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Manga on the Web: MegaTokyo
By Alex Brotman
Over the past few years, the amount of people familiar with online comics has drastically increased. Unlike many Japanese-based manga, US comic creators kindly allow everyone to view their comics on the web for free. Many of these comics have gained dedicated followers who fiend over getting as many updated strips as they can get their hands on. Popular comics include Penny-Arcade, PVP, and Real Life, just to name a few.
What the above-mentioned comics are composed of, though, is American-style comic art. Where, then, can the English-speaking manga fans turn for free online comics? Enter MegaTokyo [MT], stage left.
A little over two years ago, MegaTokyo's Fred Gallagher and Rodney Caston established a comic that would eventually develop into what is now arguably the most accomplished web-based American manga. Even the "web-based" title of the former sentence is worthy of being removed: MegaTokyo could be considered the most accomplished of all American manga.
Although the American comic industry is a well-established institution, one thing we lack is Japanese-style manga. The manga craze is booming in America, directly proportionate to the anime craze. Recently, Animefringe was lucky enough to be able to sit down and delve into one of the minds behind MegaTokyo, Fred Gallagher (AKA Piro). Piro shared with us some of his opinions and ideas on life. Animefringe is happy to present the conversation to our readers. Enjoy!
Alex/Animefringe [AF]: On behalf of Animefringe, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. I guess I'll just dive right in! Tell us a little about yourself. Name? Age? Job? Location? Beverage preference?
Piro/MegaTokyo [MT]: Myself? Little to tell, really - lessee... Name: Fred Gallagher aged 33. I'm an Architect (the kind that puts buildings together) and I live in Michigan, big time coffee drinker.
AF: Ahh yes, for those late night projects?
MT: Not really - After as many years as I've been binging on coffee, it really doesn't do anything to keep me awake. Recent beverage kick is hot chocolate with no whipped cream at Starbucks.
AF: What one word best describes the complexity that is...
MT: The Man behind the comic? One word? Hmm... *Piro considers that*... Wistful.
AF: So, are Piro and Largo really the same as Fred and Rodney?
MT: Yes and no. Different aspects of my personality show up in different places in the strip. The boundaries between them and us are vague on purpose. They probably more ideally represent us than most caricatures because they deal more with how people react to them than mimicking how we look or behave. In a lot of ways, they are extensions of our online personalities more than our real ones - if you can really separate the two.
AF: How did you and Largo meet up with each other?
MT: Well, for the longest time, we didn't. We were both on a channel that we both frequented and, like for many people, an IRC channel is like an online home of sorts. Rod basically was Largo on the channel - more annoying than anything ^_^. The L33T speak stuff and bravado statements were high on the annoyance factor. Anyways, he was pretty keen on the Fredart stuff I was doing, and offered to host the site.
AF: If MegaTokyo was an after-school special, what would its message be?
MT: "Choose your friends carefully; they're hard to get rid of."
AF: Aww, poor Largo.
MT: Well, I don't think there is a message any more than, "Hey, life is complicated - don't worry so much about it. We've all got problems - it's OK." It's all about the in between days, not the big things.
AF: And even the in-between days seem to have events such as being stranded in Japan. About how many strips of story did you initially have laid out in the beginning?
MT: One. No, two. Didn't have a story or anything, didn't even have a site. You see, I never intended to do MT. Largo bugged the hell out of me for months that I should do an online comic. I never read online comics before, but he was a big fan of PA (Penny-Arcade.com), PVP (PvPOnline.com), Real Life (RealLifeComics.com), etc. He showed me what people were doing, but as you can see, it's different than what I wanted to do, and I wasn't really interested. I wanted more of a cross between stuff like Nashiyume and PVP. So, basically, to get Largo off my back, I drew up two strips.
AF: How long does it take you to produce the average strip?
MT: 8 hours, plus or minus, which is why I try damn hard to make decent ones. You don't want to waste 8 hours on a 'blah' strip.
