Sunday, December 15, 2013

Kmye Chan: Not Just a Flash in the Artistic Pan

Unless you’ve had your head buried in one very deep sandbox, you’d have noticed that Japanese art, film, music and fashion has had a huge impact on the stylings of its Western brethren. 

With this in mind I occasionally yack with foreign musicians and creative types about the influence of Japan on their own art, and this month I placed the spotlight on French artist Kmye Chan, with whom I’ve been liaising about a potential book cover (it's called Planet Goth and will be published in 2014 with Kmye's 'Dancing Puppet' painting, left, on the front).

The artist's name itself was a giveaway: Kmye CHAN.

Chan in Japanese is an honorific suffix originally used for babies, but these days employed to refer to anyone with an endearing quality, be the individual a super-cute grandmother or a zany seal (look up Tama-chan online for one example).

Kmye is an amazing painter, someone who has taken the obvious influence of manga and rendered it anew in a style also reminiscent to me of American comic book artist Steve Ditko. 

Who are your favourite manga artists, and which stories did you most enjoy as a fan?

“My favourite would easily be Yukito Kishiro — reading Gunnm [Battle Angel Alita] was a turning point in my drawing life. Both the artwork and plot were something completely new and out of this world, so far as my fifteen-year-old self was concerned!

“I love Ai Yazawa (Paradise Kiss, Nana) for her bittersweet shōjo characters and quirky linework. Graphically, I am also always amazed by Kaori Yuki’s art... When I started drawing, her work was my ultimate reference since I collected her manga and art books! And last, but not least, in my teenage years I was a massive Rurouni Kenshin fan [by Nobuhiro Watsuki] — this series still occupies a sweet spot in my heart and I happily read it over and over again.”

So you obviously would you say you’re more influenced by shōjo (girls) than mecha (giant robot) manga. Are the two compatible?

“That being said, I have read and loved my share of mecha/kaiju manga: Neon Genesis Evangelion has been a staple in my manga collection. Of course, both are compatible — they are different but both equally enjoyable. I would actually love to see a mecha manga storyline drawn with a typical shōjo manga style. That would be an interesting twist!”
“My artwork is undeniably more influenced by shōjo manga — you can see this in the flowing clothing and hair, the highly detailed, decorative style that is typical of shōjo has always been something I have been fascinated with. There is something inherently beautiful about it, where shōnen manga style [aimed at teenage boys] in general is more focused on reflecting action and movement.


Monday, November 11, 2013

A Battle Royal バトル・ロワイアル

You've likely already heard the rumours — forget what you think you know about The Hunger Games franchise since it's pretty darned blatantly sourced from better film Battle Royale (2000).

Thing is, that's in turn based on Kōshun Takami's 1999 novel, and there's a manga series of Battle Royale that was published from 2000 to 2005, illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi.

But let's get back to the cinematic outing.

This violent, often wildly hilarious — and disturbing — gem is p'raps not quite so obscure now, thirteen years on, as when it was first released in Japan.

Battle Royale would've made a far more fitting obituary for its director Kinji Fukasaku rather than its lesser sequel three years later — which in fact his son Kenta polished off after the director's death at age 72.

You certainly couldn’t take style, content and inspiration any further a field from Fukasaku, Sr.'s earlier adventure schlock-romp Legend Of 8 Samurai.

So clear your frazzled Hunger Games brain.

It’s a not-too-distant future.

Japan is again a fascist state. An arbitrarily-chosen bus full of high school kids are knocked out with sleeping gas, kidnapped, then shipped on to an isolated island — where they’re informed by their embittered former teacher Kitano ('Beat' Takeshi Kitano) that the only way they will leave said island is by killing all their classmates — or by ending up in a body-bag themselves. 

In order to enforce this mandate, each student is shackled with an exploding collar, à la Wedlock, and Kitano punctuates the students’ plight with a well-aimed penknife to one of the girl’s foreheads, thereby launching a battle for self-preservation.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

All Roads Lead to Nihonbashi (日本橋)

 It's funny how you can live in a place for a decade and miss a lot of what's right there nearby.

