Sunday, December 9, 2012

December's Peculair Person of the Month: Peter Johnson of the Global Manga Initiative

Peter Johnson co-founder of G.M.I.
As a child, Peter Johnson was really into cartoons, which quickly translated into a strong passion for anime and manga. What started off as hanging out around import-stores amongst the small bloom of U.S. anime market of the mid-to-late 90’s has led to the Global Manga Initiative. As head manager and spokesperson for G.M.I., Peter, along with other professional contacts, has developed an online community for upcoming manga creators.

A graduate with a custom B.A. in Japanese Anime and Manga, Peter also spent a semester studying abroad at Japanime LTD best know for their "How to Draw Manga" books. Concluding his education at the School of Visual Arts, he was able to get G.M.I. off the ground. Peter was cool enough to site down with This Peculiar Life NYC to talk about G.M.I., the state of the anime industry, and the joys of squirrel fishing.


This Peculiar Life NYC:  What made you want to start the Global Manga Initiative?

Peter Johnson: Stubbornness. Ever since I was a kid the idea of a creator who wasn't born and raised in Japan, and particularly one from the Western-world, making any serious ripples in the anime/manga-industry was a long-shot at best, impossible at worst. That was something I always wanted to change. It was incredibly frustrating growing up with the knowledge that this art-form, this manner of story-telling, was something still very much isolated from my ambitions due to its current-place in the world; locked behind language and culture barriers that would take years or even decades to overcome, plus social-prejudices that I would constantly have to work around. Even with The Avengers blazing through the box-office, most people still raise an eyebrow at the idea of you having a successful career in comics, let alone a SPECIFIC FORM of comics from halfway around the world. Somewhere along the way I decided that I wanted to change that, not just for myself but for every creator out there with similar passions. I formed G.M.I. because I feel there are a lot of creators out there like me who are just too dedicated and steadfast in their ambitions to bear giving up on their goals, and I want to do my best to found the kind of creative-platform for success I felt was missing from the world of manga. 


T.P.L. NYC: What are the goals and mission statements you hope to achieve with G.M.I.?

P.J.: I guess you could say one of our primary goals is to progress/evolve manga. I've spent my education and my work seeing many talented creators who had strong-passions for making manga, but who are realistically stagnated by the state of the industry and how hard it is to find recognition/success as an artist to begin with. There's all this great content out there, but so much of it just floats adrift, isolated on the internet or dumped into massive-archives sites where there is next-to-no chance of really standing out. With G.M.I., I want to create an open-anthology that not only hosts quality work, but also incorporates the creative aspects of that work into the anthology itself; that really focuses on not just archiving these works, but letting the viewers and fans who come to our site know what's going on in these individual, epic stories. And part of that process is watching just what exactly this melting-pot of creativity will allow the world to come up with, and how that ends-up affecting the growth of the Manga-genre.



T.P.L. NYC: How long has G.M.I. been operating?


P.J.: G.M.I. began to form around the end of 2010, but operated primarily behind closed-doors until spring of 2011, when we announced the project on Deviantart leading up to our first major outing at New York Comic-Con. Things were very 'hush-hush' at first; we spent a lot of time speaking with various artists and writers. There was a lot of careful preparation involved; we wanted to make sure we did this project right.  The website itself launched in July of 2012, so we're still fairly young, but I'm looking forward to seeing where we go from here.

G.M.I. Homepage



T.P.L. NYC: How many people are involved in G.M.I., and what do you think makes a good team?


P.J. G.M.I. is made up of about twenty individuals in-total at-present. The artists, writers and other creators featured on the site make up the majority overall, with the management team holding a comparatively-smaller roster of myself and several other individuals of various-roles/specialties.


I think making a good team isn't all that different from forging good relationships with those around you in-general; honesty, understanding and empathy really go a long way in forming dependable-bonds, even if only through a computer. Once you make that connection, it's just a matter of knowing each individual's strengths and how best to use them in collaboration with one-another to get the job done. I'm very grateful to the absolutely-fantastic work I've gotten out of all the on-board artists and my team thus-far. 


T.P.L. NYC: You were just at Comic-Con. How was the experience? 

