One to Beam Up! — That Amazing Anime Guy: An Interview with Illustrator, Industrial Designer and Lifelong Anime/Sci-Fi Fan, Mike Moon
Let’s Talk Turkey!
Mike Moon is the kind of well-informed enthusiast most of us run-of-the-mill types turn to when we want answers to the most basic of life’s conundrums involving all things anime, comic book or science-fiction/fantasy related.
A prolific writer and illustrator, you can peruse Mike’s handiwork, stories and art along with those of guest contributors at his Catgirl Island Website (http://www.catgirlisland). Do your interests lie elsewhere? Then you don’t want to miss the latest action-adventure movie reviews, interviews and other fun stuff at The Mew: The Catgirl Critics’ Media Mewsings site (http://mewsings.wordpress.com).
I met Mike a few years ago at the annual Animazement Convention in North Carolina. Consequently, I’ve been meaning to interview him ever since that first encounter (cue: John Williams’ score). After our second and third meetings at similar gatherings in and around town, I came away with the feeling that sooner or later our paths would cross again and that I simply had to get his views across in print.
Luckily, the timing was right for us to exchange a few questions and answers. And here they are:
Josmar Lopes—I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Mike Moon. Hiya, Mike! I want to introduce readers to your extensive knowledge and astute observations and opinions about the anime, science fiction, fantasy, action-adventure, you-name-it realms.
Mike Moon—This is so flattering and fun and I think you’ve greatly overrated my significance or knowledge, but I’ll be happy to answer your questions, and hopefully I won’t be too boring or rambling!
J.L.—Somehow, I doubt that’s possible. But first, let’s get a little background information and context. Where did you go to college?
M.M.—You’re far too kind! I went to the University of Southern California (USC), Alamance Community College (ACC), and North Carolina State University (NCSU – twice); and while I was in high school, I got to study art at the North Carolina Governor’s School East at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College in Laurinburg.
J.L.—What subject did you major in and why did you choose that particular field?
M.M.—I was in cinema school at USC, because I was fascinated by how movies and TV shows were made, especially the design, animation and FX [portions], but I later realized that what I really wanted to study was art or design. While I was there in Los Angeles I got to meet my favorite designer Syd Mead, who inspired me to later get my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Industrial Design (formerly known as Product Design) at NCSU. In between those two degrees, to further improve my skills I got a Certificate in Computer Graphics at ACC, although these days I still use traditional media in addition to the digital tools!
J.L.—This may be a complicated subject to tackle in one shot, but how has your knowledge of design helped you in your anime and sci-fi interests?
M.M.—What little I know of design has made me better appreciate my other hobbies and interests such as illustration, photography, cosplay, comics, animation, toys and collectibles. I pay more attention to how things are illustrated, designed, sculpted, molded, manufactured, assembled, stitched, painted, photographed, printed, or packaged! I scrutinize the intricacy of the sculpt, paint, seams and articulation of the action figures, dolls, prop and vehicle replicas, plushies; and I love to see the elaborate dioramas that are built for figures, dolls, miniatures and models.
I’m fascinated when a movie or TV show (live action or animated) has enough talent, money, time, technology and desire to achieve extremely believable, realistic technical or historical accuracy in their sets, props, hair, make-up, costumes and FX in serving a good, believable story. I love to see lavish spectacle and amazing sets, mecha, etc., on screen when no expense is spared.
One of the many reasons that Star Trek – The Motion Picture is my favorite movie (Trek or otherwise) is because of its epic sense of realism – and that extends to the instrumentation, buttons, consoles and graphics of the sets. I think it’s the best that Star Trek has ever looked. It looks so futuristic, realistic and enormous, as if they actually built and filmed the starships and space stations in outer space. It’s not just a bunch of blinking lights, with decks that look like distilleries, torpedo rooms and turbo-lift shafts that make no sense, or the unfortunate attempts at humor when people hit their head on something, as in the later Trek movies. Of course, Star Treks II-VI do have some very thrilling, fun and dramatic scenes, but they don’t feel nearly as realistic, expensive or futuristic enough.
