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Hollow Fields In-Depth with Madeleine Rosca

by Shannon Fay

You thought your school was tough? It's nothing compared to what Lucy Snow has to go through at Miss Weaver's Academy for the Scientifically Gifted and Ethically Unfettered, an elementry school for future mad scientists and evil doers. Creator Madeleine Rosca was kind enough to chat with Gomanga about her upcoming Seven Seas manga Hollow Fields.

Could you tell us about yourself and how you became a manga artist?

MR: I grew up in a country area in Victoria, the southeastern part of mainland Australia. It was a lot of farmland and wild areas, and a lot of wildlife. It was great, but pretty isolated. When I discovered anime in my teens, thanks to viewing the movie Akira during a trip to Melbourne, I was pretty much the only kid at my school who knew what manga or anime was, which was frustrating. I always loved sequential art, but there never seemed to be an outlet for me, and I concentrated instead on just trying to hold down a stable job. I moved to Melbourne and dabbled in animation and multimedia, ended up in a design job for several years which I loathed, then decided I'd had enough of the big smoke and left Victoria altogether. I had always clung to the idea of doing a book in my spare time, and when I first started working on Hollow Fields it was actually a children's book. I'm currently living in Tasmania, which is cold but incredibly nice, and holding down a part-time job while I draw Hollow Fields.

What kind of anime and manga did you like then and how about now? Are there any series in particular that influenced your art?

MR: Obviously Akira was my first experience of an adult anime. Apart from that, I grew up in the 80s back when a lot of quite terrible anime dubs were being shown in the morning before school. The standouts are probably Astroboy and Samurai Pizza Cats. I used to get up religiously to videotape the Pizza Cats; I had a whole stack of videos just full of those episodes. Then one day my dad used those tapes to record a bunch of movies off television...I was completely shattered...ahhh, the days of teenage angst...

It's funny to talk about the manga I tend to like, because a lot of it doesn't bear any real comparison to my own work. Obviously the manga version of Akira is in there; it's the first series I bought in its entirety. When designing the manga versions of my characters for Hollow Fields, I was looking at a lot of 'cute' mangas, such as .Hack and Angelic Layer; not sure if you can tell that from the final result, though! Recently I completed my Chrono Crusade manga collection - I love Daisuke Moriyama's work, and I'm really into World Embryo, which is his next series. Neon Genesis Evangelion - Yoshiyuki Sadamoto is a really wonderful artist. I'm a 'manga-before-anime' type of person; I was a bit lukewarm on the Evangelion anime, and I was almost completely repulsed by the Chrono Crusade anime. So my manga collection is generally bigger than my DVD collection (manga are cheaper, anyway!).

What is Hollow Fields about? What gave you the idea for the series?

MR: Hollow Fields is about a little girl named Lucy who has been sent to a remote part of the countryside to attend a boarding school. However, shortly after her arrival in the area she gets lost in the forest and unwittingly comes across a hidden elementary school for future mad scientists. One thing leads to another, and she finds herself mistakenly enrolled and forced to attend all manner of grisly classes there. The school is run by a shadowy group of patchwork scientists known as The Engineers, and their lessons include Frankenstein-style experiments and constructing killer robots. To make matters worse, at the end of each school week the child with the worst grades is sent to a detention from which no-one has ever returned. So the low achievers are constantly being weeded out. And being a normal child who didn't come from an evil genius background, Lucy has to catch up fast on the other kids if she wants to survive her first week...!

The idea didn't come to me fully formed; it sort of gradually evolved over several months. I had a job at a public library which was a long way from where I lived, so to stave off boredom on the long car ride I used to think up stories to myself. I really wanted to write a story about children who are in that middle childhood/pre-teen stage, because that was a stage which was difficult for me to adjust to when I was Lucy's age. There's a lot of rivalry and pressure to be the 'favourite' or the centre of attention among the adults for children that age. So in trying to avoid that shadowy detention and to curry favour with The Engineers, the children in Hollow Fields are often at each other's necks just to be the best. Lucy is a nice girl, and isn't used to being cut-throat. But some of her classmates in the manga are. And I think some kids are like that in real life, too.

Just how spooky is Hollow Fields? Is there a certain audience you have in mind when drawing the series?

MR: I see it as being more surreal and sinister rather than spooky. 'Spooky' conjures up images of ghost stories for me. Hollow Fields isn't really a ghost story, but it's definitely got aspects of urban legends in there.

The book carries an All Ages rating, so I'm hoping it can be enjoyed by a broad audience. I didn't really have any particular group in mind that I wrote it for; I hope that anyone who's interested in rather dark, rather odd little fairy tales which involve kidnapped children and killer robots will want to read it!

What is it like to be a manga-ka in Australia? How big is anime and manga there?

MR: It's a growth industry here. Ten yeas ago, barely anyone had heard of it, and now every major city in Australia has its own anime convention (Hobart, in Tasmania, had its very first convention this year). Also, just in the past few years major book chains here are beginning to stock manga; so it's no longer like the bad old days when I was in high school and you could only buy manga from specialist comic book stores. We've still got a long way to go until we catch up to the United States, though. Sometimes it can be awkward telling people what I do, because there's still a lot of pre-conceived notions about what manga actually is. So I've got some acquaintances who are probably at least 70% sure that I spend my spare time drawing tentacles and teenage schoolgirls...

