One half of the creative team behind the Grand Prize winning submission for Tokyopop’s first Rising Stars of Manga competition, Manga artist Priscilla Hamby (pen name Rem), collaborated with writer Clint Bickham to create Devil’s Candy, a tongue-in-cheek high school fantasy that featured a colorful set of characters, including a young demon protagonist, gym teacher Skeleton Ninja sensei, a smitten but overlooked cyclops, and a mute, undead nurse / homework assignment held together by stitches and a gigantic safety pin. Kage no Matsuri, a subsequent one-shot title, won awards in both the US and Japan, and her work on Harper Collin's popular Vampire Kisses series earned her further recognition. She is currently working on the manga adaptation of NHK/Nickelodeon's Domo.
Manga made in the States regularly faces the stigma of lacking the originality and feel of its Japanese counterparts, as well as being poorly drawn. Hamby’s work lives up to the standards set overseas, but her approach is her own. Both Hamby and Bickham, who live together in Houston, Texas, work staggering hours. She was in the Lone Star state when she accepted this interview but was enjoying a much-deserved change of pace in Italy when she answered the questions below.
JASON BUNYAN: Has your schedule given you a chance to indulge in any gaming, or has it been work straight through?
PRISCILLA HAMBY: Work straight through, with breaks for reading manga every now and then. Clint plays games and I watch while I work, which is ideal for me, there's been a lot of good ones out lately.
BUNYAN: How do you feel the publishing world's changed in the wake of everything that's been going on with the economy since last year? Is putting out books independently a realistic option, or is it made out to be a better solution than it is?
HAMBY: I think the comic industry has been affected just like everything else has. It's tough for everyone. It's always been tough for comic book artists, so maybe we don't feel it quite as painfully as others do. I'd say self publishing is just as difficult as it was before: very difficult. But you know, a lot of people are able to find success if they know how to promote themselves. Web publishing still seems like a good option as far as I can see, especially for those who want creative freedom.
BUNYAN: What do you think the US Manga market will look like in the next 10 years?
HAMBY: It's such a weird industry that I don't even know anymore. I can't say that I personally believe that it will grow much larger than it is now, but more like, it will become more of a norm, rather than a niche sort of thing. I believe that Japan will find more ways to publish over here without using companies like Tokyopop, as they do with Viz. As for American manga-style artists like myself, I think that they will become a bigger part of the industry since this generation of kids have grown up on manga and are better influenced than the artists of my generation as far as that goes.
BUNYAN: What was the first story that you and Clint collaborated on, published or unpublished, and when did it occur to you that you should be doing Manga professionally?
HAMBY: Clint and I first collaborated on Devil's Candy for the first RSOM competition. It was a really big deal for both of us. Working on manga professionally has always been my number one goal since I started drawing comics in, like, elementary school, so it's kind of hard to pinpoint a time that it actually dawned on me. It’s like, in my blood!
BUNYAN: Who were the first artists that you were exposed to? What stories were you reading, and what aspects of them worked or didn't work for you?
HAMBY: Jeff Smith's Bone was one of the first comics I really fell in love with and probably started my love affair with black and white comics, along with Rumiko Takahashi's work for Ranma 1/2. The crazy characters and the humor in Ranma 1/2 really made me want to make something similar – oh, well, and the fights. I've always read manga with action in them. I guess my attention span is just too short. I can't deal with too much melodrama.
BUNYAN: US-based Manga artists are often victims of criticism, both from here and abroad. Have you noticed any change in this dynamic since you started working in the field?
HAMBY: Not really. I feel like American manga artists still have to struggle like they always have, being stuck between two worlds and all. I think that artists who find their own way and become experts at it are the most successful.