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Sophie-chan: Arab manga artist who achieved global success with ‘Ocean of Secrets’

The manga revolves around an orphan named Lia, whose life completely changed when she drowned in the Atlantic Ocean. (Supplied)
The manga revolves around an orphan named Lia, whose life completely changed when she drowned in the Atlantic Ocean. (Supplied)
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06 Apr 2024 03:04:11 GMT9
06 Apr 2024 03:04:11 GMT9

Amin Abbas

DUBAI: Sophie-chan is a talented Iraqi artist and author of the ‘Ocean of Secrets’ manga series that was published globally by the American manga publisher TOKYOPOP.

The manga artist shared exclusively with Arab News Japan the story and challenges behind creating ‘Ocean of Secrets’, saying, “I came up with the ideas back in my first year of university, in 2009. The first character I sketched was Lia, and the style kept changing for several years until I settled on my current style.”

“I started sketching (the manga) at the age of 18. As my art improved, I made the switch from traditional to digital art using a tablet. There were two projects that were released in 2015: the first was the self-published manga and then manga workshop characters book Published by IMPACT, a Penguin Random house publishing. I created online tutorials on YouTube as I was learning, which gave me so much support, feedback, and a reason to not give up,” she added.

The manga revolves around an orphan named Lia, whose life completely changed when she drowned in the Atlantic Ocean. She is rescued by two runaways, sailing in a flying ship away from their kingdom. The events that follow portray the sudden destiny shift of the protagonist, who adapts to her new life role, and the struggles, friendships, and adversaries created along the way.

The artist had a full-time engineering job while writing the manga to pay off her tuition loans. “Having to manage my time to meet the deadlines for these books was pretty exhausting,” she recalled. “Once my loans got paid off, I left my job to focus on creating manga and it was an exciting journey.”

She received an email from TOKYOPOP’s founder, Stu Levy, saying that the company is interested in sharing the manga with its audience. “I was really happy and excited that my manga caught the attention of a world-recognized publisher. A few weeks later, during a video call, the team decided to publish it as a print.”

“It was exciting that now my books will be in almost all bookstores worldwide. After that, I received invitations to several comic conventions around the world to talk about my journey, which inspired many people. TOKYOPOP translated the manga to German, so we travelled for book signing in Manga-Comic-Con, Leipzig in 2019,” she added.

About the feedback and response for those who read the “Ocean of Secrets” manga, she said, “At first, the reviews were mostly positive with little to no criticism. But as the book gained popularity, the reviews were mixed. Some of the bad reviews did put me down, especially when I was younger, but then I learned to use them as an opportunity to further refine my art style, improve my drawing and storytelling skills.”

The artist has a book called “Manga Workshop Characters: How to Draw and Color Faces and Figures,” which was published in 2015. The book has been translated into French, Spanish, and Chinese.

“It’s a beginner-friendly step-by-step demonstration of how to create your manga characters,” she shared. “I was learning art myself at the time of writing, so my skills have improved, and the art style has changed a little. Since it’s a good entry point to the world of manga drawing, aspiring artists found it to be an inspirational source and an easy-to-follow guide.”

The artist has always been inspired by Japanese anime. She told Arab News Japan that, when she was a child, she enjoyed the shows dubbed in Arabic. “When I was a teen, I got into other shows, such as Digimon, Detective Conan, Hunter x Hunter, and many more. I was amazed by this form of storytelling, since I enjoy writing stories. I knew what comics were but had never seen an actual print until I stumbled upon one in a bookstore in London when I was visiting at the age of 15. That’s when I set my dream to have my own series displayed on these shelves someday.”

One of the challenges that the artist encountered was the language barrier. “Having to learn some Japanese to understand and explore the manga tutorial art library, which weren’t available in English, (was a challenge.)

“Other technical challenges were when printing my self-published book; I didn’t have experience with printers and there were many issues during the printing process. Running my own store came with its own set of hurdles, especially for someone who travels a lot,” she added.

Additionally, she has collaborated with an an author named Simsim for her new sc-fi manga project titled ‘The Moral Scale.’ The story centers around Yota, who is a social psychologist, and his friend Rion, a talented AI coder. The events take place in a dystopian future, marked by extreme social inequality, and injustice.

“Together with his friend, they attempt what they believe could be a solution to save a society on the brink of collapse. A lot of research was done in both storytelling and art, and I have also used the feedback I received from my previous manga to enhance this one,” she shared.

She is currently committed to finishing the series. “Me and Simsim recently took a short break, we are now back and excited to connect with an expanding audience as the story continues to unfold,” she told Arab News Japan. 

For those interested in creating manga stories, she recommends that it’s best to share short stories online to receive feedback. “Building a readership and receiving feedback from readers can be invaluable for your growth as a manga creator,” she said. “Remember to experiment with different drawing styles and techniques to find what suits you best. Drawing unique characters will make your style recognizable and that will set your work apart from others. Learn more about storytelling and how to effectively narrate a story.”

“Creating manga is a journey; you will see the improvements with practice and dedication. Keep drawing and exploring new techniques, and that will help you overcome challenges,” she added.

The artist has not been to Japan before, but she is planning to visit Tokyo and Kyoto this summer. ‘Ocean of Secrets’ is available to purchase on Amazon.

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