The countdown has begun to this year’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October (13th – 15th). The downthetubes “Kendal Calling” interviews continue with a chat with comics artist and “reportage” author Fumio Obata.
Fumio is an author whose work and inspiration come from cultural differences and social issues in his surroundings. His art style is influenced by both Japanese and European aesthetics and he explores an idea of pictorial storytelling rather than staying in conventional comic strip format, as his interest spans across various sequential image designs.
Born in Toyko in 1975, Fumio came to the UK when he was 16 years old and completed his BA Illustration degree at Glasgow School of Art and a Master degree in Communication Design from Royal College of Art in London. He then pursued his comic book career here in the UK after realising there were more challenges in Europe than his home country, Japan.
His graphic novels Just So Happens, published in the UK by Jonathan Cape, has won many high acclaims and been translated and published in eight different countries.
He also has a career as an animator. Between 2003 and 2008 he worked with Duran Duran, Channel4, and joined Redkite Animations in Edinburgh in 2006, working on a number of joint projects with Beano publisher DC Thomson. Between 2008-9, he completed a comic artist residency at La Maison Des Auteurs (The House of Authors) in Angoulême, France – a renowned programme organised by La Cité Internationale de la Bande Desinée et de l’image.
In 2013, he was offered a senior lecturer post for the BA Illustration course at the University of Gloucestershire in England and currently supporting young talents to develop their own/unique artistic voices in various sequential contexts such as animation, graphic novel and children’s book.
His latest project is a comic book style reportage inspired by the tsunami and nuclear disaster incident which hit Japan in March 2011.
downthetubes: What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Fumio Obata: A bunch of reportages, essay type of strips about the series of recent natural disasters in Japan. That includes my reflections and people’s thoughts on the country’s ambivalent relation with the nuclear programme and technology which stems from the accident at the Fukushima power plant in 2011.
Parts of the study will be on display and made into a prototype small booklet for the Lakes Festival. I haven’t signed a contract for the long version with anyone yet. It’s been a long research and I had to wait until my point of view and directions became clearer.
I struggled to put the subject into context and cohesive narrative, and I blame myself for delaying the production. But I now know I was right to give plenty of time for my own thoughts and ideas to come together. It was tempting to jump on to a conclusion and relay on the statements of someone else but I had to tell it in my own words. Digesting and understanding have never taken such a long time for me.
downthetubes: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Fumio: Nothing that I did in the past I can feel proud of. Sorry – I still feel I am a debutant.
downthetubes: How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Fumio: If it’s just a bunch of pictures to produce I get up around 5.00 am and get on with the work around 7,00am. Two hours straight. 30 minutes break and then two hours more. I repeat the same pattern in the afternoon and finish by 6 or 7.00pm. I go to bed around 10.00pm. It can be simple and fun, and I can listen to music and podcast.
When I do a script and storyboarding, I work at night. I hate being nocturnal, but I can concentrate better. Sometimes, I try to write until 5AM in the morning. Usually there is no music or radio in the background. I need silence. It’s a torture. Hardest thing is writing and storyboarding. I don’t know what others think but I certainly think that’s the hardest part. I can’t control my day sometimes because of so many words and ideas come and go. From time to time everything has to be on halt except doing my storyboards, but there is no guarantee that it will be all worth. If I get stuck, my days go disarray and I waste my time watching rubbish on YouTube.
downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Fumio: It forces you to believe in something, no matter how small you feel in the face of big world.
downthetubes: And the worst?
Fumio: Isolation from the world.
downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Fumio: All sorts of things, but probably nice weather outside.
downthetubes: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Fumio: If you are lazy, you never get published. That’s all. This never changes.
downthetubes: Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it?
Fumio: I participated the first year and also joined the first 24 Hour marathon comic session, organised by Dan Berry. It was amazing and I loved the location, on the whole. It is important to have another festival up in the north, and in such a beautiful location too. We need to make it grow as a unique one, make it distinguishing and different the other events in Europe.
downthetubes: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Fumio: Aristophanes Boulon. Because he came from a completely different visual heritage from mine. And he was a genius.
downthetubes: How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Fumio: Firstly, they offer occasions for young creators to meet professionals and publishers. They can get practical advice. Also, festivals connect the comic world and general public together. Fans and readership are incredibly important for the creators and industry, and we can’t survive without fans. We need to sustain a substantial number of them, always, and festivals and events are the time we can emphasise our presence outside bookshops and online exchanges.
downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Fumio: If you are writer, find your own theme and voice – that means, don’t only look at comic books. If you’ve got that, don’t be shy and frequent festivals/ events and show your ideas and synopsis to editors.
If you are an artist, be clear about what style you are after. If you want to work under a big, established theme or characters, then there are plenty of “How to Draw Like” books available for you. So, practice these to get hired. But if you want something of your own, an originality, then you need to understand what you are about even in drawing and illustrating pictures. This “what you are about” requires maturity and a good degree of objectivity.
downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Fumio: Two books by Guy Delisle – Burma Chronicles and Jerusalem, Chronicles from the Holy City. English versions both published by Jonathan Cape. Guy’s books are available widely, published by Jonathan Cape, Random House.
Plus, Cruising Through the Louvre by David Proudhomme. The English version was published by NBM Publishing.
Also, Retour au Kosovo by Gani Jakuoi (text) and Jorge Gonzalez (art), which doesn’t seem available in English. It’s published by AIRE LIBRE in France
You can get them via Amazon, which I try to avoid using nowadays. I would prefer you to buy these books during comic book festivals and conventions.
[Editor’s note – hold out for browsing the stacks in the Page 45 room in the Comic Clock Tower at the Festival!)
downthetubes: Fumio, thank you very much for your time and see you in Kendal in October!
Book Your Festival Tickets Now!
• Book your tickets for this year’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival here. This year’s events programme includes live draws, masterclasses, interactive talks and a chance to get up close to the best comic creators in the world!
FUMIO OBATA ONLINE
There is a short documentary about Retour au Kosovo on YouTube here