I happened to work in comics during the early 21st Century’s massive surge in popularity of manga. The whole situation was very weird because the “traditional” American comic book stores were generally very much anti-manga, while bookstores — which had heretofore ignored comics — jumped on the manga bandwagon. It was a strange situation.
One of the guys I worked with was relatively new to comics, but a former bigwig in the book industry. He came to me one day and said, “I don’t get it — manga is huge and only getting bigger. The bookstores see it and they’re making a ton. Why won’t the comic book stores get on board?”
I tried to explain the history of the comic book business and how most comic book stores had been started by guys who loved American super-hero comics. So there was a personal taste issue preventing them from seeing the benefit of manga. Similarly, many manga fans didn’t like American comics.
And this got me thinking: What if you could create a comic book that crossed this divide? A comic that appealed to those who liked the “clean, realistic” art of a Western comic and the fantastically distorted art that characterized so many popular manga?
The general idea popped into my head immediately: Mangaman. A guy from a Japanese comic ends up in the real world. Hilarity ensues.
For years, that’s all I had in my head — a series of sight gags involving manga tropes colliding with the real world. Nothing more.
Then, around 2008 or so, my editor said to me, “Hey, do you have any interest in writing a graphic novel?”
She was expecting something akin to, in her words, “an R-rated Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” but all I could think of was my Mangaman idea. I could set it in high school! I could invert and subvert the “Romeo and Juliet” tropes! I could make it a romance between star-crossed lovers and disparate art styles!
I could go meta with it!
I was pretty psyched. I wrote up an outline and a couple of scenes in comic book script and my agent dutifully sent them off.
My editor was…nonplussed. The problem, of course, was that I had been steeped in comic books my entire life. She hadn’t been. She wasn’t getting it.
The big issue was that she had no idea what this would look like. A pretty crucial issue, you’ll agree!
So, my agent asked who, in my dream world, would draw the graphic novel. I only knew of one person who could draw in both a super-realistic American style and in the sort of cartoony Japanese style I craved for this project: Colleen Doran.
I dropped this name to my agent, cautioning her: “Just use her name so that editors can get an idea of what I’m thinking in terms of the visuals. Colleen is a big deal artist and way too busy for the likes of me. When we sell the book, I’ll have to find someone who can do it, but in the meantime, Colleen is what I have in my head. But don’t, like, call her or anything.”
“Of course not!” my agent replied.
Literally an hour later, my phone rang. It was my agent. “Colleen wants to talk to you,” she said.
Sometimes, your agent disobeys a direct order, and it’s great. Because Colleen and I talked. I spelled out what I wanted to do. She said to me, “Barry, this looks like a hell of a lot of fun. Let’s do it!”
And we did.