Join Lucy and Robin as they embark on their epic reread/rewatch of all things CLAMP. In this inaugural episode, we talk about how our nerdy origin stories led to our nerdy careers, our favorite CLAMP titles, and most importantly, this crazy journey we’re undertaking.
We’ll be your guides through CLAMP’s Wonderland!
Robin: CLAMP, the four-woman mangaka supergroup, originated in 1987. Coincidentally, that was about the time both of us originated. It is less of a coincidence that the two of us have been friends as long as we’ve been CLAMP fans, since that had a little something to do with how we met. Is it destiny? Is it hitsuzen? Or is it just a sentimental origin story for a podcast?
Lucy: Hi, we’re Lucy Softich-
R: and Robin Kaplan—
L: —and we’re here to be your guides through CLAMP’s Wonderland.
[Intro music, played on a harp]
L: If you’ve heard of CLAMP, it’s likely from one of their breakout hits, which in the US was mostly Card Captor Sakura, X (or X/1999), and then in the last ten years, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles and ‘Holic’ (or ‘X-X-X-Holic’).
R: For the past 30 years they’ve been making comics for different demographics and completely different genres, and if you were a nerd in the 90s or early 2000s, there’s a pretty high chance that one of the things they made appealed to you a very great deal.
Part of what’s really interesting about CLAMP is that all four of their members get equal credit. And that includes Nanase Ohkawa, the writer; Makona Apapa, who is I would say the ‘lead artist’, but that might be kind of a dig at the other artist—
R: —Mick Nakoi, who I don’t think deserves to be treated as any lesser than Mokona, but I do think she is definitely not the person who is doing the main character designs for their early work.
L: Yeah, she takes lead on some of their works, but Mokona takes lead, at least from what we can see, on most of their big breakout hits.
R: Yeah. And then you have the fourth member, Satsuki Igarashi, who is described as a designer and art assistant, and often someone in a role like that probably wouldn’t get any kind of credit, in particular, or would be someone working at your publisher, as opposed to a member of your team. And I think it says a lot, like, to how strong their work is that all four of them are integral to their process. Which is really fascinating.
We cannot overstate how impressive it is that these four people have been working, and sometimes living together, for thirty years. That is, I mean, that is about as long as the two of us have been alive. The idea that their career is as old as we are is super mind-blowing, especially because of what a really important part of our childhoods, and our professional development, they ended up being.
L: Yeah, and it was a fascinating time back in kind of the 90s and the aughts, we finally got an influx of most of CLAMPs work. Up until then we’d had a few of their big hits, but Tokyo Pop at the time put out pretty much everything they’d done, with the exception of, like, a short story collection here or there.
L: But we got most of it. A lot of it is out of print at this point, but still very findable. So they’re actually very accessible in America.
R: That’s a really interesting thing to bring up. Where there are other mangaka who are really important in Japan, but never really became lauded here. For various reasons, CLAMP were really visible in the US in the 90s. Especially, eh, I say the 90s…I think that the “90s” continued until about 2004?
L: I think it was that in the late 90s was when TokyoPop…like, rebranded and really became a thing, and I think it was more around 2000—2003/2004 when we got a big influx of all their old works. And, like, a push to brand them along with the CLAMP name that, at that point, everybody knew, especially if you were an anime and manga fan at the time.
R: Yeah…and it may be because it’s such a simple word that’s pronounceable by Americans with no background in the Japanese language…it may be just that their work is so…it’s appealing in all these different genres so they could sort of sell it to all these different people, but also the same people would be interested, like—there’s something about following a group of artists through so many different genres, and so many different projects, that has definitely influenced both of us a lot, and given both of us the idea that as a creator you can work in like wildly different kinds of… I mean like, you can do projects that are light and fluffy and you can do projects that are like, short, perfect short stories that just like cut you to the quick, and you can do long bloody epics. And of course you’re the same four people doing that, I mean why wouldn’t you be just as good at all those different things.
L: Yeah, which occurs to me as a really actually unique thing within most media. It’s really hard to get published when you do such a variety of things. You see it a bit in, uh, like Young Adult authors can get away with doing some Middle Grade, some Fantasy, some more dark YA, but you don’t see it a lot across genres, and I think it relied a lot on, especially at the time, an American audience, that would just—wanted anything that was anime or manga, it didn’t matter if it was originally marketed for little kids or if it was originally marketed for adults, we were kind of hungry for anything. And so I think that made CLAMP a really good sell, because they do as you said have such a wide variety of tone. Like you can see it just in…Card Captor Sakura is Magical Girl, it’s about as light and fluffy as you can get. It’s got some darker themes, but it’s not…
R: They never go in a really dark place.
L: Yeah, Yeah.
R: Yeah, like it has serious themes, and she deals with her mother’s death, but that’s handled in a way that is like…really sweet and really thoughtful.
R: And not at all in a place—it’s not exploiting grief, and it’s not, like, romanticizing sacrifice. It’s just not doing anything as dark and blood drenched as, uh, RG Veda or X which are blood baths. Not like gratuitous nonsense violence for no reason. Like it’s always motivated by character development and the plot. For people who might be accused of being fairly fanservice-y, I’d say they’re way less than a lot of other things.
L: Yeah… But they’re not pulling any punches in their darker stuff. Like if an eye gets gouged out, you see that eye get gouged out.
