Enjoy this interview with two Manga artists, Chihiro Howe and Alisa Caves, who met as friends, eventually becoming employed at Imagination International Inc. where they make the iii Acadamy, a adventure-filled manga that teaches its readers how to draw and create manga.
How did you both come to be working at Imagination International Inc. (iii), the distributor of Copic markers in North America?
Both: We had a common dream of becoming a mangaka since we were in middle school. When we reunited as adults, we wanted to work together and decided to pursue our dream. We figured to become a mangaka here in the US the easiest way was to self-publish. When we learned that Imagination International Inc., was in Eugene Oregon, we went to ask if they offered sponsorship for aspiring artists like us. We found out then that they were interested in starting a manga department, and liked our idea about creating an educational manga. I guess we were at the right place at the right time. :)
What was the inspiration for your iii Academy manga and when did you begin to create it?
Both: We started creating the series the day we got hired, back in 2014. Since it was going to be an educational manga, we decided to incorporate themes that we both liked to keep it interesting. We’ve always loved fantasy and thought it would be perfect if the series were set in the school setting. But instead of a lecture format, we thought it might be more fun and interactive if it was an actual story and the readers could learn with the characters. So we made Ivy and Ian attending a fictional Academy (the name which we derived from the company name) to learn about art, with plenty of back stories.
What role does each of you play in its creation?
Chihiro: We both come up with the story together, and I make the Name (plan of the page layout & dialogues), sketch out the pages (like panels, backgrounds, and the characters), images of the characters used in different places, and I also do the cover pages.
Alisa: Recently we got a new manga assistant (Melody) to do the inking, so I mainly work on editing the Name, coloring the episodes, scanning, editing and color correcting, and publishing it on our website. I’m pretty much the art editor of this series.
How did you come up with the characters and do you identify with any of them?
Chihiro: I designed Ivy, Iris, and Becky. Ivy is pretty much me when I was younger - loves drawing, shy, don’t know how to deal with people… and we thought a lot of kids are like that; we wanted a character that kids can relate to. As for her cinnamon roll hair, I like the swirly shape, so I decided to add it to her hair.
As for Iris, we wanted an animal character (who doesn’t like animal characters?), and we like owls, so she became an owl… and owls have a symbolism of being wise, so she fit in perfectly as a teacher figure.
Becky is the newest character, and we wanted a character that reflects the “otaku girls” we’ve seen and met… They are passionate and nice, and we wanted to incorporate that into this character. Though Becky is a bit exaggerated.
Alisa: I designed Ian, Headmaster, and Rina. We made Ian as a boy you would meet anywhere, and a character that has the opposite personality as Ivy.
We came up with the idea of the headmaster when we thinking about the school as the setting. We wanted to make him an interesting character, so we tried to incorporate things we thought would make him fun. Then it turned out he looked and acted like the founder of the company, Ken O’Connell. So we named him Headmaster Ken.
With Rina, we wanted to come up with a character that would be friends with the Kirarina fairies. Since fashionable high school girls use Kirarina in Japan, we wanted her to be a popular and stylish girl. I also wanted to design a character with long hair, so I gave her long hair.
As the authors of the iii Academy manga, do you consider yourselves teachers?
Chihiro: Not really, because I’m still learning too, as I go. But if there’s anything I know that other people don’t, I’m happy to pass on the knowledge.
Alisa: No, because I think teaching means you learn something too from the students. By sharing my knowledge I learn new things, so I would like to keep doing that.
In all of your experiences with iii, what have you learned about your audience (both aspiring Mangaka and Copic users in general)?
Chihiro: They are nice, talented people who aspire to be better. They are also enthusiastic and passionate about what they do and like.
Alisa: I felt there are a lot of people in the world who are passionate about art. They are nice, hardworking people who validate me.
In your work, what do you aspire to do for this community?
Chihiro: I want to help people feel happy, support their dreams, and be an encouragement and inspiration to others. If one of my drawings made someone’s day, that would be a great achievement.
Alisa: I was fortunate enough to grow up reading manga, so I want more people to know how great manga is.
How did you meet?
Chihiro: We became friends in middle school. When I first moved to the school, I heard from one of the teachers that there was another half-Japanese girl who just moved from Japan recently too, so I was interested in meeting her. But I was extremely shy and introverted, so I didn’t know how to talk to or approach people. But I always used to sit on my own and draw, and Alisa started to join me. I was excited that there was another Japanese girl who loved to draw (although it probably didn’t show…), and since I didn’t know English too much, it was great to have someone who understood Japanese (and manga!). We became inseparable after that.
Alisa might have a different version of how we met since she was the one who made all the efforts.
Alisa: We met in middle school. It was One year after I moved from Japan, so I didn’t know English too well. When I learned that there was a new girl from Japan, I was determined to become her friend. The hardest challenge was that Chihiro was the shiest girl in school. Every time I talked to her, there was no response, and I felt like I was talking to a rock. (Can’t imagine that from her now... Lol) But what connected us together was our common interest in drawing manga. She was so good at it, so I asked her if she could teach me how to draw manga and that was when we became best friends. :D
What role have Copic markers played in your art?
Chihiro: I use it to color all of my drawings. I love bright, smooth colors, and I’m a lazy artist, so having a tool where I didn’t have to wash every time is awesome.
Before markers, I used to use colored pencils for the same reason. But the only thing was, it didn’t give me the nice smooth color like how paints do. Then when I was in college, Alisa let me use her Copic markers, and I was hooked… that’s pretty much all I use now.
Alisa: I found Copic markers when I was in high school. I felt like I found gold when I first used it. The markers gave me joy when coloring because I saw my crappy outlined work turn into something beautiful. Now if I think back, I believe that it gave me the confidence and motivation in pursuing the art field.
Do you have any other go-to tools that have proven invaluable in your work?
Chihiro: Blue lead pencil. I like to sketch messily (because I change my mind about the drawing midway), so it’s easier for me to use lighter colored lines for the base sketch. That way I can see the black pencil lines when I’m inking.
Alisa: Copic sketchbook and blue lead pencil. I like to use blue pencil for my initial sketches because it’s light and I don’t have to erase the lines when I go over with graphite or ink. It also doesn’t smudge when I’m sketching so I always carry it with me. :) I also like the Copic sketchbook because it allows me to color with copic after I finish my sketches. I don’t like using Copic on plain paper because colors come out dull and it bleeds through the paper like crazy, so I prefer carrying a sketchbook made for the markers.
Where do you find the most inspiration for the art you create?
Chihiro: Depends, but usually from something I like - favorite genre, colors, food, animals, patterns, etc. I also get inspirations from my daily life, like with the 358 color challenge I’m currently doing.
Alisa: I like people watching, so I enjoy going to a cafe and just observe. I create characters from people I find interesting, and it gives me new ideas for my stories. I also like to get inspiration from doing everyday things like watching History shows, walking my dog, and browsing Pinterest.
What is the most important question that young artists should be asking themselves as they make important life decisions about their professional lives?
Chihiro: For me, I think it’ll be “do I really enjoy doing this?”. Because being an artist professionally isn’t easy. If it was me, I wouldn't be up for the challenge unless I truly enjoy it. And being a professional means that’s your job; you make a living out of it, so most likely you will be doing that until you retire. Sure you can change your profession, but in order to make it and be HAPPY, I think it’s important to enjoy what you do.
Alisa: What helped me to become a professional artist was to set my priorities right. I get easily distracted because I like to do a variety of things. But my true passion is art, so I set it as my top priority and did everything (commissions, jobs, education, etc.) to follow that path. So if you can’t set Art as your top priority, maybe it’s a sign that being a professional artist is not for you.
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