NYCC 2016, Day 4

The final day of New York Comic-Con 2016 dawned with much rain and wind. I am somewhat relieved it waited to the final day for this. Luckily, I had an umbrella, so made it over to the Javits in order to catch my first panel, which was about how books are turned into audiobooks. It had 3 actors who narrate audiobooks as well as two authors of said audiobooks. (They hadn’t met each other before, which says a bit about the way the business is conducted.)

On the author side, we had John Scalzi, famed for his many science fiction novels, and R. A. Salvatore, best known for the Forgotten Realms series. On the narration end we had Fred Berman, who has narrated The Walking Dead audiobooks among other things; Allyson Johnson, an actor and singer best known for narrating the Honor Harrington series; and Victor Bevine, an actor who has also written his own works (one of which he did the audiobooks for), who has done Salvatore’s books and also Dan Simmons’ Hyperion books.

There was a lot of great discussion at the panel. Both Scalzi and Salvatore say they now think of how the audiobook will sound when they write, which was not in their heads at all at the start of their careers. Scalzi added that overusing the word ‘said’ – which in prose is fine, as a reader won’t really notice it – becomes more of a problem when the narration hammers in the repetition. All three narrators agreed they noticed when an author repeated words. Scalzi has a forthcoming short story that is in interview format, with Q and A, and will have to ask the audio team for multiple actors to carry that off.

The authors don’t really get much say in who narrates their books, though it sometimes happens. That said, they trust their publisher to get someone solid, as of course the publisher does not want to ruin the audiobook. Bevine said that he once won a fan competition to narrate an audiobook. It then got into the technical process of how they prepare to read the book – Johnson used to make notes on filecards and annotate the books so that as she read them she wouldn’t have to worry about things like where to pause for a breath; it would all be marked out. (These days she uses a spreadsheet for some things.)

They also discussed name pronunciation. All three work in a genre where there can be weird alien or fantasy creature names, and sometimes that means asking the author how a name is pronounced. R.A. Salvatore has fun with this – his most famous character is named Drizzt, and he says that he doesn’t like to confirm how it’s pronounced because he enjoys watching people argue about it. Scalzi, who is close friends with one of his narrators, William Dufris, once wrote a character named (and I approximate here) Btbtbtbtbtbt, and then said it should be pronounced like the finger between the lips insane pose from old cartoons. Once Salvatore was surprised to find one of his short stories narrated by Ice-T, who did not appreciate the difficult names i n the least. Still, as authors, they don’t have to pronounce their own names!

There are many ways to narrate, and this was gone into as well. Some narrators strive for clarity and some for effect; neither are wrong, but you should know which one would be most effective for your book. Some narrators use their own voice throughout the book, some try to use different voices for different speaking characters. Fantasy and SF gives the narrators an ability to stretch out – Bevine asked Salvatore if he could voice his dwarfs as drunken Irishmen, which delighted the author. Johnson says that she comes from a musical background, so pays close attention to the rhythms of the book, comparing it to a symphony.

They talked about the difference between one narrator and a book with a full cast; it’s more than just “you don’t get to read all the parts”. The narrators agreed that you need a strong leader for those books to pull the cast together, but that doesn’t always happen, so frequently the actors are seen comparing notes to ensure that it is as smooth as possible. Fred Berman also discusses the difference in style between his night job as a theatre actor (he’s in The Lion King on Broadway at the moment) and his day job doing narration. In theater you have to hit the back of the house, whereas narration is up close to the mic. (I loved that they all praised Bing Crosby for being the first recording artist to use the mic as a tool.) And they also listen to their own narration as they do it via headphones at times, both to see how it comes across and to fix mistakes in post-production so that it’s not jagged.

There are more female fantasy and SF authors than there were in the past, which all agreed was a great new development – Salvatore also said there were more diverse fans as well, thinking back to his signings in the 1980s which were all teenage white boys. Johnson had never read science fiction till she began to narrate – she has a low alto, so thinks they like that she can do “male” voices as well, though sometimes this can backfire – Honor Harrington is a soprano, something that book mentions a lot, so using a different register there can be tough. It was asked how they remember the voice of a character – the authors find it quite easy to slip back into an old character’s speech style, though Johnson said she keeps an index of all speaking characters for series she does, in case they show up six books later.

