Crilley is the incredible talent behind AKIKO,
the acclaimed series published by Sirius Entertainment since 1995.
His comic book is one of the best reading in the market today by
mixing childlike wonder and all-age contest - reminding classics
like Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland - with sophisticated
storytelling techniques and a clear drawing style.
The comic has also been serialized as a successful line of children's
books by Random House.
More info about Mark Crilley and Akiko at:
[Akiko Fan Site]
FREEDOM OF COMICS
did you get the first idea for Akiko? Is it true the whole thing
started when you stayed in Japan? And did you get any influences
idea for Akiko was born when I was teaching English in Japan in
It was really just something to make my classes more interesting
for me and my students. I created one page at a time, generally
one per week, and took them into class for the students to read
and learn from. With Akiko I had an eye towards creating something
publishable, so I wasn't really tailoring it to English instruction,
just trying to tell a good story. It went over quite well. I often
wonder if any of my former students have ever come across an Akiko
book in Japan and said, "Hey, I remember this!"
confess I didn't really become a fan of manga while living in Japan,
and even today I am woefully ignorant of manga and -- to tell the
truth -- comics in general! I do have a pretty good familiarity
with the animation of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, though even that
I acquired after returning from Japan rather than before.
Akiko book is often defined as "Alice in Wonderland" meets
"Star Wars". Do you think it is a good description?
is indeed modelled after classic children's tales such as Alice
in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz. In the tradition of those two
stories I chose a little girl as my lead character, and put a little
sci-fi twist on the Wonderland/Oz idea by sending her off into outerspace.
'Star Wars' is a huge influence on me as well, so summing up my
series as The Wizard of Oz (or Alice in Wonderland) meets Star Wars
is an apt description.
is your definition of Akiko?
from my point of view it's nothing more than a big blank canvas
upon which I can play round with all sorts of ideas, and draw almost
any sort of creatures or scenery I feel like drawing. Akiko, for
better or worse, is me, and all the things that interest me.
you describe your Akiko's Crew, giving us details about their original
concept and their peculiarities?
Akiko is the sort of 'everygirl' of the series. She's a little timid
in some situations, very brave in others. She tends to play the
part of 'mother' for the other characters, stopping them from bickering
MR. BEEBA: Mr. Beeba is my parody of the academic, the sort of person
who uses knowledge as a tool for impressing people, not enlightening
them. His heart is in the right place, though, and he is a steadfast
friend for Spuckler in spite of all their squabbles.
SPUCKLER: Spuckler is often compared to Han Solo, but he's not nearly
as clever or selfish as that. He is just the opposite of Beeba:
all body and action rather than intellect and caution. He sees the
world as very black and white, good and bad; he gets frustrated
when people try to make things 'too complicated'.
Gax is Spuckler's robot, and as such is the 'butler' character,
a servant who seems to know he is smarter than his own master. He
is usually very obsequious, but occasionally stands up to Spuckler
and puts him in his place.
POOG: Poog is the mysterious sage character. He is the most deliberately
underdeveloped of the characters, I want him to remain thoroughly
inscrutable, so I give out very little information about him, and
in fact know almost nothing about him myself.
In her first adventures Akiko went to the planet Smoo enlisted
by the planet's King Froptoppit to find his missing son, the Prince.
It is an overturn of the traditional fables where the Prince has
to save the lady in danger. Was it a way to characterize your little
girl as a "strong" character, or what?
was indeed originally intended to be a reversal of the typical fairy
tale, but I soon drifted from that idea and the whole Prince-rescuing
plot became little more than a pretext for a long and obstacle-packed
journey. I wanted Akiko to start out as quite weak, but have her
acquire strength over time.
is a very mysterious creature. Will you revel his secrets in the
future or do you think mystery is the essence of the character?
I suggested earlier, I feel that the less said about Poog the better.
I may reveal a bit more in the future, but not much.
Akiko there are a lot of inventions, strange monsters, bizarre character
names, wonderful places
and everything fits very well in
the storytelling. It's a real pleasure to escape the real world
going in your dreamland. How do you work on the creation of a story
arc? Do you write a full script or you go directly to thumbnail
the story and then put the dialogue?
as much as I can to make the Akiko stories up as I go. I think up
the basic plot, have an idea of where I want it to go and how it
should end, and then just go, literally creating it one page at
a time. I rarely know precisely what the characters are going to
say until I'm working on the final art. It's a strange approach,
but it keeps things fresh and spontaneous, and from a certain perspective
more like life itself which can only be planned out to a certain
And a big one: where do you get the ideas from?
of my influences are non-comic book influences: Star Wars, Monty
Python, The Wizard of Oz. Ideas come from all over the place. I
like to give a specific example. In the movie 'Monty Python and
the Holy Grail' a character nervously says, 'Any help you could
give would be very... er... helpful!' I thought this was funny so
I retooled it and had Mr. Beeba say in an entirely different context,
'I was just on the verge of a very insightful... er... insight.'
