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Interview: Misako Rocks!

Esther Keller

This August, Misako Rocks, author and artist of a number of teen manga, will be reissuing her graphic novel Rock and Roll Love. I had the opportunity to interview Misako and learn about her latest projects and a bit about her.

Congratulations on reissuing your graphic novel/manga Rock and Roll Love. It’s always hard to see a beloved title go out of print. What made you decide to bring it back, and could you describe the process?

Misako Rocks:Thank you! Rock and Roll Love is my autobiographical graphic novel. It’s a high-spirited and comic tale of all the ups and down of first love from the perspective of a Japanese exchange student. I think that teens will have a fun time to relating to Misako and her daily struggles in high school.

It was originally made a few years ago, so I had to update many pages like background, character profiles, and so on. I especially took time to design the covers. The covers of books are so important. The back cover came out very unique and exciting. I spent more than two days picking the best font for my name. I can’t wait to hear what readers think of this book.

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Where will your book be available for purchase?

Mainly at Amazon, but also you can purchase them at any bookstores.

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What was the inspiration for Rock and Roll Love? There seem to be many parallels to your life to that of the main character, Misako’s life. What is fact and what is fiction in your book?

I’ve been asked this question a lot. “Is it true or not?!”

And yes, everything in this book happened to me during my life as an exchange student.

Ever since I was 11 years old, I wanted to move to America because I had a huge crush on Michael J. Fox in the movie Back to the Future.

I wrote love letters and sent them from Japan. Hahaha! I studied English very, very hard and was confident.

I’m usually outgoing and make friends easily. But In Missouri, I really had a hard time communicating with American kids because of the lack of my English skills, so I became a little bit homesick. Thanks to my punk rock friends and Zac, I had the best and most exciting year.

Making lifetime friends and meeting someone special during this age is so important. If I didn’t meet them at that time, I wouldn’t be who I am now.

I wanted to share my experience with readers. So I decided to make this book.

Tell us a little bit about your life, both past and present. What do you hope for the future?

My friends in Japan told me that I was a weird kid! I became a vegetarian when I was in 5th or 6th grade. It’s almost impossible to be a vegetarian in Japan. I was a Hollywood movie and Michael Jackson nerd. I watched Back to the Future many times while hiding the Japanese subtitles to study English. My parents always yelled at me because I took over the TV. icon wink Interview: Misako Rocks!

Now: I’ve published several manga with Japanese publishers in Japan. They are for an adult audience. I’d love to build this career in Japan, and in the U.S. I’m going to start an English webcomic, Bounce Back. It’s aimed at tweens and teens. These days, webcomics are becoming a major business. So I’d love to produce more passionate and exciting books for readers. It’s also a good chance to connect to them directly.

I’ll start designing app games in near future.

There are so many projects coming up!

You illustrate and you write your books. How would you characterize your style? Do you consider yourself a manga artist?

I think so. I was influenced by a manga style book when I made Rock and Roll Love.

Now my new webcomic is little bit different from my previous one. So wait and see!

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Where did you learn your craft? What is your [professional] background? Do you have a formal art education?

I’m a self-taught artist. Before I became a manga artist, I was a puppeteer. It was my dream to be a professional puppeteer for a long time. I also taught art classes at a middle school in Brooklyn, NY when I was a puppet intern. But then I realized that it was very difficult to make a living. So I had to switch my career ASAP. Both of my parents used to be police officers, so they pressured me a lot during that time. My first break was a weekly illustration position at The Onion.

You’ve both written and drawn all your projects. Have you ever considered collaboration with someone else? If you had your wish and could choose one writer (or artist) to collaborate with, who would it be?

Of course I would love to!!! It would be fun and inspiring to collaborate with other artists.

If it’s possible, I would love to work with manga artist Yukari Ichijo. I grew up reading her manga. She has very dynamic drawing style and a great sense of humor. Also, it would be amazing if I have a chance to work with Marjane Satrapi who made Persepolis. I really really love this book and it’s like my bible. She wrote and draw her autobiography, so I feel very connected to her.

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I’m assuming Misako Rocks! is not your real name. What is your real name and how and why did you come up with your pen name?

Hahaha! My real name is Misako Takashima. My editor thought that it would be hard for kids in America to pronounce my last name, so we made it super catchy and a unique pen name!

There are a lot of graphic novels out there? What do you think makes Rock and Roll Love stand out?

Rock and Roll Love has all the ups and down of first love.

Misako comes to America to live her dream. Like I mentioned, this book can inspire readers to challenge themselves to start something new or move to another country!  I’m trying to give a message “If you put your mind to do it, anything is possible” through this book.

So what’s next on your agenda? What else do you have on your plate? Do you have plans to continue the Detective Jermain series?

Yes, I’ll start a webcomic business called Bounce Back this fall. A Japanese girl named Lilico is the main character. She’ll struggle to fit in to a new school and will have to face racism and so on. This will be a very powerful story.

Detective Jermain Vol. 2 is ready to go soon too!!

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Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 3 and regularly reviews for SLJ, LMC. In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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