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Aoi House's Adam Arnold Explains it All

by Shannon Fay

If you don't know who Adam Arnold is, you obviously haven't been reading the fan favorite manga Aoi House, a story of two college students who end up living in a dorm full of crazy yaoi fan-girls. Adam was kind enough to take a break from his very busy schedule to talk with Gomanga about the series.

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.

AA: My pleasure!

Readers who have been following Aoi House and have seen pictures of your room can tell that you are a huge anime fan, to put it mildly. How did you first get into anime?

AA: I have a little series called Sailor Moon to blame for that. Oh, and Tenchi Muyo! had a hand in it also.

You know how you tend to remember life-changing events like they were yesterday? Well, 1997 was a lot like that for me. I'd turned 16 and gotten my license back in April and my parents and I had recently moved into our new house. I had also gotten my first part-time job and was actually making some money. One of the first things I did was stake out Toy's R Us to nab a Tamagotchi the moment they showed up and I ended my 10th Grade school year with a full-grown Mametchi. Then Monday, June 9, 1997 rolled around and I'd woken up early and was just channel surfing and I stopped on USA Network just in time for the very first episode of Sailor Moon to come on. Within minutes, I was totally hooked.

By Wednesday, I'd seen through episode three and was dying to see more. Back then, Buena Vista had put out six VHS tapes of the show and Toy's R Us had all six of them. I picked up the first three and went to Musicland in the mall to see what kind of other anime they had. The thing is, I'd been eyeing their meager anime selection for about two months now reading the backs of the boxes and debating if I should get any of them or not. Up to that point, Sci-Fi Channel had been the only network airing anime and they only showed anything new in yearly bursts. I loved Tenchi Muyo! in Love when I saw it back in 1996, so I decided to give Tenchi Universe Vol. 1 a try (the dub, of course...why would a kid with a part-time job spend $10 more for a tape he had to read?).

By Friday, I'd watched everything I could and was dying for me. That's when I logged onto CompuServe's Anime/Manga Forum and made some of my very first online friends. In fact, it's because of that forum that I met Steve Diabo. He's the guy that I co-created and ran Animefringe: Online Anime Magazine with for the webzine's entire six-year run (January 2000-December 2006).

How did you go from being a newbie to the Senior Editor at Seven Seas and writing your own manga?

AA: Being involved with Animefringe had a lot to do with it. That webzine is really the reason I landed my first freelance job doing the English Adaptation on Love Hina, which later lead me to do the rewrites on Mobile Fighter G Gundam, A.I. Love You, Pita-Ten and a few others. Animefringe also opened up some doors that allowed me to write for magazines like Request Magazine and Wizard's Anime Insider.

My involvement with Seven Seas came about a tad differently, though. Seven Seas was looking to launch its Gomanga.com website and Jake Forbes recommended me for the job because of my work keeping Animefringe updated. I brought in Steve Diabo and we came up with a design that was both affordable, stylish...and fan-friendly. Sure, there were some hiccups, but everyone involved loved our work and in the process, I'd gotten to know Jason DeAngelis to the point where I could pitch a series, if I wanted.

I was excited and I actually had an idea for a shoujo manga about an anime club that I wanted to do, but I took my time--a month, actually--and polished the concept, characters, and plot before submitting it. Jason liked it, but it wasn't a go right away. I was asked to keep the basic idea of the anime club, but retool the concept into something more akin to a shonen harem comedy...and even then, Seven Seas wasn't sure about the series. So the concept got tweaked again into a joke-a-day webmanga as a trial run to see if people would even read it. Needless to say, it was an overnight hit that led us to relaunch the series with Shiei on board as the artist.

As far as my editorial duties go, that came about because of Seven Seas' shift towards releasing licensed manga and novels. I had some very strong ideas for how to kick the line off and wanted to see them happen...I just had to learn how to actually learn what went into putting books together in the first place. I cut my teeth on putting Unearthly Vol. 1 together and then go to work on the Boogiepop and Others novel.

Actually editing the book is really only a small part of the equation, the rest has to do with planning and management. There are a lot of sleepless nights involved, but finally seeing the finished product and actually being proud of it...that's a great feeling.

What does an editor do? Is there a big difference between editing manga and editing novels?

AA: Being an editor is a lot about planning and managing workflow. For licensed works, it starts with contacting translators and ensuring they have the necessary materials to do their job. At the same time, you also have to make decisions about how the book will ultimately be presented. For instance, do we keep the dimensions of the original Japanese book or do we try to make it fit the American 7"x9" standard? I also fought really hard for us to keep all the character's names in Boogiepop in their original Japanese name order.

