Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Your web comic, Umami, will soon release its latest issue through Panel Syndicate on Thursday, March 22. For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the series’ premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Ken Niimura: It’s the story of a kingdom in trouble, and two cooks that are going to save the day by using their cooking skills. It’s a crazy adventure story that combines high-fantasy, cooking, and lots of absurdity. I wanted to tell the story of two girls struggling to find their way in the world, in a light-hearted and fun way that we rarely find these days in entertainment. It’s the turn for underdogs to shine!
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in both writing and illustrating the series, and what have been some of your creative influences, given the western and manga styles infused into Umami?
KN: We’re a team working on this from Tokyo, where I’m in charge of the overall direction of the plot, script characters, and art, with the input of Yun M. Watanabe (producer, who’s worked in The Evil Within) for world building, plotting, research, and coordination. Editor Yumetaro Toyoda (who’s worked with some outstanding authors in Japan) proofs the script. Making fun comics is a hard task!
As for influences, my style is informed by Japanese and European comics, and for Umami, I’ve been taking a close look at Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, European authors like Sempé or Joann Sfar, not to mention video games like Shovel Knight or Earthbound.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from Umami, and what do you feel makes Uma and Ami such relatable and identifiable characters?
KN: I hope they’ll just have fun. And that they feel like coming back to this world to see more of their adventures. Uma and Ami are basically like any of us – the result of our contradictory nature, both logic and impulsive. They’re also very human, and that’s what I think makes them so attaching.
BD: You have previously released four issues of Umami thus far. Do you have a certain number of issues planned for the series?
KN: Like any journey, you never know when you’ll arrive to our destination – that’s why it’s an ongoing series. I hope we’ll be able to put out as many stories of Uma and Ami as possible!
BD: The film adaptation of your graphic novel (co-created by Joe Kelly), I Kill Giants, will release this March 23. What has been your experience in seeing this project find new life on the big screen?
KN: Simply put, it’s a dream come true (one that by the way, I didn’t believe until we went to watch it to the premiere!). And also, one that was totally unexpected - comics are a very simple medium, where all you need to make them is a pen and paper, so seeing the process of making a movie has made me admire even more the passion and courage of those making movies nowadays.
Also, I look forward the excellent performances by all the leading actresses!
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
KN: Along with Joe Kelly, we’ve recently made a short story using Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack character, that will be coming out soon in a Japanese magazine. Joe and I are also working on our next project together, slightly different from I Kill Giants, but hopefully as engaging!
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Umami?
KN: We have a website and a trailer, but probably the easiest way is to connect to any of my social media accounts (and say hi!).