EXCLUSIVE: Yoshitaka Amano Reflects on "Final Fantasy," "Hero" & More

When artist Yoshitaka Amano comes to New York Comic Con, he comes full circle: Amano grew up reading American comics and has often cited their influence on his work. New York itself has inspired several of his works, including the comic "Hero" (published by BOOM! Studios in 2006), the anime "Vegetable Fairies: N.Y. Salad" and another work that so far exists only in his head: "Takoman" (Octopus Man), a superhero story about a boy who is half octopus and can use suction cups to climb up the sides of buildings.

Amano is much better known for his work as an artist for Japanese game company Square Enix, where he did the conceptual designs for the first six "Final Fantasy" games; he continued to work on the franchise in a lesser role since. He is the illustrator of Hideyuki Kikuchi's "Vampire Hunter D" novels, and has just completed his own first novel "Deva Zan." Dark Horse Comics will also publish a boxed set of Amano's Final Fantasy artbooks on October 17.

Amano spoke to a packed room of his fans at NYCC during his panel, but CBR had the opportunity to sit down with him for an exclusive one-on-one interview.

CBR News: You have been working for a long time. When you look over your whole body of work, what do you think is the most important thing you have done?

Yoshitaka Amano: It's not actually so much a piece of work I have done that you could name, like Final Fantasy, but the fact that when I look back, I had so much fun drawing as a child -- I would draw pictures and that would bring me such a feeling of elation and jubilation. That's what I look back on, being able to -- for work -- enjoy what I do. The fact that it becomes a constant spring of this happiness that you really only get to feel as a child stands out more than any certain project that I have worked on.

Your work all has a strong fantasy element to it. When you sit down to work, how do you move yourself from the real world into the fantasy world of your characters?

It's not so much drawing fantasy as drawing things that aren't reality. There is no switch that takes me out of reality and fantasy, so there is nothing I can pin myself to, but I constantly have these fantastical images in my head, this non-reality that is swimming around in my head, and I can pour it out whenever it's necessary.

If I draw, for example, the Eiffel Tower, without looking at a picture of the Eiffel Tower or being in front of it, whatever I put on the paper is going to be fantastical, because I am not just projecting what I see in front of it. So there is going to be an element of fantasy born whenever I am not drawing from a still life. So it's pretty much whatever comes to mind whenever it is not in front of me.

Do you ever draw from a live model or make maquettes of scenes, or does it all come from your head?

No. There might be times when that happens, but for the most part everything is from my head.

You recently published your first novel. What was it like being a writer in addition to an artist?

When I draw one picture, it's just a representation of something I are thinking of -- it's not so much I am a story writer, but when you draw 200 pictures of something with the same theme, then a story naturally comes out of it. And that's kind of what happened with this. I didn't sit down and pen a story; it's been a long time coming. There were tens of thousands of drawings, the story emerged from the drawings and I was able to interpret the story from that.

With "Final Fantasy," there were certain things they needed from me, maybe it's a certain type of look or a character or whatever, but with this I was able to freely express myself and see what comes out of me as a person, and maybe a Japanese person, is more reflective of Eastern tastes.

You have fans all over the world. How does this affect your work, knowing that it will be seen in different cultures?

I never think about it. I draw, but I don't draw reflective of what fans might [think].

In the last few years, it doesn't matter if you are in Hong Kong, or Brazil, or wherever you might be, there aren't many walls, especially for what we are involved in -- comics, games, movies. There are no more cultural walls or borders, for the most part. It's kind of a good thing, because you can draw without trying to think, "What are American fans thinking? What are French fans thinking?" and knowing that people everywhere are going to be able to enjoy it, and that a person in Brazil can enjoy something from Hong Kong. It's more unifying than it probably was in the past.

If you could do any project, illustration or drawing, what would it be? What is the thing you most want to do?

I would really like to go to the onsen [hot springs resort]. I just want to relax a bit.

What projects are you working on now, and what can we expect to see from you in the near future? And where is Takoman?

I have an exhibit in Hong Kong next month, so I am working on that. It's called "Candy Girls." I've been doing that at the Deva Loka Studios.

Regarding Takoman...[Laughs] The agreement was that [Dark Horse president] Mike Richardson was going to write it. However, it's been five years since we talked about that. I really want to do it, but I have been waiting on Mr. Richardson. It takes place in New York, and Mr. Richardson really likes New York...

Have you lived in New York?

I have come back and forth. It's kind of like a second home, but there was always a lot of inspiration here. Takoman was one, you know, sticking to the buildings; "Hero" is something else that welled up here.

What is your favorite place here?

I really want to walk around the galleries in Chelsea more than anything else right now. And the High Line.

Michael Gombos of Dark Horse Comics served as translator for this interview.

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