The process doesn't end there, though. Once the script is out of the way, you have to monitor how the layout artist are progressing with the page retouch and lettering. Because I have a background in graphics work, I'm pretty anal when it comes to retouch, but I have to control myself and not be too critical over something that jumps out at me at 200% the size of what the actual book will be.

It's also up to me to make sure all the extra copy gets written and finds its way into the book. Stuff like the back cover text, copyrights, credits, and ad text are part of my duties and I have to check them and make sure they're correct on each book.

As far as the differences between manga and novel editing goes, they're pretty similar. With manga, it's pretty much a given that you have to get a rewriter to tackle the English Adaptation. Not only do you have to worry about if the text will fit in the balloons, but the flow of the dialogue within the scene and making sure the characters all have their own unique voice. Plus, Seven Seas actually translates all the sound effects, so you also need to make sure those make sense.

Novels tend to be easier to layout, but require a lot more editing as far as grammar and sentence structure goes. With the Boogiepop novels, I tend to take the first pass of the translated script and let Jason tackle the second. After that, I bring in people like Janet Houck, Lesley Smith, and yourself to help with the copy editing. It's all about bringing in the right people to help you get the job done.

What were some challenges you ran into when you started writing the Aoi House manga?

AA: For the first volume of Aoi House, the first four episodes were quite a challenge to get through because I had to get past the hurdle of starting over from scratch. The original 36-episode webmanga that I did with Jim Jimenez had really set-up the entire plot of the series and introduced cast. When we brought Shiei in for the relaunch, I didn't want to just rehash the original plot. I wanted to make the book version a totally different experience that actually was tailor written with the final print volume AND our existing fans on the net in mind. At the same time, I had seen first hand how the readers were responding to certain characters and knew that some like Maria, Jessica and Nina needed to be further molded to give them each clearly-defined personality types.

What really helped me come up with a new spin on things was the fact that I gave Sandy a pet hamster. Putting Echiboo in the series just really helped to push the series in a new direction that put new and old readers alike on an equal footing. Plus, Shiei is a goddess when it comes to drawing cute animals...and you can NEVER have enough cute animals in manga.

When it first started out I understood you wrote it more like a web comic, setting up a punch line for the end of every page. Do you write the script differently now that Shiei's the artist?

AA: With the original 36-episode run that was illustrated by Jim Jimenez, Aoi House was literally being written the complete opposite of how every other Seven Seas title was getting written. I had to script the series panel-by-panel, page-by-page, which is kind of like how some people plot out your average American super-hero comic. This basically puts the writer in complete control of the pacing and flow of the story and the artist has no choice but to follow that or the script falls by the wayside. The problem is, it's way too easy to confuse the artist by over-explaining the setting or putting too many actions in a given panel. If a panel gets skipped or something important gets left out, then you end up spending a ton wracking your brain to figure out how to tweak the dialogue to match the images.

When we relaunched the series, everything changed. First and foremost, I finally was able to actually write the manga I wanted to in the first place without having to worry about trying to make a scene have a weekly arc where something started on Monday and it finished on Wednesday. It's just a very restrictive way to write a series. Mind you, I still have to do panel-by-panel script plotting for the color Aoi House 4-Koma that run in Newtype USA, but those are a cake-walk when compared to what I was doing before.

In terms of the script itself, I was able to finally shift to writing in modified screenplay format, which is how all other Seven Seas titles are penned. (I personally use a program called Final Draft, to write Aoi House, but the basic settings can be found in most word processing programs, if you know where to find them.) What screenplay format allows is for the artist to effectively be the director. For this to work, the writer has to have complete faith in the artist to actualize the script that you've written.

The thing that most sets Aoi House apart from all the other Seven Seas titles is that I write the series in a very episodic way. That's actually intentional since I don't have just one story that I want to tell with my characters...I have a ton to tell!

You're a really strong presence on the Gomanga forums. Just how much time do you spend posting there everyday?

AA: Call me obsessive compulsive, but I actually have the forum set as my homepage, so you could say that I check it whenever I hop on my browser. One thing that I always envisioned for the forum was for it to be a place where you could interact with the creators of our titles and be a place where you could ask questions. That element of interaction combined with the fact that each page of Aoi House has a new installment of my blog "Aoi Notes" is one of the big reasons it has done so well. You seem approachable and readers tend to respond to that.

I might spend a lot of time on the forum myself, but I have to give props to Twilight Bandit, Ryokosha, Yugi, and Harukochan who help make my job a lot easier by modding the "General Discussion" sections. I can't thank them enough for the work they do!

Do the comments made by fans ever affect the plot of Aoi House?

AA: Oh, yeah...totally!

I listen to what fans have to say and read what they're debating...and sometimes those comments work their way into the story. I recently finished the script for Volume 2 and towards the end of it, I laid the groundwork that's going to lead to answering a certain "What If" topic that's constantly getting brought up. If you follow the forum, then you probably have an idea which one that is.