It's autumn, the weather's been glorious here in Tokyo (here read cool that the scorching summer we just went through), and the leaves are starting to turn colour-wise.

A couple of days ago I was on tight writing deadlines, but it was superb weather again so I decided to skip out and finally go explore the area in central Tokyo around the Nihonbashi, literally Japan Bridge — which was built a century ago in 2011, but rests on what has been a vital conduit spot for this city since the 17th century.

And I'd never even seen it before now except in ukiyo-e woodcuts by Hiroshige.

Japan Bridge is also the setting and title for a 1956 movie — Nihonbashi — by the great Japanese director Kon Ichikawa.

Ichikawa's first film in colour tells a riveting yarn of two geisha fighting for control of the Nihonbashi area, along the way brushing kimono with ghosts, murder, infanticide and flying daggers.

Read more of this piece and glimpse a swag of additional images @ Forces Of Geek.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Production I.G: The Little Details

A long time ago, while conjuring up some superbly detailed artwork, my friend intimated that God resided in the details.

Not being Christian per se, and without a religious millimetre illuminating anywhere on my body, I didn’t have a clue what this guy was on about, or which dippy deity he referred to. The only thing similar I’d heard was that Old Nick (you know, the Devil) was in those same details.

Which rendered me somewhat confused.

That is, I until around 16 years ago — when I first watched Mamoru Oshii’s enthralling anime feature Ghost in the Shell (1995).

While the original manga pages — titled Kōkaku Kidōtai in Japanese, written and illustrated by Shirow Masamune — pushed quirky as much as cerebral, light-hearted and a trifle perverted, this animated movie interpretation by Oshii, of Patlabor fame, was dark, a tad more intelligent, and the most innovative cyberpunk romp since Akira (1988).

It also led to an obvious Wachowski siblings’ homage with The Matrix in 1999.

Truth is, Ghost in the Shell knocked off my cotton socks to hammer home the studio behind the film — Production I.G — as my favourite Japanese anime company. It’s a lofty perch that I.G retains nearly two decades later.

Here’s where I get to lob in some silly puns relating to the introductory ‘theme’: God knows I.G deserves it, and by Heaven above they go for the jugular of those little details, glean ‘em, tweak ‘em, and quite often leave you gob-smacked, gasping for more with each successive experiment in style, form and technology. Halle-bloody-lujah.

To start with, there’s so much damned depth to I.G productions.

Not just the background animation or those aforementioned little details; it goes beyond the superlative character designs, the tight direction and slick production values; the depth lingers somewhere beyond this production company’s penchant for risk-taking along with clever marketing panache.

They’ve got to be doing something right to have established themselves at the forefront of the severely stiff competition that is the Japanese animation industry, and further to have maintained that position.

Likely this has to do with the talent involved at the studio.


...with thanks to Francesco Prandoni @ I.G and Ben Pollock @ Madman.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? is now published

Over the past year I've been working on this new book, novel #3, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? — which brings together such disparate elements as 1940s and '60s comic books, a sci-fi/dystopia, pulp influences, and hardboiled noir trying desperately to skulk somewhere beneath the coattails of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

Anyway, it was supposed to be published via Perfect Edge Books in the UK on September 27th this year, but has sneaked out of the blocks early and is now available from Amazon UK and Amazon USA in paperback form at least (the eBook will probably come out late in September). 

I still can't believe it's out there, and of course I can't resist hawking it here!

There are Japanese elements to the book, after all. Key character Midori, a.k.a. Prima Ballerina, is of Japanese descent. Lead character Pretty Amazonia (pictured here, conjured up by artist Juan Saavedra), is a hybrid of super-powered girls' anime characters from things like Sailor Moon and PreCure. She spends free time kicking round a manga volume of Candy Candy.

And she gets around in a ship named the Magnetic Rose (check out Katsuhiro Otomo's 1995 anime Memories).

