It’s probably happened to you over the last few years; you’re sitting at work, or maybe at home and an old buddy of yours from JET forwards you a link. You open it, and it’s a hilarious comic about life as a JET skillfully drawn with a mix of humor and nostalgia that pretty much makes your day. Life After the B.O.E. by David Namisato (Aomori-ken CIR, 2002-04) has given many a JET Alum a good laugh. If you’re anything like me, you’ve thought, “If this was a book, it would be a perfect Christmas present for those guys I still keep in contact with.” Well, David is happy to oblige.
David has now published a book of those comics, and we were lucky enough to catch up with him and pick his brain about it. With his comics popping up on other sites, it seems even a wider audience is getting into David’s work. In this exclusive interview, we ask him about his time on JET, his inspirations, and what he’s looking to do in the future.
What made you decide to publish this book?
I wasn’t planning to do a book initially, but a conversation with Lynn Miyauchi, JET Program Coordinator at the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle, about the benefits of having a printed book (having something to read in your hands, something you can give as a gift) changed my mind.
So how did you get into art? Were you inspired at all by Japanese art/manga/etc.?
I drew a lot throughout childhood and dreamt of being a comic book artist. I grew up on a healthy diet of manga.
What brought you to Japan?
I was in the process of dropping out of animation school, and didn’t want to do anything art-related. I thought of some of the other skills I had, and I thought that the JET Programme would be an excellent way to transition myself in to a completely different career path.
A lot of your stories deal with the ALT experience, even though you were a CIR. How did you find yourself with those insights?
I was a CIR who was hired to teach English and spent much of my time teaching at elementary schools, so I got a lot of in-class experience. Also, my ALT friends and I would chat about the crazy things that happened to us in class and at the office.
What got you started with these comics?
The JETAA Toronto newsletter was looking for something to spice up the last page of the monthly newsletter and I figured I could draw a few comics to fill in the space.
How did they evolve into the web comic that we know today?
It took quite a while for Life After the B.O.E. to take its current form. If I recall correctly, it was around the halfway mark of the comic’s run that I realized that the JETAA Toronto newsletter had a readership that was significantly larger than my blog or my portfolio site, and that I needed to approach the artwork for Life After the B.O.E. more seriously. That’s when the comics became more polished and the website began to take form so that I could reach even more readers.
Did you use the comic as a form of catharsis, or was it to just get laughs out of your JET friends?
The JET Programme mantra is “Every Situation is Different,” but so much of the frustrations and the joys that we encounter are very similar. Even though we all worked in different schools, offices and prefectures, there’s so much that we share experience-wise, I wanted a vehicle for us to laugh together. So yeah, that’s my fancy way of saying I wanted to get a laugh out of my friends.
Did you know as recently as Sept. 28th your comics were being displayed on other sites like Reddit.com?
I knew that there were AJET and JETAA publications showing my work, but it was only in September that I found out that some of my comics were being posted on non-JET related, non-ESL sites.
So what told you that it was time to pack it in with Life After the B.O.E.?
There were a number of factors, but with things changing for me career-wise, I thought it would be good to end Life After the B.O.E. and I figured, “JET is for five years at most, so maybe the comic should be the same, too.”
Do you see yourself ever picking up the topic of the Japan experience in comic form again?
I’d like to. It’s been seven years since I was last in Japan, so I think I need to visit for a bit before I can convincingly embark on a new comic series about the Japan experience.
Tell us about some of your favorite strips.
I quite like “Autograph,” about an ALT whose students are crying because he signed their notebooks and drew a picture of Snoopy for them. The story was taken directly from my JET friend Matthew Chimko‘s Facebook status update.
Another comic I like is the last one I did for the website. It’s not funny at all, but the two images show the transformation that many of us go through during our time in Japan; from seeing Japan as a distant place with a cool culture, history, technology, and things, to seeing Japan as a second home where we are blessed with great relationships.
Were there any controversial moments in producing the series?
There were, but the comments coming in have been overwhelmingly positive, so I try not to dwell on the controversies or negatives.
What kind of feedback have you received from JETs, expats and the Japanese community over the years?
I’ve received a number of e-mails from JETs past, present, and future about how much they enjoy the comics. It’s always great to get e-mail from people at AJET, JETAA, and other JET-related groups, asking to use Life After the B.O.E. for their newsletters.
Tell us about some of your other work as a professional/commercial artist.
For two years, I illustrated a Canadian history comic called “Gabe and Allie in Race Through Time” for Kayak, the kids edition of Canada’s History magazine. I’ve also worked on a number of Zombie vs. Cheerleaders comics for 5finity Productions/Moonstone Books. My work also appears occasionally on the comic book parody site Gutters.
What can we expect next from you?
I have a monthly Japanese language comic called 「マークと皆」 (Mark to Minna/Mark and the Gang) about a Japanese-Canadian boy living in Toronto and his family in a magazine called Torja. Also for Torja, I’m illustrating a serialized romantic comedy by writer Takya Watari called 「もしかの」 (Moshikano) about a Japanese student and his imaginary girlfriend, which you can read for free on their website.