AF: Basically that's an extra day of full-time work, without pay...
MT: Yep, three times a week. Add another 8 hours on for the miscellaneous BS and it's 32 hours extra, no doubt. Pfft :)
AF: That's something for fans to think about when they get a little impatient.
MT: Most fans are pretty patient, really. You get a few jerks that like to send me nasty emails, but I'm too sensitive and I react badly to them. I shouldn't, but you can't help it sometimes.
AF: What inspires each strip? Life? Lack of sleep? Feverish nightmares?
MT: Oh, I have ideas about what I want to do. Life and experiences are always an inspiration. The whole setup for MT sorta worked out into something that was far more rich with potential than I ever considered possible. Since Largo and I are SO different...that's where the complications come in - it's what mixes it up.
AF: Conflict always serves as a good story.
MT: Well, stories are funny. I like to think of them as kind of organic. I'm not a big proponent of highly organized stories, because life isn't like that. It bugs me when stories are all wrapped up in a neat bow at the end. Life has its ebbs and flows, stories should too.
AF: What rewards do you get from creating the comic?
MT: The privilege of story-telling to a lot of people, of making characters come alive for people, getting emotive responses, being able to communicate emotions - that's what its all about. You can get into people's souls thru laughter, pain or sadness. It's an odd feeling to be able to do that. And I can draw better now :) Still not where I wanna be, but better than I was.
AF: And your story seems to be coming across to many. How large is the MegaTokyo fan base? Last count I saw was 400,000?
MT: I have no idea. Som'n like that. We did 10 million page views last month, and had...lessee...yea, around 400,000 unique IPs in February. We do around 400 to 500 thousand pageviews a day. I still don't know anyone around here who reads the comic and I've never seen any MT shirts here. I only see the effect if I go to conventions. Even the local anime store people don't really seem to know or care about MT.
AF: Wasn't there an incident with Seraphim and a college classmate of hers recognizing her from the comic?
MT: Hehe. Oh SHE runs into people and has things like that.
AF: So does she run around in wings in real life?
MT: Yes, she does - you just can't see them. And yes, she really is just like you see her in the comic.
AF: What of the historical MegaTokyo events?
MT: The dresser incident did happen, as did the Mammoth Cave incident. I kinda wish my life wasn't so full of rant and comic material ^_^;; There's a little incident with the new washer and dryer that may be a comic in the near future...
AF: What do you think of the other web-comics out there? Many being MT inspired...
MT: That whole MT inspired thing is kinda freaky...but honestly, I LIKE the idea that what we do inspires people to do their own. Here in the states, we tend to be passive consumers - the media has convinced us that the only good entertainment is what we pay for. The nice thing about the net is this - there's plenty of room for webcomics - plenty. People read what they are interested in. If you can make something good, people will come.
AF: What is the strangest fan-mail/art/tribute dedicated to MT you have received or stumbled across?
MT: Oh, we get really insulting ones sometimes. There's this rather perverse one on this guy’s webcomic that I won't mention.
AF: What about the best one?
MT: The Pirogoeth poster. Merekat really wanted to do something with one of my pieces, so I drew up Pirogoeth and worked with her to make that image.
AF: Finally, what would you like to say to your fans? Anything at all:
MT: Well, without our readers - and I hate the term "fans" - We're just guys doing a comic, but you have no idea how grateful we are for everyone who DOES read the comic. I guess we are doing something right - which is a good feeling.
So, there you have it. Just a peek into the complex author/artist behind the popular series MegaTokyo. What have we learned? Not only does Piro share a Lain-style outlook on the existence of the Internet ("They are extensions of our online personalities more than our real ones - if you can really separate the two."), but he also drinks hot chocolate with no whipped cream from Starbucks. What can readers of MegaTokyo expect in the future with the comic? All we can do is tune in three days a week and see the current happenings of our favorite characters in their misadventures throughout Japan.