Welcome to the WORLD of Shannon "Roku-chan" Townsend, artist for the webcomic Otaku -no- Yen. Shannon is a professional freelance artist who specializes in the style of Anime and Manga, and is happy to have a spot here on TheOtaku! Visit Otaku -no- Yen online Mondays and Thursdays www.otakunoyen.com

Castles Are Hard To Scrub...

Castles are hard to scrub when you're drawing.

It’s kind of funny that for years, I’ve rambled on to students and convention goers alike that if you plan to be an artist that puts yourself in the public eye, you must, above all else, keep the smile on your face. When you are angry, smile your way through it. When you are hurt, smile your way through it. When you are lost and stuck in the mires of artistic loss, smile your way through it.

It would probably do me good to follow my own advice.

I always say, “When I became an artist…” but that’s misleading. I’ve been drawing, creating, and pouring my heart out in artistic fashions since I was a little girl. It’s in my blood. So I’ll say instead, when I became a serious freelance illustrator and character designer, deep down I never intended to get very far. I was, sadly, one of those girls who bounced up and down in a blatantly geeky display at Suncoast while buying up whatever anime offerings I could get my hands on after work on Tuesdays. I proudly proclaimed that I wanted to be a “manga-ka”. I was blinded by my glee and my love for what I was doing. I struggled in social aspects as any young twenty something does, but over the years, that has mellowed despite how perky I seem at times. Now, I almost look back with shame. I was one of those obnoxious fan-girls that everyone wanted to most likely murder.

Now, I find myself jaded and somewhat bitter, finding myself living the dream and yet discovering the dream is nothing like I imagined. It’s like Cinderella got to marry the prince, but woke up one day to discover that he was a lazy slob who never washed, and she was still stuck doing all the damn housework. Only this time, she was scrubbing a castle’s worth of crappy toilets instead of just one.

I do this panel called Artist’s Alley 101 & Beyond, and it’s been run everywhere from Acen to Sugoicon to AnimeIowa and several others. But the tone, the lessons of the panel, has changed over the years. It started as a diatribe of hope and glory. “Never give up your dream,” I would say. “If you follow your dreams, you really can achieve anything, if you want it badly enough.”

I still think that is very true, and far be it from me to tell any youngster or aspiring illustrator that they can’t make it. That’d be really stupid. Hell, I never thought I’d get anywhere. Some days, I still think I’m nothing more than a hack that got extremely lucky to get published deals and other miscellaneous projects. I still think that if you follow your dreams, you can achieve anything you want.

Just…don’t expect it to be anything like what you expect.

There’s a line in the musical Wicked (there goes my theatre geek showing again) where Galinda says “’Cause getting your dreams is strange, but it seems, a little….well…complicated.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. There are obstacles to face, and some of them are terrifying.

You have the threat of the industry you love so much and work in so closely barreling out and dying around you for sad reasons that could have been avoided.

You have to wake up and force yourself to do that which you love, but you are no longer doing it for yourself. You are doing it for others, and in that, it eventually takes a good chunk, if not all, of the fun out of it, like squeezing the last ounce of juice from an orange that has been reduced to pulp, but you still have to somehow fill an entire carafe.

And then there is the double threat of internet hate and criticism, both of which can hurt and scar emotionally. There are people out there who have nothing better to do with their time than write faceless, witless critiques of not your work, but of you as a person. Because of the style of art you draw, or because you are a fan of j-rock, or because you named your pet after your favorite ninja.

Finally, there is the greatest fear any artist can know. Doubt.

There is a fine line between chasing your dreams, and allowing them to be run into the ground. I am grateful for everything I’ve been given. Karma has been pretty good to me, so maybe the fall will be twice as grand and violent. Who knows? I hope I get back what I put in. I managed to be published in other countries through projects, worked on some fabulous games, even have items on sale through Diamond and on Amazon. My work has been sold in Japan, and our studio has managed to have several invites to different conventions, and new ones are already coming in for 2009.

