The series is a coming-of-age story of people in their early twenties, that
twilight zone between the teen years and adulthood. It’s a time where hard
decisions are made and responsibilities are shouldered…whether you’re
ready or not. It’s about the bubble of carefree, teenage self-absorption
suddenly bursting and coming to terms with harsh reality and the closing of
windows of opportunities. It’s a teen drama about the end of the teen
drama. As such, it will appeal to older teens and young adults, and may be
of special interest to readers who have been following shoujo manga over the years and are looking for stories reflecting their more mature interests and concerns. Although, as the characters’ last gasp of teen emotions and experiences, the stories will have plenty of snarky, fun attitude contrasting with and complementing the emotional drama.
-Unreleased 2005 graphic novel pitch
In 2003 I heard about TOKYOPOP’s Rising Stars Of Manga contest. I confess I’m not the most likely candidate to have entered. After all, I’m more than a little older than the generation who embraced the work of Japanese cartoonists. I solidly grew up on mainstream American comics and, as an adult, branched out to devour the indie and alternative comix of the ’80s and ’90s. By the time the 2000s began, the alternative boom had pretty much wound down to a trickle, and the mainstream was still reeling from the excesses of the industry in the ’90s. By the time I began working in animation I had already been away from any comics, as a creator or a reader, for a while.
I once went to a seminar for animators on pitching series ideas. Even with The Simpsons, Futurama, and Family Guy being on the air and appealing to audiences of all ages, the conventional wisdom at the time was still that animation was kids’ stuff. I asked, couldn’t there be an animated Sopranos? Meaning, couldn’t there be a series that wasn’t a sitcom, and yet was still created to appeal to more than young’uns?
The answer, with “What, are you crazy or just stupid?” dripping from the voice of the entertainment agent conducting the seminar, was “no”.
So, when I started to notice the growing popularity of manga and anime, I paid attention. It took the Japanese to not only create long-form drama in cartoon form–some genre, some not–but to mainstream it. But it hadn’t quite risen to that level of acceptability in this country.
TOKYOPOP’s success was built on importing shoujo manga, romance stories with fantasy or adventure elements, marketed to female teens. So I knew if I were to enter their Rising Stars contest, I had to make some concessions to the market.
A potential chapter of Rose Madder titled “Ozymandias”, an allegorical parallel to the main story, set in ancient Egypt, was the perfect vehicle for Rising Stars. I could fashion the themes of the larger story as a historical teen romance. In the end, the story I submitted was kind of a hybrid. Though primarily driven by plot, just like the western stuff I was most familiar with, I was also inspired by manga’s emphasis on the silences between moments, to define character, or intensity of emotion. In the end, it’s all cartooning, it’s all comics. The dialects may be different between East and West, but the language is essentially the same.
I don’t know whether I was truly successful at capturing the manga style or not, but my entry made the cut; “Ozymandias” can be found in Rising Stars Of Manga 3.
And so something that was just a potential fantasy chapter in a story that still owed much to slice-of-life indie comix suddenly became a main theme; reincarnation and repetition. A pattern that would repeat from life to life, over time. It was kind of a clarifying decision for me, creatively. I decided to run with the fantasy elements I introduced, and I soon found I had a story timeline that extended into an alternate future.
In the final part: the future of Rose Madder.
Rose Madder is © 2010 A.L. Baroza