WiRL: “A blur in his crotch”

A very cool episode

Barry has a book challenged; guess which one! After reading Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Barry has an epiphany. Leia requests her favorite musician. Morgan plans and executes a toddler’s birthday party without any help.

How it Happened: Mangaman

Mangaman coverIt’s no secret that I’m a comic book guy. I worked in the industry for close to ten years, but I was a fan for the years before that.

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?”

Mangaman panelShe 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.

Projects You’ll Never See

So, the other day someone asked me about some of my “dream projects.” The basic assumption in the question was this: If you had the time to work on any one project that you haven’t had the time to work on, what would it be?

The problem with this question, though, is that makes an incorrect assumption. Time isn’t the limiting factor in my dream projects. The truth is this: I am extremely fortunate in that I can generally shuffle my time to my own dictates.1 If I feel really, really passionately about something, I can figure out a way to work on it.

But my dream projects aren’t just a matter of time — they’re a matter of resources.

I love writing novels, but it’s pretty damn convenient that I don’t need anything to do so. All I need is my iMac or my iPad and my typing fingers. No massive capital investment. No partners. No skill set other than my vocabulary.

The following projects, though, would all require skills I don’t possess: Drawing, coding, design, etc. In other words, I would need other people to jump in and work on them. Which means I would need to be capitalized2 in order to make them happen.

Here they are…

  1. Publish an anthology set in a common fantasy world, where individual authors tell their own stories, all interweaving into a final, climactic tale at the end of the book, jam-written by all of us together.
  2. Produce a videogame.
  3. Develop the very cool iOS app I’ve been thinking about for years.
  4. Do my own web comic.
  5. Publish the awesome ersatz Batman and Robin comic I’ve had on my hard drive for literally twenty years.
  6. Produce the sequel to Mangaman.
  7. Make a short film based on a comic strip I tried to draw back when I was a kid.
  8. Create and manage a website based on the premise of “open-source fiction.”

So, there you are — some dreams that will probably not come true. At least, not any time soon. Unless someone out there is a coder or an artist who would like to work for very, very cheap. 🙂

Fortunately, I have many, many dream projects that I can work on. And I’ll be getting up to speed on some more books soon.

  1. Leia notwithstanding. But even with a newborn in the house, my designated work time is still extremely flexible.
  2. As in money, not as in letters!

The Mangaman Glossary is Now Online

Hello, Manga-freaks!

The paperback edition of Mangaman is going to be in stores any day now, and it includes a little something extra — a glossary of manga terms for those readers who aren’t up to date on their J-pop.

But it just didn’t seem fair to only let the paperback buyers in on the fun, so the glossary is now posted here on BarryLyga.com as well.

Whether you’re an old hand at manga or you can’t tell your bishonen from your shojo, you’ll probably find something cool, fun, or interesting in the Mangaman Glossary, so check it out!

Interview: Word Out

The Toronto Public Library’s summer reading program — Word Out — spoke to me about Mangaman. Here’s the interview link.