Peter Johnson and G.M.I. at NYC Comic-Con 2012

P.J.: This was our second year at New York Comic-Con; we were at the 2011 Artist's Alley back when New York Anime Festival was still part of the picture. That said, I can see why most would think 2012's show was our first NYCC-outing since this was our first time on the Show Floor-proper. The experience was probably what you'd expect; an insane blend of excitement, effort, worry, fun and amazement, but a fantastic ride when all was said and done. We were right-across from the Square-Enix booth this year, and literally next to the Show Floor entrance, so it was a little intimidating when the NYCC doors would open-up and that huge crowd would pour out in front of us, but I have to say my team did an excellent job remaining cool under-fire. I was also really glad that some of our artists made the effort to make an appearance in-person, some coming from as far-away as Argentina. Being used to working online, it was really great to see the support for the project take on a human face, and they were absolutely wonderful people to meet.


T.P.L. NYC: What are some of your favorite titles on the site? What are they about?


P.J.: I try to remain impartial overall when it comes to the works on the site (I'm not voting in the Best of G.M.I. Awards), but I have to give special-mention to Crystal Jayme and her work Nigh Heaven & Hell. She's got a really great style, has a serious knack for creating memorable/fun-characters, and is an absolute-gem to work with; she's been consistently updating exclusively on G.M.I. at about a 30-page-per-month rate, and includes some frankly-breath-taking color work to use for promotion-purposes. That kind of effort deserves recognition. It's somewhat contrary to the usual approach to story-telling, but has a sorta tongue-in-cheek approach that makes it all just work, which adds to its overall uniqueness/charm. 


Another work I'm excited about is a new series coming to G.M.I. in December; "Bleak" by the artist AI. Without spoiling too much, it follows a high-school student who's depressed over the stagnant-nature of his life, but then begins to experience strange, supernatural-dreams that blur the lines between fantasy and reality, and make him rethink his approach to life. I think a lot of people will be able to identify with its themes, which orbit around the idea of wanting to escape the dreary, ordinary routine and aspire to something greater in life.


T.P.L. NYC: How did you find your artists? Do they come to you or do you go look for them?


P.J.:  A little of both; we scout works when we have the time to do so (either online or through cons) but we also get approached by a wide-range of talent interested in contributing to the anthology in some way or another. 



T.P.L. NYC: What are some of the challenges that you face in putting something “Global” together?


P.J.: It's tough to organize something with people living in different countries, on different time-zones and speaking different languages as opposed to friends/connections you have in the neighborhood, but it comes with the concept here. One of the obvious updates we'd like to incorporate into G.M.I. is a multi-language format, so we can more-accurately reflect a "global" standing.


T.P.L. NYC: Why manga as opposed to other styles of comics? Why do you emphasize this particular style?


P.J.: Manga has always been very interesting to me because it is an art-form that is simultaneously incredibly-diverse yet still very restrained in terms of its global development. Progress has definitely been made, and this art-form is still comparatively young, but I feel the overall "soul" of Manga is something that is still very-much concentrated in a small part of the world in which it was born. So there's a great combination of huge diversity of the format combined with the exciting potential of seeing how Manga will evolve as it continues to progress through the art-world on a global-level that keeps me excited about it.


T.P.L. NYC: How can people be a part of G.M.I.? Who do they contact?


P.J.: The best way to get involved with G.M.I. is to contact us through our website and give us a quick-introduction. Nothing too fancy needed, just tell us who you are, the sort of work you've done in the past, what you want to do in the future, and your general ambitions in regards to working with us. If you want to pitch a work to be featured as part of the G.M.I. Roster, it helps to include a brief summation of the series as well as a pilot-chapter so we can get an idea of the style of the story. We're also looking for talented bloggers, critics, writers, editors and those involved in video who are interested in Anime and Manga, as we're currently working on expanding the website with new aspects like review, coverage, editorial and media-sections.

T.P.L. NYC: What all does G.M.I. offer on its site?

P.J.: For Creators:

-Complete free, quality exposure on a secure, dedicated and funded website.

-Retain full Creative and Publishing control of your work.

-Rise up to the World Stage; Post your Concepts/Ideas to our Community-Forums to attract the attention and momentum you work needs to take flight.

-Stand Strong; Have your Series featured alongside the best in the world in our Online Manga Anthology.

-A Series Hub incorporating a Personal Blog and links to your Homepage, Facebook and Twitter Accounts creates a one-stop-shop for updating your work and reaching your fans.

-Unite; In-House Networking to help you form the creative team that's right for you.

-Community Feedback and Guidance to help your work be the best it can be.

