Category Archives: Writer’s Bloc

Pop-Culture Marketing: Banking on the Action

28 Jun , 2016,
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In last week’s column, we talked about how Japan was using manga to educate pop-culture fans about their moving options.

This week, we examine how pop-culture is changing the way several banks in Japan – traditionally known to be staid, stuffy, and uninterested in the geek dollar, are selling their credit card and loan products.

cardloan_01

Highschool girls are probably the last thing you’d expect banks to use as their mascots.

Known as the Card Loan Girls, these anthropomorphized cards represent products from consumer financial institutions such as Acom, Lake, Aiful, Orix, Mitsui Sumitomo, Mizuho, Mobit, and Promise, and are the latest in a long, long line of anthropomorphized objects to hit Japan.

Of course, the casual otaku should be no stranger to such things, what with ship girls a la DMM’s Kantai Collection or sword boys from Touken Ranbu dominating the doujin charts and at the forefront of fan consciousness in the past couple years.

What’s interesting though, is the way the Card Loan Girls site uses quality manga style illustrations and a presentation that’s almost akin to a dating SIM to woo the geeky demographic.

Entries even list the character’s height, attributes and favorite activities (which we assume represent a particular lifestyle or hobbies that might align with a particular loan policy).

cardloan_03

With the website's presentation, you might think it's selling a dating SIM.

With the website’s presentation, you might think it’s selling a dating SIM. Also represented above: The Lake mascot Rei Midorikawa.

Of course, www.cardloan-girls.jp does more than just flash waifu material at you.

It aggregates details about the participating bank’s credit cards and loan products such as interest rates, maximum card limits, even participating ATMs and outlets.

The site also lays out the pros and cons of each product in a nutshell, happily helping you to make informed choices about the card that’s most right for your lifestyle, income bracket and spending habits. 

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Car, housing, mortgage, even bridal loans are discussed on the site.

If there’s anything otakus need, it’s probably financial advice and this campaign might actually be doing a pretty good job at dispensing it.

Local banks have already seen the value of tapping on pop-culture. We curated cosplay content and a manga strip for DBS Marina Regatta last year, but we’ve yet to see them embark on something quite as ambitious. Hopefully, with pop-culture emerging as the marketing in-thing, we’ll see more diverse campaigns on the horizon.

Check out the Card Loan Girls site for yourself at http://cardloan-girls.jp.

If you have a lead on a site or campaign that’s a great example of pop-culture marketing, be sure to write us at info[at]neotokyoproject.com to let us know! We’ll be happy to take a look at it, and if it is a great fit for this column, we’d be happy to write about it! 

Pop-Culture Marketing: Telling Moving Stories

23 Jun , 2016,
Crimson
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Geeks have been identified as one of the biggest spenders globally. They’ve got plenty of disposable income, are incredibly brand loyal when hooked, and as creatures of the Internet, are excellent mouthpieces for your products if you hit all the right notes.

This has led companies to devise new strategies for engaging with a geek audience – strategies that we define as pop-culture marketing.

Such creative campaigns can run the gamut (we’re no strangers to such strategies ourselves), using imaginative ways to spread key marketing messages like animation, comics, cosplay, geeky displays and even memes.

Of course, such ideas aren’t something any advertising suit can come up with.

Case in point being Gumtree’s campaign depicting Cosplay Flyer Distributors that gave the local cosplay community a good laugh with its treatment and botched aesthetics. Also, a casual search on Gumtree will reveal that Cosplay Flyer Distributor is a job that pays abysmally (only $6 to $12 an hour). That’s nowhere near the market rate for costumed appearances (which is typically $30 or more per hour) that cosplayers are generally familiar with. 

Original Image: The Cosplay Chronicles

Would you dress up and slap on make-up for a gig like this?Source: The Cosplay Chronicles

Of course, that’s not to say that companies can’t come up with great ideas and great campaigns.