It was asked if they ever rejected doing any books? Bevine said he had once rejected a couple for being too sexually explicit, but for the most part the answer was no – if they don’t like a work, they can use a pseudonym. And they still put their heart into it, as even if they don’t like the book, they know there are fans who will. You focus on something that you like in the book. And of course they talked about the current boom in audiobooks – it used to be they were all in one section in the bookstore, competing for space, and would go out of print quickly. With the advent of new technology, that’s not happening. Best of all, audiobooks don’t cannibalize the market for regular books – the two mesh well with each other, and a good audiobook can sell as well as a hardcover.

The question and answer period had a few people thank them for making books available to those with difficulty reading – either because of losing their sight or for dyslexia, etc. Someone asked the narrators what scenes they found difficult to do, and they said that while big battle scenes were fun to read, they could be hard to narrate. The authors all agreed that a lot of the fun of narration is seeing how the book is interpreted by someone else, and urged authors not to try to micromanage the audiobook narrator. Someone asked how long the recording process takes, and it seems to average about twice the length of a book – in other words, if your book takes 10 hours to read, the recording process will be about 20 hours. This also includes going back to fix any errors in post-production. They also take it in sections, of course, no one reads the whole book though.

It was a terrific panel all around. I didn’t have anything else for a bit, so decided, as I often do, to go to the panel before the one I wanted to see. This was a great decision, as it was the panel devoted to the 10th anniversary of First Second Books, the alternative comics publisher who have put out 160 books in that span. Present were Mark Siegel, the founder and president; Scott Westerfeld, author of The Uglies and Leviathan, who is doing a new graphic novel with First Second; Pénélope Bagieu, who has written Exquisite Corpse and is doing a new book about the life of Mama Cass before she joined the Mamas and the Papas; Box Brown, who did a book on the life of Andre the Giant, and whose new book is on Tetris; and Sara Varon, author of Robot Dreams and other masterpieces.

They discussed what’s different about the market since First Second began; it’s very different. Back in 2006 booksellers were reluctant to stock graphic novels by First Second, and it was only after their books won multiple awards that they began to soften up. These were the days when newspapers would have the standard “Hey, comics aren’t for kids anymore!” article, which made everyone ill. They did have a big group in their corner, however; librarians, who were big champions of their works. In fact, the last bastion of “why are you reading that garbage” is parents, who still tend not to regard comics as real books. That said, they’ve already lost the battle, they just aren’t aware of it yet.

Westerfeld mentioned the manga explosion leading to a whole new readership, as mainstream comics weren’t all that welcoming. The explosion has died off a bit now, but there are still those readers out there to be won with good quality graphic novels. First Second gives their artists creative freedom to do what they’d like, without worrying about things like “Are the heroine’s boobs big enough?” as with Marvel or DC. Everyone agreed that comics need more badass women – real badass, not a male fantasy of a badass woman. Bagieu admitted she didn’t read comics growing up in France, as Tintin and the like were all very male-oriented. She wouldn’t even have considered writing a book in the comic medium till First Second.

There was discussion on how to make people realize comics can also be literature. A good comparison was made – what if all movies were James Bond movies? You’d get people saying “Oh, I just don’t like movies”. And comics offer a way to tell stories that other mediums can’t match – in Westerberg’s story he’s currently working on, a young woman is the narrator, but we also have her sister, who doesn’t speak – except, as the comic reader can see, she talks in thought bubbles with the doll she carries around. This isn’t something you could carry off in a prose book without awkward shoehorning, but in comics it’s easy to convey.

Comics and graphic novels in North America are compartmentalized a lot more than they are in Europe – Bagieu had to learn about this, as in France they have no issues with comics being for everyone. Whereas here we have librarians getting into huge arguments about whether a book belongs in the adult or children’s section of the library – vehemently. Indeed, until cost became an issue, illustrations accompanied books all the time, simply as part of the work. Can we bring that back? A fun panel, and all agreed that they greatly look forward to seeing what First Second does in 2017.

My final panel of the con was one I had been excited about all weekend. Denis Kitchen of Kitchen Sink Press was here to discuss the next volume in their Essential Harvey Kurtzman collection, which was dedicated to Trump Magazine (not related to the Donald, I promise), which Hugh Hefner financed as he loved Mad Magazine and wanted a similar one for the Playboy brand – with an unlimited budget, which was a big reason why Kurtzman agreed, as he’d been begging Gaines to let him print in color, and hadn’t gotten anywhere. On the panel, besides Denis and John Lind, the other editor of the book, were legendary cartoonists Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee. I knew of Jaffee from Mad Magazine, of course, where I grew up with his fold-ins, Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, and somewhat terrifying grinning self-portrait pasted on all his books. As for Roth, his varied career includes work for TV Guide, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, a long time contributor to the British Punch magazine, and editorial cartoonist at The Progressive. Though no spring chickens (Roth is 87, Jaffee 95), both were highly entertaining and talkative throughout.