R: Yeah it’s…
L: Yeah *laughs*
L: If someone loses a limb…you see that happen. And it’s somehow…beautiful? Because their art is gorgeous… *laughs*
R: *laughs* Yeah, their art is gorgeous, and you’ll see both of those things so many times. I guess it might be interesting to talk a little bit about their artwork, because it has evolved a lot. And as we go through this podcast, we will talk a lot about like what the art looks like—which is weird because this is an audio format—but we’re gonna talk about it because like…I’m a professional visual artist, I make comics for a living. And I’ve been super obsessed with them, and I’ve definitely been staring at their artwork since I was a kid. And while my art looks absolutely nothing like theirs—at all, under any circumstances does my art look like CLAMP’s. I—
L: I…I can see their influence…
R: Oh no, really?
L: You can do those really detailed lines that’s very classic CLAMP.
L: Yeah, I can see that.
R: I’m all like glowing now.
R: That’s such a compliment. I think of my work as being like the polar opposite of theirs in a lot of ways. But, like, yay. I’m glad—I’m glad there’s visible influence because I think that’s a good thing not a bad thing.
But, boy it has changed through the years. And they actually do talk pretty freely in interviews about why it changed and, like, what tools they were using at the time. And some of it is the tastes of the time. You can look through their thirty year career. You can see what was like groundbreaking artwork in 1999, versus what they were doing in, like, 2009, that was—at the time—was actually at the time pretty groundbreaking and on trend. That’s, like…that’s kind of how you have staying power like this. Like their work has become classic, but they also keep moving forward.
And…wow. You know. That’s like..
R: That’s, like, so much. *laughs* That’s like so much to take on.
L: Yeah. They also…they move forward, while also keeping grounded in all of their stuff. Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles, which we’ll get to…in a couple years…probably. *laughs*
R: *heavy sigh*
L: (Who knows.) …is literally a mash up of all of the things they’ve done before, and uses characters—like, the main characters are all characters from previous things, and they travel through all of their previous worlds. Like, so they are literally still grounded in their original works? I think Tsubasa is…*sigh* I think it ended? I think it ended and had a second little bit…
R: Did it though? Did it? We’ll talk about that later.
L: *laughs* I don’t know, we’ll get to that.
R: We’ll talk about it later… CLAMP and ending things is an entire discussion that we will go into because—
L: A Painful Discussion.
R: It’s painful. There will be tears. There will be tears for us in this podcast, because on some level this is also our, you know, this is our journey through CLAMP’s Wonderland. It is also our journey through our childhoods. And our friendship together.
L: Aw! *laughs*
R: And we’re being a little, like silly about it…but it is a thing that is, it’s meaningful. Like it is a thing that means a lot to both of us.
L: Yes, yes, it is. So…Robin, who the hell are we, and why should people listen to us?
R: Oh no! Who are we? Why should anyone listen to us? I am Robin Kaplan, but you might also know me as Robin Robinson or the Gorgonist, because I have a lot of different names for…all kinds of stupid reasons. I am a comics professional these days. I would call myself a KidLit comics artist and writer… My debut artist/illustrator graphic novel is coming out in a couple years with First Second, and it is, like, super child friendly, and very much intended for a younger audience.
So I work mostly in that….like, I’m working on books made for the age I was when I started reading comics. That…is interesting to me, and might be significant to anyone listening to this, because when I started reading comics, I was in like third/fourth grade, and there were like not comics for girls or kids available. I mean, there was Tintin (or *in more of a French accent* Tintin, right?). I mean there were European comics for kids that would be translated, and you had I guess Archie which I didn’t really read, um…
L: I…I’ll come to that. *laughs*
R: Yeah, Lucy can stan Archie for you. But I also…was reading X-men comics and going into comic book stores with my mom and little brothers. My little brothers were not the reason we went into comic book stores, it was me. They followed with me, and have both become big comic fans, and my middlest brother is of course a comic creator in his own right. And shout out to Alan Kaplan! I guess we’ll have to—
R: —give everybody some promo stuff for you as well.
L: And many links. His comic is amazing.
R: He’ll come up later. And we’ll give him a chance to talk a little bit, because he was also like…someone that we both hung out with. I mean, I guess I hung out with my brother sometimes. But CLAMP was a big influence on him as well…
L: And we all went to high school together and stuff, so…it’s all there.
R: Yeah, but I think there’s something significant about how until manga was hitting the shelves in a big way, there just were not comics that were in any way intended—I don’t just mean, like, I mean obviously you can read comics that aren’t for little girls when you’re a little girl. Obviously. But the fact no one was making comics intended for little girls, is significant. And that’s not a thing that today’s kids— *old-man voice* kid’s these days—
R: —they don’t have to contend with that. They’re reading comics that were absolutely written for their age level, that were created by people who have been where they’ve been and had the experiences they’ve experienced. It’s such a different world than it was. And we’re talking, like, this was 15 to 20 years ago, somewhere in that range. Like, that’s a big, big change, in such a little amount of time. But, CLAMP and other manga that was intended for a young female audience, was some of the fist comics that I had access to that were appealing to me on a level I’d never seen before. Because I was loving these comics made for little boys, right? Or, uh, very old little boys…
R: …as comics in the 90s…I mean, we can talk about this later, too, but comics in the 90s in America, too, went in some—in all kinds of directions that were really different from where they are right now. Um, but, manga kind of saved comic book stores. There are comic book stores that definitely feel like instead of saving them they damned them to having women and children come into their doors. But they sold really, really well, and these were books that could be in comic book stores and bookstores, and libraries.
So it really did catch on, and I was a pretty early adopter of this material. But I had been reading American comics beforehand, and one thing American comics didn’t do at all was fantasy. I remember there were a couple fantasy comics that existed, period, in the 90s, none of which were at all interesting to me. Some of which were fairly manga influenced, which was interesting. There were things by, like, Joe Madureira and Chris Bachalo that were like very obviously manga influenced. And I remember thinking, like, wow, this really doesn’t feel like the manga I’m reading that I really love. And some of it is that it was being interpreted through these much older men, who were seeing what was interesting to them in the material, and maybe even were reading CLAMP and stuff that were for girls, without any concept of, like, what was appealing to girls in that work.