However, ironically I’m also very forgiving of fan films or smaller budgeted professional productions, even if the budget and technology is not there yet, but if it’s clear that they have a lot of heart and care for their craft. I know what it’s like to be a designer having to work fast on a tight budget from being part of the stage crew in high school, my own amateur film-making, and as a design-school student. We would often search the recycle bins and junkyards for scraps and materials for things we might have to build!
J.L.—That’s all part of the fun, I’d gather.
M.M.—Look at Doctor Who, for example, especially its first 30 years. Some folks were negatively critical of the sets, monsters and FX. I’ll agree that some of them could have looked nicer, but as I watch the DVDs’ documentaries, listen to the commentaries, and learn more of the challenges faced with such a fast schedule and small budget week after week, it only increases my admiration for the show. I think the whole cast and crew did an amazing, clever, ingenious job to tell entertaining stories about characters we care about amidst the wonders of the universe. That’s part of the reason the show has endured for 50 years.
A lot of time, talent, ingenuity and money go into designing things for movies and TV shows, in hopes of creating believable characters and environments for the story. And yet it’s a shame when designers don’t get enough credit. The Oscars coverage spends more time on what actors are wearing to the show than the costumes or other things designed for the movies. Now I could ramble on about my favorite actors, but they get to appear on so many more magazine covers and TV shows throughout the year than, say, production designers, cinematographers or visual FX supervisors.
It seems like every other award recipient gets so little time to make their acceptance speeches, compared to the actors and singers. I could also ramble on about my favorite fashion, music and comedy, but I think the televised Oscars ceremony spends way too much time on song and dance numbers, and scripted comedy segments. There are already enough music awards shows as it is. I wish it was more about honoring the designers, engineers, scientists and technicians that make movies possible to begin with.
J.L.—Those are exactly the kinds of arguments worth spending time on! And I’m in total agreement with the faux glitz that passes for awards shows. Indeed, not enough time is given “on the air” to the technical/professional side of movie- or album-making. With that thought in mind, who have you and “The Ladies of The Mew” interviewed?
M.M.—Oh gosh, a bunch a folks, real and fictional! The first guests of The Mew were several cast members of my webmaster Jamie’s web comic Clan of the Cats, in August 2007. Jamie would also contribute the occasional reviews, too. Then in October 2007 we interviewed two toy collectors, Power Rangers expert Pacozord and Actionfigurologist ob1. Gosh, some of those early Mews were rather lean compared to later years that sometimes got up to six times longer!
February 2008 was the 1st annual Mew Awards presentation. March 2008 was the special cosplay edition of The Mew, with artist/cosplayer guests Crissy Teverini, Hezachan, Misty Hopkins and Tonomurabix. May 2008 was the 1st Anniversary of The Mew, and the theme of that giant-sized edition was music, with vocalist Lisa Kyle, Klingon Karaoke-singer Capt. Keela sutai-Septaric, the band Three Quarter Ale, Pink Lady fan Jeff Branch, radio DJ and Animazement staffer Phil Lee, and Jamie’s chat about Beatlemania. The August 2008 Mew included the first of several music reviews over the years by our guest critic-friend Kaiser.
October 2008 was another big month with several guests: author Marna Martin, Star Wars fan Tiawyn, Tari of Sharon Williams’s story “Osiris Rising,” blogger Sparky MacMillan, plush toy maker Igor 9, and Jeff Branch again. The November 2008 guests were Jennie Breeden who is the creator of the web comic The Devil’s Panties, and Niki Lemonade who is the creator of the web comic My Fake Heart! The December 2008 guests were artist Emathyst; artist, author and game designer Jamie Davenport; model and milliner Joei Reed; artist and cosplayer Sarah “Sakky” Hughes, comics writer/journalist Dan Johnson, and a special vignette about Sara “Glory” Baker.
