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Buff Demons and Steamy Plots
Incubus Vol. 1 - Yayoi Neko
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Incubus Vol. 1 - Yayoi Neko
Date: 28/04/10, updated on 28/04/10 (83 review reads)
Advantages: well written plot, original take on the demon lover concept, signature art
Disadvantages: The, uh, graphic nature may put off some readers.
Lenniel has a problem. He has met his soul mate and they have literally connected their souls. This could be great, and indeed, in the past, this was a source of great joy for them both. The problem is Lenniel's lover Judas doesn't remember him at all, and is love with some other guy! To make matters worse, Judas is a bit different than everyone else. His soul is unprotected, so that it can be stolen from his body, and this flaw causes a psychic resonance that attracts demons who desire his soul. It's a good thing Lenniel isn't human but an incubus then, and carries a demonic katana that he wields to protect his beloved. When the incubus of his unwanted, erotically charged dreams appears before him to defend him from a grief stricken ifrit out to steal his soul, Judas is more than a little confused and frightened. Just what is going on? Only Lenniel seems to know, but will Judas accept the truth? As for Lenniel, will he survive this fight against the much stronger ifrit? With their souls linked, what will Lenniel's injuries mean for Judas? One thing is for certain, the world is a much more complicated place than Judas first believed...
Incubus volume 1 marks the professional debut of American mangaka Yayoi Neko. Reading this manga, you would not guess that this was an OEL (original English language) manga. She sticks to Japanese conventions, such as with the layout as well as the sound effects and such. Her drawing style is unique, but not altogether unusual amongst Boy's Love mangaka, with her men very manly and a bit angular. It does however make her stand out from the crowd, as the delicate beautiful boy bishounen is far more common in popular manga. This is not a bad thing, and I rather think that this grittier style works much better with the idea of demons that come wielding deadly swords.
The story flows rather well, but as with most first efforts, it is not as finely polished as one would say, expect from a writer with several books under their belt. As the panels progress, one can actually see the minute changes that occur as Neko sensei gains more confidence and experience, and the enjoyment increases right along with it. Come the last panel, I found myself looking forward to reading the next instalment of the story, confident that she would be able to keep me hooked until the end. The volume contains a bonus one shot of a short story, Weapons of Mass Destruction, about a scientist and the soldier he loves during what seems to become the final battle of an apocalyptic war. It gave me a nice taste of just what this writer is capable of achieving, art and plot wise, and while it is unrelated to Incubus in every way, served to whet my appetite to see just where she will take Lenniel and Judas next.
This volume also whetted my curiosity about the author, as professional OEL mangaka are quite rare. Many people aspire to be a professional mangaka, but few mangaka to reach that pinnacle, either in Japan or anywhere else for that matter. With many more original Japanese works available for translation and with already proven track records, OEL content creators face what appears to be an uphill struggle to get published. So, just what sets this one apart? And just how does this relate to what she creates? In hopes of gaining a greater appreciation for this work, I spoke with Yayoi Neko and she granted me a few answers to some questions to try to offer us some insight and relieve some of the curiosity. (Warning the following is VERY LONG, so if you don't like long, don't have a lot of time, or have next to zero interest in manga/comic book behind the scenes stuff and are reading this for reasons other than being a fan, treat it like a DVD extra and fast forward to the bottom)
~~~~Question and answer Section~~~~.
1. What first sparked your interest in manga, and how old were you?
Well, I had always had an interest to draw comic books, and not until I was about 10 or 12 years old, I came upon the early printings of Rumiko Takahashi's work, and the line work and use of space and black and white, totally blew me away. It was so different and so expressive and so dynamic when no colour was needed. After that, I began exploring more manga and found the action scenes and page compositions more expressive and seemed to have more freedom in application than American comics, and I was then convinced that I wanted to pursue this type of art style.
2. Which manga artist would you say offered you the most inspiration and influence upon your career, and which manga of theirs touched you the most?
Since Rumiko Takahashi's work was one of the first serialized manga I knew of, I was highly influenced by her art, and as I got older and more manga was being released in the US, I began to see that I preferred classic shoujo manga for its page compositions and layouts, and shounen manga for its actions scenes and inking techniques. I really have no one favourite artist, and I admire many of them. Some of those artists include: Katsuro Otomo, WATSUKI Nobuhiro, MIURA Kentaro, Kyoko Ariyoshi., Keiko Takemiya, Riyoko Ikeda, Kazuo Koike & Ryoichi Ikegami, Ben Dunn, Brian Bolland, and Takehiko Inoue.