There's also a cameo by another character that plays on the Fuchikoma 1-man tanks used by members of Section 9 in Ghost in the Shell.

So, Japanese refs and hawking aside, I'm pretty buzzed about this one and hope you get the time at least to check it out.

While the price (for the paperback) may seem a little steep, just remember it's 473 pages, with 35 illustrations. And it makes a great door-stopper.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

BREAKING CAMP: Running School Camps in Japan is Weird

Last week, after twelve years in this country, I did something for the first time that's apparently quite the lure for English teachers in Japan, mostly because of the bonus-extra cash — going on a school camp during summer vacation.

In this case it was a three-day affair, attempting to teach a bunch of junior high school girls I'd never before met, without any idea of their English language level and no access to a PC, whiteboards, textbooks or a photocopier.

The lessons were conducted on the tatami-matted floors of their shared rooms at an inn near Yamanaka Lake, and my particular group of nine included the rowdiest and more stubborn members of the entire camp. I had one kid constantly questioning everything we did—sadly in Japanese rather than the language we were supposed to be practicing—along with a grumpy scowler, a girl who thought she was a bird, rivalries, and mood swings galore.

There were tears almost as often as there was laughter.

To top things off, one of the Canadian teachers had a meltdown, locked herself in her room, and refused to teach—meaning the other four instructors inherited that class as well.


Being stuck teaching 13-year-olds from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm every day had me climbing the walls—and fired up to do something creative. Like drink a lot of beer from the convenience store located a kilometre away down a road in the middle of a tiny village with no streetlights.


Friday, July 26, 2013

12 Years in Tokyo

Yep, I'm still a bit stunned—today is my twelfth anniversary of living in this country, so I've been away from Melbourne (my old stomping ground-cum-home town) for well over a decade now.

The plan was originally six months.

When I arrived on July 26th, 2001 the world was, cliché as it might sound, a different place.

It was the year Stanley Kubrick's and Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was supposed to take place, but didn't.

That July the World Trade Center attack in New York was still over six weeks away, Junichiro Koizumi had just become prime minister of this country while George W. Bush had been kicking back in office in the U.S. for seven months. John Howard (shudder) had run Australia into the ground for six years already.

Wikipedia had been online for just six months, the first Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films were released and Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed Amélie. In 2001 Japanese cinema was also on a roll: the great Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) delivered up live-action deep-thinker Avalon, while anime-wise we were blessed with two brilliant films by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress).

Personally? I was still running my record label IF? and doing odd tracks as Little Nobody, but became more focused on local food, saké, travel and journalism. I found myself living in Shin-Koiwa here in Tokyo, in a place called "Hikari Mansion"—named, perhaps with perverted jocularity, in line with
the Japanese concept of a ‘mansion’: myriad apartments thrown together in the single building, with each separate flat containing one or two tiny rooms and a more compact bathroom. 

I worked for the rather evil Nova franchise teaching English to pay the bigger bills, and did articles on the side for The Daily Yomiuri, an English language off-shoot of right-leaning Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.

Twelve years later I'm married and I have a gorgeous daughter in Grade 2 at elementary school—who recently did the bloody brilliant cover art for my latest book.

Some things have stayed the same, like the sticky late-July humidity that assails Tokyo every year, like now, but I'm today not going to whine. It is, after all, part of the charm of the place.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Big (Screened) in Japan

While here in Japan we're often forced to wait an absolute eternity for blockbuster movies from abroad to hit the screens — just as an example Star Trek Into Darkness doesn't arrive until 23 August, making this the last country listed on to screen the sequel, three months after even Iceland — there are some home-baked goodies to keep us entertained.

It helps, of course, if you're into anime and manga, which I most certainly am, and 2013 is bubbling with big-screen versions of some titles you may've heard of before.
For starters there's something out later this month (July) courtesy of the great Katsuhiro Otomo, the genius behind both the Akira (1989) movie and manga, and one of my favourite Japanese comic book short-story books in English: Memories.