Then I started 2009 off with more of the cast of Clan of the Cats in January’s Mew! February 2009 was the 2nd annual Mew Awards, with an update on our prior guests; the March 2009 guest was Alexandra Wright of Jeff Branch’s story Dark Skin Red Blood; the May 2009 guest was author/artist Ursula Vernon, and our June 2009 guest was ghost investigator and professional costumer/performer Cheralyn Lambeth; the September 2009 guests were artists Rebecca Brogden and Alan Welch; the October 2009 guest was web comics author/artist Clint Hollingsworth. That November’s guests were A Girl and Her Fed’s creator Otter, and Corrine of Clan of the Cats!
December’s guests were cousins Deborah and Devra Langsam, who were among the first pioneering Star Trek fans of the 1960’s. They were part of that famous campaign to save Star Trek from cancellation.
J.L.—I remember that campaign! I knew a guy who was so into Star Trek at the time, he even came to class sporting Mr. Spock’s haircut and a homemade pair of Vulcan ears.
M.M.—Oh, Star Trek is probably my most knowledgeable topic. I love to study the history of the fandom. Deborah and Devra helped to publish the very first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia in 1967, and were part of the committee that launched the very first Star Trek Conventions in 1972! Of course, since then they’ve been up to a lot of other things: Devra Langdam has been a librarian, a publisher, an SCA member and a bookseller at various festivals, whilst Dr. Deborah Langsam has been a botany professor, a fiber artist and a chocolatier.
J.L.—A chocolatier…? I wouldn’t let her near Tribbles if I were you!
M.M.—Well, not unless there was one of those Tribble-eatin’ Glomars patrolling nearby! Speaking of the cuisine, our guests for January 2010 included our friend Chef Ron who is quite the cook, and (Marvel Comics) Avengers expert Professor Van Plexico. That February’s Mew included the 3rd annual Mew Awards, the May guest was model/cosplayer Rainbow Fish aka Chainmail Chick; the July guest list featured comics artist/journalist Jim Amash and returning comics artist/author Andrew Pepoy! The August 2010 guests included artist/author Alexcia Reynolds and returning guest Sakky; and the September guest was journalist and book editor Eric Nolen-Weathington of TwoMorrows Publishing!
That brings us up to the October 2010 edition of The Mew, which included the Catgirls’ interviews with the members of Child-Eating Books Studio which was founded in 2007 by artists Lucy Kagan, Allison Kupatt, and sisters Natalia and Thais Lopes, who I believe you know!
J.L.—You bet I do! They’re my anime-loving daughters!
M.M.—Like so many other folks, Natalia and Thais are far more active in fandom and cons these days than I am, and I’m sure they know a lot more about cosplay and the more recent anime, manga, visual and performing arts than I do! Oh, by the way, I should mention that The Catgirl Island Mewseum of Art is graced by a lot of lovely illustrations and photos from many of our great guests and other much appreciated artists! The Catgirl Island Public Library is also honored to have a few tales of the island by some guest authors too!
There were no guests for the January 2011 Mew, but in February many past guests were in attendance for the 4th annual Mew Awards, which would be much more elaborate from then on, and take much longer to write! So would the anniversary edition of The Mew every May, with a bit more plot elements being added from 2011 on. Artist Elisa Chong was our great guest for June 2011, but 2011 and 2012 were kind of sparse years for interviews. The Mew kept getting longer, though, but it was mostly comprised of discussions and reviews.
OK, we’re up to 2012, and that February’s 5th annual Mew Awards and May’s 5th Anniversary Mew were even bigger than the previous year, with more characters, plot, and more of the past guests in attendance for both events. Performing artist and model Lady Violet Arcane was the August 2012 guest. Although he was not actually a guest of The Mew, I did enjoy a few phone conversations with AC Comics’ artist/writer/Editor in Chief Mark Heike, as part of my research for the September 2012 Mew’s Celebrity Catgirl Spotlight! That was another opportunity that I am very grateful for!
