Justin’s Japan: Interview with cartoonist Adam Pasion on ‘Aftershock’ and ‘Sundogs’

"'Aftershock' is supposed to communicate how far-reaching the influence of Japan has been on cartoonists all over the world, and how we feel in a moment like this. I guess more than an open letter, it's a get well card." (Courtesy of Adam Pasion)

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02) for Examiner.com. Visit his page here for related stories.

For the past several years Adam Pasion has been living in Nagoya, which he calls “Japan’s best kept secret.” An editor and illustrator for RAN magazine, he is also a co-owner and English teacher of SpeakEasy Language School. As the creator of his own comic diary series Sundogs, the San Jose native was profiled in The Japan Times earlier this year, and the strip has since been collected into three books, providing a daily document of Pasion’s life in Nippon with his growing family from 2008 through 2010.

His latest project is Aftershock: Artists Respond to Disaster in Japan, a global response to the combined disasters of this year’s Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown. Edited and complied by Pasion and representing over 35 contributors from five continents, including Jeffrey Brown, Ben Snakepit, and JET alum Lars Martinson (Fukuoka-ken, 2003-06), the book shares their thoughts and feelings about a freshly devastated Japan in manga form. In this exclusive interview, Pasion reveals the inspiration for this unique project, his favorite Sundogs moments, and what’s next on his plate.

Tell us about your history with Japan. How did it cross your radar growing up?

My hometown had a pretty big and vibrant Japantown, and we would often go there and eat or go window shopping as a kid, but beyond that Japan was just a point on a map for me. In college I worked with a Japanese girl who tried to get me to go to some club for Japanese exchange students. I reluctantly went and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it—tons of delicious Japanese food and lots of cute girls. I started going regularly, and that is where I met my wife. I started taking a Japanese class, and through that class I got offered a position working in Japan for a summer. After spending a summer working here, I fell in love with the place. Several years later, my wife and I found out that we were going to be having a baby, and we decided to come have the baby close to my wife’s family here in Nagoya. Four years, two kids and a couple belt sizes later, and we are still here.

How did Aftershock come together following the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011?

Like most people out there who have any sort of connection to Japan, I felt paralyzed by the whole thing. Here were all these terrible events unfolding just a few hundred miles up the coast and there was nothing I could do about it. I had a sort of “survivor’s guilt” by proxy. When the medical teams and disaster relief groups started to come in I felt even more uneasy, realizing that it was in fact possible to help, just impossible for me to help. Every place I looked told me “just donate money for now.” I felt like I was sitting in the waiting room, waiting for the doctors to do their job. All I could do was wait, and offer to help with the hospital bills.

Then one night my brain was racing as I was trying to go to sleep, and the idea occurred to me to find a way to help out within my own skill set, which is where the idea for this book came about. I jumped out of bed and immediately fired off about 10 e-mails to the cartoonists I knew personally, and the response was 100 percent positive. I contacted Top Shelf Productions after that on a whim and they were into the idea right away. I still felt like any moment it would vanish in smoke until out of the blue I started getting tons of requests to join the project and submissions from people I had never met. The word had gotten out and was spreading quickly, and at that point I knew we were on to something. When things with Top Shelf didn’t pan out, the project already had way too much momentum to give up, which is why I decided to self-publish it. When the book was funding on Kickstarter, I actually had people thanking me for the chance to pledge money to the project. I still can’t wrap my head around that.

What are your goals with releasing Aftershock?

This has been a major point of misunderstanding from a lot of people. The main goal of this project is not fundraising for a charity. That is certainly a big part of it, but the distinction is that even if it fails to make a lot of money, I think it is incredibly meaningful in its own right. From the beginning I have described this book as a kind of “open letter” to the nation of Japan from the international comics community. It is supposed to communicate how far-reaching the influence of Japan has been on cartoonists all over the world, and how we feel in a moment like this. I guess more than an open letter, it’s a get well card. It is also a timepiece that encapsulates the popular sentiment of the world at one moment. I want all the contributors to look back on this book and remember exactly where we were and how we felt while we were still in the thick of it. I think we have succeeded in this goal. We have created a lasting piece of art that captures an important moment in time and the zeitgeist that goes along with it.

Some people have misunderstood the purpose of the project as a way to donate to the disaster. It certainly is [all proceeds from Aftershock will be donated to relief efforts in northeast Japan—Ed.], but if your main purpose is to make a donation, then there are much more direct ways to do it than to buy this book. I want the book to be successful in its aim to raise as much money as possible to help in the rebuilding process, but I also want people to actively become involved. Read the stories and see why we care so much. I want it to motivate people to join the process of rebuilding and I want it to help people feel like we are all in this thing together.

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