You might recognize the name James Harvey—his comics have frequently appeared on this site. James has recently taken on a bizarrely ambitious project, which he is calling Bartkira. He is having the entire 2,000 plus pages of the manga Akira redrawn with Simpsons characters in the place of series’ familiar protagonists. For example, Bart is Kaneda and Milhouse is Tetsuo.
Each cartoonist gets to pick a set of six pages to redraw and those pages will be added to the book. It is a pretty crazy undertaking considering the source material for this parody is one of the longest running comics ever and it seems to be begging for a cease and desist order from either the Simpsons or Akira.
Anyway, I wanted to ask James why he was making such a cool and stupid project.
VICE: So James what’s this Bartkira thing about? When'd you get the idea?
James Harvey: The first guy to do a Bartkira drawing was Ryan Humphries, a UK artist. He redrew these pages that showed the moment Akira destroys Neo-Tokyo, but redrawing Akira as Bart and the Colonel as Homer. His drawings were simplistic and quickly rendered, totally at odds with the super-detailed, maximalist approach that we associate with artists like Kastuhiro Otomo. But the power and the energy of Otomo's compositions and layouts survived intact.
Something I heard recently is that a group of German sociologists did an expansive study into art and literature and concluded that the amount of major ambitious works of art being undertaken has sharply declined. I don't know how you'd prove that, but then again it seems like a bit of a no-brainer—how many novels like War and Peace were written last year? Or in the last 100 years? As the speed of communication increases, the speed of art increases too. A lot of my favorite cartoonists are making these haiku-like micro-comics designed for a Twitter and Tumblr audience. None of the cartoonists I know are undertaking major epic works like the ones we grew up on—like Akira, which is a shame, to me.
That's a long answer. I thought you were the creator of Bartkira. Tell me about what the fuck you are doing.
So I realized that I could take Ryan's idea and just plant it like a seed to let everyone know what it feels like to work on an ambitious, large-scale work of art. And let them see for themselves that it's something they're totally capable of, even if they never thought they could.
There are artists, who've never made a comic before, are making beautiful work for Bartkira—even though their drawings are simple and rough. There is so much about pacing and composition from Otomo's page, and it's rubbing off on them. They're seeing that they have it in them to create these brilliant comics too.
I'm hoping that the people who worked on Bartkira who'd never thought about creating comics before will be inspired to create their own. The project is going to be like a fungus that scatters its spores far and wide.
How many pages do you have completed and how many remain?
Right now we've got a couple of hundred pages in the can, and oh, about 2,000 that I'm waiting on. We're pretty far from the deadline, though. Even if everyone drops out before then I'll just push to get the first volume completed.
Right at the beginning I thought, Even if we only get 70 participants we'll have enough to complete the first volume. And that'd be enough to satisfy me in terms of completing the experiment, but the actual number of participants was more like 700.
So there's a plan to publish this? How are you going to publish this thing that infringes on two major copyrights?
[Laughs] Good question. Right now, the only plan is to distribute it peer-to-peer via torrent sites. Beyond the legality issues, we're talking about 2,400 color pages. It'd be massively expensive to produce.
Maybe bongo comics will pick it up. Matt Groening seems like a cool guy.
I'm wondering if it'd be possible to get Matt to write a foreword. He once commented on something else I did, a while back.
Yeah. When I was in college I drew a really crude picture of the Simpsons crying over the destruction of the world trade center and put it on Ebay and tried to sell it as an original Matt Groening. He commented on it in a magazine in England, saying “Definitely wasn't me. For one thing, I know how to spell Simpsons correctly. And that stuff in the description about the smudges on the drawing being caused by my tears didn’t happen.”
Amazing! Can I still contribute to Bartkira? How can others contribute to it?
Yeah, I asked if you wanted to contribute when I started. But you said, “I want $100 a page, American.”
I know! I still do!
All the slots are filled up, but if you want to get involved email with a link to your portfolio, and I'll consider you in case anyone drops out. You can still go ahead and draw fanart or pages from the Akira Club book, though.
Where can I see the so far completed pages?
Have a look on the Bartkira tumblr tag. there's a couple of unofficial websites that are dedicated to collating all the finished work for the project so far, but I have not checked them out. Right now, the only official copy of Bartkira is on my hard drive.
Can you send it to me?
Sure. I want $100 a page, American.
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