In regards to what manga I hold closest to me, that is pretty hard to distinguish because there is something from each of the artists' titles that I find endearing and cannot single any out as favourable. But from all of the works done by each artist, I hope I have found my own 'style' in drawing manga, but it seems I have been more influenced by the classic style of manga from the 1970's and 80's, as I have been told repeatedly by many readers, which is fine since I like thick strong lines of classic manga compared to the thin fragile lines used in today's manga. But I hope that my work has something that makes it stand on its own.
3. Many young people today dream about becoming a mangaka, but worry over learning Japanese, travelling to Japan, and so on. As an American mangaka writing original English language (OEL) manga, can you tell us how you found your niche?
I get asked this and I cannot help explaining that when I was in high school and entered college all the way into Graduate school, I did not have anyone to rely on or ask for advice on how to approach being a comic book artist. Although many of my professors said they also had initial interest when they were young to be a comic book artist, none of them had any idea of how one would pursue a career in that area. So, while in school, I had to do research about portfolio reviews, character analysis and story synopsis and such and that approaching editors at conventions for portfolio reviews were the main actions to take to get any attention in the market.
I prepared myself in anyway I could, and my first portfolio review was at Wizard-Con in Chicago--which went terribly--I was so discouraged and upset everything felt hopeless. But I reminded myself that I had to take the editors advice they gave me and make use of it to improve my work for the next try, which was at San Diego Comic-Con the next year.
One has to remember that you have to approach the right comic book publishers that are printing books with the manga style as their focus, and I made sure to do this from my first try. And one must also remember to take notes of all the comments given to you, no matter how harsh, to use as reference of what to pay attention to and work on to improve your portfolio. I have never done this, but do not argue with editors or make excuses for your work, always show respect and offer a business card--if they refuse, don't take it personally because there are other publishers to show your art to.
Anyway, I went to conventions and finally got the attention of Antarctic Press back in 2004, and from then to 2004, I worked on a script they sent me for my first professional work called "Herc & Thor". After I graduated, I visited the dudes at AP and decided to move to Texas to work with them. I did the first printing of INCUBUS #1, and various stories for their anthologies. And soon afterwards, I was working on my own.
I forgot to mention that while I was in Grad school, I took some Japanese Language courses, but I have not had the chance (or funds) to go to Japan (which I do not find entirely necessary to be an American mangaka). I took JL courses to learn in respect to adopting another cultures style of art. It is also in respect to the Japanese culture of manga that I draw my manga to read from right to left, I draw this way because I find it important that if I am going to use a style that is mainly associated with Japan (although it was American cartoons that first inspired Japanese comics to become the manga we know today), I want to be as authentic, and as traditional, as possible. It's my way of respecting the art I suppose-- and it is also the reason I use Japanese sound effects.
For myself, I also find hiragana, katakana, and kanji very, very beautiful. That's why I can't help using Japanese sound effects in my work. Just the look of it itself can create the feel of a page and help its composition. I can't help enjoying the forms of kanji; it is so beautiful and bold. Why only go halfway to draw in this style when it is my interpretation of Japanese manga that I admire so much?
4. In addition to your INCUBUS series that is published by Kitty Media, you also have a Sherlock Holmes doujinshi. I understand it has been picked up by a French publishing house, congratulations. I understand that like your other works, it is a Boy's Love title and Holmes and Watson apparently make quite the pair. What gave you the idea for creating this piece of slash fiction?
My appeal for the Holmes/Watson pair began a few years ago. I already had a developed interest in the stories of Sherlock Holmes and watched the BBC series starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes, most loyally when I was in school. As for seeing Holmes and Watson in an intimate relationship, I came upon it accidentally while reading a book on gay culture during the Victorian Era. In this book, the author observes that Conan Doyle may have intended Holmes to be homosexual (as is evident in his 'bohemian' and 'lack of trust in women' lifestyle). Intrigued and excited by this unexplored possibility, I did some of my own research on the net and found the land of slash fiction and fan art solely dedicated to Holmes and his Watson. How I overlooked these characters as being a 'couple', I have no explanation.
