Camilla d’Errico, whose manga- and fine-art-influenced creations have long been a darling of the indie comics scene, announced recently that BOOM! Studios is collecting her classic literature-infused epic “Tanpopo,” beginning in March. The series, developed with sister AdaPia d’Errico, was previously self-published for convention and online sales and has also been serialized online at MTV Geek. The first BOOM! hardcover features the first three issues plus a never-before-seen installment. “Tanpopo” stars a girl who awakens attached to a mysterious machine, a girl who seems to have no emotions; she is quickly met by someone offering to rectify that situation. The text of “Tanpopo” is culled from literature, notably in the first volume Goethe’s “Faust” (which also supplies the overall series backbone) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
Comic Book Resources spoke with d’Errico about building the world of “Tanpopo,” selecting from the literary canon, bringing the book to BOOM!, and what to expect from the series in the future.
“‘Tanpopo’ is a story about emotions. The story concept and arc is based on Goethe’s ‘Faust,’ an opera and novel written in the 1800s. It’s a journey into exploring what emotions are, how we experience them and how they shape us,” d’Errico said. “Tanpopo is an emotionless girl who thinks she has no soul. We don’t know her origins. We don’t know why she is attached to this machine of knowledge. When something inside of her causes her heart to stir, and a desire for experiencing emotion, she is freed from the machine by Kuro, a poodle, who is actually the devil in disguise. He promises to teach her about emotion, but his price is her soul. She doesn’t realize this, as she is quite naÃ¯ve despite her immense store of knowledge, and so off they go. What follows is Tanpopo’s discovery of what it means to be human, with Kuro creating situations to elicit those emotions.”
With a series that applies classic literature to an original story, one might wonder which piece is the chicken and which the egg — does the plot or arc come first, with d’Errico then looking for a story or poem to get her there? Or does she have the literary work in mind and let that take Tanpopo where it will? d’Errico told CBR News the answer is a bit of both. “‘Tanpopo’ is a mash-up. The overall arc is predetermined (i.e., order of emotions) and then from there it’s a mix of existing literature I wanted to use, and new literature that fits with what’s happened so far,” the artist said. “When we decided to expand it into a series (originally it was just a 20-page book) we knew the literature available was so vast. But I love ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and it was the perfect fit! We plotted out how we wanted the emotions to be experienced — i.e. the order they would be experienced. From there, we look for literature that has those themes. I love literature and read a lot of it, so I already knew some stories that I wanted to use. We also decided to try to use international literature too. That’s more difficult because unless you already know about certain writers, poetry, etc. it’s quite the adventure to read and try to figure out if it will work.
“In some cases, like ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ or Mark Twain’s ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ (book 6), I knew I wanted to use those stories, and the rest comes through research. For example, when dealing with Fear, we knew that Poe was perfect! Ironically, we know which piece we want to close the series with but it’s a secret for now.”
While Poe may be a perfect fit for Fear, the sheer breadth of literature available does, as d’Errico said, present an abundance of choice. And with existing chapters showing influences as diverse as Goethe and Coleridge, it’s clear “Tanpopo” will draw as broadly as possible. “We choose the stories based on their content: is the theme, mood similar to the emotion we want to convey? Is the text usable? For example does it have a lot of dialogue, interesting lines that we can use as the characters’ dialogue or the narrator’s voice. Is the setting something we want to place the characters in? Are there extra elements that we can use?” d’Errico explained. “For example the Imp of Darkness in ‘Tanpopo’ #3. When we start reading the literature we look for all these things and try to imagine how they all fit within the particular story of that chapter. We also need the text to conform to the way the story is evolving. And as we move forward it gets more ‘difficult’ because so much of the story has already been written and if possible, the next stories could have some kind of reference to what’s happened before. Funnily enough, these elements appear, as if by serendipity, and gives the overall story some continuity. It’s almost magical!”
In “Tanpopo,” it’s not only the text that is poetic, but a lyrical nature to d’Errico’s art as well — she gives images a lot of space, and progression from panel to panel is more freeform than is usually the case in comics. “I draw with little to no backgrounds. I like mixing the text with the images, making it part of the imagery as much as possible. The entire experience has to be subtle, as though by looking at the page and taking in words and images, the story is conveyed through the emotions that the reader will feel,” d’Errico told CBR News. “There are schools that use ‘Tanpopo’ to teach literature (we have teacher’s guides, too) and a major comment had been, ‘there is no standard story structure here’ — and for teachers and students this can be difficult because teaching is so linear and rule based. But the reactions from students have been amazing. They embrace it and do understand it, and are inspired by it. I love the freedom I have with ‘Tanpopo,’ because it isn’t meant to be a ‘comic,’ it isn’t an illustrated poem. It’s my homage to literature the only way I know how to do it: by making it into art.”
d’Errico previously self-published the “Tanpopo” comics, and also offered them online at MTV Geek. But at this point in the series’ life, she said, it was time to team up with a major print publisher. “We’ve been self-publishing the individual books since 2008 and it’s been fun and very rewarding. We knew the guys at BOOM!, and had been trying to find a good publishing/distribution partner for ‘Tanpopo.’ We had busily been building out the story, doing merchandise, and some fun fan activities to build up our fan base. We wanted to work with a publisher who really understood ‘Tanpopo,’ my audience, and my goals with it,” d’Errico said. “Wes Harris at BOOM! is awesome. He is a fan of manga like me, so we could talk for hours about fans, merchandise, and everything that I love. Having that kind of creator-publisher relationship means a lot, and BOOM! has taken ‘Tanpopo’ as more than just another title in their library. They are behind it all the way, really pouring their own hearts into it. Working with the whole team has been a great experience.”
In addition to partnering with BOOM! Studios, d’Errico drummed up additional support for the hardcover edition of “Tanpopo” with a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, exceeding her $10,000 goal by 50%. “The Kickstarter campaign was awesome. It was a great experience and I learned a lot from it,” d’Errico said. “There were no surprises, I’d say, just a lot of work, lol!! And more to come because now I have lots of sketching, drawing and signing to do. I plan on doing more fan funded projects very soon. I love that I can connect with my fans and audience this way. I want them to be a part of everything!”
With the first volume of “Tanpopo” set for release in March, d’Errico said she will continue to serialize single issues online, culminating in a total of four hardcover collections from BOOM!. “‘Tanpopo’ is a 10-issue story that covers the major emotions. I’m working on #4, 5 and 6 right now, and you can expect to see those on MTV Geek! later this year. At each 3-book collection we’ll publish a hardcover book, with extra story and material,” the artist said. “I won’t be physically printing individual issues, but they will be available on Amazon for those hard core collectors who want the individual issues with covers. And since I’m an Otaku too, it only makes sense for me to give everyone that option! Besides, I want to make more cover images!”
d’Errico’s enthusiasm for “Tanpopo” is clear from her careful combination of classic literature with original story and art, and the hardcover editions from BOOM! represent the latest step in creating a lasting work of art. However, d’Errico said her plans for the series don’t stop there. “‘Tanpopo’ is my passion project. It started as a little 20-page book. I printed 100 copies that I signed and numbered. And now — it’s a series, it has a graphic novel series, it’s on MTV Geek! There is merchandise, a vinyl toy — it has gone beyond my imagination,” she said. “But it doesn’t end there: we are working on something really, really amazing, and it involves animation! You heard it here first!”
The first “Tanpopo” HC from BOOM! arrives in March.