Sean Michael Wilson is a comic book writer from Scotland, who lives in Japan. He has had more than a dozen books published with a variety of US, UK and Japanese publishers, including: a comic book version of A Christmas Carol ('Best of 2008’, Sunday Times), AX:alternative manga ( 'Best ten books of 2010’, Publishers Weekly), Parecomic (with an introduction by Noam Chomsky, his first contribution to a book in graphic form), Fight the Power! A Visual History of Protest Amongst the English Speaking Peoples’ (introduction by Tariq Ali). He is currently writing books for big Japanese publisher Kodansha, being the only British writer to do so. In fact, he is the only pro manga writer from Britain who lives in Japan. He is also the editor of the critically acclaimed collection 'AX:alternative manga' (one of Publishers Weekly's 'Best ten books of 2010' and nominated for a Harvey award). Working with Shambhala Publications in the US he has written a unique line of Japanese history/martial arts/Samurai books, including The Book of Five Rings, Hagakure, The 47 Ronin, and a biography of Musashi, with more on the way. His main influences remain British and American creators - such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Eddie Campbell and Harvey Pekar. He often gives lectures and talks about comics in schools and colleges.
NAMI TAMURA is a manga artist from Japan, now living in United Kingdom. As a young artist she received three prizes from the famous Japanese publishers Shougakukan and Kodansha, and she went on to work with Shougakukan on some of their weekly magazines. Now she is working as freelance artist in various fields. The Story of Lee volume 2 is her first book in English.
I posted a bit before about some of the real life things and people in SOL, and here is more. On page 146 Matt and Lee go into ‘Page One’ books. This is a real place, in the ‘Times Square’ part of Hong Kong. It’s an excellent bookshop, with a sizeable graphic novel and manga section. The illustrated version of Proust that Lee looks at is actually published by NBM, and I really did find that in the shop there. On the shelves next to it is ‘Hagakure’, which is a historical manga written by me and also drawn by SOL artist, Chie Kutsuwada. Just my little joke, sticking that in, as it hand not been published yet. Then underneath that is the book ‘As you like it’, which Chie Kutsuwada adapted from our pal Shakespeare, who knew how to knock em out!
On page 147, they go past ‘Chung King Mansions’, an infamous big block full of little, cheap hotels in the Tsim Sha Tsui part of HK. You may have heard of it from the film 1994 ‘Chungking Express’ by Wong Kar-Wai. I stayed there for 3 nights on one occasion, before a friend told me it was a very dangerous place, and several people had been murdered there. I didn’t know this at the time, and thought it was probably a bit exaggerated. But upon checking it out later I found that it does indeed have a rather unsavory character, and not just because of the cheap curries served there!
A Danish tourist was killed in the mansions in 1988 due to a fire and no safety exit. And an Indian lady was murdered in 1995. Later than year more than 40 people were arrested or drug trafficking and illegal entry. On the other hand, it has recently been estimated to play host to people from more than 120 countries and to be a key example of ‘globalization in action’.
As to my experience I found the curries that Indian’s serve on the ground floor to be delicious, and the big mix of people there was kind of interesting. Even though the rooms are VERY basic and small, I was treated well by the old Chinese owner, who even gave me a packet of biscuits for free (for no other apparent reason than kindness). Hence the bit in SOL where Lee says to Matt: “Lucky you – free biscuits and you didn’t get murdered.”
Here are some bits and bobs of The Story of Lee extras that may be of some interest:
1. The Best New Manga volume 2 that The Story of Lee first appears in. This episode was from volume 2 of the story actually,confusingly (which I am working on now). So anyone wanting to see what happens next can get a glimpse on the 25 page story that appeared in this volume.
2. We toyed with the idea for including a badge/button type design on the back cover of the book, and Chie came up with this more cartoony design (chibi style) for that. In the end we decided that this did not suit the more realistic style of the actual artwork and the cover itself, so we did not include it. But perhaps some manga fans might like it?
3. As I’ve mentioned before several of the songs in The Story of Lee are from the band, The Clientele. So here is the album that most of the songs are taken from, with the permission of the lead singer and writer Alasdair MacLean, my old pal from Edinburgh University. A wonderful album it is too!
