Years before TokyoPop put out a single call for the next "Rising Star of Manga," there were several North American comics creators who were already creating comics and drawing from Japanese influences. One such creator was (and is!) Adam Warren.
Since the late 1980's, Warren has been drawing comics that mix American and Japanese sensibilities, with an added dash of his own wicked sense of humor. His first claim to fame is his work on Studio Proteus' original graphic novel adaptation of Dirty Pair, a sci-fi action/comedy based on the Dirty Pair light novel series written by Haruka Takachiho and illustrated by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. (Both the Dirty Pair novels and Warren's Dirty Pair graphic novels are available in English from Dark Horse)
More recently, Warren has put his touch on titles for DC, Marvel and Wildstorm, including Gen 13 and Iron Man: Hypervelocity, but the creation nearest and dearest to his heart is Empowered, his now 7-volume graphic novel series from Dark Horse Comics about a buxom heroine named "Empowered" who has super powers with a catch: her super-suit is super flimsy, and she loses her strength as her suit tears to pieces in combat. Add in the fact that she gets progressively more nekkid and consistently captured and tied up by bad guys in almost every story? Well, that's just an occupational hazard.
As the creator of Empowered, a "sexy superhero comedy, except when it's not," Warren has been cheerfully blurring the line between Japanese and American comics, breaking the fourth wall, and telling his story, his way. To celebrate arrival of Empowered Volume 7 and the recent release of the three-in-one, hardcover Empowered Deluxe Edition (both from Dark Horse), Warren was a special guest at Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May 2012. I caught up with him at a panel, shot a video of him sketching, and he agreed to answer a few manga-centric questions from me via email.
Good sport that he is, he got through my several pages of questions (and follow-up questions) with good humor. Check out what he had to say about his manga beginnings, his forays into doujinshi and yaoi manga, and the tie-me-up/tie-me-down aspect of Empowered.
In Part 2 of this interview, Warren talks about his love of strong (but flawed) female characters, the twists he's got planned for Empowered Volumes 7 and 8, and his plans for giving fans more Empowered stories than ever in the months and years to come.
IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WERE COWBOY COMICS AND MANGA
Q: It was great to see you at TCAF! Was that your first visit to that show? What did you think?
Adam Warren: Yeahp, 'twas my first time at TCAF; I quite enjoyed it, really. Good fun at the show, and a great time afterward!
Q: So let's kick things off, and start from the beginning here. Do you remember the moment / book / comic creator you admired that made you think, "I want to make comics?"
Adam Warren: 'Fraid not, as my desire to draw comics goes back as far as I can remember, all the way back to when I learned how to read from reprints of old Marvel cowboy comics.
Q: You went to The Kubert School in New Jersey, which is very much geared toward artists who want to create superhero comics. It's been mentioned in your bio that you opted to drop out after a year. Why?
Adam Warren: I should clarify that I didn't actually drop out after my first year at the school, though I was seriously considering doing so. Midway through the school year, I found that I'd become extremely bored with the idea of drawing comics, that it no longer held any appeal whatsoever for me.
(Semi-amusing side note: This epiphany happened to seize me while I was hacking my way through a thoroughly uninspired illo of purple-clad, old-school hero The Phantom, riding an elephant through the jungle.) Then I encountered anime and manga, and everything changed for me.
Q: So tell me about your first exposure to manga. How were you introduced to manga or anime? Which titles did you read at first?
Adam Warren: I was first exposed to anime through videotapes of the Dirty Pair and Urusei Yatsura TV series, which I found tremendously fresh and exciting and innovative. That in turn led me to discovering manga, which I found even more fresh and exciting and innovative, because it tied into something I could actually do myself: Drawing comics, but with a strong manga influence.
Q: What made Dirty Pair so special to you? What do you like most about that series?
Adam Warren: Most of the comics work I've drawn before encountering anime and manga were glum, deadly serious fantasy or sci-fi epics, dwelling on manly-men protagonists and their heroic sacrifices. Dirty Pair and Urusei Yatsura showed me a better alternative: that of funny, fast-paced, lively stories with strong, highly entertaining female characters.
Q: Do you still plan on drawing more Dirty Pair stories?
Adam Warren: That's not terribly likely, I'm afraid. Drawing Dirty Pair now would be like drawing Empowered, but hampered by the distinct drawbacks of less money and less control; not a terribly appealing concept, alas. (Tough for me to concoct five words in a row that would appeal to me less than "Empowered, but with less money.") Now, I wouldn't mind writing Dirty Pair stories for someone else to draw, of course...
Q: When you started out, you were one of a handful of North American artists working in a manga-influenced style. What was it like back then, in the pre-TokyoPop days? How did mainstream comix fans react to your work? How did manga/anime fans react to your work?
Adam Warren: Producing manga-influenced comics art was quite an alien concept, back in the day. My teachers at the Kubert School never quite knew what to make of my work—cut to Joe Kubert looking at a Dirty Pair page of mine and asking, "Are these Wendy Pini characters, Adam?" (Then cut to me flinching.)
I knew exactly what I wanted to do, however, and didn't especially care what people thought; ooh, such an artistic rebel I was, albeit an artistic rebel with some godawfully embarrassing anime posters hanging over his drawing table.