I recently represented Ricepaper Magazine to interview the Cantonese and Mandarin talents of Kruger Products’ (manufacturer Cashmere toilet paper and Sponge Towels) Unapologetically Human ad campaign, featuring real people dealing with real messes – spills, tears, blood, runny noses, messy crafts, and more. The campaign featured songs in English, French, Hindi/Urdu, Mandarin and Cantonese. Really cool that a company created a diverse ad campaign! The situations captured in the videos are touching as well, it’s worth checking out the beautiful imagery.
The Cantonese soundtrack is sung by Mr. Will Wong and the Mandarin song by Moulann.
Director Graham Kolbeins’ Queer Japan (2019) is an intimate documentary which examines the struggles and rich lives of drag queen Vivienne Sato, manga artist Gengoroh Tagame, councilwoman Aya Kamikawa, non-binary performance artist Saeborg and others. Featuring over one hundred interviews conducted over three years in locations across Japan, Queer Japan examines a country with a unique history of queer expression. Previously he was the co-director, with Dorian Wood, of the short film Paisa, and the director of the short documentary The House of Gay Art.
JF Garrard caught up with Graham at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) to ask him about what inspired this documentary, queer issues in Japan and his next project.
JF Garrard (JFG): Hello, thanks for taking the time to connect with me! The Japan-U.S. Friendship Council named you a recipient of their Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship in 2016, can you explain a little bit about this fellowship and what inspired you to create Queer Japan?
GK: Thanks so much for taking the time to cover Queer Japan! The seeds of this documentary project were planted in 2012, when I first began working with gay manga artists including Queer Japan cast member Gengoroh Tagame. Alongside Anne Ishii and Chip Kidd, I embarked on a project of editing the first English-language publications translating Tagame’s brilliant comics, and producing a compendium of gay manga called Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It. This anthology included translated comics, behind the scenes portraits, and interviews with the nine of the top gay manga artists in Japan. I traveled to Tokyo with Anne to conduct these interviews in person. It was on this trip that my interest in Japanese queer culture expanded beyond the narrow window of gay manga, when I saw just how many brilliant and diverse queer expressions were flourishing in places like Tokyo’s gay neighborhood, Shinjuku Ni-chome.
Over the next few years, Anne Ishii and I continued working with Gengoroh Tagame, Jiraiya, and other gay manga artists through our publishing and fashion brand Massive Goods. Our mission was to help spread gay manga around the world, and we managed to organize international tours for the artists, produce more translations, and collaborate with high profile fashion brands to help introduce their work to new audiences and contexts. Every time I returned to Japan, my appreciation for LGBTQ+ culture in the country grew, and I knew I wanted to help put a spotlight on the broader the community. In 2016, I was granted a Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship from the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, an organization funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in the U.S. and Bunkacho, Japan’s agency for cultural affairs. The JUSFC supports artists working in dialogue between the two countries, and encourages cross-cultural exchange. With that spirit in mind, I embarked on the journey of creating a film that would engage with Japan’s queer community and help spread appreciation and understanding for Japanese queer artists and activists around the world.
JFG: I was impressed by the sheer amount of material covered, from the importance of gender in mainstream society to the work of a deaf LGBT centre to discrimination against Zainichi Koreans (ethnically Korean Japanese citizens), etc. How did you chose what to cover and was it difficult finding a representative to interview?
GK: We tried to approach making Queer Japan as organically as possible, allowing the issues and topics in the film to emerge naturally through interviews with our cast. As an outsider to the community I was portraying, I didn’t want to impose preconceived notions onto the project or force the story into an oversimplified structure– I was more interested in finding out what was most important to our subjects. We started with a handful of people we had established relationships with, including Gengoroh Tagame, dancer Atsushi Matsuda (who I had met on a dance floor in Shinjuku Ni-chome) and legendary drag queen Margaratte, who had starred in a short documentary directed by our Tokyo-based producer, Hiromi Iida. We’d often get recommendations from our cast about who else to interview, and the film evolved in this way, through a combination of introductions from people we knew and reaching out to well-known figures in the community. I found most people we approached to be incredibly open and generous with us, and we ended up covering so many issues that weren’t even on my radar at the beginning of production. I think this approach made our documentary so much better, just listening to our subjects and learning about what they felt was important.
