Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Last month, I took a lovely trip to Canada and attended the fantastic Toronto Comics Art Festival. I was there specifically to sell my zines, including a book of erotic indie comics titled THICKNESS #1. The book was created and edited by me and my buddy Michael DeForge, and includes original comics by my favorites: Jonny Negron, Ze Jian Shen, Derek Ballard, Katie Skelly and a new color strip by True Chubbo.

[PS: You can buy a copy for $10 (+shipping) right now.]

I'm going to write about the zines and comics I picked up at TCAF over on the EAZB this weekend, but for Same Hat I wanted to post about a dream coming true... having the opportunity to meet genius mangaka USAMARU FURUYA!

[Furuya photo via this site]

Usamaru Furuya was at TCAF as a "Guest of Honor", and promoting both Viz's Genkaku Picasso and Vertical's release of Lychee Light Club. I feel intimidated by the task of explaining Furuya's importance/talents in a simple Same Hat post due to both my deep fondness for his work and the variety/breadth of genres and types of cartooning he has produced over his career. For a primer, this profile of Furuya does a great job of introducing his work if you've not read anything by the dude.

I first encountered Furuya's work back when I was in high school, in the now-defunct PULP Magazine. PULP was a monthly manga magazine, which functioned as a primer on all things "indie" for English readers in the late '90s. I spoke at length (along with Chris Butcher and David Welsh) about the importance of this book on my reading habits and sensibilities on this episode of Inkstuds, and Furuya's kogal-skewering SHORT CUTS strips were a focal point of that teenage excitement about what manga and comics could set out to achieve.

Ostensibly, a 2-page formal gag strip skewering Kogals, SHORT CUTS was a funny gag comedy about youth culture with great timing, cute girls, and surprisingly beautiful art; but it also was an avenue for literary and internationally-minded Furuya to namecheck Dali, Yoshiharu Tsuge, Kazuo Umezu, Aphex Twin, and Osamu Dazai (along with boob jokes!). It's an absolute delight to read and a collection of gags that I come back to every few years and find another reference or angle I had missed previously.

Here's a bonus Short Cut strip (which is fantastically NSFW and hilarious): Page 1, Page 2.

Furuya's silly and quietly amazing strips for Short Cuts were predated in his bibliography by a series of 4-panel gags published under the name, PALEPOLI. I'm prone to hyperbole, and biased by encountering these comics at an extremely impressionable phase of my teenage years, but I've found Palepoli holds up extremely well to repeated re-reading. A selection of the Palepoli strips were published in English in the fantastic Viz-published indie anthology, SECRET COMICS JAPAN. Here is how editors Jason Thompson and Izumi Evers described Palepoli:

At TCAF, Furuya mentioned that his biggest challenge when starting out was around paneling and pacing his manga to tell effective stories. With Palepoli, Furuya purposely constrained each strip to 4-panel/"yon-koma" format. Within that format, Furuya soars artistically and slams formally against the visual language of a four-panel grid. It's full of hilarious sex jokes and pop culture references, as well as formal experiments rivaling Shintaro Kago's Abstraction.

Here is an example of one kind of approach the strip took, with a juxtaposition of Furuya's Makoto-chan stand-in Takashi pondering his own hand:

Additional Palepoli strips: 1 2 3

As I started the post off saying... Usamaru Furuya was a Featured Guest of the festival, and a number of events highlighting his work were scheduled throughout the weekend. As part of this, Furuya signed books for fans for a few hours on Saturday... I had a chance to talk to him, shake his hand enthusiastically, and have him sign my Disneyland Autograph book!!

(Furuya and a red-faced with excitement Me)

Furuya was incredibly sweet in person, and was nice enough to take a photograph with me (below). He had his wife and baby (both were insanely cute) in tow, and later after his signing Furuya walked around the festival checking out minicomics and booths on display.

In addition to the signing, Festival Director and master blogger Chris Butcher hosted a Spotlight Panel and interview with Usamaru Furuya. I haven't seen video surface yet, but this summary of the Spotlight Panel over at Kuriousity does a great job of summarizing the event. (The mentioned "audience member" who asked about Plastic Girl is me, haha). My buddy Ikki Nikki also conducted a fantastic interview with Furuya for the Shonen Jump Magazine site that includes further great details about his process and thoughts on comics.

The most interesting and crazy points to me were:
  • Furuya created his ground-breaking PALEPOLI comics when he was only 24 years old(!!). This was the #1 holy shit moment of TCAF for me.
  • He described drawing layouts and panels as a muscle that needs to be flexed and can only be honed via repetition. 'Someone once said "you can master any kind of skill with 10,000 hours of practice." I also find this to be true.'
  • Furuya talked extensively of the influence of Suehiro Maruo on his work, and that he idolized Maruo and wanted to be a part of GARO after seeing his short stories printed in the magazine. Furuya called Lychee Light Club his tribute to the Grand Guignol theatre and Suehiro Maruo.
  • There wasn't a real point to my question, except that I got to say out loud to Usamaru Furuya in public that he was one of my alltime favorite cartoonists and a genius, and that Plastic Girl was an amazing and beautiful piece of work :)
  • Furuya is very interested in digital publishing and integrating social media into the experience of sharing his work with an audience. He mentioned how other than conventions (which he doesn't really attend) he never has the experience of experiencing an immediate reaction to his works. As part of this, Furuya is serializing his newest manga online, allowing users to comment directly on individual panels (more below).

After hearing Seth and other somewhat-crankypants cartoonists talk about their weariness of the internet and ebooks, it was surprising and exciting to hear that Furuya was the one that drove his publisher to serialize his prequel to Lychee Light Club for free online. You guys are all reading this new series, right? If not, you gotta check out BOKURA NO HIKARI CLUB.

Ah, it feels good to finally be back posting on Same Hat! I missed you guys.


polymomial said...

Yay more same hat!
Great timing on this post. I just got back from a trip to Japan and I was able to nab a signed copy of Plastic Girl at Mandarake for insanely cheap. I've been giddy ever since! Sweet to hear that he was a nice guy in person. I've been digging Lychee Light Club too. And Palepoli at 24?! This guy never fails to surprise me.

chrismandesign said...

is a complete privilege to have a personal meeting with such a great master in manga... i wish i could =)

JE said...

Well, looks like someone's been insanely busy these past few months. I think I listened to that mp3 of the Furuya interview in TCAF somewhere.

Anonymous said...


Ryan S said...

@Polymomial: Your TUMBLR is really awesome! thanks for reading and for sharing. My GF got me plastic girl as a birthday present two years ago and it was a total revelation.

@chrismandesign: I was very nervous to meet him-- was a highlight of my trip!

@JE: Keeping myself busy, yes sir! But I'm back on the manga tip and happy to give Same Hat the love it deserves

Olivia said...

Oh Ryan that's all just so awesome. Great to see posts on the proper samehat!

DeBT said...

Has anyone ever completed the maze drawing of the murderous teddy bear? I can't for the life of me figure out what's happening in the 3rd and 4th panels.

Or is that the joke?

Azraelito said...

Usamaru Furuya is one of the best things that happened to manga.

Long time no post...

Big Saludos...

Ryan S said...

@Olivia: Thanks!! Very happy to be back :)

@DeBT: I know which one you mean... not sure actually what it is supposed to be...

@Azraelito: Thanks dude! I'm happy to be back in action