Interview with the Translator: John Gallagher


ComiPress: First of all, please introduce yourself! Who are you? What do you do?

John Gallagher: I'm from Ireland. I've lived in Japan for over ten years. I'm especially drawn to small subcultures (like male geisha) and minor artists (like Miura Jun). I'm a translator and sporadic writer.

ComiPress: How did you first get into the Manga Zombie translation project? How did everything come together? And how did it end up being published on ComiPress?

John Gallagher: I've been researching the male geisha subculture for the last few years. A friend set up a meeting with Udagawa-san because he's well-known as a researcher on everything arcane and offbeat. He showed up with some insanely recondite sound recordings of a male geisha taken in 1969. He also gave me a copy of Manga Zombie, and I decided to translate it during 2007.

From there, it was a question of raising interest in the English-speaking world, and I trawled around the net for a while, looking for likely forums for this material. When ComiPress contacted me and suggested doing something online, I ran it by Udagawa-san, and he thought it sounded good. Ultimately I'd like to see a print translation of this work, if that's feasible.

ComiPress: What do you think is so special about Manga Zombie? Do you agree with the message of the book? What do you hope the readers will get from the book?

John Gallagher: Manga Zombie really grabbed me from the first page - the artists were new to me in most cases, and there was a passion and intensity in the graphics that I really liked. These were all outsider artists. And Udagawa-san struck me as a really honest and committed advocate for revaluing their work. The focus was on them, not him.

I'm a bit less pessimistic about the current manga scene than Udagawa-san is, but I'm looking at it from a different angle. All the same, I agree that the scene in the 60s and 70s was especially diverse and exciting. There's an edginess about it that may be harder to find now.

I hope that readers of Manga Zombie in English will appreciate the freedom and eccentricity of the artists covered in this book - they're extremely loopy and often very transgressive. Really, I have no idea what readers will take away from an English-language version of Manga Zombie, but I hope they enjoy it. In terms of manga theory and criticism, I hope this translation will open up new areas of debate, and inform the English-language discussion more.

ComiPress: What was it like translating Manga Zombie? Tell us how you went about doing it.

John Gallagher: I had a whale of a time translating Manga Zombie. I wanted it to be fun to do and fun to read. I think it's a faithful translation, though a pretty free one. The Japanese is often very involved and academic. I did my best to make it a smooth ride in English. I tried to translate it at the rate of one or two essays a week, so there was a backlog by the time we started going up in ComiPress. There were the usual delays and interruptions that are part of any project like this. ComiPress did a really professional job on proofreading, editing, layout etc.

ComiPress: Why did you choose an online medium to publish Manga Zombie? Are you satisfied with the results? What plans do you have in the future?

John Gallagher: This is just a part of Manga Zombie. Ultimately, the goal is a print version. Obviously, going online connects you with a community of like-minded people, and raises awareness and interest.

I'd like to read more feedback from your readers about Manga Zombie in general.

The idea is to get Manga Zombie out in print in English.

ComiPress: Please tell us about your experience with manga, how did you first get into manga, what was being a manga fan like back in the days?

John Gallagher: Obviously, living in Japan and being interested in the language, manga are part of my life every day. I'm not an otaku, and I have no special insight into the scene. But I can't imagine Japan without manga. I caught the tail end of Garo when I first came over to Japan, and I was immediately hooked. Later on I got into Garo from the 70s. This was the manga read by manga artists to see what was coming up in the scene. So I bought lots of back issues and learned about the scene from there.

ComiPress: How do you feel about today's manga market, both in Japan and in the U.S.? Is the market lacking in "quality manga" as Manga Zombie described?

John Gallagher: I'm really not qualified to talk about the current scene as a whole - it's just too diverse. I think a lot of ComiPress readers would have a better handle on the situation than me.

ComiPress: What have been both the best and worst of manga?

I'd have to go with Ugagawa-san on this one. Manga should rot the brain. Hence Manga Zombie, and why I'm translating it.

ComiPress: What are some of your favorite manga and manga creators? Is there any work today that particularly interests you?

John Gallagher: I like a lot classic eccentrics like Hanawa Kazuichi, and especially Ebisu Yoshikazu. I'm also very fond of Watanabe Kazuhiro. Doing Manga Zombie has introduced me to a lot of others. Again, I'm not going to comment on the current scene.

ComiPress: What do you see for the future of manga? How has technology affected manga and how will it affect it into the future?

John Gallagher: Well, manga sales have slumped in Japan because people are turning to other technologies, especially the internet accessed via cellphone. Anyway, manga will live on, and of course will thrive in other languages and contexts in the immediate future. In Japan, the lack of diversity that Udagawa-san complains about isn't confined to manga, but affects all media. But I think the internet can be the forum where a lot of creativity can get out there, in Japan and elsewhere.

ComiPress: Thank you very much for the interview! Any final words you'd like to say to the English readers of Manga Zombie?

John Gallagher: As Udagawa-san points out, there are real treasures among the Japanese manga of the 60s and 70s. If you take the time to track down more of their work on the net or whatever, you'll certainly find something to amuse or shock or inspire you, whether you read Japanese or not. I hope that Manga Zombie can create that kind of interest in these artists.