When I was a little kid, my parents always kept stacks of white paper on a shelf in the kitchen, low enough that the paper was easily within my reach. Not far from that paper supply was a cup full of pencils, and, next to that, an electric pencil sharpener. My parents knew I loved to draw. They knew, in fact, that there was basically nothing else I would rather do. I was kind of obsessed with it.
All day long, I’d have a pencil in hand, filling page after page with whatever captured my imagination at the time—monsters, superheroes, rocket ships, race cars, you name it. I was free to push myself to the limits of my imagination; with an endless supply of paper and pencils nearby—and provided I’d finished my homework—no one would ever tell me to stop.
And so I continued merrily drawing away through elementary, middle, and high school. Of course, once I decided to major in art at Kalamazoo College, things became a little more structured. There might be an assignment to tackle a certain subject, or a directive to draw in a certain way. Years later, when I became a published author and illustrator, there were naturally further limitations: outlines were discussed, plans were made, drawings were submitted for approval, and so on. The days of just sitting down and drawing what I wanted to had inevitably come to an end. Such is the way of the world.
Or is it?
A couple of years ago, I pitched a book idea to Watson-Guptill Publications, proposing to create a book of illustrations. There was just one thread intended to unite them all: they should be in a manga style, or they should relate to Japan and the world of manga in some way. To my great pleasure, the folks at Watson-Guptill said, “Let’s do it.”
And I was a child once more.
The illustrations you are about to view were created in an atmosphere of complete artistic freedom. The publisher entrusted me with creating the book that I wanted to create. This freedom meant that I was able to follow my muse, day after day, week after week, and make the kind of illustrations I wanted to. I came up with the ideas. I decided the sizes and shapes of each image. I settled on which art supplies to use for drawing the lines and for adding the colors.
It was all up to me. No one said they needed to come in and look over my shoulder. No one said, “Mark, can we see some rough drafts and run them by the committee?” It wasn’t like that. I just sat down and started making art. Truly, it was like being a kid again.
The stack of paper had become pads of Strathmore Bristol board, and the pencils . . . well, they remained pencils: Dixon Ticonderoga—the very same brand I had used as a child. But they were now joined by other art supplies. Man oh man, were they ever joined by other art supplies! I pulled out every type of drawing and coloring tool I had at my disposal for this project: watercolors, colored pencils, gouache (an opaque water-based paint), pastels, pen and ink, computer coloring—nothing was ever very far from my fingertips. I was determined to put the “mixed” back into “mixed media.”
The organizational principles of this book developed organically. I reached a point one or two months in where I was able to stand back and see that all these pictures had as their primary focus one of five things: characters, Japanese culture, science fiction, unusual concepts, or efforts at working in a particular art style. And so I arranged things into the five chapters that lie before you.
Let’s look at the manga aspect. At the heart of the book is manga-style artwork, but perhaps not in the way that you might expect. These are not images that meticulously mimic the art of published Japanese illustrators. It’s not a book that’s meant to fool you into thinking it was originally published in Tokyo. The name Crilley—I need hardly explain—is not Japanese. (It’s Irish, if you must know.)
My approach was to take the manga style and be a kind of mad scientist with it. What happens when you mix manga art with styles you would normally see in children’s picture books? What would a manga illustration look like if it were designed by Gustav Klimt? Can manga art be created with loose lines? Or scratchy lines? What about no lines at all? This book contains pictures that answer all of these questions, and many, many others.
Some people (people stricter than me) will even say that some of these pictures don’t qualify as “real” manga art. That’s not for me to decide. But I can promise you one thing: you will never reach a point where you can predict, more or less, what’s waiting for you on the next page. This book is designed to keep you guessing. If I’ve done my job right, these illustrations shouldn’t look like they’re all trying to do the same thing. Heck, some of them shouldn’t even look like they were done by the same guy
. I wanted this book to be like The Beatles’ White Album
: zigging and zagging all over the place, but somehow—just barely—holding together as a single creation.
One last thing: this is more than just a collection of pictures. There’s quite a lot of writing in this book, and most of it goes well beyond simply introducing you to the artwork. My goal was to inspire creativity, and to pass along specific information about my techniques that you could then use in creating your own work. In reading the various descriptions and short essays in the pages ahead, you will learn all about the ideas behind these pictures, and what made me want to make them. You’ll learn about the decisions I made along the way, the things I chose to do or chose not to do, and why. And you’ll learn quite a lot about the art supplies I used, and how each of them contributed to the appearance of the final images.
This book was a dream project for me. That’s not to say it was easy. Indeed, of the three books I’ve created for Watson-Guptill, this one was by far the most challenging and time-consuming. But what a thrill it was to get back to my roots as an artist. To push myself up against every limit I could think of. To reach deep into my imagination and way back into my own memories, pulling it all up from within me and laying it down on the page. What an honor it was to be allowed to go chasing after inspiration day after day. I woke up every morning with just one job in front of me: to create and create and create.
Thank you all so much for reading my words and looking at my pictures. Making this book brought me struggles I will soon forget, and joys I will always remember. May your own creative endeavors do the same for you.