Ep. 96: Interview: Abby Denson & Matt Loux

This week on Mangasplaining we talk to one of the creators who’s been making manga-influenced comics since the early 2000s, Abby Denson, and a creator whose recent work perfectly encapsulates a life spent soaking in Japanese popular culture, Matthew Loux. The kicker? They’re married, too! They’re also great boosters of each other’s works, making them a great pair to interview.

Find out about what it’s like to win an international manga award, getting outside of your comfort zones, and the reason why you should write your own book on travelling to Japan!

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Mangasplaining Episode 96: Interview with Abby Denson and Matthew Loux
Conducted by Deb Aoki and Christopher Woodrow-Butcher
Audio Editing by David Brothers

Before We Get Started:

This episode was recorded months and months ago, as we fell badly behind schedule due to spring travels and life getting in the way. It was SUPPOSED to coincide somewhat with the release of Abby and Matt’s new books–Abby’s Kitty Sweet Tooth Makes a Movie with Utomaru, and Uniquely Japan both arrived this fall from First Second Books and Tuttle Publishing respectively.

Similarly, Matt’s Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring? Also dropped this fall from First Second. So, apologies for a very delayed follow-up on these titles. But no matter when they came out, they’re worth your time, and really interesting reads for fans of manga and anime (as we discuss in this episode).

About Abby Denson

Abby Denson got her start making mini-comics more than two-decades ago. Her graphic novel Tough Love, a queer teen romance nearly a decade before BL made its way to American shores, was a breakthrough book being serialized in the important (though controversial) XY Magazine.

Her follow-up, the Todd-Haynes-inspired Dolltopia won bronze recognition in the International Manga Awards in 2011.

Since that time she has written for numerous licensed comic series’, including Amazing Spider-man Family, Popwerpuff Girls, The Simpsons, Sabrina the Teenaged Witch, Josie and the Pussycats, Disney Adventures, and many others. She has taught and lectured at various venues including the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, Eugene Lang College at The New School, and Sophia University in Tokyo.

Her most recent works include the children’s fiction series Kitty Sweet Tooth for First Second with Japanese artist Utomaru, and her non-fiction travelogue and culture books for Tuttle Publishing, Cool Japan Guide, Cool Tokyo Guide, and Uniquely Japan.

You can find Abby Denson online at https://www.abbydenson.com/.

About Matthew Loux

Matthew Loux is an author, artist, and teacher of comics and graphic novels. Matthew got his start in comics with the graphic novel F-Stop (with writer Antony Johnston) for Oni Press.

Matthew followed this up with numerous graphic novels for Oni including the one-shot Sidescrollers, and the five-volume middlegrade graphic novel series Salt Water Taffy.

Matthew began The Time Museum trilogy at First Second, which has received numerous honors including a starred Kirkus review, a Texas Mavericks listing, a Panda Book Award, and was nominated for the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award. The Time Museum series will receive a third volume in 2024.

Matthew’s most recent work is Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring, released October 2022. A comination of Eastern and Western mythologies, Prunella follows a young lady transformed into a ghoulish skeleton, and the quest she undertakes to reverse the curse. For those looking for horror for young readers, this is a great pick.

You can find Matt Loux online at http://www.mattloux.com/.

02:24  Hey y’all, Christopher here. Listening back to this a few months after recording it… I swear I’m not drunk. It’s just early in the morning, Tokyo time, and the caffeine REALLY kicked in. Thanks for listening, hopefully you’re entertained.

Also, I do figure out, by the end of the episode, that this is supposed to be called Mangasplaining: Listen To Me!

04:15 F-Stop with Antony Johnston. Of course it’s very out of print now, but you can find it if you poke around a little.

Worth noting of course, that Antony Johnston is the fella who wrote the graphic novel The Coldest City with illustrator Sam Hart, which was eventually turned into Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron. Oh and he wrote the new Dead Space game too. I actually lettered one of Antony’s earlier projects, Closer with Mike Norton. At least I’m pretty sure I lettered that one? It was a long time ago.