So all kinds of interesting things with that. And obviously we were getting lots of shonen and lots of, like, seriously very adult comics that would be on the shelf next to comics for kids, and yes, I did read all of those.
R: And I’m fine, right, I’m fine?
L: Mmhmm, you persevered.
R: I persevered, it’s all good. But CLAMP was such a big part of my comics childhood because I never read anything that…hit me right where I lived. Even sometimes to an uncomfortable degree. I was used to comics that I had to fight through to get what I wanted out of them, and here were comics focused on like all the parts of X-men that were my favorites. All the sudden, here was stuff that just like did only that. It felt like…like I couldn’t have something this wonderful and beautiful. Like, and I did for many years have a lot of weird like guilt and shame. I was like, ooh, this must not be good because it’s so appealing to me. And, I mean, that’s the thing about sexism, and the patriarchy, it’s that if you just think you’re inherently inferior, the stuff that appeals to you on that level must also be inherently inferior. And I feel like it’s sort of been the last, like, twenty years of my life, un-building, like, just destroying all of those beliefs.
L: Yeah. Yeah, you have unlearn some of…some of that. *laughs*
R: Enough about me. Who are you, Lucy Softich?
L: Well, I…currently work in marketing and PR (among other things) for a small online retailer, but prior to that I got my master’s degree in book publishing. And…I do a little bit of freelance editing, I write for my blog lucyinbookland.com…uh, I love talking about pop culture and writing about pop culture and writing fiction.
R: Lucy does draw, also, but not professionally these days.
R: But we definitely met because we both drew.
L: Yeah, and when we said earlier that we kind of came together because of CLAMP it’s because we met in art class, back in…
L: Yeah, yeah, the end of 2001. Yeah. Although I don’t draw as much anymore, it was a big part of high school, was us drawing. And I actually came to comics pretty differently from Robin. I…avoided most of them as a kid because I thought they were, in quotation marks, “boy things,” because I only saw superhero stuff, and I didn’t have any siblings, so I didn’t even have, like, an excuse to get into them really. Uh, and I instead read a lot of like Saturday morning cartoon strips, and stuff like that, and I got into Archie. I found that because it was at the super market, I could just buy it, and it was really fascinating and it, it was…I think I was reading it in late elementary school, and my friends were reading it, so it wasn’t weird, and it was all about relationships and…not necessarily super gooshy relationships, so it didn’t feel super girly, and thus inferior, because…the patriarchy, but… *laughs*
R: Yes. Ugh.
R: And interesting how, like, the gendered marketing for things really affected…
R: Like it affected both of us, and it affected you in these ways where you were, like…I mean, I know a little bit…I know, heh, I know you pretty well at this point.
L: You know me pretty well, yeah.
R: I know that one thing is like you are, your parents are, like, the sweetest people on the planet, and anything kind of violent was, like, too much for them.
R: And by extent, they kind of, like, you self-policed yourself a lot as a kid. Like the idea of, well, this is a boy thing might have kind of been, “it’s probably got people punching and kicking each other, and I don’t want that”?
L: Yeah. Yeah. But…I was lucky in that my godsister and brother were a little bit more aware of comics, and that’s I think how I discovered Sailor Moon…and I also encountered Pokemon around the same time, and it all kind of led me towards…just the anime and manga world. And I think…actually my godsister was the first one who got me reading Card Captor Sakura, which was my first CLAMP work. Like many of us *laughs*.
L: And that led me further into manga and anime, and then when I met you it was already—like we’d separately, I think, discovered CLAMP.
R: Yeah, we definitely came to it separately, but I think that the small group of people…I mean, we know almost all these people to this day, so like, they were good people, ok.
L: Mmhmm, yeah.
R: We had like a little circle of art and writing friends who definitely centered around our kind-of-freeform art class that we had in high school.
R: And…I mean like, yeah, we all came through—to this stuff in different ways, but like, we fed off of each other a lot—
R: —in that era.
L: Yeah, and I mean, it’s going to be interesting as we do this project, because we have different favorite works of CLAMP.
L: Like they don’t actually line up that much. I mean, we like all of it, pretty much.
R: Oh yeah.
L: But we hold different things as beloved to us, and…that’s going to be really fascinating as we reread them.
R: I’m pretty sure that my first CLAMP manga experience was with Card Captor Sakura, which is a pretty typical experience for most people in the US who were getting into CLAMP, because that was a smash hit, and it was really accessible and easy to find.
But…the way I read it is a little weird.
R: Because…I didn’t read it in collected volumes that I bought at bookstores or, or got from my school library, I read it as floppy comics?
L: Oh yeeeeah!
R: Yeah! That I found published, like, on the shelf with all my other like seven, basically seven by ten inch American super hero comics. Because that’s what I was originally reading. I didn’t pick up Card Captor Sakura first, we read…obsessively read all of Sailor Moon, which we did buy in these ugly, flipped, messed up floppies. Which were just, like…it’s a terribly format, you have to cut and paste…it, it has nothing to do with how these comics were originally made, and it’s really a terrible way to read it. It doesn’t even look very good? It’s sort of blown up and weird.
R: But that was how I read Card Captor Sakura for the first time. My little brother and I were both pretty into it, and it was definitely something that was purchased more for him, because he was a little younger than me…
R: And he was the big Sailor Moon fan. It was definitely released as though this was the thing to buy once you were done with Sailor Moon. Which I think is a pretty good marketing idea, even though the age group of the characters is different. But they’re both magical girl things, and you can see how that would feel good together.
