Yoshitaka Amano is a world renowned artist and character designer, with his intricate illustrations gracing the covers of works like Vampire Hunter D, Sandman: The Dream Hunters, and Guin Saga. Alongside designer and director Hironobu Sakaguchi, Amano’s character designs have formed the bedrock for the massively popular Final Fantasy franchise. Through the help of translator Michael Gombos, Director of International Publishing and Licensing at Dark Horse, we got a chance to catch up with Amano at San Diego Comic Con, where he talked about his upcoming illustrated biography, who inspires him, and what American superhero he’d love to work on.
It’s clear Amano has always had a deep fascination for and appreciation of all forms of art. Amano began working in the animation department of Tatsunoko Productions in Tokyo when he was only 15 years old, and there he worked on character designs for anime shows such as Speed Racer, Time Bokan, Gatchaman, Tekkaman and Honeybee Hutch. When he was 30 he became an independent freelance artist, and now he’s recognized across the globe, with his work featured in exhibits in Tokyo, France, London, New York, and Germany.
Amano not only has an incredibly impressive portfolio and life story, but he’s also humble and generous, just a joy to talk with. We spoke to him on the last hour of SDCC, after he had spent around two hours creating an illustration for each of his fans in the Dark Horse press line. When asked about his upcoming 300-plus page illustrated biography, Amano said the credit really belongs with French biographer Florent Gorges. “It’s not not really my work, it’s more his. I’m just the subject,” Amano said with a smile.
Gorges worked on the biography for around three years, with Gorges listening and taking notes on how Amano lived his life. The biography was originally published in France in 2015 by Pix'n Love Publishing, and Dark Horse’s version will be the first for an English-speaking audience. "The thing about it is there are a lot of personal items and details in the biography, so that's why it's fine if it's coming out in French because no one I know will read it, right?" Amano joked. "After that, now it's coming out in English. I guess it's fine it's coming out in different languages, just as long as it doesn’t come out in Japanese!"
In terms of what he wants fans to take away from both his biography, he said, "I want them to be able to look at the pictures and however they felt when they first saw an illustration of mine, they can look at it again, come back to that feeling."
We also talked about his art in the Final Fantasy Ultimania Archive, the first of three volumes which was just released on July 24. When asked about his process and what character was most difficult for him to create, he said, “The truth is I feel I have the easy job of this. Whatever I think up of the character, I immediately just draw it. That comes out naturally. But I feel really bad for the person who has to actually animate it because they have the job of doing different angles and making it 3D."
"It's like getting away with a crime," he joked, pointing to a long cape he drew on one of the characters. "In animation you have to see how this moves, but I just draw it. So I've got the easy part, actually."
Rather than have a rigid design idea beforehand, Amano just lets the character lead him. "They give me a very basic, three word description, and if I think about it too long it just clogs up so I immediately start to draw," he said.
Amano talked about how his favorite American superhero is Batman, and when asked if he'd ever work on an American superhero comic he said, "I'd like to do it at some point." He’s worked on Elektra and Wolverine in the past, but only on the covers. He also briefly teased his own superhero: Tako Man (Octopus Man), a boy who is half octopus and can use suction cups to climb up buildings. It's a project he's talked about in the past, and he says "it's coming up soon."
In terms of who’s inspiring him currently, Amano said Kim Jung Gi, a famous South Korean illustrator and comic book artist. "He's super fast, like the Korean Michelangelo," Gombos explained. "I also have a lot of respect for Neal Adams and Frank Miller," added Amano; he got a chance to meet Miller on Saturday at the Dark Horse booth.
"[Miller] made Batman into a kind of new hero," Amano explained. Considering his love for Batman and how he holds Miller in such high esteem, I asked if he’d ever be interested in working on a Batman title with Miller. "I'd love to," he said.
Yoshitaka Amano: The Illustrated Biography releases November 21, 2018. Final Fantasy Ultimania Archive volume one is out now; volume two is set to publish on December 18, 2018 and can be pre-ordered now!
Images: Dark Horse Comics