Archive for Manga Shakespeare

‘Much Ado about Nothing’ from Manga Shakespeare: a guest article by Kate Holden

Posted in Guest Article with tags , , , , , , on October 26, 2009 by comicmole

William Shakespeare, adapted by Richard Appignanesi & illustrated by Emma Vieceli, 208 pages, A5 softback book, Self Made Hero, £6.99.  Available in high street bookstores or online stores such as Amazon.

After a break from our mini ‘Emma Season’ on Comic Mole in order to announce some new releases for the London Expo, we’re back to round it up with another fun and informative guest article from Kate Holden!  This time she takes a look at SelfMadeHero’s Manga Shakespeare version of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, once again from the point of view of a reader with a degree in English Literature.

Mole note: spolier alert for Much Ado!  This article is best read if you already know the basic story and characters of Much Ado About Nothing, either having read it, seen it on the stage or as a film etc.

Once again, I’ll hand you over to Kate now…

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If ever there was a Shakespeare play to be adapted into comic form that would sound like a daunting prospect to me, Much Ado is it.  It’s not high concept.  It doesn’t have a big, obvious hook.  No ghosts, no cross dressing, no magic, no fights, no deaths.  Not like Romeo and Juliet, which can be excitingly summed up as, ‘two star-crossed lovers take their life!’.  No, this is something different.  ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is a deft and subtle play, jam-packed with wit.  In many ways it feels like a precursor to the ‘Comedy of Manners’ genre of plays from the later Restoration period.

As the title suggests, in this play there’s an awful lot going on over not much of importance.  The title itself is an understatement, since there’s a life at risk among other things, but that understatement is what makes it such a fitting title, as this is an understated work that really plays with language and meaning.  To make it successful as a comic requires a lightness of touch.  While this publication has the same illustrator as Hamlet – it’s Emma Vieceli again, albeit with a few years’ more experience giving a more polished look – the style and setting are quite different.  Much Ado employs finer inking and more diffuse tones, so unlike the heavy and sparse feel of Hamlet, this comic has a more shoujo manga (girls manga) feel and a summery atmosphere.  The setting is meticulously reproduced by Vieceli from real Italian scenery.  This isn’t quite a period adaptation.  Or rather, it is, but a later period from Shakespeare’s time.  The overall feeling of the costumes and setting is quite timeless, which I feel works well.  Much Ado is a rather deft and effortless-feeling play, and the art here matches with an elegant, light and airy classical look.

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The play primarily concerns two very different couples.  First we have Claudio and Hero.  Claudio and Hero are young, likely teenagers.  Claudio has just won a lot of honour by performing bravely in war, ‘doing with the body of a lamb, the feats of a lion’.  Having come home with thoughts of battle put behind him, he notices Hero in a new light and Romance comes to mind.  In this adaptation, Claudio and Hero are depicted as two wide eyed and innocent characters, often flushed or excited.  You could easily compare them to Romeo and Juliet.  The plotline of their romance follows a similar course, but with a comedic happy solution rather than a tragic one (Romeo and Juliet reads like a comedy until about halfway through, but I think that’s something to discuss in a later article).  They fall head-over-heels in love, are torn apart by family circumstances, but fortunately there is a happy solution at the end involving trickery and a dramatic reveal!

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The other couple, and the real stars of the show in this adaptation (they’re on the front cover!) are Benedick and Beatrice.  These two are older and more jaded.  They courted in the past, but fell out and have spent their time since incessantly battling wits.  In this adaptation they look probably around their late twenties to early thirties.  While not particularly old, they contrast the wide-eyed idealism of Claudio and Hero.  Benedick is a lovable rogue in his dishevelled outfit with a slight Han Solo air about it.  He is portrayed as flippant and cheeky, but still quite chivalrous.  Beatrice is an elegant and confident lady, shown by her more elaborate and mature clothes, hairstyle and manner compared to the girlish Hero.  Her personality is calm and cool, kind, but with a barbed tongue, particularly where Benedick is concerned!

