The Jamie Lano File, part 4: Kawaii Kon ahoy!
This week, in the days leading up to Kawaii Kon Day 0, I'm publishing excerpts from my conversation with manga artist/blogger/Princess of Tennis author Jamie Lano, who moved to Oahu last year and will be hosting three panels at Kawaii Kon. In case you missed it -- and maybe you did, you never know; I mean, I kinda missed promoting on social media the fact that Part 3 of this series went live yesterday, whoops -- and subscribe to the Star-Advertiser, you can check out my profile of her that ran in Sunday's paper. You can also check out the other parts of the series below:
In this installment: Kawaii Kon! It's a thing! It starts in two days! And Jamie talks about what she's going to talk about there. There are also a few more notes about her life in Japan and her manga philosophy, for those of you who can't make it to con but still want to learn more about her.
Jason: Going back to Kawaii Kon, you had mentioned that you were going to do three panels during that. Could you briefly talk about each one?
Jamie: Yes! I wish I had the schedule here, because I don’t know what I’m doing on one day. I have one panel on every day. My Friday and Sunday panels are kind of in the morning, but please come! I was so sad they were in the morning, but I’m accommodating, so if people want to come, they’ll come. If they want to get up at 8 o’clock, you know? My Saturday one is in the afternoon at like 5, 5:30 or something, so I don’t know if that conflicts with anything big, but if it doesn’t, I hope a lot of people come.
One panel is on creating manga in the Japanese way, so all the things that I learned over there, I want to help teach people. So I was hoping to bring a limited number of supplies — paper, pens, things like that, a million pencils — and have people at least be able to … well, they can maybe try out the pens and the ink pens and maybe screentones if I can get a hold of some, things like that. I’d like them to be able to take home a piece of manga paper where they’ve sketched out comics and stuff on that. I want to have at least enough … I’ve asked for tables and chairs, so I’d like to have at least enough real manga paper from Japan that people can use that and ... pencils and they can sketch out their own thing. It’s not realistic for people to get pen nibs and pen holders. They’re pretty expensive. But I’d like for people to at least be able to try them out. So that’s one of them, and that’s the making comics … err, Making Comics the Japanese Way, I’m sorry, I don’t have my notes, but you’ll know it when you see it.
Another one is about my experiences in Japan, working in the manga studio and the manga industry, and about my book, pretty much. It’s going to be more presentation than interactive. I have some videos I want to show. I got this really cool new "not-Powerpoint but better than Powerpoint"-type software. A friend introduced me to that the other day and I was like, “I am so using this.” So I’m going to have to learn that sometime this month and make … hopefully an OK presentation, and then do some talking and then take questions and answers from people.
My other panel … right now I have one other person to come with me. I’d like to get some more if I can find them. And that’s on living in Japan as a foreigner and working in Japan as a foreigner. Because my experiences were not what I expected at all. I certainly had a preconceived notion of what it would be like, and it was not like that. And I want to talk about the good things and the bad things. And my other friend is on the Quidditch team with me, and he lived, I think, for two years in Japan, but he’s working in the military. So his experience is so different from mine.
So I am really interested in … I mean, we’ve done our own compare-and-contrast in person, but in a panel setting I hope people find it really interesting. I know I have a zillion pictures, I was blogging since before I came, so I have nine years of pictures from living there that I can go into and video and all kinds of fun stuff. And talk about the good and the bad, the logistics, how you get there, how you find work, what kind of work is generally available, what kind of visas you need, things like that. You know, go through all the stuff that people ask me every day on my blog.
I’m hoping to find at least one other person or two other people who lived in Japan that I can … I have one person in mind, she’s Japanese, so she would have a different perspective, though, so I’m not sure. I will definitely find some more people to have fun. If I could afford it, I would bring some of my friends there that have very different experiences than I do, and I just like being able to compare them. But I can’t afford to bring them, so we’ll see who I can get. But it should be a fun panel, and anybody that wants to go to Japan and live the dream, live in the land of manga and anime, they should come to this panel, because we can give you the real answers. Not just the hearsay. We can give you answers based on life, what it’s actually like and what you have to do. What you’re going to find is totally wrong. It should be interesting. So those are my three panels.