A love of this slash pair increased over time, and I finally decided to work on the doujinshi. I originally thought of writing an original story, but knew I did not posses the perceptiveness of Doyle's characters, and I do not believe any one but the original writer can create new stories of their protagonists with the level of understanding as they themselves do. I then decided to research the stories to find which story contained the most physical contact between Holmes and Watson--and "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", with the repeated hand holding of Watson's hand was it.
In evidence of Holmes concern and love for Watson, many readers refer to the "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs", but I found this adventure overused as evidence in relevance to the relationship, and finally decided to add scenes of my own using the original text of "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" to express my ideas that the homosexual ambiguity in classic literature can be found elsewhere besides the obvious.
5. I believe you gave a signed copy of the Sherlock Holmes dj to Brent Spiner at a convention. One of his most popular fan moments is his portrayal of Holmes in ST: TNG. Had you thought about that when giving him a copy?
Actually no, I forgot entirely about those episodes of him role playing Holmes on the holodeck. I was thinking more about his other roles like my favourite of him playing Dorothy's manager in "Introducing Dorothy Dangridge" (starring Halle Barry as DD). I did however, ask him what his favourite Buster Keaton movie was---mine was "Spite Marriage" and of all the Buster movies I've seen, I had not seen his favourite which is "Sherlock Jr.". At this time I am still wondering if Mr. Spiner has even read my doujinshi. I highly suspect he hasn't and if he did, it probably did not hold his interest or leave any impression. But I am still glad I got to meet him and give him something that is a manifestation of my creativity. I hope to meet him again someday and have a new title to offer.
6. Back to INCUBUS. The series currently stands at three volumes. Is there more to follow?
Yes. I am planning INCUBUS will conclude at volume 6 or 8, depending on how smooth a transition I can achieve to finish the series and avoid it feeling rushed. I am currently working on INCUBUS #4, and I hope to get as much of it completed as possible this year because I will also be working on a few side projects--of which I cannot go into detail as they are still in development.
7. Your men are beautifully manly, a far cry from the typically slender, often tenderly young bishounen of most BL titles. In fact, your character renderings seem to lean more towards what is seen more usually in bara or gei comi, than yaoi, but your plots lean more towards the more the more substantial yaoi and josei/shonen markets. Why is this?
I enjoy the yaoi genre, but I am not an avid fangurl of it simply because of the feminine men in the manga. If I want to see male x male stories, what is the point of making one of the men so woman-like in image and actions? On another point, ever since I decided to be an artist, I have had a fascination with anatomy, in particular the male body. Women's bodies are too smooth and round--I enjoy drawing the high contrast, angularity and defined muscles of the male body more than anything. And when I draw my yaoi, I want to make the pairs in my yaoi look like men, because my manga is about men in love, not boys with slender delicate bodies that might as well be women.
The sexual relations between men is what makes yaoi what it is, but for me, personally, I look for other elements when I read/create yaoi (and other manga in general). Although the sexual relationship between two characters is important, it is not vital. For me, in anything, creating a story with strong character development is the most important thing in any manga--yaoi or otherwise. Some people are happy with reading one sex scene after another, but I want to create something in the story itself that will mean something to the reader. Although the characters in INCUBUS are science fiction, I want to make them complex as real people are. That way, when it comes to the love scenes, the emotions will hold more meaning for the characters and for the reader themselves.
As of the content of my yaoi, I absolutely dislike the shallow mediocre yaoi that floods the market--every story is just an episode for an excuse to have sex, and the characters themselves are the kind I have no interest in or care about--and that is the most important factor in doing manga for me, that writers have to have something that the readers can relate to in the characters. So when it came to my turn to draw a yaoi series, I created INCUBUS to be as inquisitive as possible as my own little revolt against the typical stuff that makes up the majority of the yaoi industry.
My stories I have noticed are not easily accepted by many younger yaoi readers, and I have been criticised as being 'too wordy' and not including enough sex in INCUBUS. But this does not bother me, since I have been able to provide something that is substantial and emotionally provocative for those tired of the yaoi stereotype. I am not praising myself when explaining this, only repeating what I have been told by readers in emails and in person at conventions.
If INCUBUS gives the implication of being for older audiences and for men, that must be kind of by accident on my part when I believe the manga that holds the elements of josei and shounen can be read by anyone. But I think a clearer explanation would be that I am not a very feminine person at all, and am not held by preference to either gender in thought or drawing. Much of what kind of person you are is expressed in your art and I cannot go against how I choose to identify myself.