They began with a brief discussion of Kitchen Sink Press, and how it managed to survive the shuttering of many other underground comics publishers. It’s done Eisner reprints, a reprint of L’il Abner, and many Hurtzman titles. The first Essential Kurtzman was The Jungle Book, A collection for adult readers that features four long-form satirical works. Trump will be the second such collection. Trump only lasted two issues, with a third in production when it was cancelled. Roth suggested that, rather than Hefner’s joking answer that it was because Kurtzman overspent his unlimited budget, that it was simply because a LOT of magazines died in the 1950s, with the advent of television. Even Colliers folded at that time.

Kurtzman began with a title called Hey Look!, which was included as filler pages in Timely Comics, for which Stan Lee was the editor. Nobody was doing what Harvey was, and whenever he would drop off a comic everyone would rush to see it. Jaffee admitted it was the same when they were all in school together – he and Will Elder were at the High School of Music and Art, learning painting as cartooning was absolutely forbidden. They did it anyway. Then one day someone told them to “look to their laurels” as this new freshman just posted a cartoon on the bulletin board that was amazing. If was, of course, Kurtzman, who had drawn a parody of the Freshman Boat Race which blew them both away. Kurtzman later met both of them and said one day he wants to hire them to work for him. Kurtzman was 15 at the time.

When Kurtzman left Mad Magazine to start Trump, he asked Jaffee to join him. But Jaffee was working on Patsy Walker at Timely Comics, and didn’t really have the financial stability to quit and go work on a newbie humor project. Since his titles weren’t filled with violence, the new Comics Code, which cause Mad to become a magazine rather than a comic, didn’t affect him either the way they had Kurtzman. And Playboy was still a new title at the time. Arnold Roth discusses a party he went to with various highbrow men belittling the magazine, while also showing off how much they must have read it closely in order to belittle it so well. Roth answered them by saying that Playboy was the first magazine to take a stand against nuclear proliferation – no one had a good response to that.

As for Trump itself, Roth learned about it through of all people, Paul Desmond, the alto sax player with the Dave Brubeck Quartet! They were friends, and the musicians apparently read Mad while on the road. Kurtzman, of course, was also a good talent spotter. Since Trump had a budget, adn also worked in color, it was attracting artists who might not otherwise have signed on. Jaffee, after a joking argument with Stan Lee that led him to realize that he genuinely wanted to move on, also ended up with Kurtzman, saying that “Harvey was a mensch”, and was much better at establishing good relationships than actual business sense.

Jaffee was asked about the color paintings he had in Trump, which went into far more depth and detail than his other works. He admits he learned that type of art in school. A parody of one of life magazine’s ‘gatefold’ pictures was shown, which Trump magazine gamely parodied, complete with folding out the pages to see the entire piece. Jaffee later with Mad thought about the opposite, a fold-in, where you folded the page in order to see the true picture. He handed it in as a joke, and says “Don’t publish it, because kids will ruin the magazine when they buy it!” Bill Gaines, who always had terrific business sense, said “Absolutely publish it – they’ll buy a second one to replace it.” The second one he did had Rockefeller and Goldwater debating, asking who the winner would be – of course, when folded in, Richard Nixon was the answer. Jaffee is still doing those fold-ins for the magazine, even to this day!

Trump Magazine had very minimalist covers for its two issues – Hefner wanted it to look “sophisticated”. That said, the third issue, had it ever come out, featured a parody of a Saturday Evening Post Rockwell cover, showing grandparents looking on fondly in their garden as a young boy feeds a frog to a Venus Flytrap. In fact, by the third issue they were going to be parodying magazines more – this was something you could really do well with color pages, and a Sports Life magazine parody had a chilling yet amusing picture of a “bullet POV” which showed the photographer’s terrified face in the reflection of the bullet.

