Hey booklovers! I've been getting into manga, and I recently discovered the Manga Classics collection. You guys, I love these books and think they're pretty genius! As the title suggests, they are manga adaptations of classic novels, including Pride & Prejudice, Great Expectations, and The Scarlet Letter.
My first Manga Classic was Emma, and I loved it!* Fun,
funny, and gorgeously illustrated, it is a pitch perfect retelling of
Jane Austen's classic novel. Fans of manga will love the intricate
details, lively facial expressions, period clothing, and beautiful
settings, while fans of Jane Austen will love the witty banter and
hilarious plot as Emma tries her hand at matchmaking. I wasn't sure how
well the novel would translate to manga, but this did an excellent job.
I was especially impressed by how closely the manga followed the plot
and how well it captured the spirit and tone of the novel. Emma's story
and the characters in it are timeless, and it was fun to see them
brought to life on the page in this manga. I would recommend Emma to
those who like manga, Jane Austen, or both!
*Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Stacy King, who wrote Emma and is the editor for all of the Manga Classics titles. Additionally, she and her team at Udon Entertainment have sponsored an awesome giveaway that I hope you'll enter! Keep reading for all of the details!
Book Lovers' Nest: Why did you chose to adapt Jane Austen's novels? What is it about plots, themes, style of narrative, etc. that you finds conducive to manga? What do you feel gets lost and or gained through the translation?
Stacy King: I’ve always been a huge Austen fan, so I pushed very hard for us to include Pride and Prejudice in our initial releases for the Manga Classics line. It certainly helps that she’s a fan-favorite among many readers to this day and has many well-supported adaptations already available in film, television and even prose. We felt fairly confident there would be an audience for our manga approach!
Manga generally places a lot of emphasis on emotions. It’s a very character-driven approach to story-telling, where feelings drive much of the action and reader interest. That’s both a boon and a challenge when adapting Austen! She has such a wonderful cast of characters in her books that we had plenty of material to work with in terms of designing visual looks and mannerisms that would help convey the nuances of each personality. At the same time, Austen’s characters are often very restrained in how they express their emotions; the turmoil is frequently hidden and internal, especially for leading ladies like Elinor Dashwood or Elizabeth Bennet. Po Tse (the artist) and I had a lot of back-and-forth discussions about how to strike a balance between being faithful to Austen’s writing while also honoring the conventions of manga.
BLN: What does the process look like in taking a literary classic, many of which are quite long, and turning it into a manga?
SK: It’s rather long, that’s for sure! Once we’ve selected a book for adaptation, the author hunkers down with a copy of the original novel and reads through it several times, making note of all the key points that need to be included in the adaptation script. This includes not just plot, but also key symbolism, character quirks, setting details and so on. We develop a general outline of the story and tinker with pacing, trying to make sure that the general plot points are spaced out in a way that makes sense and will create a satisfying read. After that, we develop a script breakdown, which is an estimate of how many pages will be needed for each of the scenes. This needs to account for dialogue, narration and visual storytelling, plus any scene transitions that will be needed.
While the writer is doing that development, the artist is researching the historical setting for the novel, pulling together reference materials on clothing, hair styles, interior design, houses, transportation and anything else they might need when drawing the book. The art team puts in a lot of effort to ensure that we’re as accurate as possible to the time period when the story takes place, which can be a huge help for readers who may not know the era. The artist also produces character design sketches based on notes provided by the writer. Since a lot of personality can be expressed by hair style, clothing choices, posture and so on, there’s a lot of discussion at this stage to ensure that we’ve gotten the details just right. For instance, when you look at the designs for Lydia and Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, you can tell right away what type of girls they are likely to be.
Once the breakdown is complete, the writer starts working on the script. I tend to write with an e-book of the novel open in one window and my draft in the other, so I can easily flip between the two and look for opportunities to take dialogue and/or narration directly from the original book. One of our goals is to preserve the original author’s voice and their distinctive use of language, so where possible, we try to take wording directly from the novel. The artist usually starts working before the full script is finished, which is why having a good breakdown is so important – it’s a real hassle to go back and change an earlier scene once it’s been drawn! The artist provides layouts, which are rough sketches of what each page will look like, before they begin working on the finished art. This is an important step, since it gives the writer a chance to catch any issues with the visual storytelling or scene pacing before the artist has put in too much time and effort.