I can say, wholeheartedly, that I’ve achieved everything I sought to do. And though bitter, I am truly, deeply happy.

As the end of this year spins closer in a spiral of chaos, I realize what an insane year it has been, not just because of political debates and immense needed change for the country, not because of the recession, not because of the impacting family events that have kept me so busy, emotional, and intent this year. No, it was an insane year because I realize that I was ready to walk away and move on to some other part of my life. After all, I’d done what I set out to do. I had, and still have, no regrets.

But, ironically, we seem to be picking up speed just when I stop reaching for it. Now, the momentum carries us swiftly in a direction I never figured would come. I never saw this on the map, never charted this course for myself. I am glad. I am grateful. And I am SO god damn confused!

Is it true that artists of all types never really reach popularity or marginal success until they are jaded and no longer care? I know so many people who have told me this, and now it seems so true.

Ah well. I like roller coasters. Might as well sit back and enjoy the ride, come what may. =) I do still love to draw, and I’m eager to see what the new years brings.

Cinderella wishes the castle wasn’t so damn big and smelly, and that her prince charming would clean himself up once in a while. But she still loves him, and that goofy castle.

By Fans, For Fans, UP to Fans!

Anime used to be something of a closet hobby. I remember when I would drop $40 on a simple Sailor Jupiter fan guide imported to my local comic shop, poly-bagged and taped up so that small children couldn’t get a good look at it since it was a severe rarity at the time. Before Pokemon hit our shores, I remember sitting in a dark room with my friend Lauren back in my sophomore year of high school and gawking at the sailor moon posters that slathered every inch of her walls (and this was all imported mind you), giggling as we watched horrible copies of Chinese fan subs of the R and S movies. I remember when all I could find locally was Tenchi Muyo and Patlabor on video, and those videos cost a pretty penny. And I’m not even one of the oldest hardcore American Otaku.

So what’s my point? My point is that American Anime fandom is something unique; an industry that began by fans and for fans. It started its humble roots in basements and garages, where people swapped awful video tapes that had copies of copies of copies, and they gleefully did so to see whatever they could get their hands on. It was when fan-zines were published out of folk’s homes and distributed to a small local fan base, as my friends at the now defunct A-2 Press did. There were no Pokemon tournaments or Anime viewing nights at the local library, no theatrical releases of Miyazaki classics or college lecture events on the art style. It was a closet hobby, and one that the fans pleaded to have circulated more commercially here in the states. They wanted, they begged, they pleaded.

And eventually, we got exactly what we wanted.

Manga became well circulated here in the states, and we could see it all in perfectly legal, well translated, high quality beauty in front of our eyes. And it was even formatted properly! Anime became as commonplace on television as the rest of the cartoons I loved to watch, and the concept of spending an evening watching old Tex Avery classics followed by Outlaw Star appealed to me in ways I can’t even explain. It was a ‘glory days’ scenario to me. The stuff was everywhere, and I loved it. I sank money into DVDs even when I couldn’t afford it. I remember with R.O.D.: The TV was coming out on disc here, well before I knew any voice actors or had friends within the industry, I would run to Best Buy or Suncoast after work and immediately snatch up the next volume, take it home, order some Chinese food from the joint around the corner, and the three of us in my apartment would sit down and watch the entire DVD from start to finish, then sit around and talk about the plot. As my friend Tim would say, “Good times!”

As the years have progressed however, that generation and the few short generations past (such as mine), who walked wide eyed into an ever changing array of distribution of product here in the states, has slowly taken a shadow to the newer generations, a younger, seemingly more into-it group than their predecessors. But this isn’t always good news and sunshine. No, if anything a shadow has been cast over this glorious fandom, and I think it comes right back TO us as fans when a finger must be pointed.

I’m not going to sit here and babble on about the legalities behind everything, about fan art and fan subs. I’ve done that enough in the previous weeks that I hope I have at least made a poignant enough stance on the subject, and I can pray that some of you have taken it to heart with an open mind and acceptance. And truthfully, if you have half a brain, you understand the difference between right and wrong. But I can say this.