For Fans:

-A Focused Roster of top-quality manga series from the most talented rising-creators on the planet.

-Instant Updates; Keep up-to-the-minute with your favorite Series/Artists via Twitter and Facebook Notifications.

-Make your Voice Heard; Give us an aspiring creators feedback through our Community Forums, and Social-Networking.

-Witness the Evolution and Progression of the Manga-Genre firsthand as creators from across the globe come together under one roof as they strive to become the next great Manga Legend!


T.P.L. NYC: How do you feel G.M.I. contributes or changes the anime/manga market?


P.J.: I feel the open-nature of G.M.I. makes it something of a variable to the market; what it becomes is really up to the Manga-creators out there. We're essentially throwing open the doors to the world itself and saying "show us what you've got out there!", then taking the greatest works we can find and doing our best to help show them off to the entire world. I feel variables like that are good for the overall market as it's a great way to see the art-form evolve "from the front-lines."


G.M.I. differs from other online indie-manga sites [because] G.M.I.[‘s] …goal is to remain an online-anthology [not an] archive-site. There are hundreds of sites out there that will host original-series, but are content to simply dump these works onto a "social-network"-esque archive next to hundreds of similarly-setup indie-series. These sites merely HOST the series they receive without really engaging and promoting the creative works they've been given individually in a way that keeps fans interested. With G.M.I., when we accept a work onto our roster, we also promote it not just as yet-another entry into our database, but as a creative world that is constantly changing and is exciting; when a major battle, romantic turning-point or other major narrative event occurs in one of our on-board series, you will see it promoted right there on the front-page. This also makes it more-fun for the fans, as they can just jump onto the site and instantly get a preview of what exciting things are occurring in all these different stories under-one-roof. This is a lot easier, and in my humble-opinion a lot more FUN, then having to scour through archives trying to get an idea of what a series is really all about based solely on a cover-image. Obviously this requires a smaller, focused, tighter roster of ongoing-works, but by cycling through featured series we keep things interesting and do our best to give great stories and creators their time in the sun.


I don't feel a Manga Anthology with this level of focus combined with this open, global nature hasn’t really existed yet, so if I could accurately predict the response to this project, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun to watch it develop *smiles*.

Page from Bleak, a series from G.M.I.


T.P.L. NYC: Are you exclusively web based or do you plan on going into the print arena?

P.J.: Exclusively web-based...for now...


T.P.L. NYC: So this blog is about peculiar things, what is one of the most peculiar anime/manga titles you have seen or read recently?


P.J.: One of my all-time-favorite mangas is Yu Yagami's HIKKATSU!: Strike a Blow to Vivify! because of its incredibly bizarre and absolutely hilarious nature. It's about an expert martial-artist who literally beats things back into shape with a technique called the "Repair Blow"; a master-level strike designed to fix next-to-any problem with something, whether it be a human or mechanical entity. The result? This guy round-house kicks his friend across the street to fix the guy's dislocated shoulder, engages in epic-battle against rampaging malfunctioning construction-equipment and blows a hole in Mt. Fuji to "fix" the frigid conditions on the mountain's peak. Combine that with the fact that the "Repair Blow" isn't quite perfected and the primary love-interest being raised by pigeons and you get hilariously bizarre story you won't soon forget. I continue to profuse my adoration for this series here:

Cover of Hikkatsu Vol. 1

T.P.L. NYC: What is the most peculiar thing you have experienced or seen while in NYC?


P.J.: Squirrel-Fishin'. Basically the idea is several people sit up in a tree, or on a high-point (like a rooftop) in a park or some other environment that squirrels would inhabit with acorns, walnuts or the like tied to the end of fishing line. You drop your bait to the ground below and wait for a squirrel to grab-hold, then try to lift your furry-friend as high off the ground as you can before they either free the bait or bail; highest squirrel wins. Yes this is a real thing and no, they don't use any hooks (because that would be addition to the cruelty). Easily the strangest thing I've seen in Central Park...

Squirrel-Fishing in the park

To learn more about G.M.I., or be a part of the creative team, please visit their website, as they have some upcoming events planned. They will premiere two new series for December: "Bleak" by AI and "Meeting Hearts" by Stela Canga. Stick around for their “Best of G.M.I. Awards"; a poll to determine which Ongoing-Series will be declared the best G.M.I. Series for 2012. Fans can vote now at Polls close 2013.

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