4. Lastly, when I went to last years San Diego comic convention, the full Story of Lee book was not yet finished. So Terry asked me to make up some ‘ashcans’, in the American nifty term. This is what I came up with myself, a little booklet that was given out free to interested people at the booth. It the first time in years I went through this ‘do it yourself’ process and rather got a kick out of it.
Good things from me on another front – I woke up to an excellent piece of news this morning: our AX book has been nominated for a HARVEY AWARD!
BEST AMERICAN EDITION OF FOREIGN MATERIAL –
AX: ALTERNATE MANGA, edited by Sean Michael Wilson and Mitsuhiro Asakawa, Top Shelf
“The Harvey Awards are one of the comic book industry’s oldest and most respected awards. The Harveys recognize outstanding achievements in over 20 categories…They are the only industry awards both nominated by and selected by the full body of comic book professionals.”
So, its very pleasing for us all that AX has been selected by comic book professionals, hopefully recognising the significant step forward it is in showing the work of individual, mature, experimental style manga artists from Japan. Past winners in this category include Lone Wolf and cub, Moebius, Akira and Persepolis – good company to be in!
Any comic book professionals who feel like voting for our AX book for the final winner can do so on the Harvey website below http://www.harveyawards.org/
There are many aspects in the Story of Lee book that seem to be autobiographical, or based on real experiences or real places. I thought I’d go into that for a bit. The first thing is that its not an autobiography. Matt is not me and Lee is not any girl I’ve dated. But there are aspects of my experiences and attitudes in them both.For example, the back text matter mentions ‘Page 83, Kens cafe, Chai wan road.’
That’s a real place that a real lady took me too several times. and the waiter was a real chap, called Peter I think, who was very nice to me each time i went in. Rather than just bringing me my food, he would make an effort to talk in some funny way. The scene on that page is true, he did say i looked like a film star, which I was pleased about of course( presuming that he didn’t mean i look like SHREK). In Japan where i live the people are famously polite and kind, but in a way that can appear stand-offish to a British person. So, there are cafe’s here that i have been going to for 3 or 4 years in which the very nice staff don’t make much effort to chat with me and rarely ask personal questions. They see it as invasive. But by contrast this Hong Kong man, starting from my very first visit to his cafe, always came over to my table 3 or 4 times to say or ask something. I was struck by the difference to Japan.
The setting of SOL is ‘Chai Wan’, on the east of Hong Kong island itself. An area that does not have many ‘westerners’, to use the imprecise and possibly ethnocentric label that is still common. I was also introduced to that by the same lady (who doesn’t want to be named here), and I thought it was an ideal place to situate the story. An ordinary unglamorous area, where the ‘real’ HK people live. Just the kind of place that can show you what people’s lives are like on an everyday level, and the kind of place that a young lady would want to escape from to an ideal place of her imaginary longing.
But as it goes it was very nearly my place of death! They have a huge amount of VERY tall buildings in HK, but not particularly in good condition. I was walking along, just off the main Chai wan road one hot afternoon when a slab of concrete fell with a frightening WHAAKK a short distance in front of me – right in the place I would have walked 2 or 3 seconds afterwards. I looked up at saw the gap that it had come from of an apartment on the 12th floor. At that height it probably would have killed me – Chilling stuff…
I was pleased by a very positive review of THE STORY OF LEE in the Midwest Book Review recently. I’m keen on having my stuff in more libraries, since I rather like libraries – they have books there! The reviewer hoped for sequels, and that is of course our plan – 3 volumes in total.
One of the pleasurable things about THE STORY OF LEE for me is the large amount of ‘artistic’ references i could put in, thanks to the characters preferences or discussions. Including, for instance, the songs ‘Losing Haringey’, ‘(I Can’t Seem) To Make You Mine’, and ‘Bookshop Casanova’ – all by a band called The Clientele. You may have heard them on the haunting opening song to the film ‘The Lakehouse’.
The Clientele’s singer and main song writer, Alasdair MacLean is a friend of mine from my days at Edinburgh University. We used to go to the Florentine Cafe, just off Edinburgh’s historic high street, and discuss our creative dreams. That was in the mid 90’s. How odd and wonderful it is that so many years later we have both managed to keep going within those creative tracks, and make a decent success of it. Especially as most people do not manage to make their young dreams come to fruition (but don’t start me on the way capitalism crushes people’s dreams! Except to say: it very often does…)
Anyway, I’m doing what I always wanted to do, make comic books, and Alasdair is doing what he always wanted to do: make music. Not only that but we even got our worlds to mix, by having him featured in THE STORY OF LEE. He also discussed the book on US radio when the interviewer asked him: “So, tell me about this manga you are in…” He proceeded to enthral her with tales of our old connection back in Scotland, the highs and the lows of it. Art and life intermingling, indeed.