Roth and Jaffee both delivered work to Kurtzman differently. Roth liked to turn in finished product, and hated rough sketches. Kurrtzman usually accepted these, and when he did ask for corrections, Roth would usually abandon it and deliver a completely new piece. Jaffee, on the other hand, was constantly getting many, many corrections and suggestions, which would be far more irritating if they didn’t always, always make everything better and funnier – Kurtzman’s eye for detail was simply stunning. He worried about perspective, how things would fall naturally, etc. He also has a box of nipples in the attic, which I think is so amusing out of context I won’t bother to give it any.

The panel ended with a reveal of what the next Essential Kurtzman would be – a collection of Hey Look, the comics that first made Kurtzman a big name, at least among other cartoonists. And with that I had finished with what I wanted to see, and made my way back outside, where the rain had just ended, to head home. Despite a few hiccups, mostly (as always) bathroom related, it was a great con. Every year I find something new to enthuse over, as those who see how long I’ve been going on can tell. Trust me, it’s not just a giant ‘come see the stars’ media event – there’s gold to be found.

NYCC 2016, Day 3

My apologies to those readers who expect that a manga-oriented blog would confine itself to manga events, but that’s never been how my NYCC coverage rolls. As a result, I missed the Shonen Jump panel this year, which is sad. I do hear they licensed the RWBY manga which is being put out in Ultra Jump, drawn by the creator of Dogs: Bullets and Carnage. Several of my friends are big RWBY fans, so I’m sure this news will please them.

As for me, I began my day at BookCon, the offshoot of NYCC devoted to prose publishing. It’s about a block away from the Javits, in a building on 36th and 10th. I was there for a panel on Nostalgia and Reboots in Literature, which had as panelists many writers who specialized in that type of work. John Jackson Miller moderated, and noted his tie-in work, including a Star Wars book that suddenly became the start of the New Book Canon.

There was also horror author Paul Tremblay; Max Brailler, who has done Pick Your Own Path books (which are absolutely not the Choose Your Own Adventure books, he reminds us over and over again); Jonathan Maberry, another horror writer who’s also worked in the X-Files universe; Gareth Hinds, who does graphic novel adaptations of classic works of literature; Christina Henry, a fantasy writer who has done works based around Wonderland’s ethos, and has a new book giving Captain Hook a backstory; and Elizabeth Eulberg, whose works include Prom and Prejudice and The Revenge of the Girl with a Great Personality. She has a new Holmes pastiche coming out starring a 9-year-old girl Holmes who’s addicted to sugar.

Adaptations of movies based on prominent works began the discussion, and how they’re not really watched by fans the same way you’d watch a normal movie. It was described as going to church, where you see how the holy word is interpreted and argue about doctrines. In fact, this sort of thing began with Conan Doyle, who was wretched at remembering his own canon, so Holmes fans began to try to create a canon for him. Eulberg got the idea for her own Holmes book watching the BBC Sherlock, and seeing he had the immaturity of a typical 10-year-old girl, so why not makes Holmes one? Also, the sugar addiction (rather than cocaine) is a good example of making a retelling your own story and not the source.

Christina Henry’s Alice-related books are scary, more like Alice in Nightmareland. Even kids who’ve never read it know Alice, of course – it’s embedded in the culture. You can use retools like this as springboards for your own work. She also discussed her Captain Hook book, where she tries to be closer to actual canon – unlike the Alices, the Hook book is an actual prequel, so she can’t stray as far.

Gareth Hinds then discussed his graphic novels, and I was pleased to see they mentioned the old Classic Illustrated books, though they noted the art was not good and they were too staid. He has to cut the books to fit, of course, particularly Shakespeare who is so dense. With Shakespeare he tries to avoid using words or lines not in the original, but with something like The Odyssey he has a bit more leeway. Schoolteachers are big fans, though they always regret the one scene he has to leave out.

Maberry’s works are a bit different, as the creations are not in the public domain. There had already been a series of successful X-Files comics, and he had asked if there was a way he could do a fiction anthology. The publisher apparently scoffed, and didn’t think anyone would want to do it. He began e-mailing, and 45 minutes later he had filled three anthologies. And since there were stories with both young Dana Scully and young Fox Mulder, those became the Origins series, which can lead up to canon. Chris Carter still has to approve, of course, and in general the writers recommend “treating the franchise like a natural park”. (As an old Doctor Who New Adventures fan, this amused me greatly – Who was more Jurassic Park.)

