POP Comics® Creator Spotlight: Andrew Archer and NICE
This week on POP Showcase we're talking to Andrew Archer and NICE, writer and artist of The Tokyo 5.
Yama is a social pariah - 18 years old, mouthy and on a road to nowhere. While defending a work colleague from an overbearing customer, Yama unleashes a latent psychic ability that had previously laid dormant for years and is now thrown headfirst into a situation she doesn't understand. Pursued by Furi, an emotionally unstable hunter-killer for the tyrannical Tomo Corporation, Yama's only chance of survival rests in using her ability to discover new and more powerful allies that can aid her in her struggle to survive.
With excellent art and writing that teases a dark, brutal story, The Tokyo 5 caught our eye as an incredibly promising English language manga style comic. We sat down to talk with the creative team to talk with them about their experiences. But first...
Q&A WITH THE TOKYO 5 TEAM
How do you prefer to work? Do you have a particular setup or playlist? Any preferred tools or process?
AA – I don’t know if this is too much of a peek behind the wizard’s curtain, but there isn’t really much preparation for me. It’s NICE that does all the heavy lifting. Generally I just crack open a can of soda, shovel a mouthful of chips into my face and comfortably lay down on a bed with my laptop. Then I just stare at a blank screen for several hours, like most writers do. Occasionally I’ll slap on a little Wu-Tang Clan and run around my apartment screaming “Protect your neck!” to get myself fired up. But everyone does that, right?
NICE - I work on multiple projects, so I prefer to work during the day and deal with it immediately, that way I can relax for the rest of the day. I work like that because I understand freelance work is seasonal and it’s not a guaranteed way to earn money, so you have to work while there's work available. I used to procrastinate a lot before, so now my current routine involves a series of strategies and tactics on how to avoid that. Of course there are days when you don’t feel like working AT ALL and honestly sometimes it’s alright to give yourself a break. Tech wise I used to exclusively work with Clip Studio Paint when drawing, but I recently got Procreate on iPad and it’s an amazing app to do sketches with.
Let's talk inspirations: which creators and titles get your creative juices flowing?
NICE - I particularly adore digital manga art styles by Yusuke Murata and Yoshikazu Hamada (Tsugumomo), though I was originally inspired by Naoki Urasawa's pacing, storyboarding and build up techniques. I also take inspiration from watching videos from Youtubers like Nerdwriter, Every Frame A Painting and Lessons from the Screenplay. Ultimately, I get inspiration from actually working on a page, instead of sitting doing nothing and waiting to get inspired or something. Some creatives prefer to wait for inspiration before they start work, I guess I'm the type who likes to work till I get inspired. I believe inspiration is everywhere but it has to find you working.
AA – Whenever I feel like I need to be inspired I usually reach for my copy of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira Club. You see I’m always awed by work that has grand scale and I love seeing how creators build their worlds. Otomo is a master of grand scale. When I was a kid and played with my Star Wars toys or G.I. Joes I would never just recreate scenes from the cartoons or movies, I’d create new storylines and new characters and enact out all new scenarios. There’s something so confining about paint-by-numbers science fiction, that’s why it takes amazing works like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Steins;Gate or Blame! to get me in the mood to create big expansive narratives. Of course the downside is finding high calibre sci-fi to continuously feed my habit, but thankfully I take inspiration from everywhere. I’ve been blitzing through Doctor Who lately. That’s helped a lot. In other words expect lots of time travel to be in upcoming chapters of The Tokyo 5. Run your clever boy.
The Tokyo 5 clearly has a very complex and fleshed-out story behind it. Where did the idea for it come from? Did it go through many changes during the creation process?
AA – The basic premise came from a short story I was piecing together a few years ago called The City. When I began writing, it started out as a gritty street-wise cop drama; I think I was watching a lot of The Wire at the time. But in the middle of this jumble of detectives , car chases and captain’s screaming “You’re off the case!” was this cool little underlying story about inter-dimensional aliens taking over a city and turning it into their own amusement park. Not long after this I ran into a friend who said he wanted to work on a manga of our own. He asked me, “Have you got any ideas?”. Oh boy did I ever. After I told him about The City he said he liked the idea, but warned me, “Look, I can draw female characters really well. Male characters, not so much”. Thus, The Tokyo 5 was born.
