Almost a year after Tokyopop suspended its manga publishing program, some of the OEL (Original English Language) projects are starting to see the light of day again. This one, Orange Crows, caught my eye because of the quality of the art and because the creator, James Perry II, had managed to succeed where others have failed: He got the rights to continue his series indefinitely and to post the entire first volume online. Perry is funding the publication of the second volume via Kickstarter, and although he reached his goal of $8,000 yesterday, it's still worth checking out his pitch, which includes a link to a digital version of the first volume.
I asked Perry to tell me about the series, his dealings with Tokyopop, and his plans for the future.
Robot 6: First, give us the elevator pitch: What is Orange Crows about?
James Perry II: Orange Crows is a Teen and older action/adventure title that mixes action, comedy, and a touch of drama as well. I think the appropriate label would probably be shonen if you compare it to manga from Japan.
It's set in a world of witches and warlocks. The witches, of course, can use magic. But the warlocks cannot. They have to rely on tools and weapons to be able to fight. A giant war happened in the past that ravaged the world, and now there are these creatures called Fairies that roam around. They aren't your normal happy go lucky fairies. They are looming dark creatures that devour witches and feed on their magical energy.
The main character Cierra Pensblood breaks one of the major rules of the witch society ... attempting to create her own magic. Cierra tries to follow in her deceased mother's footsteps by attempting to solve the mystery of her unfinished spell. Her unlawful tampering results in a burned down research room and the injury of the Mayor's daughter and Cierra's best friend, Natalie. As punishment, Cierra is exiled into the Wilderness (the name for the uninhabitable parts of the world filled with fairies, other dangerous creatures and bloodthirsty Forsaken) for five years.
She somehow survives these five ruthless years. And now she is faced with her sins. The world around her has changed dramatically. Her old friend Natalie has become someone new and unfamiliar to her. And on top of that, now Cierra herself has obtained a freakish new ability that connects her to the terrifying fairies. If this is discovered, Cierra may not be let off with a mere exile this time ...
Robot 6: How many volumes do you plan it to be in total?
James Perry II: That's a really good question. At first it was planned to be three volumes when Tokyopop was publishing it because that's how the contracts were set up. But now that I have free rein, I will most likely go longer than that. I have a definite beginning and end set for the story in my mind and I've built up the world in a way that leaves enough room left open to fill in the middle with whatever fun and crazy adventures that come to mind. Now, mind you, it won't be as long as titles like Naruto or Bleach. But we'll see how I feel and how fans feel about it as the series progresses.
Robot 6: Why did you decide to go the Kickstarter route?
James Perry II: At first I was really excited to find out that I was able to work on, distribute, and print the book on my own. But then after calming down and thinking about it, I realized that it was going to get real costly really quick. That's when I was casually browsing deviantART and found a link to Kickstarter. After researching it, I realized that this is what I needed. It would give me a chance to get the book out to the fans, with the help of the fans, and I'd be able to give them cool stuff at the same time. I really love how the site lets you speak directly to your fans and work together with them to realize creative projects.
Robot 6: Once the book is printed, how will you distribute it? Will it be available in bookstores, via Amazon, or some other way?
James Perry II: At the time the book is printed, I'll be releasing it through my official website at orangecrows.com. Along with that, I'll also be distributing it through Amazon. I'll be researching other effective ways to distribute the book as well.
Robot 6: How did you come to publish it with Tokyopop? Did you win the Rising Stars contest?
James Perry II: Actually, believe it or not, I didn't. I tried to enter the contest twice during college and never placed. I didn't give up though, and later on I decided that I would take a chance and do a blind mail-in submission. I tried to pretty up the envelope with artwork to help it stand out in the submission stack and prayed for the best. I guess it worked! Around three months passed, and I was contacted by an editor and that's how I got started!
Robot 6: I know a lot of creators have tried to get the rights to their stories back, but only a few have succeeded. What sort of negotiations did you have to go through?
James Perry II: I'm not sure what method other creators went through, but for myself, I just contacted Stu Levy. Since I had never really spoken with him before, I was kind of intimidated at first. But I try to have a "it's better to try and possibly succeed rather than never try at all and get nothing accomplished" attitude. Turns out he was actually a really nice dude. It took some time going back and forth over the details because he was busy with his Pray for Japan film, but we were able to work out a new agreement.
Robot 6: Does Tokyopop still have any rights to your books?
James Perry II: I don't want to go into the nitty gritty due to legal stuff and respect for Mr. Levy. But the long story short is that we share the rights to Orange Crows as a property, and I now have the right to continue working on the book and to distribute and sell it. I've always shared ownership of the characters and world with Tokyopop. The thing that kept Orange Crows in the dark for such a long time was the inability to print and sell it myself. I'm really thankful that I can move forward now without holding back!
Robot 6: How did you first become interested in manga?
James Perry II: Oh boy it's been so long! Let's see ... well I started with American comics. Back then, there were the American color comics and then there were these strange black and white comic books. "These aren't even in color," my young and naive mind thought, "They must not be as good!" Boy was I wrong! Later in my college years I actually took a look closer look at some of them. Yakitate Japan, Battle Angel Alita, Naruto, One piece, Hikaru no go ... Blade of the Immortal! My mind was literally blown away by seeing the creative range of manga and the possibility to tell any kind of story that you want. Manga touched me, entertained me, and it inspired me ... and it made me kick myself for not reading them sooner.
Robot 6: What inspired you to draw this book in this style?
James Perry II: This is an interesting story but I'll try to keep it short. Actually when I first submitted the idea to Tokyopop I had artwork, but it was no where near good enough to hold my own in the competitive market. That's when they paired me with the artist of Vol. 1, Ryo Kawakami. Together Ryo and I worked to create the feel and style of the book. It was a combination of his artist skills and my creative character and costume designs. I would design each character and their look, and he would refine them into his style. There's actually a section in the extras of volume 1 that shows some examples. I also included a glimpse in the Kickstarter video.
During the time working on the book, I learned tricks of the trade from him. How to ink, contruct manga pages from the ground up, tone, and stuff along those lines. After volume 1 was finished, he understandably went his way to pursue his own dreams. I myself have been spending these last few years working diligently and upgrading my artistic skills to a professional level. All of the art you'll see on the Kickstarter site and official Orange Crows website is made by me. You can also see more on my deviantART site. At the same time I upgraded my writing skills as well and constructed the story for Vol. 2 and beyond.
Robot 6: Do you have any future projects in the works that we should know about?
James Perry II: I certainly have other stories that I was developing while Orange Crows was in purgatory, but as of right now my main focus will be finishing Vol. 2. Tokyopop was good to me, but like any publisher there were restrictions and changes that had to be made to the final product. I really look forward to being able to show everyone my full vision for the world of the world of witches and warlocks, and the crazy twists that are ahead. Thanks to fans and friends alike, this is now possible.
At the time of this interview, we are almost at the goal. [Note: Since then, the goal has been reached.] If you love Orange Crows, check out the Kickstarter site and see how you can secure a signed copy of Vol. 2, T-shirts, and more for your pledge. If you are new to Orange Crows, I urge you to check out volume 1 in its entirety on orangecrows.com and see what it's about. The pledge goal I have posted is the minimum amount needed to make this possible. The more we make, the more goes back into Orange Crows and the fans. Even if you see that we've hit the goal by time you check out the page, please don't be shy! Go ahead and place your pledge! Bonus gifts are available for everyone who pledges, and there are still plenty of limited artbooks left and there are even spots available to get your own witch or warlock designed! Thank you greatly for to everyone who check out Orange Crows. And a deep and heart-felt thank you to the fans for encouraging me not to give up over the years!