I think most ideas are like this: basic concepts you've seen and
enjoyed and are able to adapt to your own purposes.
few colored appearances, Akiko has always been a b&w book. Is
it only a way to make the production process easier or is it an
was a decision made mainly because of cost limitations, but over
the years I think Akiko's graytoned look has become such an important
part of the series that I don't think I'd switch to color even if
I could afford it. It is a nice thing to be able to do every once
in a while, though.
tell us your comics influences? What about novels, films an so on
am influenced by all sorts of comics, generally older stuff like
'Little Nemo' and 'Popeye'. 'Calvin & Hobbes' is also a big
influence. More recently I am influenced by the work of my friends
Stan Sakai, Jeff Smith, Linda Medley, and others.
Many of my influences are non-comic book influences: Star Wars,
Monty Python, The Wizard of Oz. Even something like the architecture
I saw on a visit to Thailand or India finds its way into the way
I draw buildings in the comic book.
read somewhere that you wrote the first Akiko's story without any
idea of what was popular in the American market at that time. You
said: "If I'd have known how trendy it was for comics to be
"grim n' gritty" at that time, I don't know if I'd have
had the guts to develop something so untrendy as Akiko." Today
I think you are very happy with you "untrendy" decision,
don't you? Which is your opinion on today market's state?
course I have no regrets about Akiko, especially since my 'untrendy'
comic book idea has turned out ot be a very mainstream children's
book series. I think if I put my mind to it I could do a comic book
series that is more appealing to the majority of comic book readers,
but I just don't have the energy to develop such a series right
I really don't know enough about the comic book industry to comment
on its current state. Clearly there are very serious problems in
sustaining the industry at even a fraction of its former size. I
suppose I do know enough to know that there are no quick and simple
solutions to the problem.
Akiko is an "all ages" comics appealing to a broad
spectrum of readers: adults, kids, fantasy and sci- fi fans, children's
book collectors. It is in the same direction of few other popular
titles such as Linda Medley's Castle Waiting, Jeff Smith's Bone
and Jill Thompson's Scary Godmother. Do you think the medium needs
more diversity and more books like the ones I cited, don't you?
the more diversity the better for any artform, be it comics or pop
music. What needs to happen with comics, though, is to get the comics
into mainstream bookstores, ideally side-by-side with novelized
versions of them. If someone looking for my Akiko books could find
my Akiko comic books right next to them there's a very good chance
they'd check out both.
1998 Entertainment Weekly Magazine inserts your name in their "100
Most Creative People in Entertainment" list. And you was the
only comic creator named. How did you feel? Do you think comics
need more consideration by the mass-media?
to make an important correction here. I was one of two comic book
creators included in Entertainment Weekly's 1998 'It List'; the
other was Acme Novelty Library creator Chris Ware. For me it was
a great honor to be selected along with him, though I think his
work is a far, far greater achievement than my own.
I think the media actually gives comic books a fair amount of attention,
though of course it will never be as much as the industry wants.
Unfortunately a TV news story about, say, a September-11th benefit
comic book does not result in a stampede of people running out to
the comic book shops. Akiko appearing in Entertainment Weekly did
not result in a huge increase in Akiko sales. I think the problem
of comic books not being sold in mainstream bookstores is the biggest
obstacle to people buying them.
comics do you currently read? Why?
confess I don't read many comic books. Oddly enough, I enjoy reading
biographies from my local library more than anything else!
Maybe my life as a fantasy-creator drives me to embrace real-world
biographical history when I'm "off duty"!
That being said, I definitely read all the comics by the old "Trilogy"
gang: Jeff Smith, Linda Medley, Charles Vess, Stan Sakai and Jill
Thompson. Those are in my opinion the finest comics on the market.
They are great storytellers, each and every one of them. Another
great comic book is Carla Speed McNeil's 'Finder'. Her work borders
on genius; she deserves much more attention than she gets.