As I said before, Brailler has apparently felt the roar of lawyers at his back, and made a running gag out of saying “choose your own adventure” and then correcting himself. He had written a bunch of great beginnings, most of which them petered out, a common writing flaw. And he then talked to the creator of the original CYOA books, who said they came from old War Games scenarios. His first book, based on a zombie apocalypse, had very disparate endings, but Highway to Hell, a newer book, has to all come together in the end, so he needed a giant chart to keep track.

Tremblay tried to update The Exorcist, as he saw vampires and werewolves getting modern updates, but no possession stories beyond bad Hollywood ones. The horror genre makes it easy to riff on common themes. That said, the themes don’t always have to be common. He noted he tries to keep his books very contemporary, and doesn’t worry about how they’re going to read in thirty years. It strengthens connections with the current readers. At a Q&A after the panel, I asked how far back they felt this repurposing of common stories went, citing King Arthur and The Bible. Maberry said that he imagines two guys sitting around a fire talking about elk – that’s how far back it goes. It’s always happened.

After this I went over to the Javits and got right in line for the next panel I had to see. I’ve been a Bloom County fan almost since it began in 1981, and have many fond childhood and teenage memories of it. As such, seeing that Berkeley Breathed was making a rare East Coast appearance to discuss his bringing the series back last year, I absolutely could not miss it. It was opposite Jump, but Jump will return, while Breathed may never do so. And it was a wonderful panel, with no moderator needed – Breathed hosted it himself.

He began with a film presentation, featuring panels from the 2015 Bloom County. In between those were two “pilot” attempts at an Opus cartoon, which had never gotten off the ground. In one, Opus is being directed by the voice of John Cleese, and has to deal with a scene where he’s ravaged by sharks. In the other, he has the voice of David Hyde Pierce, and has to struggle against the temptation to de-pants two people with low-riding jeans in front of him. Both were quite amusing, also showed why they had not become series.

Of course, he’s here to promote the new book, and new strips. He says he returned for three reasons. First was the disaster that was the attempt to film his book Mars Needs Moms, which Robert Zemeckis and Disney took and made entirely too serious and sentimental. The original book was an allegory, based on a real life incident where his son had said something horrible to his mother and stormed off. Breathed did to, to his workplace, and this book was the result. But the movie… wasn’t the book.

The second was Donald Trump, who dominated the early 2015 strips, but whom Breathed has now vowed not to use anymore in the strip. He feels that Trump is a “reverse canary” – his rise once more showed that something new was in the air and it was time to come back. The third reason was the most interesting, though – it was the release of Go Set a Watchman, the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird that Harper Lee had written (before she wrote Mockingbird) and buried. He feels the publishers did this without her real informed consent, and that the result tarnishes the legacy of the original book, which was a huge influence on Breathed as a child.

In fact, Bloom County was based heavily off of the rural small towns as seen in TKAM. As child, he was told to draw anything he wanted. He drew a spaceman whose head had just exploded gorily due to helmet decompression, and received an F. His father looked at the picture and suggested adding “Gesundheit!”, and he realized that’s what he wanted to do – art and words combined to make humor. A year after beginning Bloom County, the first collection, Loose Tails, came out. He suggested 10,000 copies was a little low and was told to shut up and be grateful. It’s currently sold over a million.

He then showed off another letter he got in 1989, when he announced the end of Bloom County, begging him not to abandon these beloved characters. It was from Harper Lee. And coming back to that while helping compile the IDW reprints of the Bloom County Library made him realize he did have more he wanted to do with these guys. It was interesting re-reading the old work to see what he still found funny – he was writing them so fast back in the day he never really took in what he actually did. (In fact, at the signing afterwards, I mentioned one of my favorite BC memories, the Bill the Cat dies of acne strips, and he didn’t even recall them.)

Now that he’s releasing the strips via social media, he doesn’t have to worry about editors, and can mess with the format as much as he likes. He does say, unlike the old strips, he’s avoiding celebrity humor now, mostly due to meeting Barry Manilow years after mocking him shamelessly in the old strips. When Breathed broke his back in an accident, he got a huge bouquet from Manilow, and it wasn’t even sarcasm but genuine get well wishes. It reminded him that celebrities are also people with their own lives. (Politics, on the other hand, still seems to be OK – minus Trump).

