INTERVIEW: Adam Warren
If you have heard of any "American manga" artist--never mind those Image guys--you have heard of Adam Warren. Warren's rise through the comics industry began in 1988 with the first of many licensed comic adaptations of the anime characters The Dirty Pair, which he quickly made into his own with his sharp writing and detailed art. His works have been translated into German, Italian, French, and Dutch. Warren's adaptations have had more longevity than the source material, the highest tribute that can be paid to a spin-off.
Currently, Warren is writing and drawing covers for Wildstorm's Gen 13; producing all-new bonus material for Dark Horse's colorized reprint of his series The Dirty Pair: Sim Hell; rewriting the manga Seraphic Feather into English for Super Manga Blast!; shepherding a potential Dirty Pair crossover "grinding through the works at a big company"; and designing an entirely new creator-owned book to be published in the future.
PULP: Were you interested in doing comics before you knew about anime and manga?
AW: Yeah, pretty much. I'd read a lot of Marvel Comics back when I was a wee lad, in about the third grade or so, and the comics were abysmally stupid back then. But later on, circa high school, I got into the alternative comics scene of the early- to mid-eighties, when you had some really impressive work like Howard Chaykin's American Flagg, Moore, Bissette and Totleben on Swamp Thing, Los Bros on Love and Rockets, and Cerebus back in the day. It was a very exciting time and it showed me that comics could be a valid creative medium, so I decided to go to the Joe Kubert school of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, New Jersey.
PULP: What was it like at the Kubert school? Who were your teachers? What artists were your classmates into?
AW: The teachers were mainly industry people, kind of old school, like Joe Kubert himself, Jose Delbo, and other artists. My classmates ranged from people who were into painted illustration, realistic artwork, and then there were superhero fans of various stripes, George Perez or Frank Miller fans or whatever. And some miscellaneous people, including me, who were into unusual stuff. Circa my first year at the Kubert school I got into anime and manga, which was a very alien thing to the school culture at the time. Out of a hundred students, there were only several who were down with the scene.
PULP: Were you into the whole Japanese culture/ninja thing in comics of the early eighties?
AW: Uh no, not particularly. That was rolling unstoppable through the school at the time, there were a number of ninja fans back then. But it was well before even the early cult status of anime and manga had made much of a splash. I'd never even seen Speed Racer or Star Blazers.
PULP: I heard that Dirty Pair was the first anime you saw.
AW: Actually, yeah, it was. It was on the tape with Urusei Yatsura, circa about the third season, I think. I saw the whole thing at once one weekend on vacation--Dirty Pair, Urusei Yatsura, and Nausicäa.
PULP: If you'd never discovered anime and manga, what kind of comics do you think you'd be drawing today?
AW: I would have quit.
AW: Yes, because I really was going to quit the Kubert school in the first year. I had the epiphany--while drawing the Phantom on an elephant, by the way--"My god, I hate this, this is goofy, I can't imagine doing this for a living." I was just sick of the whole thing, it just seemed so uninteresting and tiresome that I was going to quit and try to get into a real school. And the exposure to Japanese pop culture really sparked something.
PULP: When did you discover manga as opposed to anime?
AW: Pretty much as soon as I got back to school after the February vacation where I'd seen the anime videotapes. But even at the time before I'd already seen manga proper, I was already thinking "It'd be great to do something like this in comic form," and I'd been aware, vaguely, of Japanese comics before. But as soon as I got back to school, I went to New York City, and went to Kinokuniya--I think Zen Oriental was open back then too--and just bought a ton of manga of all types.
PULP: What year was this?
AW: Early '86, I think.
PULP: What kind of comics were you thinking of doing before you went into the Kubert School?
AW: It's hard to remember now, it all seems so long ago (laughs). I wasn't a big superhero fan. They tended to be science fiction-oriented, which is kind of what I ended up doing, albeit merged with somewhat of a manga sensibility.
PULP: What did you end up doing at the Kubert School after your "epiphany"?
AW: After seeing the Dirty Pair, and my first exposure to manga--that would have been Takahashi, and I think the first several volumes of Akira were out, that and some other big-name stuff--I decided that the Dirty Pair would make great comic characters! I wasn't aware that there were a few short manga projects that involved the Dirty Pair, I hadn't seen them. So I decided, I should do American Dirty Pair comics! And get the rights! It'll be crazy! I was already doing Dirty Pair comics, none of which will ever see the light of day, I'm happy to report. I ended up doing probably about 50 or 60 pages over my first year, and then I think I started doing sample stuff up 'till about second or third year. I did a ton of it, I'd spend most of my time on either whatever was my real work, or on Dirty Pair stuff. I learned a lot just more or less teaching myself by doing the job.
PULP: Your style is always changing dramatically, especially over the first three Dirty Pair series. Is this something you're consciously seeking out, or just something that happens organically over time?
AW: To a degree, both I would read whatever manga I was picking up. My actual style is composed of tiny little things ripped off from other artists. If you know what to look for, it's kind of amusing. But another thing is, my biggest change was in my early 20s, and I began to take in mind what happens to artists over time. Most artists in their early 20s have the capacity to improve radically, but they start to lose that plasticity and pliability as they get older. After that they either tend to coast, or to warp and distort out of control. Like, certain manga artists, who I will not name, start getting weird facial structures, the eyes on their characters start drifting apart, higher on the head over time; or an odd hip structure appears, and that starts getting exaggerated. And then in one's 30s, which I'm now in, they get into a period of ossification and repetition, where they end up repeating stuff they did ten years ago, which is something you always have to be on guard for. I try my best nowadays to pick up new influences but it's definitely a lot harder to improve or change at all for that matter as you get older.