Actually I just found an image, and yeah, it was my first professional lettering gig. I wish I’d left more whitespace in the balloons. Ah the folly of youth.

07:18 It’s hard NOT to love both Rumiko Takahashi and Keith Haring. But you don’t often hear those two artists mentioned in the same breath as being big influences on a comic creator’s work. Which is all to say, definitely check out our episode on Rumiko Takahashi’s Mermaid Saga from way back at the beginning of the podcast, and also, Keith Haring is about more than Uniqlo t-shirts. Seek out his work!

09:15 Frederik Schodt’s Manga! Manga! sure is coming up a lot this season. I wonder if that’ll lead to anything?

09:29 This might be hard to believe, but in the 1980s and 1990s there were a surprising number of Yaoi/BL manga about homoerotic cops in pre-Giuliani New York City, fighting crime and having doomed romances. We reference two here, Fake by Sanami Matoh, a 7-volume series released in English by Tokyopop but now out of print, and New York, New York by Marimo Ragawa, which was recently published in two omnibus volumes by Yen Press.

I’m sure that our manga-savvy Mangasplaining listeners can come up with more recommendations in the comments.

Meanwhile, Marimo Ragawa did have two other series’ in English. The early VIZ Media/Shojo Beat release Baby & Me, with a very weird looking baby (heh, google it) and one of Deb’s off-beat favs, the shamisen manga Those Snow White Notes, one of Kodansha’s digital-only releases (which is available on their K-Manga app too).

11:30 XY Magazine was a foundational magazine for queer youth in the mid-90s and early 2000s. Their queer survival guide and forum for young queer dudes is probably responsible for me still being around, and they ran Abby’s comic Tough Love there as we mentioned, if that wasn’t enough! We didn’t mention though that they also ran criminally-underrated queer cartoonist Joe Phillips’ “Joe Boy” comics there as well. Glad I had that in my life when I was 17. 🙂

12:00 Abby shouts out her long-time pal Yuko Koyama, who makes travelogues, food comics, zines, and so much more under the artistic name “Yutann.” You can find their work online at https://water-mleon-blog.tumblr.com/

Abby (l) and Yuko (r) at Comitia in 1997.

12:20 The “Other Music” record store documentary that Abby Mentions is on a host of platforms to watch now, if you’re curious! Here’s a link to the official page: http://www.othermusicdocumentary.com/

14:10 Abby mentions her publisher Tuttle Publishing. I’m kind of surprised that they haven’t appeared on the podcast before now. They’re basically the premiere American/Japan publisher, with an extensive list covering various aspects of Asian culture including popular culture like manga and anime. In fact, they’ve become quite the “graphic novel” publisher over the past few years.

17:25 Matt mentions Canadian cartoonist Scott Chantler (BIX, Two Generals, Three Thieves) and Scott Morse (Soulwind, Magic Pickle). Both excellent cartoonists whom I’ve known for a very long time. Definitely click through and check out their work.

20:20 Matt also mentions Steve Uy, another early manga & anime-influenced creator who doesn’t really get his due. I remember really loving Uy’s work, he did some stuff for X-Men and Iceman at Marvel, and a creator-owned series, Feather for Image Comics. Really great stuff, excellent use of digital painting pretty early on too. Check out his work.

23:00 Matt is describing a pretty common phenomenon, of having friends who were deep into manga and anime, and whose work drew influences from those two media, and they’d filter into other creators’ work even without direct reference… There’s a number of artists who have a manga affect to their work thanks to Adam Warren, Joe Mad, Art Adams, Frank Miller, even Pat Lee. Eventually people find primary sources, move from the anime to the art books to the manga, and then discover THOSE artists’ influences too. It’s a pretty cool cycle, honestly.