8. Most of my readers are in Europe, so if they wanted a signed copy, it would be rather difficult to obtain as you only attend a few US conventions. How else could a fan obtain a signed copy or an art print?
Maybe a few kind people who run European comic conventions could invite me as a guest, and then I could sign copies in person? *Laughs to self*
Well, I cannot provide signatures to INCUBUS books sold online because I do not sell them directly from my home, they are sold by Kitty Media. But you can get a signed copy of my Sherlock Holmes doujinshi or my one-shot short story 'Weapons of Mass Destruction" by ordering them from me directly. Just email me for more information.
9. My reviews have attracted a lot of young adults who have contacted me to say they are thrilled to learn that these sort of works exist, with many of them finding reassurances of the validity of their own sexuality within the pages of works of this genre, while others (male and female) have gone on to read out of curiosity and discovered they quite enjoy the well crafted stories and art and been able to relate to the nature of love within despite being straight. Do you think that works like this help remove the "stigma" of same sex relationships and further the chances of equality?
That is what I have been hoping yaoi can accomplish since it's made its way into the US comic book markets. American Comics were always dominated by male artists with their mainstream superheroes, guns, violence, and Barbie-like heroines (with pronounced mammary glands). Yaoi is now something that women (and gays/transgender) can be more comfortable drawing and exploring creatively. Yaoi is another branch of comic book art that will finally bring more female/gays/transgender artists into the American male dominated comics market and will also attract more attention of straight/gay/transgender readers to look for American gay oriented comic books that had been around before yaoi came to the US.
Yaoi will help open doors to other genres and create more diversity in comic readers (something mainstream comics could only accomplish to a certain heterosexual comfort point) and also bring more attention to the independent publishers that were always open to people of all race, genders and sexual orientation.
I also believe it is because of yaoi that more American comic book writers are including gay couples in mainstream comic books, and even making them the main characters and letting them live an entire life throughout the series instead ridding them soon after they are introduced.
10. One final question out there for all the wannabe comic artists out there: what pens and papers do you use, and do you ever make use of a PC tablet?
I use dip pens with crow quill nibs, and also Micron ink pens from 08 to 001 to ink back grounds. I sometimes use Strathmore Bristol to do my inking on, but for my manga I use Borden & Riley Paper for Pens. And I do use a PC tablet for editing my manga pages after scanning them into my computer. And I also ink with it too, but only when I am inking something really detailed for that American Comic book look, and I sometimes colour my work with it--but I prefer traditional media like watercolours, acrylic and coloured pencils to colour my stuff, and I use the tablet to colour when I need to save time.
~~~~~And now back to Incubus' Review~~~~
I was quite grateful for Neko sensei's answers, as knowing how and why she creates the art that she does gave me a greater appreciation for the effort and the resulting effects. The heavy bold lines do indeed impart a genre smashing feel to the story, and while it is a romance type plot, the action definitely does not take a back seat to it, making this a title with a cross demographic appeal. The avid love for Japanese comic art and its small nods to manga's American comic roots shines through the work, making this a piece of authentic manga despite its OEL origins, and not a typical North American comic flipped backwards in an attempt to woo lovers of manga. So, for authenticity in style and substance, as well as a story and cast of characters that kept me turning the pages, I give this a two thumbs up.
Just one bit of warning, though for the unwary. This is Boy's Love, and is printed under the Kitty Media imprint. Kitty Media generally do not deal with what manga aficionados would call shonen ai, that is box x boy relationships that end with shy kisses and hand holding. They deal with yaoi, which is often sexually explicit, and definitely on the mature manga lists. This title therefore carries a parental advisory on the front, is sold shrink-wrapped, and carries a rating of 18 and up. Best bet for finding yourself a copy if interested is Amazon, and for more information on this series and author's other works, one can visit her website at http://yayoineko.com/. In addition to my thanks to Neko sensei for her time, I'd like to extend special thanks to "Hiyoshimaru", a fujoshi (female yaoi fan) who "introduced" us and made the Q and A possible. After all, if it wasn't for the fans, mangaka would have no reason to write, and then I'd have nothing to review, ne?
Summary: Lenniel can't forget Judas, and it seems he is not the only one out to "get" him
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