After he left the project I bounced the idea around a lot of artists, western comic illustrators and mangaka, but the story just kind of sat around for a long time not going anywhere. It was about a year later that I was lounging around watching Macross Frontier and weeping like a small child when an alarm went off inside me (figuratively, I hadn’t swallowed something) and I told myself that “I need to write something THIS good”. That’s when I met NICE. So it’s certainly developed a lot and undergone a huge metamorphosis from the early days of The City, but the time has helped me understand exactly where I want the story to go, and more importantly, all the elements I’ll need to take it there.
I think time is an important factor when you’re writing a story. It gives the narrative space to evolve. If you rush out and start inking artwork on a script that is still on its first draft you’ll end up literally painting yourself into a corner. A good manga is like a really great cheese. It takes time to mature and it goes really well with olives and red wine.
Now that you've made us hungry, can you tell us a bit more about what The Tokyo 5's all about?
AA – It’s a seinen manga that follows the lives of five young women living in the aftermath of genetic experimentation. It’s part Akira, part Reservoir Dogs and part Bubblegum Crisis. Like Netflix’s Stranger Things is a love letter to all things 80’s, The Tokyo 5 takes the best parts of everything we love about seinen manga and throws it all together in a single pot. For POP Comics readers we’re starting at the very beginning of the narrative, but over time we’ll introduce bizarre inter-dimensional entities, cool mecha combat and lots of awesome elements from our favourite classic manga and anime creators.
What's it like working as a creative team? Is this the first time you've worked together? Did you have any hurdles to overcome or has it all been smooth sailing?
NICE - This is my first project together with Andrew and I personally consider it a creative partnership made in heaven. I received an email from him in January 2016 asking if I’m available to work on an OEL manga series. His timing could never have been more perfect. 2015 was such a bad year for me I was actually contemplating if I should be finding regular office work again. It’s a project that literally saved me from extinction. Andrew is such a chill guy to work with and we tend to agree on most things regarding creative process. Also we happen to share many similar interests. So much so that we tend to talk about other stuff more than the actual manga. Work with The Tokyo 5 along with my other projects has enabled me to not only earn a living, but it enabled me to invest on better tools like, a better PC, Cintiq 13HD and an iPadPro.
AA – We’re almost the same age, so our cultural references are essentially identical. Although he probably doesn’t want me to say this, I was shocked to discover he didn’t realize there was an earlier original series of The Bubblegum Crisis. He’s also never watched Macross. Both of these things are punishable by death in my world. Jokes aside, it’s been incredibly easy to work with NICE. We just both kind of exist on the same frequency. I get a sense from him that The Tokyo 5, while challenging, is a step in a direction he’s always wanted to go. That shows a lot in his work, everything he does constantly evolves and it consistently floors me. Although the next few chapters of the comic involve lots of Mecha action. I haven’t told him yet. Thankfully he loves a challenge.
Any other projects in the works?
AA – I’ve always got ideas bubbling and there’s a billion comics I want to write, but right now I’m focused on The Tokyo 5. Come and check it out at thetokyo5.com. Unless of course someone reading this wants a snarky, uptight sci-fi nerd to write things for them, then I’m always down to build with like-minded people.
NICE - Aside from The Tokyo 5, I am also currently illustrating a 30+ plus page, right to left, OEL shonen manga for Belgian manga writer Bart Lambotte. We’ve previously worked on another project which was featured on Fakku [Ed: click with care, very not safe for work!] (its a yuri manga). I also illustrate artworks for Voice Actor, Trisha Lammert a.k.a. Chu for her Youtube channel, Chu! Bam! Pow!
Last but by no means least, any advice for up and coming creators on POP Comics?
NICE - Don't let success get to your head and don’t let failure get to your heart.
On taking freelance work: Don't bite off more than you can chew.
Lastly, instant fried noodles by Indomie is the best instant fried noodles in the world!
AA – Eat your vegetables. Watch Akira. Read Swamp Thing. Oh, and don’t ever give up on an idea. What often starts off as a cop drama can soon turn into a rad sci-fi adventure series.
Thanks, Andrew and NICE! We're looking forward to seeing more from The Tokyo 5 coming soon! You can read more about the project at the The Tokyo 5 website, and even purchase print copies!
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