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Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2003
THE ZEIT GIST
Cometh the man, cometh the charisma
Some are born to greatness; others have it thrust upon them
By EUGENE KASHPER
Adashing & suave lady-killer and a misfit loser?
That's the man in a nutshell, with the two opposing personalities co-existing rather uncomfortably as the central character of the comic strip "Charisma Man."
The black-and-white, 5-panel strip first appeared in the monthly magazine "The Alien" in 1998. Its Canadian creator, Larry Rodney, using his writing skills to complement the talents of artist friend, Glen Shroeder, sought to depict the strange, and not always unpleasant metamorphosis that many gaijin men experience upon arrival in Japan.
And don't we all know a Charisma Man in our whereabouts? You know, that guy who wouldn't have been able to get a date at home, but spends most of his time in Japan with girls draped all over him?
In Rodney and Schroeder's strip, however, the "Charisma Man" character doesn't just seem to be better looking -- he is better looking. His entire body transforms, giving him a buff, muscular figure and a frighteningly masculine jaw line. He gains in height and attains a confident aura that envelops his entire person.
He's not just Adonis, he is the Donis, a walking Greek god. But, like the Greek hero Achilles, Charisma Man has a point of vulnerability: his arch-nemesis -- "Western Woman."
When ever faced with a gaijin woman, the character can't prevent a physical and psychological return back to his original dweeby self.
Mr. Rodney, who lived in Japan at various times between 1992 and 1998, and now works as a coordinator for a language school in Vancouver, says the idea for Charisma Man was a "culmination of a lot of experiences and stories. I began thinking about the foreigners I knew in Japan, and how they were mostly an odd bunch.
"The Japanese seem to see Westerners through some kind of filter. An obvious example was all the geeks I saw out there walking around with beautiful Japanese girls on their arms. These guys were probably social misfits in their home countries, but in Japan the geek factor didn't seem to translate.
"The dichotomy between the perception of these guys in their home countries and in Japan was amazing to me. This made me think of Superman; on his home planet of Krypton, Superman was nobody special, and he certainly didn't have super powers. But when he arrived on earth -- well, you know the rest.
"He was somebody -- that was the whole premise of the first strip."
When Mr. Rodney decided return to Canada 1998, he had the character return to his home country as well in his final episode.
The strip had proven so popular, however, that the editors of "The Alien" wanted to have it continue -- and an agreement was reached.
Now almost 5 years later, Mr. Rodney says he's amazed at the popularity of the character he created. "One of the biggest compliments I ever received was when I mentioned Charisma Man to a guy who had recently returned to Canada from Japan, and he said: "You created Charisma Man? Let me shake your hand."
"He said Charisma Man was a favorite among him and his friends -- that's when I realized Charisma Man had become a bit of a cult classic."
With the departure of Rodney, Charisma Man's adventures continued through 2002 under the watchful eye of Americans Neil Garscadden, and Wayne Wilson.
The change in contributors at that point also marked a change in the style of the strip itself.
From 2002, Charisma Man was shown to not only see himself differently, but his perception of events around him achieved some of the fantastical elements of the hero's own physical transformation.
One of the later strips, for example, has Charisma Man imagining himself as the captain of a submarine, evading a surface warship. What he's actually doing is boozing with his friends at a drinking shop and desperately trying to avoid a passing "Western Woman."
With the change in artists, the art work also departed from its original superhero style, and began to tend more toward the comic book form.
The artist, Mr. Wilson, says he bases some of his caricatures from real life experiences. "Even in Japan, I've been snubbed by western women, for unknown reasons. Some of the sneering expressions I've seen have worked their way into my comics with great success."
And did the writer Mr. Garscadden also base stories on his own real life, "Charisma Man"-type experiences?
"I think the Charisma Man character reflects something in all males over here, so I hate to have people think I was using some personal situations for stories," he says.
Mr. Garscadden is currently looking for work following his dismissal from a teaching position in Ibaraki for reasons, he explains, to do with "office politics."
"It's a long story, but there's nothing wrong with teachers asking students out -- don't you agree?" he wonders.
"Charisma Man" continues to appear in the monthly Nagoya-based magazine "JapanZine," is now in full color and has expanded to a full page, with Mr. Wilson continuing as the artist.
However, Mr. Garscadden, who is waiting for word on a bus boy position at an Indian restaurant, has handed over the writing reins.
"I can eat nan for free during breaks," he enthuses.
WIN THE CHARISMA MAN COLLECTION
Charisma Man The Complete Collection; 1998-2002 AKNG Press. 1,000 yen
If there is one book that might be able to explain life in Japan somewhat to friends and family back home, Charisma Man is it.
While the main target of the humor is the lampooning of the gilded world that some Western men find themselves inhabiting here, the strip's situations are those which most gaijin can relate to.
Using the character "Charisma Man" as a foil, this 77-page collection deals with many of the most important aspects of living in Japan -- from the complicated bath-taking system to the often desperate race to a beer vending machine before closing time.
Fans and those new to the strip alike can pick up their copies nationwide -- including Tower Records in Tokyo, Kinokuniya in Umeda and Osaka, and Maruzen, in Kyoto, Nagoya and Fukuoka.
Alternatively, you can order direct from the publisher by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Japan Times is offering 10 lucky readers a chance to win their very own copy of this collection of charismatic capers.
The first 10 Community Page readers to send an e-mail to email@example.com telling us about their best "Charisma Man"-like experience -- or simply about the last time they made an idiot of themselves in Japan -- will each receive a copy of "Charisma Man: The Complete Collection." Winners only will be notified by e-mail.