The Anime fandom in America was started by fans, for fans. And as fans, it’s our job to keep it running if we truly appreciate it for what it is and want it to thrive.

I’m tired of the plethora of excuses from people. I don’t agree with the ‘poor college student’ motto. I’m a poor artist, yet I always find money for a movie or outing, or my husband can always, ALWAYS find money for a pack of smokes even in the direst of times when he has to dig for change. I’m sick of the ‘don’t have time’ excuse. I work two full time jobs plus support a ton of hobbies, including Warhammer 40k, my Belly Dance classes and performances, and my Anime obsession. We pay for what we enjoy, even when it's not the most responsible of choices. You all do it in your daily lives, too, I'd wager. Sure, we pay rent and the important things, but you know you're as guilty of it as I, sinking cash into a movie or night of mini golf, or even cover charge for a club or a convention that you can't really afford to be at that weekend... I could go on and on.

The point that I am trying to make is this. Think what you will of the situations at hand, but as fans, it’s our job to keep this industry afloat. The companies have seen and acknowledged our issues and complaints, and have fixed what, LEGALLY, they can. Some of them stream anime online for you to preview. Some of them send out special items and materials for you to take with you. Some of them are even putting extra episodes on DVD’s to meet demand on shows that have suffered legality setbacks. They know. They have answered, and are continuing to do so in every way that they can legally.

But it’s OUR job to buy the damned stuff! Put your money where your mouth is. Support the industry and what they do, or soon, we may not have an industry here to speak of. I’ve said in the past that I think Otaku as a whole here in America are wonderful people. I’ve watched them rally to help people suffering and in times of need, watched them do great things like volunteer and donate blood at conventions. I’ve watched over the years as they formed a new community, one that has every chance to shine as the wonderful people that they are. We are a great group of people! Let’s not send any other message out there to the masses.

Support the industry, guys, because only we can make it better at this point.

When Nabeshin Can't Buy Diapers...

Sorry that I haven’t been around much gang. I’ve been backlogged and my day job has taken quite the toll on my schedule, not to mention we were revamping our website at www.otakunoyen.com. Now that the re-launch is out of the way and I’m a bit more stable in my schedule other than house hunting (wish us luck by the way! TOTALLY nervous), I should have some more time to post here at theOtaku.com. I missed you guys. =)

Now, on to today’s topic, and I will ask as usual that all comments left are respectful, non-catty, and intelligent.

Over the years, I've had the privilege to meet, and occasionally befriend, several people who work very closely in the Anime related industry. Now, first of all, let me say that when I mention ‘the Anime industry’, I make no differentiation between the American and Japanese markets. It’s all one big industry to me after getting some clarification from a few friends of mine who do work for one of the larger companies here in America that distribute, translate, and dub anime. Some of these people are infamous, with very outward opinions on the state of the industry and what can be done to fix it. Others are just random folk like you and me who love to celebrate the fandom for what it is. But I’ve noticed something more important to me than everything else; every single one of them is just like you and I, struggling to get by. Starving artists, starving actors…it’s all the same, just a different flavor of bread, so to speak.

This past weekend, my husband and I were invited for the second year in a row to attend Anime Iowa, a wonderful convention in the Cedar Rapids, Coralville area. Before I say anything else, I want to give a shout out to all the staff, family, and friends that we have out there who have been digging out from the hellish flooding of that area from earlier this year. I can say that I drove through parts of Coralville and the destruction was truly frightening. Kudos to Clarine Harp, Carrie Savage, and the rest of the VA’s in attendance for their excellent work on the charity auction, which raised over $5,000 dollars for the Iowa flood relief effort, and massive hugs and kudos to those of you who put your hard earned money into that auction. Otaku are wonderful people, and I have always thought that. We are a community of caring, outspoken, and kind hearted people who are not afraid to pitch in when the time is needed. =)