JFG: Department H, a place where once a month, people can attend for free and be whatever they want (dressed as canines, engage in BDSM, perform in rubber, etc) looked wild and spectacular. How did you find out about this place and did you dress up as anything?
GK: Great question! I did dress up for our shoot at Department H, wearing an outfit I had picked up at a surprisingly fashionable construction worker clothing store called Mannenya. I was wearing a bright pink jumpsuit with work boots and felt like I had reached a new level of self-actualiztion. Department H is so amazingly inclusive– it’s a space that allows you to present as outlandishly as you can imagine without facing judgement or feeling out of place. I went to the party for the first time the week I beagn shooting Queer Japan, with producer Hiromi Iida. Hiromi was very familiar with the party, having previously directed a documentary there with the party’s long time host, drag queen Margarette. I instantly felt at home on that first visit, and it quickly became one of the central locations of our film.
JFG: Manga and anime have exploded from Japan to the rest of the world. However, when one visits Japan, they may be surprised that not all Japanese people are fans of manga or anime. Similarly, although Queer Japan illustrates different members of the LGBTQ community in safe spaces, it is still taboo to come out as gender plays into social systems as stated by politician Aya Kamikawa. Aya mentions that since she is transgender but her family registry had recorded her as male, she couldn’t sign a rental agreement, use her health insurance card for doctors or use her pension book to become a salaried employee. Can you expand a bit more about the consequences of coming out for some of your subjects and how they dealt with these challenges? Are these struggles unique to Japan?
GK: In many parts of Japan, there are no legal protections offered to LGBTQ+ citizens to prevent discrimination in the workplace, in the housing market, and in schools. As a result, a lot of queer people in Japan have been forced to remain closeted in certain environments for their own protection. Things are slowly improving, as individual corporations begin to institute non-discrimination policies for their LGBTQ+ employees, and more cities and municipalities offer same-sex partnership certificates. These certificates aren’t on the same solid legal standing as marriage, but they do put pressure on companies and medical services to respect same-sex partnerships at a regional level. These struggles are not unique to Japan, as there are unfortunately many countries in the world that do little to offer legal protections to LGBTQ+ citizens. Even in the United States, where gay marriage is legal, we lack a national non-discrimination law. In many American states, you can get married and fired for being gay on the same day.
One of the unique challenges that Japanese LGBTQ+ people face is the existence of the koseki (family registry), a sort of public genealogy document with legal standing. The family registry is not designed to accommodate same-sex marriages, and even among heterosexual married couples it causes unique problems: a married couple must have the same last name, so married women can’t legally keep their maiden names. For transgender people, the family registry is cited as one of the reasons for the harsh restrictions on legal recognition of transgender identity. If you have children under 20 years old listed on your family registry, or if you’re currently married, you are barred from having your gender marker legally recognized. And beyond that, if you haven’t medically transitioned– meaning you haven’t had your reproductive organs removed– your gender cannot be recognized under the current law. (Also unfortunately, this is not a situation unique to Japan– some U.S. states require medical transition as well). As Aya Kamikawa states in the film, this medical requirement for legal transition has been cited as a human rights violation. Earlier in 2019, a court case challenged the constitutionality of this so-called “sterilization” rule, but Japan’s highest court refused to strike down the requirement. The fight for equal rights continues.
JFG: Coming from an American culture in which queer culture is becoming more mainstream every day (recognizing there are still struggles), did you find any striking differences or similarities with queer culture in Japan?
GK: It’s hard to make sweeping comparisons, because both America and Japan are heterogeneous environments. Queer culture may differ as much or more between Los Angeles and Little Rock, Arkansas than it differs between L.A. and Tokyo. But in general, it seemed like queer identity was a bit more compartmentalized in Japan– even a revered gay artist or a outspoken trans rights activist might feel a need to hide or downplay their queerness around family, out of a sense of respect and familial obligation. It was interesting to see how people could live these full, rich queer lives at pride parades or parties and then fly under the radar in other parts of their lives. As activist Tomato Hatakeno told me, there’s a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude common in Japan when it comes to gender and sexuality.
