Tania started with a magical manga makeover of Sabrina, but the magic is spreading in the coming months to both Josie & the Pussy Cats and Sonic the Hedgehog. Tania took time away from her busy schedule to talk about bringing manga to Archie Comics.
Rik Offenberger: How did you get into manga?
Tania del Rio: As a kid, I was always very attracted to manga. The only problem was that it was hard to find! I liked it because it was so different from any American comics I had ever read (with the exception of ElfQuest, which is manga-influenced). In a world filled with muscled superheroes, manga was a breath of fresh air and something that appealed to me – a young girl – something that few other comics had done. My early favorites were Ranma ½and Sailor Moon.
Offenberger: What type of formal training do you have?
del Rio: I went to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design where I studied both comics and animation, but actually received a degree in animation. I honestly didn’t think a degree in comics would help me as much since it is such a competitive and male-dominated field. Nonetheless, I took every comics class that was offered and had some great teachers who are also professionals in the field including Peter Gross, Gene Ha, Zander Cannon and Barb Schulz.
Offenberger: Tells a little about “Kitsune”
del Rio: Kitsune was one of my animated films that I completed in college. It was a short 2-D animated piece about a lady from the Heian era of Japan who is on her porch watching two foxes at play. It is revealed that she, herself, is a fox spirit and regrets her choice to become human. It’s based off Japanese mythology – in which foxes often take the forms of humans (females in particular). I entered this film to the Jay Sanders Film Festival where it received an honorable mention.
Offenberger: You work in the “Shōjo” style of manga, could you explain the different kinds of manga to the manga illiterate among us?
del Rio: Yes, there are many different sub-genres of manga. The word “manga” itself actually means “whimsical pictures” and doesn’t describe any one style. Shōjo manga is manga geared toward a young, female audience. It often includes stories of romance, magic, and teenage angst. This is what Sabrina is modeled after. Some other types of manga are: shōnen manga, action-packed stories aimed at a young male audience, jōsei manga, intended for an adult female audience, seinen manga, for adult males, and other sub-genres like mecha-manga (fighting robots), magical girlfriends (a sub-genre of shōnen), as well as comedic, political and horror manga. In fact, there’s really a style of manga for every genre.
Offenberger: You used to sell your own self-published comics, Steel River Comics’ Realm Denizen at conventions, how many comics would you sell?
del Rio: My fiancé, Will, and I started SteelRiver comics together in college and we each self-published two books each. For a couple years, we went to all the local cons and sold them. On good days, we could sell about 25-30 copies of each issue, which was pretty good, considering they were self-published, independent works. But there were also days when we only sold 5 or 6. It really varied depending on the crowd.
Offenberger: Was Realm Denizen #3 ever published?
del Rio: Unfortunately, no. I did start working on it and a few people emailed me asking when it would be available. But around that time I started my senior year of college and was too swamped with my senior project to focus on my independent comics. Then Will and I graduated and had to find jobs, and SteelRiver comics sort of fell to the wayside. But SteelRiver isn’t dead yet: we are still working on our own independent projects in our spare time. We have a couple collaborative projects that we are working on and looking forward to completing.
Offenberger: The website is still up, is Realm Denizen still available?
del Rio: The website is up but hasn’t been updated in years! It’s a fossil of days long gone. Will and I still have a lot of issues of our self-published comics, so technically they are still available. We just haven’t been actively trying to sell them of late.
Offenberger: Was this profitable, or was this just a way to get your work noticed?
del Rio: It definitely was not profitable. We did almost manage to break even on the printing costs. But it was never about making money – it was about going out and doing something we loved and feeling the pride of holding a finished, printed book in our hands and knowing that other people were reading and enjoying them. That’s what continues to inspire me today, because being a comic artist is not a job where one can expect to make a lot of money. The majority of us do what we do because we love doing it. I’d rather make less money at a job I love than a lot of money at a job I hate.