The other book coming out is The Bill the Cat Story, which is a very unlikely children’s book given that its star is Bill the Cat. It shows Bill as Binkley’s cat back in the day, before getting taken away and going on a series of increasingly ridiculous adventures, and Opus eventually finding him and taking him home. It looks amazing. The panel ended with a series of drawings by Bill Watterson, who was penpals with Bill back in the day. He doesn’t actually have permission to publish these, and so I won’t go into great detail, except they were utterly hysterical, and the last drawing (Breathed’s addition to Watterson’s) had to be flashed by at lightspeed as there were kids present!

I went to the signing, which I don’t normally do, and managed to get in line early enough to not only get the new Bloom County book signed, but also The Academia Waltz, IDW’s hardcover collection of his college strips. I was pretty much done for the day after that, but wanted to take in one more panel so as not to disappoint you, the reader. As a result, I went back to Bookcon and walked in and sat, then checked to see what the panel actually was.

It turned out to be husband and wife team W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon, there to discuss his bestselling book A Dog’s Purpose, and the movie of same that is out in January, with the dog’s thoughts voiced by Josh Gad. The book came out in 2010 and was a huge hit, and Cameron has become something of a dog spokesperson. It’s about a dog who learns the true meaning of what he can do for humans by getting reincarnated as various dogs. The trailer looked excellent.

He came up with the story after Michon’s dog died, and he told it out loud to her as they drove on a long trip. Interestingly, the story barely changed from that telling to the page – there was almost no change needed. She hadn’t wanted another dog after the first one passed on, but now they have Tucker, who they also got through a rescue group, which they are huge fans of. Cameron says he was asked about reincarnation and spirituality a lot, and it was mentioned that this was reminiscent of Defending Your Life, as the dog has to learn what really matters.

The adaptation was also discussed – they removed part of the start of the book as it was a very harsh beginning. It was important it be a live action film with a real dog, and that, thoughts or not, the dog had to act and think like a dog, with all the limitations that comes with – a different vocabulary, a heightened sense of smell vs. vision, etc. They compared the narrative voice to the Forrest Gump movie, that sort of simplicity. The dog actors in the movie were also fantastic, not being trained with treats but with affection, so they weren’t always looking to the side for a payoff. As for Josh Gad, they were delighted to get him, as he has “joy in his voice”. (I was also amused that they had to change the end dog, as black Labs are too hard to film!)

He had not intended it to be a series, but when the popularity exploded, his agent convinced him. It takes him about a year to write a book, and he mocked his own abilities to write, with Michon coming in and correcting him, saying he’s really very disciplined. He paces his writing, whereas Michon says her best work is done when she’s in a panic. The panel ended with Q&A, as we discussed the fact that it was written for adults but he loves that it appeals to families, as will the film. He wishes we could all be happier, the way dogs are, as we move through life.

And thus ends my eventful Saturday. Tomorrow I have two panels I want to see, but they’re both in the small rooms, so we shall see.

NYCC 2016, Day 2

The theme of Friday’s NYCC was lines, lines, and more lines. Usually one can avoid lines by room camping, provided you don’t mind sitting through some things you didn’t expect to see. Not this year. Between Marvel Comics and Mythbusters, camping was out of the question. And so, the line.

After waiting in line for a while, they let us into the Viz panel, which is good as it was first panel of the day. It’s Viz’s 30th Anniversary, and as you’d expect was pretty big on hype, not underserved. There’s a wall of tribute art on the show floor from Japanese creators, and it’s a sight to see. They put out 342 volumes in 2015, not all of which were reviewed by me.

They did have some new announcements as well. Legend of Galactic Heroes had only had the first three novels licensed, with others dependent on sales. Well, sales were good enough that we’re now getting Volumes 4-6 of this series from Haikasoru! As a political space-opera, it’s a terrific page-turner.

After Hours had been announced just before the con. It was described as yuri, though they weren’t too quick to hype that, so I wonder. It’s about the modern nightclub scene, and two girls meeting and falling for each other. It runs in Hibana, which is the replacement for Ikki that Shogakukan started, so falls in the seinen genre.

Anonymous Noise is a Hakusensha title, so you know I’m excited. It runs in Hana to Yume, and is from the creator of Nosatsu Junkie (which Tokyopop put out some of) and Monochrome Kids. It’s about love and music, and has a lot of hype.