I think Card Captor Sakura was your first, also.
L: Yeah, it was a really similar—although, I don’t, I don’t think I read it, initially, in the weird floppy thing. I got the…the published, or, uh, the TokyoPo—or no, I guess it was Mixx at the time?—volumes. Uh, that, I’d been getting Sailor Moon, I got them once they started coming out with Card Captor Sakura…I actually didn’t like it much?
L: Um…like, I think I read the first one or two, and my godsister was more into it than me, and I kind of just…didn’t…read it again for a while. And I think later I started getting the rest of the manga after I was in to CLAMP, but I think in, in between there I found their other stuff…like a bit of X, and stumbled upon Wish, and a few other things…
R: Oh, Rayearth.
L: Rayearth, yeah.
R: I’m pretty—I remember you and I liked Rayearth a lot.
L: Yeah, yeah, I had a lot of Rayearth. And…it was kind of just what was coming out, so I started getting more and more of it, and then eventually I went back and watched all of and read all of Card Captor Sakura.
R: Yeah, so while Card Captor Sakura was both of our firsts, I don’t think it’s either of our favorites.
L: It’s sort of a toss up, but…I know Wish was one of my favorites, in high school anyway. It was just such a…a beautiful little story. Eh, whereas so much of their stuff is really epic, which I like as well, but this one was just so cute.
L: Although without being overly sweet?
R: Yeah, and it’s so different from other things. Not just other CLAMP things, but other things that would be on the shelf with other comics at the time. Like I can see that being something that would really stand out.
L: Yeah. And it’s one of theirs that plays with gender…and we’ll get to it, but it’s got a lot that’s just kind of…
R: Yeah. Near and dear to our hearts.
L: Yeah, yeah. But, having said that…Clover. *laughs*
R: Oh Clover.
L: Clover might have to be my favorite, because I can’t…I can’t…it’s so beautiful.
R: It’s so beautiful.
R: It’s so perfect.
R: Even though it’s unfinished and technically imperfect, it’s like, ahhh, so good.
L: It’s, yeah…it’s like how, how…that just makes it more perfect.
R: It does, it kind of does, oh no. It’s funny, because, I, I know what my favorite is.
R: I know what my favorite in high school, and the reason I cared about CLAMP so much, was X, which is what I got really into. And I’m like, oh, give me all the dark epic bloody tragic, oh, just give it to me, make it so sad, make it so sad.
L: *laughs* Yeah.
R: But I pretty quickly…was buying Tokyo Babylon volumes in Japanese, and struggling through them with my, like, two years…
R: Two years of school Japanese, and like, this is so pre-Google Translate that I was just using a dictionary.
L: *laughs *
R: Struggling through it, and reading synopsis that I could find in what existed of the internet in 2003.
R: And…I know that Tokyo Babylon is my favorite? Like it just is. And I kind of knew it was then. I was like, oh crap, I think this might be my favorite? …but oh man Clover, it’s so hard.
L: Oh man Clover!
R: Ahhh, it’s so hard to pick.
L: Uhhhh, it’s, well, uh, and your thing about the, the struggling through translation, I actually did that with RG Veda, which we’re gonna talk about in our next episode, which is a really hard one to try and struggle through translating—
R: Oh my yes.
L: —from Japanese when you don’t speak Japanese, because it’s not even set in contemporary? So there’s no…
R: Like you’re using archaic Japanese…
R: And also, like, the Japanese versions of like Buddhist, and originally Hindu, names, oh my goodness.
L: Yeah, and there’s just so much kanji…so, it was…
R: So much kanji.
L: So, I wasn’t very successful.
L: But I definitely had, like, a great fondness for that.
R: Yeah, and I think some of those experiences that we had, back, like, pre-internet, when we were having to like work so hard to get into this stuff—
R: —it might be a little bit about why they’re so important to us today.
L: Yeah. I know one thing that really drove us, and most of our little group of friends, to CLAMP, even though I don’t think we even fully realized it at the time, was the way they handled queer characters. Which, we are both queer women.
R: Yeah. And-and I mean, almost everyone in that group were queer in some way. Like some of them, very, very like outwardly and obviously, and for some of them it’s been, like, a more of a quiet part of their life.
L: Yeah. Like we…I—if we had the terms we had now, in…in 2002, or whatever—
R: Yeah. Which, which, even in our very, like, progressive kind of “hippy” high school, we still didn’t have, like…I don’t think the term “asexual” was one that I heard…
R: …outside of “asexual reproduction”.
L: Yeah, like, I heard it in science class…
R: Like I don’t think I heard that…
L: …but it wasn’t a thing that, like, that people identified as.
L: At least not wildly, and at least not for 14-year-olds.
R: It was certainly something that none of us had. Like we didn’t have terms like that. “Pansexual” was not a term I’d ever heard.
L: I’d heard it like once.
L: It was not, like, I picked “bisexual” because that made the most sense? Now I prefer just queer, because it’s less messy. Even though I know it’s kind of loaded for some people, especially older generations.
R: And there’s kind of no way around that.
R: When you’re a marginalized group, the words for you become insults. And there’s that cycle of reclaiming that, and having it used against you again, and what becomes more clinical, and whether or not that’s good. And Uggggh. It’s the worst.
R: I also prefer “queer” because I’m like “Well, I’m pan and poly, but I don’t want to give people like a whole long description of everything going on.”
