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The co-creator of Otakuworld's Kamishibai Player, co-author of The Legend of Ika Takozushi and author of Pastel Defender Heliotrope, Jennifer Diane Rietz.

Post: What inspired the Kamishibai program?
One day, several years ago, I saw about two minutes of a section of "Today's Japan" on NHK, about the last tour of Sadayoshi Morishita, perhaps the last living original Kamishibai artist. He had lost his voice to throat cancer from smoking, which is a problem for the Kamishibai artist, because then they cannot speak the dialogue and voice the sound effects while performing. However, is brother had recorded his performances of his best stories before his surgery, so they played the recording while he flipped the big painted cards, giving him a way to do his favorite art a few last times before he died.

I should probably briefly mention what the real Kamishibai actually is, in case some readers have not bothered to read the "About" sections of the Kamishibai program....in a nutshell, Kamishibai means "Paper Picture Drama Play", and in effect it was a kind of 'human television show' for a Japan, just after the war, desperate and poor. Kamishibai was the origin of manga, and from manga, anime. A man would peddle about the land on a bicycle carrying a huge wooden picture frame device, a stack of pictures, a script, and some candy to sell. He would make his living selling candy while performing a Kamishibai show. As he spoke, doing vocal sound effects, he would remove the top picture to reveal another underneath, and in this way, each still image was like a single panel in a comic strip, or a single shot in a television show. This is why the Kamishibai program looks the way it does: wooden frame and candy for buttons. This is history, and all manga and anime came from it!

I was very touched by that short segment about the dying Kamishibai artist, and since I love anime and manga, I had to know more about how it all started. So, I began researching and studying, because I was fascinated. I talked with and wrote to people who had actually seen real Kamishibai in their childhood. Eventually I was all full of ideas...and pleaded with Stephen to program a virtual Kamishibai for the PC. He did the programming, based on my design and plan, and I did the artwork. Before we released the program, we knew it had to have a story to go with it...so that was the origin of Ika Takozushi.

Post: What inspired your stories?
Ika Takozushi, which comes with the Kamishibai program, was inspired by three things. One was that I have a love for Akira Kurasawa's samurai films, another is my interest in Furry characters, and the last was my appreciation of cephalopods, otherwise known as octopuses and squids, especially as found on my plate, in a Japanese restaurant! All of the names of the characters in Ika Takozushi are items from a local restaurant, right off the menu. Anyone reading who loves Japanese food like I do will recognize Ton Katsu (Ika's student) as a big bowl of rice with breaded, fried pork on top. Tasty.

The basic idea of Ika sprang into my head the way most ideas just...do....(I am considered to be rather creative)...but Stephen took my rough story outline and made it live. He did the actual writing and dialogue, and I did all the artwork and sound work. Stephen did such a wonderful job with the story text! Overall, Ika Takozushi is a very traditionally styled Kamishibai. Imagine, say, Astroboy or Kimba done this way, in a big wooden frame, set up on a tripod, with a storyteller behind the whole thing sliding pictures out of the way to show the next one, and a crowd of kids all around slurping on candy. That is true Kamishibai!

It would...be kind of cool to actually, really do, you know... say at an anime convention. Hmmmm....!?!

After this, I just had to see what I could write on my own. I suppose it was a bit of ego here, Stephen had done such a great job that some part of me needed to know whether I could write as good a story all on my own. You can judge whether I succeeded with my Kamishibai "Pastel Defender Heliotrope".

I always take a sketch book in my overloaded purse, and tend to sketch when we go out for dinner. I had just doodled a floating girl who was soon to become Heliotrope. I had done her using a Japanese ink brush pen, in a very fluid, very simple style, a calligraphic style. I really liked the look of the brush pen style, so that set the unique art that graces Pastel Defender Heliotrope. It is not as detailed as Ika, but it has it's own special brush-painting meets cartoon look. Plus...it had animation. I wanted to see what Kamishibai could do, so I was the first to try full camera pans, video game mechanics, and timed, sound linked animations. I basically pulled out the stops for that point in the program's history. I wanted to see what it could do.

