After reading the manga titles from Manga Hero and reviewing them in my June column, I knew I wanted to interview one of the authors. I had the great good fortune to e-interview with Gabrielle Gniewek, writer of the Manga Hero series: Judith: Captive to Conquerer and the special edition, Habemus Papem. This has been one of my personal favorite interviews in recent months because of her insights about writing, her newfound discernment of a religious vocation, and her love of joining East and West in our Catholic faith. Thanks, Gabrielle, for your candid answers!
Q. How did you come to be a Manga writer? Would you say you were a writer first and then Manga creator, or the opposite?
A. You have to be able to write before you can tell the types of stories you actually want to. It’s a matter first, of being born with the capacity to write, then secondly, getting enough practice by writing annoying book reports or pointless class assignments, before many years and bad scripts later, you’re able to tell an entertaining and grammatically correct story on paper. It’s along the way that you learn what types of stories styles you like (in my case, manga and anime) but having that initial talent and cultivating it comes first.
Q. You’re a student of John Paul the Great University in California. Why did you decide to attend the university, and how does its mission and vision help you be creative in this way?
A. I will be graduating JP Catholic with a B.S. in Communications Media this September.
My faith is the most important thing to me, so my parents and I knew that no matter what college I attended, it was going to be authentically Catholic. The only problem was that I’ve had a passion for movie-making ever since I was young, and at the time there weren’t solid Catholic media-major colleges out there. By the grace of God, the only ad JP Catholic ever posted in the Faith and Family Magazine reached our kitchen table, and about a year later flew to CA and began my education there.
Its mission statement was exactly what resonated with me and convinced me to go. To “impact culture for Christ” as JPII said, was exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell great stories on the page and on the screen. It was through the experience JPCU offered, and the amazing script-writing classes they provided, I was able to get a running start and progress much further into the world of writing than I could ever have thought.
Q. Tell us more about Habemus Papem, that will be distributed at World Youth Day in Madrid later this summer. What parts of Benedict XVI’s life does this cover, and how do you expect it to impact WYD participants?
A. The manga is meant to be a brief glimpse into the Pope’s schedule for the “average” day. A walk-through of what the Pope does from the moment he wakes up, to the moment he calls it quits. Through a few flashbacks (you can’t have a manga without the regularly scheduled sentimental or traumatic flashback!) the audience will also get a sneak peak at people and events in Ratzinger’s life that effect the decisions he makes today.
The story as a whole is meant to help the audience familiarize themselves with the Pope on a more personal level. I feel that story is what really draws people in through a catharsis that a history book or biography can’t stir up.
Q. Will you be at WYD for the release?
A. I wish!
Q. When will Habemus Papem be available in bookstores?
A. The WYD edition will only be available in Madrid for the occasion. We’re currently working on an extended edition that is similarly meant to make the audience sympathize with the pope on a personal level, by delving even deeper into his past experiences and life, and will be available in bookstores tentatively later this year.
Q. You wrote on the Manga Hero blog that you are discerning a religious vocation. Do you mind sharing some of your story with Catholic Post readers? Do you still plan to write, and if so, what is your next project?
A. I’m officially living with the Workers of the Vineyard at the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Fields (whew!) as a Pre-Postulant – a stage of discernment that lasts 6 months. If things go as well as they have been, I’ll don a Postulant habit for a year in November. After that, it’s Novitiate, Temporary Professed, and Final Vow years down the road, but let’s cross one bridge at a time, shall we?
I am living proof that God has a sense of humor. You may have read in my blog that the order I’m joining is Chaldean Rite (Chaldeans are Catholics from Iraq). They’re a new active order that serves in the Chaldean community in El Cajon, CA. One of their major functions is streaming liturgical content to their Catholic brethren currently under persecution in Iraq. They’re a powerhouse of activity, running a Chaldean Media Center, starting a school, and running retreats, among other things. For more information about the Chaldean community, visit their website www.kaldu.org. (We’re always looking for donations to help the refugees, hint hint.)
I went through a rough time in life this past December, and I sought spiritual direction from a priest who taught philosophy classes at our school. What he said in those classes really impacted me, and I thought I had finally found a solid, brilliant priest who could give me the truth I so ardently desired, and needed, to hear. This priest was also, conveniently, Chaldean -- the spiritual director for the Workers of the Vineyard, in fact.
You can see where this is going.
After talking with me once, he asked me if I thought I had a calling to the consecrated life. One thing led to another, and four months later I moved into the convent and have been living happily ever since.
Yes I still plan to write – gotta pay off college loans somehow! After the extended edition of Pope Benedict XVI, I might be working on an online manga series. On the side, one of the Sisters and I are going to be writing tele-plays and screen-plays in an attempt to sell them to studios to make money for the convent.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add or wish I would have asked?
A. I find the majority of Eastern cultures fascinating, and am shocked that so many people are so unaware of, or turned off by anything that can’t be considered “Western.”
Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a Ukrainian Rite Catholic that Japanese arts, Chaldean culture, and all things labeled “East” fascinate me. Regardless, there is a vast treasure-trove of knowledge to be had, and information to be shared, if people only glanced across the border that divides us, East and West.