Interview With Gashu-Group Manga

In the Artist’s Alley at the MCM Expo, there is always a lot to see. You have everything from western style comics to Japanese style manga, and a whole host of styles in between. In such a crowded space, it can be tricky for people to make sure they get noticed, particularly if they are either self published or with a smaller publishing group. I recently got to speak to a few people from a small publishing group called Gashu-Group Manga, who told me about what it’s like trying to get noticed at MCM, their future plans, and how they got into making money from their love of manga.

Laura: For those who don’t know, could you all introduce yourselves, who are you? Who are Gashu-Group Manga?

Damian Ryan: I’m Damian I’m a founder of Gashu-Group and I work alongside a team of talented people of which I manage and motivate – I do the website and keep the place running.

Hassan Graham: Hello I’m Hassan, 27 years old, the daddy of the group, so to speak, because I’m the oldest. I am also a co-founder of Gashu-Group and one of our featured artists, so lots of stuff *laughs*.

Katja Hammond: I am Katja Hammond, 19 years old, and in my first year at university. I was featured in Neo Magazine’s Artist Showcase in Issue #89 and came third in the Manga Jiman 2010 Competition with my short comic ‘To Sail a Moon’.

Gashu-Group is a publishing house aiming to encourage and help artists release their creative potential to the world, to give newcomers a chance to enter the UK Manga Industry, and provide new confidence to artists. Not only have I been able to publish and sell comics such as Demon Catchers and The Shadow Generation in the London MCM Expo, but I have been exposed to like-minded people who I would otherwise never encounter, and that has been a great source of hope and inspiration to me.

Laura: What’s it like trying to promote your manga at the MCM Expo as a smaller publisher? What challenges do you face?

Damian: It’s a difficult market to reach. There are so many fans of manga but finding those open to something different will always be a challenge, especially in a niche market such as the UK manga market. If it isn’t by a Japanese artist it may be frowned upon, but this is where we aim to change the tables and find out what makes a great story and how it will be appealing to the audience expectations. We have outstanding artists, Hassan and Kat included, who are going to bring out something bigger and better than the pilots you have in your hand. Though all that being said manga has come a long way in the UK since the early 2000s and it’s nice to see events like the Manga Jiman competition as well, because it encourages people to experiment and participate.

Laura: Katja and Hassan, what’s it like for both of you at conventions? What sort of response do you get there?

Katja: As somebody who isn’t very well known, it is hard to predict how successful each day would be behind the stall. People come, peruse at their leisure, and then proceed to the next stall. Sometimes they buy comics or other products we have on display, sometimes they ask questions, and sometimes the browsers return later that day – or at the next convention – wanting to see more from me. Those latter times are a real treat to me and I always feel that I’ve done a good job when I’m met with that response. What I also love is when I am recognised by people who have encountered my works elsewhere, be it through the internet, or by word of mouth.

Hassan: I think the response for me at the Expo was a really positive one. I’d like to mention that the copy of Legend of The Black Dragon you have Laura is actually one of a limited amount of pilots which sold out. I’m by no means a known UK manga artist but everybody did come away from our stand with either a copy of my comic or a manga portrait and the one thing I get asked by people is do I really do my stuff by hand? My answer to this here and now is yes! They normally go on to ask how long it takes, which depends because I draw on a big scale.

Laura: Do either of you face writer’s block, and if so, how do you overcome it?

Hassan: I wouldn’t say I get writer’s block, however I sometimes suffer from artist’s block on the rare occasion, which is very frustrating because I waste time that way *chuckles*. To put it simply, to get over it I do something else. Distracting yourself helps give you a fresh perspective on things – music works also.

Katja: I get bored rather than get writer’s block, and when that happens, my brain tends to shut down and stubbornly refuse to think any more on the subject. To get rid of this, I have to take breaks, either by leaving the house, watching a film, or doing other arty stuff. Sometimes taking a quick journey back down memory lane allows me to be fired up by the ideas which originally inspired me for the current project. Success isn’t always guaranteed, so it’s generally a good idea not to stop once you’ve got the ball rolling, otherwise you may be reluctant to get back to pushing.

Laura: How would someone looking to be a manga artist go about contacting Gashu-Group manga to get published? What are you looking for from your manga artists?