R: Its…it’s private. Like some of that is not…It’s not their information to do anything with. Like it can be used against me. We’re just old enough that we come out of an era where it—we didn’t feel like we had protections—
R: —from discriminations. And—and I think these days, um, people still don’t, but people feel more like there should be protections? I remember a time where, like, you just accepted that most of the world thought this was just, like, bad.
L: Yeah…and-and I mean, like, even the idea of seeing gay characters in movies, and certainly on tv, was so foreign. Like, I remember when Brokeback Mountain came out, I couldn’t even…like I did not literally believe that there would be a cowboy movie about two guys being in love. And, we could debate about the virtues of that movie…
R: Yeah, it certainly does not feel like…Like whether or not we currently feel like that movie is the best representation ever, there was nothing else.
L: Yeah, it wasn’t like now, kids now, or teenagers now, have Steven Universe, where people are…just happily queer everywhere. And we didn’t have that, certainly not in cartoons. Maybe a little in stuff like Degrassi…and-and a bit in like, sitcom’s you would see the “token gay character”.
R: But it would usually be like “a very special episode.”
R: It wouldn’t just be…expected, like “oh, these people exist, they’re a part of our lives. Here’s their story too.” It would always be a sort of a joke side character, or tragic story. Even some of the best-done version of that would be kind of pushed to the side, where like “well, some people aren’t comfortable with the existence of queer people, so we won’t really force that on our audience.” And that does a lot of damage…
R: …to you, growing up. Like, even if you’re a less visible kind of queer, it can really destroy you to think there’s something about you that is, like, not appropriate for children.
L: Yeah, yeah.
R: If you’re a “children”?
L: Yeah, your existence, like, yeah.
R: Like, “I’m twelve years old, I think I really like girls, why is there no book for twelve year old girls who like girls? Like why am I suddenly…like…” It’s like such an “adult” topic, and that’s really damaging.
L: Yeah, yeah, and like even now, it’s pretty hard to find something that is about queer characters, that’s not about them being queer.
L: That’s not like, uh, a “problem book” or something about them coming to terms with their queerness, and overcoming adversary. Like, something that’s actually just…a fantasy adventure, that happens to have two girls that are in love as the main characters. And—or as important side characters.
R: And that’s something that CLAMP gave us.
L: From the beginning!
R: From the very beginning. Like, literally, as we will discuss in these next episodes. Like even their earliest works…some of it is like what we might call “slash” where it’s kind of…or what we used to call—I’m not sure if that term really exists anymore.
L: It does. I think. I think it’s still used.
R: Yeah. Great. We’re old, it’s fine.
R: Either you’re old like us, or you’re not, either way…we’ll—we’ll educate each other. It’ll be great. But, like, they definitely have works that where, like, oh, it’s kind of “shippy”, like it’s gay shippy; they’re excited about this, the idea of a relationship between these characters. One thing we will discuss throughout this whole journey, is where is it fanservice, and where is it queer representation.
R: Because I think that it is safe that we think that they do both.
L: Yeah, yeah.
R: And we think they think they do both. I also believe, like from interviews, I think they think they do both. I think sometimes they will feel like “oh, no, yeah, these are queer characters and it’s really important to the story ‘cause that’s just who they are.” And sometimes they’re just like “yeah, it’s hot. I don’t know.”
R: I think they do both those things. And it’s funny because, if they only did one or the other I might view it differently, but because they do both I look at that like “oh, fair.”
R: You know, fair.
L: Yeah. And you mentioned Slash Fiction, or whatever kids these days—*old man voice* kids these days are calling it.
L: Uh, which really is appropriate to CLAMP, because they in fact come out of Japanese fanwork culture.
R: When we talked about the fact that they were these four people, we did say “that’s who they are now”, you know, like, “the CLAMP we know today”, because that’s not who they always were. They were…twelve people?
L: *laughs* yeah
R: …maybe more. And just like we made friends in, like, early high school, it seems to be the case that they started out as, like, most of them were maybe middle school, early high school friends, who hung out together even after some of them went to college, in the Osaka area. And were really excited about, like, doing amateur comics together. In Japan, “doujin”, “doujinshi”, it’s like “companion works.” Like, the term sort of means like “fanfiction.” But, it’s not always fanfiction. Sometimes it’s just viewed as, like, amateur indie works. And that is where they came from. And it’s one of the most significant things we haven’t mentioned about them yet.
There’s such a stigma in the US, and kind of everywhere, for people coming out of that fandom world. Fanfiction writers, especially because it’s a very, like, it’s definitely seen as being a very female, a very young female thing, and who’s like the most margionalized? It’s young females. Um, so anything they do of course, it *old man voice* it can’t be any good. But it is often really self-indulgent, and work that, if you’re an adult, who is an established comic writer, might be so alien to you. You’re like, “well, I didn’t—I had no idea anyone cared about this aspect of those characters. Why would you write this? Like, what are these people doing with my creations?”
R: But it is of course, like, how people have interacted with fiction since the very beginning. There’s… Like, a ton of the most celebrated fiction in the world is kind of just Bible fanfiction or fanfiction of Greek Gods or whatever.
R: I mean, this is actually, like—what else would you describe Paradise Lost as?
L: Or…anything Shakespeare ever did.
R: It’s an epic fanfic of the—haha, yeah!
R: So we’re not going to just do a defense of fanfiction, but we will do a little bit of that, because I think sometimes people will look down on CLAMP for those origins.
R: We think it’s just part of what makes them so—not only amazing and impressive, but, honestly, relatable.
R: Like instead of looking down on them and being, like, “Ugh, they’re just so ‘fanfic-y’”, maybe we can celebrate the fact that their work shows that they love their characters enough to want to see them in embarrassing AUs.