In a different vein, I also looked to the readers to see what kind of response specific scenes or elements get. When I introduced the mysterious "Oniisan," I was literally scared to death about how that scene would be received. It's literally a very important scene that impacts the larger narrative of the story that I want to tell. So naturally, I would've been pretty devastated if the readers hated it and I had to rethink what I wanted to do. Fortunately, it got the response that I had been hoping for, so readers can look forward to learning more about "Oniisan" in the Episodes of Volume 2.

I know there's at least one thread about Aoi House pairings. Can you give us a hint about the future of the characters' relationships?

AA: Hmm, everyone falls in love with Alex...?

Seriously though, that's a hard question to answer without spoiling anything. I'd rather let the readers debate that as the storyline goes along.

Is Jessica just teasing Sandy or does she actually like him?

AA: Better consult a Magic 8-Ball on that one!

Will Alex end up with Elle, Morgan or Carlo?

AA: If Sandy isn't careful, Alex could end up with all the girls!

Will Echiboo ever find a lady hamster?

AA: You know, that's a topic that's definitely been brought up before between Shiei and myself. I can't say that we'll see a female hamster in Volume 2's Episodes, but one might just pop up after that. After all, Echiboo can't be fixated on Elle the whole time, can he?

Who's your favorite character to write and why?

AA: Morgan, because she's always got PEZ for me.
Or maybe it's Maria. She's always making sure I eat.
Or is it Elle? Yeah, she did get me some Region 2 DVDs.
Wait, maybe it's Nina. She did get me a cigar not too long ago (even thought I don't even smoke).
And Jessica gave me those Polaroids...

Now that I think about it, Alex and Sandy are the only ones that haven't ever given me anything. Maybe I need to give their agents a call.

Is there anyone who you have a hard time writing?

AA: Shhh! Don't tell him I said this...but Echiboo. He's always so demanding. He wants the best lines and tries to adlib all the time. I have to keep telling him that the scene isn't about him. But what do I know? I'm only the writer.

Well, Echiboo is the star, so it's not a big surprise if he's a bit of a diva on-set.

AA: Don't let him hear you say that! He might ask for another raise and a bigger trailer.

Did you ever take part in an anime club like Aoi House?

AA: No, actually I didn't. I went to small community college from Fall 1999 to Fall 2001 and they didn't really offer anything in terms of clubs. I started working on Animefringe: Online Anime Magazine during the Spring Semester of 2000 and would literally bring issues of manga anthologies like Animerica Extra, Super Manga Blast, Pulp, and Smile with me to read in the student center if I somehow had a hole in my class schedule. That was really the closest I ever came to the anime dream of being in a club back in college.

Would you join if there was one?

AA: If there was one...oh yeah, totally. The thing is, the friends I made from Animefringe and the stuff I learned from them really made up for not having a club in my life. I was able to do the Otaku no Video thing of becoming an "Otaking" without ever leaving the comfort of my home--well, except to cons, that is.

What's been the best part of writing Aoi House so far?

AA: Seeing Shiei's finished art will always be the best part. Writing a scene is one thing, but actually seeing it drawn and come to life in a way that you only imagined is just amazing. And the cool thing about Shiei is that she always surprises you. There's always that certain something about her pages that always makes your eyes light up...or some little detail that you notice after the fact. Be it a plushie, a character on someone's shirt, or some other hidden detail...she's always going the extra mile to make the series look as awesome as it can...and I so thank her for it!

Any advice for would-be manga-ka out there?

AA: Actually, yes. It's really hard to break into the comics business in general. So if you're really determined to get into this field, then it sometimes pays to try other options first. I'm a big advocate of webcomics because it's probably the closest thing you're going to find that gives you direct experience in honing your skills and managing your time. If you're determined to build a nice portfolio, then you have to have work to show for yourself and webcomics are as good a way as any to either cut your teeth on writing or hone your sequential art skills.

For me, I wrote short stories back in middle and high school, but I shifted to writing features and reviews, and that's what eventually got my foot in the door. For a long time, I had been doing Animefringe and I was obsessed with really getting published. That's when I had a friend tell me something that really changed my perspective...I was already published. I had this old view that writing articles on the net wasn't the same as being published, but it is. You might not get paid or have the luxury of holding an actual printed magazine or book in your hand, but Internet publishing is every bit as viable and real as any other form of publishing and it can get you noticed in a lot of different ways. It just takes some time...and a whole lot of patience!

Any last words about Aoi House or life in general?

AA: Yeah, there's not a lot you can do with an immortal Tamagotchi that can stop time. Be sure to put that knowledge to good use. Maybe tuck it away in some fortune cookies with the lucky lotto numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42.

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