The story just...came to me...as I did it. I wish I could give some amazing insight into the process of creativity, but I cannot. My creativity -at it's best- always just seems to be given to me. It feels like it comes from somewhere else, or that I am just watching while I get out of the way and let it do whatever it has to. Pastel was like that, and it essentially wrote itself. Some parts I can now identify as to where they probably came from.

The ending of Heliotrope most likely was distantly inspired by the anime classic 'Gunbuster'...the last chapter of which is done in still frames, and in black and white, to highlight the drama, and to reference traditional manga, which is always pure black and white. My online comic strip, Unicorn Jelly ( http://unicornjelly.com ), does this...pure black and white, with strong usage of contrast.

The opening has to be inspired by my love of 'magical girl' anime, and I have a very special fascination with robots and artificial beings, which is why Heliotrope is an animated love doll. I have always felt alienated, apart from the human species, and so I relate best to such characters.

Fuchsia, Pastel's love interest, was inspired, I am sure, by one of my three spouses, Eldenath. She is very doting on me, very devoted and very kind, and this personality became Fuchsia. I am very happy with how Pastel Defender Heliotrope turned out.

I should note that several of the sound effects in Pastel are my original creation....the Ommnipitor sound is my creation. I cobbled the effects together using CoolEdit Pro.

How is it different writing and illustrating a kamishibai story from creating a game or drawing a comic strip? Is it like apples and oranges, or are they similiar?
Absolutely similar, minus the word balloons, of course! I have thought what it would take to do my current comic, Unicorn Jelly, up as a Kamishibai....and the biggest problem would just be cutting up the panels and actually bothering with the work involved. Too much work for me right now, and besides, I am currently exploring how o make an online comic work. But it could be done, and the Kamishibai engine would even support the animation and 'Alternate Universe' side strips I do in Unicorn Jelly. It could definitely be done, and nothing would have to change except the layout of the panels in the strip.

If you think about it, any comic or manga could be made into a Kamishibai the same way...just carve out the panels, and make them fit. If you wanted to get fancy, you could try to erase the word balloons...but you would not need to. And this is as would be expected, because manga, and anime, Japanese comics and animation, grew out of Kamishibai. They are really the same thing, done in a different medium.

Post: What's your favorite part of making a Kamishibai story?
I really love that moment when all the work, all the art, all the writing, comes together and I realize that it manages to tell a story...that the separate pieces actually work, they say something. I have this moment of terror that all the work, or some experiment will fail, and it will all have been for nothing. Like the big camera pans in Heliotrope....I was not certain I could pull that off. It had never been done up to that point, and I was a little worried. Same with the 'game element' in Heliotrope. Looking back, my 'game' was pretty simple, minimal, and poor, but it too had never been done until I tried, so I was unsure if the idea would be fun, worth doing at all. Since then, other Kamishibai artists have really run with both ideas, and there are many stories that just floor me....so ambitions, so brilliant...and that expand on these mechanisms in ways that humble me. There are some really great Kami artists out there, and I am really impressed with the things I see. I never realized, when I first set about designing the Kamishibai program what others would do with it.

I get impressed by little touches of brilliance especially...some artist may not have the most developed art skills around...heck they may be doing stick figures....but they also may have a LOT of heart, and do something so true, so powerful, or so fun with the abilities they have that it makes me thrilled. I have been impressed more by some very simply done, but powerful or very funny Kamishibai, than by some technically perfect Kami that just has no soul...

Which brings me straight back to answering your question, which is that my favorite part of making a Kamishibai is when I feel that I have done just what I have described...whatever my art skill, to feel that I have really created something worthwhile.

