DRAWN & QUARTERED
JASON S. YADAO / JYADAO@STARBULLETIN.COM
"nemu*nemu" creators Audra Furuichi, left, and Scott Yoshinaga show off the plush pup incarnations of Nemu and Anpan.
Plush to Kawaii Kon and meet ‘nemu*nemu’ duo
If not for a stuffed dog, "nemu*nemu" might not exist as it does today.
That might seem obvious to regular readers of the online comic strip. The story revolves around two girls and their plush pups come to life, after all, and losing the pups would have altered the story dramatically.
For starters, had Audra Furuichi not talked "nemu*nemu" co-creator Scott Yoshinaga out of his original idea, the comic could have been about a girl and her vendetta.
"We take that stuffed animal everywhere we went, and it kind of grew from there, where that stuffed animal had a personality," Yoshinaga said. "Before I knew it, she's like, 'Hey, you know, what if, instead of doing this deep, dark type of epic story, we did a little story with the same characters, but when they're younger and they have these stuffed animals that came to life?'"
Thus, what might have ended up being "slaughters to go" instead became "Smiles to Go," the cheerful slogan emblazoned on the "nemu*nemu" Web site. And now, a few weeks after celebrating their first year of online publication, Furuichi and Yoshinaga hope to spread the smiles to an offline audience starting with Kawaii Kon, Hawaii's own anime convention, next weekend.
Furuichi, 28, and Yoshinaga, 37, are no strangers to cartooning; both did comics for Ka Leo, the University of Hawaii-Manoa daily newspaper. Furuichi even earned the Charles M. Schulz Award, awarded by the Scripps Howard Foundation to the best college cartoonist in the nation, in 1999 for her slice-of-college-life comic strip "Culture Shock."
The formula that "nemu-*nemu" (pronounced NEH-moo NEH-moo, from the Japanese word for "sleep") has followed has been simple: a four-panel comic three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, often with a quick gag and a heavy dose of cute thrown in.
THE STORY, told in 12-strip arcs, follows 10-year-old Anise and her friend, 11-year-old Kana, and what happens after they find two plush pups, which they name Anpan and Nemu, in the back corner of an old man's store. All of their adventures are framed in a sort of childlike innocence, from Nemu's attempts to fly to Anpan's experience in the "botcha machine" (actually a washing machine that Anise puts Anpan into to give him a "botcha," or bath).
"We just kind of used everyday occurrences that we go through or we imagine kids going through, which is very similar to how I had done my 'Culture Shock' strip for Ka Leo," Furuichi said. "So we have our own (plush) pups, and we just take 'em around and they kind of inspire us through creativity, just imagining situations. And then we kind of jot them down, and we kind of work out the story from there."
Getting back into the groove of doing a regular comic strip -- something both hadn't done for years -- took a bit of adjustment. The first few months of the comic's life span were spent feeling out the characters and their personality traits, something that was a bit of an initial struggle for Furuichi.
"I'm used to doing more illustrative-type drawings where everything is kind of static, whereas when you actually do comics, there's a flow to each of the characters' motions that you kind of want to portray," Furuichi said.
For Yoshinaga, keeping Furuichi on schedule in those early months was a challenge in itself. Complicating matters was the fact that "nemu*nemu" is a side job for both; Furuichi works as a legislative aide, while Yoshinaga is a technology coordinator and Web site manager at Mid-Pacific Institute.
"With both of us working full time, it's just easier sometimes to just bang our heads together and say, 'OK, you do this and I do this, and I'm good at doing this and you're good at doing that, and let's just work from there,'" Yoshinaga said. "I think after the first three months, we're pretty comfortable with that process. It's just a matter of getting the work finished that's been the biggest struggle. It's an ongoing thing."
ALL OF this is heavily influenced by anime and manga culture. Both Furuichi and Yoshinaga cite as an inspiration the work of Kiyohiko Azuma, creator of the schoolgirl comedy manga "Azumanga Daioh." "Azumanga" was presented in what is known in Japan as yon-koma style -- the same four-vertically-stacked-panels format as "nemu*nemu."
"The thing about the yon-koma is that there's always like a lead-up to a punch line, and it's a stand-alone comic but it can also work with other comics in a sequence," Yoshinaga said. "Kind of like 'Azumanga Daioh,' where he'll start off with one idea, he'll finish that idea, but he connects it to the next one, which is a separate idea. But they all kind of work together in a chapter."
Cultural references abound; Anise, for instance, is a big fan of "Henshin Rider," a homage to Japanese live-action superhero series like "Kikaida" and "Kamen Rider," going so far as to own limited-edition figures and dress up as the character for Halloween. Kana collects Asian ball-jointed dolls, a hobby that Furuichi has taken up in real life.
Perhaps it's only fitting, then, that "nemu*nemu" celebrate its offline coming-out party at the state's largest gathering of anime and manga fans, Kawaii Kon. Under the umbrella of KimonoKitsy Studios, Furuichi and Yoshinaga have been scrambling for the past few months to get merchandise ready for sale, including a book collecting the first 12 online chapters with artist commentary and never-before-seen sketches, T-shirts and hand-stitched plush replicas of Anpan and Nemu.
Through it all, Furuichi and Yoshinaga hope to ride the story as long as possible.
"We're not 'Peanuts' and we're not 'Garfield'; we don't necessarily even cater to that same type of people," Yoshinaga said. "But we're hoping we can carve out our niche of people that want to spent five minutes of their day coming to our site, taking a look at the comic strip."