If you read any manga at all during the boom years of the medium then you have no doubt heard of M. Alice LeGrow. A writer and artist living in Philadelphia, in 2003 she came in second in Tokyopop’s Rising Stars of Manga competition and then when on to create Bizenghast, one of manga’s biggest hits of 2004.
She published the eighth and final volume of that series in 2011 and now she has begun work on her next project, The Elephant Book, which she is funding through Kickstarter. M. Alice was nice enough to agree to an email interview about the new book, what a professional birthday princess is and why she loves Philly so much.
Tell everyone a little about yourself. Have you lived in Philly a long time?
I’ve lived in Philadelphia since just after I finished college in 2003. I moved down here to be closer to my friends in the city, and I really love it here. Philadelphia is my favorite city in the world, which is why I set my new comic series in it! I feel like Philly should get more representation in comics, because it’s often overlooked as a setting, in favor of the usual New York/Los Angeles locations.
Most fans know you from your successful world manga series Bizenghast. What was it like to finish the series in 2011?
It was very rewarding to know that seven years of work was finally wrapping up and all the plotlines would be resolved, but it was also a little sad. I’ve spent the better part of a decade on that one storyline and it was tough to know that I wouldn’t be working with those characters anymore. It’s like finishing up shooting for a movie and having to say goodbye to a great cast of actors that you’ve come to know.
With Tokyopop going under, what’s the status of the series? Will you ever be able to get it back in print?
I’m not sure about that… I’ve been talking with Stu Levy, the owner of Tokyopop, and he’s considering digital releases for some currently owned titles, including Bizenghast. I’m excited to see what may come of that! Book eight, the final volume, is also finally being printed up on-demand and will be available online this month, and I’m very happy about that.
Your new project is The Elephant Book, which you’re funding through Kickstarter. What is the book about?
It’s a pretty exciting series, with a lot of bizarre humor and out-of-this-world fantasy adventure. It involves two young people named Williams and Fairfax (although they’re not sure which one is which), who run afoul of two shadow organizations in Philadelphia, and accidentally uncover a global secret that’s been held back from humanity since medieval times. The story starts in Philly and goes everywhere from underground to the Arctic Circle.
There’s also a bit of inside humor for Philly residents and a lot of interweaving of our city’s history with the storyline. I wanted to utilize the size and diversity of Philadelphia as much as possible, to bring a really rich backdrop to every scene. I’ve spent hours and hours photographing and researching different locations to use as settings for various parts of the story. One particular location used is the Eastern State Penitentiary, where I work in the fall as a costume designer for Terror Behind the Walls.
Why the decision to fund the book through Kickstarter?
Well, I went through sort of a life-changing event recently, where I was in a car accident and was left unable to work the two jobs I had. While I was recuperating, I thought about how great it would be if I could get back to working from home doing comics and not having to worry about my health, doing heavy lifting and long hours at my day job. There was always a lot of support and anticipation from fans for the next series, and a fan suggested Kickstarter as a way of being able to raise enough money to cover rent and bills so I could finally make the book a reality. I checked it out and figured that I had nothing to lose if it wasn’t successful.
The response has been nothing short of astounding and I am so grateful to everyone for being so supportive and generous towards my project! I’m the kind of person who likes to do everything for herself and has a hard time accepting help from others, so this Kickstarter funding was a difficult transition from the way I normally do things. But I’m really glad I took everyone’s advice and went through with it! It’s been a fantastic experience and I’ve connected with a lot wonderful and generous people. I’ve also taken a new interest in the other projects on Kickstarter and have donated to some of them as well!
Once you get on the website, it’s pretty addictive. There are just so many amazing projects on there and you want to help make them all happen!
I have to ask: What is a professional birthday princess?
One of my jobs is with Once Upon a Dream Princess Parties, playing a princess for birthday parties and events in the eastern PA/NJ area. I play all of the different princesses and entertain the children with singing, dancing and storytelling. The kids are incredibly funny and enthusiastic. It’s probably the best non-comics job I’ve ever had…I mean, what other job gives you a slice of cake at the end of your shift?
Do you have any parting thoughts for the Geekadelphia readers?
Yes. Thanks very much for reading my interview and keep your fingers crossed that Papelbon comes out strong during this first week of games. I’ve got high hopes for him.
The Elephant Book Kickstarter
M. Alice LeGrow