R: Like, exactly the kind of stuff that people I know write for, like, totally just for fun to put on, like, on AO3.
R: They’re writing stuff that could be exactly what somebody I knew wrote, but, like, 30 years ago. And it’s beautiful.
L: And…and “AU” is “alternate universe,” if you’re not in the…in the fanish culture.
R: Which, I’m sort of not. *laughs*
L: Yeah! *laughs* I can help you, I can help.
R: Ok, cool, Lucy can help me with this. But they did come from that. And one of the reasons why it was physically possible for someone who were just, eh, writing goofy fan comics, especially, like, I think the first two that get mentioned a lot for them, and two that people remember them for, are Saint Seiya and Captain Tsubasa fanfiction. And both of those are like older, like, late 70s early 80s comics, that had a huge, like, gay ships—“slash”—community surrounding them, because there are all these beautiful boys, all these good looking guys, I don’t know, what else are they gonna do? They better…
R: I mean, who wouldn’t make out with all of those beautiful boys.
L: Ah-huh *laughs*
R: So, there’s a lot of people, like, a lot of those comics, like, to back it up, and maybe be a little shady. A lot of those comics don’t have very well developed characters, especially stuff from the 70s or 80s that was, like, “oh my god, we have to come up with a new plot every week, oh my god.” It’s—it’s just like, the deadlines and everything, like some of these writers were really good at action scenes, or this very formulaic writing, but the characters wouldn’t really develop very much. So…
L: We are not specifically throwing shade at any of the productions Robin mentioned…
R: No, no, Captain Tsubasa and Saint Seiya are great. Like, but a lot of comics that, like, get a huge doujin fanbase, like a huge fanfiction fanbase, they’re things that, like, hinted—there are just little bits of subtext and like little bits of development, and not very much, but that becomes something that a very writerly fan, a fan with a big…with a pile of creation in their heart, might latch onto that, and be like “ok, no, no, I know what to do. Let’s talk about why they would do it this way. Let’s talk about, like, who these characters could be to each other.” It’s often when the work itself doesn’t really suggest a whole lot—
R: —that they’re going to kind of like, supply a soul that it doesn’t always have.
L: Yeah…or, or, uh, I don’t know, like a romantic, or at least relationship, arc that the series is not providing. Like you think back to, you know, Spock and Kirk, what we consider the “original slash pairing”, at least in American fanfiction. There was a lot of relationship stuff there that they, for various reasons, did not develop in a way that was fulfilling to fans then, or now. And so then, there was a lot of fanfiction arcs that filled that hole for people.
L: And the works were not necessarily bad, but they were missing a thing for these fans, and–
R: –That they were very excited to supply.
R: And of course, that’s also really helpful practice for your own writing and comic creation. Comics are really a lot of work, and if you are fueled by love for these characters, it can get you through drawing an awful lot of pages that you might not have been motivated to do—
R: —for your own work, that you maybe don’t believe in as strongly yet. Especially when you’re young and inexperienced, and trying to learn that you’re even capable of doing these things.
One of the reasons it was possible for them to go from a bunch of fans making fanfiction, to published creators, is that there is a huge doujin market in Japan. There are conventions that are enormous that are specifically for doujin creators. And we would call that, like, an indie comics convention.
R: …But the fact that it, like, crosses over with fanfiction and fanwork so much, is, like, something that Americans don’t do the same way. I mean, like, we actually do this. Like comic conventions have this, but we try to act like indie comics and fanart—fanartists, are really different from each other, when it’s actually the exact same people making those things.
R: And Japan…doujinshi is not legal, but they tolerate it, and maybe more than tolerate it…it’s sort of celebrated, because this is where they find new talent a lot of the time.
R: It is definitely the origin of CLAMP. At first they were, like, definitely creating things like, I mean, the CLAMP Campus, where an awful lot of their stories take place, especially they’re kind of early- to mid-90s stories, center around the “CLAMP School.” That was originally created simply as, like, a place for them to put all their OCs. All their original characters, right?
R: In a way that would be very familiar to groups of friends making sort of amateur comics today.
R: Like they were like “oh, well they all need to be in a place together, like—we need some place for this crossover to happen.” So they created a place for that to happen.
L: I mean, we would definitely just draw our characters hanging out, in high school, and—not them in high school, we were in high school—and…
R: Sometimes they were in high school.
L: Sometimes they were in high school, too. Uh, usually we would make them weirdly older than us, in ways we had no idea how to write. Or context to write in, anyway. But…I can definitely see, if we were working even close—even more closely on the same projects, having this thing like CLAMP created, where it’s like a fictional area where you can just play around with all your characters.
R: I literally did that with friends, even in elementary school, but for me it came from X-men, which was *deep vice* My First Love.
R: Uh, I definitely also had like a superhero school, like, /dorm situation, that various of our friends, who I’m still friends with, can remember me forcing them to create a superhero character to put in that place.
R: So it’s like literally the same thing they did.
R: And there’s no way, like, as –I don’t think that when we were reading these things as kids that I noticed, that, like “oh, that was exactly what I did.” I don’t think I thought it was significant. I think I felt seen.
L: Yeah, yeah.
R: I think I was like “oh no, they did it. I can’t do this…like I—it’s weird, they had the same ideas as me, my ideas must not be that good.” Instead of thinking about this as being, oh, relatable, look at this, this is such a logical thing that like, meant a lot to us.
R: Also part of growing up is me figuring out how to be ok with that. *laughs* Especially as I grew up and, like, figured out how publishing actually works, definitely got rid of a lot of my like, amateur, crab-bucket-y like “oh, this idea has been done. It will never be done again. Oh no, they got to it before me.” All that kind of bullshit.
