INTERVIEW: Jo Duffy
On Manga, Marvel, and Martial Arts Movies
By Jason Thompson

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PULP: So when did you discover Japanese comics?

JD: In my case it was when I was little, with Tetsuwan Atom [Astro Boy] and 8-Man on TV. I was just insane for those. I didn't know they were Japanese at the time. When I was in college, my older brother Malachy lived in Japan for a few years, just as Frank's friend Laurie did, and he brought home some comic books and I looked at them and said "Oh my gosh, you mean this stuff I loved when I was a kid was Japanese!?" And shortly thereafter they ran Space Cruiser Yamato on TV under the title of Star Blazers. New York has a Japanese language TV station and they were running Cyborg 009, Captain Harlock. At this point, I was buying manga. Aside from TV, there was almost no animation available, but there were some great Japanese bookstores, and I began combing them, and I learned some Japanese.

PULP: Scott McCloud said he discovered manga at Books Kinokuniya on West 49th Street.

JD: There was a place that was called the Zen Bookstore on 5th Avenue and 47th Street. I would go there first, and Kinokuniya was my backup. But Zen closed or moved since then. Zen and Kinokuniya were two blocks apart and you had two very well-stocked Japanese bookstores. Every Thursday they got new stuff, and we'd be there after work. At this point we got into the really hardcore stuff--Frank and I--and we'd make the run and do the buy and meet in a dark alley somewhere. (laughs)

PULP: What were your favorites?

JD: They first thing I was looking for was the manga originals of the anime I liked. Tezuka's Tetsuwan Atom, Black Jack, and Dororo were huge favorites. Leiji Matsumoto. I loved Lupin III by Monkey Punch. Rumiko Takahashi was already doing great work by then, Urusei Yatsura. Akimi Yoshida on Banana Fish and California Monogatari. Ai to Makoto by Takumi Nagayasu. Buchi Terasawa's Cobra.

Most of the women I know who do comics were wild about things like Eroica and The Rose of Versailles, and I didn't find those until much later. I liked them, but I was really into action-adventure fighting stuff. I was really into Go Nagai, who I have met and corresponded with, as I have with Takumi Nagayasu. Japanese cartoonists are just wonderfully gracious people, and it's really been nice to meet some of them and talk about their work. I met Dr. Tezuka one time, but he didn't have a translator, and this was before I spoke Japanese. My own series Nestrobber, which we only managed to publish a couple of issues of, was drawn by a wonderful Japanese artist, Maya Sakamoto. She normally does advertising and graphics arts work so I think I was very lucky to work with her.

PULP: How did Nestrobber come about?

JD: I flipped over [Maya's] talent and the charm of her artwork when she was sending fan mail to Star Wars, when I was writing it and the art was handled by Ron Frenz, Cindy Martin, and Tom Palmer. We even printed a sketch she did [in Star Wars #97] of Luke Skywalker with Kiro, a comics-originated character who was highly anime-inspired. Flash forward a few years: Maya was working full time and in high demand as a graphics artist, but I knew she had always wanted to work in comics, too. I had always wanted to do something with Maya, so when I realized I needed an artist for a new series I was creating, I contacted her.

PULP: How did you discover Go Nagai?

JD: I discovered Go Nagai repeatedly because he had such a range of different things he was doing. He pretty much created the giant robot genre and did almost all the early variations on how it would work. I was crazy about that stuff and I was crazy about Devilman and I had no idea that they were by the same person. I wrote a long feature about him for EPIC Illustrated.

PULP: June 1983.

JD: He actually came over when we did that one. I like his work so much and I still do.

PULP: Didn't Marvel actually publish a Mazinger Z graphic novel in English as a result of that?

JD: No…I can't imagine that something like that would have happened at Marvel and I didn't work on it or remember it. I did work on Shogun Warriors which had Raydeen, Combatra, and Dangard Ace. Dangard Ace was my favorite giant robot. Just last night I was watching Powerpuff Girls and I saw the giant robot episode and I'd like to say that Craig McCracken [creator of the Powerpuff Girls] is such a genius! It's pure giant robot stuff, just like 20 years ago. It made me feel like a kid again to watch that episode.

PULP: Was Go Nagai trying to get published in the U.S. at that point? He basically self-published the first volume of Devilman in English.

JD: Yes, he was. It's been mutual. The Japanese cartoonists ran into real stupid resistance when they tried to find American distribution, but then American artists frequently do so when they try to export their work to Japan. The audiences are interested, the publishers and cartoonists are interested, but the process always breaks down.

I threw Buichi Terasawa on people's desks, we had already done some Go Nagai stuff, and Marvel had these relationships. But the business people at Marvel and some of the editorial people were like, "Why should we publish their comics when we can do them better ourselves?"

PULP: How did Marvel end up publishing Akira?

JD: It was thanks to Jim Galton, who ran Marvel from the early '70s to the late '80s and was also instrumental in the creation of the direct sales market. Mr. Otomo had been offering his work to us at Epic, but we (Larry Hama, Archie Goodwin, and I) could not convince anyone to take the stuff. A one-shot in EPIC Illustrated, maybe, but nothing more.

Then one day Mr. Galton met Okazaka Nori from Kodansha. Akira had been passed over at a lower level of the Marvel editorial department, and we were upset and frustrated, and then Galton said, "We ought to be publishing this. This is great." And Archie, bless him, said, "Let's get Jo to do this." Because at that point I was working as a freelancer, and they could have called anybody; it's not like I was in the office any more to say, "I should have this by rights, I did the groundwork." There's plenty of people who don't acknowledge those kind of moral debts, but Archie said, "This should be Jo's job, she'd be good at it."

PULP: What was your title on the adaptation?

JD: The credits were kind of strange because they credited Yoko [Umezawa] with translation and me with "English adaptation." But then people thought the idiomatic English translation which we printed was Yoko's, when the reality was, she told me the literal meaning and I'd figure out how it should sound it in English. Working on Akira was so much fun. I have the highest respect for Mr. Otomo's work and that was just a fun, larger than life series. And by the way, when we were doing that project, the colorist Steve Oliff was literally writing the software that has become the basis for all computer coloring.

PULP: The coloring on that book was so great, I was disappointed to find out it was being reprinted in black and white.

JD: This new edition has me scratching my head. I've decided that I'll just be pleased they're doing it but I won't read them.

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