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Katsuya Terada Interview (SDCC 2013)

An example of Terada's
An example of Terada’s “rakugaki” doodling style, taken from his sketch Tumblr.

Katsuya Terada is a Japanese illustrator and character designer, perhaps best known as the character designer behind Blood: The Last Vampire and also an illustrator for Nintendo Power‘s early issues. He spoke to me at San Diego Comic Con 2013, as he was nominated for the Eisner Award for Best Painter and Multimedia Artist that year and also had a 10 year retrospective of his work .

The interview was done courtesy of Dark Horse Comics, and was conducted at their booth at SDCC.

How does it feel to be nominated for the “Best Painter and Multimedia Artist” Eisner award this year?

Frankly, I’m surprised…just the mere fact that I got nominated for it is an honor. If I don’t win, it doesn’t matter, but the mere fact that I was nominated is enough. [ED note: the winner for that category that year was Juanjo Guarnido, another Dark Horse artist.]

What inspired you to do a darker version of the Monkey King/Journey to the West (Saiyuki) story, and what do bring to it that’s special or different?

Everyone grew up with the tale of Saiyuki; even Osamu Tezuka did his version. When Son Goku is put in a cave…someone who’s been crammed up for years in a mountain is naturally going to tend you towards violence—a natural reaction to that situation. I don’t think that’s really been depicted before.

You have a philosophy of illustration called rakugaki (short illustrations or doodlings wherever you go). How have you developed that philosophy over the years?

It’s an impulsive thing…I’ll take a pencil and think, “that’s a cool thing,” and especially being able to depict things to exist or don’t exist that are or would be three dimensions in a two dimensional way. That excites me, being able to go around and say “I can depict that, I can depict that.”

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Recently a 10 year retrospective of your work was released. How have your thoughts about art changed over the past decade?

I haven’t changed that much…maybe I couldn’t draw as much 10 years ago, perhaps, not because I was a worse artist, but there were things I couldn’t depict then that I can now. I do feel more satisfied with my art now, personally. I want to be able to look at things 10 years from now, 20 years from now, and be able to say to myself, “I’m impressed.” A lot of what I do, especially the rakugaki work, is for my personal entertainment, but I want to be able to draw things that I can show to other as well.

You are perhaps best known in the US as the character designer behind Blood: The Last Vampire. Have you been approached by other anime studios to do other designs, and is that something you’d like to pursue further if given the chance?

I did character designs before and after Blood: The Last Vampire, for games and anime. I don’t think I would gravitate toward doing just character design…ultimately character design is just drawing pictures, and that’s always just part of my work. There’s some work that perhaps you may not have heard about, like for Korean games that you might not be able to access in the US…but it’s just a part of drawing pictures for me.

A Legend of Zelda illustration from Nintendo Power by Terada.
A Legend of Zelda illustration from Nintendo Power by Terada.

You’re also well known for doing illustrations for the older Nintendo Power issues, and they were very impressionistic. What do you see the role of a game illustrator being in a time when video game graphics have become so sophisticated?

It’s still very necessary. Back in the day, due to the limited graphics, you were kind of projecting the characters from the art onto the game…now, the process is just more direct, but it’s the exact same thing in many ways. It’s like in the movies where the graphics are so good that you can’t tell the difference anymore. It’s like the importance of having a movie poster.

What would you give as advice for aspiring artists and illustrators?

When you are young, you have all this ambition, you can’t think you can fail. But when you get older, sometimes all you can see is where you’re lacking, which is kind of unsatisfying. So when you’re young, find out what’s out there, find out what needs to be done, and pursue that.

I got those post-convention blues…

If you are of the geek/otaku persuasion, July is a busy month here in Southern California.  The beginning of the month brings along Anime Expo, the biggest anime convention this side of the pacific, and it is quickly followed by the granddaddy of all cons, San Diego Comic Con.  Each event has their own individual perks and problems, the least of which are the logistics of actually attending.