R: CLAMP were sort of discovered through this. And I think, like, “discovered” is a weird way to put it. They built a fanbase themselves. And not only did they build this fanbase just by being at conventions and selling books, and also, you know, like, they would do tons of self-published things. Like not only their fanfiction, in a beautiful self-published book, but also newsletters, and short story magazines that they did themselves. They were doing that for years. And kind of around the time…eh, they were in college around the time that I was born, around 1986, 1987, when Lucy was born.
R: Like that was around the time they were really, like, doing those things seriously. And it was still kind of a hobby, and none of them could foresee that they were going to become these million-book-selling superstars. Like they didn’t know that, but they probably dreamed…I would imagine that they dreamed of that, because it’s definitely what I dreamed about when I was…
R: Um, but it wasn’t as easy as just being discovered. And we’ll talk about that a lot in our next podcast, because the thing that they began their career with is RG Veda, and…they weren’t just discovered. They had to submit. And then re-submit, when they were rejected.
R: So…it’s like, they aren’t just, like, oh, fanfiction writers who were so good that they were plucked from the…from the mires and muck of fanfiction writers. No, they also fought really hard, and they worked really hard.
We keep—I keep saying “they,” and I’m not going to list the names of all the original 12 members. I’m not sure that we have access to that information.
L: Yeah…I… *sigh* I don’t have it anyway, and I didn’t come across it in my research. So, I’m sure it’s out there somewhere, but I feel like…and neither of us in Japanese, but from what I am aware of how the industry works there, its…very private about authors and creators. Not quite the way we are here, where we tend to dig up more dirt on people, or be a little bit more…involved in the lives of our favorite creators. There…there seems to be a lot more privacy. Or maybe it’s just that CLAMP has maintained a lot of privacy.
R: Yeah. I mean, it’s certainly there used to be more privacy, even here—
L: That’s true.
R: —there used to be more privacy. Um, Twitter and Facebook have changed that completely. And even before that, blog, Livejournal, and Myspace changed that. But it’s also that, like, these are not their real names.
L: Yeah. *laughs*
R: They are protecting their identities. And that’s reasonable. Like, especially if you become really, really famous, it’s nice to be able to be two separate people. I mean…I have three names…
R: So…and of course, I mean, all of them—one of them is absolutely my real name, so I’m not getting any benefit from that. It’s, it’s only a mess.
L: Well, even I have a bunch, ‘cause I do…in addition to the other stuff, I do a bunch of cosplay, and like I said I have a blog, so we all have kind of different identities we wear online… And we’ve both, at some point (or…currently) made fanfiction ourselves, so we both come out of this world as well.
R: Yeah, wanting to…protect the different things that you do.
R: So we don’t have the different names, like, all twelve of them ready to go. But by the time they were submitting RG Veda they had whittled down to seven. And then by the time RG Veda was, like, in progress, being published, they kind of became the four that are the core members that still work together—
R: —to this day. We can speculate on what it felt like for any of those members, but honestly, I don’t have any interviews with any of them, I don’t have any information. There’s only speculation to be had from us.
R: So we’re gonna kind of not focus on that…
L: Yeah, and in a similar vein, we’re not going to speculate too much about their personal lives…or, uh, any possible queer identities they may or may not have. We just don’t…know that. And that’s not really our business. So…when we’re addressing all that, we’re going to kind apply a “the author is dead” mentality and focus on what’s in the texts, and less about speculating about the creators.
R: But it’s going to be impossible for us to never do that, because the question of “is this an Own Voices story”…like, is this coming from experience, like…it’s hard for that not to come up, especially like in our case, where—when you are a queer person—
R: —you’re questioning some of those things, not like to just purity-test their legitimacy, but, like, honestly questioning things where, like, “oh, this may be a part of my identity…I just so desperately want to know that it meant that much to the creator as well.”
R: So like, we’re going to try not to do that. But I definitely did that as a kid.
L: Oh yeah.
L: And, and we, I mean…I think we can and should talk about what we may or may not have projected onto it, too.
L: And I mean, there are interviews with them. We do have some information.
L: But…we’re not gonna…we’re just saying, we’re not gonna try to speculate too much into their private lives.
R: Yeah. It’s not really relevant, and it’s not really fair.
R: We’re…We’re, like, total strangers to them…and that’s a little creepy.
L: *laughs* And they could, um, literally be old enough to be our mothers, and…we, we don’t need to be…prying. *laughs*
R: I sometimes think of them as, like, my magical aunts I never met.
L: *wistfully* Yeah…
R: Like…they feel like, they feel like…not like, the family that I talk to all the time, but the family I aspire to be.
R: Like the cool aunt? They feel like the cool aunt.
L: Aspirational Aunts. *laughs*
R: Yes. I like “Aspirational Aunts.” Like a lot.
So I think we can do a little housekeeping for the podcast at this point.
R: We should talk about…a bit about our format.
L: Ok! So, our plan here, if you haven’t picked up on it, is we are going to reread all of CLAMP’s work. We are starting from their first published work, RG Veda, which we will start next week.
R: Technically, there are two things we could do before this…
R: We might be incentivized later to do those, but…Derayd is not all four members working together. And the other thing that is, um…oh my god I don’t have the word right here, but, it’s uh…like, they did four chapters of something that was sort of like a modern reincarnation of characters from the Hakkenden.
L: Oh yeah.
R: And like…I mean, there’s four…it’s, it’s really not accessible. It’s very hard to find, not only translated, but just to find this, and we sort of feel like, if it’s that hard to find, and there’s no real legal way for you guys to read along with us…
R: Like eh, maybe, like maybe later we’ll find a way to talk about those early works. But they’re sort of from before they were CLAMP as we know them.
