In-Depth with American Manga Creator Amy Kim Ganter

Tue, September 18th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

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Alex Dueben, Staff Writer

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"Sorcerers and Secretaries" volume 2 on sale now
2007 has been a banner year for Amy Kim Ganter, whose second and final volume of "Sorcerers and Secretaries" was released by Tokyopop. A romance comic about Nicole, an aspiring writer and business student whose fantasy story echoes her complicated relationship with the mildly obsessed Josh, "Sorcerers and Secretaries" is one of the most successful of Tokyopop's fledgling original English language manga line -- due in no small part to Ganter's gift for characterization and her increasingly subtle and precise brushwork.

Ganter also adapted and illustrated in 2007 a story for the second "Goosebumps" anthology from Scholastic, was one of the contributors to the "Flight 4" anthology, and, in her free time, got married.

Probably best known for her webcomic "Reman Mythologies," which she recently announced she'd be discontinuing, Ganter plans to rewrite it as a series of prose novels.

With all that in mind, CBR News sat down to talk with Ganter about these numerous projects and the rest of her busy year.

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Amy, how did "Sorcerers & Secretaries" start?   Was it with the characters? With the idea of exploring the relationship between a fantasy story and the relatively mundane life it springs from?

"Sorcerers & Secretaries" is a spin-off of a short story I did for my Rising Stars of Manga entry, called "The Hopeless Romantic And The Hapless Girl," based on an experience I had in high school. When Tokyopop asked me to pitch a series for them, I decided to see what would happen next in the character's lives, and "Sorcerers & Secretaries" was born.

Pages from "Sorcerers and Secretaries" volume 2
To what degree is Nicole autobiographical?

Somewhat autobiographical, but definitely not completely. I can imagine Nicole and I to be from the same village, but not necessarily the same person, if you know what I mean.

What was the challenge in terms of having Nicole's life relate to the story she's writing, but not mirror it too closely?

It was very challenging, especially since it wasn't completely my intention to have the fantasy story be so pivotal when I started writing it. If I had a chance to do it all over again, I would've planned everything much more carefully.

So the fantasy story that Nicole was writing was just intended to be a short fantasy rather than an echo. Do you think it worked out better the way it turned out?

Yes. Originally, it was just supposed to represent the scope of Nicole's imagination and things she was going through at the time. But I suppose it's appropriate that the fantasy story changed as Nicole changed, too. I think it worked out all right, it could've been better, but it was the best I could do at the time. I really enjoyed writing and drawing the fantasy sequence at the end, which, by the way, was completely toned by my husband Kazu. He was very instrumental in helping me figure out the storyline. We work on all our projects together, now. It's something that should be said, because the book wouldn't have been nearly as readable without his enormous help.

Pages from "Sorcerers and Secretaries" volume 2
What was your work process in creating the book?

The first book was written and drawn chapter by chapter, while the second book was written completely, then drawn completely.

When you say you wrote and drew it chapter by chapter, was the story just an outline and you started drawing from there or how exactly were you working?

It was an outline, then I'd type out the entire script for a chapter, then thumbnail, ink, and tone it. For the second book, instead of typing out the script for a chapter, I typed it out for the entire book, but the rest of the process remained the same.

Does that differ from how you normally work on other projects?

Not really, I'm not terribly picky about how the process goes. I understand the need for the publisher to know what's coming, but at the same time it's nice to have some surprises as you draw. And the story did change as I drew out the pages of script, so that was nice.

Talk a bit about working with Tokyopop on this project.

I fashioned the story specifically for Tokyopop based on what they were looking for after I placed in their contest, and the editor I was working with at the time was a big help in that. I'm grateful for the experience, as I learned a lot and wouldn't be where I am if I didn't take that chance. Their deadlines can be very demanding, but the company is relatively new to publishing as are a lot of their artists, like myself. It felt like we were learning together, and I thank them for giving my work a chance. I look forward to seeing where the company goes in the future.

Pages from "Sorcerers and Secretaries" volume 2
Talk about the different approaches you take in working in black and white versus color and which do you prefer?

I think you can make both work depending on how you use them, so I have no preference. I guess the major difference from my point of view is how long it takes - it took me three months to draw and paint "Food From The Sea" for "Flight," which was 24 pages. I can do the same amount of work in half the time if it's in black and white.

You had a story in the recent "Flight" anthology, and you had one in the second volume as well, how did you end up becoming a part of this group?

I visited their forums as a fan just before volume 1 came out. Kazu recognized my name, told me he liked "Reman Mythology," and asked me to join, so of course I said yes!

You mentioned in one interview that the story has its origin in a story about your grandfather - what was the story and what was the process of creating it?

