July 02, 2010
by: Daniel Briscoe
British Anime guru Helen McCarthy takes some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions.
Some of you may know who Helen McCarthy is. For those of you who don’t, you’re missing out. She’s one of the best people around right now with an academic mind towards anime and manga. She’s a published author and has written such books as The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, 500 Essential Anime Movies, and Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation to name a few. She is one of the easiest people to talk to her and she has a wealth of information to offer to fans of anime and magna both old and new. Her website http://helenmccarthy.org contains a lot more information, including some fascinating material concerning AnimeUK, a magazine she was heavily involved in. Check out her website for the story itself and much more.
I got the opportunity to ask Helen a few questions recently, and wanted to share those with you all.
AMN: First - are you working on any new books? If not, what is the next book project you would like to work on?
Helen: I currently have five book pitches out with publishers, waiting for a decision on whether or not they'll be commissioned. The pitches I've put together are designed to be saleable - they're the most commercial of my ideas. If I could have absolutely anything published - well, I'd love to write about a particular neglected manga genre. In anime, I'd like to do something along the lines of my Tezuka book for a group of his early fans - Ishinomori, Matsumoto, Yokoyama etc. In needlecrafts, I have the next Manga Cross-Stitch project in mind. I've also got some fiction projects.
AMN: You already have an impressive list of books to your credit, and I am curious what your next project might be. With this also, have you ever had someone express interest in writing a book with you, and are you open to collaborations with other people?
Helen: A number of people have asked me if they can co-author a book with me or work for me on a new book. I'm always willing to listen to serious proposals, but it really depends what they can bring to the table. I've worked with some very gifted people, so I have high standards! Also, there's no point my working with someone whose skills and interests are the same as my own - I prefer to get together with someone who can spark off different things in me.
AMN: Now when you say that you wouldn't want to collaborate with someone whose skills and interests are the same as your own, do you mean specifically, or just in general? For instance, would you collaborate on a book with someone who has a love for anime and manga but not necessarily the same individuals or genres that you do? Or are you more interested in collaborative projects that cover completely separate topics from anime and manga?
Helen: I mean that someone who is, or wants to be, exactly the same kind of writer I am and who has nothing new of their own to bring to the table wouldn't be my ideal choice of writing partner. Someone who wants to write about anime or manga but doesn't want to do the same kind of book I've already done would be fine. Someone who has a whole different set of interests and experiences plus enough depth of knowledge and willingness to learn to bring all that to the service of whatever project we work on would be even better.
AMN: You've shown a lot of anime films in London, and they seem to have received positive feedback from the public. What is the next film you plan to show and when? Also, what is the best experience you've had showing anime to the public, and what was the worst?
Helen: The Barbican's fourth anime season closes next month with Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam - Heirs to the Stars. The fifth season opens in September with the Eureka Seven movie. I've never had a bad experience showing anime to the public. The best - that's a tough choice The whole of our 2008 Osamu Tezuka season at the Barbican was amazing. The audience went crazy for Vampire, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house at the end of Rain Boy. I think maybe the strongest reaction I ever had was when I showed Tekkonkinkreet to a group of high school students as part of their film studies course. They were incredibly moved by it, boys and girls alike, and they really related to the ideas and themes in the film.
AMN: How did the anime seasons at the Barbican start? Was it hard to get those going, or were they open to the idea of an anime season at the theatre?
Helen: We'd already worked on a few projects together and the whole Barbican Cinema team was really up for doing anything to widen the audience and spread awareness of the diversity of anime. Everyone there is just so nuts about moving pictures that they're interested in any form of movie - they are the most open and adventurous bunch of people I could wish to run a programme with.
AMN: Another question, based on your panel from A-Kon this past year - Why is it that you seem to hate Haruhi Suzumiya so much? Do you think it represents a problem within the anime industry or fandom, or is it just something that you don't like?
Helen: I don't hate the show or its fans. I just don't think it's the greatest thing ever. I've been around the industry for a while and have seen so many derivative shows hailed as hugely original by people who don't know they're derivative, and that's OK. As long as people enjoy it and get something out of it, I'm happy for them and for anime, which is gaining new fans; but I don't feel any compulsion to gush over things I don't rate highly. I certainly don't think it represents a problem for either the industry or fandom. In a while there'll be a new greatest thing ever and there'll be more new fans, some of whom will stay into anime when their interest in the show fades.
AMN: Playing off that question a bit - what do you think the state of fandom is, and where do you hope to see it go in the future?
Helen: I'm more interested in anime itself than in its fans. I don't know what the state of fandom is, and I'm not particularly interested in fandom per se. I know some academics and writers are working hard on taking the goldfish out of the bowl and poking it to see if it's dead or alive, but reactions to things are not necessarily more important or interesting than the things themselves, except to social anthropologists.
Also, when people say 'the state of fandom" they tend to mean "the state of English-speaking fandom" and I find that very limiting. French fandom, Hispanic fandom in Europe and South America, German fandom, Italian fandom, Scandinavian fandom, Asian fandom outside Japan - these are all big, important areas that make their own contribution both to the state of fandom and to the industry's income. If you consider all those different areas and their different contributions, English-speaking fandom is far from being the whole picture, so any comments I could make would be very limited. I've done some study on Malaysian fandom and of course I know a bit about British fandom, but the state of fandom as a whole? That would take some studying.
A big thanks to Helen for taking time and answering these questions!