If you've never picked up this weighty tome, you should, since it's a 250-page compendium of shortstories veer wildly from surprising twists verging on Twilight Zone to silly slapstick, but it’s the title-tale ‘Memories’ that always grabs me.

A space salvage vessel with a cranky crew finds a drifting Marie Céleste with plush carpets, chandeliers, empty books and homicidal robot watchdogs — not to mention a mummified cadaver reaching out from beyond the grave.

With his new film Short Peace, Otomo has negotiated with Shuhei Morita, Hiroaki Ando, Hajime Katoki and Kōji Morimoto to produce a four-part short story omnibus, apparently based at least partially on Otomo's 1979 manga of the same name.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Two New Books Now Available

Quick update, since I’m over-excited as always when these things happen—my next two books are available (early) to order through Amazon.

Yep, I'm being greedy/self-indulgent (tick applicable) and publishing two of 'em.

The Condimental Op collection, officially out in July, is already in the hands of some of my mates if not yet my own, and Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?—due out in September—is now available for pre-order.

Just click on either novel’s moniker to go to the associated Amazon page. Both even have heavy discounts for any aspiring early birds.

And I’ll love you to death as a bonus.

What have either got to do with Japan? Well, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? has very little—aside from lead character Pretty Amazonia (pictured here, conjured up by artist Juan Saavedra), who's a hybrid of super-powered girls' anime characters from things like Sailor Moon and PreCure. She even spends time reading a manga volume of Candy Candy.

And she gets around in a ship named the Magnetic Rose (check out Katsuhiro Otomo's 1995 anime Memories).

And there's a cameo by another character that plays on the Fuchikoma 1-man tanks used by members of Section 9 in Ghost in the Shell.

Otherwise, this is a novel paying equal homage to 1930s/40s noir by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as it does to sci-fi/pulp and the silver age 1960s Marvel comic books by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Jim Steranko, Roy Thomas, Barry (Windsor) Smith, John Buscema, and their ilk.

Set in Melbourne.

The Condimental Op is a collection of noir, surreal stories, comicbook asides, hardboiled moments, fantasy, dystopia, sci-fi, snapshots of Japanese culture, and the existentialism of contemporary experimental electronic music—bringing together recent short stories, older material, new comic book art, and a range of pop-culture articles written about music and Japan from 1999 to 2013. 

Included are articles on bon odori, saké and fugu, along with reviews of Japanese flicks by Satoshi Kon and 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano.

Plus there's a minor spotlight on the joys of working on English subtitles for a feature by Mamoru Oshii.

The cover art is actually by my 7-year-old daughter Cocoa, and I love what she did here.

BTW, hats off to my awesomely indulgent publishers, Perfect Edge Books, and to all and everybody who’s read (or bothers to read) either tome mentioned here.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Aussie-Made Madmen Dishing Out Japan

Just did an interview with the very cool people @ Madman Entertainment in my hometown Melbourne—with their opinions on all things Japanese including anime and Akira Kurosawa. It's up at Forces Of Geek

Here's a sample or two:

"Australia has had a long history with Japanese cinema, TV and anime even if we didn’t always realise it at the time.

"For many years TV has been a window on Japanese culture through shows like Monkey Magic, Shintaro, Star Blazers, G-Force and Astroboy; and also culturally adjacent shows like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. I think this has made Australia more receptive to seeing media from Japan.

"Also, for cinema, the growth of the Japanese Film Festival over the years demonstrates the popularity of the cinema here."


"The most ubiquitous name is certainly that of [Akira] Kurosawa. His breakthrough film Rashomon [1950] was so well-regarded that the first Foreign Film Oscar was created just for it. He gave us samurai films and helped inspired countless spaghetti westerns.  

"The Hidden Fortress and Sanshiro Sugata even helped shape Star Wars."

Read the entire piece here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

International Artists Yack About Japanese Anime

In last month's Flash In Japan we set the stage by asking a few upcoming international artists to tell us their thoughts on Japan—from manga through to the country's culture—and you can read Part 1 here.

