It is not unprecedented for Japanese artists to tackle American superheroes or create new stories for an English-speaking audience—painter Yoshitaka Amano found acclaim with “Sandman: Dream Hunters” and “Wolverine/Elektra: The Redeemer,” while Yoshinori Natsume recently published a manga interpretation of Batman. What is more unusual, though, is for an established manga creator to adapt style and conventions of Western-style comics. In “Devil,” a three-issue miniseries which debuted this week from Dark Horse, “Maka-Maka” creator Torajiro Kishi and Madhouse Studios do just that, crafting an original story designed for readers more accustomed to the American comics format. CBR News spoke with Kishi about the project.
Though manga has been a strong influence, directly or indirectly, on American comics over the last ten years or so, with a many American artists adopting the Japanese style, a manga artist crossing over into Western-style comics is almost unheard of. “I feel myself more as a creator than an artist. As a creator, I try to keep my focus on the message, and I change/adapt the style, depending the type of the story and the message,” Kishi said of tackling a different format. “I believe that it is more important for the creator to have flexibility in his visual style in order to interpret and deliver the main theme and story of the project, rather than stick in one single style, or to try to protect some kind of 'visual signature.' Otherwise, I am afraid that the story itself may end up confined by my personality and patterns.”
Kishi added that the story itself should dictate the medium. “I believe there are stories that can be visually interpreted in the Western comic style, and others in Japanese manga style. One is not better than another . . . they are just different.
“Myself, I want to do both.
“But for sure, a Japanese creator doing an American comic is fun and challenging. I am very curious and would love to keep challenging myself to bring new ideas and creations to fruition.”
As to what distinguishes the Western-style comic from Japanese manga, Kishi believes the first notable difference is in the art. “At first, I felt an attraction to the visual style (and not the story). For me, the best way to describe the American comic style is the uniqueness in shadow and flattered colors,” he said.
“In comparison, Japanese manga is about detailing the lines--that's how I first learned about comics, I thought that was the standard procedure,” Kishi continued. “When I first saw an American comic, it made a strong impact with the contrasts, shadows, and brilliant colors bringing life and emotion to the work. And soon after, I was intrigued by the different page compositions as well.
“Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to access too many Western comic titles,” the artist added. “But I definitely read 'Spawn,' 'Hellboy,' 'The Hulk,' and 'Spider-Man.'
“As a Japanese artist, I feel I can create a different way of approaching the story in the Western comic style.”
As to what that different approach might entail, Kishi discussed the obvious and more subtle ways “Devil” will diverge from his earlier work. “The obvious difference is the design style. And then there’s the idea that each issue should have some sort of conclusion,” he said. “Also, working left to right is a new thing for me.
“Having a story compiled in only twenty-three pages is also a big difference. But this also adds a certain speed to the pacing, which I enjoy a lot (and is different from manga, which can go on endlessly without any sort of clear ending),” Kishi added.
“Using color in Western comics is also quite different, since the standard in Japanese manga is monotone. Color always helps to enhance the visual interpretation . . . but it adds a lot of extra work to the process!” the artist joked.
Kishi also noted that there can be a somewhat different purpose behind comics as opposed to manga. “I feel American comics are made for the real READERS, who really want to get into the story. Some manga are read just to kill time (i.e. inside a commuter train), which makes the story lighter and less deep,” he said. “Of course, not all manga are like that...”
In the world of “Devil,” a mysterious virus has run rampant across the planet, turning people into vampiric creatures that have been dubbed Devils. When a new, more vicious strain emerges, Officer Takimoto of the Tokyo Police Department's Devil Investigation Section must uncover the source of the mutated virus and protect society from the Devil scourge.
“The virus is something that suddenly came to this world,” Kishi told CBR. “It may be a self-defense mechanism form mother nature to stop uncontrollable human progress that results in damages to nature.
“The idea is that the majority of people will lose the human conscience and the virus will spread rapidly, but some of the infected keep the human conscience,” he continued. “Those are the ones who start to believe they are the 'next evolution' of human beings, the main theme of 'Devil.'
“And as they spread the virus artificially, the contamination occurs much faster than normal.”
Continuing on the theme of the Devils' place in the evolution of man, Kishi said, “We know that in the wild, any animal can be the hunter or the hunted—the natural chain of nature. But in our normal life, human beings do not have such sense of being hunted--this is one of the most basic facets of humanity, and once this pact is broken, humanity sees the threat of its end.
“Actually, humanity—and the idea of being the 'owner of the Earth'—is not a very strong foundation...it’s something that could fall apart quite easily,” the artist added. “This virus represents that vulnerability.”
While there is no shortage of vampire stories, it seems there is always room for a new interpretation. Asked about the enduring appeal of vampires and his own take on the genre, Kishi said, “I think that killing the people by sucking their blood is very stylish... beautiful and very sexy. And as the blood is a symbol of human life and existence, the fact that someone has the ability to take that blood away is a symbol of power that brings fear to human beings.
“Maybe vampires are a bit different than other monsters, like they’re some sort of god,” he continued. “I think all manga artists desire to create some sort of vampire project in their lives, and I’m enjoying this opportunity.”