(Jason's note: At this point in the conversation, we started talking about a potential candidate for the third panel.)
Jamie: It also helps when you have a different perspective. Like I am so not Asian, I stand out in Japan. ... And I’ve noticed that my friends over there who are Asian had a very different experience than I did in public places. I think that’s a good thing to consider as well, whether you want to stand out. If you don’t … you know, if you’re a tall white girl, you might stand out a lot, definitely get stared at. And it got to the point where I became numb to it, I didn’t notice. But whenever I associated with someone new, they would always bring it up: “Wow, people are staring at us.” And I’m like, “REALLY?” (laughter)
You know, I didn’t notice it anymore. I didn’t notice it at all. I was so used to it, it just went right over my head, and I was, like, off in my own world. Especially with Asian friends, Japanese or otherwise, we’d walk down the street and you’d see your reflection in a mirror in a storefront, every time I would have to do a double-take because we look so different. But I was in such a homogenous culture that I assumed … in my head, when I didn’t think about it, I was the same as everyone else. And I had gotten to that point. But you come to a mirrored storefront, and you’re like, “Whoooooooooa … she’s so much smaller than I am, and look how tall I am, and, like, whoa, I stand out a lot.” There has to be a degree of “I don’t care anymore about that,” or else you’re not gonna make it.
But also … it was still a shock. Every time. It was strange. Because I know what I look like. I know how tall I am. But you just don’t see yourself from the outside that often.
Jamie: Yeah, helped me come out of my shell a little bit, too. Or … no, I went in my shell more. I became more internal. But I also stopped caring about what other people thought about the way that I want to express myself. I was like, “They’re gonna stare at me anyway, so I will wear the short skirt.” I love short skirts. Like in the anime they wear, like, the sweaters, and then, like, the skirt just baaaaarely peeking out, like the schoolgirl and stuff. I never wore that stuff back in the states because people would stare at me or like, “I look like a hooker,” or something, right? Because my legs were so long. And I stopped caring. I was like, “Whatever, they’re gonna stare at me anyway.” It doesn’t mean I am a hooker because I have 6 miles of legs poking out of the skirt. They can’t see anything important. It’s not indecent in my opinion. Who cares?
And there are people over there that are like, “Don’t wear shirts showing your cleavage, and don’t bare your shoulders.” Which is totally WTF to me, because Japanese girls wore tube tops all the time, so I don’t get where that’s coming from. “Japanese girls don’t do this!” And I was like, “Did you not live in Tokyo?” Maybe in the countryside, they don’t In Tokyo, though all the girls and their casual clothes are, like, strapless dresses and fancy dresses and tube tops and whatever. I saw plenty of shoulder. I saw plenty of cleavage from Japanese girls. I just learned from that. i don’t care. I was like, “I don’t care.” You can stare all you want. I will just stare back or ignore you or … it doesn’t affect who I am as a person. It’s good for your … I don’t know, it’s good and bad for your self-confidence, right?
… I don’t even know what the question was anymore. (laughter)
Jason: Awww, that’s okay …
Jamie: My panels! Right! See? You learn these things in my panels.
Jason: Well, there you go, yeah!
Jamie: I’ve never done this many panels before. I’ve only ever done two in my entire life. And one was at Comic-Con, when Deb Aoki asked me to participate in a panel about making manga in Japan or making comics in Japan. So I was one of many people. I barely got to speak. And then I had … Taku Taku Matsuri here, and you were there. And so I had a whole hour to myself, and I thought (organizer Yuka Nagaoka) was gonna structure it, but she didn’t, and now I had to suddenly come up with something out of my butt. And I was like, “Okaaaaaay, I’m just gonna talk, and ...“
Jason: It worked out well, though. I thought so, anyway.
Jamie: You thought it was OK? Oh, good. I thought it was OK, but it was a little awkward for me at first. But you know, it’s … there was only 150 people there to see me be awkward, so it’s OK! And I guess it’s OK if they see me awkward. Who cares, right?