These people are all young, pushing the perimetres of comic book and sequential art along with visual stills, and they're ones I worked with closely in the development of an upcoming noir/comicbook novel, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, out later this year through Perfect Edge Books.

So, for the merry month of May we're continuing our insightful yack, this time focusing on that bastion of global fascination: anime.

"Japanese animation is always years before any other country, and of course I absolutely love it," says Spanish artist Carlos Gomez.   "Overall? I think the best animation is seen in movies—like Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira."

"I don’t think an '80s child in the West didn’t get exposed to anime in one form or another," agrees Gomez's Australian peer Paul Mason.

"I recall Astro Boy and Voltron being my favorites as a kid—though I can’t say anime really influences my work directly in themes, I enjoy the Japanese flair in terms of the animation frame rates: The fast action speeds create such a high impact, plus I’ve always admired the camera selection choices and framing methods utilised in some of the better anime action films. The Warner Bros West/East animation co-production Batman: Gotham Knight had some fantastic example of this, and the storytelling approaches that the Japanese directors used, and the illustration/compositional choices within the segments, really hooked me. I think the marriage of Batman’s mythology and persona, with the Japanese flavour, really suits the ronin/samurai tradition, thinking and visuals of the character."

Spaniard Javier 'JG' Miranda (see Bullet Gal picture at right, from Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?) isn't quite so enamoured—not really. "I don't usually watch anime, mainly because I think the animation in the widespread series—such as Naruto, Bleach, even Dragon Ball—is a bit lacking due to the huge amount of work that a single episode needs, and the scarce time they have to prepare it. However, when talking about Studio Ghibli or some OVAs, you see the amazing quality these studios can achieve. That said, I have been a real fanatic of Dragon Ball, Dominion Tank Police, Slayers, Rurouni Kenshin..."


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Southern Cross: Character Design Competition

My next novel, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, is a crossover homage to things comic book, pulp, sci-fi and noir—pretty much all the genres I dig—and the central character here is Jacob Curtiss... who moonlights as superhero Southern Cross.

Given the comic book nature of the romp, which will be published later this year by Perfect Edge Books, and the fact it's partially illustrated, I decided to continue the exploration of the comic artist angle by setting up a competition

This comp is open to anybody with a pencil, and the 5 winners will get copies of the novel once it's published. 

The key point is free-range interpretation, something that's important to me. I like the idea of disparate visions of the same person — it's the way American comic books, after all, work in the real world. Bryan Hitch's perception of Captain America in 2009 was far different from Jim Steranko's in 1969.

We're getting some great entries only days after beginning (the comp closes on 30 June), including the hilarious caricature of a man-and-his-dog (above) by Claudia Everest and the more Iron Man-inflected style by Craig Bruyn (below, at bottom)

One of the artists, Tomomi Sarafov (she did this gal-version of Southern Cross, along with another piece), wrote about the process here at her blog.

Anyway, if anyone else is at all inspired, you can hit this link and find out what the competition is all about.

By the way, for those of you (a) with long memories, and (b) Australian, this isn't the first Southern Cross superhero character. I've recently been chatting with esteemed veteran comic creator Tad Pietrzykowski who nicely filled in the gaps.

"Yes, there are at least three other Southern Crosses out there. Mine [the Golden Age Southern Cross by Tad, with Glenn Lumsden], Dave de Vries' Southern Squadron, and one at Cult Fiction Australia that I don't know the status of. Under the copyright law, no one can own the name "Southern Cross" exclusively. We can all retain copyright on our own individual Southern Crosses—artwork, logo, et cetera—as long as none of us try to impinge upon anyone else's version... which none of us are interested in doing, so it's all good." 

I guess Australia doesn't have too many iconographic logos to stick on the chest of union suits. Hey, wait... maybe I should've gone with Captain Vegemite.?

Anyway, I initially created my version of S.C. in high school in 1981/82, when I still had great aspiration to be a comic book artist/writer and mostly frustrated that Marvel Comics didn't have an Australian superhero. After procrastinating, I finally sent a concept design (and pitch) to Stan Lee in the mid '80s—after which Stan got his secretary to write back that he loved the idea and was hand-passing this on to then-Marvel editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco... who sadly was not so inspired in the follow-up letter, knocking back the character in no uncertain terms (if politely).

