Kichiku Neko’s Avatar

At the Connichi in Kassel I had the pleasure of meeting the two wonderful women who are „Guilt/Pleasure“: the author Kichiku Neko (KN) and the artist TogaQ (TQ). Thanks to a secluded area at the Tokyopop-booth we had the chance to chat a while about their work and „In these Words“, the story that introduced them to their German fans. (Avatars: Copyright Guilt/Pleasure)

The Interview started with Kichiku Neko, because TogaQ had worked until late into the night to get something done. She would arrive a bit later into the conversation.

How did you come up with the name Guilt/Pleasure? Is it something like „guilty pleasure“?

KN: Actually the name comes from Jo (TogaQ). Her name written in Kanji is pronounced „Jo“ in Chinese, and can be read like the word „Guilt“ or „guilty“. She wanted a cool name as an artist and as we met we wanted to mesh our names when we became a team, but „Guilty Pleasure“ had already been taken. „Guilt/Pleasure“ was still open so we took that.

How did „In these Words“ start? It is the first thing your German readers have read by you, so we’ll start with that, although you already have published several other works in the United States.

KN: I write for fun. It is cathartic for me to kill people on the pages. (laughs) When Jo and I met, she had been working in the comic-sector for several years – she did mostly covers and wanted to try something new. She has two children and had to make a living, but she felt a bit empty. She tried to do her first Boys Love-Manga, but she told me she had little time to draft stories for her drawings. After some time she came to me and showed me her drafts and I gave her feedback. She knew what I had written, and „In these Words“ was something she wanted us to do as a graphic novel. We both decided to do the story together: Our goal was to make enough money in sales to go to Italy once a year or do something like that. So we were pretty shocked, how fast people responded to our work and publishers wanted to publish it in a bigger way.

In these Words 01And now it became a full-time job?

KN: Yes! Amazing, isn’t it? It was quite by accident that we can now do something that we love and even get paid for it!

Are you still working in your day-job then?

KN: For almost 11 years I have been a police woman. After that time you get a bit paranoid and you tend to see the worst in people first. I didn’t want that. After all that time I still want to like people and that’s the reason that I backed off the job a bit. But it is thanks to it that I can write the stories that I write.

Ah, so that’s the reason the stories are a bit darker than the usual stuff you get to read as a Yaoi-fan?

KN: Yes, that’s it partly. Jo and I are about 5 years apart in age, but we both started with the Boys Love- and Yaoi-stories that play in school and now we wanted to read something for older women. We felt like we were left out of our most beloved love stories.

Yes, the demographic has changed – the girls who have started with the school-stories and such have now grown into women and want a more mature reading material.

KN: That’s the reason many publishers are now starting to buy our material and material that targets older women. We got big in Japan because our heroes aren’t the big eyed guys that are usually known in the Yaoi genre. Our heroes are tough and look more realistic.

In which countries are you being published now?

KN: Japan, it runs in BeBoy-Magazine. Korea, France, China and Taiwan came after that. In Germany, I was very impressed that Jo Kaps had been reading our doujinshi for quite a time before he contacted us for a contract. I think it is very important that the publisher knows what he/she is going to publish, because even though it started as a hobby, our work is still like our baby. We are picky about the licenses we are giving out.

TogaQ's avatar

TogaQ’s Avatar

TogaQ arrived and was brought up-to-date.

Do you get fanmail from Germany?

KN: Yes, the fans e-mail us. They’re very nice and supportive.

TQ: We even saw some cosplayers here at the Connichi.

What do you think about your work connecting so many people from all over the world?

KN: We started it as a fun project, so we were a bit surprised.

TQ: Well, the stories we create are something we wanted to read, but had never seen before. So we decided to do it ourselves. It is very gratifying to see so many people who love our stories.

How do you manage the time between family, job and conventions like this?

KN: Sometimes I am very tired, but it is still something that I love to do. I’d chug down an energy drink to get it done. It’s a bit like someone who loves video games: Sometimes it is hard to keep your eyes open, but it is still very gratifying in its own way.

TQ: I sometimes wished I had more hours in the day that I could spend with my children, my husband and my work. And there is still something like sleep that I need to fit in there, too. Before we sold our work, we came up with a schedule that helps me to fit everything into the few hours of the day.

KN: Sometimes she works until 4 a.m. then gets up again at 7 a.m. to get her children to school. It’s just something we have to put up with. Sometimes I worry that this way of life will take me down, but I still have so many things to do …

Ah, and you’ll have to finish the story before something happens!

KN: Yes, that’s something Jo came up with: Write me the ending, so in case you get hit by a bus, I know where we’re going with the story. (laughs)

TQ: I just keep my priorities straight. We already have a rough idea where the story is going to and how it will end.