I offer to all your readers that in doing Kamishibai, (or any art, for that matter) it is not how perfect your skill is that matters, or how you might compare to another artist, what matters is whether you make use of the ability you have with a full heart. That is where real art comes from.

Post: What the hardest part (for you) about making a Kamishibai story?
The sheer labor of doing all the darn pictures, putting everything together. I publicly apologize for the fact of the text editor part of making a Kamishibai. My original design for the program would have had everything point and click, no coding required, just type in dialogue and go....but we ran out of time, and we are not rich either, so... at least Kamishibai got made at all. It is hard to make any program...Kamishibai took months to finish....and we all have to make a living too. It's difficult...we are all adults at Otakuworld, with no mommy to take care of us...so keeping things going is a REAL struggle. Thus Kamishibai may have ended up a bit harder to create stories for than I had originally intended. I don't like coding, and that is what doing the text script for Kamishibai really is...a simple programming language. You are learning how to program -at a very basic level- every time you make a Kamishibai story. I suppose that could be argued to be a good thing too....educational, ne?

Post: Who are some of your favorite Kamishibai artists?
Kodachi Batchix, Dustin Pruitt, EYDC Productions, DeCayK, Jaysen, Tau Hsieh, PandaX, Adam Dahlström, Cooper, Dave 13, George Panella....oh gosh, lots more. It's hard to remember them all, you know?

Post: Are you considering writing any more Kamishibai stories in the future?
I keep thinking about it, but we are all in such a bad situation right now, it's all I can do just to keep my online comic going. Maybe if things settle down and become less desperate.

Post: So do you have any additional comments, concerns, or thoughts for us?
I am really worried about the future of all the brilliant Kamishibai works out there. Art is useless...worse than useless...if nobody can see it. Currently, as you may have noticed, the Internet is changing, and the biggest change is the loss of the advertising money that paid for all of us to enjoy a 'free' Internet. Mostly it is hurting the really big sites, and many are shutting down, or switching over to a subscription model just to survive...Otakuworld had to do that, and it sucks, but..the alternative is to just pull the plug. Problem is that even this may not work, and that means Otakuworld does forever.

Now we have always encouraged people to put up their own Kamishibai distribution sites...this makes sense, because if Otakuworld dies, then at least some Kamishibai will still survive, somewhere, out there, where people can see them. Or so I had hoped. Unfortunately, we have inside information....all the free hosting sites are also hit hard, since they depend on advertising too, and so that means that they are all going to be gone by the end of 2002 or so...Geocities, Spree, even Yahoo...they are all going under, fast. Oh, they deny it on the surface, but we are part of the industry, so we know the stuff they don't want the pubic...and the investors...to know. Stuff, nonetheless, I am telling you, because I don't care about their investors, I care about the art.

So, this is a head's up, folks....if you can find a way to band together, create sites that you pay for yourself, not 'free' sites, you had better get busy, so you can save the wonderful artwork, fan work, and all the great anime stuff you have. Otakuworld is teetering on the brink, and all of you on so called 'free hosting' sites are all facing the loss of...well everything. I hope Otakuworld survives...it is the biggest anime content site in the world, after all, but it may not. I really hope that somebody with more money than we have, or a whole bunch of people with a little money pooled together, can save all this stuff, somewhere, somehow, before it all goes away.

If you do, somehow, then let us know. If we do have to kill Otakuworld, we are willing to give all of our content to anyone who can prove that they can keep this stuff alive (and who truly cares about the material itself), now that advertising is gone. If you find a better way than subscriptions, or more soon-to-be-dead 'free' sites, let us know.

For the rest of you, all I can say is that as long as we can continue to exist, we will keep your work alive, even after you lose you free web sites. If everything goes to hell, though, which is very, very likely, I want to thank all of the brilliant artists who created such wonderful Kamishibai stories. I am very honored that, even if only for a short time, the program I designed and Stephen programmed, mattered to you, and allowed you to be creative. I hope something of it all survives.

Thank you for your time Jennifer.





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