At which time I stuck him in a drawer and sat on the character... until last year, when I started dreaming up a novel that pays homage to 1960s silver age Marvel stuff (Heropa) and decided to resurrect him the bugger.

But until the book comes out (around September?), it's definitely worthwhile exploring the other incarnations of an essential cultural icon—cast in tights—and seeing how different people explore the superhero medium from an Aussie and/or foreign perspective.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

BIG ON JAPAN: A Fistful of International Artists Croon The Country's Cultural Praises

Recently, I've been doing my best to mimic a literary ostrich since I've had my head buried deep inside assembly of the next novel.

Trouble is I have trouble picturing a big bird with a hardback and a pair of spectacles, wrapped in Harris tweed.

And I say assembly, because this brute not only deconstructs 1930s detective noir/pulp and 1960s Marvel comic book lore, but renovates them together as a conjoined tome over 100,000 words in length — stitched together by 35 images from 28 artists. 

It's the way comic books, after all, work in the real world.

Bryan Hitch's perception of Captain America in 2009 was far different from Jim Steranko's in 1969. Then compare and contrast John Buscema's chunky-thug idea of Conan the Barbarian in 1980 with the lithe, laddish figure originally put out by Barry (Windsor) Smith a decade earlier in 1970.

But now I'm geeky nitpicking. If I haven't lost you already, I swear I'll try harder, there are some pretty pictures still to come, and a bunch of other people take the verbal reins.

For now, suffice to say, this train of thought (the wayward one about comic book art) inspired me to ask artists from Australia (Paul Mason), the UK (Harvey Finch and Andrew Chiu — see picture at right), Italy (Giovanni Ballati), Russia (Saint Yak), Spain (Javier 'JG' Miranda and Carlos Gomez), Canada (Fred Rambaud), Mexico (Rodolfo Reyes), Chile (Juan Andres Saavedra — see picture above), the Philippines (Hannah Buena) and Argentina (Maan House), amongst others in Japan and America, to get involved drawing characters and events from the book — and then let their hair down for a rambunctious tête-à-tête together here.

All in all?

Putting together the novel has been like taking Lego and Meccano and making the pieces function together as a futuristic-retro superhero romp that mixes and matches 1930s Art Deco architectural lines with the gung-ho Soviet formalist propaganda style, twisted into '60s pop art sentiment and the huge influence of Jack Kirby. 

Anyway, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? will be published via Perfect Edge Books some time around September, but what I'd like to share with you over the next couple of months of this column are the insights and opinions of some of the fascinating, talented and truly cool visual artists I've had the opportunity to touch base with — while attempting to keep the bulk of these within Flash in Japan's obvious perimeters: focused on, well, the Japanese archipelago.

If interested, you can read Part 1 of this interview @ FORCES OF GEEK.

Friday, March 8, 2013

STAR TREK: Darkness in Japan

With the new Star Trek movie Star Trek Into Darkness scheduled for release in the ’States in May (but not till August here in Japan), I thought it timely to flick back to a spot of “research” I did prior to the screening of J. J. Abrams’ first reboot of the franchise in 2009.

Research telling me, at least by May four years ago, that only one in seven citizens of Japan had heard of Star Trek.

I knew this then because I finished personally quizzing 60-odd people.

The margin of error was (and still is) completely open to contention, since I interviewed people only in Tokyo, my test subjects were limited to anime production staff, students of English, techno DJs and musicians, and the ages stretched from 15 to 72. 

I’ve since had arguments with a bunch of people, all foreigners, who contest the findings (well, they've argued and I've thrown up my arms in surrender), but they have yet to do similar research and I guess mine still stands up okay.

Apparently there was a Star Trek boom in Japan in the ’70s — the evidence is there in online artwork and blogs — but either most people forgot by 2009, or I picked the wrong target audience.