My mom told me a story once about how he'd caught a whale of some kind (he was the head fisherman of her small hometown in South Korea). While I don't support whaling, I thought from a storytelling standpoint that it was a very epic concept. I applied the idea to things I was feeling at the time about the comics industry and the story kind of wrote itself from there. It was a lot of fun. I'd never met my grandfather, but I like to think that he'd enjoy the comic were he to see it.

Pages from "Sorcerers and Secretaries" volume 2
How did you go about taking that story of your mothers and crafting it into this fable? And I do want to know about your process - whether you scripted it out beforehand or how you worked - but also how you crafted the fable-perfect ending for the story.

Well, whenever I write any story I always ask myself what I feel like talking about right now, because I want it to be current with the feelings I have. l feel like comics is like that small village in the story. It's dangerous to be fighting with each other about who's better in such a small village, we need to take care of each other and do generous work. That's what I wanted to talk about, whether it's really relevant or not. I just wanted to get it out of my system, so the fable just kind of wrote itself. I wanted the two sides to cancel each other out, and something new come about. It just seemed like a natural progression.

You mentioned the online forum for "Flight" - how do you use the forum and the critiques and the access to other people while you're working on a story?

When I posted my "Food From The Sea" thumbnails, for example, there was a lot of narration in the scene where Sandy Balgan catches the giant fish. Phil Craven suggested I cut out the narration and let the images speak for themselves, since it did little more than describe what was already happening and was redundant. Seeing his point I tried it out, and voila! It was much, much stronger without the words. So it's great to have access to so many different opinions from people I respect and trust, I always learn something from posting work there, and from reading critiques of other people's work as well.

"Food From the Sea" page from "Flight" volume 4
Did you color the pages of the story as you went along or did you color it afterwards?

Afterwards. I think it's easier to see the overall flow of color that way, to think of the color story as a whole rather than in parts. It's something Kazu taught me. I still struggle with it, though!

How did your story in the "Goosebumps" anthology come about?

The editor saw my story in "Flight Vol. 2" and thought I would be appropriate for their "Deep Trouble" story. A couple emails later, I was signed up and ready to go.

So you didn't get to pick which story you could adapt?

No, they had a specific story in mind. I liked it, though, "Deep Trouble" is like "Splash" with mobsters.

Were you pretty much given a free hand in terms of adapting it?

Yes, it was a very pleasant creative experience. Sheila [Keenan, the "Goosebumps" editor] was very generous and attentive with me creatively. All they sent me was a copy of the book, which I read through. I wrote a script based on what I thought were the most important parts of the story, and she went through the script with her suggestions, keeping the text true to the original book. It was a great exercise in story editing. Plus I got to draw mermaids, which made me happy.

Did you take away any lessons in editing or storytelling from working on the "Goosebumps" story and Sheila Keenan's suggestions?

Art by Amy Kim Ganter
It was an exercise in making every image count in a comic. Since we were taking a 100+ page story and shrinking it to about 40 pages, we had to isolate what the main ideas were and cut out the rest. It made me realize the power of the comics medium in its ability to say a lot with very little, and I kept that in mind when working on S&S2 and my "Flight 4" story. Apart from that, I also gave more attention to proper grammar, something I didn't care too much about before that, believe it or not.

Your webcomic "Reman Mythologies" is probably how most people know you, and you recently announced that you're going back to the beginning to turn it into a prose story. I'm wondering if there was a scene from the comic that for you illustrates how you were unable to really capture the kind of emotional and psychological depth that the story demanded, but that you couldn't convey through the comics medium?

I don't think I can point to any particular thing, because I think you can make anything work in any medium. For myself, however, my drawing skills simply weren't up to the task. There were times I would draw an expression or a scene, but it didn't reflect the emotion that I somehow captured in the script form, and this was true all across the board. It was really vexing for me, and now that I'm writing it in prose I wonder why I didn't do all of my stories in that medium. So far, it's been coming much more naturally to me than comics, and the experience of it has been very fulfilling. But, still, it's early and I haven't been published yet as a prose author, so we'll see how it all works out in the end.

Art by Amy Kim Ganter
How long do you think "Reman Mythology" will be in prose and how far along are you in the telling?

In the tradition of Fantasy, I'm planning on it being a trilogy, but that could change. So far it seems like the first book will be around 330 pages, according to the outline, but that could also change. It's still pretty early. I only have 1/3 of the story in a readable state, around 110 pages.

Have you found it easier writing in prose?

Hellz yeah. I'm so much more comfortable, now.

So what's next for you?

Hopefully I'll get to publish "Reman Mythology" as a prose trilogy, and after that, I hope I'll get to keep writing books!

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Amy Kim Ganter & Kazu Kibuishi Interview/Wedding Video

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