When it comes to his young adult novel series, Akiko, and his Manga graphic novel series, Miki Falls, artist/writer Mark Crilley considers himself a showman.
“I don’t want to give my audience a chance to get bored. My stories are always attempting to be entertaining at every turn, never demanding you never plod through long pages before getting to the good stuff. I always want it to be good stuff. I want kids to enjoy themselves from the first page to last, especially reluctant readers,” explained Crilley, 42, who graduated from Kalamazoo College in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in art. He lives in Novi with his wife Miki, and their children Matthew, 9, and Mio, 2.
During his freshman year at Kalamazoo College, Crilley met a group of foreign students and became enthralled with living overseas. As a result, he taught English in Taiwan and Japan for several years.
At 28, Crilley decided it was time to change careers and become an artist. He created Akiko, which he calls a Japanese version of The Wizard of Oz. He described it as a “pigtailed girl who leaves the ordinary world behind to live in a fantasyland.”
“With Akiko, the main character is female in a science-fiction tale loaded with things for boys: robots, aliens, explosions. If the series had a boy as the main character, the testerone might push it off girls’ radar screen. I thought having a female as the main character was a tradition – it’s what you do.”
It was also a shrewd move as Akiko is enjoyed by boys and girls alike. Crilley published Akiko through Sirius Comics as a comic book series in the mid-1990s. While it was modest in terms of sales, it was successful critically. It’s an optimistic, all-ages friendly series that stood out in an era of adult-oriented, grim-and-gritty comics, and was nominated for 13 Eisner Awards.
“To this day, people refer to Akiko as one of the best all-ages comics series of the 1990s, and I can safely say that immodestly,” Crilley said.
In 1998, Akiko was named to Entertainment Weekly’s “It List,” which Crilley believes led to Akiko becoming a series of children’s book that are currently published by Random House. To date, 300,000 copies of the Akiko series have been sold, according to the author.
“It took me into a different audience. Instead of a comic book audience, now I was suddenly reaching out to more of a young reader audience. That got me into schools and libraries, doing presentations,” explained Crilley. “What happened (with the books) was the reverse of the comics industry: fairly solid sales, but not so much attention critically. In comics, I’m a big fish in a small pond; in the children’s book world, it’s a big ocean of novels.”
Crilley has also found success with his graphic novel series, Miki Falls, which is a twist on Cupid, not to mention the namesake of his wife, who is from Japan, yet, ironically, they met in Michigan.
“I describe Miki Falls as my love-letter to my wife and my love-letter to Japan and all the aspects of Japan I love. At every opportunity, I’m putting shrines and Japanese traditional architecture into the backgrounds,” he said. “I want to give my readers the experience of being in Japan while reading this story, and quietly showing them all the things of Japan that I love by way of this story.”
Miki Falls has been optioned by Paramount.
“The vindication of a story is there all along when someone buys movie rights. It helps me feel a bit more confident of the story I wrote and other stories I’ll write in the years to come,” said Crilley. “This is the story in which I challenged myself to tell a story that didn’t rely on explosions and laser beams and action sequences to pull readers in. It’s a dram where you have to care about the characters. Kirkus Reviews just really gave it glowing reviews, calling it ‘stellar’ and ‘masterful’ – words I’ve never seen when I get reviewed. To me, that’s a moment of pride.”
Visit Crilley at MarkCrilley.com.