One of the things about Anime Iowa I’ve always loved was that it is a smaller convention compared to some of them that we attend, and thus, we get a lot more time to spend with friends, visitors, and fans. Many of the voice actors who attend continually return to AI because of its family-like nature, with the bonus of being able to simply sit outside and have a chat with one of the Ayres brothers, or just chill after a panel with any of the other guests. This is a con where friendship, and a mutual respect for fan and industry alike take precedence over what I like to call “Oh my god this is the best con EVAR” syndrome. Translation: You get to actually MEET the people you idolize and adore, and there is no security guard shoving you out of the way every two minutes. Trust me, before we ever got G.O.H. invites to cons, I was one of those girls shuffling my feet in the hallway, trying to get up the nerve to go ask a V.A. to sign my hoodie or DVD, and cons like AI were a breath of fresh air to me even then.

Now, because this convention is so people-based, I get a lot of time at my table to talk at length with several staffers, visiting friends, occasional family member, and reader of our web comic, V.A., or just random convention-goer. For many years, we were actively involved in the Artist’s Alley at AI, and we’ve attended every AI since 2001. Because of that, I’ve also forged some long-standing friendships with small-press or Indy-press comic creators and artists that frequent many of the Midwest shows, like Studio Antithesis http://www.studioantithesis.com/, Rainarc Rhapsody , Jen Brazas http://www.mysticrev.com, Brion Foulke http://www.flipsidecomics.com/, Dirk Tiede http://www.dynamanga.net/, and many others. Nowadays we’re usually wherever the con puts us, which this year was up front at the dealer hall next to our good friend Steve Bennett http://www.stevebennettart.com/ (who is a wonderful friend of ours and is leaving soon for Japan. Go show him some love and tell him we sent ya.)

Throughout the weekend, people were coming to our table to ask our opinion on a new ‘no fan art’ rule that the parent company from AI implemented, with some controversy, for 2008. It was…well, very surreal. First off, I can’t imagine anyone coming to me for advice other than if those pants make their ass look huge or hey, is the orange chocolate pocky worth spending money on (the answer to the pocky question is yes, by the way; ohmigawd YUM). But at the same time, I was horribly flattered that people even wanted my opinion, let alone took it to heart. We were invited to appear on the convention’s new pod cast, and there will be a long discussion there about the situation of fan art and how it is affecting the industry. I’ll be sure to post a link once it gets posted and I encourage you, regardless of if you agree or not, to listen.

The one time that this topic did make me really, truly think very hard was Sunday afternoon. One of the artists from the alley that I truly didn’t know, came to my table and in a very polite manner, and just as conversation, asked what I thought in regard to any no-fan art rules being implemented at cons.

My answer was as follows.

I find nothing wrong with fan art, in concept. The Anime industry was founded by fans, for fans, and I think that to a degree, that fandom needs to be celebrated. As artists, we all have to learn somewhere. Creating a one of a kind piece of a character, even if it is fan art, to me is not wrong or immoral, even if it is a purchasable piece so long as the original creator and or company who own that series are credited, and you only make it a one time thing. However, mass producing and mass merchandising a fan art piece is not only wrong, but immoral and illegal no matter how much you attempt to justify it.

Translation: Fan art is fine on a one-shot basis, because this industry was based on that sort of thing in the first place. Fan art is wrong when, let’s say, an artist creates a Naruto piece and then makes 500 prints, or clocks, or t-shirts, or bookmarks, or buttons with that image if the characters depicted belong to another individual. That is mass merchandising, and no matter how you try to cover it up, is illegal…parody laws not withstanding. If you draw Sailor Moon in a Gundam beating Tokyo Mew Mew upside the head and blowing her to smithereens, that’s different. But if you’re just drawing Ed because you think he looks badass and then stamp that image on eight hundred prints or other pieces of merchandise, that is wrong.

AGAIN: I am NOT against fan art in all situations. Hell, there’s an awesome fan art gallery here on theOtaku.com, and if you haven’t been to look at it, you really should. There’s some great stuff out there.

