AnimePRO- Nam & Tram Nguyen Interview

October 29, 2006

The following is the translation of an interview from AnimePRO. Click for accompanying images.
No infringement is intended.

Interview with Nam & Tram Nguyen, German Mangaka-duo

At the Leipzig Bookfair, we met with Nam & Tram Nguyen, winners of the “Manga Talente” contest that was held here two years ago. They’re now pursuing careers as mangaka. Sylvia Einenkel spook with the two about their new manga, Delilah’s Mystery, their work as manga artists, and the confusing fact that the successful pair has been published by two different companies…

AnimePRO: We’re glad that you’ve found time for this interview, and we’d like to start off with an introduction to the readers.
Nam: My name is Fabian Nam Nguyen. I’ve drawn for quite a while, but it used to be in a more Disney-inspired style, and I only started drawing comics in the early 90s, when the first anime series were shown on German tv. So… Saber Rider, Georgie, and stuff like that. I started with copying, and later, like everyone else, I started creating my own characters and stories. For a while, however, I only did illustrations. This changed when Tram suggested entering the “Manga Talente” contest here at the Bookfair.

AnimePRO: So, the incentive to participate in the contest came from Tram?
Tram: Yes, always! (laughs) So I’m Thuy Tram Nguyen, and I started drawing pretty late, but I’ve always written and thought up stories. When I went to France and watched my cousin draw in a manga style, I admired her and so I started drawing too.
For me, it was the Sailor Moon wave that tempted me. At first, I mostly drew illustrations, and then asked Nam whether we wanted to enter “Manga Talente” when i saw that Nina Werner managed to get second place in 2003. We wanted to try it too!

AnimePRO: So by now, it’s widely known that you happen to have the same last name, but aren’t related. So am I right that the last name Nguyen in Vietnam is like the German last name Meier or Mueller?
Tram: Exactly. Or Schneider. Really common names.

AnimePRO: How long have you known each other?
Tram: We’ve known each other for about six years. I read his name, which was so similar to mine, in a AnimaniA (German anime magazine) special issue. And so I thought I’d give him a call.
At first, we only talked over the phone, but we finally met at Animagic 2000. So everything started, and we began to draw illustrations together.
Nam: Right. I had drawn a couple of illustrations and sent them to AnimaniA, where I even won a prize. Then I was asked whether I wanted to draw a few things for the fanart special, and introduce myself there.
Tram: I noticed him because of the pictures and the name.
Nam: Coincidentally, there was a branch of a comic shop in Heilbronn, where Tram is from, and one in Pforzheim, where I’m from. We established contact through the shops.
Tram: And my cousin lived in Pforzheim as well, and I asked if she knew anyone named Fabian Nguyen. A couple of days later, she gave me his number. So it was a lot of little coincidences (both laugh). We lived about 100km apart.

AnimePRO: So, how does your collaboration work? Does one draw and the other write, or is everything done together?
Tram: Uh, we do pretty much everything together…
Nam: Both of us have our strong points, and other things are easier for me than for him, and so on. It really depends. We don’t have a concrete split concerning details, like who draws hands or hair. Also, as far as the story goes: We both have certain scenes that we do better, and sometimes we merge our versions (both laugh).

AnimePRO: Aren’t there difficulties every once in a while?
Nam: Well, one may like something that the other doesn’t like- that does happen.
Tram: And if the story gets too sappy, there might be trouble as well, cause Nam really doesn’t like mushy stuff too much (laughs). But we always find a solution. Even if we’re not 100% happy, it still works for both of us. Later, when we look back at the pictures, we say “yeah, you were right, it doesn’t look bad!”
Nam: Sadly, the agreeing on things robs most of our time.

AnimePRO: So how did you do your entry for “Manga Talente”? Did you meet up so you could work on the story?
Tram: I was moving to Karlsruhe for college when we were working on that.
Nam: I study in Karlsruhe too, so nowadays we can sit down to work on our manga without any trouble.

AnimePRO: Is college managable while working as a mangaka?
Tram: Well, it does stretch things out. And of course, it’s pretty exhausting.
Nam: You have to learn to manage your time between studying or drawing.