At the same time, Japanese queer culture and nightlife feels a little more advanced than in the U.S. in some respects. The sheer number of bars and event spaces in Japan’s queer neighborhoods allows for more specialization and can deepen the sense of identity one feels in these spaces. For instance, we cover a monthly FTM (trans masculine) party called Grammy Tokyo in the film, and the existence of this party and other bars and spaces catering specifically to trans masculine individuals felt pretty groundbreaking to me. Even in a city as big as Los Angeles, while there are some inclusive queer spaces, there are few that cater directly to the trans masculine community. That’s just one example, but I think there’s something unique about how specific you can get when you have 300+ bars in a neighborhood like Shinjuku Ni-chome, many of which are so small they can only fit 10 customers, instead of a standard American gayborhood that might have 10 bars that can fit 300 customers each.
JFG: In making a documentary in a foreign country, what was the most difficult process of film making? How did you overcome this?
GK: There were both language barriers and cultural barriers to making a film like this as a foreigner in Japan. I began production as a beginner Japanese speaker, and now I’m more intermediate, but most of the time I didn’t feel confident conducting interviews myself. So I was very lucky to have the support of producer Hiromi Iida, and co-producer Anne Ishii during the shooting of Queer Japan. I prepared interview questions, and they would conduct interviews in Japanese while I filmed. Working with a Japanese producer like Hiromi was also essential to navigating some of the formalities and cultural expectations of working in Japan that I was not familiar with. It was important that we approached these individuals and communities with as much respect as possible, and Hiromi managed to navigate that beautifully in all of our interactions.
JFG: What advice do you have to novice documentary film-makers?
GK: Collaborate! Film-making is a collaborative medium, and your work will benefit the more you involve other artists with a diversity of viewpoints in your process. Bring your subjects in to the process too! These days, we’re all filmmakers and photographers, telling our life story daily on social media with the cameras we carry around in our pockets. So the relationship between storyteller and subject has rapidly shifted, and your work can benefit from embracing that new egalitarianism.
JFG: What will your next project be about?
GK: I’m developing a variety of new projects, but after spending 4 years working on this documentary, I’m eager to try my hand at narrative filmmaking. I’m working on my first feature screenplay, a queer love story set against the backdrop of the renewable energy industry and the American southwest.
JFG: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and knowledge with us!
GK: Thank you JF, and Ricepaper, for taking the time to feature this film and help us put a spotlight on the LGBTQ+ community in Japan!
On Twitter one of the guests modified their graphics to include their schedule which I thought was a brilliant idea! So I did the same for myself so people can keep track of me and other authors can see which panels they are on with me (I help co-ordinate the writer panels for AN). The majority of panels I’m doing this year are on writing and publishing. Last year I did a midnight panel on Japanese horror and while it was fun, I was really tired the next day!
What you don’t see are all the interviews I have lined up to do on behalf of Ricepaper Magazine with other guests of honor. I’ll be speaking with Jrock sensation BACK ON, fashion icon MINORI, Lolita fashion designers Angelic Pretty and one of my favorite seiyuus (voice actor), Junko Iwao! There is a fashion show on Saturday which I’ll attend featuring the latest Japanese fashion trends and I’ll try to be on the lookout for Elmo and Big Bird wrestling…The Toronto LEGO group is also making its debut and will hold seminars on how to create wonderful LEGO structures. They will be in the kids area with their giant LEGO sculptures.
Although it will be a crazy busy weekend, I will post lots of pictures of the cosplayers and events happening at Anime North on my social media accounts. Hope you can make it there too!
Recently, I had the pleasure of working with Samita Sarkar, on the topic of crowdfunding to self-publish a book. Since she was the one writing the article, I didn’t know what quotes she would use from me versus other people who also had experience in crowdfunding, so it was interesting to see the end result.
