s not so much dying; but changing.
JT: Yeah. But I think it’s healthy.
K: See, one more question I wanted to ask you. How do you analyze and review the art of a manga? I don’t have the critical ability to analyze art like, “this is good art” or “this is bad art.” or “this needs more line” or “less lines” How does that work? How does reviewing manga work?
JT: Well, I have to admit, that is a tricky one. Although I took art classes in school, I sometimes feel that it’s difficult to write about art and I don’t write about art clearly enough. It’s hard to describe manga art without showing it to people and without comparing it to other titles. “It looks just like Bleach” or “It looks like it’s a ripoff of One Piece” or something. There’s lot of ways to judge an artist’s quality. There’s basic figure drawing ability, and face drawing ability. And there’s consistency between the foregrounds and backgrounds. Some of that is just the assistants of course.
And there’s people like Araki who does JoJo’s who really do put an individualist spin on everything; And there are other people who have more of a generic look. I really more impressed by artists who have more of a style. A lot of Shonen and Shojo artists have a pretty generic style; like they all learned to draw by copying one another. That’s unfortunate. There are different styles that are good for different things. I do like people who have a lot of detail; like Kaoru Mori who does A Bride’s Story and Emma. Also there’s Yuji Iwahara who did that Cat Paradise Manga and Chikyuu Misaki. His style is like a western comic. He doesn’t use much tone but it’s very detailed and has lots of cross hatching.
At the same time, I also like artist with a more simplified style like Toriyama or Hiroyuki Takei of Shaman King. So there’s many different ways to stand out of the crowd. For some manga, the art’s just like a delivery system. It’s very generic, and if you can tell the story, that’s fine. But if the art’s also really beautiful and exciting, that’s great. To give you an example, take Tokyo Ghoul. Good story; art is not so good. I’m not very impressed; but the story’s okay. That keeps it going even though the art’s not great.
K: Hmmm. That’s a lot of information.
JT: Well good luck transcribing it all.
K: Last question. What should a manga reader look forward to in the future?
JT: I don’t know. I’m not a fortune teller! Uhhhh… I’m very happy with Crunchyroll and Shonen Jump and the other simucast type of things so I think those are really worth supporting. It’s really great to have such a huge variety of manga available digitally. Honestly, I find that more appealing then buying digital volumes. It’s nice to be able to go browse; and it’s not quite like looking in magazines on the shelves but it’s kind of like browsing in a library or a bookstore that doesn’t care if you’re reading the books there so that’s very cool and I hope there’s more things like that in the future.
K: I hope there’s more good things coming out of you in the future too.
JT: Thanks man. All right, well I gotta run off but thank you for the interview.
K: Thank you.
If this gigantic tower of text isn’t enough for you, never fear! There are plenty of places to go if you’re curious about Jason Thompson or any of the things he mentioned during the interview. Thanks to Anime Fan Fest for gathering him and me in the same convention space. The next one is only about six months away!
How to stalk Jason Thompson and friends!:
- Jason Thompson’s offical site
- His Twitter account
- Buy all the things! at his store page
- Global Games Distribution doesn’t sell to customers directly but I’m linking it anyway
- AM Cosmos has a site too!
- Anime Fan Fest 2 is in April!
- Anime News Network’s House of a 1000 Manga written by Jason
- Otaku USA is edited in part by Jason Thompson
- Viz Media has Shonen Jump, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures, and other things mentioned