Q: I grew up reading Japanese shojo manga and American comics like Elfquest, Legion of Superheroes, X-Men, etc. All the while I never thought it was odd to be a female comics fan who wanted to draw comics. Then I went to my first San Diego Comic-Con in 1992, and discovered that the American comics scene was a boys' world.
Wendy Pini: Not so in Japan! There are whole conventions that are just about fan art, and they're filled with female comics artists. There, they simply take it for granted that women draw comics. Meanwhile here, I’m still a freak, you’re still a freak! (we both laugh) It’s getting less so...
Q: Very true. Many female cartoonists are connected to each other and each other’s work through the Internet and anime conventions. They can self-publish webcomics without having to put out a lot of money to print and distribute their work.
Wendy Pini: The Internet has opened things up a lot. At this point, anime has so infused American pop culture that people are used to the visual idioms of the style that would have bothered them back in the '70s.
Q: Generationally, I actually think of you as kind of a peer of Japanese shojo manga artists like Riyoko Ikeda (Rose of Versailles) and Keiko Takemiya (To Terra), who were part of this pioneering group of female shojo artists who came into prominence in the '70s. They really turned the manga establishment upside down. I see you at that level of influence and innovation.
Wendy Pini: That could be -- I don’t know how much I turned things upside down. I just went my own way.
I can relate to Yumiko Igarashi, the creator of Candy Candy. I met her some years back -- she was divorced and doing some work that she would rather not in the industry, but continuing to work. I see her as a survivor, and could really relate to her.
Q: I would love to see a conversation between you and Keiko Takemiya. She continues to produce some amazing manga, while teaching a new generation of artists at Kyoto Seika University.
Wendy Pini: If you could arrange it, I would love to do that. Teaching manga, huh? Wow. When I get all of this out of my system, I would love to do something like that -- lecture as a motivational speaker or something.
THE YAOI MANGA BEGINNINGS OF MASQUE
Q: How long have you been thinking about doing this story?
Wendy Pini: I first floated out the idea about three years ago, at an anime convention in Chicago. I was in artists' alley with a bunch of other young, female doujinshi artists.
They knew that I was a professional artist, but they didn't know about Elfquest so much. I asked them what they thought of an "R-rated" or X-rated" yaoi version of Poe's Masque of the Red Death, and they all squealed! With just that description, they knew that they'd be getting gothic romance and dark, sexy erotica.
I've never been adverse to doing adaptations of other people's stories. I did a graphic novel based on the Beauty and the Beast TV series some years back, and really enjoyed that. Borrowing an idea and expanding on it is one of my favorite things to do.
So their reaction led me to think that this will work, as long as I can get Masque in front of that audience. I had a lot of work to do for my deal with DC Comics, but when that relationship ended, I was able to start on Masque.
Q: Has it been challenging to write for a new generation who has different tastes, interests and life experiences than yours?
Wendy Pini: With Masque, I don't see myself as writing for a younger generation so much. I don't think about that. I'm happy when I hear that women in their fifties are reading it too, because that's my generation.
But if someone in their twenties sees it, well, it's for them too. It's for young women who are looking for something more than the typical high school yaoi manga story. It has more character development, more reasons why the characters get into their relationship.
Q: But yaoi refers to manga that has "no plot, no meaning, no ending," essentially, "just the good stuff." But that's not what you're doing here.
Wendy Pini: (laughs) Well, that's true! My characters have lots of problems to deal with.
THE MEN OF MASQUE AND BRINGING POE'S STORY TO LIFE
Wendy Pini: The basic story in this first volume is about introducing all the characters, showing Anton and Steffan's dynamics and giving readers a hint that something awful is going to happen in the next volume.
Q: You start off with this story where (almost) everyone knows the ending, but you still manage to create some suspense where we really don't know how the events in Poe's story will affect these characters.
Wendy Pini: Yes, that's really my intention. Poe just gave me a skeleton. So you really don't know who is going to make it out of this story and who isn't! (laughs)
Q: So you have two volumes planned?
Wendy Pini: Two volumes, yes. When David, Audry and I entered partnership to make Masque of the Red Death a reality, Elfquest was still waiting to find its home at the right movie studio. We had no idea how long that would take - and even less of an idea that Warner Bros. would snatch Elfquest up so soon.
Consequently, we altered our plans - for the better, we think - as to how the rest of the Masque tale will be presented in graphic novel form. For a number of reasons it's better for me to get the entire story done by late Spring 2009. So Go! Comi and I have agreed to two volumes instead of the originally projected three. The best part is: Masque of the Red Death Volume Two will be considerably fatter than Volume One; readers won't have to wait for the third volume to learn the fate of the "Prince" and those around him.
As for the web comic, I'll be paring down the animation because it really is too much for one person to do on a weekly basis. I think the animation on the first book has served its attention-gaining purpose. Of course, there's nothing to stop me from animating the rest sometime later -- but at this point, who knows?