You said, you already know how the story ends?

TQ: Very roughly. But we have no idea how many books there will be. But volume 2 will be out in May.

In preparation I read the doujinshi you sell here at the Connichi – „New York Minute“, „First, do no Harm“ and „One of these Nights“. In all of them, you first tell your story as a manga and after that as a short story. How did you get the idea to mix those two genres?

KN: We wanted to give the reader more information, but there is no time for Jo to turn such a big chunk of information into a manga.

TQ: For those occasions I simply do the illustrations for her novel-parts, e.g. in „In these Words“.

How did your collaboration start?

TQ: I asked her to work with me when I read her stories, because I simply fell in love with her work.

KN: I work with her because of the fun. I certainly don’t see myself as a professional writer. We are both from Taiwan, and I still need an editor because English isn’t my first language. For a good collaboration, I also need a connection to a person – and that’s the reason we work together so well. I don’t have to explain so many things to her, she simply gets me.

TQ: Another thing is that I had to establish my career when I first arrived in America. I knew that I couldn’t do that with something original, and thus had several collaborations with other writers. Most of the time those writers tell you exactly how many panels they want to have on the page. But when I read the story I sometimes have a different vision, e.g. I’d like to do a double page with a picture that has real impact, but those people told me that I needed to do smaller panels. That way I ended up doing covers, because there I had more control over my art.

I am a little control freak. (laughs)

What I love about working with Kichiku is her ability to let go of her story and letting me decide how I want to draw the panels and the pages. We discuss the story and she gives me important feedback, but this way I can be the director, the photographer and everything!

KN: It is my experience that her art is not my expertise. She doesn’t tell me how to do my work and I don’t tell her how to do her art. Other artists dropped parts of my story without telling me beforehand. Working with her, I realized she tells me every decision she makes about the story and the pictures she draws. I can relate to her decisions and understand them.

Which artist or author do you admire?

KN: For me, I haven’t read Boy Love for four or five years I think. The content hasn’t been very interesting for me. Because of my time management I simply don’t watch TV or go to the cinema. I prefer reading the older classics, like „Les MisĂ©rables“ and such. The older works have more meaningful things to say for me. Nowadays I think books are more like „empty calories“ for me.

TQ: My all time favorite is Osamu Tezuka (Black Jack, etc.). He never limited himself in one genre. The second artist is Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, the character designer for the original Gundam-series. He also didn’t do mainstream.

So, you’re more Asian oriented in your favorite artists?

TQ: Yes, those were my childhood reading materials and only later came the other artists and authors from the West. It’s not a popular thing for Asians to read Western literature. Only in the last few years it became a bit more known because of Hollywood, etc.

What are your next projects?

KN: We constantly want to distribute different things that interest us. „The Bride“ is something Twilight Zone-ish, „Father Figure“ is something else entirely. The biggest project will be the second part of „Father Figure“, but we have so many ideas that it is hard to pick just one.

TQ: Yes, we have a lot of different projects and that’s the reason I like working with her. We constantly challenge each other and it never gets boring. She gets me to do things I’ve never done before and the other way round.

KN: „Father Figure“ for example was something that wasn’t planned. Jo has this kink about a father figure and her birthday came up. I wanted to give her a birthday present and told her she could give me a theme and I’d write anything for her. So she came up with an older Uke and a younger Seme and that she’d like an incest-plot. And I just took it up as a challenge. It’s not something that is especially appealing to me. I just wanted to do it as a personal challenge and not publish it. But to be honest, I was crying for hours when I wrote the last two chapters and got much more emotionally involved than had been planned.

To get even with her, I demanded something from her. She told me in the beginning that there were some things she never wanted to draw and one of them was cross-dressing.

TQ: The more masculine a guy is, the more gross that concept is to me.

KN: And then I told her to draw a guy in a wedding dress! (laughs) We always try to gross each other out and then the reader probably sits there, thinking: What the …?!

TQ: (laughs) Yes, we have been very lucky that our readership goes everywhere with us!

In these Words 02_plan

Tokyopop’s planned cover for part 2

TQ: I truly believe that if you have a passion for something, other people will get a hold of that love and like the work, too.

Do you want to tell your German readers something else?

KN: We really appreciate the fact that Tokyopop took an interest in our work. When we arrived here at Kassel, we thought that maybe we could get some work done while sitting at our booth, but we quickly found out that we always had something to do with all the fans visiting us.

TQ: It was a surprise to realize that our work connects so many people all over the world. We became very motivated.

KN: It is different to see all the people standing in line at our booth from getting e-mails. This here is the first convention where we cannot really understand the language. It is very exciting to see our fans learning some lines in English and reciting them to us. So: Thanks for your support!

And thank you for this interview! 🙂