Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mega Man Dreams

Every so often in our careers, we get to be a part of something nostalgic or special to us that we're proud of. I have friends who have officially written comics based on tv shows they loved, adapted favorite childhood books to comics, or contributed art to trading cards based on a beloved movie franchise. This story isn't quite as encompassing as those, but I'm really proud of it nonetheless.
As a kid in the 80's plugged in to his NES, I loved the Mega Man games. My first exposure was when a babysitter of mine brought over the first game. She explained the rock-scissors-paper mechanics and I was happy to sit and watch her blast through the various Robot Masters (You could battle them in any order you wanted! It was AMAZING!). She was stuck forever battling - and losing to - Ice Man and thought for sure that he would melt under the fire weapon. I remember suggesting that maybe electricity would work instead, and the rest was history.
But the games aren't really what this is about. Just after college, I discovered the existence of Mega Man (or rather, Rockman) manga that existed in Japan. Like most dorks, I'm careless with money and saw it fit to purchase whatever volumes I could find, mostly on eBay. And no, I couldn't read a word of them. But I didn't have to! I knew the stories and the artwork was fun enough for me to follow along and wish like crazy that I had had comics like these when I was a kid. I hated the Captain N and Mega Man cartoon versions of the blue bomber. I always thought they were made by people who didn't know what Mega Man was, or just didn't care. But these comics seemed more true to Rock's roots and I got a thrill out of them. Then I discovered Hitoshi Ariga.
Ariga was creating Rockman manga based on more or less original stories rather than strictly following the plots, thin as they were, outlined in the games. He infused the tiny flashes of light on the screen with personalities and motives and generally expanded the entire world of Mega Man into a wonderful comic universe that even someone unfamiliar with the games could enjoy. I remember being totally jazzed when Ariga embellished the original six Robot Masters. In the first game, the story claims that they were creations of good Dr. Light, stolen and reprogrammed by villainous Dr. Wily. Rather than have Mega Man merely blast them to smithereens, Ariga has Mega Man free his brothers who go on to form a kind of heroic super fighting robot team!
It was at the MoCCA Artfest that I totally by chance happened to meet Jim Zubkavich. Both of us were working on our own mini comics and both of us had some interest in videogame comics. At the time, the first Lifemeter anthology I had helped edit came out. Jim, however, was the project manager at Udon Entertainment. It wasn't long before we were talking Capcom and Mega Man. And in a heartbeat, I was talking about Ariga and his loose, infectious style.
Jim gave me a bit of a hush-hush wink. “It looks like we may be getting the Mega Man license soon.”
“You've got to see these books.” I said. Jim, himself one of the biggest and most genuine fans of games, comics, art and Mega Man I have ever met, was interested and told me to send him the covers and whatever information I had on them. I think it was the first thing I did when I got home.
Weeks, months, YEARS went by! I would often see Jim at other conventions and he would talk about successfully getting the license to Mega Man. Then he would let me in on all the red tape to cut through getting the books and the rights to publish them officially in North America. It was slow going, like most thing in publishing are. But it was exciting knowing that each time we met, I was a little closer to holding the books and being able to read them on my own.
Sure enough, in 2009, the first volume of Mega Man Megamix by Hitoshi Ariga and published by Udon was released. As I understand it, the books have been doing well and the Mega Man fan community is pleased to finally have them official and in English. The lettering, translation and localization are all stellar. This year, I even received this amazing piece of original artwork of my favorite Robot Master sent to me by Jim from the hand of Hitoshi Ariga himself.

And, if you look in the back of each volume of Megamix, there is a list of thank yous. At the bottom of the list, past all of the Japanese names of folks who actually did something, is my name. It's a small thing and yet one that I am really excited by. It makes me proud to have my name attached to something I've loved since boyhood in a small way.

Mega Man Megamix volume 3 was released on November 17, 2010 and would make an amazing holiday gift for any fan of the Blue Bomber!