After all the artwork is complete, the pages are lettered and then copy-edited several times, both for typos and clarity. We’ll often need to tweak the writing at this point, either because the artwork is so clear that additional text isn’t required, or to further emphasize a point that maybe isn’t as clear as we’d like. Often, Po will catch me off-guard with his ability to express a complex emotional state through visual metaphors and character expression, and I’ll decide to remove the accompanying text elements so that the artwork can carry the story alone.
As you can see, there’s a lot of back-and-forth between the artist and writer during this whole process – it’s a very collaborative medium! We generally spend between 6-9 months on development, from the initial decision to the completion of a print-ready book.
BLN: How did you go from an English Literature degree to working in manga? How has your academic background informed your work at Udon Entertainment?
SK: My road to working in manga was a rather long and winding one, I’m afraid! I studied English Literature at university with an eye towards becoming a professor, but by the time I was done with my undergrad, I’d realized that academic life wasn’t for me. I’d gotten back into comics during the Vertigo boom of the early 90s, drawn back in by titles like Neil Gaimen’s SANDMAN, and started reading manga with series like LONE WOLF AND CUB and EMMA in the early 2000s. I’d developed a lot of marketing, communications and copy-editing skills working for web development companies, film productions and government organizations before I met Erik Ko, the CEO of Udon Entertainment, who initially hired me to assist with their marketing and convention appearances.
When the idea for the Manga Classics line was first raised, I pounced on the idea and did my best to prove to Erik that I was the right person to take charge of the initiative. One of my big advantages in that process was my academic background: my English Literature studies mean that I can bring a scholastic understanding of the material to my work, which really helps when we’re developing additional materials like teacher’s guides, etc. As much as I enjoy manga, I’m a prose nerd first and foremost, which makes me a good counterpoint to the artists who bring a more visually-centric approach to the project.
BLN: Can you tell us about any upcoming Manga Classics titles to look out for?
SK: This fall we have SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (Jane Austen) and JANE EYRE (Charlotte Bronte) on the slate! We’re also in development for THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (Alexander Dumas), which we’re expecting to have in stores for Spring 2016. The initial artwork from that is really exceptional and I’m very excited for when we’ll be able to start sharing it!
BLN: When working as a writer on the the Austen adaptations, what was it like to collaborate with an artist to bring a single vision to life on the page? When working as an editor for the Manga Classics, what do you look for when pairing a writer and an artist? How closely do the writer and artist work together? How do they navigate any creative differences that may come up? Did you personally encounter any creative differences with the artist(s) you worked with?
SK: Working with an artist is always an amazing process.
BLN: How did you first become interested in manga? What are some of your favorite titles/series?
SK: I started reading non-superhero comics in the early 90s, when Vertigo began publishing great series like SANDMAN and HELLBLAZER. I was looking for more books like that – interesting stories that didn’t involve complex continuities or spandex costumes – and the staff at The Beguiling, my local comic shop in Toronto, introduced me to LONE WOLF AND CUB, which got me started on reading manga! I generally prefer shorter series, so titles like EMMA, DEATH NOTE and PLUTO are more my speed than, say, NARUTO.
BLN: What writers and artists influenced you when working on the Manga Classics titles? I've noticed some similarities between Kaoru Mori's Emma series, primarily because of the highly detailed artistic style and Victorian London setting. Was her work an influence at all?
SK: I do love EMMA, but I tried not to take too much influence from other writers while working on my scripts – aside from the original novelist I’m adapting, of course! Manga has some very specific conventions, like the use of chibis and visual metaphors, and I read quite extensively in order to get a feel for how manga authors use elements like pacing, narration, etc.
At the end of the day, I rely a lot on the artists to provide expertise in this area: they’re professionals who have years of experience in the manga industry, and they’re very good about letting me know when they feel that my script or storytelling has gotten too “Western.”
BLN: I recently attended a session at Comic-Con about manga and the female gaze, which emphasized the difficulties in trying to reach a female audience and deliver work that connects with them and their interests. How has your audience, particularly your female readers, influenced your work on the Manga Classics titles? How do you try to create work that draws in and connects with a female audience?