When you're not working on Hollow Fields (or at your other job), what do you like to do for fun?

MR: Between working on the manga and attending my day job, my spare time has become pretty compromised lately...! I'm pretty much doing either one of those two things seven days a week, because my day job also runs across the weekend. When I have an hour or two free, I like to read (currently a big fan of China Mieville), wander aimlessly about Hobart because I don't have a car, hang out with friends, and sleep in. I watch far too much television. Favourite shows are Lost, Family Guy and the Chaser's War on Everything. Oh, and Dr. Phil. He's in reruns now though, dammit.

How do you create a manga? Do you script everything first or draw thumbnails? Do you have a routine that helps you draw?

MR: Everything is written out as a script first; I believe it's best to complete your artwork against a finished script. That's not to say that little things won't change; or you won't decide it's much better for a character to say or do something differently when you're illustrating. When I get to the artwork stage, I thumbnail chapter-by-chapter, mainly for the purpose of pacing the art against the script. There's some early versions of my ideas for the Hollow Fields manga up at clockwork7.deviantart.com. I try to draw and ink on separate days; I think it's really good to be able to 'sleep' on a drawn page so you can wake up the next morning and view it more objectively. The pages I've drawn and inked on the same day usually look the most rushed.

How long have you been drawing? Did you start when you discovered anime and manga, or did that just change your style?

MR: I've pretty much been drawing since I was little. My mother was an art teacher and my dad was a lecturer in Art History at a university, so it's always been a common pastime in our family. But anime and manga has always had a big influence. When my parents got Japanese animation on video for me and my sister to watch, we used to pause the tape and try and draw the figures from the screen. Of course, that learning process got way easier once I started collecting manga. For a long time as an adult, I was drawing in a much looser style as I really wanted to illustrate children's books. When I was reworking Hollow Fields as a manga, I had to go through all those baby steps all over again to 're-learn' manga style illustration. I'm really looking forward to seeing it all come together.

When can we expect to see Hollow Fields in bookstores? Do you know what kind of extras might be included in the book?

MR: As of this interview, it's still pretty early in production, so the extras are still under wraps - although no doubt there'll be a few character sketches, and maybe even a few pages from the earlier incarnations of Hollow Fields, pre-manga format. I've got an awful lot of production material, so it's just a matter of sifting through it to find some stuff that'll be fun for the readers to look at - because the early versions were so different, the characters are almost unrecognizable!

As for a release date - once again it's early days, but readers can expect the book to hit the shelves sometime early in 2007.

You mentioned before that you originally conceived of Hollow Fields as a children's book. What made you decide to make it a manga instead? What strengths and weaknesses do you see manga having as a way to tell stories?

MR: I suppose it was probably the fact that I love all-ages manga - I didn't have any as a child, but I would have been mad about it if I did. I find it easier to tell some aspects of the story visually, rather than just having to rely on words the whole time. And I find manga art very appealing, and very structured in a way which makes it really flow alongside a story. Converting Hollow Fields from prose to manga format was a bit of a struggle, but I feel it was worth it - I hope so, anyway!

I think the big strength of manga is that it makes storytelling very cinematic. Reading a manga can really be like watching a good movie or television show; it allows you to pace the story alongside the visuals very nicely. Weaknesses - the one that strikes me is that it takes a considerable amount of time to produce - if you want to do it well. It's not like you can churn out five or six of them a year, unless you've discovered the ability to no longer require sleep or human contact. Actually, the ability to stop time for a few weeks would be fantastic - I bet other artists wished they had this, too...

What are some things you've learned about creating manga since starting Hollow Fields? Any advice for aspiring manga-ka out there?

MR: The biggest thing I've learned is that it's so important to plan ahead! Having a reasonably completed script to follow makes the entire job so much easier than the 'random' stories I used to try and illustrate (most of which now languish as malformed creations in my bottom draw and will never see the light of day). Having the thumbnails done, the right drawing materials purchased, the mechanical specs worked out properly...starting with all that makes the job so much easier. In future, I'm going to try and be even more organized because it's just so much smoother that way!

As for giving advice - I'm still pretty new myself, but the biggest piece of advice I'd give - and I've heard this everywhere, but it's so important - is to have a webmanga running. Even if you're worried an editor might not go for your story - it still shows you're consistent, you don't mind hard work and you're creative. Plus people can see the natural progression of your art as you get better. That's the one thing people reading this should remember, even after they forget everything else I've said here today - webmanga! The most important word in this interview! Webmanga!

Beyond Hollow Fields, what kind of manga or other projects would you like to work on?

MR: I've already got other stories running around inside my head, so whether or not they see the light of day, either as a manga or in another format remains to be seen. Like I said, I've still got a big interest in children's books; I would love to illustrate one. I'd also love to write stories for older readers, and maybe work on a manga aimed at teens in the future. Right now I'm eating, breathing and sleeping Hollow Fields, so it's a bit hard to think of the future beyond that! Folks who want to know what I'm currently up to can visit my live journal (www.livejournal.com/users/clockwork_hands).

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