And here’s the kicker kids; I found out that several companies now have secret shoppers that go to cons, or lawyers who do so, take people’s contact info, and then come down on them later. Guess what? It’s happening. And no, that is not BS.

I shared this opinion with the young man, who nodded and thanked me for my time. I don’t know if it was the answer he was hoping for, or even if he agreed or disagreed with me. But I did something after that; I also made my opinions known to the staff, and expressed the hope that some of the rules and laws will change in the future. I also encouraged a few wonderful fan artists in the Alley to create some original work, because some of them have AMAZING talent and I for one would love to see what they can come up with on their own. Maybe the next CLAMP is right here in the states, and we don’t even know it because they’re too busy doing CLAMP fan art materials.

I remember what it was like getting my foot in the door, but I have never made my money, or my living, mass producing other people’s characters and selling them on my products. This is a hard living, being an artist, and often times it is a horribly frustrating one. There’s a reason I work a day job, and a reason I run myself ragged trying to hold up two very full time careers at the same time as well as now have two interns who volunteered to help me out. The basic rule, as I think I’ve said before, is that you have ten long years, bare minimum, of shoveling crap before you get somewhere. But if you want it badly enough, you can get there. I think some people are impatient and simply want instantaneous gratification, and they see mass produced fan art and mass produced fan art merchandise as a quick solution to that. To those people, I say I am very sorry and I hope that they can learn to develop their own creative properties instead of just wanting to make a quick buck, because that is despicable, illegal, and not to mention immoral. Yes, this industry was founded by fans and for fans, but it was also founded together with folks who had their own ideas, their own creations, and some of those creations are now celebrated series that have spawned whole generations of fans and helped to popularize Anime into the phenom it has become.

People cannot deny that the state of this industry is changing, and sadly every time that I talk about this in some public forum, be it at a lecture, convention, or school, the status has grown a little bit worse. I know every industry goes through this; Hollywood suffers a rollercoaster slope, as has the American comics industry, but Anime is something I don’t know will bounce back with even remotely the same amount of strength, if it bounces back at all. Things are happening that we don’t always hear about; The Japanese time slots that have been revered for years as a staple have stopped being a tradition. Saturday afternoon, early evening slots that were reserved for powerhouse anime shows like FMA are now a thing of the past. Things are changing, and they are not changing for the better. We can’t ignore it, when companies who bring the anime to us have begun to fold, when voice actors are begging their fan base to support the industry…when Nabeshin himself, who has an amazing worldwide fan base with shows like Excel Saga, Nerima Daikon Brothers, Wallflower and Puni Puni Poemy, can’t get his new show picked up in his own hometown and has to scrape to buy diapers for his child…there is a problem, and we can’t turn from it. We have to recognize it, on both the professional and fandom side, and we have to fix it.

I hope and pray that this industry can turn itself around. I will be the first to admit that many companies need to pay more attention to their fans, and many fan arguments are very well noted and not only true, but completely justified. But at the same time, it is our job and our duty as fans, to support this industry before it disappears altogether and becomes nothing more than a thing of our pasts. I love this industry more than anything in the world. I scrape together money to pick up a show here and there, if nothing else because it makes me happy, and I make sure to put my money where my mouth is, even when I don’t necessarily have money to spend. Why?

Because I love what I do, and I want this industry to stick around. Think about that the next time you support an illegal activity involving the Anime Industry. And please remember. As fans, it’s our job to make sure this stuff is still here years from now.

Prepping for a Con

As I sit here and attempt to scurry around my house, trying like hell to get everything together for JAFAX this weekend, I find myself in the same situation as always.

Irritable, unprepared, and tired!

So here's a quick list of things you should always do before a con.

1. Make a checklist for everything you need. And not just for your con stuff, but your clothes, toiletries, etc. Trust me, it'll save you a last minute trip to Meijer, Target, Wal Mart or whatever in the con hours.