Almost done! There were a lot of past guests at the 6th annual Mew Awards in February 2013; cosplayers Rosemary Ward and Des, who I met at the G.I. Joe Collectors Convention, were the May 2013 guests; artist Lela Dowling was the June 2013, and it was so nice to see the entire Lopes family amongst the crowd gathered for the 7th annual Mew Awards in the February 2014 Mew! That’s pretty much all of the folks thus far who have been interviewed for The Mew, but that does not include all of the other wonderful guest artists and authors who have kindly contributed to the art and tales at Catgirl Island!
J.L.—That’s quite an impressive rundown, Mike! Moving right along, I understand you’ve talked to the great Syd Mead? What a thrill that must have been!
M.M.—Oh yeah, I have been so fortunate and honored to have met and chatted with him several times over the past few decades! He’s my favorite designer and has been such a huge inspiration, ever since I got his Sentinel book, not long after my favorite movie Star Trek – The Motion Picture premiered. Since then my collection of Syd Mead stuff has grown quite a bit! The first time I met him was while I was in L.A. at USC. I spoke with him briefly by phone a couple of times, and he invited me to his house! That was in February of 1983 when I visited him for a few hours, and we chatted while he worked on a painting.
That was just several months after Blade Runner and Tron were in theaters. Meeting him was part of the reasons why I didn’t stay in film school at USC, and why I was inspired to later major in Industrial Design at NCSU. I even started using an Iwata HP-C airbrush loaded with Winsor-Newton Designer Gouache like he used, although I haven’t used either in years, especially in these digital days. I spoke to him a few more times, and then met him for the 2nd time when he gave a lecture and presentation at NCSU’s School of Design. I think that was in 2001… and the 3rd time I met him was again at NCSU several years later.
J.L.—Can you elaborate for us what the gist of your conversations with Mead were about? What subjects did you discuss and which films did Mead touch base with and describe?
M.M.—When I met him the first time I think the conversation mainly pertained to his illustration tools and techniques, and his work on Star Trek, Blade Runner and Tron while I watched him work. The latter time when he was at NCSU was not long after Mission Impossible III and the publication of his Sentury 2 book. The main things I chatted with him about prior to this presentation were his anime work, such as Yamato 2520 and Turn a Gundam. It was also nice to chat with a few of my industrial design professors and the head of the department who it was great to see again.
J.L.—Not only can we tell that you’re a big sci-fi fan, but you’re a regular convention-goer as well. How did you first get involved in cons?
M.M.—As for my first interest in cons, I loved going to fairs and festivals, hobby and collector shows, car shows, organized Halloween/costume activities, but as a kid all I knew about cons were what I’d read in magazines and books. But I guess the first actual convention that I attended was one in L.A. in 1983. It picked up for me in the mid-80s as a member of the Carolina Comic Book Club, when we made the trips to Heroes Con in Charlotte. Also about that time were other Star Trek, science fiction and comic book cons popping up in the state, ranging from the student and fan club to the corporate-sponsored events.
In the 90’s, I attended more ‘n’ more cons. including some in other nearby states, cosplayed more often, and sometimes had an artist’s table. The first actual anime-specific con I attended was Katsucon, along with fellow members of the Triangle Area Anime Society. That was also the first time I helped as a volunteer at a con. Later some of us at TAAS decided to start our own anime con here in North Carolina – and thus was launched Animazement! Since then I’ve been to cons, shows and festivals of all types, either as a volunteer, staffer, artist, dealer, guest or just a regular attendee. In the past few years I’ve attended some that are further out, in Cincinnatti, New Orleans and Indianapolis.
J.L.—Along those same lines, what attracted you to anime?
M.M.—What initially attracted me to anime was the art style, and my own art style was definitely influenced by anime in the 70’s. Back then I collected the Shogun Warriors toys and watched Speed Racer, but it was Battle of the Planets in ‘78 and Star Blazers in ‘79 which totally hooked me. That was not just due to the character or mecha designs, but the storytelling, characters, serious plots and serialized stories – even when heavily edited for North American audiences.
That’s when I really started to actively search for more information about anime and stuff to collect, as If I didn’t already have enough hobbies! It was a great time for me to be a fan in that post-Star Wars era of the late 70’s, what with anime, Doctor Who, DVD, video games, the return of Star Trek, James Bond, other big SF and horror movies, plus the comics, toys and music of the time, but those would each be other big topics!
