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Interview: Nina Matsumoto

Artist and Creator of Yokaiden and Saturnalia


Nina Matsumoto

Nina Matsumoto, self-portrait

© Nina Matsumoto

When Nina Matsumoto first drew a picture of the cast of The Simpsons, she did it as a lark, just something fun to show her friends. But almost overnight, her manga-style remix of Matt Groening's beloved cartoon characters became an Internet sensation. Matsumoto's illustration was favorited, forwarded, blogged about and posted all over the Web. Soon after, Matsumoto got an offer from Bongo Comics to create new manga-style Simpsons stories.

This was followed by an inquiry from Del Rey Manga to create an original graphic novel for their fledgling original manga program. The result is Yokaiden, Matsumoto's first published graphic novel.

Yokaiden is a supernatural - shonen manga comedy-adventure about Hamachi, an ever-cheerful Japanese boy who is fascinated by yokai, or spirit-demons. When an angry kappa (water sprite) steals his grandmothers' soul, Hamachi embarks on a quest to rescue her; a quest that takes him to mysterious world of the yokai..

Yokaiden Volume 1 earned lots of rave reviews for its funny, fast-paced story (and was my choice for the Best Original English Manga of 2008) -- but I wanted to know more about this Canadian comics creator, her amazing Internet success story and her current projects. We traded a few emails, and here's what she had to say about The Simpsons, Yokaiden and the lessons learned from her webcomics career.


Q: First of all, congratulations on publishing the first volume of Yokaiden! It's such a fun read -- you have a great sense of humor! Can you tell me a little bit about how this book came to be?

As I understand it, Del Rey Associate Publisher Dallas Middaugh approached you to do this book based on seeing your manga-style illustration of The Simpsons. Can you tell me a little bit more about how that happened?

Nina Matsumoto: Thank you for the kind words!

When Dallas saw the Simpsons picture I drew in my own style, he checked out the rest of my deviantART gallery and liked my work. He contacted me through there, wondering what my sequential work is like, interested in hiring me to work on one of their licensed projects -- or hear a pitch for an OEL from me.

I showed him my old webcomic, Saturnalia, and he liked it. I spent a month putting together the pitch for Yokaiden, and it was approved right away. It all happened very fast.

Q: Can share your experiences about the Simpsons illustration? What inspired you to create this drawing?

Nina Matsumoto: My intention was to pay tribute to my favourite TV show, see how the Simpsons look in my style, and scare my friends with it because I speculated the results would be frightening (note that I wasn't exactly going for "anime/manga Simpsons" -- just the Simpsons in my style, which happens to be anime/manga. If I wanted to do "anime Simpsons," I would've made it more overboard and parodic...and probably more frightening).

Q: How did you first hear about the reaction to this picture when it became this Internet phenomenon?

Nina Matsumoto: The day after I uploaded I was surprised to see so many deviantART users adding it to their favourites, and my friends kept showing me major websites that were linking to it (digg.com, for example).

I kind of regretted not spending more time on the picture; I would've made it more polished if I knew it was going to be seen by so many eyes. But it gave me motivation to work on the Futurama picture I was planning on doing next, to show people what else I'm capable of.

Q: You also got a gig from Bongo Comics out of the Simpsons drawing. What did they say when they approached you?

Nina Matsumoto: They had a script for a manga parody but no artist for it. When the art director saw the Simpsonzu picture, he felt I would be perfect for the job and contacted me straight away.

Q: Did Matt Groening, (the creator of The Simpsons) send you any thoughts or comments?

Nina Matsumoto: At the time, I was speaking with a 20th Century Fox employee who tried to see if he could get me a job doing merchandise art for Futurama (there wasn't an opening for me after all but it was still cool that I was even considered). He managed to pass the Simpsonzu onto one of Matt Groening's friends, who then showed it to the man himself. Apparently he "loved it" and wanted to know who I was.

Q: What kind of work did you do for Bongo Comics?

Nina Matsumoto: I first did a parody of manga called "Too Crazy Juvenile Prankster: Bartomu" for their "Simpsons Internationale" issue, wherein it was shown what Simpsons Comics are like around the world. After that, I did a few pencil jobs for some normal stories in the proper Groening style.

I was able to do a manga-style Simpsons short again when they did a Death Note parody for their annual Halloween issue. That was one of the most unique job opportunities I've ever had! It was to replace another Halloween story that fell through so they contacted me on somewhat of a short notice, but I couldn't refuse it.

Q: Your alias on LiveJournal and on Deviant Art is "Space Coyote" -- is there a story behind that name?

Nina Matsumoto: It's from an episode of the Simpsons ("El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer"). I'm a hardcore Simpsons fan and I've been using that screenname since I was 12 years old. I always kept my real name a heavily guarded secret -- not even telling most people I knew personally online -- until I was "discovered" through the Simpsons picture and I had to give up my name for news articles and published works.

To tell the truth, I wanted to use my alias when published, but since my real name was out in the media already I figured it would be a smarter choice to use that.

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