In the three tips listed, lessons learned includes preparing a lot of videos and illustrations prior to the campaign start, then using social media a lot for the duration of the campaign. I talk about how I’ve mastered more software skills – quite frankly, this is because some people that I’ve hired in the past weren’t that great. Sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves and do things yourself!
With Kickstarter campaigns there is always a risk that it will fail. But obviously I believe this is a risk worth taking as I’m slowly becoming a serial Kickstarter campaign runner! At dinner tonight I warned my friends that I will be emailing them once again to ask for support for the Trump anthology. There was a lot of moaning about how they were tired of Trump, but they were intrigued anyways! (or so I think)
This coming Friday I’ve been invited onto the “Beyond the Mundane” radio show to talk about my Undead Sorceress book and other stuff. We’ll be giving out copies of my book to some lucky callers as well!
A bit nervous as I’m not sure what will happen since it’s live and I know there will be a few callers phoning in. I’m not very good at improve, so random questions do scare me! But I guess I have to practice or I’ll never get over my fear over answering things on the fly!
On Goodreads I recently met Cynthia Vespia, the acclaimed author of the fantasy saga Demon Hunter. Her first novel, a medieval fiction entitled The Crescent was published in August 2005. The novel was unanimously praised as “an engaging, descriptive read” which prompted a sell-out at Borders Bookstore in less than one hour during the first official signing.
I’m currently working on the sequel to my acclaimed Demon Hunter series, titled DEMON HUNTRESS. It follows the daughter of my lead character as she follows in her father’s footsteps and takes up the role of hunter.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Every author has a different voice. I have been told I’m a multi-genre writer. I’ve included romance in horror novels, and comedy in thrillers. I write what comes naturally to me to make the best story possible.
Why do I write what I do?
I write what I like to read. I’ve been a fan of fantasy since I was a kid reading Piers Anthony or C.S Lewis. As I grew my tastes grew into more mainstream thrillers. So I still dabble in both genres. I can’t help where I get my story ideas.
How does my writing process work?
I get a spark of an idea and develop it from their with a rough outline. My character profiles will go in depth but I tend not to flush out too much of the actual story because it ruins the spontaneity.
Lately I’ve been on Linked-In and Good Reads a lot, learning from other writers about what they have been going through in their publishing journeys. Usually there are discussions about how to find readers, build blogs and how useless it is to go after people who pirate your book unless you have hard evidence.
Anyhow, I saw a post from fellow author CR Hodges, inviting authors on a “My Writing Process” blog hop to share what is going on in their writing life. Below are questions and answers for this blog hop on what is going on at this stage of my author career.
I should also mention that CR Hodges is a fairly versatile writer with books on the US civil war, sci-fi stuff and lots of short stories. Stop by his site if you get a chance!
At the moment I am finalizing proofreading for my first novel, The Undead Sorceress before sending it to my formatter in Australia.
This is the first book in a series called International House of Vampires which has vampires, magic users, robots and people all rolled up in the cast of characters. I wrote this book because I love fantasy, sci-fi and horror books, but didn’t see much diversity in them. There is a female lead and characters of different ethnicities as well as LGBT. This book has a theme about filial obligations and how far one is willing to go for family.
The second book, Dark Evolution is 50% done, but I am a bit stuck as I keep rewriting it and then getting distracted by other things. All I can say is that there are mermaids in this and it has an environmental theme to it.
My non-fiction works are in various stages as well. The Literary Elephant is a book I started as a guide for beginning Indie publishers. I’ve learned a lot on my self-publishing journey and there is no need for people to reinvent the wheel every time! I hate books that wave a stick in a general direction, so this book will have links and lots of advice on how to implement action steps!
How to Make a Munchkin is a book about modern tools of baby making and the pressure on women to have babies. This was written after I had a “natural” miscarriage which took over a month and I was really scared for a long time. None of my medical books on pregnancy really described what happens during miscarriages, so I hope this will help others realize that they are not alone if they have issues and not to be too worried if they have to go through the same miscarriage event.
