Bettina Kurkoski is an artist who really loves her art—and her cats. Bettina is the creator of My Cat Loki, and she also does commissions and other art through her own company, Dreamworld Studio. I talked to her at Anime Boston about working with Tokyopop and the evolution of My Cat Loki.
Bettina grew up reading American comics like X-Men, then got a degree in illustration from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She was a winner in the second Rising Stars of Manga competition for her sci-fi fantasy story, “Axis Lumen.” My Cat Loki is her first published series; volume 1 came out in July 2006.
MangaBlog: Are you working on volume 2 of My Cat Loki?
Bettina Kurkoski: I finished it at the end of March, and I’m just waiting for my editor to finish editing it. It should be out this summer.
MB: Some of the Tokyopop artists find the three-volume format challenging. How is it working for you?
Bettina Most of my stories that I had come up with ahead of time were epic type things. Trying to find a simple enough story to fit in the three volumes was a challenge. My Cat Loki was a simple story, so it was really easy to fit it into the three-volume format.
MB: When and how did you discover manga?
Bettina: I didn’t discover manga until after I discovered anime. I don’t think I started reading manga until Tokyopop started releasing it in Borders, so it was more mainstream releases. I actually unknowingly grew up watching anime in the 80s, with shows like Voltron, Force 5, like that. I didn’t know it was anime until later. In the 90s I discovered Akira. I was using it as a reference for an illustration studio class in college for a short story I was creating. That got me back into it.
MB: How did you come up with the idea for My Cat Loki?
Bettina: The original idea for the book was totally different from what it ended up being. It all started with a greeting card that we were selling in the frame shop I worked at. It was a picture of a Newfoundland with a gray cat flopped on his head. I loved it and wanted to find out the name of the cat, so I flipped it over and it was titled “My Cat Loki.” I thought that was a great title for a book. Loki started out as a were-cat—he did physically change from a cat to a cat-boy. He was the outcast of his family of cats. He was the only one in the litter who was a were-cat, the others were cat-cats, and they abandoned him because he was different from everybody else. Ameya was not as absent minded and silly as he is now. Ameya came along and took him in and was going to try to help him find his family. Loki was actually much older and legal age for doing some shonen-ai, so it actually was going to be a shonen-ai title. I changed it when I decided to dedicate the book to my own cat, who died when he was 21. It drastically changed form then, and I had a lot of help from my editor on really defining the concept and helping me make a more concrete storyline than what I had come up with after the original concept.
MB: How do you like working with Tokyopop?
Bettina: I couldn’t ask for a better editor than Lillian [Diaz-Pryzbyl]. She was coming to Anime Boston 2005 so I got together my information for her. We hit it off really well right away when we were e-mailing back and forth, talking about cats, and we both found out we had a cat by the same name: Jenny-Any-dots. It’s from Cats, the musical. It was like, “Oh my God, this project is meant to be!” We met in one of cafes in Plymouth and sat there and hashed it out, and we’ve been working ever since.
MB: Is it a collaborative process?
Bettina: I know I came up with a lot of information, little bits and pieces here and there, and she really helped to solidify it more than anything, because she knew where I was coming from, the death of a cat she absolutely loved, she definitely knew where I wanted to go with the book, which was a great asset in the creating it and making it so.
I have heard a lot of horror stories about what other creators have said, but I have had a really great relationship with Tokyopop. There are the occasional times that I’ll be a little pissed at something silly, but they have been really good with me.
MB: Are you thinking about your next story?
Bettina: I have discussed it with a few friends. It was one of those things where I said I have to create a new character, and the idea popped up in my mind. It’s solidifying more and more, which is really good.