29 September 2014 | No comments yet
This weekend marked the 150th anniversary of the book binding company where my father-in-law works. For over 30 years, he has operated a printing press as large as a two-story building, binding book copies by the million to be distributed all over the world.
This is the first time it’s been open to the public since 1999, and even so I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures. It’s no surprise why—high profile books bound for the best seller list are routinely cycled through.
The plant is in a rural area of Virginia, spanning a mile wide on the inside. Outdoors, cows graze in the valley below the Blue Ridge Mountains. When they opened the plant in 1980, my father-in-law applied for the same job he works today, manning a printing press.
Apart from a smaller new “digital ink” press and some renovations, little has changed today. My favorite part of the tour were the industrial robots who use dextrous metal arms to perform jobs at which humans used to lose their fingers, but my father-in-law just scoffs. Where I see innovation, he sees former teammates who were laid off.
Inside the plant, towering stacks of half-finished books line the warehouses, while millions of tons of 9-mile-long rolls of paper are poised to print more. There’s a use for every type of paper and every paper byproduct, from defunct book prints to even paper dust.
Near the end of the tour, I got to shake hands with the plant manager. He and my father-in-law both started the same year in the plant’s apprenticeship program, and know each other well. My father-in-law told him that I’ve started writing books. “But she’s mostly an Internet writer, you know, the kind we don’t like!” he joked.
The manager asked me who was publishing my books, and I told him about Carlton as well as the publisher I worked for in the spring (I’m optimistic, I guess). He frowned thoughtfully, and said he wasn’t familiar with indie publishers. He was standing in front of a building-sized stack of partially bound copies of John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars.
It was a real change of perspective for me. For me, self publishing is indie. Digital publishing, where I can’t afford to do a print run, is indie. Working with publishers, albeit small ones, is akin to working with corporations in my world. But for the old school printing establishment, which has the capacity to churn out millions of books in a day, the print runs I am considering are indeed “indie,” even if they’re a tier above what I usually do. The plant now has a digital ink printer for smaller print runs, though I can’t even image how staggering those are in comparison to how many copies of my books will be printed.
I have read 34 books on Kindle this year, compared to 3 in paperback form. In my life, print is hardly relevant. But standing below the buildings made out of books and bindings, in the midst of a mile-long space that smells like nothing more than a freshly cracked novel, it’s hard to argue with the still intimidating imperium of the print publishing world.
Above: the field outside the plant. Middle: a modern color printing press.
24 September 2014 | 1 comment
Her designs take tropes we know and love and turn them into something visually arresting. From her technicolor glitch art to creepy-cute original characters to the bold capital letters she uses to spell her name, OMOCAT‘s subversive take on anime, games, and manga aims to shock the senses.
I first discovered the OMOCAT clothing line during my yearly trip to San Francisco Japantown, where it was laid out at New People, a shop for up-and-coming subculture artists. Now her apparel has spread outside of California as far as Harajuku.
The artist behind the clothing is a bit of an enigma herself—she wouldn’t tell me her name or many personal details besides the fact that she absolutely loved this summer’s Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. When it came to her oeuvre, however, she was happy to chat. I sent her my questions through email, and this is how she replied.
What came first: your interest in art or your interest in anime?
I have memories of myself drawing when I was four. I also remember around that time that my parents would play me a lot of Ghibli movies, so I’m not sure which came first. In elementary school, I watched a variety of cartoons but was especially into Sailor Moon, Pokémon, and DBZ and a variety of shows they would play on Toonami and Adult Swim (Gundam Wing, Yu Yu Hakusho, FLCL), but it wasn’t until around 7th or 8th grade that I started recognizing these cartoons as “anime”.
When and why did you start combining the two?
Well I was always into drawing comics. I remember I would frequently make a comic of my friends and I in silly situations—like we would have weird special powers, or we were all stuck on a deserted island. I didn’t feel like I could openly like anime without being made fun of, so I always pushed “my own style” in an effort to hide my anime influence. Consequently, throughout high school, I went through a variety of style changes to find something that would sit right with me (but I never really found it).
I ended up going to art college because I couldn’t imagine being anything but an artist. There was a huge stigma around drawing anime there because it wasn’t considered “real art.” It wasn’t so much the teachers, but mostly the other students. At some point, I realized that if no one else was willing to draw anime at school, I would stand out by doing just that… so I guess that’s when I really started combining the two!
Where does the inspiration for your clothing line come from?
Growing up, there wasn’t really clothing that I felt could represent me and how I wanted to dress, so my clothing line is basically “what I want to wear.” I actually go online shopping a lot, and I of the time I never buy anything because I don’t like it enough; but through doing that research, I realize what I want so I make it myself.
Your mini-comic, Pretty Boy, took off in a big way. Why do you think that small story resonated with so many people?