Offenberger: Tell us about your participations in Tokyopop’sRising Stars of Manga
del Rio: Well, speaking of jobs I hate, I happened to be in one when this contest came around. I wasn’t able to find a job in animation after graduating and was forced to take a full-time mall job to make ends meet. I was feeling a little depressed and my creative energy was pretty much zapped. I learned about TOKYOPOP’s contest after picking up the first volume of Rising Stars of Manga in the store. I then realized, with horror, that the deadline for the next contest was only 2 weeks away. I decided I would go for it. For the next two weeks, when I got home from work, I’d work on my entry. The result was a 20-page story called“Lovesketch” . I literally sent it out the day before the deadline. I never thought anything would come of it but it felt so good to have completed something artistic during a time when I felt so worn out and uninspired.
Offenberger: So Lovesketch was something you created for Tokopop, not something you had previously been working on?
del Rio: It wasn’t something I was working on previously because, like I said, I started and finished the whole project specifically for the contest and I did it rather spontaneously. However, the basic idea of the story had been floating around in the back of my mind for some time. It’s a shōjo story loosely based off of my own experiences of going to a small, expeditionary high school where we learned by going out on field trips and camping trips, etc. The main character, Madison, is much like how I was in high school : awkward, insecure, and “one of the guys” when I wanted to start being noticed as a girl.
Since everything felt very dramatic and angsty for me when I was a teen, I wanted to take that feeling and make a story about it – only I turned up the drama a few notches to make it especially shōjo-esque. Some of my favorite shōjo comics are the darker, more melodramatic series such as Mars and Peach Girl and I wanted to do an homage to those types of stories.
Offenberger: Were you looking for work at Archie, or did they come looking for you?
del Rio: They actually came looking for me! After I won runners up in the Rising Stars of Manga contest, an article was written about me in the local paper. Little did I know, someone at Archie saw the article and before long they contacted me. I didn’t even know that they were located so close to where I live! It was a very fortunate twist of fate.
Offenberger: Had you been an Archie fan before joining the company?
del Rio: I certainly read Archie comics growing up. I think almost every kid does! I did read Sabrina but actually not as often asBetty & Veronica. I remember being happy when they introduced Cheryl Blossom because she looked so cool. But my absolute favorite Archie series was Sonic the Hedgehog, which is also very manga-esque. I’ve been reading that since issue 0, when I was 13 and I have every issue since then. I’m a total fan.
Offenberger: Archie has a more standardized house style than other publishers, what were your expectations at Archie and how did those expectations compare to the reality of working at Archie??
del Rio: I honestly didn’t go in with any expectations; I was just happy to be able to work with them. I knew they had a house style, but right off the bat they mentioned that they were thinking of a new direction for Sabrina. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized how flexible they were and how much freedom they gave me to redesign Sabrina and her world. The people at Archie have been great – they’ve been very enthusiastic and willing to take a leap on manga Sabrina which I admire. When I know I have the support of everyone at Archie, it makes me feel that much more excited and inspired. I didn’t see anyone looking uncomfortable or nervous that it wouldn’t work out. Everyone was very excited about it and that excitement quickly rubbed off onto me!
Offenberger: Archie and the Riverdale gang have changed there look and attitude over the years to keep them fresh and make them related to the current generation, do you foresee manga becoming the next house style at Archie?
del Rio: I don’t think it will ever become the house style. Part of what makes Archie, Archie is that they have this familiar style, which has remained fairly constant over the years. I think it’s an appealing style that can each generation can enjoy – it’s timeless. I do think there may be a possibility of more manga spin-offs in the future and maybe even new characters one day. But I can’t see it ever replacing the house style.
Offenberger: When did you first discover Sabrina?
del Rio: Hmm… I honestly can’t remember. Like the rest of the Archie characters she always just seemed to be “there”, as a part of our pop culture. I did watch the live action TV show when I was younger but my favorite was the animated series in which Sabrinawas portrayed as a young girl. It was a really well done show. I think reruns are still on TV, actually.
Offenberger: Did you ever think, “someday I want to drawSabrina?”
del Rio: Honestly no. But only because she was often drawn in the house style and that is not my own style of drawing. It’s a nice style, but one I find difficult to emulate. (In fact, in the first two pages of #58, I drew Sabrina in the house style in order to introduce the transition to manga. It was so challenging, I had to redraw the whole thing twice before it looked “right”) However, I did use to think, “someday I want to draw Sonic!”
