Comics in Edinburgh to whisky in Tokyo
Professional comic book writer and social anthropology alumnus, Sean Michael Wilson tells us how he came to be big in Japan and why Scotland still informs his work.
His work is inspired by both the comic books of his youth, and the surrounding Edinburgh streets. Now Sean Michael Wilson is the only Scottish professional comic book writer in Japan.
An illustrated youth
Like most kids in Scotland, Sean grew up reading comics. He started with bright and boisterous children's classics such as Whizzer and Chips, and the boy's own adventures of Victor, before moving on to the darker more science fiction-orientated 2000 AD.
I first bought it in a newsagent in Morningside Road. It was 2000 AD that plunged me into the deep well of comics that I am yet to crawl back out of.
Sean soon became interested in more mature comics, and realised that with a good story, a comic has the potential to appeal to adults as well as children.
After pursuing other interests (including an MSc in social anthropology at Edinburgh University), Sean decided to move to Japan, the main comic book producing country in the world, and pursue his first love.
Aside from immersing himself in the culture of manga, Sean has also found time to appreciate other aspects of Japanese life.
The best thing about Japan is this: the lack of street violence. It's VERY rare to see fights in bars, clubs, etc. This is such an admirable thing and puts Scotland the rest of the UK to shame.
A taste of home
Appreciation of a different culture does not, however mean that Sean has disguarded his Scottish roots. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
He has been combining cultures designing manga whisky bottle labels for a Scottish firm based in Tokyo and, despite being one of a relatively small number of Scots living in Tokyo, found himself a Scottish Gaelic speaker and is now trying to learn the language.
In keeping with this cultural fusion, ‘Once upon a time in Morningside’, Sean’s latest book, is written from Japan but harks back to his Edinburgh childhood.
I think the beauty of Edinburgh buildings has influenced me a lot, and I miss that, living here in Japan, where 90% of the old buildings are gone.
Inspired by reality
The stories are all based on real events from his childhood, and that is something Sean stresses about creative work; the way that surroundings and seemingly insignificant events can produce something authentic but also unique.
It is this autobiographical element combined with the very specific sense of place that, Sean hopes, will attract readers who are not usually inclined to read comics. In fact he hopes that ‘Once upon a time in Morningside’ will appeal to everyone.
Anyone. Anyone who likes reading. Anyone who likes a good story. Anyone who likes comic books. Anyone who likes Edinburgh... Anyone!