24:00 Prunella is a very interesting case, transitioning from Western to Eastern fairy tales and mythology and back again. It’s a very modern graphic novel in a lot of ways, that’s its own thing but definitely evidences how its creators grew up. We can see how that’s happening with today’s generation of creators who have never NOT had printed manga literally omniprescent in their lives, and how that’s affected their storytelling.

30:00 There really are some gorgeous vistas and beautiful quiet moments in Prunella. Here’s a selection of pages from that book!

37:22 We’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: There is an International Manga Award! It’s handed out by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the prizes are pretty dope! The current award deadline is July 12, 2023!

Their website (linked above) shows the winner for each year, with Abby taking home a bronze for the 4th awards in 2011. Friend-of-the-podcast Ken Niimura took home the gold (with writer Joe Kelly) for I Kill Giants the next year, in 2012.

[DEB:] It’s worth mentioning that even though the contest name is “International Manga Award,” it’s not limited to comics that have a “manga” look. The contest is sponsored by the Japanese government and they really, REALLY want all kinds of comics to be entered for consideration — and typically, there’s a lot of entries from Asia and Europe, but not so many from N. America, which frankly puzzles the contest organizers.

I have opinions on this state of affairs, including how vague the description is of what the Gold and Silver award winners get — which is a 7-day paid trip to Japan, to attend the awards ceremony in Tokyo, AND get a tour of manga publishing companies, manga museums and other places that you normally don’t get access to unless you have VIP access arranged through a contest like this. AND you don’t have to create a brand new, original story to enter. Stories that have been previously published between 2020 – 2023 are eligible. Check out the website for the Japan International Manga Award to learn more and how to enter.

Japan International Manga Award website

38:45 Fusami Ogi is a really interesting person and someone I’ve been planning on writing more about on Mangasplaining Extra. In lieu of that though (for now!), let me instead say you should ABSOLUTELY check out the Women’s Manga RESEARCH Project, which they are spearheading out of Chikushi Jogakuen University in Fukuoka. They’ve been doing interviews with manga-ka and various research activities, and it’s an interesting (and somewhat overlooked) field. More on this on the newsletter soon.

40:00 Alright! As mentioned here, over at mangasplainingextra.com, you can now read Matthew Loux’s Junrei for free! We also included his explainer manga about the best ways to behave as a visitor at a shinto shrine as a bonus for paying subscribers. We wanted to do something a little special for this interview. Check out a night-time visit to Kyoto’s iconic Fushimi Inari shrine, find out exactly what that is, and so much more in true Mangasplaining fashion.

Abby does look constantly thrilled in this story, it’s totally cute.

46:30   Abby does pre-plan, and turns those plans into actual books about travelling to Japan! This includes general information, like figuring out which month to go to get best weather, or whether or not to get a JR Pass, as well as extremely practical advice, like watch out because some beverages in the vending machine secretly have jelly in them.

50:50 Finally, practical advice in an episode of Mangasplaining. Lol.

Abby’s #1 travel tip? No matter whose travel guide you buy (although check out Abby’s), make sure to double-check your research online to see what’s ACTUALLY happening on the ground before you go. Abby’s recommended sites are Japan-Guide and Tokyo Cheapo, and I can vouch for both. I used to be addicted to them back when I used an RSS feed to read news… man I miss that. I also like Time Out Tokyo fwiw.

(It’s worth noting that there have been a lot of businesses that have closed or changed & reduced hours since COVID, so try to temper your expectations (and support local and small businesses when you can).

Matt’s #1 travel tip? Learn a little bit of Japanese if you can, to be able to say simple phrases like ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me.’ While there’s more English language being spoken and understood in Tokyo than ever before, a little effort and politeness goes a long way! 🙂

55:45 We talk here about the whole Ghibli Museum and Ghibli Park situation, but frankly it’s a mess. It’s too bad, it looks beautiful, but the whole situation around getting tickets favours… Well, not the kind of people I want to spend an idyllic afternoon with. You should do your own research on this one, getting tickets is a real nightmare these days. But here’s a short walkthrough of Ghibli Park like Abby mentioned. There are many, many more long ones there too.