Damian: At the moment, the best way is by our email address (, but we will soon be opening up a submissions section where the person can upload and submit an application form, just like a job and make money from their talent. We aren’t prejudice, we will guide those who need extra help and put them out there, either through our upcoming short’s manga program in which, a few panels of creativity get punched into one big volume.

Laura: Hassan, with Legend of The Black Dragon, you have gone for a bold art style, with black and white images using red for blood as the only colour. Can you tell us a little about how you settled on this art style, and what strengths or weaknesses you feel it has?

Hassan: Well I have made some adjustments with the use of colour since the pilot, but that’s for you all to see when the volume is released. It took me a while to find my individual style as an artist – this was down to trial and error. As to how I got to my style or art, when I started this manga what I hadn’t seen used was spot colour. There are manga in full colour and there are ones just in black and white. I had been working on this manga idea for about 14 years, so I was young when I had started and the idea of using spot colour just stuck and felt right. Since the pilot, I have gone back and completely revamped it and added key elements, not just to the story but to the action scenes as well, beyond what you’ve read. I have also written and drawn what follows after that said chapter, so there will be a lot of reading to do when the manga is out. As for strengths, as far as spot colour this works very well for me I think conventional manga lacks a wow factor sometimes, people can find everything done for them, not just in stories, but done visually. As an artist I would like to colour in what I see using my imagination, to say, “this is what it looks like.” People do have different tastes, but it is boring on either side of colour and black and white, with spot colour it sort of brings the two together having them half and half. It also makes the scenes look more dynamic; it can even add a bit of extra dimension to it as well, as it draws attention. As for weaknesses… printing – so far as I can see, is the only weakness. The reason being, it’s expensive and also when scaling it down from its original size of A2 to a customised A5 some of the detail is taken away, so I’ll probably release a larger version, you never know.

Laura: Katja, in Demon Catchers, you reference “To Sail a Moon” when discussing your character DC Darks’ costume similarities to those of Sailor Moon. What other inspirations affected your art style today, and how closely do you feel they influence your work?

Katja: Recently I’ve been inspired more by Western artists and works such as Arthur Rackham, whose illustrations I find so captivating that I simply must include magical aspects in my own pieces. As I don’t believe I have a particular style yet, I have no interest in consistency whatsoever. This has its downsides, but I feel I have not restricted myself to only using specific techniques. With this sort of attitude I take inspiration from anything anywhere, from looking at a pretty view to experiencing something rather bad. I find no limits in art, just tonnes of creative opportunities. Their impact on my art varies; sometimes I may completely theme the picture on one idea, and on others I may just take a photo of the line art instead of scanning it. As nice as it would be to have an established style, I think I would get bored of it really quickly and so I always would have to be moving on.

Laura: Damian, are Gashu-Group Manga planning to attend any of this year’s MCM events? If so, what can we expect to see? Will any artists be returning from previous events?

Damian: Aha! Well… yes, of course, we plan to come for the October Expo. We will confirm this after May’s event on our website, as we would rather come when our team is ready. As for artists, Hassan won’t be attending because by the time this is released he will be in Japan working on the rest of his stuff there. As far as what we will see, of course we will be seeing the release of the official ‘Legend of the Black Dragon’ manga Volume One and a funny comedy called ’10 Top Tips to Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse’ by newcomer Boe Leahy and his co-writer Chris Cave – which will be running as a small series (they’re already working on the next one too – you never know, we might be able to get them both out for October). As for anything else, well, we have some things we’re working on confirming.

Laura: Do you all have any final words?

Hassan: Although I may not be attending the next Expo, when released do take a look and buy my new manga. It won’t disappoint.

Katja: Visiting is always a good starting point; the forums there quickly and easily allow you to introduce yourself to the whole team. We look for perseverance; drawing manga is time-consuming and can be mentally exhausting. School, work, and other activates can get in the way, and so artists tend to lose their motivation to continue drawing. Having members on the forums regularly checking up on artists’ developments in projects can help to keep the creativity flowing, and can be a source of encouragement during troubling times. Members can also provide artists with ideas, information and critiques, and so we fully welcome all sorts of people into Gashu Group.

Damian: If anyone wishes to make a manga and is dedicated then join us and we will help you out. Also thank you Laura for being awesome and having a chat with us.

You can expect to see Gashu-Group Manga at the MCM Expo in October this year, and can find out more from their website.

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