In 2000, Akiko adventures have expanded in a ongoing series of
young readers books that adapt the comics in a novel format [published
by Random House]. How is this experience?
thoroughly enjoying the process of writing and illustrating these
Akiko books, and they are resulting in Akiko being discovered by
a much wider group of people. A novel is of course a bigger mouthful
in terms of the sheer craft of writing. I really have to focus on
getting things right and conjuring up scenes vividly in the 'mind's
eye' of the reader. Plus Random House puts everything I do through
two or three editorial passes, so there's just a general feeling
of having to anticipate the sorts of questions editors and copy
editors are going to ask. It's all very good for me as a writer.
Will you create, sooner or later, any original novel that explores
other sides of the Akiko's world and crew?
the fifth Akiko book, 'Akiko and the Intergalactic Zoo', is an original
story that has never been told before; it features several new characters,
and a whole planet that has never been mentioned in Akiko before!
This book comes out in April of 2002.
about other media, would you like to see an Akiko Animated Series?
Are you interested in a project like this or do you prefer to stay
concentrated on the comics and the novels where you can control
the whole creative process?
has been optioned twice for development but unfortunately nothing
concrete has come of it. I would be delighted to see Akiko in animated
form but am happy to wait many years for it if necessary. I've always
felt that I need to 'earn' a proper development deal by making Akiko
a big success in its own right as either a comic book or a children's
you get any Italian proposal to publish your works?
have been deals signed with publishers in Italy, Spain, and even
China, but sadly none of these have reached the point of actually
going to press. The Italian rights for the children's books have
also been negotiated, and hopefully we'll be seeing an Italian edition
of the first book within the next year or so. I believe the Italian
rights for Akiko comic books are available at the moment, so who
Some times ago Sirius published 32 Pages, a very strange one
shot with the great subtitle "The darker side of a happy-go-lucky
cartoonist". In that book there was some anomalous brief stories
and drawings a lot different from your solar Akiko's stories. They
had a strong touch of underground and a certain amount of rage and
violence. When I read it I thought to Crumb. I like a lot the "Man
attacked by his own neck tie" and the surreal "I only
have eyes for you". Where did you get that stories from? Do
you really have a "dark side"?
Pages is actually a sort of 'time capsule', since all of the work
in that comic book was done in the fall and winter of 1995, in between
signing on with Sirius to publish the graphic novel 'Akiko on the
Planet Smoo' (which I wrote & illustrated in 1992-93) and the
first issue of the Akiko series, which I did in early 1996.
It is the result of taking a little sketch pad with me into coffee
shops and other such places and just doodling spontaneously. It
certainly has a lot of Crumb influence in it (I saw the Crumb documentary
around that time) as well as dozens of other random influences.
I really didn't conceive of it as a unified whole; it is a bit more
adult-oriented than Akiko, and just more random and 'stream of consciousness'
in approach. I think it probably will remain a one shot, though
you never know I guess!
My 'dark' side is still far lighter than the comic book industry
Recently you measured yourself in the superhero genre, doing
two stories for DC's Bizarro Comics, a wonderful volume with tons
of alternative cartoonists at work on their favorite superheroes.
You drew "Wonder Girl vs. Wonder Ton", about a crazy fly
race and also wrote an hilarious "First Contact" with
The Atom helping Wonder Woman to find her contact lenses. What do
you like in superheroes?
be honest these days I'm not particularly crazy about superheroes,
but I do think the genre has been the receptacle for so much talent
over the years there's no denying it's kind of the Louvre museum
of American comics.
is your favorite one? Why?
brothers and I read comics just as any other children did in the
70s. We were big DC kids. The Atom was always my favorite because
I was fascinated with the idea of shrinking.
you like to repeat that experience, maybe doing a more "serious"
be delighted to work on a story for one of the big comic book companies,
whether it be superheroes or otherwise. A serious story would be
great, but I'm not picky!
Your dream project.
dream project would be to be paid to travel all around the world
and make a comic book series based on the experience. Hey, you said
'dream', now didn't you?
an artist or a writer you'd like to collaborate with.
would be lots of fun to collaborate with Stan Sakai. If Jeff Smith
wrote a story and thought I'd be a good one to illustrate it I'd
do that in a heartbeat.
future do you imagine for comics?
the sense that it's destined to become something like, say, the
classical music industry: an under-appreciated artform that survives
because of a small number of dedicated enthusiasts. I'd love to
see a rebirth in interest in comic books among mainstream Americans,
but it's very hard to imagine that happening right now. [up]
images © Mark Crilley