SK: We want the Manga Classics books to be accessible to all readers, so we definitely make an effort to keep out any elements that might be exclusionary based on gender, race or other factors. With the romantic storylines, we make an effort to present the characters in an attractive but not overly sexualized way. I know that Po Tse, the artist on Pride & Prejudice, was rather disappointed when I told him that Darcy shouldn’t be shirtless at any point during the book – he’d seen the BBC adaptation and the lake scene with Colin Firth seems to have made quite an impression on him! (he did insist on being allowed to include a shirtless Darcy sketch with his afterword, if that answer disappoints you!)
BLN: Do you have a favorite scene that you worked on? Either because it was fun and creatively fulfilling or because you thought it lent itself particularly well to manga?
SK: I really enjoyed writing the famous rejection scene in Pride and Prejudice; the moment when Darcy’s arrogance comes crashing into Elizabeth’s righteous anger is glorious!
BLN: What is your favorite literary classic and why? If it hasn't been adapted for the Manga Classics line, do you hope to do so in the future?
SK: I have a pretty long wish list for future Manga Classics, to be honest! Being a fan of both Jane Austen and gothic novels, I have a soft spot for NORTHANGER ABBEY. Since we’ve already adapted three Austen titles, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon, alas!
I think DRACULA would be a fantastic book to adapt. The epistolary format, with letters, diaries and newspaper clippings, would make it very challenging, but I think the artist would have a great time with the dark and spooky visuals.
TESS OF THE D’UBERVILLES is another personal favorite, but it’s such a dark and depressing book, I’m not sure it would be much fun as a manga!
BLN: Out of the entire Manga Classics catalog, which title are you most proud of and why?
SK: That’s a tough one! I want to say PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, because it’s the first one we finished and also the first manga script which I wrote, but to be honest, I’d have to go with LES MISERABLES. It’s such a complex, challenging novel and I think Crystal did an amazing job condensing it down to a single volume while keeping all the key characters, themes and historical detail intact.
BLN: Besides manga, what do you like to read for pleasure? What are some recent books that you would recommend?
SK: I’m really enjoying YA right now; there’s a fantastic diversity of authors and stories that are being published, which means there’s usually something on the shelf that catches my eye no matter what I’m in the mood to read. It helps that they tend to be lighter and faster reads, which balance out the classic novels I’m reading for work! My reading interests are all over the place, but according to GoodReads (https://www.goodreads.com/stacyking), my most recent 5-star reads were Kelly Link’s “Pretty Monsters” short story collection, “Bellman & Black” by Diane Setterfield (I’m a sucker for historical fiction set in the Victorian era) and Svetlana Chmakova’s new middle grade graphic novel, “Awkward”.
BLN: This question is just for fun. You biography says that you enjoy obsessing about cats. Do you have any cats, and if so, what are their names? (I have two cats, Josie and Diggory.)
SK: Sadly, I don’t have any cats of my own – my husband is deathly allergic to them! I had cats while I was growing up (Suzy & Cindy) and was actually planning to adopt one the same month that I began dating my husband. I’ve been reduced to getting my furry belly fix by visiting friends who have cats… it’s a sad state of affairs. Luckily, the women who hosts my writing critique group has three wonderful felines, so I never have to go too long without their company!
And now for the giveaway! Udon Entertainment has provided me with one copy each of Great Expectations, Les Misérables, The Scarlet Letter, Pride & Prejudice, and Emma from the Manga Classics line, and I'll be giving them away to five lucky winners. Here are the details and rules:
-Manga Classics: Great Expectations
-Manga Classics: Les Misérables
-Manga Classics: The Scarlet Letter
-Manga Classics: Pride & Prejudice
-Manga Classics: Emma
-There will be five winners total. Each winner will receive one book from the titles mentioned above, to be chosen at my discretion.
How to enter:
-Comment below with your favorite classic book. You may comment once for one entry.
-For additional entries, post a photo on Instagram of your favorite classic book. You may post two photos for two additional entries.
-On Instagram, your post must inclue the hashtag #bookloversnestmanga and mention me in the comments.
-Entries must be posted by 11:59 PM PST on September 7th, 2015.
-Limit three entries per person (see above).
-For Instagram entries, you must be following me to enter.
-You can only win one of the prizes. If two of your entries are drawn, only one will count.
-If you are under 18, you must provide your parent's consent.
-Open to U.S. entries only.