In fact, we were tipped-off about one from Japan just last month called Hikkoshi More.

hikkoshimore

The Hikkoshi More website is presented in a colorful and charming manner.

Hikkoshi More is a site for information on moving services, targeted at young professionals and new families (moving from town to town for school or work is fairly common in Japan). It includes tips for first-timers, articles about how to cope with and smooth over the process of moving to a new town, and even sections on feng shui and interior decor.

Helping to present this information in convenient, bite-sized bits is the page mascot Kuronishiki, a black cat, and his master Momoa (an aspiring artist). Their adventures are serialized in a series of Cat Diary strips, which serve as anecdotes for handy advice such as techniques for packing, lifting bulky items, and even making new cat friends in an unfamiliar place.

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Kuronishiki and Momoa, from Hikkoshi More’s comic strip. Source: http://more-hikkoshi.com

 

img_kuronishiki_danshari_01

Some handy packing tips before a move. Source: http://more-hikkoshi.com

 

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Do you even lift? Source: http://more-hikkoshi.com

 

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There’s even a strip about Kuronishiki’s origin story, where he is paralleled with the Peach Boy of Japanese folklore. Source: http://more-hikkoshi.com

 

It’s impressive to see how a change in stylistics and treatment can turn an otherwise dry and boring topic like moving into something informative, without losing its essence.

While this campaign has found success in Japan because manga is so intrinsic to the country’s culture, the use of such techniques to sell a service or key marketing message might not be that much of a stretch for international brands either.

We’ll be examining more such examples in the weeks to come, so do check back with us.

Check out the Hikkoshi More site for yourself at http://more-hikkoshi.com.

If you have a lead on a site or campaign that’s a great example of pop-culture marketing, be sure to write us at info[at]neotokyoproject.com to let us know! We’ll be happy to take a look at it, and if it is a great fit for this column, we’d be happy to write about it! 

Comics Xchange 2011

27 Sep , 2011,
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Comics Xchange 2011 - Logo Art

Comics Xchange (CXC) 2011, an initiative that brings seminars & workshops about the comic book business, a bazaar, and Singapore’s 2nd 24 Hour Comics Day together kicks off at Goodman Arts Center this coming weekend.

Organized by the Association of Comic Artists Singapore (ACAS), local writer Moontique and Story Kitchen, Comics Xchange 2011 promises two days of fun, entertainment and enlightenment for participants, so check out the CXC website for more details.

It’s a cosplay friendly event, so if you’re starved for an opportunity to strut your stuff in your favorite togs, you’re welcome to.

Comics Xchange takes place at Goodman Arts Centre on 1st & 2nd October 2011. Doors open from 10 am to 8 pm daily.

Admission to the bazaar is free. Seminar and workshop tickets are available for purchase at www.gatecrash.com.sg

Mary Sue! I choose you!

14 May , 2011,
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Drizzt Do'urden - Gary Stu much?

It’s been awhile since I wrote an actual article focused on storytelling and narration, but after being exposed to so much bad fanfiction (and horrible writing in general, including the work of a local comic artist) in the past couple months, I thought it prudent to think long and hard about a new piece.

And this one’s dedicated to Mary Sue.

Who, you might ask, is this individual? She’s no less than the quintessential girl of destiny (her male counterpart’s called Gary Stu), and the macro cosmos practically revolves around her (or her becoming a part of the macro cosmos, or her being chosen by something beyond the macro cosmos, or something to that effect).

She’s the character that can do no wrong, who gets all the guys (and beds the hunkiest guys), who can snuff out vampires, zombies, aliens, robots, dinosaurs and what have you with the flick of a finger, and puts the villains to shame with her nobility and charisma and sheer awesome (it’s likely she beds the villain too, if he’s male and hunky).

Simply put, Mary Sue is the bane of good writing – a collection of hackneyed, overrated character tropes and plot devices thrown together into someone (or something) that’s either blonde, blue eyed and busty, waif-like, gothic and tattooed, or short, moe and presumably deadly.

