Interview with Katja Hammond, the winner of Manga Jiman 2013

The search for the best manga talent in the UK is on as the Embassy is now accepting entries for its manga writing competition, Manga Jiman. We caught up with Katja Hammond, the winner of last year’s competition, to find out how she won and about her designs for the future.
How does it feel to have won Manga Jiman?

Definitely unreal. Pinch me not, for I fear it all being just a lovely dream. Manga Jiman was like a book I had been reading for six years, and now having reached the end, there’s that happiness from completing the journey, and also the strange emptiness in thinking “… Now what?”. I’m thrilled that my characters and I have managed to achieve so much, and we’ve earned our way to first place and beyond … to the land of Japan! I don’t think this will entirely sink in until I’ve actually set foot in Tokyo!

Does the victory feel more ‘earned’ because you have steadily progressed from a few top three finishes to winning last year’s competition?

Every win in the top three finishes encouraged me to enter again, and the prizes I came away with – and still use almost on a daily basis – are a constant reminder of what I can achieve if I set out to try. It certainly did make my victory in the last competition feel more earned, but what makes it feel even better is the fact that it was all part of an increasing momentum that began in 2008.

Katja with her winning entry

At fifteen I drew my first entry for the Manga Jiman competition, ‘SchoolRaider’. Unfortunately I didn't have enough confidence and, despite it being finished and ready to send off, I could not pluck up the courage to deliver it to the Embassy. However, I was encouraged by the fact that I could draw short comics; if I could do that, then all I had to do was focus on improving their quality. And so every Manga Jiman competition from then on became a personal examination of my skills.

Every comic was an experiment on new techniques I had learned that year, and every comic taught me things that I would carry over to the next one. It was also an opportunity for me to test out story-telling methods in a condensed form; from that I discovered a whimsical side to my style, learned the value of ideas, and developed an understanding for simplicity and an appreciation for short stories as a bubble containing its own, sweetly preserved universe. I think most importantly of all, my comics were reflecting philosophies I was learning during those years; ‘The Shadow Generation’ represented the new discoveries I was making; ‘To Sail a Moon’ was about pushing boundaries on what I thought I knew and could imagine; ‘Stories in a Bottle’ was focusing on spontaneity and the fluidity of freedom; ‘Invidia’ concentrated on respect and hard work; and ‘Oh Crumbs!’ was a commentary on identity and happiness.

As a result, Manga Jiman means a bit more to me than simply drawing the best manga for a competition; it was the annual calling for me to review myself and my values, and to capture the essence of it in my element: manga. Over the six years I’ve learned a lot, and topped off with my previous wins, arriving first place in the last competition definitely felt earned, and I hope I can keep pushing this momentum through to future projects!

Where did you get your idea for your winning story, ‘Oh Crumbs!’?

Oh Crumbs!’ was based on an assignment in my first year of studying Games Design at university. It was a short game, with a narrative that ran along a similar trail to ‘Oh Crumbs!’, starring the chromatically-impaired chameleon, Crumbs, and his guardian, Zippy Jess. The player’s goal was to collect colourful sweets so that Crumbs could regain his rainbow complexion and return to normality.

Katja's university project which became the inspiration for her winning entry
It was my first attempt at designing a game, and as such many basic misunderstandings plagued the project, along with unimaginative gameplay, confused level designs and a fixation on gratuitous candy-themed monsters that Crumbs would have to battle his way through in order to claim dominance over a jar of bonbons.

The concept was rather scattered but I was very fond of it all, and although I didn’t return to the project after finishing it, the experience taught me a lot about what to do in future projects and what to never do ever, ever, ever again. Indeed, that game taught me the power of themes, of consistency, of messages and what a story alone can do. It was far from a perfect project, and it was from the imperfections that I learned how to reach the best results in my later creations.

The Manga Jiman theme for 2013, ‘Voyages of Discovery’, made me think back to little Crumbs, and I decided to use that opportunity to revisit the game and see how it would fare as a comic. I was interested to see how much I could polish the design by applying everything I had learned since its conception. I think it went pretty well.
In what now has become a tradition, the winner of the previous year’s competition produces artwork for the promotional leaflets. Can you tell us about your design for this leaflet?

Although I can’t enter the competition for this year, I still wanted to make the most of what I could contribute to it, and if that meant only having one picture instead of a 6-8 page comic, then so be it! And behold! Three young girls – Mucker, Bramble and Twiggy – explore an enchanted forest and discover a fallen star glowing with potential wish-making and dreams-come-true-ing. What would they make of their once-in-a-lifetime chance? I wanted to create a piece that bubbled with a quiet magic, a moment that captured a pivoting point tilting towards endless possibilities, much like the Manga Jiman itself; who knows what stories and wonders will arise from this year’s theme? It’s a wish waiting to come true!

Mucker, Twiggy & Bramble, the Manga Jiman mascots for 2014

2014 Manga Jiman leaflet

There is a new category this year for 11-13 year olds to create Yonkoma manga. What do you think of this?

I think it’s a fantastic idea, and I really hope that many will take this opportunity and enter! I would have been so happy if this category had existed when I was that young; knowing that there was such support and encouragement for manga would have helped me earlier on to realise the values in my skills. So I hope now that the Yonkoma competition will open the eyes of future artists and coax them out of their hiding places!

What advice would you give to those entering this year?

Love what you do – it’s the pulse to keep going. Create something only you can create; nobody else has this chance, so show them what you’ve got! And most of all, celebrate the times you didn’t give up, because the journey doesn’t end until you say so.

Finally, you are using your prize to see some sights in Japan later this year. What are you most looking forward to?

There are so many places I’d like to visit! The environments, the people, the routines, the values … I’ll be stepping into a world unlike any I’ve been to before, and that in itself is something to look forward to! There’s so much to learn and be inspired by, and as Japan is the home of many amazing things that have played a significant role in my life, I’d really like to discover their roots and understand how they evolved into what they are now.  And thus my first, and most anticipated, stop will be the Pokémon Centre!

For more details on the competition including the fantastic prizes you can win click here.

The deadline for receipt of entries is Monday 3 November 2014.

Please contact manga@ld.mofa.go.jp with any queries.

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