For Malaysian comics fans, Gempak Starz is probably one of, if not the, most recognizable names out there. Within its pages have been works of a slew of talented local artists, telling their stories. I remember trying to glean drawing tips from the submissions besides the comics themselves.
I remember Kaoru as the shoujo artist for the publication, the detail of her work being something I admired even if I wasn’t a fan of the genre itself. After all these years, being able to interview her is not something I imagined would happen, but here we are.
Interview has been edited for clarity.
Kaoru did not get into comics immediately, having only begun reading them at 14 years old. That formative work was Inoue Takehiko’s Slam Dunk, something she – and certainly, many other fans – says it remains one of the best manga she’s ever read. She started learning how to draw when she realized she wanted to be a good storyteller / comic artist when she turned 15. That led her into applying for a job interview for a comic artist at 18.
She counts herself lucky to be hired by Gempak Starz after only two interviews, starting out as a comic assistant. In this role, she describes it as “helping the artist hit deadlines”, doing the inks, backgrounds and touching up. She had to learn techniques from scratch, having had no background in this field. After a year, she got to work on her own short comic – the process of which had its own problems to learn from – before becoming a full-fledged comic artist.
Now, the artist has taken more of a back seat to be a writer, as well as being in charge of Candy Factory. As a team, they work on educational comics for children, namely the Candy, Prince and Candy Cuties series. In another timeline, Kaoru could have become an accountant instead, or became more well known for her crime fiction works. For the latter, she’s read many novels, watched movies and documentaries on such criminal investigations, expressing a desire to branch out should the opportunity arise.
As it were, Kaoru believes reading different genres can help in crafting good stories, as fiction should have a basis in reality. Additionally, a good story should come from having support from your own knowledge and experience. She’s proud of her own works as she should, with much support from readers.
I think collaborating with Keith and Zint would be funny because they’re my close friends in Gempak Starz.
We worked together for years, but haven’t really collaborated.
Seeing as how prolific Kaoru has been all this while, one could imagine that one or several of her works could lend itself well to getting adapted into another form. The Candy and Prince series in particular could be similar to Tokimeki Memorial, with her casting Mamoru Miyano as Prince Ciel, and Kaito Ishikawa as Gion.
To close off, she thanks her fans for sticking with her for so long and helping her continue to pursue this career despite its hardships. She admits she’s not very active on social media, but you can follow her on Instagram.
The local Malaysian comics industry can only grow from here, and with talent like Kaoru and her peers among us, we’ll surely find our own style yet. Thanks to Kaoru for giving us the time to answer some of our questions. For the rest of us, we can surely take inspiration and hone our own skills to tell the stories that are uniquely ours.
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