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Of particular note in this play is the scheming villain, Don John.  He’s a strange character because he doesn’t really have a good reason to want to mess with everybody.  He’s a dark character, portrayed here with black hair and clothes and a solemn demeanour.  His status as a bastard child, unlike his brother, and his less gregarious personality seems to have given him an inferiority complex.  He enjoys causing strife because he doesn’t enjoy socialising.  Notice how he and the Prince are quite similar looking, separated mostly by the colour and style of their hair.  Don John is like a shadow of John Pedro.  Both characters intentionally manipulate those around them, but the Prince does so to make a match, while his brother does so to break one apart.  Don John has the urge to disrupt a society he feels doesn’t welcome him, but rather than admitting his feeling of powerlessness and abandonment, chooses to say that his motivation is just plain villainy.

Manipulation is a recurring theme throughout the play.  In this adaptation, notice how the theme is represented through puppets.  Don John is seen with a puppet of Don Pedro, and later we see Don Pedro with puppets of Benedick and Beatrice.  Masks and music also recur as themes, though this isn’t just in the manga adaptation, but part of the play.  Performance is frequently employed, and for most of the play no single character seems to be aware of what everybody else is up to.  Every character seems to be, for good or bad reasons, involved in some kind of secret plot manipulating somebody else!  A visual theme used here is the apple.  My interpretation of the apple is that it is the symbol of ‘cupid’s trap’.  It symbolises romantic temptation, and the clever plot used on Benedick and Beatrice.  Rather than forcing them together, they are lured to each other in order to realise feelings that were there all along.

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Much Ado About Nothing is an enjoyable read.  It’s a subtle and complex romantic comedy, and while it may not have the conceptual punch or high drama of some of the other plays, particularly tragedies, if you’re willing to look closely it is a real masterwork, very intricate and yet tightly plotted.  While it may seem light and fluffy on the surface, it has hidden depth and complexity.  The art matches well.  While it’s not so conceptually or thematically bold as ‘Hamlet’ you may well find pleasure in its clever, understated and polished execution.  Like the play, it may look effortless, but there’s a whole lot of thought and detail there and a huge amount of hard work!

Once again thanks go out to Kate Holden for giving her time to write this article for us here on the Mole!  Kate is a member of the UK manga circle IndieManga and currently has work featured in their latest anthology release ‘Legends‘, as well as her own webcomic ‘Fan Dan Go‘, which updates twice a week.

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‘Hamlet’ from Manga Shakespeare: a guest article by Kate Holden

Posted in Guest Article with tags , , , , , , , on October 4, 2009 by comicmole

William Shakespeare, adapted by Richard Appignanesi & illustrated by Emma Vieceli, 196 pages, A5 softback book, Self Made Hero, £6.99.  Available in high street bookstores or online stores such as Amazon.

Mole note: spolier alert for Hamlet!  This article is best read if you already know the basic story and characters of Hamlet, either having read it, seen it on the stage or as a film etc.

So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Kate…

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Let’s look at Emma Vieceli’s Hamlet:

Hamlet, as I’m sure you’ve been told, is considered one of the greatest works of Literature that exists. Sadly Hamlet is often forced upon school children too young to appreciate it, causing a lifelong resentment of something that’s truly brilliant. Reading the dry text, I have to admit even with a degree in English Literature, can be a chore. To truly experience Hamlet, you need to see it. Because of this, I feel that reading the Manga Shakespeare adaptation is an excellent way to experience the story, as it is much closer to seeing it performed on the stage or on film.

It is important to remember, however, that all performances of Shakespeare plays are interpretations. This comic is an adaptation of the text. The dialogue has been condensed to two hundred pages, and illustrator Emma has made her own decisions about the setting and characters based on her interpretation of the text.

In this article, I will attempt to explain the comic adaptation from a literary perspective in plain English, and point out some interesting things. Since Emma Vieceli also has a degree in English Lit, you can be assured that this adaptation has been considered intelligently.