Another thing is that sadly for the longest time in the U.S. there has often been the attitude that animation (and comics) are just for kids, whereas animation in Japan is such a huge industry, like our own live-action TV and movie industry, of great diversity and genres, with shows intended for kids, teens, adults, men, women, family. Fortunately the attitudes in the U.S. have changed for the better in the past couple of decades.
J.L.—Do you have a particular favorite from among the thousands of anime out there?
M.M.—OK, as for my favorite anime… oh, gosh, that could be a very long list of movies, TV series, OVA’s and music videos! I like so much of it from the past six decades, of almost every genre from science fiction, fantasy and horror to romantic comedy, sports and slice-of-life. Of course, there’s plenty that I do not like too, but let’s not go into that! There are so many anime authors, artists, directors, composers, voice actors and characters that I like!
I’m a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s works, such as Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke and so forth! To this day, his 1979 movie The Castle of Cagliostro (starring Lupin the 3rd) is the first title that I would ever recommend to anyone who is curious about Japanese anime.
J.L.—Miyazaki-san is the King of Japanese anime! There’s no one better!
M.M.—He’s my favorite director, of animation or otherwise! I’m a big fan of Space Battleship Yamato, which might be the most significant anime of all time. I especially like the Yamato movies such as Arrivederci Yamato, Be Forever Yamato, and Final Yamato which are such beautiful, dramatic, epic space operas. I also like Galaxy Express and other works by Leiji Matsumoto, and Mamoru Hosoda’s films, among them The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and Wolf Children.
I’m very fond of Rumiko Takahashi’s series such as Maison Ikkoku, and Urusei Yatsura’s Ranma 1/2. I like Kosuke Fujishima and Masamune Shirow’s works a lot, too. My favorite anime of the 80’s includes Ah! My Goddess, Akira, Area 88, Bubblegum Crisis, Dirty Pair, Gunbuster, Gundam, Kimagure Orange Road, Macross, Mysterious Cities of Gold, Patlabor, Silent Möbius, Transformers: The Movie, and Vampire Princess Miyu.
As for the 90’s, I’d say Battle Athletes, Blue Seed, Blue Submarine Number Six, Cowboy Bebop, Devil Hunter Yohko, Ghost Sweeper Mikami, Hyper Police, Idol Project, Nadia, Nuku Nuku, Tenchi, Weathering Continent… and I think Sailor Moon is probably the most important anime of the 90’s, because not only does it have such a good strong cast of heroines, but it is especially responsible for attracting many female fans in the U.S. – and nowadays anime fandom seems to be 50-50 male/female!
J.L.—I can vouch for that. My own daughters were lucky recipients of the anime boom.
M.M.—I was so glad when anime, manga, games and related items finally became pretty much mainstream by the end of the 90’s, and thus much more accessible, affordable, influential and inspirational, with more ‘n’ more cons, clubs and web sites popping up everywhere. But that was 14 years ago and fandom has changed so much since then – for example, nowadays if you go to a con such as Animazement or Libraricon [in Fayetteville], the younger fans are representing non-anime stuff such as My Little Pony, Doctor Who, Homestuck, Marvel and DC, etc.
I’m a pony fan too! It’s a great, positive, fun show for fans of all ages, ethnicities and genders. Kids today have grown up in a time where anime is as common here as anything else. But then, most anime fans have always been fans of other stuff too, such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, comics, games, rennfaires, the highland games, hockey, college basketball, fishing or whatever people are fans of. But I digress again!
