With the growing popularity of Japanese comics, there are now manga-influenced comics creators from all corners of the globe. Last summer, Tasmania-based comics creator Madeleine Rosca got the seal of approval from some of the most discerning manga critics in the world, the judges for the First International Manga Award Competition sponsored by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Against a field of talented competitors from Asia, Europe and the U.S., Rosca took home honorable mention for her first published graphic novel, Hollow Fields.
Hollow Fields is unmistakably influenced by Japanese manga, but Rosca gives her creation a quirky horror/adventure twist by placing her young heroine in a boarding school for mad scientists.
With the upcoming arrival of Hollow Fields Volume 2 from Seven Seas Manga, I thought it'd be a great time to catch up with Rosca, learn more about the inspirations that led her to create her steampunk adventure series and get the low down on what it's like to be a manga artist from Down Under.
Q: Congratulations on completing Hollow Fields Volume 2! I got a chance to check out a preview, and I gotta say, I'm impressed. Dynamic artwork, lots of character development, and new plot twists. So let's start off by talking about Hollow Fields: What were some of your inspirations for this story?
Madeleine Rosca: Although I have a lot of manga and comic influences over my work in general, Hollow Fields was influenced more by books I was reading. At the time I was working as a public librarian, and through that I was introduced to a lot of junior fiction - things like Artemis Fowl and A Series of Unfortunate Events, which sort of mixed some fantasy/horror themes with comedy and had a broad appeal - they could be read by children and adults alike. So I wanted to create a story that could be enjoyed by all age groups.
I also wanted to write a story in a steampunk-influenced setting, since it's a little more unusual than your regular modern-day school setting. I love that clockwork-and-steam aesthetic.
Lastly, I wanted to create a book with a female protagonist. I think Lucy is probably a bit similar to how I was at that age; very eager, but not prepared for hardships - at least at first.
Q: In Volume 2, we learn much more about The Engineers and about the origins of the school. Things take a darker turn, but it also looks like you had a lot of fun drawing this one. Do you have any favorite scenes in this volume?
Madeleine: Probably my favorite is the first part of Chapter Two, with the children of the school taking their 'mad science' exams at the end of the semester. It involves them setting their creations loose on a miniature town, and a nasty Engineer examiner observing the results.
Children's exams are almost always very dull, so it was great to be able to depict something fun and destructive. Plus, I got to draw a lot of explosions! Can't be dissatisfied with that.
Q: Which character do you most enjoy drawing, and which character do you most relate to?
Madeleine: As I mentioned before, Lucy is a little bit like I was. I was a bit clueless at that age, and she is, too. But she puts in a lot of effort, and unlike the other students she's a good girl at heart. I'm very used to drawing her, and she has a big range of expressions, so she's probably the most enjoyable.
I also like drawing Miss Notch because of her prim mannerisms. Most of the other Engineers are much more difficult to draw.
Q: One thing I really enjoy about Hollow Fields is that it's undeniably influenced by manga, but you added twists to make it your own: the school for mad scientists plot, your character designs, the steampunk meets gothic themes with a mix of cuteness, humor and horror.
Seeing as this is the only work I've seen from you, is this your favorite type of story, or is this a theme that you're just exploring for this series?
Madeleine: It's hard to say at this stage, because as you said, this is my first book and the first time I've been published... I'd say this is my favorite type of story at this particular time, but I'm open to trying something different later on. I do want to continue with the steampunk influence though, as I'm fond of it.
Q: When (and how) were you first exposed to manga?
Madeleine: Pretty much like any child of the '80s, I grew up with things like Astro Boy on television, and gradually I began picking up manga books from comic stores. I found the style visually appealing, and I enjoyed the sense of movement that manga has -- it's a bit like watching a good film.
Q: Do you have any favorite manga artists? Any favorite Western comics artists that have inspired you?
Madeleine: I have an ever-changing list... Akira Toriyama, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Daisuke Moriyama, Ken Akamatsu, Rumiko Takahashi... there's a lot!
Katsuhiro Otomo - I saw Akira when I was 14, and I immediately started hunting around for the manga. That was probably the first one I collected.
As for Western comics artists, not so much. That's not to say I don't enjoy it, but I probably couldn't point to any one Western artist as a solid influence. I could probably say Adam Warren's Dirty Pair made me realize you didn't have to be Japanese to be a great manga artist. I've got a bit of a way to go before I'm at that level, though!
Q: How long have you been working on Hollow Fields?
Madeleine: I started working on the story in 2004; maybe parts of it earlier than that. I finally had a cohesive version in mid-2005, and at the end of that year I got an offer from Seven Seas to publish it.
Q: I noticed that in the back of Hollow Fields Volume 2, there's some very finished looking "alternate sequences" of scenes from Volume 2. When did you draw those, and why did you opt to re-do them for the current version?
Madeleine: I drew those at the very start of my run on Volume 2. I was always unhappy with the flow of that initial sequence, and all the way through the rest of the work on Volume 2, the thought that those particular pages weren't really up to scratch just gnawed at me. So in the end I redid a large chunk of Chapter 1, much to the disgust of the Deadline Fairy. We're still not talking!