Yeah! I was really surprised about that. I came up with the comic idea and finished all the drawings for it in one day. I wanted to capture a very big story in as least pages as possible (I actually cried drawing the last few pages of the comic myself). I have a lot of friends who like to read boy-love manga, but I could never really get into it. I’m not much for any type of smut myself (I think it’s distracting), so I wanted to make a story that would really be the bare-bones of any type of romance but have the characters be people who wouldn’t normally be accepted as a couple. I think Pretty Boy is about acceptance, and the idea of being accepted for who you are (for your entire life) really resonates with a lot of people.
You’ve had an extremely prolific career as an artist, between your anime quote posters, book, clothing line, and OMORI video game. But which of your accomplishments do you consider to be your “big break” and why?
I would say my “big break” is definitely my clothing line. The clothing really started as a hobby, so it’s the most fun to do; and right now, it’s become what most people know me for. I really love drawing fan art, but always having someone else’s work attached to my own became a little tiring. As an artist I wanted to create my own universe, and the clothing line helped me achieve that. In that way, it is definitely the most fulfilling part of my career right now (at least until my video game comes out); there’s nothing like randomly seeing people on the street wearing clothing that you’ve designed.
What is your advice to artists who are just starting out? Do you think it’s especially important to get a degree or make friends with the right people or start a blog?
I think ideally, it’s best to make friends with the right people, but I was never good at making friends… My whole career really started out through the internet. I wasn’t good at talking to people in real life, so I used the internet as an outlet to build up my career because that was the only way I knew how to do it. A degree isn’t important, but experience in the art world definitely is. I may not have liked going to art school, but because I have that experience, I know what I like and what I don’t like, and that is definitely an important part of my creative process. For me the most important part is to start was to start a blog—and to basically let people know that you exist.
What’s next on the OMOCAT horizon?
For the next year, I will be working full time on my game OMORI. After that, I plan on having an OMORI fashion line and other merchandise… and after that, I plan on collaborating with a lot of artists and bringing other indie artist’s lines into the OMOCAT shop. As for original work after OMORI, I want to release my DONUT GIRLS merch line (a group of 8 girls based off donut flavors), and HAMBURGER-CHAN (a girl who eats hamburgers) merch line. And of course, I will create some other clothing for the OMOCAT collection in the process!
Read more interviews with anime fans on Otaku Journalist:
22 September 2014 | No comments yet
Over the next seven weeks, I will be writing the book I mentioned earlier. Obviously that’s going to cut into my blog writing time, so I figured, why not write about the book? Tune in every Monday to hear about how it’s going.
This week, I want to tell you about the differences between writing a book for a publisher and publishing a book yourself, like I did with Otaku Journalism.
Negotiating the contract
When I wrote Otaku Journalism, I didn’t have to answer to anybody. I could change the scope of the book, or deliver more or fewer words, and name it anything I liked. The result was that I had to create it, fund it, and publicize it entirely by myself.
A book contract takes off some of the pressures of self publishing while adding new ones. It (usually) guarantees that you will be paid for your work, no matter how the book does. It provides some ground rules for the book subject matter and how long it should be. It outlines your responsibilities and the publisher’s responsibilities so you can work well together.
I am extremely gunshy about contracts right now. I contributed a chapter for a book in May, for which I signed a contract. I cannot say anything else, but you may have noticed I haven’t blogged at all about having a chapter in an upcoming book soon.
Contracts have a lot of legal jargon in them, so it’s best not to be the only one reading it. This time, I had my sister, who is a lawyer, and my friend, who is a law student, read it over. I also found a book agent over Twitter to review it. I also contacted Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts, a local organization that provides legal assistance to artists and writers.
Ultimately, I’ve realized the best thing to do is get a literary agent. An agent can tell if a contract is typical or not, and you only pay them if you accept the deal—they take a cut of whatever the publisher is offering. I’m starting my search here.
Should you self-publish or not?
When I first started putting Otaku Journalism together, my first thought was to look for a publisher. If a publisher likes your book idea, they can pay you an advance, provide you with a good editor and illustrator, and help you publicize it or go on a book tour.
Well, that’s what I thought. Publishing isn’t the sunshine and rainbows industry it used to be. As print book sales go down, today’s publishers are more risk-averse. They would never accept a book with “otaku” in the title, much less something as niche as a journalism textbook (already fringe) aimed at a select set of geeks who are into writing. And if they did accept my book, they might suggest changes to make it less nerdy or obscure.
In the end, it came down to that question, posed to me by a traditionally published author: “Why do this as a traditional book? It’s for a very specific niche and it’s something you would know way better than any publisher would.” He had a point. And in the end, I had a great time self-publishing and it will continue to be my preferred method for any ideas I have myself.
I have never traditionally published a book, so I don’t know yet if there are hidden advantages I don’t know about. Certainly it’s helpful to have access to a printing press. I could only afford to publish Otaku Journalism digitally, but I’m pretty sure the book I’m writing now, full of glossy cosplay photoshoots, will only be in print form.
Is there anything you’d like to know about writing a book? I’ll do my best to answer as this series progresses over the next seven weeks.
Photo by Dawn Endico