Friday, May 23, 2014

Peter in manga

I had the pleasure of meeting Elaine Tipping of Tiny Blue Dragon Studio, creator of the Peter Pan Manga, at Emerald City Comic Con in March. She is a kindred spirit who cares as much for the original story as I do, and I was delighted to find her interpretation of Barrie's book. The tale lends itself beautifully to the manga format.

"It's important to be faithful since the original has so much charm and detail that is either lost or outright changed in other adaptations," says Elaine. "And since no one reads books anymore, the Disney version has become the penultimate version, which is unfortunate, as I don't think there is a less faithful version out there. It also doesn't help that Disney tends to monopolize titles and people tend to think that Disney has actually written Peter Pan, which has lead to a few interesting conversations. Barrie had some messages in his original story that were changed in adaptations, so I want to get to the core of his writing and bring that through.

"There are a few things I changed. I removed all the racism, for one (as much as I could get out) because it doesn't add to the story, in my opinion, and it's not part of his message. He did do what research he could on the natives, but at the time, he didn't get far, and all he really had was like, the Last of the Mohicans, so I'm writing a native tribe that fills the purpose that he wanted, without all the added on ignorance of the time. There are a few other things that got changed, little descriptors that didn't make sense, or were impossible to draw. Barrie writes a lot of inconsistent things too, he'll say one thing, and then contradict it in the next chapter, so there's a lot of balancing going on. Not to mention that Barrie can write surrealism like nobody's business (everyone tends to look at Through the Looking Glass for that style, but I'd argue that Peter Pan is nearly as surreal), but that is also lost in adaptations because it's just so weird in parts."

But her interpretation of the story keeps to Barrie's original message--growing up is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be sad. Being stuck in childhood, unable to fully experience life, is far worse, Elaine and I agree. 

Elaine is also well aware of the perils inherent in adapting Edwardian mores to current times. She put a great deal of thought into her own portrayal of Tiger Lily, which she calls "tricky." "A lot went into her planning. For one, I wanted to avoid the racism, but for two, I also wanted to consider the location of Neverland, which I've always thought to be near the Caribbean, or somewhere in the Atlantic, since they mention the 'mainland,' the mainland being Britain and such. I like to joke that it's in the Bermuda triangle. Anyway, I wanted the natives to be a mix of what a kid might dream up as a native person, but also like they could have had influences from other places off the Neverland. I went with a more South American, Caribbean, island theme to them, to give them real world influences, but also be fictional, since they are unique to the Neverland. So I had to dance a bit of a fine line there, and wanted to avoid being too historically accurate, what with the whole surreal aspect to the whole story."

Maria Tatar's Annotated Peter Pan includes the screenplay Barrie wrote 1989 for a proposed silent film, and Elaine used that for additional clues into Barrie's visualizations. The natives are all much taller than the boys, and therefore older, as opposed to Disney's child Tiger Lily.

Like me, Elaine objects to the usual (again, Disney-driven) depiction of a bumbling Mr. Smee. "I actually did start out drawing him older and then I realized...wait, why do we draw him older? There is no mention of his age in the book, the only hint we have is the original actor hired for him in the first play, who definitely wasn't grandpa-ish, like so many versions do. So I thought it would be fun to go younger on him. I also like the idea that he's learning from Hook, looking up to Hook, and I wanted to try a different dynamic than "old fool" for Smee."

Of course, one reason I connect with Elaine's interpretation of Peter Pan is her portrayal of Jas. Hook. "Hook was a tricky one. Hook is the one character Barrie goes into depth about, and he's really the only one we know for sure what he looks like. In detail. So the trick is to make a loyal Hook, but also a Hook that's unique to my version. I'm pretty happy with what I came out with. I did a lot of research on him, to help back up my version, and that helped a lot." (I'm happy with her version, in case you hadn't guessed.)

And what made her think of drawing Peter Pan as a manga to begin with? "I've always really been into Peter Pan, but I had a resurgence in college when I reread the book and found it absolutely charming, and way more deep and detailed than I remembered it as a kid. A few years ago, I was taking a comic course out here in Japan and I thought, you know, I should do a comic to practice all the things I've learned. You know what no one's done yet? A loyal Peter Pan adaptation! And that's how it all started."

Elaine is working on three to four comics at any given time, and draws her Peter Pan pages in stages. She pencils one week, inks the next two, and then tones the final week. Each one can take from two to four hours to complete, depending on the complexity of the page. 

Ultimately she will complete Barrie's entire book, and then some. "I've actually planned out the rest of the chapters, outlined what they'll contain, and I know how many books the series will be. I also might write a few side adventures, but not include them in the timeline, since I don't want to infringe on Barrie's works, but there will be a lot of adventures in the middle of the story, using Barrie's list of adventures at the end of the underground home chapter."

The Peter Pan manga is available in several places and formats, including on Amazon in both book and Kindle versions. It's available for free on  Smack Jeeves and Deviant Art, as well as inkblazers and Crunchyroll, and Elaine reposts to Tumblr (where I first came across the manga), Facebook, and her own Patreon. She posts as TriaElf9 on DA and Tumblr. Go forth now and see the story, along with Elaine's commentaries on her process, for yourself!

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