Jennifer M. Contino
webdate: 10/16/00 10:01:20 AM
Article reprinted and posted with the kind permission
author Jennifer M. Contino and Fandom.com
year, Tommy Yune made everyone remember why Speed
Racer was so darn cool in his best-selling three-part limited
series, Speed Racer. Now, he's making us remember
why Speed's older brother, Rex is so awesome in Yune's newest
Wildstorm limited series, Racer X. Joining Yune
is an exciting new artist, Jo Chen, whose work he discovered while
surfing the web.
was born and raised in Asia, so comics have always been a big
part of her life. "You can't help being exposed to comics," Chen
begins. "There are also many types of comics available for people
of all ages and both sexes. Comics in Asia are not a 'boy' thing
as it seems to be in the West. And, so, as a kid, I read a lot
of them and my sister, Christina, inspired me to begin drawing.
Another thing that sparked our imaginations was the fact that
most animated cartoons were derived from the manga we read."
I don't just like manga because of the art," Chen continues. "It's
also about great stories. You really have to have the desire to
be a storyteller to be a comic book artist. The desire to draw
cartoons or superheroes isn't enough. In fact, the skill to draw
is almost secondary. You must first want to tell stories. Once
I started down that path, there was no looking back. I was hooked."
in manga there isn't the concentration on muscle heads in spandex
attempting to save the world from arch villains," Chen says, commenting
on some of the differences between manga and Western comic books.
"Of course, more recently, Asian comics have seen the explosion
of the 'schoolgirls with magical power' syndrome, but by and large,
manga stories revolve around the lives of ordinary people: office
workers, students without magical powers, gangsters, astronauts,
monks, etc. I guess you can also site the big eyes, small nose
and mouth bit, but most of that was originally derived from old
cartoons from the West and has now become the manga trademark."
most American girls are not exposed to comic books or, even, have
the desire to read much of them, which is not the case in Asia.
"Comics are a big part of any kids life in Asia, and my sister
and I were no exceptions," Chen states. "We spent hours reading
together and then imitating the styles of our favorite artists.
When other kids were playing with dolls, Christina and I were
acting-out our imagination on paper."
continues, "Our favorite artists were Osamu Tezuka, the author
of Kimba the White Lion, Astro Boy, and Black Jack,
to name a few; and Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, the author of Arion,
The Venus Wars, and the character designer for the original
a child, Chen enjoyed reading and drawing manga for many reasons.
She admits, though, that not all comics interested her. "Western
characters like Superman
held very little appeal for us," Chen says. "Naturally, I enjoy
them now, but as a kid, there were just too many cultural differences
inherent in the Western comic book characters for us to identify
with. The characters and situations in Japanese and Chinese comic
books were much more familiar and ones with which we could identify.
As for comics' availability in Taiwan, they were and continue
to be everywhere. Every bookshop, newsstand, 7-11 has them. You
can't swing a dead cat in Asia and not knock over a rack of comic
books for sale."
I was young, I was painfully shy and had great difficulty expressing
myself," Chen continues. "By drawing comics, I realized that I
could put my feelings into my stories which other people would
read, whom I now didn't have to communicate directly with. Not
healthy, I know, but that is how I was then. Eventually, I met
people who shared my love of manga, with whom I could identify
and therefore communicate, and then I came out of my shell. Again,
I have to thank my sister, Christina, who was the trailblazer
in the family where comics were concerned. She battled my parents
at every turn for our rights to follow our dream of one day being
professional comic artists. Dad was with military intelligence
and formally educated and didn't consider illustration a proper
career, as do most Asian parents."
the traditional Chinese point of view, one is either a scientist,
a doctor, an engineer, etc. or you're a low-life with a dismal
future," Chen explains. "That attitude is changing now that Asia
is a more prosperous and affluent region, but it's still quite
difficult to convince Asian parents otherwise. So, I really give
my sister much credit. So much of Chinese history is filled with
war, poverty, illiteracy, it is understandable that parents urge
their children in a solid direction regarding their careers. But
here in the West, comics seem more legitimate as a part of the
entertainment/publishing industry and my parents have learned
to accept this about us. Comic book artists in the West are certainly
paid much better than their counterparts in Taiwan and China.
We are also treated with more respect. I assume Korea is the same
way (like Taiwan). Japan, however, seems to be different in this
regard for some reason. Maybe this has to do with the post-WWII
Western influence in Japanese pop culture. I don't really know
sister finally bullied my parents into allowing us to attend Fu-Hsin
Trade & Arts School in Taipei,” Chen says. “We studied there
for three years during what would have been my years in high school
here in the U.S. There, we studied fine art, computer graphics,
printing, etc., nothing about comics, though. In fact, I was caught
many times by my instructors drawing and reading comics during
class. During this period, some friends and I formed a comics
syndicate, or doujinshi, to create underground comic books which
we self-published; the first of which we published during junior
high school. It's interesting to note that many of our group went
on to become professional comic book artists or involved in the
industry in some way. One became an art teacher and another immigrated
to the U.S. and works in 3-D digital animation in Hollywood and
maintains an underground website."