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Hamlet is a tragedy. The definition of a tragedy is a story concerning the downfall and death of a character who is mighty and heroic, save for an unfortunate fatal flaw. For example, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a noble man who is brought down by his own ambition (or possibly the ambition of his wife, depending on your interpretation). Hamlet is a particularly complex tragic hero. He becomes obsessed with bringing the truth to light, yet seems paralysed into inaction by his own inner turmoil. There is a lot of discussion about Hamlet’s age in Literary criticism. As a character, he is fascinating depicted as any age, but for a manga adaptation, I have to say I find Emma’s depiction of him as a dashing young adult bishounen quite pleasing! Emma’s Hamlet is less brooding than some depictions. She chooses to emphasise his quick wit, dark humour and his more active and flamboyant side. This works to great effect for the portion of the play in which he feigns madness, and makes him a strong, shounen hero you can root for in a sword fight. Hamlet is noted in the play for his dark, funereal mourning clothes, which he continues to wear some time after his father’s death, to the discomfort of the rest of the court, who are in wedding garb to celebrate his mother’s wedding.

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Hamlet’s clothes are a statement of his disapproval of his mother’s rather early remarriage to her husband’s murderer, and Emma has given his look a rebellious gothic flair which really sets this off. Her Hamlet is a witty, swashbuckling rebel. Perfect, in my opinion, for a comic adaptation.

While we’re on the subject of casting, some other interesting things to note would include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being presented as twins. This is quite appropriate to the rather unnatural way in which the pair seem to act as one person. They are presented here almost as emotionless dolls and rather unsettling. This reflects their strange role in the play as seemingly unfeeling plot-movers. They eventually die offstage and their death is mentioned merely as a kind of side note.

Ophelia and Laertes deserve a mention, as Emma does a particularly good job of setting them up as very warm, loving siblings before tragedy strikes. Before her madness, Ophilia is portrayed as a very sweet, bubbly girl, and even playing in the river where she will eventually drown in a fit of insanity. By highlighting the comedy in the play, and the brief moments of happiness the characters find, this adaptation makes the tragedy more poignant.

You may not know that Hamlet was originally written as a History. All tragedies in Shakespeare’s day were based on history by tradition. They did tend to be rather loose adaptations of history, and often were based on legends with little actual historical basis, not to mention that they were hugely inaccurate through artistic licence. So Hamlet is based on a real Prince, Amleth, who lived in Denmark hundreds of years before Shakespeare’s time. Shakespeare was an entertainer, not a historian, and so the details of the story bear close to no resemblance to what’s reported in history, not to mention, the details of life the characters discuss reference life as it was in Shakespeare’s time, not the period of the setting. I expect that the costumes would also have reflected contemporary fashions and not been based on those of Medieval Denmark. Since Shakespeare adapted his plays from the stories with so many licenses, I have no problems with any director or artist who does the same when adapting his plays. They are not written as accurate histories, so the setting should be created to reflect and emphasise the events and emotion of the play. In this case, the setting is dark, post apocalyptic cyberpunk.

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The mixture of Gothic and Futuristic in the adaptation may feel a little jarring in places, but Hamlet is a play all about time being mixed up. It even contains the line ‘The time is out of joint’. There are many untimely deaths during the play, and the people of the present are haunted by ghosts of the past. Bones are dug up from the earth and casually tossed around. Nothing is allowed to just let lie in the story, as you’d expect since it starts with a dead king wandering around! The sparse, post-apocalyptic setting emphasises the hopeless feeling of the plot, and the theme of untimely death, by setting it in a dark and largely dead world. Another theme worth noting is information. The characters are constantly plugging themselves into information devices in this comic. Hamlet is a scholar, a man always searching for truth. The act of finding, searching and passing around information is shown in this adaptation through the futuristic setting, and it nicely complements the themes of how everybody is after information. The play begins with a question; “who’s there?” and revolves around a question, “to be or not to be”, and a plot to uncover the truth. By placing emphasis on the act of searching for truth as a physical action, the manga Hamlet makes the theme clear to the reader.

Overall, Hamlet is one of the most richly nuanced of Shakespeare’s texts, and any given adaptation may be very different from any others you have seen, almost to the point of feeling like a different play. The manga adaptation excels because rather than trying to portray a mere generic version of the play with fancy period dress, just going though the motions, it uses a setting, cast and visual metaphor to actually emphasise the important themes, as well as make the story feel like something belonging to the manga medium. Far from being just a dumbed-down ‘for teenz’ version, this is an adaptation which can be studied and analysed just as much as any film or stage production of the play. It’s well worth giving it a close read and taking time to notice the careful details and symbolism, especially if you’re using it as a study aid. If you’re not a Lit student, and just looking to enjoy your Manga Shakespeare books on a deeper level, try reading along with some study notes, which you can find online quite easily, and thinking about why the books chose a particular setting, as well as the depictions of the characters in appearance, age and personality. See how these versions compare to stage productions or films. You’ll find that you can keep coming back and noticing new things. That’s the magic of Shakespeare!