3. Don't over pack. Some shows, you can get away with bringing very little in the way of table items.

4. If you're flying, be prepared to wait in lines and expect it to take a while.

5. GET SLEEP. I never do this. You don't want to be like me. =P

One Man's Poison...

The first rule I always throw out there to the audience when I lecture or teach on drawing in the anime and manga style is fairly simple: There is no right or wrong way to do it. I get very upset when I hear young people saying that American created manga isn't 'authentic' or 'real' because it wasn't made in Japan. That's ridiculous. Art is art, And I stand firm in that belief for a very simple reason.

When I was in freshman year of high school, my dream was to work in classic animation. I wanted to work for Warner or Disney so badly that I was already touring colleges and looking into moving to either Canada or California to study after graduation. We had a meeting with the head of the art department before my orientation, and had set out a path of about eight art courses to be completed over four years so that I had the training necessary to get into the art college of my choice.

I arrived my first day of school with such high hopes. When I wandered into my standard art 1.0 class, I was so excited that I probably looked like a hyperactive shaking Chihuahua. The class was to cover different aspects of art from watercolor painting to cartooning, photography to ink design and technique (we had an awesome art department in this district, being one of the most well funded in the state of Illinois). I sat down, pleased that I was the only freshman with a huge art locker, intent on kicking ass and taking names.

And that was when I learned that the teacher was a substitute for the year, and a P.E. teacher to boot.

Now normally I wouldn’t care, but here was the biggest problem. I learned over the weeks, that this teacher did not grade on technique. He graded the composition as a whole. Why is that a problem? Well, let me put it in simple terms. When you grade or judge an art piece on technique, you’re grading the skills used to put the piece together. Let’s say the teacher shows you how to do stipple shading or crosshatching with a simple ink pen, then tells you to create a drawing and shade it completely with stippling or crosshatching. Ninety percent of the teachers out there will grade you not on the picture itself (unless you are in a composition class), but on how well you got across that shading. They’re going to look at your stippling and see if you understand gradients, and make suggestions on how to tighten up the clean quality of the work next time. They’re going to correct the angles you chose when crosshatching and show you how to more effectively create a good piece with that technique in the future.

When a composition is graded on the whole, the art itself is being judged. And I’m sorry, but no one has the right to judge art. Art is just that. It’s ART. It’s beauty to one man and filth to another. It’s the artist’s heart and soul bleeding on a page, or even sometimes just making a statement. I know several people who hate the work of Picasso for being too odd, but does that make it any less of a masterpiece to others? I love the work of Degas, and always have thanks to a love affair with the Belle Époque of Paris in the late 1800, but I had a teacher who couldn’t stand Degas and basically ripped his work apart for ages.

It all boils down to the old saying one man’s passion is another man’s poison. If you strip away the true meaning of ‘art’, what’s left? Some will appreciate it, others will not. But that’s the way of things. That’s how it should be.

I ultimately failed that art class. The only thing he wound up giving me an A on was the cartooning section. I never had the knack for photography, so I deserved the bad marks on that, but the rest of his comments stuck with me for a long time and angered me. He gave me a D on my water coloring because he "just didn’t like the look of it” because it was “amateurish” (well duh, I’d never watercolored before). I remember finally boiling over and having a screaming match with him when he started ripping into my art because he "just didn’t like it". If he’d had something constructive to say about it, at least then I would have learned something.

I learned later that he wasn’t even meant to be there that year and it was an accident. Faculty had no choice but to stick him somewhere, or let him go for the year. And years later, I still thank him for teaching me at least one valuable lesson that I pass on to my students and lecture attendees. There really is no right or wrong way to do any of this. You do what you feel in your heart, and that's all that matters.

So the next time you take a look at someone’s work and have a snippy, nasty, or just downright mean comment on your tongue, hold it, please. Just because you don’t think it’s pretty, or ‘authentic’, doesn’t make it any less a labor of love to the artist. It doesn’t mean that it’s not art. It’s just one flavor of art.