A entrevistada é uma colunista de mangá. Trata-se basicamente de uma longa conversa sobre o trabalho da CLAMP. A entrevistada ama o grupo, quem entrevista, também, e eu que não curto muito estou sem energia e tempo para traduzir. Agora, para quem curte é um material muito bom. Ah, e a entrevista fala que XXXHolic é seinen, porque realmente dizer que um mangá que sai em revista seinen é shoujo é o fim da picada. E eu concordo como que ela diz sobre Tokyo Babylon... É realmente uma delícia de mangá.
Interview with Katherine Dacey-Tsuei
With so much manga available, it’s difficult to keep up with everything available, and I’ll be the first to admit that there are big gaps in my reading list. One of them is the work of the hugely popular and versatile collective of women creators, CLAMP. So, in the interest of breadth of coverage, I tracked down the biggest CLAMP junkie I know and grilled her about the group’s appeal and body of work. Katherine Dacey-Tsuei is the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, where she contributes a weekly column reviewing the latest manga releases.
David Welsh: Let's start off with a chicken-egg question. Were you a manga fan before you a CLAMP fan, or was CLAMP your gateway drug to manga?
Katherine Dacey-Tsuei: Actually, my “gateway drugs” were InuYasha and Mermaid Saga. I loved the way Rumiko Takahashi incorporated supernatural elements into her stories, so I began to search for other artists with a similar approach to folklore and horror. That led me to Tokyo Babylon and Snow Goddess Tales, and eventually to X/1999, The Legend of Chun Hyang, Legal Drug, and xxxHolic.
DW: That's an interesting link between Takahashi -- they're tremendously successful creators who don't work in the conventional "women's genres." And they don't stick to conventional genre stereotypes - they mix and match, from what I've seen.
KD-C: What happens to the interview when the interviewer makes the more interesting and eloquent points than the interviewee?!
DW: Um... the interview derails horribly! Sorry about that! Okay, getting back on track, I note that your list doesn't include some of their younger stuff... Cardcaptor Sakura, Tsubasa, the "School" books. Have you tried it, or do you concentrate on the stuff that skews a little older in terms of audience?
KD-C: If I’d come to manga as a teenager, I suspect that Card Captor Sakura and CLAMP School Detectives would count among my favorites. But I discovered CLAMP’s work as an adult, so the excessively cute artwork and pre-teen characters were a turn-off for me. (I suspect that’s why I didn’t cotton to Kobato, which is currently being serialized in NewtypeUSA.) Tsubasa occupies the middle ground: the art has a crispness to it that I associate with some of my favorite shonen manga-ka, but the story itself isn’t particularly compelling. The series’ real reward is seeing characters from other CLAMP titles resurface in minor roles - it’s a bit like watching a Hitchcock film for the director’s cameo.
DW: I have to admit that I found those cameos a little jarring the first time I encountered them. I'd come from reading mostly superhero comics, where those kinds of guest appearances are pretty much coin of the realm, and they generally seem kind of cynical and market-driven. ("Buy this book so you can understand this other one.") Eventually I noticed that, with CLAMP, it seems more like Easter Eggs for their loyal fans. (Though I'm sure the prospect of drawing readers to other titles in their catalog doesn't hurt either.) Is the "shared CLAMP universe" an attraction for you? Does it ever detract?
KD-C: The Easter egg analogy is a good one, and not just because I can picture the ghastly little eggs that Yuuko would leave on her lawn! Those crossovers are a part of CLAMP’s appeal - for me, at least - because they acknowledge fans’ deep attachment to particular characters. By inserting, say, the tragically doomed Arashi and Sorata into the multi-dimensional Tsubasa universe, CLAMP lets fans have their cake and eat it too: you can savor the young lovers’ terrible fate in X/1999 while enjoying the sight of them happily married in Tsubasa.
I think many of these crossovers succeed because they’re not integral to the plots. You don’t need to know anything about Suki to enjoy the title character’s brief cameo in Legal Drug, for example. (Though fans familiar with its spectacularly cheerful, innocent heroine Hina will appreciate the scene that much more.) There are exceptions, of course - X/1999, for example, which completes the rather grim story arc of Tokyo Babylon. The only series in which the crossovers proved distracting was xxxHolic.” I couldn’t see any compelling reason for the brief tie-in with Tsubasa, save the desire for cross-promotion. The different art styles didn’t mesh very harmoniously, nor did the stories.