But what’s wrong with hackeyed tropes and plot devices, you might ask? Afterall, anime, manga and videogames is rife with generic heroes of the spiky haired, sword wielding variety and effeminate villains with snowy locks to die for.

The problem, at least locally, arises from one simple fact – that Singaporean comic and fiction writers are imitators and not innovators, and that rather than focusing on developing characters that are unique to the setting, they tend to imagine that all they need to do is to pull a genre mash-ups, toss in the odd detail, and somehow, they’ve got a winner.

In any traditional story, however, the hero is more than the sum of his parts. (In the case of Mary Sue, however many other non-Human parts she might be too).

It’s irksome to see a character show lackluster characterization, excel at every single thing the plot tosses her way, save the world (usually a few times), become Master of the Past and Present, and more often than not, a thinly veiled attempt by the author to live judiciously through his character (it’s called author insertion, folks).

So how might you avoid becoming the creator of something so manifestly terrifying? Well, for one, be daring, and above all, be idiosyncratic.

There are plenty of trope-worthy heroes out there with tragic pasts, heterochromatic eyes, ridiculously gravity defying hair, some funky talent that they suddenly become aware of, a cute pet/mascot that’s also probably the LORD OF DARKNESS, and to take the cake, memory loss. You don’t need to contribute to this already large pool.

That is not to say that you can’t use tropes in your writing. In fact, tropes help mainstream audiences identify with a character, and encourage them to draw comparisons with material they might already be familiar with. Used in moderation, and in new and unusual combinations, it can make for a truly memorable creation. Used in excess, however, you tend to sink into Sue territory.

If you’re already starting to see the signs, and you think that you might be culpable of literary homicide, fret not.

You can always run your character through the Universal Mary-Sue Litmus Test for a quick diagnosis.

Until next time, cheerio!

Bordered, much?

23 Feb , 2011,
Crimson

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If you’re big on reading like me, then you’d probably be aware of the fate of Borders and its spate of closures around the world.

It’s been bad news and more bad news for the 40-year-old lifestyle bookstore chain, but hey, while it’s all doom and gloom for them, there’s hope yet for us.

Guess what, book lovers? They’re holding a massive clearance sale this weekend, at Singapore Expo no less.

I’m not gonna speculate about the whys and wherefores of such a decision, especially in light of recent developments, but I sure am gonna be there grabbing all those books and graphic novels I’ve always wanted to get, but never got around to because Kinokuniya was way cheaper and a whole lot more accessible.

Check out the details here:

Massive Clearance Sale - Digital Ad as posted on Borders website.

All your brains are belong to us

18 Feb , 2011,
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So Now You're a Zombie. But can you read? XD - Cover Art

Everyone wants to be a vampire.

After the fiasco that was Twilight, being a pretty boy that sparkles in the sun’s kinda the in thing.

But if you’re into the undead, and you’ve seen zombie movies, then you’ll know that travesties like Edward Cullen aside, shambling around and going “Braaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnsssss~!” ain’t half bad.

That is, until you come up against gung-ho survivor types and pesky high school kids who refuse to stand still so you can take a chomp outta them.

And that’s why So Now You’re a Zombie is such a godsend.

I noticed this book at the reservations counter in Ngee Ann City’s Kinokuniya, whilst hunting for a buncha books at its discount sale (which is on from now till the 20th, by the way).

It turned out to be a great read, chock full of helpful tips for the fresh zombie, a healthy dose of pop culture references and injokes, as well as digs at 2010’s obsession with the walking dead.

(2011, of course, is plagued by its own share of zombies. Just look at Koreha Zombie Desuka, the upcoming survival horror game Dead Island, and well, Minecraft).

Man, if only being a zombie were this easy.

Suffice to say, So Now You’re a Zombie takes a bite outta self-help books (which tend to appeal to real life zombies anyway), and the end result, with its goofy illustrations, charts and diagrams, is just too funny to pass up.

Hell, it’s even educational.

The only thing is, I’m wondering if zombies even know how to read.

Definitely a great gift idea for Romero fanboys and peeps who’ve got the Z-bug.

Also, a great reference for writers gunning for the whole tongue-in-cheek thing.

It’s a parody with brains.

The Instant Plot-omatic!

13 Feb , 2011,
Crimson
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Magnetic Poetry, or as I'd like to call it, the Plot-omatic!

Don’t you wish that sometimes, when you’re sucking for plot and need a little push to get you started, you can just reach into a grab bag of ideas, and pull something out?

It’d be great, right?

Now, with a handy set of magnetic poetry, and some imagination, you can.

Here’s a shout out to Yan Sin, who gave me this wondrous item at D&D yesterday, as something of an early birthday present.

The minute I opened that smooth metal box, I instantly knew it’d make a really good writer’s tool.

It’d also make for a fun game at literary parties, writers’ meets, and creative writing classes, especially if you fancy a more interactive approach to storytelling.

Writing plot has never been this easy. XD

Using your Plot-omatic

1. Toss your magnetic poetry strips into a container.

2. Give it a good shake!

3. Close your eyes, and pull out 15 to 25 words…

4. Arrange them to form a character or story blurb!

Pretty cool, eh? XD

When heroes die

31 Jan , 2011,
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Fantastic Four #587 - Cover Art

They usually go out with a bang, jump into the gaping maw of a dragon, or get overrun by hordes of icky things from X dimension like the Human Torch in the latest issue of Fantastic Four.

I glanced through Issue #587 of course. What self respecting comic lover wouldn’t? But since I’ve never been a big fan of Marvel’s favorite super family, All I’m gonna do is applaud Jonathan Hickman, whose list of writing credits is something I can only dream of emulating, for doing it again.

He delivers a powerful finish.

Ultimately, this post isn’t just about The Fantastic Four (The Fantastic Three now), or poor Johnny, who bought it in a bad way.

Rather, it attempts to dissect another storytelling tool – the death of the hero, as opposed to that of the invincible hero who does no wrong, who cleaves through a thousand orcs a minute, takes down gods with a toothpick, and against all odds, refuses to die.

I can count at least two handfuls of writers who are guilty of this crime, of falling in love with their own creations, so much so that they can’t leave well alone and retire Mr. Uber Protagonist when it’s well past time to do so.

And R.A. Salvatore, the man behind Drizzt Do’Urden, is arguably the guiltiest of the lot.

Drizzt - You don't want your character to be this guy.

Drizzt, as everyone who has even remotely touched a fantasy book will know, is a collection of some of the worst tropes in popular literature (he probably invented some of them himself), disguised as a much maligned dark elf trying to make his way through the world.

He’s sulky, depressing, and two-dimensional, armed with two magic swords that would cost any other adventurer three arms and five legs (at least according to the Dungeons and Dragons rule books), and yet, when the literary gods of the Forgotten Realms (Oghma, for one) should have smote him for being such an affront to character development, he persists.

Like bad fanfiction.

My point is, a well written character knows when to exit the stage, and a decent author will know when this exit should be. Typically, it’s at the most crucial point in the story – the height of dramatic tension, where the hero’s quest is jeopardized by the appearance of the villain or by overwhelming odds.

Just think about it. You’ve got the macguffin, you’ve slain the big, fat, ugly dragon, and you’re about to get the payoff and the girl. And BAM! There’s a double cross, and the BBEG’s really the dude that hired you. Two million henchmen file in, train their guns at you. What do you do?

It is at this point that a heroic sacrifice will prove, ultimately, that good triumphs over evil, and make for a poignant, bittersweet victory that sits well with the audience.

Johnny, in #587, does this. He punts The Thing through the portal, and takes his place against the hordes of demons that have come calling. Sure, it’s likely he’ll be back in ten issues or twelve. Maybe something magical happened, his death is retconned (like so many other deaths in the Marvel universe) and he’ll be as good as new, but you can’t deny that when he goes down, he goes down in style.

Me, however, I prefer my heroes to stay dead.

Fantastic Four #587 - That's what I call a last stand.

In the real world, death is final. Everyone struggles with their mortality, even heroes. And that’s why it makes their deaths more resonant.

So even if you’ve worked a main character up from clueless rube to super sleuth, feel free to let him save the world, and go down with the sinking ship, burning tower, or exploding space station. That’s how your character becomes a legend, and not a bad trope. When you dare to let go.

Just, for the love of god, don’t pull a Drizzt, or rely on Deus Ex Machina, or alternate dimensions, and all that jazz.

Unless, of course, that hero you’ve created is a cash cow, and your publishers are adamant that you keep him alive so you can rake in the dough.

In which case it’s all perfectly legitimate.

But can you live with yourself if you do that?

Character Building

15 Jan , 2011,
Crimson
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Creating cool characters like this teenaged fire-starter is easy, if you know how. XD

Awhile ago, I started a series of free lectures and workshops at *SCAPE, with the express intent of helping up and coming comic book and manga hopefuls prepare their first manuscript.

And after almost a full term, and after working with a number of people both on and offline, I’ve come to realize that one of the greatest hurdles many aspiring writers need to overcome is actually one of the earliest and most essential steps in the entire process – that of writing a compelling lead character.

In a sense, I was lucky.

Having played Dungeons & Dragons for almost two decades, I already had an existing framework I could use to mold story characters.

It was easy enough for me to assign a value to the character’s physical and mental attributes, to think of him as somebody with a class, with skills, feats and powers that closely resembled what I wanted to accomplish in the tale. And once I had these things in mind, all that was left to do was to flesh the character out – to put him in a costume, craft a legitimate background, and turn him loose. In fact, many of the characters that populated my worlds were created with this very approach.

And since my preferred genres were either traditional or urban fantasy, everything fell into place nicely.

Of course, I don’t expect people to pick up Dungeons & Dragons, just so they can use it as a writing tool. The character creation process, however, isn’t too dissimilar to what we, as writers, tend to be accustomed to.

Typically, you’ll begin with a concept.

When you sit down to write a lead character, there’s a good chance you already have an idea in mind. You should be able to visualize how this character looks like, maybe how he’s dressed, and how he acts.

Maybe you’re basing the character off somebody you know, or it’s an idealized version of yourself, or something really radical. You’ll want to pen these things down. Just a sentence or two will do, just to give yourself and your readers the gist of things.

You’ll want to follow this up with a longer description about the character. Touch on his costume and appearance, his mannerisms, his likes and dislikes. If you’re a dab hand at drawing, maybe include a character sketch of some sort. Make it a point to describe anything interesting about the character – a scar or tattoo, and how he acquired them, or maybe a favorite scarf, or piece of jewelry.

Finally, write a little background. Explore the character’s past. How did he turn out the way you envisioned him? What did he have for breakfast that morning? Anything at all that you think might make your character interesting to the audience.

If it’s a fantasy story, you could include a vignette about your character’s coming of age ceremony, a knight’s test, or a stint at the mages’ guild. If it’s something a little more modern, maybe include a short paragraph or two about his family life, or school life. If your character has special powers, don’t forget to talk about that as well.

And finally, jot down a list of character goals. What do you want your character to accomplish during the course of the story? How do you want him to grow, and what kind of challenges do you intend for him to overcome?

Once you’re done, give the character a good once over, and ask yourself if you’d be interested in reading more about someone like him.

If not, then well, it’s back to the drawing board.

Keep working at it, and eventually, you’ll have this entire process hard-wired into your system. And when you do, you’ll find that creating characters becomes something that’s almost second nature.

But in the meantime, keep writing! XD