Deb mentioned “Miso Katsu” when we talked Nagoya, where Ghibli Park is, and here’s what THAT is: Looks tasty!

59:47 Every time I sit down to do these show notes, I think “maybe I can make this one a short one” but the only way to do that is to… just not do show notes. So in interest of doing the “short version”, ComicsOne is one of the Tokyopop era “manga boom” publishers that went defunct in 2005 during the first crash. They brought a lot of interesting, wacky, diverse, and even queer manga to North America. Their biggest hit was probably Onegai Teacher or Iron Wok Jan.

Anyway, their old website is on the Wayback Machine, although it’s mostly broken because it was so reliant on Flash. But you can start to get a sense of their titles, and they really did go pretty wide back in the day. I mean, they published the Para Para Dancing manga. That’s gotta count for something? This Google Books listing for the publisher seems to have more-or-less everything they released, as different lists I’ve seen online will be missing different titles.

Anyway, the point of all of that is: Buying a book, finding another book listed in the back of that book that was ebook only (before ebooks were a thing and before you had a credit card), that act of discovery, was a very big deal. As you get older that happens less and less, but it’s good to remember that there’s always more to learn, more waiting for you to discover it for yourself.

1:01:00 Abby mentions Black Lizard 1968. It was a bit harder to find the trailer online that it was to find the whole film, so, uh, that’s information.

Abby also talks about vintage kimono fabric, which is a really interesting situation. There’s a store in the basement of Nakano Broadway (you know, the nerd mall with all the Mandarake stores?) They’re selling used Kimono for $5-$20. Beautiful garments and fabrics, and there’s just so little interest in them here in Japan. Kimono sales have plunged over the last two decades. So yeah, this gorgeous fabric is finding new life in new ways, both here and overseas. It’s kind of amazing!

Sorry, this isn’t very manga. Someone should make a manga about that. While we’re on the not-manga tip though, here’s that NHK World show about trains that they mention, Japan Railway Journeys.

1:05:00 There’s a chain of used goods stores here in Japan that (almost) all have “OFF” in their title. The originator, BOOK OFF, features books at discount prices, as well as all maner of other media. They spun that off with HARD OFF and HOBBY OFF, which feature physical goods like games, as well as toys and other items too. They’re basically like super-contemporary used book and game stores, except a massive chain that runs across the country. I waxed poetic about them a little in the Tokyoscope crossover episode. 

1:05:30 Once you get into plastic/vinyl Kaiju figures, the rabbit hole becomes literally infinite. Beware!

Matango here is pretty cool,. though.

1:10:00 The item puzzle I’m talking about is Tokyo Metro’s “The Underground Mysteries” puzzle event. While it was shelved for a few years due to covid, I’d bet that it’ll be back this October for another go. To learn more, you can visit the website for the 2019 event.


1:12:00 Kitty Sweet Tooth is a collaboration between Abby and Japanese illustrator, character designer, and now comic artist Utomaru. Their work is really gorgeous stuff, and adds a bouncy, brightly-colored pop-fun to their eccentric world. It’s a really grogeous looking book, and perfect for young readers.

Speaking of Utomaru’s work, Abby mentions that they were the character designer MuteKing: The Dancing Hero anime on Crunchyroll. I’m in Japan right now and it won’t let me load the Crunchyroll website easily, so here’s a trailer. Looks fun!

1:13:10 In Tokyo? Slumming it in Golden Gai? Wanna go somewhere neat? Check out Bar Campiare, a bar themed after the Italian horror/suspense film Suspiria. Here’s a whole article about it and how to get there. Behave yourselves, foreigners.

1:13:30 We actually bumped into manga-ka Miyako Kojima (whom Starfruit Books credits at Cojima) at Comitia last year! Their work from Starfruit Books is out now. It’s called Wonder House of Horrors and it seems to riff on Japanese horror manga tropes in interesting ways. Starfruit describes it as “sometimes kooky, sometimes gory, and sometimes positively profound!”