I need to update some statistics before sending it to my editor. As well, I have a family doctor and a nurse lined up who are very interested in reading this and will contribute to the forward of this book.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m actually entering The Undead Sorceress into a novel competition for the “Visionary Fiction” category. This work is different because mixes up fantasy, horror, sci-fi and contains a global cast. My background is in Nuclear Medicine, so I tend to incorporate some science into my stories. As well, growing up with concept of Taoism, I inadvertently wrote a lot of that into the book since Taoist philosophies explain the concepts of magic and vampires so nicely.
For my non-fiction work, I try to incorporate useful information in a simple manner. Many times I read self-help books that are not very helpful and that pisses me off. So I do my best to offer valuable advice and realistic outlooks on situations.
Why do I write what I do?
I’ve always wanted to write and still remember the day when I had to choose between Science or English. My parents were against English as they thought I would starve to death as a writer and convinced me that Science had more opportunities. I loved Science very much too, so I headed down that road and now work in the Healthcare Sector.
One day, I discovered a fellow hospital administrator self-published a book and this sparked my interest in writing again. Self-publishing? What is that?! I thought that the life of writer was becoming depressed over rejection and then dying early, usually by starving or suicide.
Inspired that someone made a book, I started writing again and it was done fairly quickly as I had a story in the back of my mind for the last ten years. It was the idea of how I would sacrifice my life for my grandmother as she suffered different setbacks over the years (fish bone poisoning, stroke, etc.) The Asian notion of filiality is self-sacrifice for the older generation as they sacrificed themselves for the younger generation while raising them.
Generally, I write because I like sharing different truths in fiction and non-fiction. It is a way of disseminating knowledge and contributing to society via this “artform”.
How does my writing process work?
I think too much. I overthink. I hypothesize a lot because I have spent too many years with the scientific method. I am not a healthy writer because I also procrastinate and tend to overdose on chocolate.
Generally, I like reading anything and everything from newspapers to books to magazines. I also like watching lots of films; doesn’t matter what language as long as there is a good story. Also I like travelling, visiting museums, art galleries and random places. I absorb a lot of different cultures and things just spark as I figure out if I want to write a story featuring a certain element I’ve seen or not.
Ideas are scribbled into notebooks and as I’ve learned in the past, I shouldn’t write ideas onto receipts or napkins as I tend to lose them. Eventually, after I’m inspired by enough ideas, I will have a skeleton of a story – I know the beginning, middle and the end. Then I have to fill in this story with people, events, conflict, incentives and plot.
As I write and eat lots of chocolate, the characters will take on a life of their own and unpredictable things will happen. I’ve discovered I can’t have a super rigid outline, as half the time I won’t follow it! I like books with realistic people so I spend a lot of time thinking about how a character will react to a situation.
While writing I am absorbed and I get very grouchy when interrupted as I’m in “the zone”. I used to paint, so writing to me is seeing scenes in my head and then creating a piece of art with words.
Eventually after a manuscript is finished, I edit and ask my Viking husband, along with any willing friend to edit. Then I edit again. After these rounds of edits, I’ll find my editor and pass on the manuscript to them. More rounds of editing. The final step is then proof reading before sending manuscript to formatter.
To give you an idea of timelines – I wrote The Undead Sorceress in three months (thought about it for 10 years!), then it took over a year to edit. Editing takes a long time and is also when what you write gets torn to pieces as people may not understand what you are trying to say. So you rewrite and rewrite until it is good! Then illustration work, formatting, cover design, etc took many months as well. From start to finish, it’s been a two year process.
My last piece of advice is to not worry about what is right or wrong as everyone is different! Just write and get started!
As I was preparing for my upcoming podcast series, “The Literary Elephant”, I went through hundreds of tracks on the Free Music Archive (FMA) looking for lead in and lead out music. Part of the issue was that I was open to all sorts of music and it was difficult to narrow down the choices to one or two upbeat, energetic tempo tracks.
But as soon as I heard the whimsical melodies of The Freak Fandango Orchestra, I knew that I would want to ask for permission to use their music. This band was formed in 2006 and they are from Barcelona (Spain). To me, their music sounds like upbeat gypsy folk with a dark twist. One of their tracks I want to use, “Monkey Said” is about a conversation with a monkey who wants to be like humankind. Since 2007 they have been preforming many live concerts around Barcelona and played the New York Gypsy Festival 2011.
