Q: There was about a 10-month space between Empowered Vol. 6 and Vol. 7. You've mentioned that you aren't a fan of the North American trend where graphic novels come out every year or so (vs. monthly serialization of shorter chapters in comic books, or in anthology magazines.) What's the downside of the 'release-a-graphic-novel-every-year-ish-or-so' system for a creator like yourself?
Adam Warren: The space between these last two books was more like a year and 10 months, I'm saddened to admit... Ouch. When you don't have a new book on the shelves for that long, the market can just plain forget that you exist, if the retailers even knew that you existed in the first place-I've never been to a comics shop or bookstore in my state that stocks Empowered, for example. (That's just a tad discouraging, for a series that's sold over 100,000 books.)
Furthermore, when you're doing a book that's already somewhat marginal to begin with, long gaps between volumes can be downright hazardous to your series' long-term health. That's why I'm scheming to crank out a regular stream of Empowered one-shots- drawn by Very Special Guest Artists and myself- to ensure that the long gaps between new volumes are punctuated by new Emp stories.
(NOTE: More on this later in Part 2 of this interview!)
BOY, OH BOY: WHEN YAOI DOUJINSHI INVADED THE EMP-VERSE
Q: You've done some hilarious scenes with yaoi doujinshi featuring male members of the Superhomeys getting "extra-friendly" with each other. (smirk)
Adam Warren: Well, this seemed like an obvious and potentially amusing (J-)pop-culture avenue to explore, after earlier forays into erotic prose fan-fiction about the Empverse's real-life superheroes.
Q: So tell me more about the hows / whys of this! When did you first encounter yaoi manga and doujinshi?
Adam Warren: Sometime in the 1980's, which I believe would've predated common usage of the yaoi acronym ("yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi" (NOTE: This is often translated as "no climax, no resolution, no meaning"). I'm fairly sure I ran into BL (boys' love) manga and doujinshi back in the early days of the J-Pop scene in New York City back when I was in school, and I certainly knew a number of Japanese artists who did proto-yaoi work when I later lived in the Bay Area.
I don't clearly remember my reactions to seeing BL material, other than the inference that I apparently didn't have much of a reaction to it. (I do vaguely recall thinking that Patalliro sounded frickin' hilarious, though.) Some of the more grotesque, brutal, and horrifying hentai work I encountered did, in fact, shock me; BL stories, by comparison, were never a big deal for me. Not my particular field of interest, but hardly all that transgressive or shocking, as far as I was concerned.
Q: The yaoi doujinshi in Empowered looks like it was drawn by other artists — or did you draw them?
Adam Warren: Nahh, I commissioned my supremely talented friends Tomoko Saito and Jo Chen— and later, Emily Warren, fine artist of the Teahouse webcomic—to produce the fake doujinshi. (NOTE: Emily "No Relation" Warren was also the guest artist on Empowered Special #2: Ten Questions for the MaidMan)
I briefly considered drawing some yaoi material for the books myself, but I thought the work wouldn't be convincing unless I put a great deal of effort into imitating a genuine yaoi artist's style— and unless I'm getting paid handsomely, I have very little interest in beating my brains out to draw like someone else.
Q: I totally cracked up at Major Havoc's attempt to write slash fan fiction about himself in Empowered Volume 3— "Cute Asian cartoonists, I'm happy to be your fantasy object!", while openly gay hero Heavy Artillery snorts "This yaoi crap does nothing for me." Then later, it's mentioned yaoi and moe manga are a sinister ninja plan to suppress Japanese birth rate?!
Adam Warren: Well, in fairness, I should note that when Ninjette repeats that outlandish claim—a boast made by the Shimoku ninja clan, whose name might just be a reference to the manga-ka creator of Genshiken— she seems to assume that it's a crackpot theory.
TURNING JAPANESE... OR NOT
Q: Thugboy is hapa (½ Japanese/¼ German/¼ Italian). Ninjette is a not-Asian ninja from New Jersey with a Japanese name. Is this your way of tweaking your nose at the culture-blurring nature of your work? Or (haha), am I reading too much into this?
Adam Warren: To a degree, yeah; I haven't quite got around to addressing this matter in detail as yet, but Ninjette's background as an American ninja-though presumably of greater legitimacy than 80s "Ame-ninja" icon Michael Dudikoff—does eventually touch on issues of authenticity, "weeaboo"-ism, and cultural appropriation.
Q: Ah. Is this something that you'll be touching up on in Empowered Volume 8 or a future one-shot?
Adam Warren: In some future Empowered project, quite possibly. Prolly not just a one-shot, though, as I'd like to explore these issues in greater depth.
TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN / THE NOT-SO-SECRET ORIGINS OF EMPOWERED
Q: So you've mentioned that the bondage aspect of Empowered came from a time when you were commissioned to draw superheroines in various states of being trussed up. Were you uncomfortable with those requests, or were they fun to draw?
Adam Warren: Oh, I've had to draw much gamier things for money than mere "damsels in distress," believe me. Howeva: I get bored very quickly with drawing the same type of story-free illustration over and over again, and trussed-up superheroines were no exception.
Q: How did this lead to you to create Empowered. and uh... drawing even more superheroines in bondage?
Adam Warren: During a period when my comics career was not going exactly proceeding apace, I was grinding my way through a slew of somewhat monotonous "damsel in distress" sketches. For one cluster of "Betty Page in Spandex®" pieces, I just said, "Screw it," and instead started drawing a series of comics pages-actually more time-consuming than pin-up illos, but much less tedious and repetitive—about a hapless yet good-hearted heroine. These goofy little joke pages, drawn with no intention beyond keeping myself at least mildly amused, would eventually morph and mutate into a very early, very primitive version of Empowered.