DW: I'm glad you mentioned the art styles, because that's one of the things that's always fascinated me about CLAMP. They're a collective of creators, and their styles can mesh in a lot of different and unusual ways, whether it's cute or spooky or sexy or hyper-detailed or minimalist or whatever. Is there a "CLAMP style" that particularly resonates with you?
KD-C: I’m partial to Clover and xxxHolic. The artwork in these two series reminds me of Aubrey Beardsley’s, both for the sensuous lines and for the stark palette. Yuuko and Ora/Oruha, in particular, look like refugees from Salome or Tannhauser. But I’m also very fond of Snow Goddess Tales. The images in that volume bear traces of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Japanese scroll painting techniques. They’ve got a beautiful, spare quality that serves the folkloric subject matter and tone perfectly. It’s a great book to give an adult reader who associates manga with Pokemon or Gundam because it really showcases the expressive possibilities of the medium.
DW: I have to admit that, looked at individually, their works don't scream "commercial success" because they aren't really conventional or easily categorized. It's like they know the rules of the genres they're executing, but they aren't really hidebound by the conventions. Do you think maybe that willingness to bend things and to follow their own instincts has something to do with their success? I mean, some people obviously excel at executing a formula, and CLAMP can do that, but more often than not they seem to choose not to do so.
KD-C: Yes, I think CLAMP’s mix-and-match approach to genre is a big part of their appeal. Even titles that bark and quack like shojo - RG Veda and X/1999 come to mind - tend to subvert convention with, say, graphic violence or extended action sequences that you won’t find in your average magical girl manga. But many of their most successful titles (at least here in the US) follow the norms of their respective genres pretty faithfully. Chobits and Wish, for example, aren’t breaking any new ground when it comes to male-oriented fan-service comedies or supernatural shojo romances.
CLAMP’s more experimental works haven’t found as big an audience in America. Clover and Snow Goddess Tales, for example, are both out of print in English, though a resourceful e-shopper can still track down copies of the latter without too much difficulty. Good luck finding Clover, however. You’re more likely to nab a trading card from Hank Aaron’s rookie season than find all four volumes of this gorgeous, weird little bit of shojo-fied cyberpunk. It’s a pity, because both of those titles are a real testament to CLAMP’s range and a whole lot more interesting than Chii’s travails.
DW: It's always interesting to me when someone becomes a "name manga-ka," and companies start licensing their work based on the marketability of the creator (or in this case, creators). What is it about CLAMP, do you think, that's put them in this category? It's still kind of rarefied.
KD-C: Well, a catchy, one-word name certainly helps! Distinctive artwork is another plus—no matter what genre they’re working in, their character designs stand apart from the pack. There’s a hard-to-define “CLAMP-ness” that makes their work immediately recognizable, and transcends the different styles of the group’s four members.
That essential “CLAMP-ness” extends to the kind of stories they tell. Magical realism informs most of their work (with the exception of a few titles, like Suki and The One I Love). That doesn’t make them unique, of course, but they do a better job than most of making these fantasy/horror elements essential to their characters’ emotional lives and not just contrivances for the sake of plot. It might sound a little overblown to describe this approach as Romantic (with a capital “R”), but my favorite CLAMP series have the same hothouse atmosphere of nineteenth century melodramas like Manfred or Robert le diable: big passions, forbidden loves, pesky demons or ghosts that meddle in human affairs. I’d be exaggerating if I characterized all of CLAMP’s work in this fashion. They love slapstick and chibi deformations as much as the next manga-ka. But even in a work like Legal Drug”- for all intents and purposes a BL parody - there’s a darker, more interesting undercurrent that differentiates it from dozens of other bishie-centric comedies.
DW: How well versed are you on the breakdown of who does what? Which member of CLAMP is taking the lead on illustration, and who's doing the bulk of the scripting, and so on? Are you partial to any given creator in a specific role?
KD-C: As I understand it, Ageha Okawa (formerly Nanase Okawa; all of the members of the group tweaked their names in honor of the collective’s fifteenth anniversary) is the group’s den mother; she’s in charge of scripts. Mokona (nee Mokona Apapa) is the lead artist on many of the collective’s most visible projects. Tsubaki Nekoi (nee Mick Nekoi) sometimes works as Mokona’s assistant and sometimes serves as the lead artist on shorter projects; and Satsuki Igarashi is a kind of artistic Gal Friday, helping Mokona and Nekoi and supervising the design of tankubon editions. I can’t say I have a preferred line-up, though I’m rather partial to the cleaner, more naturalistic style Nekoi uses in Suki and Legal Drug.