Go Go Go Girl
of us grew up watching Speed Racer on TV or at least knowing
who the characters were. Chen didn't have that opportunity. "Speed
Racer/Mach Go Go Go was never broadcast originally in Taiwan
as it was in the West in the 1960s and 1970s. For some reason,
programmers in Taiwan must have thought it wouldn't appeal to
Chinese children as did Triton of the Sea, Tranzor Z and
Candy Candy which were all huge hits on television when
I was young,” Chen says. “In fact, not till the Cartoon Network
opened its franchise in Taiwan did, Taiwanese first seeSpeed
Racer. By then, I had immigrated to the U.S. with my family.
My husband, Andy, introduced Speed Racer to me."
continues, "It is one of his favorites and he knows Peter Fernandez
quite well, who produced, wrote and voiced the English version
of Speed in 1967. So, it was almost a bizarre coincidence
that when Wildstorm contacted me after stumbling across my website,
it was with the intent of offering me the Racer X
series. Andy was more excited than I was. But I knew that this
would be good for me as despite the recent popularity of Pokémon
Moon, Speed Racer continues to be consistently
the most popular anime in the West for the past 35 years."
didn't get it at first," Chen admits. "But I have learned to like
it. The classic series have a special goofy charm to them and
I guess that is why Speed Racer, Kimba the White Lion, Gigantor,
Astro Boy, Prince Planet, etc. are still popular and still
being released on video and being broadcast decades after they
the Web to Wildstorm
1999, I published a two-volume shojo manga, or girls comic, entitled
The Other Side of the Mirror with Tong Li Publishing
in Taiwan," Chen says. "It sold very well and I think it won some
sort of award recently. It sold in Hong Kong, China and was recently
translated in Korean for the Korean market. I've also published
quite a few short stories for various publishers in Taiwan. I
translated/tailored my short story, "Safari Stu,"
into English for my website where you can read it as an on-line
comic. That one goes back to 1995. The Racer X series,
of course, is my first U.S. comic book; my first in English."
if you check out Chen's website http://www.jo-chen.com
, you will be able to really understand how Tommy Yune became
so taken with the young artist. "Tommy was surfing the web searching
for a manga artist who was capable of rendering a story of machines
and romance, when he happened across my website, which I had designed
and built the year before," Chen begins. "He left a message in
my guest book for me to contact him if I was interested in doing
some work for Wildstorm. We arranged a meeting in Los Angeles
some months afterwards, and it went forward from there. Of course,
since there were no mechanical drawings posted on my site, he
was taking a chance with the hope that I had the skill to draw
cars as well as people. I did some sample drawings of the main
characters' cars from some sketches he had sent to me, and that
got me the job. I was very happy that they thought my work good
already had a career going full steam as a manga artist in Asia
when I met Tommy," Chen continues. "In fact, when he contacted
me, I was in the middle of finishing The Other Side of The
Mirror and a couple of short stories. I think that must
have given Tommy some measure of confidence that I was up to the
challenge of producing Racer X. I'm glad he had
confidence in me because I didn't have it in myself. Drawing racing
cars was something completely new and I didn't know that I could
pull it off convincingly. That first issue took me forever because
not only am I a perfectionist, but I wanted to do a great job
on my first U.S. publication. As a result, I finished the first
issue well past my deadline. But the folks at Wildstorm were cool
about it and Tommy kept encouraging me, telling me that all new
artists go through the same thing."
is a smart guy and a real Speed Racer fan, too," Chen says.
"So, I'm sure he understood the importance of retaining the original
elements in the anime that made the original series so popular,
while putting a little 1990s style grit and realism into visuals.
It's not an easy feat to update a classic pop culture icon and
still have it appeal to both old and new fans alike. What would
happen if Disney decided to give Mickey a Y2K makeover and give
him fleas and make him rabid? After all, that's what real rats
and mice are often like. Dangerous ground. But like I said, Tommy
did a great job with it. The fans ate it up."
Marks The Spot
was intrigued when she heard what Yune had in mind for Rex Racer.
"First and foremost, Tommy wanted a romantic story between an
arrogant but troubled car racer and a princess who has no time
for love, occupied by the duties of her small island nation,"
Chen says. "Since the manga I had just completed was an involved
love story, I guess he thought I was right for the job and I'm
happy that he thought so."
I finally met Tommy along with Wildstorm V.P., John Nee," Chen
continues. "I was determined to accept the job as I knew that
it would be good for me. Honestly, I didn't know if Western readers
would accept my style. Of course I knew that anime and manga had
become quite popular in the West, but still, I was unsure if my
work would appeal to anybody. Tommy and John were very nice and
encouraging and I was happy with what they had to say about the
story that I was to illustrate and about working with Wildstorm
thought long and hard before she began drawing Racer X.