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Let’s begin with Anime Expo.  As the biggest Anime Con in the US, it easily takes up nearly all the Los Angeles convention center.  From the sales floor, to the (cosplay-filled) lobby, to the jam-packed panels and events, to the gaming area, you would be hard-pressed not to find something to like about the convention.  Even people who’s only anime experience is watching an episode of Sailor Moon 15 years ago, can attend and enjoy a tutorial on origami, take pictures of outrageous costumes, or learn about new video games.  The main issues stem from actually trying to do those things.  If you don’t line up more than an hour before your My Little Pony: Origami is Magic panel, chances are you won’t get in.  And it doesn’t help that the panel is in a room that fits 200 people, while there are nearly 400 people in pony ears waiting in line.  That’s a lot of pissed off Bronies.

However, in a way, that’s a good thing for the growth  of the con.  When different fandoms can share the same space and all attending are able to find something to enjoy, it opens up new experiences and cultures to learn about.  If the big cheeses then say, “Hey, we put the Skullgirls panel in this teeny tiny theater that holds 150, but the turnout was 500… next year we need to put them in one of the bigger spaces,” then that is a win of sorts.  Maybe it will also help them think and examine what the current hot commodity is before room assignments are dished out.  Research, then assign, people.  Also, letting their staffers know when to cut off a line could help too.  It’s a thankless job for those poor red vest workers, having angry fans in blue hair giving them the stink eye, but you would feel the same way after waiting in line 30 minutes, just to find out you can’t get into the panel.

For San Diego, it truly gives you a unique experience like no other, where you can bump elbows with your favorite movie star, get a sketch from your favorite artist, or even catch a sneak peek of the next big thing before it becomes the current big thing.  That is, of course, if you can get in the front door.  Due to its astounding popularity, which grows exponentially each year, it gets more difficult just to enter the hallowed halls of geek Mecca.  Registration for your badge has become such a chore in itself, soon the show runners will need to resort to a Hunger Games style lottery system to determine who can attend. Picture a dystopian future where every fandom must send two representatives into a death battle royale, and the winner’s group will have first privilege to buy badges to that year’s Comic Con.  Just imagine Trekkies versus Bronies, Marvel Zombies versus Johnny DCs, and Anime Otaku versus Twihards all duking it out for the right to stand in a line, to stand in another line, to wait 5 hours for a free t-shirt and then shake Seth Green’s hand.

Once you are inside, you can stare in awe at the elaborate setup of the convention floor.  Many companies spare no expense just so that they can have the biggest and best booth that is able to be seen anywhere from Hall A to Hall H.  Each is planned down to the smallest detail, so to be 100% accurate to whatever pop culture phenomenon they happen to be peddling. Of course, you can’t help but notice all these details and gaze at the decorative arrangements, since you won’t be able to move.  People pack into the San Diego so tightly, it might just be some titan’s plot to create the perfect can of human sardines.  If you wanted to eliminate 90% of the nerd population on earth, this would be good place to start.

Despite all this, once both conventions are over and done with, the realization sets in that you are going to have to wait another year for July to pop back around.  You begin to forget all the bad things and focus on the good stuff.  You think about that great limited edition toy you have been searching for, the one you just happened to find at a corner booth at the end of the show floor, and for a reasonable price.  Or that time you shared an elevator with Neil Gaiman, but you were too terrified to talk to him and tell him what an inspiration he has been to you.  And when you asked  the art director for Stand Alone Complex to sketch a picture of Major Kusanagi for you, and he wrote Happy Birthday over the top just because you mentioned it was your birthday.  These are all experiences that could only happen at a convention, and once it’s over you suddenly feel like something is missing from your life.  Something you had for the briefest of moments, but you didn’t appreciate it at the time, then it was gone.  So you sit and you wait for the next year roll around, wondering who you will meet or what rare trinket you will find.  This waiting, my friends, is what we call the post-convention blues.  And I got it bad right now.