So I think I’m working up to it. This is my first time having so many panels, but I’m glad they’re all on different days, so I can prepare a little bit for them. I’m hoping … my friend introduced me to an agent who does bookings, so I am going to hopefully be able to use her to book other cons around the country. All I want is, if they’ll pay my way, I’ll come for free. Somebody told me … somebody from Yen Press, actually, told me that I should be charging a lot of money. Or no, you know, it might have been Anime News Network. One of them, at Comic-Con, I was talking to a bunch of people. And they said I should charge an appearance fee. I don’t know if I’m … awesome enough for that, you know?
We’ll see what my booking agent can get me. But at least if there is any con and they say, “We will pay your transportation and lodging. We’ll give you a hotel room, we’ll give you some food, we’ll give you a plane ticket,” I’d be there. I’d come to any con because I really want to help spread the word and like … I might have a lot to offer, I might have little to offer in other areas, but I think what I have to offer is what people would be interested in. I think a lot of people would love to hear what I have to say. And not to sound full of myself, but I think it’s interesting and I think it’s useful information, and I’d like to reach out to all those people who don’t know who I am at all, and be able to spread that word and be able to teach people what I know, because then it’s not just me.
And hopefully it will help other people follow their dreams and become manga artists in their own way and their own right, and we will grow and nurture all these budding artists. In Japan we call them “mangaka no tamago,” which technically I still am. It just means “mangaka’s eggs,” like you’re about to … you’re going to hatch and grow. So I’d like to help do that, incubate all those little mangaka eggs that are waiting there just to blossom. It’s the only way we’re going to create that type of manga- or comics-reading culture that I want is to help grow them.
Jason: Oh, absolutely.
Jamie: And think of all those people out there who have amazing stories to tell. They might not even know it. But that love story from their school days might be something everybody would relate to and love. Or that trip they took to Italy is something so many people would probably love to read.
Just like … think of Taylor Swift. What did she do? She turned her experiences and her friends’ experiences into songs and put them out in front of the world. And they resonated with people and people said, “We love what you’re doing, do more!” And she became a big success. And now there are other artists going along that same vein. They’re writing their own music, they’re talking about their own experiences, and they’re growing. And we could do this; we’re poised to do the same thing with manga. Reach out, tell our stories, tell our experiences. Reach out, grow the culture and make all these people who are making a living through expressing themselves, and … what bad can come of that, right?
Jason: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Jamie: Yeah. And then we’ll have our own big ol’ community of manga artists all over the U.S., all over the world, and spreading our own cultures through the world. Like all of us manga and anime fans know about Japanese culture. We might not know everything, of course, but we know bits and pieces, and we’re interested in it. And we learn little things here and there. A lot of us know White Day and Valentine’s Day, how that works over there and it’s totally different than the U.S. We learned all that cool cultural stuff. And the same thing will happen with other cultures, you know? So hopefully that’s the future that we have, I don’t know.
Jason: Okay, one more quick question. You know your manga drawing workshop … what age range, do you think?
Jamie: Everybody’s welcome.
Jamie: Eeeeeeeverybody! Because you know what? My favorite magazine in Japan, Ribon, they do shoujo manga aimed at grade-schoolers. They published Marmalade Boy, for example. So … grade-schoolers, maybe middle-school, maybe a little higher, but you’ve gotta be like me and have a really young mind to like that. They do an under-14 contest every month. They want artists under 14-year-olds, and they give them a separate, completely separate realm of prizes. And they publish them, too. And those kids usually are not very good. But I enjoy seeing them try so hard, make something, so … you know, think of that here. As long as they can draw and they’re not gonna cause a fuss or anything, everyone’s welcome.
Jamie: Yeah. I mean, don’t bring your 2-year-old who’s just gonna cry or something, you know? If they’re a nice 2-year-old, sure. But I think … I’m gonna go over the techniques, I’m gonna go over what’s used and why, and then maybe … oh, I’m thinking I may structure it, have people write or think of an outline, and then have people just take the pencils and the paper that I provide and draw whatever they can. And maybe I’ll talk a little about how to break things into panels, things like that. But mostly just let people run with it, and so … I wouldn’t be showing anything adult there, and I can’t control what other people are doing, but I would assume if you have a young child, you’re not gonna let them just wander around and look at other people’s work.
And I think it’s more about just people getting together and kinda giving an overview, and then being able to run with it and do their own thing. So everybody’s welcome. Everybody.