"I felt it was important to find a balance between the expectations
of fans and my style, which tends to be very different from what
I've done in Racer X. Pops had to look like Pops
and Racer X's mask had to look like Racer X's mask," Chen says.
"Attempts by various producers to change Speed Racer and Team
Go over the years have failed. Look at Fred Wolf Films' Americanized
animated update of Speed Racer in the early 1990s. The
characters were barely recognizable and they changed the famous
theme song from the original series. Fans reacted badly and the
series tanked immediately. I haven't seen any episodes of Tatsunoko's
latest incarnation of Speed Racer made in the 1997, called
Speed Y2K here in the West. But neither has anybody else.
My guess is that once again, the series deviated too far from
what fans expect and will accept. The clear lesson here: don't
mess with Speed and the monkey."
drawing the story of Rex Racer and how he becomes Racer X," Chen
states. "I wanted readers to see him as a real person and not
as a super hero. Tommy penned the story, but it was my job to
convey Rex/Racer X visually as a sympathetic character and not
as the mysterious, man-behind-the-mask he appears to be in the
the original manga and anime, we are not privy to the detailed
origins of Racer X," Chen continues. "Of course, we see Rex running
away from home after disobeying Pops and entering a race in which
he wrecks Pop's experimental car, but we never really know how
Rex becomes Racer X. I think Tommy, who wrote the story, did a
good job of combining some disconnected pieces of the original
series to form a good narrative. It certainly clears up the mystery
of Racer X's connection with Kabala of Kapetapek from 'The Fire
Race' episode in the anime. When I drew the characters, I followed
the characters as I saw them in episodes of the old anime series,
which I think were well realized by the animators using Tatsuo
Yoshida's original manga."
first part of Racer X is already in stores now.
It's hard to believe, after seeing the finished product, that
Chen had doubts about her artwork fitting in on this series or
that she ever worried about rendering the cars. "The cars themselves
were the most difficult part about drawing Racer X,"
Chen admits. "This was something completely different from anything
I had ever had to draw before. It worried me sick that people
who understood cars would criticize work as we were attempting
to go for some degree of realism. I had never drawn anything like
this before. However, a good comic book artist must be able to
draw everything and draw it well. I had help from Tommy throughout
this process who sent me photos of cars' engines, the undercarriages,
etc. I really wanted to do it well. I did my best. Hope it passes
favorite parts to draw and ink are the scenes at the end of the
third issue, which I don't want to spoil (he-he-he). But also I
was really challenged by the hijacking scene in the first issue,"
Chen says. "It drove me crazy to draw all of the people sitting
in their seats in the plane. For all of you diehard Speed
Racer fans, you'll notice that one of the passengers in
coach is Tongue Blaggard, the villain from the 'Light Fingers Clepto'
episode in the old anime. Had to have some diversion."
What's On Sale Now
In Speed Racer
Racer: Mach 5
Speed Racer was a Japanese pioneer on American
television all those years ago. Now he's not just a demon
on wheels - he's a household name! And it's no wonder.
What kid didn't want to be a globetrotting, teenage racecar
driver? The Speed Racer Mach 5 Vehicle will let you race
to your heart’s content! The king of the road has arrived
and it is outfitted with all the incredible gadgets you
always wanted on a car; snap-on saw blades with rotating
blades, snap-on auto jacks with spring loaded shock absorbers,
removable canopy, and a pop-up periscope. But that's not
all, to truly make this the Mach 5; you need an exclusive
Spridle and Chim Chim with their picnic basket!
Racer X series isn't long enough to get into why
he becomes an international spy or agent," Chen says. "In fact,
I don't think that this is explained very well in the original
manga or anime either. Truth be told, I wish there had been one
or two more issues in the Racer X series so that
the events that led him to become an international spy and secret
agent could be explored a little more. Nevertheless, I was more
interested in rendering the relationships between Rex, Kabala
and Sylvana and the respective dynamics. Again, I wish the series
had been longer so that Tommy and I could have explored among
other things the real 'love-hate' relationship between these three
part of the series ends with Rex returning to his homeland," Chen
says. "Let's face it, if you couldn't tell that Clark Kent was
Superman, you need your eyes examined. I realized something funny
while watching some episodes of the old series: Racer X's uniform
was monogrammed with a giant letter 'M' for Mifune, Speed's Japanese
family name. No better way to disguise yourself than by putting
your family initials on your chest in 18-inch red letters. Even
Speed suspected Racer X's true identity by the end of the series
and got socked in the stomach for being nosy."
going to take some down time after she's done with Racer
X. "I'm taking a short break to catch my breath, and then
I'm going to produce a couple of short stories that I've had on
my plate for a long time, now," Chen says. "Sorry if I'm being
so tight-lipped about this, but I wouldn't know how to describe
it properly in the first place. So, I'll leave it at that."
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