They also mentioned the Tokyo Ghoul Re books, but I think that too had previously been announced. The one title I had not heard of at the panel was Golden Kamuy, an award-winning series from Young Jump set during the Russo-Japanese war. It also features the Ainu, and looks really awesome. Oh yes, and we’re also getting the Boruto manga, but who’s really surprised about that?

The last two big announcements were a Pokemon artbook, which should appeal to fans of both Pokemon AND artbooks, and Vampire Knight Memories, the sort of prequel, sort of side story continuation of Vampire Knight which Hino-san returned to after Shuriken and Pleats sort of bombed. Still, I enjoyed the Vampire Knight aesthetic.

After this came the first big line, as I’d decided to go to Aniplex before the Spice & Wolf writer’s panel, but there was a giant Marvel panel prior to that, so wait in line it was. Aniplex reminds me (and humbles me a bit) at how much more fans at these events care about anime rather than manga – they were hyped, and cheered on even titles that cynical forum users have long abandoned, such as SAO or Asterisk War. It was very nice to see.

Speaking of SAO, the movie is being released in 25 different countries on February 18, and apparently that includes the US as well. The new announcement was a movie called I’ve Always Liked You, based off of a Honey Works music series. There’s also an anime version of March Comes in Like a Lion, which no doubt gives Honey and Clover fans hope that Viz will p;ick up the manga. In more in-your-face news, the supernatural hero story Occultic Nine features a girl with breasts so large she could easily have appeared in Eiken. It was then followed by the trailer for the 2nd Kizumonogatari movie, which could have done the same thing, but Hanekawa’s appearances were kept to a minimum.

Yen Press didn’t have a panel this year, but they did have Isuna Hasekura, author of Spice & Wolf, and his editor. I somewhat shamefacedly admit I haven’t read it – it began pre Yen On and I never picked it up, then when I realized it might interest me it was already too long. And the 1000-page omnibus seems a bit too crippling to me. It’s also incomplete, as Kurt announced the license of two new series – one is a direct sequel following Lawrence and Holo, and then other is about their daughter. Both will be multi-volume.

Hasekura proved to be a quiet but confident speaker. He says he got the idea while researching the Crusades, and became fascinated with the idea of medieval commerce. He was also reading the mythology of The Golden Bough, and also Sakuran, Moyoco Anno’s manga about an oiran. This combo led him to what became Spice & Wolf. He thought of Holo while reading a scene from Sakuran, and wanted to write his “own version” of that character.

Lawrence is a foil for Holo, who’s good at running scams and manipulating people. Hasekura-san says he’s not as good at reading people as Lawrence is, so the writing took awhile. As for why Europe and not Japan, I think he finds European History more exciting – it’s the era of dragons! I was very amused when he was asked how he researched the period – he went to the University Library. See? Libraries are important!

The character of Holo also helped him show off the old gods vs. new technology, and how he wanted Holo to be this sort of sad (but cute!) girl who is faced with obsolescence. He later admitted that he thinks the light novel artist gets this dichotomy better – the manga artist’s Holo is more excited and energetic. As for where he learned about economic theory, it was self-teaching – he didn’t take it at university. He just reads a lot. In fact, when he tried stock trading, it went badly – this was at the time of Lehman Bros.!

If you want a more apocalyptic take on economics, he’s also written World End Economica, which many in the audience cheered. But perhaps 17 whole volumes of Spice & Wolf was enough – he admits that he sometimes worried he would not get through the entire story due to a simple lack of mental energy, and found himself seriously praying to any god who would listen! He knew it was time to end it around Vol. 14, and began to use then last three volumes to move towards the ending that he’d already worked out by Vol. 2 or so.

He then moved on to his work habits, and he mentioned he can write in a home office, a restaurant, or a hired rental office – in fact, he has to move around as he gets bored easily! I laughed when he discussed how he became a writer – he mentioned ‘8th Grade Disease’, and I think was startled the audience, who had all seen Chuunibyou in various anime by now. He was asked about the definition of a light novel as compared to a normal one, and talked about how it lets you do things in a more varied and non-regimented way. In Japan, light novel readers can be as old as their early 30s! (This made me feel old, but hey, it’s not about me.)

The manga and anime adaptations were discussed. He seems to have let the creators do their own thing. He did discuss then manga artist liking big breasts, which is not his own preference (hence Holo’s flatness). He talked about the popularity of Spice & Wolf in Japan – it’s not really a series with fights or battles. Instead, the battles are intellectual. I was impressed to hear this was his first published series, though he did doujinshi before this (non-erotic, he hastens to add). Besides the S&W spinoffs, he’s also researching Mediterranean culture for a possible book, and working with a VR animation company.

