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March 16, 2010

Behind the Scenes with TokyoPop Senior Editor Lilian Diaz-Pryzbyl

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It’s TokyoPop senior editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl’s turn to get in the hotseat and answer our questions!

Do you remember your first comic book or graphic novel?
I’m pretty sure it was Tintin and/or Asterix. My next-door neighbors when I was growing up had an extensive collection of both series left over from their children, and I’d go over to their house and spend hours reading. I also vividly remember that my first-grade classroom had a copy of a comic adaptation of the Dark Crystal film. I didn’t see the film itself until years later (like, late middle school, if not high school), but I adored that comic and read it over and over that year.
 
What do you love about the graphic novel as a format for storytelling?
I love the freedom of imagination involved. Even in these days of amazing special effects, it’s tough to beat what you can do with images on a page to bring the most fantastic worlds and circumstances into convincing, believable life. The best graphic novels in my mind have a very cinematic quality, except more participatory. Instead of passively absorbing at the pace of the director, you can progress through the story at your own rate (indicated by the creator, but not totally dictated by them). And the creative control that a single individual (or a small team) can have over that vision is pretty fantastic. You really get the sense that you’re experiencing a world created by a very specific person (although hopefully you’re so absorbed in the work that you’re not sitting there thinking about authorial intent). And that includes more autobiographical material or reality-based stories, too, not just the amazing fantasy, which is why we get so many fascinating memoirs in graphic novel form, too.

Whose work do you admire?
Oh, man, this is an ever-changing lineup, so I’m going to decline to give a list. But I like creators who can capture a sense of fun even when telling a dark, serious tale. I want to have an emotional experience when I’m reading, so sometimes it’s something that makes me laugh out loud, sometimes it’s a story that makes me cry, sometimes it’s just the sense of adventure and excitement.  Whether it’s through beautiful visuals or compelling characterizations and dialogue, those are the stories I keep coming back to year after year. I admire people who can create a fiction that I find totally engrossing. I admire artists who continually reinvent themselves and try new things. I admire artists who have a clear creative vision that you can see throughout all their works, even when dealing with vastly different topics and themes. The list goes on and on.

Who do you read outside of the graphic novel format?

I tend to read a lot of young-adult fiction, which overlaps with my manga interests—lots of fantasy/SF overtones mixed in with stories where character and emotion are primary, and generally can be polished off in a single sitting or two (I’m busy, and somewhat obsessive-compulsive when it comes to reading, so once I pick something up, I tend to just plow right through). But my tastes in general cover everything from Dickens to Margaret Atwood. I’m pretty omnivorous when given time and opportunity.
 
How many graphic novels do you read a month? How many of those are manga?
I’d say 99 percent of what I read is manga—maybe six or seven books a month, outside of what I’m actually working on? (So that’s not counting ongoing volumes and acquisitions research—which ends up being a lot more.) I really should read more non-Japanese stuff, since there’s so much out there that’s really top-notch, but I find the price of most U.S. graphic novels to be a bit prohibitive, so I follow news about what’s going on but only pick up specific titles that come highly recommended, and usually years after everyone else has read them.
  
How did you first get involved in the field professionally?
Kind of by chance, actually—or rather, I was in the right place at the right time. I switched from Western comics to manga fandom in high school, and then went on to major in Japanese and English in college, figuring I’d end up in academia somewhere. I met Stu Levy, TokyoPop’s CEO, when he did a lecture at the university in Tokyo, where I was studying abroad, and that started me thinking seriously about comics as a real career option. I did an internship over the summer at an SF publisher in New York and then applied to TokyoPop the spring of my senior year in college. Conveniently, they were looking for a junior editor, and I managed to convince them that I was the right person for the job.
 
What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people what you do?
I live in L.A. now, so most people are like, “COOL!” followed by, “Hey, I’ve got this screenplay that I’ve been wanting to turn into a comic book.…” My friends back east are mostly involved in sensible careers, so they’re a little befuddled by the path I’ve chosen (most of them know me from when I wanted to be an astrophysicist), but they’re all geeks too in their own way, so whatever. And I’ve got a little cousin who is a huuuuuge manga fan, so I’m totally her favorite relative-who-isn’t-Grandma.
 
Do you collect comics? What is the most valuable piece of art, graphic novel, or comic book in your collection?
Depends on how you define “collect.” I have almost the full run of Marvel’s Excalibur, plus some random old Claremont X-Men books from back in the day, but I usually keep things because of their entertainment value to me, rather than any sort of external valuation. I go through phases of the “gotta have ’em all” mentality, but it hasn’t been regarding comics as investments for quite some time (anime figures on the other hand…or doujinshi…).
 
That said, I have received some lovely art from various people I’ve worked with over the years—some finished pages, some watercolor images, some just little notes with sketches.… Those are hugely valuable to me, although probably not to anybody else.

Is there something you covet adding to your collection?
There are a couple of artists in Japan whose original art I’d love to get ahold of (Kouga Yun, Minekura Kazuya, Hagio Moto, to name a few). I have autographs from several artists who have come to the U.S., and a hilarious personalized sketch from the author of Gravitation, who I escorted around a convention at one point, but to have a piece of signed art from one of the greats…that’d be pretty awesome.