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A History Of Rose Madder Part 2: Rising Stars Of Manga


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

A History of Rose Madder, Part 1: A Love-Gone-Wrong-Song

Rose2 color

1) New York City-The Present
a) Open on the white, wintery sky. We hear “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vendellas. Pan down to reveal the city in snowy splendor.
b) More of the city. Visible holiday decorations and displays. End on the apartment window of Rose Madder. The alarm clock is buzzing. 1) Rose is a woman in her mid-twenties; out of school, overeducated, unemployed and somewhat adrift.
c) Inside her bedroom. Rose is face down on the bed, asleep. Rose’s calico cat Sienna (short for “Burnt Sienna”) sits on her back, licking the back of her neck. He’s hungry. Drowsy, Rose is at once amused, annoyed, and slightly aroused by the action.
d) Rose forces herself awake. Montage of Rose’s morning routine: shuffling around in pajamas, she feeds the cat, pees, takes some medication, smokes a cigarette. Emphasis on the mundaneness of her ritual.
1) We see a little of her apartment. It’s underfurnished, yet cluttered with books, magazines, newspapers. A few storage boxes, as if Rose has just moved in (she hasn’t). Rose is a little slovenly–not a slob, but unconcerned with the idea of “presentability”. A cello in its case sits in one corner of her bedroom. Ashtrays are everywhere.

About ten years ago I began developing what would become Rose Madder. Originally intended as a graphic novel that would never be noticed in the over-steroided world of comics in the ’90s, Rose Madder has, over the decade, morphed into an animation series pitch, a manga-fied short story, and a fictional blog, before it went full circle and back into graphic novel form–all without actually ever being published, more or less (more on that later).

(The above excerpt is from a treatment I wrote for the above-mentioned series pitch, by the way, from around 2002-3.)

Loosely based on some real-life events and people, my initial idea was to come up with an anti-romance, or, as Thomas Dolby once put it, a love-gone-wrong-song. A story about two people who are perfect for each other, which is why they are utterly wrong for each other.  I wanted, in a way, to reinvent the romance comic for the 21st century, but not in that indie comix, navel-gazing “I’m a loser, so why don’t you kill me” style.  I wanted to do something with all the high drama of mainstream entertainment;  clever, but accessable, that might appeal to a smart adolescent or teen who wants to read about relationships. But, because I’m not a sentimental person, filtered throughout with a healthy amount of skepticism and cynicism to keep me from going into a diabetic coma during its creation.

Keep in mind, this was ten years ago, before manga broke big and created that market that was a pipe dream just a few years earlier. Before the the advent of very capable western creators like Bryan Lee O’Malley who hit the ground running with romances like the Scott Pilgrim series, full of youthful energy and humor that I certainly couldn’t match, and wouldn’t dare to compete with. Before webcomics broadened the appeal of different genres to a new generation of readers.  All of this started to happen while I sat on my story and kind of lived with it for a long time before ever committing anything to paper.

And somewhere along the way, as I was meditating over Rose Madder, it began to mutate into something a little weird.

In Part 2, I go manga.

Below: chiibi Rose and Tarpit, from 2005.
RoseTarpit2A RoseTarpit2B
Rose Madder is © 2009 A.L. Baroza

Sit Down Shut Up: “Hurricane Willard”

Hulu put this up a day late, which probably means it’ll be gone in 16 instead of 17 days.  I did the opening “Miracle on a bike” sequence, which actually took about a week to storyboard, given the layers of background kids that had to be drawn.  Funny that a week’s worth of labor ends up being about 15 seconds on the screen.  Personally, I would have allowed the entire sequence a little more time to breathe, but it was the style of the show not to linger on anything.  Besides, throughout my storyboarding career I’ve rarely seen an animated sequence that matched the timing I imagined when boarding same sequence.  Except for maybe once or twice, usually what I’d see in my head never really matched up with the end result.

Also, they didn’t animate that rear view of Miracle as sexily as I would have liked, although I did get a kick out of the “halo” effect, which was not there on the board!

(Edited 10/30 to remove dead Hulu link.)

The Last Vaudevillians

Last month I went to a seminar on animation acting, where it hit me that in the peculiar fraternity I belong to (which includes women–pardon the language), we’re the last inheritors of an aesthetic that has long vanished everywhere else.

This seminar proposed that John Barrymore–along with Charlie Chaplin–was something of an acting standard to strive for.  I’d never really thought about animation acting in that way before, that it’s an artform that relies on techniques established in the first third of the twentieth century.  Techniques that, if a live-action actor were to use them, would seem extremely stylized and somewhat hammy by audiences today (even in comedy).  It’s as if method acting never existed!

(This is not a knock on my industry, or of anybody in it, just my take on things.  After all, when the early animators were developing the art, Charlie Chaplin and John Barrymore were contemporaries.)

I mean, I get why animation acting is rooted–you could even say stuck–in the past.  On the surface, it’s kind of silly to think of a cartoon character using the Stanislavsky method.  Cartoons are exaggerations, simplifications of the “real”.  To do “realistic” cartoons fails to utilize the full potential of the medium.  But, regardless of the facts, do I feel like a walking anachronism now?  You betcha.