Possibly the best first question I’ve ever heard at a Q&A – why was there no name for Lawrence’s horse? It’s sad but true, the horse has no name. He was asked if any of the anime seiyuu changed how he thought of the characters, and said Nora is a case where this happened. He mentioned how he liked Ben Bernanke, and thinks people are too mean to him. There are also other non-Hasekura economic books now, which makes him feel both pride and humility. It’s also worth noting that when he discussed how to get published, he said this was his first series, but it took him years to actually get a work accepted to be published.

He was asked about series he likes – it was hard to hear, but I think it was Hakumei to Mikoshi, a yokai series from Enterbrain’s fellows! Magazine. As for why a scantily-clad wolf girl was in a series about medieval economics, he admits that he just can’t imagine writing a slice-of-life book starring a girl like Holo. Lastly, he discussed religion in Spice & Wolf, which is loosely based on the Christian church, which like many other Japanese creators he got fascinated by through Evangelion.

After this came another long, long line, this one for the creator of Assassination Classroom, Yusei Matsui. This was in the big panel room, and rightly so – it was packed to the gills. We also had Matsui’s Jump editor come along, Murakoshi Shuu. Matsui was quite different from Hasekura, very extroverted and talkative. He was an assistant on the gag comedy Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, before getting his first big hit with the popular but sadly unlicensed Neuro manga. He loves New York – both the big buildings and the big blondes.

He grew up in a very strict household where he could not watch anime or read manga, but he still managed to get some excellent influences – JoJo, Parasyte, Dragon Ball, and soccer manga Captain Tsubasa. He never wanted to be a teacher, though he likes the idea of passing on his experience. Nor was Koro-sensei based on any teacher he had The idea of Assassination Classroom came when he envisioned what became the first three pages of the manga, with the students all trying to kill their teacher, and then tried to imagine what teacher could survive that… and what school would let a class do that.

He didn’t have too many issues with editorial, who are used to eccentric teacher manga from many, many other examples of the genre (I’m thinking GTO here). Simplicity was the goal here – both the basic idea of the assassinations, and Koro-sensei himself, who is an octopus drawn as a circle – very easy to draw, as there are no joints or hands. But he still loves to eat octopus! When asked about then secret to drawing a hit manga (as Neuro was also, in Jump terms, a huge hit), his response was “I won’t say!”, which got a big laugh.

We then saw him ink a sketch of Koro-sensei as the Statue of Liberty he had done earlier. While this happened, we got some questions for both his Japanese and American editors. Murakoshi-san was asked what he does as an editor, and in addition to shaping the story and researching (which he doesn’t have to do much, as Matsui is very good), he makes sure the series keeps its internal continuity, and oversees the merchandising of the series, including overseas. As for the US editor, she wants to make sure that the story is told well without people realizing they’re reading a translation.

Given the series is about a group of kids who try to kill their teacher, you’d think that controversy would have come up at some point, but neither the Japanese nor American editor noted any problems at all. The bigger problem over here is that some of the references and jokes are too Japanese – Jump manga here has a semi-unofficial policy against endnotes, so they have to find a good way to adapt it. As for life lessons learned from Koro-sensei, the idea that the journey is more important than the result came up, and I heartily agree.

The anime has already finished, while the manga is still (in North America) coming out, so there was a lot of “don’t spoil it” hemming and hawing – especially as the editor of the American version wants to not spoil herself! He worked very closely with the anime team to make sure that his vision was not compromised, and he advised them on how it should end. The ending was very important, which is likely why the anime rushed some of the middle episodes – they were not allowed to make up an ending like many other shonen titles.

His favorite episode was the one with Kayano’s giant flan (it amused me that he was using the English loan-word Pudding, but the translator insisted on ‘flan’, as the Viz manga had it), which expanded the details on how a huge flan would be made. He was also asked which character he’s most like – he said Koro-sensei, as he too is weak to boobs. (For those hoping for less boob obsession from Japanese creators, this was clearly the wrong con.) Hed also mentioned a love of Powerpuff Girls!

And thus ended the panel, and my day, as I walked back and boggled at the amazingly long line to get into the Hammerstein Ballroom, which extended past my hotel. I’m hoping Saturday is less packed. (What am I SAYING?)