Their two EPs, “Love, Death And A Drunken Monkey” (2009) and “Tales Of A Dead Fish” (2011) are both distributed for free listening under Creative Commons License on Jamendo and FMA. They have been downloaded 540, 000 times! You’ll find yourself astonished by some of the melodies and wanting to dance along with them, as they are just so good.
“We’ll Save the World!” is a new cd from this Balkan-punky Barcelona band and it is a crowd funding project on Verkami, a site similar to Kickstarter, but based in Barcelona. It is an all or nothing campaign and the time is set for 40 days of fundraising. The band has an awesome video for this project, so have a look and save the world with them!
The Freak Fandango Orchestra consists of seven musicians:
Armin – Trumpet & Voice
Xavi – Bass Guitar
David – Drums
Yuri The Blade – Guitar & Voice
Jordi – Violin
Noe – Accordion & Voice
Vitto – Saxophone
The Freak Fandango Orchestra was ok with me using their music for my podcast and was kind enough to let me do an interview with them as I was quite curious about this band and their fabulous music.
First, thank you for spending time answering this Q & A. Your music is fantastic! You definitely have me as a new fan! On FMA, The Freak Fandango Orchestra bio says it is a “multi-ethnic band from Barcelona (Spain).” Where is each band member’s background and how was the band created?
OK, maybe multi-ethnic is not really the best description of the band, but the band members are from all over Europe. Each person brought a little bit of their own culture and music taste to the band. There are people from Germany with East-European origins, from Switzerland, Italy and of course from different parts of Spain. We all met here in Barcelona. First it started as a jam session between friends and then more and more people joined us and we formed The Freak Fandango Orchestra.
I remember taking counterpoint music composing lessons and the teacher kept saying, “write what’s in your head!” Alas, I couldn’t do the translation from head to manuscript properly. Is it as simple as that? What kind of process is used to create the music? Or perhaps someone starts with a melody and people start giving ideas?
As a matter of fact 95% of the music is composed by the guitar player. He has the melodies in his head and then the band brings them to life. Normally he sings a melody and the violin player writes down the notes. Then we start all together with the arrangements; this is when we start to argue, fight and insult each other until it begins to sound good and we’re happy again. Sometimes it only takes a few hours until a song is finished and sometimes it takes forever. Also there are ideas that don’t work out and we have to bury them.
Two of the tracks – “Monkey Said” and “Requiem for a Fish” – what are the stories behind them?
Monkey Said, actually is a very old song. We played it already in the beginnings of the band. It got transformed several times. The actual version of this song, for example, is quite different from the version on our first record.
Requiem for A Fish was written only a few weeks before we went to the studio for our second CD. It started with an idea and it basically wrote itself. It was fun to play and so it got on the CD. Actually its by far our most popular song.
The artwork on your albums is colorful and delightful. Who is the artist?
Its our drummer who does all the artwork. He is a illustrator.
Many of your songs are in English, was it a group decision to do this? Do people already have individual projects in Spanish and wanted to reach a wider audience with English songs?
It just happened. Since most of the people are not originally from Spain it was like more natural to sing in English. Also it is easier to write a song with our music in English than in Spanish.
I admit I was surprised to find out that I could listen to your albums for free, but then again, with the internet being so open, even free music has tons of competition! On a practical note, I know making music, distributing, marketing, etc. costs money. Do you hope fans to support you via going to your concerts or purchasing merchandise? I guess I’m trying to understand the business model because for myself, as a writer, I really like to eat from time to time!
Oh, we do make some money with our music even if its free. For example we make money selling licenses for commercials, websites or stuff like that. We release under creative commons license Attribution-ShareAlike which means you can use our music for free but you have to respect some limitations. Now if someone wants to use it beyond these limitations they have to pay (or ask us nicely). This is where a big part of our money comes from. The biggest part, however, comes from our live-concerts. Putting our music out for free means we get a bigger audience and that means playing gigs gets easier.
Another part of our income is from donations. A lot of people who likes or music decides to pay for it, not because they have to, but because they want to. That’s quite cool.
