Dean Talks Anime:
Adam Warren and the Rise of Amerimanga
An opinion by Christopher Kinsey
In 1985 a young man attended the famous Joe Kubert School of ye olde comic bookery. Disillusioned with the art styles he was being taught, he was on the brink of giving up and trying another career. However, over Christmas break he stumbled upon some anime enthusiasts with copies of Dirty Pair and Urusei Yatsura which made him gather his resolve and finish with a degree. In 1988 the artist was now hungry for work, and threw his lot in with Studio Proteus to produce an American original comic based on Dirty Pair, Biohazards. That man was Adam Warren, and for good or ill he’s a pioneer in introducing the manga style of comic art to the USA.
I was introduced around 1996 when Dirty Pair: Fatal but Not Serious was procured from an Another Universe store. Two hyper violent ladies in the future is the perfect way to get a 15 year old to throw down some pocket money. The contents were that much sweeter, showing me a great interpretation of the millions of “Mega-Tokyos” and other dystopian jumbled messes inspired by cyberpunk. Add to that some pretty cutting dialog and a scathing commentary on fandoms being as the setting is a convention for fans of the Dirty Pair themselves. I brought that thing with me everywhere a looming trip was upon me, from long visits to relatives to Scout outings. At the time I had never seen the source material, but it certainly was a bridge to at least make the attempt.
Over the years I found more of his Dirty Pair material. His early work from the 80s and the periodic stuff that came out through Dark Horse and the eventual Dirty Pair: Run from the Future. It all captured the spirit of the original and then turned that dial to eleven. Reading the series you could just see his style improve and his storytelling and characterization become that much more entertaining. And it wasn’t just for the Dirty Pair series. He did some one-shots for the big comic houses like Titans: Scissors, Paper, Stone and did his own take on Bubblegum Crisis that had Kenichi Sonoda (The character designer for the series and the manga artist for the Gunsmith Cats series) sending him a bit of fan mail.
On the side he was prolific in doing various art for video game magazines, alternate comic covers, trading card art and the odd side story work for various companies leading to his largest mainstream comic role, writer for Wildstorm’s Gen 13. He turned that comic around, relighting a fire in it not seen since it was created and then the line was cancelled, destined to be rebooted. Pretty much left floating around, he had a small run with Marvel comics Livewires. It was a six issue mini-series dealing with a group of next level real life decoys for SHIELD that gained souls and got free, something to that effect. It wasn’t his best work and it showed because for a long time Adam Warren wasn’t seen much of in the comics biz.
It was here Adam’s art started losing two things, the hyper detailed set pieces that filled his works and the definition of noses on characters faces. He was fueled by convention appearances and commissions. Living like that does something to a body, you get depressed and bite the bullet because it’s the only way to keep your rent paid or you embrace the fandom and feed upon them for strength. It was kind of like saving or harvesting little sisters in Bioshock. Well after harvesting for all his worth, Adam came out a victim of the very things he warned against in the very work that drew me to his works. Adam con ratted his way back into comics by taking a series of commissions that catered to a very specific kink then gave it a treatment.
That treatment was Empowered. Other folks at A3K have talked about it, and they’re right to an extent. Our neurotic super heroine drifts between bouts of humiliation, depression and sex jokes. In the first few volumes it seems there is something more to it. I can see the idea of explaining how a heavily super powered world would work. It was interesting to see them work in some office politics with superheroism, but it was done much better in Alan Moore’s Top Ten and Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. And then there are the aforementioned artwork failures. Gone are the hyper detailed set pieces seen throughout the Dirty Pair series, replaced with some rather bland “Normal” settings. Sometimes those set pieces show up when the story demands it, but there is a lot of time stuck in small stores, regular city streets and worst of all: the shabby apartment. Then there is the terminal loss of noses. Not saying that anime style defines noses well, but pre Livewires there was at least the old anime tricks of a line or two, there was definition in color. Here they look like fish to an extent. It’s distracting on what has been called “Sexy Superheroine Adventures”. Adventure is rare, and sexy gets weird fast due to personal issues of the cast. I will concede there are superheroineoics.
I long for a return to the old days, of Adam Warren either making another fresh take on an established property in his style or perhaps even serving as writer. In an interview with about.com he states “Drawing Dirty Pair now would be like drawing Empowered, but hampered by the distinct drawbacks of less money and less control; not a terribly appealing concept, alas. (Tough for me to concoct five words in a row that would appeal to me less than “Empowered, but with less money.”)”. That’s what it boils down to; Empowered is doing really well and is championed by legions of internet fans. People rose up and just wanted to see a comic filled with cheesecake and pathos. And it’s unfortunate because Adam Warren had more than a small part to play in the opening of the American market not just to anime and manga works, but the manga style of art in general for any up and coming artists who draw in that style. Our desire for ever larger breasts got in the way of greatness.
Dean The Adequate hopes that there is a magical dream library full of works that were never made by the creators. Way in the back past additional stories of Yeats and Shakespeare is the small but humble graphic novel section. Within are such treasures as Tezuka’s Phoenix completed, Miyazaki’s Nausicaa manga completed without a need to make an anime studio, and twenty volumes of Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair. Unfortunately I don’t remember my dreams.