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Many thanks to Kate Holden of IndieManga (aka. Darth Mongoose) for her time in writing this article on the Manga Shakespeare Hamlet from a more literary standpoint than I would be able to.  The observant among you will have probably noticed that Kate also creates comics, in fact her webcomic Fan Dan Go has just rebooted from scratch today!  So go check that out if you like the idea of some super colourful retro fantasy action.

If you liked this article then please say so! And I will try to get more points of view, or different takes, on more fantasic UK indie/small press comics in the future ^_^

10 Questions for Emma Vieceli

Posted in Interview with tags , , , , , , on October 1, 2009 by comicmole

Hi Emma, its great to have you here today on Comic Mole!  So lets start right away with the work perhaps closest to your heart

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CM: As well as your professional comics work, you have been writing and drawing your own self published series, ‘Dragon Heir’, for several years now – could you tell us a bit about the story and what it means to you?

EV: *phew* You start simple, don’t you? haha.  Dragon Heir is a story that started developing in my head when I was about 16, and just hasn’t left me alone since, haha. I take it as a good sign when a story haunts you for that long…so I know I need to finish telling it at some point! To explain it is…umm…tricky. Do you have a week or two? 🙂

Dragon Heir is set in a world where human life is dictated by Spirit signs; marks applied to human babies’ foreheads at the age of five. It is believed that these signs were given to humans by Spiratu, the spirit world, in recognition of skills and powers bestowed. The truth to their origins has long been forgotten.

The story follows the trials and tribulations of four dragon heirs; human vessels chosen by the spirit world to house a part of the Dragon’s full spirit. Protus (protective spirit), Furose (Fighting Spirit), Kalm (Empathic spirit) and Lyntra (Wise spirit) are part of Spiratu’s task to transport the Dragon spirit to the hall of beasts, where it earned its place during its race’s life cycle. No human can house an entire dragon spirit, hence the four heirs for this great beast. Their mission should have ended when, at the appointed time, a spirit binder would come down from Spiratu, gather the spirits as one and transport them, leaving the heirs to continue their mortal lives blessed by the Spirits. However, early on in the story we realise it won’t be that simple, and for the heirs a race is on to fulfil the prophecy before the spirits within them grow too powerful and consume them from the inside. There is a far greater consequence at stake should the prophecy fail, but that will be revealed in the fullness of time…it has a lot to do with Verance; a mistake born from a duplicate dragon soul.

Enter into this bizarre situation Ella, a normal worker spirit with big ambitions, who just happens to be someone also tied into this prophecy, though her over protective brother has not informed her of this and has left her pretty clueless as to the whole shebang.

Drama, legend, love and lots of PAIN follow….that’s Dragon Heir. ^_~

For me, the story means a lot for several reasons. 1. It’s been with me so long that the characters really are old friends. 2. each character represents a part of me as their creator. 3. I now have my wonderful husband helping me with finalising bits of the story and scripting…and seeing him fall for the characters has made me love them all over again!

I think we can all empathise with the five main characters. We’ve all felt that we’re the pacifier in a mad situation, or that we could just let go and fall into anger…or maybe we’ve all wanted to escape what can feel like a pre-destined role in life sometimes. I like to think that every reader will find one character that they feel closest to. I just can’t wait to get further into the story so that more people can share in it with me. ^_^

CM: How many issues of Dragon Heir are there available, and when might fans get to see the next one?

EV: Herein lies an interesting answer. *ahem*

There are currently 9 issues of DH available through Sweatdrop. 1-6 are contained in the volume, with 7,8 and 9 still in single form.  HOWEVER….the story is an old one, and also one that I know I dived into far too early. I tried to tackle a vastly complex story in comic form before I really knew how to make comics…so: as I’m 40 pages in now, I feel I can reveal what I’ve been conjuring up in my secret basement ^_~

Issue 9 did leave us on somewhat of a cliffhanger, and I do want to ease the tension very soon, but I hope readers will also be excited about the fact that I am currently working on Dragon Heir Reborn – the first five issues, retold and re drawn from scratch! This will not be released as issues, but will possibly see a webcomic release – and, when I’m done, I’ll be looking to release 9 or even 10 issues together as one shiny, shiny graphic novel.