And as you know, we started a crowd funding campaign to cover the costs for our third CD. As it turns out it is working really well!
Making money while being an artist is not easy. That’s why we all have other jobs to pay for rent and food. It would be nice to make a living out of music but on the other hand, this way we don’t have to obsess us too much about the money and can just make music.
What are the big dreams for this band? Does it include travelling to different cities in the world?
We’re quite happy the way that things are right now. I mean, you always want more, get more audience, be more famous, earn more money, that I think is quite human; but we are real good at the moment with our band. We have an audience when we play live, our music is listened to all over the world and we even got our new album financed by our fans and friends so there is not much left to ask. It would be nice though to play more international shows.
OK, one thing I really hope for is to be there in like 20 years, still playing music, still having fun and still having an audience who wants to listen to what we do. I guess that would really be a great thing.
Once again, thank you again for spending some time with me!
Recently I posted some tips on Kickstarters on Google+ and was contacted by Sammuel Bowden, a talented writer and artist from Bronx, NY. He just recently started a project called Twisted Eden, which is an innovative take on the traditional graphic novel format. His kickstarter just started for this book. The video is pretty slick and artwork super unique; I’ll let him explain his revolutionary ideas, which are quite exciting as I love reading graphic novels!
Hi Sammuel, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. Can you introduce yourself and let us know a little bit about your background? Your artwork is quite unique (similar to air brush styles), did you have any art training or is it a natural talent you possess?
Lol, not to sound cocky, but it’s a natural talent. I have been drawing since I was seven years old, but I always wanted to take art classes to perfect my style! Natural talent is one thing, but professional training is another for the fact that it is a lot more technical.
The title of your kickstarter is “It’s not just a Graphic Novel, It’s a new Beginning!” and you mention that the difference between your book and the traditionally published graphic novel is the fact that it is a “True Hybrid Book”. Can you explain a little bit about what this means? How did you come up with this?
I’m a very analytical person. Whenever I watch a good movie, show, or read a good book, I ask myself two questions:
What makes me like this show/book so much?
What elements do all the things that I like have in common?
Asking those questions over and over again, had given me an idea. That Idea was to blend in as many elements as possible to make the “ultimate” story. Originally, I wanted to make an anime series, but not having any knowledge or networks in animation…I knew it would be impossible at that stage. So, Instead of an animated series, I wrote the plot to a book series and kept my drawn characters.
I always loved shows with a narrator, so I thought that it would be a good fit to make my book a First Person Narrative. But, making my book a written novel took away some good scenes that I had imagined for an anime series. Certain things are just better told through a sequence of art panels, where you can actually see the action.
So, wanting to keep my highly detailed writing, I decided to make a way to merge comic and narrative together! Then, as I played around with words and formats, and displayed my Half-Novel/Half-Graphic novel story to my friends. I realized that I may have the next big thing.
People who prefer words read my book for it’s writing while appreciating the art, but comic lovers enjoyed my book in reverse to the novel lovers. Also, kids who hated reading books would read the long pages of my story just to find out why two characters were fighting in a comic strip. Not a single person has disliked my content.
I felt like I accomplished my goal in blending in all elements of a good story. But, more importantly, I was able to combine two separate worlds of story telling together (Hence the name True Hybrid Book).
On your website you talk a little bit more about Twisted Eden and that you had actually thought about this story and its characters for a long time. How did you come up with this story?
Well…being born in the 90’s made me appreciate Anime in a big way. Seeing shows with intense action like Dragon Ball Z is one of the things that kept me drawing at a young age. But, as I got older and became more analytical, I knew that I needed something more than a basic story with big fights.
When I first made my story, I noticed that my characters didn’t have enough internal conflicts to make them relatable. So, I went back to the drawing board and started giving each character an internal conflict. That’s when I thought of the classic “memory loss” idea for my main character. A person trying to uncover their lost memory always added that “mystery” element to the book that most people love!
My main character’s loss of memory was a good way for me to give him more depth while giving the story an unpredictable plot. In total, I believe it took me around three years to put everything together. Lol, I think I just realized that I sacrificed hanging out with friends in High School and college for this book…sheesh!