DW: So they're less of a repertory company and more like a woodwind quintet? Everyone has a fairly specific role, but everyone gets a nice solo opportunity to shine from time to time?
KD-C: That sounds about right to me, though there are undoubtedly are uber-hardcore CLAMP fans who could clarify each member’s contribution to particular titles.
DW: I was going to ask if there were any as-yet-unlicensed works you're dying to see, based on reputation or trans-Pacific buzz, but it looks like English-language publishers have been remarkably thorough in picking up CLAMP's body of work. So I'll go at it from the other direction: are there series or stories that you kind of wish had been left untranslated?
KD-C: The only CLAMP title I really disliked is Kobato. I don’t want angry CLAMP fans flooding the Comic World News forums with hate mail, so I’ll just say that I was underwhelmed by the story and the characters, though I think the artwork looks smashing.
On a more positive note, I am excited—and, frankly, incredibly curious—about CLAMP’s upcoming project with Dark Horse. The possibility of mangettes with art by CLAMP and elaborate cultural notes by Carl Horn is almost too good to be true.
DW: To me, that was the great big story that came out of San Diego that didn't quite get the attention that it deserved. (For those of you who have forgotten or missed this item in the first place, you can read about it here .) It's kind of hard to process, because Dark Horse has developed a reputation for its male-oriented, action stuff, so maybe there's some kind of difficult cognitive leap there. But damn, that was a real coup for Dark Horse, and I think it's a really exciting bit of evolution for manga in general. It's like another wall coming down. How do you think they pulled it off?
KD-C: Um, lots of sake? Karaoke with Carl Horn? Honestly, I’m not sure how Dark Horse sealed the deal with CLAMP, especially since the lion’s share of the CLAMP catalog (in English) belongs to Tokyopop. But considering some of Dark Horse’s other recent acquisitions—the Blood Plus manga and novels come to mind - I can see where a work by CLAMP might fit into DH’s manga line, especially if it were aimed at an older readership. xxxHolic is seinen, after all!
DW: It is seinen, but there's one thing that frequently strikes me about CLAMP's stuff. Their character designs and illustrations can be really sexy, but there's usually not an invitation to leer, if that makes any sense. Now, I admit that I'm not widely read as far as CLAMP goes, but in my experience, like with Yûko in xxxHoLic or the boys in Legal Drug, characters can be hot without being eye candy. Am I missing lots of leer-ability in other works, or is that a general trend?
KD-C: Chobits and Miyuki-chan in Wonderland come pretty close to offering the kind of fan service you find in shonen and seinen series. To some extent, that’s the point of these two works: Miyuki-chan, in particular, pokes fun at the practice of depicting scantily-clad women doing absurd things. Of course, all the characters in Miyuki-chan are drawn for maximum visual impact, so it’s a case of CLAMP having their cake and eating it, too. But yes, you’re right. I think CLAMP draws attractive characters that don’t seem like pure eye candy.
DW: Okay, last question, I promise, but I did want to give you the chance to recommend some CLAMP titles that you think deserve to be more widely read. The Del Rey titles that are currently running are all fairly popular, but what are some of the "hidden gems" of the CLAMP catalog?
KD-C: One of the overlooked gems of the CLAMP catalog is The Legend of Chun Hyang (Tokyopop), a one-volume work about a virtuous Korean maiden who opposes the tyranny of her kingdom’s religious overlords. The artwork is ornate, but not as overwhelmingly so as in RG Veda and Magic Knight Rayearth. And the heroine is fierce and capable, a refreshing change of pace from the typical wishy-washy magical girl. I’ll also make another pitch for Snow Goddess Tales (sometimes listed under its Japanese title, Shirahime-Syo), another one-volume wonder that just doesn’t get enough love from all those Card Captor fans. Tokyopop published it in two formats. Look for the larger, hardback edition if you can - it’s worth adding to your permanent collection. (Try eBay or Amazon’s network of used book dealers.)
For first-time CLAMP readers, I’d recommend the seven-volume Tokyo Babylon (Tokyopop). Many of the characters and stories that are referenced in later works appear first in Tokyo Babylon. And c’mon... what’s not to like about a manga in which one of the male leads dresses like Michael Jackson circa 1984? The costumes alone are priceless! Add a few poignant stories about troubled spirits, a dash of shonen-ai, and the mother of all sad endings, and you have one helluva guilty pleasure.
Shoujo House: http://www.shoujohouse.clubedohost.com
Shoujo Café: http://www.shoujo-cafe.blogspot.com
Anatolia Story no Brasil: http://www.petitiononline.com/redriver