I was very glad to get the news from Terry at NBM last week – The Story of Lee has sold out of its first print run, and rather quickly too! Great stuff – thanks for all who have bought it so far. Let’s sell out the 2nd print run too!
I have still not had a chance to organise a launch even for the book in its ‘native’ Hong Kong, where the story is set. But hopefully I can get round to that soon.
Recently I started writing the second volume of THE STORY OF LEE which I had already planned out in rough form. In fact, in true Star Wars fashion a bit of part 2 came out BEFORE part 1! The collection ‘Best New Manga vol 2’ a few years ago had a 25 page section from our SOL story that takes place in Edinburgh, the setting for part 2 of THE STORY OF LEE. So, I began to work up the details of that story recently, spurred on by some of the reviews that volume 1 has had.
Those reviews often made the point that the conflict in personality and culture between Matt and Lee was not explored enough in volume 1. Agreed! – as this is a three part story and the full range of such things was never intended to be explored in just the first volume. Wait for the whole spread, in which we will do our best to go into those things more.
A second point in those reviews is that some of the crisis in volume 1 were too easily resolved. Not agreed! – I was tired of all those stories, especially films, were the romantic difficulties were strung out artificially over weeks, months, year even! How cliched that all is. So, I deliberately wrote a story in which the issues were resolved with direct frank discussion, due to some precipitating event – just like they sometimes are in lived experience.
Of course its possible that in doing this I forget some basic storytelling rules or structures. Yes, that may be the case. Or, then again, maybe the story just goes against most reader’s habitual presumptions of what will happen. In which case, I’m glad – we made something a little unusual.
In the light of the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan there are at least two charity benefit books in the making, one from a UK publisher and another that an American man in Japan is organizing. All the money will go, of course, to help relief work for the people in the worst hit areas around Miyake, Iwate and Fukushima.
I have already written a 6 page story to contribute, from my personal point of view as a foreigner living in Japan., with Japanese artist Michiru Morikawa illustrating (she did a fine job on our ‘Yakuza Moon’ book for Kodansha).
As for The Story of Lee, Terry tells me that its selling quite well, which is nice. It’s had quite a lot of reviews now, mostly positive, but with a few points that some reviewers felt needed work. Sounds like my old school report cards! So, ok. I will try harder sir!
I’ve had a lot of contacts with Scotland recently, which is nice when I’m so far away.
Most recent thing is that my old university just did a piece on me and will commission a comic about my time there for their magazine:
But hey – I went to Edinburgh University too, and no sign of them so far – are they too posh to run a piece about a lowly ‘comic book’ writer maybe?
– The Rajs! (Scottish word mean something unpleasant)
And I even mentioned them already in THE STORY OF LEE book, see below:
Just to extend on what I noted already regarding our recent lecture talk in Glasgow, me, Chie and Paul Gravett, involving pages from THE STORY OF LEE:
I enjoyed that talk – it was odd to have my VOICE only appear back in my home country, while my BODY remained in Japan! But why not… actually its an easy way to take part in such an event, dont have to travel or book any hotel, just switch on the computer and sign into skype! It’s the first time Ive talked in public in Scotland about my books, even though Ive done many lectures now, all over the world!
A lady from the Alumni association of my old university, Glasgow Caledonian University was present, and will write a report about it for their website. Plus they have decided to commission me to make a comic for their magazine about my time in the University – Nice!
Then it was also very nice, just before the talk to get a mail from ILYA, well known British comic book creator of almost 25 years activity. He is, in a way, the godfather of the Story of Lee book, as it first appeared in public in his anthology book ‘Best New Manga, vol 2′. Chie was also in that anthology. So the SOL book is one of the children of this Best New Manga book. Ilya was impressed by The Story of Lee, and told us: “It reads very well, so I wanted to congratulate you. Overall it is very good. Quite a gentle drama – manages to convey the everyday, but also to ring true, and with plenty of cultural detail without overload.”