Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Interview with TOMO Contributor Tak Toyoshima

Tak Toyoshima (author/illustrator of the Tomo graphic story “Kazoku”) is the creator/illustrator of the comic strip Secret Asian Man. Since 1999, Secret Asian Man has been tackling issues of race with raw honesty with the goal of bringing people together to work out these issues. Tak speaks at universities about his experiences and the importance of keeping tuned in to mainstream depictions and stereotypes of Asians in America. Raised in New York City, he now lives in Massachusetts. Visit his website:

“Kazoku” follows the story of a Sam, an east coast Japanese-American middle school student the day after the earthquake. Sam is initially oblivious to what has happened. What was your inspiration for this tale?
Tak Toyoshima (right) at age 16 in Japan with father, brother and younger cousin
This story is rooted in my own experience about feeling disconnected with my family in Japan. I've been to Japan several times but have had very little contact beyond those short visits. After the earthquake and tsunami, I felt a deep yearning to reach out to my family in Japan and reconnect with them. My son recently had a class project where we had to send items to family/friends in other countries. It was nice to be able to reach out to cousins I hadn't talked to in over a decade and catch up. 

Do you have relatives in Japan and have you visited recently?

Tak Toyoshima (at left) in Asakusa at age 16
The last time I went to Japan was when I was in high school. Let's just say that was a looong time ago. All of my relatives besides my immediate family (parents and brother) live in Japan. I can't wait to visit with my wife and kids. 

You write the comic strip Secret Asian Man. Can you tell us a bit about the development of that strip and your aims with that? 
SAM started as an outlet for me to get out personal stories from my childhood/young adulthood. Stories about going to Japanese camp every summer, going to shuji (calligraphy) classes every Saturday, taking kendo (sword-fighting martial art), being mistaken for a Chinese kid since I lived in Chinatown in New York City, etc. I didn't really think much about the success of the strip or where I wanted to take it. I just wrote and drew and published whenever I could.

Since it began 12 years ago I've taken the strip from a monthly in an arts magazine to a weekly in alt-weeklies to daily syndication through United Features. I'm always looking for new ways to explore the character as well as new topics. Animation has certainly come up and so has different comic forms like traditional comic book/graphic novel style. Also playing around with a kid's book that explores race from a 8/9 year old POV.

The goal is to serve as a bridging text between groups that don't always understand one another. Dialog is the key to coming to a better understanding of each other. I try to use SAM as a way to open conversation and invite honest debate. 

What is your process when creating a story told through comics? Do you doodle the story first? Do you hear a piece of dialogue and work around that? Do you write out the story and dialogue first then draw? 
I usually start with a specific topic in mind like affirmative action, a pop cultural reference, timely news story or a personal experience. It can vary widely. Sometimes it starts from a single phrase or thought. Drawing always comes last. The point of the strip has to come first, then fleshing it out with context and making the dialogue believable. 

Do you like to read Japanese manga? Do you have favorite manga-ka?
I don't read much actively now but I grew up on Japanese manga so a lot of my favorite artists/creators come from an earlier era. Guys like Akira Toriyama, Tezuka Osamu, Katsuhiro Otomo and, more recently, Hayao Miyazaki. 

Do you have any plans to create a graphic novel?
Absolutely. I have a few different ideas for other SAM books and stories. I definitely want to go back to traditional comic book format and tell a long form story. 

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?
The world is inspired by your bravery and tenacity. Always remember you have people who support you and always make time to take care of yourselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment