Twisting Tales with Aki Marlow

While still living in North Carolina, and as a result of my work with Aniwave, I had the pleasure of meeting the talented artist and mangaka Aki Marlow.  It continues to amaze me how those who gravitate towards otaku sub-culture in this country develop the skills to emulate this medium at a continually younger age.  At the time, Aki was posting her work on DeviantArt and it quickly caught my eye.

Her drawing shows a level of skill that many do not develop until well into their undergraduate studies in illustration, or later.  This is especially evident in her upcoming manga TWISTED, which I am excited to bring you a short preview of here.  These initial pages prompted a conversation between Aki and I in which she shares some details about the project and her inspiration behind it.  Read the full interview after the jump.

Michal Wisniowski: I know that you've had the idea for TWISTED in your head for quite some time. Can you tell me a little bit about the background for this story? What inspired it and why you started to feel like this should be the one to make real?

Aki Marlow: Originally it was supposed to be a collaboration between myself and a few friends but it sort of got dropped before any story was developed. I thought about it more and more by myself and was inspired by a lot of music. Panic at the Disco's album A Fever You Can't Sweat Out was a major influence at the time. It's also a modern and basically realistic story.  So when I heard or saw something that stuck out to me in the real world or on the news I would add it right in. Eventually it kind of snowballed into this nicely developed storyline with interesting twists and characters, so I decided to go ahead and make it happen.

MW: I appreciate that you are making the story be more current, which often makes it more relevant as well.  What is the premise, setting, and what are the initial characters of TWISTED?

AM: The story is set in a modern, western-style urban city. Initially it was going to be set in Tokyo but I decided that this was not an ideal location. I wanted a more dangerous, sketchy kind of place to put my characters in. So the physical setting of TWISTED is a little creatively doctored.

The story is really character-driven. Everything that happens is caused by somebody and not some force out of the character's control; except for the main character, Yoitsu. In the beginning he finds himself in a hospital with no memories of his past. What he doesn’t know yet is that he has wronged many of the other characters and that they’re trying to take revenge. Yoitsu also has a family that he no longer knows. When or if they find out he’s alive, they will go to extremes to take him back. This creates two main opposing forces in the story but I’ve made sure to blur the lines between good and evil just right so it becomes that much harder to tell whose intentions are good. The reader is able to tell from a very early point that something is off with many of the characters that Yoitsu interacts with. As the story progresses, the reader will be able to watch the bigger picture unfold through flashbacks and narratives from each of these characters. There’s a nice complex puzzle to solve throughout and the reader shouldn’t be able to really figure out everyone’s true motives until the very end.

MW: Sounds like you are weaving a good deal of complexity into TWISTED.  I find myself gravitating towards complex plots and intrigue in manga, like those of Naoki Urasawa.  Being able to do so effectively takes some experience and I know that you have been doing manga art for many years.  To get more specific, how long have you been drawing manga and is this the first print-bound story you have done (including zines and other self-made material)?

AM: I've been experimenting with sequential manga since I started drawing anime, which was about seven or eight years ago. There are a lot of things people don't realize about making manga specifically though. I think I'm still learning every day. TWISTED will be the first commercially printed work I've ever done. I'll start off self-publishing but I'm also interested in finding Western manga serialization magazines to submit the story to.

MW: Given your intent on self-publishing TWISTED, is there anything you can divulge about when it might become available and what format it will take?

AM: I decided to self-publish initially so that I'd have some time to think about what kind of publisher to sign with. Tokyopop is famous for their support of Western manga, but at the same time they also require a high degree of story confidentiality, and I've long spoiled that. Darkhorse also publishes some western manga but they are often looking for specific genres that TWISTED doesn't fall into. I think my best option is to get it out there as best I can and then see what kind of publication opportunities open up.

As far as availability, I'm planning on making the first volume or so available free online. I'm also planning on selling bound copies at various conventions. These will probably include extra chapterettes and artwork. For the time being, I'm concentrating on finishing the first chapter and printing it as a teaser. It may take me close to a year to produce a full volume since I can't make drawing manga a full-time occupation yet. The more I make though, the faster I'll get at it. I'm aiming for about six chapters per volume and around 40 pages per chapter.

MW: That would possibly put the first printed volume as being available in late 2011, just in time for the holidays. Can't wait to see it!

Getting back to the art though, there are many sub-styles and genres in manga today.  Styles that I don't recall seeing ten years ago but that may have had to do with availability.  In either case, what are some of the mangaka that have inspired your style and content?

AM: As far as my current drawing style, I think some of my biggest influences were Tite Kubo, Katsura Hoshino, Banana Nangoku, and Fujino Akitsugu.

Aki Marlow vs. Katsura Hoshino

MW: While Hoshino and Kubo's influence can certainly be seen in your characters, you can clearly hold your own. Given some of those names, how do you feel about guro and ecchi content as a storytelling device in manga?

AM: I think that just about anything can be used to make a story valuable. Or rather, a good storyteller can apply anything to a story and give it value. Elements like ecchi and guro can add a lot of impact to a story and to the artwork when used correctly. At the same time, I've read many manga that don't apply these kinds of themes intelligently or in a way that adds impact to the story. I think it all depends on the storytelling ability of the mangaka.

Aki Marlow vs. Tite Kubo

MW: Well put. I think that is very true. When dealing with things as powerful as violence and sexuality, both of which tap into our primal natures, there is an opportunity to emphasize a scene or event and make it more visceral. These moments tend to stand out in our memory and can alter the rest of a character's development and story just as much as they do for us in our own lives.

So without giving too much away, what do you hope to accomplish with TWISTED in terms of the readers' experience? What would you like to see readers get out of the story?

AM: My biggest hope is that by the end of TWISTED the readers will be able to see the story and characters the way that I do. I want the emotional and dramatic elements I've put into the story to affect the readers the way that they're meant to. I want them to be able to say, "Ohh, I see what happened there," at the revealing points. I believe this is the most developed and carefully constructed story that I've written so far and I would love to see it recognized as that. All this, however, will depend totally on my own performance.

MW: Given what you have shown us so far, I am confident that TWISTED will do well.  You have taken the time to polish every aspect of it and it shows.  Having strong artwork goes especially a long way for me.  This is, after all, a visual medium.

Thank you for sharing your new project with me and my readers.  Keep us informed on your manga's progress and best of luck!

In addition to the images posted here, you can follow TWISTED on its Smackjeeves home as the story continues to unfold.

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