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Felipe Smith is unique in the manga world: He is an American manga artist working — and being published — in Japan. His three-volume series Peepo Choo was serialized in Kodansha’s Morning Two magazine and then was licensed by Vertical for English-language release. Smith was born in Akron, Ohio, raised in Argentina, attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and was living in Los Angeles when he drew his first graphic novel MBQ for Tokyopop, so he is truly a man of the world. He is between projects at the moment, but he implied that he has several pitches with different editors, and I’m quite sure we have not heard the last of him.
Smith was one of the invited guests at MangaNEXT, where I interviewed him in company with another journalist, although “interview” is an overstatement — it was more like taking dictation, with the occasional question thrown in as a prompt. So I’ll dispense with the questions, which were little more than starting points, and just let Felipe do the talking.
Passings | Jan Berenstain, who with her husband Stan created the popular children’s book characters the Berenstain Bears, passed away Friday at a hospital near her home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Berenstain, 88, had suffered a stroke earlier in the week. Since the release of The Big Honey Hunt in 1962, the Berenstain Bears series has grown to more than 300 books and sold about 260 million copies worldwide, inspiring animated television specials and series, museum exhibits and a stage show. Stan Berenstain passed away in 2005 at age 82. [The Washington Post]
Events | This year’s 24-Hour Comics Day will be held Oct. 20. [ComicsPro]
Comics | Here’s a variation on the comics-aren’t-for-kids-anymore theme, with reasonable parents who know they need to check what their kids are reading, and a retailer who gets it. [WNYT.com]
The manga publisher Vertical Inc. announced two new licenses at MangaNEXT: Heroman, which is co-written by Stan Lee, and The Limit, a serious take on bullying by Keiko Suenobu, the creator of Life, a manga about cutting that was published by Tokyopop in 2006. They will also be publishing a Queen’s Blade art book, based on the popular Japanese franchise that includes illustrated books, manga, anime, and video games.
Heroman is not a typical title for Vertical, but marketing director Ed Chavez said the manga really surprised him. “This is a very smart introduction to not just manga reading and traditional Japanese tropes of science fiction and the like, kaiju and giant monsters, but also a great introduction to American superhero comics,” he said. “To have Stan Lee involved and to have Square Enix [the publisher] involved, I thought this was a very interesting proposition.”
Lee developed the plot for the series, which was made into an anime by the anime studio Bones. The story, which is set in Los Angeles (or a city very much like it), is about a teenager who is a little undersized who wants to be a hero; he picks up a discarded toy that someone has thrown away and… well, you know… next thing there’s aliens and giant robots. Sounds like good stuff. Square Enix is the publisher of Fullmetal Alchemist and Black Butler, as well as a host of popular games, and they sure know how to make manga.
The other new manga license, The Limit, is a shoujo story that, Chavez said, “even the dumb old guys at Vertical—we are in our 30s—could understand.” In other words, it lacks the visual busyness of a lot of shoujo manga (see: Sailor Moon, or anything by Arina Tanemura), and, Chavez says, “It’s brutal. Once you get to the halfway part of the first volume, it’s literally a survival story, with high school girls. Six girls come in, three girls come out. I want to see not just your traditional shoujo reader pick this up, I would like to see the guys pick it up. It’s a harsh title.”