AnimePRO: Your debut was in Tokyopop’s “Manga Fieber”, but your current manga is being published in Daisuki, by Carlsen Comics. What inspired this change of publisher?
Nam: Well, actually, that was sort of parallel. Basically, both publishers contacted us at the same time, so it wasn’t really a switch… we just did both.
Tram: We wanted to do the entry for Tokyopop first, because it was shorter. After that, we did the one for Carlsen Comics. Both publishers knew we were working on two projects, and there were no problems.

AnimePRO: Your current manga, Delilah’s Mystery, is being published by Carlsen in Daisuki. Did you want to be in the magazine, or would you have preferred to do a stand-alone volume?
Tram: It’s not bad working for a monthly magazine, because you can reach a larger readership. And it would be different if Carlsen had said “you’ll have to have a volume in one month!” That would be pretty stressful!
Nam: Also, you get more feedback from the readers, and so you can improve things.

AnimePRO: Christina Plaka told us in an interview last year that she had to make her manga Prussian Blue agree with Daisuki‘s style. Is that true for Delilah’s Mystery?
Nam: Well, I can still remember being told that we should do something different, but we weren’t limited when it came to drawing style or story.
Tram: The story is a little “harder”, I’d say. But it’s not really out of place in Daisuki, even though it was a try at something new. But no, we didn’t have to tame anything down.

AnimePRO: Do you already know what you want to do after Delilah’s Mystery?
Tram: Yeah, we have lots of ideas already. But first we want to see how the story is received.
Nam: Maybe we’ll come up with a new concept, and try something new.

AnimePRO: Is Delilah’s Mystery structured really differently in comparison to what you used to do?
Tram: In comparison to what we did for Tokyopop, definitely. The drawings also changed.
Nam: Our characters look a lot more mature now, while they used to look rather childish.
Tram: Exactly. Depending on what kind of manga we work on, we try to create fitting characters. We don’t have any really concrete plans for the future yet, though, and we haven’t submitted any new proposals.

AnimePRO: To return to Tokyopop’s Manga Fieber: Volume two recently came out, with the “new generation” of mangaka. Have you read it? Can you critique it?
Tram: I think Robin, by Natalie Wormsbecher, was pretty nice, and Olga Rogalski’s story, The Robofish Abduction, has a nice drawing style. The level of drawing skill really rose for volume two.
Nam: It’s very obvious in manga-contest as well. The level just rose.
Tram: That’s true, the themes are also better. If the themes were robots and technology, a couple of people would probably fail just because the theme wouldn’t be for them.

AnimePRO: How would you rate your Manga Fieber entry today?
Tram: We would do a lot of things differently. Of course, this is due to the experience we’ve gained in the last year. For example, take the tones: it would be impossible to do it the way we did it back then, and we really don’t like the lines anymore either. Drawing-wise, a lot of things have changed for us.

AnimePRO: How much time do you spend on drawing everyday?
Tram: That depends. If things are busy and exams are coming up, we always draw very very little. Sometimes, we don’t draw at all, or only for an hour. During vacations, we make up for what we’ve missed, and draw all day.

AnimePRO: What hobbies do you suggest to mangaka who want to improve?
Tram: Very obviously, practice and participate in contests. The latter is good for getting attention.
Nam: And compare yourself to others. It’s also good to see whether you’re part of the best, and get a chance to publish your own manga that way. Doing that, you also notice what you need to work on.
Tram: Self-discipline is also really important. You also need to be realistic. I think a lot of people lose touch with reality. A lot of people are too scared to try and get published, because they think they’re too bad.
You don’t necessarily need a publisher to produce a manga. If you have enough ambition, you can reach a lot of people with doujinshi sales and present your manga that way. Doing that, you get people interested in you, and it makes it easier to apply. There are lots of possibilities.

AnimePRO: What do you think about artist platforms like Animexx? It’s also a way to present your art to a large fan community…
Tram: I like being able to leave comments and rate images on Animexx. Also, the artist-circles are a good idea. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time to check our guestbook daily.
Nam: We are relatively unknown there, because of our nicknames, so we don’t get too many fan-PMs.

AnimePRO: So do you want to continue drawing manga, or do something else as a career later?
Tram: We would like to continue drawing manga. It is our hobby and it is a lot of fun. If the publishers are interested, then why not. It’s important that if you like something, you really work for it and don’t do it half-heartedly. And one chapter a month is managable and not overly exhausting.

AnimePRO: Thank you for the interesting conversation, and good luck to the both of you in your future pursuits!

 
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