PULP: So when you look at your work from some periods, do you think, "This is my so-and-so artist period, there is a certain percentage of this artist in my work at this time?"
AW: Yeah. The one thing that's changed probably the most over the last ten years in my stuff is facial structure. A lot of the other stuff is relatively fixed, I kind of got to a certain level with mecha design and body architecture, circa "A Plague of Angels," that early period when I could improve really quickly. But since then I've mainly messed around with different facial structures, using new influences from people or trying new things. So you can actually spot that, like, "This is when I influenced by the artist from Graduation!" [Masaki Takei (http:// www.zeus.gr.jp/index.html)] And that did not work out too well.
PULP: Is that an actual example?
AW: Yeah, I actually did. Circa I think "Sim Hell" and the end of "A Plague of Angels", I was trying to emulate his eye structure, but the results were not pretty, because it was not compatible with my style. But you can look and see, "Ooh, it's the Yukito Kishiro period!" Or right now, I tend to draw really exaggerated lip structures, which comes from several different artists, including at least one Japanese artist, Katsuya Terada [artist of the Saiyukiden Daienou manga in Shueisha's Ultra Jump, and character designer for Blood: The Last Vampire]. He's a Japanese artist! He draws the big lips! Yeah! [laughs]
PULP: The big lips are definitely something you don't see very much in manga
AW: [laughs] It does exist, Kishiro took the way he does it, I believe, from the woman who does the famous autobiographical stuff, Shungicu Uchida [see Fredrik Schodt's Dreamland Japan]. She's got that weird sucker-pout thing Kishiro did way back in the day.
PULP: Your version of the Dirty Pair seems to have overwhelmed the image of the anime.
AW: Well, just because it's existed longer over time. I mean, back when it first came out it was a bit more of a brouhaha because at the time most American fandom, including myself, were exposed to it from Sunrise's TV show [1985, Studio Nue/Sunrise/NTV, 26 episodes]. And the movie [1987, Studio Nue/Sunrise/NTV, commonly known as Project Eden, but officially Dirty Pair: The Movie] had come out at that time too. That was the version that we were all used to, so even I was kind of freaked out by having to design a different version of the characters at first. There was a lot of "This isn't the real Dirty Pair! Rrraaaaa!" But eventually there were so many different anime versions, things like Dirty Pair Flash, that clearly any fool can tell there's a million different versions of the Dirty Pair. Mine's been around longer now, and people just got used to it, so it's not a big issue any more. That's an old school fan obsession anyway.
PULP: Let's talk a little bit about how you hooked up with Toren Smith. How did you meet him?
AW: It was kind of a friend of a friend situation. One of my classmates from the Kubert School, Joe Rosas, who eventually was one of my cohorts for a little while on Dirty Pair and Bubblegum Crisis, knew James D. Hudnall, the writer and early anime fan--he'd been in the scene very early on. And Jim knew Toren, who was just getting Studio Proteus rolling at that point [around 1987]. We got hooked up there, and I was still interested at that point in getting the rights to Dirty Pair to do an American comic version. It kind of went from there, and I ended up doing a portfolio and a short story, and then we approached Studio Nue, the company created by Haruka Takachiho, the author of the Dirty Pair novels in Japan. And eventually, after a labyrinthine process, we got the rights to do an American comic version. However, it had to be an original adaptation, not based on the anime, which, later on led to minor hassles from anime fans at the time even I myself was kind of freaked out.
PULP: On the other hand, you're sort of lucky that they didn't just make you do take-offs of the old stories.
AW: It's phenomenally fortunate that that happened. Because basically I was able to do my own version of the Dirty Pair in looks, the writing, the whole nine yards.
PULP: What are your influences as a writer?
AW: In terms of comic influences, the biggest one is Howard Chaykin's American Flagg, with its satirical aspects, hyper-commercialization, etc. On the writing end, I was into a lot of the first and second wave of cyberpunk material, like William S. Gibson to a degree, but also Walter John Williams, Bruce Sterling, Michael Swanwick, and some of the slightly more obscure authors. And eventually Neil Stephenson and Stephen Baxter and other more recent science fiction writers. That was a big influence on me.
PULP: You've talked a bit about the influence of action movies on your work. Do you consciously think about movie influences in your artwork?
AW: To a degree. The problem is you need page count to do really complicated, truly cinematic action. And for the most part I don't, I'm too slow, so I've never really done an action sequence long enough, or complete enough, or as exciting or smoothly flowing as it should be. That's something I keep in mind, but usually I can't do it in the limited amount of pages you have to tell a given story.
PULP: I feel that the pacing of your work is very American it has all that density, all that incredible detail, a lot happening, a lot of dialogue.
AW: Yeah that's out of necessity, though. That's always been a problem. The average miniseries is maybe four issues, and I have to ram a lot of story into four issues, which has always been annoying because I'm not fast enough to do anything longer than a four-issue book. I'd very much like to open things up, but it's just not possible, unless I radically pull back on how much story I tell, which I've considered doing every now and then: a Dirty Pair series where they're eating breakfast! In detail! So I don't know. I'm trying to do a little more of that with the book I'm writing for WildStorm at the moment, but even that ends up having fairly quick pacing.
NEXT ISSUE: In the second half of the interview, Adam Warren talks about Gen 13, the definition of manga, and why Americans like it.