L: Yeah…we’re also going to avoid things that are just collaborations. Where they may have done art, or only partial…like we’re not going to talk about Code Geass, even though they did the art for it (and it looked amazing).
R: Yeah. But they didn’t write it, Nanase Ohkawa didn’t write it, and, like, all four…I mean, maybe all four of them worked on some aspect of it, but…
L: Maybe, but…
R: …not in a way that we feel it’s, like, really part of their body of work.
R: So we might do a really brief discussion of that era, because that era was a really big important time for them…
L: Yeah…and if you really, really, really ask us…and beg us…we might do it. But… *laughs*
R: Yeah. Right now we’re like, we really want to go through all of their published work. And I think we’ll—we’ll read a few short stories, and we’re occasionally mention doujin.
R: We thought we were gonna start with doujin…
R: It turns out that some of their most famous ones *cough* the Jojo doujin, were not from before they were published, they were things they were making throughout the early 90s.
R: Back when they were publishing their little newsletter comic, the CLAMP Laboratory?
R: They used to, like, put some of their fanfiction in that…so I’m like, oh, we’re gonna talk about those as they come up, chronologically, as opposed to like, doing a “here is their doujin origin story”, like…
R: We were originally going to do that, but it just ultimately felt like between that and the other stuff we could find kind of references to characters that come up in those later works…sometimes before the works were officially published, they were already writing like alternative universe slash fanfiction of these characters—
L: Haha…their own.
R: Yeah, of their own characters. And that’s totally amazing and super relatable…
R: But…completely useless to someone who has never read those books. And so we’re going to try to bring those up as it actually becomes relevant.
L: Similarly, as we’re going chronologically, we’re going to try not to talk about works that haven’t happened yet.
R: This one is our little intro…our little garbage intro podcast.
L: Yeah, so this doesn’t count.
R: Yes, it’s allowed here.
R: Oh dear.
L: *laughs* For *laughs*, for future episodes, there will be penalties for discussing in-depth works that have not happened yet. So, we will be allowed to like casually be like “this theme will come up again,” but if we actually mention…uses of the theme, or specific characters too heavily, from future works, there will be a check against us. At the end of dealing with that project, whatever project that is—so at the end of RG Veda, we will tally all the things up, and whoever has the most checkmarks will buy the other person a small piece of merchandise relating to RG Veda. And so forth. *laughs*
R: So if you make merch, maaaybe drop us a link, because that might come up for one of us.
L: Yes, please.
R: Um, we are going to call this “Stargazing.”
L: Yes. Which will become clear. *both laugh* We’re stargazing a little right now, but…*laughs* It’ll make sense once you read RG Veda.
So, join us in…two weeks. If you’re reading along with us, or worried about spoilers and don’t want to have them, read all of it before then. We are not doing this, like, volume by volume. We, we may in a later project, break it up differently, but for this one especially we’re just reading the whole thing. And we’ll probably discuss for multiple episodes, but we will begin that first episode, know—with full knowledge of all ten original volumes, or I think they are currently available in three omnibusses from…
R: Dark Horse.
L: Dark Horse, yes. So if you want to read along with us, please do so, but know…
R: We are going to completely spoil you.
R: From the beginning. RG Veda is very hard to talk about without knowing how it ends.
R: It’s…it’s so much more of an interesting thing to talk about as a whole, rather than talking about, like, each instillation, it’s—”in-instalment,” sorry. It’s also 30 years old. So…it…
L: Literally. It came out in 1989.
R: There’s just…yeah.
L: And…it is currently 2019. There won’t be spoiler warnings…well, we’ll probably give one, but there won’t be many spoiler warnings because everything will be a spoiler warning. Um, come with that knowledge.
Also! If you only know CLAMP from Card Captor Sakura or Tsubasa, know that…RG Veda’s different. It’s much darker…we were talking about the gory aspects of CLAMP; RG Veda has it all. *laughs* They come out of the door swinging. There’s gonna be blood, there’s gonna be mention of suicide and murder…and various dark and gory things, and if you are not prepared for that…then skip a few episodes, and you can join us when we get to much lighter fare in a few weeks.
R: Yeah, we will definitely—we will, just a blanket Content Warning, we can be more specific…and we will try to like give some specific tags wherever this is posted.
L: Yeah, yeah.
R: But also, just, content warning: it’s dark.
L: It’s dark.
R: It’s bloody, and a lot of stuff…like, there’s some abusive relationship stuff, and…
R: There are things that come up in it that, like, I do think are handled in a way that is…ehhh, I mean, “tasteful”? What kind of taste are we talking about? But still like, handled purposely and for the plot, as opposed to just being gratuitous… It’s still dark, it’s still bloody; it’s a bit of a rough ride.
L: Yeah… It’s an intense thing to read all in one day, which I *laughs* don’t entirely recommend.
R: Which Lucy did do.
L: Yeah…it’s gonna be fun, but, yeah, don’t come expecting it to be, like… Card Captor Sakura is very different. Those are probably the two extremes. So…it’ll be a good introduction if you’ve not seen CLAMP’s darker side, this is a good way to start, because boy is it. *laughs*
Alright. If you’d like to keep track of us until then, or find out when the next episode goes up, you can follow us on Twitter @CLAMPcastpod, or you can go to our website, CLAMPcastinwonderland.com. And we will be creating a Facebook group as well, which will probably be CLAMPcast in Wonderland. And we’ll have links to everything in the show notes.
R: So thanks for coming with us on our journey through CLAMP’s Wonderland.
L: Until next time, remember that everything will be alright.
R: And try not to lose an eye.