Offenberger: You started on Sabrina with back up stories in issue #57, and in #58 you took over the entire comic, was this planned from the beginning?
del Rio: I did write one story in #57 as part of a pre-transition. The majority of that story was drawn by another artist, but I drew the last page showing the characters in manga-style. I then picked up with #58. This transitional story was planned well ahead of time, however, because the folks at Archie wanted to find a way to make a smooth switch to the manga style without it starting abruptly. In the end, I wrote a short story in which house-style Sabrina and Llandra talk about manga and then, through their own magic, transform themselves into manga characters – just to see what it’s like!
Offenberger: Now you are doing a back up story in Sonic #151. Was this your idea?
del Rio: Well, partially. When I got hired to do Sabrina, the fan girl in me was thinking “Ha ha! Now I am closer to my goal of getting my art in a Sonic comic!”. After a while I started hinting to Mike, the Sonic editor, that I’m a really big fan of Sonic. Really big. Like I-want-to-draw-it-big. He seemed surprised that I was such a fan, but it wasn’t long before he asked if I would be interested in doing a short story. (“Score!”). He even said I could write it which made me a little nervous because I didn’t want to risk upsetting the delicate continuity of the Sonic universe. So I decided to play it safe and write a shōjo-esque story featuring Princess Sally. I’m not sure how the fans will receive it, but it was a lot of fun to draw! And I accomplished my goal!
Offenberger: Is this planed as a one time only event, or will you continue with Sonic?
del Rio: For now, it’s just a one-time thing. I just don’t have a lot of time outside of my Sabrina work. But I’d be happy to do another short story sometime in the future. We’ll see what the fans think!
Offenberger: In the “Archie & Friends and Sabrina” special you got a chance to do manga versions of the Archies as well as Josie & the Pussycats, how did this come about?
del Rio: Every year, Archie puts a mini Halloween comic into Diamond’s Previews. This time, they decided to do a little experiment by asking me to draw Archie and his friends in the manga style for this mini comic. When I wrote the story, I decided to add a Josie & the Pussycats cameo too, because cat-girls are fun to draw in manga. It was a lot of fun working on this little issue and drawing all the characters in my style.
Offenberger: The reaction must have been positive, because you are doing two more Josie & the Pussycats stories. Was this something you proposed to Archie?
del Rio: Actually, Archie was already thinking about giving a manga makeover to Josie & the Pussycats. Some of the editors already picked up on the fact that cat-girls and manga go hand in hand. I think they were just waiting to see how Sabrina did before changing any more of their staple characters.
Offenberger: The story that is going to run in the Tales from Riverdale Digest has art from a different artist. After writing and illustrating all of your own work at Archie, what is it like to collaborate with someone else?
del Rio: It’s great. Chris Lie is a great artist and a really nice guy. I try not to make my scripts too detailed because I want him to have some creative freedom to play around. That’s what makes drawing fun! My scripts are more of a guide than a detailed blueprint and I consider them more of a tool for the letterer so that he knows where to put the speech bubbles and sound effects.
Offenberger: You have made films, been a comic book publisher, taken over the Archie Universe, what’s next?
del Rio: I’m having a lot of fun with Sabrina and I feel like I’ve already accomplished so much! Even though I don’t have much free time, I am working on some of my own projects. I’ve written two stories for graphic novels that my fiancé, Will, is currently illustrating. He’s a graphic designer and does some amazing art using vector graphics in Illustrator. I’m also working on a couple ideas for my own manga graphic novels. These are slightly more mature projects but are also done in the shōjo style.
I’m happy with how they’re coming along and I may eventually approach some publishers to see if they’re interested. Lastly, I continue to squeeze in freelance projects here and there. Most recently I did the character designs for “Star Cubs” , a comic/animation idea that is currently being pitched. It’s about three little girls from a school soccer team who end up in space and have lots of adventures.
I’m keeping very busy!! And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Offenberger: Well, I am glad you were able to squeeze some time in to answer these questions and good luck with all your projects.