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Writer Samuel Sattin Discusses Reviving Classic Tezuka Character, Unico, For Kickstarter

For just over the last decade, author Samuel Sattin has been writing to both great acclaim and success. Starting with his novel, League of Somebodies, Sattin has contributed to a number of notable outlets, such as The Atlantic, Salon, io9, Kotaku, San Francisco Magazine, Publishing Perspectives, LitReactor, and The Weeklings.  After his second novel, The Silent End, was released, Sam wrote a number of comic projects including Legend, Bezkamp, and Wolf Walkers: The Graphic Novel.  His latest book, Crunchyroll Essential Anime is out now and this week I had the opportunity to discuss his Kickstarter, an updated version of Osamu Tezuka’s Unico that he’s doing with Gurihiru, the Eisner Award-winning artist team behind Superman Smashes The Klan.

*  *  *  *  *

FOG!: You just returned from Japan. How long were you there and what was the experience like?

Samuel Sattin: Yes! I was there through all of April. I really enjoy Japan, so I had a great experience. Though this time it was a little different, based on the fact that I was there to work. I stayed at a colleague’s guest house and made it my base of operations. It was wonderful–I got to meet with Gurihiru, with Tezuka Productions, with other people involved in the project, and in the meantime I got to walk around Tokyo during the spring season when the cherry blossoms are in bloom and see a few friends. I will definitely be going back again. I’d like to spend a considerable amount of time there, and do more work.

The Kickstarter for your new manga graphic novel, Unico: Awakening has launched. Unico was created back in 1976 by the legendary Osamu Tezuka. How did you get involved in the project?

I truly love Tezuka’s work. His books have left an imprint on me, not just creatively, but emotionally as well. Unico was created from 1974-76, during the time where Tezuka was also working on arguably his darkest book (and my favorite) MW. The fact that the two were being created concurrently—something I didn’t know until after I took on the Unico project—makes an incredible kind of sense to me.

Tezuka’s Unico

I got involved via a colleague who founded Crunchyroll Japan. He had a long connection to Tezuka Productions, and I discovered they were open to looking at new ways to work with existing characters; one of whom was Unico. I’ve been fascinated by Unico ever since I read it… I think he’s an often misunderstood character, and his story is complex, emotional, and profound. I pitched the idea for a new Unico story to Tezuka Productions, and was utterly gobsmacked when they accepted it. I am grateful, and will do my very best to put forward this new vision.

Were you familiar with Unico before the project? What do you find so appealing about the character?

I was, yes. I found it to be an emotional and unusual story–which appealed to me greatly. Tezuka was brilliant in a lot of ways, but one of the things I really love about him is how he approached fables. Unlike Disney’s approach to such stories, where everything ends up clean and neat and resolved, Tezuka’s fables resemble the darker, more morally complex tales from an older world, where there aren’t any easy answers, and the reader is left to ponder their meaning.

Unico tells the story of a creature whose capacity to inspire others ends up earning him the wrath of the gods, to the point where he must be wiped of his memory in order to be kept safe, repeatedly, throughout the ages. It’s a multi-generational story, and can be tragic at times. For me, it also happens to be one of the most interesting things Tezuka created, and I’m still astounded that I get to help reinvent it.

The illustrator duo Gurihiru are collaborating with you on the book. What do they uniquely bring to the project?

Gurihiru is brilliant. Of course they’re immensely talented, but in my opinion, they are perfectly suited to this project. Their work is uniquely able to combine Japanese and American comics styles in ways I have never seen before. It really straddles that line, and it’s so impressive. Also, it’s important to note that I am actively collaborating with Gurihiru on this project. We are all invested in telling a moving story, and will work our hardest to follow through on that.

Can you share some of the rewards and stretch goals?

Our rewards involve a line up of incredible prints from array of renowned artists like Kamome Shirahama (Witch Hat Atelier), Akira Himekawa (Legend of Zelda), Junko Mizuno (Revina The Witch), Peach Momoko (Demon Days), Tomm Moore (Wolfwalkers), Katie Longua (Rok), Soo Lee (House of Slay), and tokitokoro (A Good Man). We also offer an array of print items we call Artifacts, by American cartoonists and artists like Steenz (Heart of The City), Julia Reck, Maddie Coppy, Amber Padilla (The Secret Garden on 81st Street), and Rye Hickman (Moth and Whisper). Additionally, we offer some original drawings from Gurihiru, and the possibility to be drawn into the book. And there are a couple of high level tiers that offer high quality reproductions of original Unico pages.

Among Tezuka’s creations were Astro Boy, Black Jack, Kimba The White Lion and Dororo. As a storyteller, what makes Tezuka both so prolific and enchanting?

I think Tezuka was a deeply feeling person whose imagination was often too big for our earthly realm to contain. He was ahead of his time in so many ways, and placed an intense value on art, not just concerning its value in society, but in its ability to communicate with others. Comics in particular he viewed as a global language, one that could help facilitate communication. He also had strong anti-war views, and seemed to wrestle with the darker side of human behavior.

I mean, Astro Boy is one of the only stories of its kind where robots are considered good, and completely incapable of the abuse humans visit upon each other. In short, I think he had things that he wanted to say, and used art to be able to express that. There wasn’t enough room in one or 10 or even 20 books to contain his ideas. His imagination was too vast for that.

You recently co-wrote Crunchyroll’s Essential Anime with Patrick Macias. What in your opinion, sets manga and anime apart from Western comics and animation?

That’s a big and interesting question, so I’ll try to sum up some of my observations without taking up too much space. A lot of what I think sets anime and especially manga apart from Western animation and comics comes down to, firstly, storytelling, and secondly, cultural appreciation.

In manga/anime, you find stories that reside outside of the Western, and especially American purview. They’re structured differently, they have different goals, they’re often incredibly ambitious and, to some, quite strange. They’re not afraid to depict swings in emotion, or push things to their extreme. In short, they’re less hemmed in, and that makes them really interesting to read and watch. Additionally, comics and animation have more of a respected status in Japan. Though most people in the subways in Tokyo are reading comics on their phones now (as opposed to in the past where paperback manga were all over the trains), they’re still reading them.

Comics are everywhere in Japan. Every combini and bookstore and anywhere else you can imagine…they’re just ingrained. Though comics are certainly growing in the US, especially in the MG/YA category, they have a pretty tragic history here. They were banned, they were considered trash for children. There’s a reason why a lot of original pages from the Golden Age of American comics can’t be found anymore. They were pulped. Because who needed them, right? In Japan, that kind of thing just wouldn’t happen. It’s a difference in regard for the artform that sets it apart.

If you were going to a desert island and could bring five anime series and five anime films, what would you bring?

Oof, that’s a tough one. Can I bring manga instead? (laughs) But in all seriousness, I’d probably bring the following (though full warning, these could change completely by tomorrow).

Films:

  • Paprika
  • Princess Mononoke
  • Akira
  • Memories
  • Macross Plus

Series

  • Paranoia Agent
  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Death Note
  • Evangelion
  • JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

What else do you have coming up?

I’ll be announcing some cool stuff soon concerning adaptations. I’m also working on a novel, and have two books coming out next year that I’m really excited about! Lots of things on the horizon… And lots of work to do!

What are you currently geeking out over?

I’m really enjoying the new season of Russian Doll, and I loved The Batman. I’m also into an artist named Kitora–I bought three of her books in Japan–and I’m reading A Most Remarkable Creature by Jonathan Meiburg. As for games, I like Loop Hero a lot, and I just severed myself from Griftlands because I got too sucked in.

To Pledge and Support The Unico Kickstarter, Click HERE!!!

 

 

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