Can you explain why you chose to name your book Twisted Eden? Without spoilers can you hint on how it fits into the story line?
Well, most of us know about the classic story of the Garden of Eden from the Bible. So, I wanted to make a fiction book that “twisted” the story of human’s origin. In the Garden of Eden, there were two trees that wasn’t to be touched. One granted man the power of Knowledge while the other Granted man the gift of life.
Twisted Eden is a Fictional of how things probably could have been if Adam ate from one Tree, while Eve ate from the other…
There are different realms in Twisted Eden with two sets of beings – humans and the Dominants, who govern humankind from within the shadows. What kind of creatures are these Dominants and why do they need to rule in secret? Do they have super powers?
You can picture Dominants as Angels. They are in the form of “Man”, have influence over Humanity, and have wings and cool powers. Some are good, some are evil, but the plot isn’t so simple. What is percieved as good and bad is through the eyes of the beholder… You’ll see these conflicts of Morales versus Circumstances a lot in Twisted Eden.
In your book excerpt you start off with a young Prince from another Realm. Is this Prince human or a Dominant? Will there be lots of twists and turns in this story? Lots of fighting?
The Prince is a Dominant, so he has those cool wings and powers. Yes, there will be lots of twists and turns in the story. I purposely wrote the plot to make a person think something is going to happen when it doesn’t. And yes…there will be lots and lots of fighting! Not as much in the first issue though, because I want to paint the picture before things start exploding!
Let’s talk a little bit about Fusion Book Publishing, is this your own company? Was it difficult setting this up?
Yes! I Found Fusion Book Publishing to help beginner Authors for free! I love helping people, but I favor self publishers since we have a good reputation of producing bad stuff…(thankfully that’s changing) It was really hard to get the ball rolling at first, but it’s finally getting some momentum! The main blog is at http://sammuelbowden.blogspot.com/. The home page shows what’s new while the Free Help page connects you to the Facebook community where you can contact me for help.
What do you hope to do in the future with Fusion Book Publishing as you grow bigger?
I want it to be a second chance for Authors! Everyone has the power to make a good book, but just need guidance on how. I want Fusion Book Publishing to grow to help as many people as possible to do what they love to do. I also want it to serve as a place where readers and fans can reach out directly to the industry to express what they want.
It’s been great learning all about your Twisted Eden project and I hope that it takes off as some of these ideas really captured my imagination! Tackling a new take on a traditional format of anything is a courageous task! Please have a look at his website and send in some support to his kickstarter!
Until I met my husband, I never listened much to the radio. His family are huge fans of CBC radio and grew up with this station always on in the house. My family has Chinese television on all the time instead.
Looking for different ways of promoting my Kickstarter campaign, I stumbled across Dr. Wright, a crowd funding guru who has a web tv and radio website. She offered to do a quick interview with me for her radio podcast and I jumped at the chance. There was no equipment to set up, which was nice and all I had to do was call into her LA radio station. She had mentioned a few questions in her email so I wrote up answers for those, but in general I wasn’t sure what to expect!
It was a good experience overall as I learned a lot about what I didn’t know. Such as how to answer questions properly when the host improvises. I was really nervous, so that did not help things as I stumbled across my words like a drunken sailor. In general now I know that I have to think harder about what messages I want to convey for my book, including themes, unique characteristics, cultural matters, etc. My friend was surprised at all this. “You wrote the damn thing, you should know everything!” He admonished.
Writing is such a solitary, introverted activity that it feels odd to suddenly switch on an extrovert personality in order to explain what the heck you created. As well, growing up in an Asian culture, tooting your horn is a bad thing and you never want to draw attention to yourself because you will appear to be a narcissist. So generally, I find talking about my work and myself in a positive light hard to do as I grew up learning to do the opposite. My husband says I’m the worst salesperson in the world as he listens to me degrade myself after receiving any good comments on my work. He’s trying to train me to say “thank you” and not continue on to say anything bad afterwards, but it’s going to take a lot of effort on my part.
Here is the interview for those still interested, hopefully I’ll do better next time!