Sneak peak: a never-before-seen page from Dragon Heir Reborn

Sneak peak: two never-before-seen pages from Emma’s upcoming work ‘Dragon Heir Reborn’

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I think readers should be pleased with Reborn. I know I am. Largely it follows what we already know, but the younger me creating issues 1 and 2 way-back-when was a scaredy cat and would omit certain scenes or moments purely because I didn’t know how to draw them, haha….this is me revisiting those early scenes as a professional comicker, and those who have read the early issues of DH will see a few marked changes in scenes, and even brand new scenes in some cases! The reborn section will meet up with issue 6. I won’t be redoing anything from 6 on, as 6 – though a little old – was created post-Hamlet….so there’ll still be some legacy artwork in the new book ^_~

I really hope people will look forward to this! I can’t wait

(I for one certainly will be! – CM)

CM: How do you find writing and drawing your own story compares to doing professional work for others?

EV: Freedom is a wonderful thing. I love playing with the page, with layouts and pacing…and though some writers will let me get away with murder, most of the time I can only really do that with my own work.  So i feel a lot more in control with my own work.

That said, I feel I learn so much as an artist by working with writers…and the ability to work to a panel description and find the most interesting way of showing what I’m being asked to is a totally different skill, and one I really enjoy as well. It’s great sometimes to just relax into the role of an artist and not think about the script, just enjoy drawing what I’m given. I guess I love both in their own way….though like anyone, I love to tell my own stories more than anything ^_^

CM: You’re probably best known in the UK comics community for being the artist on SelfMadeHero’s Manga Shakespeare adaptations of ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ – what is it like to work on adaptations of such classic and well-loved material?

EV: Tiring and challenging, but fun and ultimately hugely rewarding. The series has really touched people from all walks, and I love knowing that the books are being enjoyed by comics fans and Shakespeare scholars alike ^_^

I’ve learned shedloads through doing both books…combined they make up 400 pages of comicking, and that’s a BIIIIIIG learning curve! They’re also my 2 favourite Shakespeare plays, so you can imagine how much fun I had, knowing certain scenes were coming up and such!

It’s always a little scary approaching such well-loved texts, but I think we’ve been clear from the start that what we’re offering are not alternatives to the originals, but complements and stepping stones…and as a Shakespeare fan myself, I love them!

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CM: ‘Hamlet’ was originally released in 2007 and ‘Much Ado’ was released earlier this year (2009) – have you found that your production techniques have changed over the years with experience?

EV: Gosh, was Hamlet only 2007? It feels much longer ago…it’s been a busy couple of years!! Yes, definitely. When starting Hamlet I had only just moved onto digital work. I had an A5 tablet, comicworks and was at the start of the learning process. It was all new and really a HUGE thing to dive into. When I started Much Ado, I was in a far more confident place and, thanks to Hamlet and later projects, I knew much more about pacing myself and scheduling workload. I had an A4 tablet and Manga Studio. Hamlet was almost entirely digital, pencils and all. Much Ado was all pencilled manually on paper and then scanned for inks and such. So there were several differences!

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CM: Conversely to the ‘Hamlet’ adaptation, which was set in a cyberpunk future, ‘Much Ado’ was set in period Italy.  As the artist on the project, did you have a say in the setting of ‘Much Ado’? And did your Italian heritage help at all with the comic?

EV: I did indeed. And I desperately wanted to set it in the warring states as they’re so close to my family. I had a great opportunity for background reference, and the setting fitted the story so well! Thankfully Emma and Doug at SelfMadeHero agreed with me ^_^

CM: Who are some of your biggest inspirations in art at the moment?