1:13:50 Atsushi Kaneko is a pretty singular manga talent, drawing tons of international influence on his work from David Lynch to Charles Burns. Sadly, his only work translated to English to date is an aborted run of his punk epic Bambi and her Pink Gun, though I hear that may be changing soon.

That was a hint, BTW.

1:14:30 Kind of amazing that Abby pitched her dream-artist to do a book together and they said yes. For those aspiring creators, I did want to draw attention to the next step of that process, where Abby also paid the artist out of her pocket to do character designs and sample pages, to get the book picked up. I think that’s a pretty big deal and very cool.

Also, we should note that since we recorded this podcast BTW, Abby and Utomaru had a new book series picked up by Scholastic! The title is called My Tokyo Summer, and it’s a YA graphic memoir about the experiences that Abby talks about in this podcast, traveling to Tokyo, meeting her friend Yuko, and exhibiting together at Comiket. Look for that from Scholastic in a few years. 🙂

And that’s an episode of MANGASPLAINING: LISTEN TO ME! As I realized in the closing seconds of the podcast.

Our sincere thanks to Abby Denson and Matt Loux for joining us on the podcast. As mentioned up top, you can find them (respectively) at https://www.abbydenson.com/ and http://www.mattloux.com/

And that’s this week in Mangasplaining! This episode is also available wherever you get your podcasts, so please subscribe and leave a review, so others can discover our show. 

Also, if you’d like to get the latest episode delivered straight to your inbox along with exclusive interviews, articles and new chapters of manga you can’t read anywhere else, subscribe to our Substack newsletter. See what you’re missing at Mangasplaining Extra!

Next week on Mangasplaining:
Get ready for our take on The Untouchable Midori-kun, by Toyo Toyota.

Thanks so much for listening! Please support your local comic and manga specialty shop when purchasing these books, and you can find one near you at comicshoplocator.com. You can also check your local library for print and digital lending options, they have TONS of manga! Finally, thanks to D.A.D.S. for their musical accompaniment for this episode.

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2 Responses

  1. Eric Henwood-Greer says:

    This was great–and a throw back to when I had to go to Vancouver to buy X+Y from Virgin there.

    But I have to defend Marimo Ragawa and New York New York as mere melodrama, which is a manga that meant a lot to me when I read it in French in the late 90s. I was pretty amazed that it got translated, in fact.

    Ragawa has said (to me personally in interviews I did 20 years ago) to do a realistic take on gay life,after an experience her close gay friend had had, (she has never said what exactly.) Hana to Yume, which was serializing Baby and Me, let her serialize it, which is AMAZING, but as long as she still serialized Baby. And yet,

    it is rushed. And it is very melodramatic (which I love, I admit) and it moves from a romance, to probably the best “coming out to your parents” story I’ve seen in a manga, to a serial killer storyline. And the ending was not what she wanted, as she was more invested in a longer story than her editors would allow–but the ending always makes me cry. (And no, not because the central couple dies–they don’t–spoiler). I think it’s one of the best manga of the 1990s..

    And it is essential reading, Chris, even if you don’t dig soap opera manga, if you want to think about gay storylines in shojo in the 90s. The lead characters had fan mail!

    I should also say that before that, there was the Josei manga, which Fredrick Schodt highlighted in Dreamland Japan, Tomoi, by Wakuni Akisato. Tomoi, also attempted to treat gay issues (including I think the first mention of AIDS in manga back in 1986?) and gay marriage. And yes, is a melodrama (including a middle eastern war plot!) but I am surprised any gay manga fan wouldn’t know either work 😛 But I think both, are genuinely really great manga for their genre, and must reads for anyone interested in the hirstory of gay-themed manga.

  2. Miguel Corti says:

    I love these interview episodes! Such a grab bag of interesting topics every time. Always like hearing about people’s first encounter with manga/anime pre-manga boom and pre-Toonnami.

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