The one-in-seven figure was itself a stretch, since two inclusions in the ‘yes’ category confused Star Trek for Star Wars. One time, when I asked the ongoing main question (“Have you heard of Star Trek?”) my tipping-the-scales 72-year-old English student Hashimito-san declared “Of course!” — and thence proceeded to enact a spritely air-lightsaber cut-and-thrust routine.

Read more of this article @ Forces Of Geek.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

Other news — namely re: writing.

I just signed the contract with Perfect Edge Books for my anthology The Condimental Op, and it’s now in production.

This baby should be published in 4-5 months.

We're cobbling together noir, surrealism, comicbook asides and dystopian, hardboiled moments colliding with snapshots of contemporary culture. Think 1989 right through to 2013.

You will even find some of the articles about Japan that have appeared on this blog, in Geek and Impact magazines, or at Forces Of Geek.

Incidentally, on the subject of novels, I just got a great review for my last one One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, with big thanks to Dan Wright @ Pandragon Reviews.

And I’ve received some more fantastic artwork for Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? (my upcoming dual homage to 1930s-40s noir and 1960s comicbooks chiefly produced by Marvel) from Canadian artist Fred Rambaud (see above, with Southern Cross on the motorbike) while Mexican artist Rodolpho Reyes is putting together still more.

If you’re curious, you can stay abreast of things here.

You can also read about some of the early '60s comicbook influences at my other blog.

Friday, February 8, 2013

One morning about two months ago, at around 10:00 am, we had a surprise: a bunch of guys in happi jackets and white pants that looked like they were nicked from cricketers paraded past our apartment here in Okusawa, chanting and huffing and puffing like a troupe of big, bad wolves.

Over their shoulders they lugged a long, twisted up thing that resembled a skinny, beige dragon with a cute mush, and my wife Yoko calmly advised that it was the beginning of today's festival for Okusawa Shrine.

And this was a snake, not a dragon. They weren't gearing up for the Year of the Snake. No. I'm blessed to live a few hundred metres from a religious house dedicated to snakes.

About five minutes' walk away, nestled amidst an array of beautiful old trees that look like the enormous cypress from My Neighbor Totoro, Okusawa Jinjya is a traditional Shinto oasis - er, shrine - that’s obviously not only venerated by the local population, but beloved as well, if the queue right around the corner and down the road last January 1 was any indication; then again, that's typical at shrines during the wintry New Year period.

At other times at Okusawa Shrine you’re just as likely to encounter elderly women in kimono playing koto instruments to nobody in particular, or children in spectacular traditional costumes celebrating their birthdays. 

Read more of this article if you're at all interested @ FORCES OF GEEK.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Got'cha, GATCHAMAN! G-Force is Go!

Last month, I got to be a gaijin extra (think a refugee running amidst fire and rubble) on location for the live-action movie adaptation of 1970s anime series Gatchaman, aka Battle of the Planets, or G-Force.

I'm not sure if it's because I'm Australian, but this doesn’t mean too much to me.

The Japanese obsess regarding the 1972 anime Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) created by Tatsuo Yoshida (Casshern, Speed Racer) and most Americans I know are wild about the repackaged and slightly Westernized 1978 version Battle of the Planets.

While I dug the earlier Speed Racer, I was far more into Yoshiyuki Tomino's Mobile Suit Gundam from the same period — which grants me an excuse to stick in a picture here that I took in October of the 115-foot RX-78-2 Gundam statue in Odaiba.

Still, I was acquainted enough with this other series minus Gundam (the storyline goes that G-Force — a fistful of kids dressed up in bird costumes — protects Earth from planet Spectra and other attacks from an international terrorist conglomerate of technologically advanced villains), to think this would be a hoot, and grabbed the chance.

It was being shot outdoors in the evening in the expansive ruins of a huge abandoned paper mill in Takahagi-shi in Ibaraki, about 2 hours from Tokyo — and under 100 km from the leaky Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

This place was wild — a photographer's dream (if we weren't otherwise preoccupied).