EV: Hmm…so many! Right now: Adrian Alphona, Terry Moore, Clamp and Yoshinaga Fumi would be my top four I think ^_^

There are a crazy amount of people I draw inspiration from. I couldn’t possibly list them all, but artists like my Sweatdrop cohorts, my DFC chums, Kate Brown, Paul Duffield, Nana Li, Jamie McKelvie, Amy Reeder Hadley, Svetlana Chmakova and lordy, tons more all teach me over and again how much we should strive for and what can be achieved with hard work and dedication…I’m so lucky to be friends with such talented and amazing people!

CM: As well as illustration, you write your own comics – are you inspired by any particular writers or genres in literature or comics?

EV: When I was younger I ATE books…seriously, read SO MANY books. I wanted to be a writer (who didn’t? haha!), and was hugely influenced by a strange combination of Anne Rice, Douglas Adams and Douglas Coupland. These days I read comics far more, and some of my favourite writers are Brian K Vaughan, Terry Moore, Warren Ellis, Kieron Gillen and Bill Winningham. I also adore Morag Lewis’s ability to create worlds and fantasy realms that feel so real! But really, I absorb anything I read and see…you have to ^_^

CM: Working back to the very beginning now: what first made you want to start drawing and writing comics?

EV: Ranma 1/2. Though not the first comic I read, it was the first time I thought ‘hmmm, maybe I could try this’. And then, years later, I met Sweatdrop! haha. Sweatdrop really was the biggest inspiration and drive I could have hoped for. Without the group I simply wouldn’t have made comics. Simple as. ^_^

CM: And it just wouldn’t be a Comic Mole interview without this final question!  What’s your favourite dessert?

oooooh, Apple crumble and custards…TONS of custard ^_^

I’d like to say a massive thanks to Emma for giving me her time for this interview, and my first scoop with the news about Dragon Heir Reborn!  As mentioned earlier, Dragon Heir is published by Sweatdrop Studios and is available to order from their online shopSelfMadeHero‘s Manga Shakespeare volumes Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing are readily available from high street bookstores or online through shops such as Amazon.

Emma also has a work blog and art site where you can keep up with her current projects ^_^

Bristol International Comic Expo 2009: Highlights

Posted in Event with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2009 by comicmole

Mole note: this post covers my personal highlights from the 2009 Bristol Expo – for general impressions of the event please see my previous post.

Small press comics heaven, one of the SP Expo rooms at Bristol:

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The best thing about the Bristol Expo for me was the chance to walk around many rooms filled with comic creators and buy issues directly from the people who designed and made them.  Being able to meet an artist who’s work you really like and say to them ‘great work, please keep it up!’ is a fantastic feeling that you just can’t get by ordering comics over the internet.

Personally, I also like to ask the creators that I meet if they will sign the comic I’m buying from them, as a kind of memento of meeting them at that time.  Side note: this is why I don’t usually request a signature on a comic I’m ordering over the net, unless its extremely unlikely that I will ever get the chance to meet the creator(s) in person.  If a comic arrives signed then there’s no point in me taking it along to meet the creator(s) and get it signed, therefore the signature means much less to me (do others feel like this or am I just a tad weird?…)

Anyway, as well as the general greatness of actually being there, here are some specific highlights of the event:

  • Going to the SelfMadeHero Manga Shakespeare table  (pictured below) and picking up an advance copy of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, illustrated by Emma Vieceli.  Also, telling them how much I was looking forward to their verions of ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘The Merchant ofVenice’ (illustrated by Nana Li and Faye Yong respectively).  I got a free poster for that – motto: it can pay to tell publishers if you are eagerly awaiting their books ^_~

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  • Getting the new ‘Cupcake of Doom’ t-shirt from Genki Gear (very apt as I’m trying to lose weight…)

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  • Chatting with Sally and Azure at the IndieManga table and getting very excited about their upcoming release Between Worlds by Anna Fitzpatrick (which is debuting in just a couple of weeks at the May MCM London Expo).  The bookmarks I got from them give a glimpse of the fantastic art in ‘Between Worlds’, which is being printed in full colour.

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  • Getting to meet and shake the hand of Paul Gravett, author of ‘Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics’ amongst many other books about comics , and say how much I enjoyed his work.  Once again, you don’t get to do these kinds of things over the internet ^_^

OK, highlights end there!  Next time I’ll be back with more comic reviews (and belive me I’m not short on material for those now ^_~ ).