Back to favorite anime, some of my favorites of the 2000’s are Azumanga Daioh, Bamboo Blade, Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, Genshiken, Kami-Chu, K-ON, Maria Watches Over Us, Millennium Actress, Princess Nine, Strike Witches, and Magical Meow Meow Taruto. I definitely have to mention the TV series Aria, which is an adaptation of the Aqua and Aria manga by Kozue Amano – it’s my favorite Japanese anime TV series of the past 15 years. As for this current decade of the 2010’s, ah, I rather like Cat Planet Cuties, Girls & Panzer, Lagrange, Sound of the Sky, Spice and Wolf, and Taisho Baseball Girls. Some of my recent favorite manga are Sunshine Sketch, Geijutsuka Art Design Class, A Centaur’s Life and Omamori Himari.
As you may have noticed from Catgirl Island (www.catgirlisland.net) and The Mew, I’m rather fond of anime, manga and other artistry that feature catgirls, kitsune, faeries and mermaids, but I guess I’ve mentioned enough for now. Things like comics, manga, art and books would be other pretty big topics! I still have too way many hobbies!
J.L.—Speaking for myself, I first got into anime and sci-fi after catching the original run of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy on our local New York TV station (Channel 5). After that, I remember seeing Gigantor, Kimba the White Lion, Super Car, Planet Patrol, Fireball XL5, 8Man, and the unavoidable Speed Racer. Do you remember the first anime you ever saw?
M.M.—Oh yeah, in the late 60’s our kindergarten went to the movie theater to see Alakazam the Great. I was very young at the time, and didn’t realize it was Japanese animation, but I did notice the style was different from most of the American animated movies and cartoons I’d seen.
J.L.—When did you first start writing your blog?
M.M.—Some friends and other artists thought I had a knack for critiques, and because I can be very thorough and fair in my opinions, my webmaster Jamie suggested that I write a review blog. I forget when I first started pondering and writing it, but it was in early 2007 when I determined the style, format, tone, schedule and policies for my blog, as an extension of Catgirl Island (which I created in 1998); and the Catgirl Critics’ Media Mewsings: The Mew “purremiered” in May 2007! It quickly evolved to be much lengthier, and to include the slice-of-life situations for more and more of my meta-fictional characters, their annual “awards,” the occasional guest contributions, and the interviews with artists, authors, performers, collectors and fans.
J.L.—Have you met many interesting folks thru convention going and/or blog writing? I know I have!
M.M.—I was already so fortunate to meet lots of nice folks at the cons as a fellow fan, artist, dealer or staffer, but writing The Mew definitely helped lead to a lot of acquaintances and friendships. That includes a bunch of folks who I’ve never actually met, but whose work I greatly admire, whether they are famous or not yet famous!
J.L.—Do you have any boxed-set editions of your favorite films and/or anime series in your eclectic library or collection?
M.M.—Oh yes, I have quite a few movie and TV boxed sets! I prefer it when the box is in the standard height case so that it will fit on the shelf with other DVDs, and I prefer it when the disks are secured in individual trays and not in a big stack. But I love it when a DVD includes special features such as audio commentaries, info texts, isolated music tracks, spoken language and subtitle options, storyboards, screenplays, image galleries, documentaries, publicity materials, different versions, any deleted scenes and outtakes, gag reels, booklets and so forth.
Some of my favorites are the Star Trek – The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, Alien, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator II, Dawn of the Dead, Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, and the extended Lord of the Rings sets. Unfortunately, it seems like standard DVDs too often these days have fewer and fewer extras, not like they used to, especially movies, compared to Blu-ray Disks. However, there are a lot of great deals on TV-show boxed sets, especially older shows, and you can get some of the no-frills sets for pretty low prices.
Doctor Who DVDs have some great special features too. Japanese anime is so much more affordable now than it used to be, compared to back in the days of VHS, laser disks, and imports! One of the semi-annual topics of The Mew is the DVD Wish List. There are a lot of old-and-new foreign and domestic movies and TV shows that I’m still hoping to be commercially released or re-released here on Region 1 NTSC standard DVD, but every year I’m pleasantly surprised!
J.L.—Thanks so much, Mike, for your time, availability and “purrfectly” candid responses.
M.M.—Oh, it was my pleasure, you’re welcome, and thank you sir! Perhaps later on down the road the Ladies of the Mew might wish to “intermew” you too!
J.L.—I look forward to it!
Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes