CRN Interview: Brian Fukushima x "Pokémon"

A "Pokémon" n00b on the nature of fanart, social media living, why he doesn't play "Pokémon" much, and how he ended up drawing the creatures anyway

Plenty of people draw Pokémon fan art, but can you classify a work as fanart when it is not drawn by a fan? 


Brian Fukushima's sketches are based on general ideas of some of the original monsters, but rely much more on his friends' descriptions of the characters via Google+ Hangouts. 


Comic artist, doodler, graphic designer Brian Fukushima. 


Having finished our respective French toast and poutine at a diner in Toronto, Fukushima and I settled in to discuss the origins of his most popular tumblr post


Ok, you can tell me about Pokémon now!


I have so little experience with it. I think I played the very first game for—


Red or Blue?


I don't remember… I was trying to explain this to somebody and I was like, "I played the black and white one." And they were like, "Oh, which one, Black or White?" And I was like, "No I mean the spinach-colored one on Game Boy. (lol) 


Nice. (lol)


Black and—like four color? I don't know. Yeah, so I played it a bit and every so often one'll come out, and I'll try it out—I can definitely see why they're so popular; I get it. But every time I put in a couple hours, I'm just like, I can't do this; I can't continue. So I've never been able to get very far. But I always like, you know…you're just looking at pictures of creatures.


Cute little creatures.


Yeah, my friend Steve is always like, "Oh, you're just collecting animated gifs," and I'm like, Oh, that's a thing




I often think that I'm just too old for it, but that's not true at all. Especially on the Internet—there's no such thing as too old; there's fans of all ages and stuff, but I do feel like it was always a bit younger crowd than me, like I was kind of on the edge. I was too old for the cartoon, I guess, not that that matters.


Obviously on the Internet everything's Pokémon, so I've seen a ton of the designs before, but I have never studied them and never really cared that much; so, it was kinda fun having friends describe them and having a general idea of how—like, I wasn't going in completely blind—I know the general style and how things kind of work, and that there can be like, an egg with a face, and that's ok. "What else?" "No no, it's five eggs with a face and that's it." "Ok…"


How did it come up in the first place? You were in Google+?


Yeah, Google Hangouts with some folks. I forget, but…I know people are always drawing Pokémon on the Internet; it seems like it never ends, but it seems like recently even more of that is happening. 



Have you seen that project that Frank and Becky are doing? 




They live in California. She's this insane illustrator and they do these little Golden Books sort of inspired children illustrations and stuff. 


Oh wow, I might have seen some…


So they're gonna do 151


Oh, the original ones?


But they're inspired by, so they're original creatures. But yeah, it's seems like a lot of people are doing that kind of stuff. I guess that's what happens when something becomes popular enough that it's part of the zeitgeist or whatever, so everyone knows what it is, and everyone's doing their own versions of things. It's cool, I like seeing all different takes on things. 


You've probably seen Maré Odomo's…have you seen his Letters To An Absent Father comic? You should look that up. 


I don't think so—I'll check.


It's probably all online, but it's this mini-comic he did about Ash writing letters to his father who's not around and stuff. It's really sweet and sad…


But yeah, it's cool to see a lot of people doing their own takes on very established series, and it's not embarrassing to do fanart or fan fiction anymore; it's just kind of expected. 


It's weird…I remember when Portal 2 came out, the day it came out—the day everyone played it—instantly there was so much fanart. Everyone was just racing, 'I gotta draw this thing I saw in this game,' and I was like Jeez, I haven't even played this game yet. Like, Lay off a week at least. I'm not too concerned about spoilers, and usually people are pretty good about that now, but it's just shocking how quickly fanart happens now. Immediately this episode of this TV show happened, or this game came out, and right away here's 100 people all drawing it. It's pretty cool to see the army of artists getting up on something like that and seeing what people come up with. 


It's a bit weird though. You make something, like you make a…popular thing, and then everyone does their own…(What am I trying to say here?)


It's like variations on a theme, basically.


Yeah yeah yeah, and at what point does intellectual property say, 'Hey, stop messing with this stuff'?


Never (lol)


Like you can't—you can't put that toothpaste back in the tube, right? Once it's out, people are gonna do whatever, but it's really bizarre how quickly things happen now. Things aren't really given a chance—no one's ever going to be nostalgic about anything ever again because it just never goes away.


That's true.


And there's no 'well nobody knows about this obscure thing;' everybody knows about it—there's no obscure things anymore. 


I was thinking the other day about knowledge that is on the Internet vs. what knowledge is not on the internet, and is it even a thing if it's not on the Internet? And obviously it is, and there's plenty of things you can think of that aren't on the Internet, but it's things like maybe you haven't told everyone that you're planning to go to lunch with Brian Fukushima.


Yeah yeah yeah.


That kind of thing.


Well, and also what does everybody need to know? I think that social networking has just gotten into people's heads where it's like, 'Oh, I have the ability to broadcast everything I do and everything I think and it doesn't matter.' You're not running out of space and if people don't like it they can unsubscribe from your feed and everyone gets to do whatever they want and say whatever they want, but man it's weird, like should you? Should you be doing this?


I don't think people really think about it anymore. It's just like an automatic, 'I'm gonna announce this thing and I drew—' I dunno, 'I recorded a cover song of this popular song,' or 'I drew my version of this thing.' I feel like years ago people would have questioned whether or not they should do that, and now it's no question, like go for it—we need the most amount of stuff on the internet as we can get. I dunno.


So when your friends were describing the Pokémon, did they talk about personality-wise or was it straight up—?


Uhm, usually just what it looked like. Yeah, and then it's so funny because so many of them would be like, "Oh it's like a little dragon or like a little dinosaur?" and I'd be like, "Well what kind of dinosaur?" And usually it'd just be like, "Oh, a tyrannosaurus rex," Cuz there's no…I don't think there's a…


Yeah, I don't think there's a brontosaurus Pokémon..that I know of.


Yeah, so you know when someone says, "A little dragon" or "a little dinosaur"—you generally know what they mean by that, but I would ask them these questions. So it's like, "Oh it's like a big fat cat that's asleep." "Uhhh ok, I'll draw a cat that's—" "And it's got a spiral on its belly and weird little eyes." 


It was interesting to see them try to describe something that they know very well. It's like a game of Telephone or whatever.



Did they give you feedback after? Like did they say, "This one's really funny looking," or...?


Well, yeah. I did a bunch before—no one got to see them till I'd done the entire page and then I showed them later and they thought it was funny cuz they were eagerly waiting to see what i was doing. 


Some of them, the basic old ones, I had an idea, and there's other ones that are just like, "Oh, it's like this really long dragon thing with a big—" and you're just kinda like "Ok." And you look at it and you're like, "What? You guys couldn't have told me that…?" Definitely fun, [but] I did two rounds of them and was kinda like, "Well, that's enough of that."


"I still don't need to catch them all." 


Noooo, really. And then it was interesting…I'm basically aware of the whole series and everything, but to hear fan base debate over whether things are canon or whether, 'Oh we don't want to count these ones from this thing cuz they're kinda crappy,' or whatever. I mean, everyone gets kinda snobby about the thing they're into and someone will suggest something and they'll be like, "No, that one's stupid; it's not a legit one."


So your friends play a lot of Pokémon.


I think everybody does. I feel like everybody on the Internet does. (lol)


That could be true. I got kind of hooked on Scramble recently. Have you heard of Pokémon Scramble?




It kind of takes out the RPG thing and it's just action—it's basically button mashing. Each Pokémon gets two moves and they're like little wind-up toys, kinda. So you collect the toys and set them free. (Well, you don't set them free…) but…you can have as many as you want as a time. They limit you to three lives, but…it's so stripped down because there's no leveling up—you just have to catch a stronger one. So it's really kind of goofy, but it's addicting in a way.


Well that's good—


Like, 'Oh this one has 769 power! Ahh!'


Yeah, and that's what I like when—we were saying before—when you can get the nugget of the thing, like, 'No this is the enjoyable part of it to me, and if I can just do this, I don't need that other stuff,' and that's a nice option to have because I can't put in the hours and, even though from what I can understand it's a pretty basic RPG compared to a lot—


I think if you want to be strategic, there's a lot of the Rock-paper-scissors-type elemental things, but there are so many elements. It's not just Fire, it's like "Ghost," and what beats Ghost? I don't even know!


'Grass, obviously!' [Note: According to this chart, Ghost and Dark are "super effective" against Ghost.] Now Poison and Ghost, how are they different? 


But yeah, I definitely like that they've invented so many of these little characters. I mean, some of them aren't unique, but some of them are so out there it's nuts. The tree with the coconuts in it and stuff? How did somebody decide that was—I know like after a point they are probably just looking at things around the office like, 'Ohh, it's a waste paper basket with a face!"




Wait, isn't there one that's a garbage bag? Someone said…


There's definitely one that looks like a garbage bag.


I think that's how Anthony Clark described one of them to me. "It's just like a garbage bag with a sad face." Alright, sounds good!



And you said when you posted them you got a zillion comments and shares or something right away?


It's the most popular thing that I've ever—it's not tons and tons, but I dunno, overnight I got like 1,000 notes on tumblr or something. I usually get like maybe 10 or 15 on something I do, so it was funny just to see, Oh yeah, this is what the Internet likes.


People care about Pokémon.


Yeah, it doesn't mean like, Oh how do I turn this in my favor and what I do that's gonna be popular? I'm not at all interested in that, but it is very interesting when you hit on something and it's like, Oh that's what people care about, in this area. 


It's weird, just sort of being kind of an outsider on this whole phenomenon cuz usually I'm pretty aware of things, I guess, but it's one of those weird blind spots. I can never join in conversations when people are talking about that stuff. 


Is there anything else you want to say about Pokémon?


Uhmmmmmmmmmm….you don't have to catch them all. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. life.


Make your own rules, live your life.


Brian Fukushima's official site

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