Images courtesy of Crunchyroll.

Thanks to V-CRX, we had the chance to briefly talk with special guests Arthell Isom of D’ART Shtajio and “JAPANAMERICA” author Roland Nozomu Kelts before their panel “Anime and Race” coming up this weekend.

We were curious about Arthell Isom’s artistic background and he shared a bit with us and our readers. The co-founder of Japan’s first Black-owned animation studio D’ART Shtajio (name from combination of Shtaji + Sutajio) worked at Ogura Kobou, Ogura Hiromasa’s background art studio. His most recent work was the official music video for The Weekend’s song “Snowchild” as video producer and director. The studio also recently worked on Grammy winner and country musician Sturgill Simpson’s film “Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound & Fury”

Did you have any favorite artists and animators you looked at when you were young and developing your skills?
Arthel Isom: “I’m not sure how young you want me to go back to, but I love classical masters particularly from the Baroque and Renaissance period, as well as American illustrators from the early 1900s. I used to also enjoy looking at my dad’s album covers. As for animators I wasn’t really into any one particular artist, but I really enjoyed the early Disney films, as well as the films from Don Bluth.”

Do you have any tips for young artists interested in animating?
Isom: “It’s difficult for me to give animators advice since I’m a background painter. But the one thing all artists must do is practice, practice, practice. It really is important, and draw the things you aren’t comfortable with because that’s where you’ll get better.”

Roland Kelts’s book “JAPANAMERICA: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S” hit shelves back in 2006. While it has been over a decade since its release, it is still a relevant book for fans to look at the progress of both Japanese and American pop culture.

What are your feelings on the current accessibility western fans have to anime and manga? Did you expect it to reach these conditions while working on your book?
Roland Kelts: “I saw it coming and predicted most of it in JAPANAMERICA, though I didn’t know exactly what forms it would take. I wrote about the intense hunger and immediacy demanded by Western anime fans. At the time it was being fed by pirate sites and piracy on BitTorrent, but streaming was right around the corner.

Crunchyroll was already a known entity by anime fans, who wanted more, more, more, just as they do today. And manga was piling up in American big box stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders. Now manga’s online, too..”

Along with your book, is there another one you would recommend to western fans to deepen their understanding on Japanese pop culture?
Kelts: “Sorry, more than one, but you can’t go wrong with any of these: I would recommend Takeo Doi’s “The Anatomy of Dependence,” Ian Buruma’s “Behind the Mask,” John Dower’s “Embracing Defeat”, and “Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics” by Frederik L. Schodt.

Also, the short story collection called After the Quake by Haruki Murakami.”

We asked both Isom and Kelts regarding diversity within the industry and also what they check out during their free time.

What do you want to see when it comes to diversity in the anime industry, both on and off the screen?
Kelts: “It’s starting to happen, driven by people like Arthell, who study Japanese, move to Japan, and start bringing diversity to the industry and the culture at large. But as Arthell himself notes, artists generally draw and reflect what they see. If they only see Japanese people and culture, that’s what they draw.

I think international companies like Crunchyroll and Netflix and Funimation are starting to diversify the industry through co-productions, an encouraging sign.”

Is there an anime series or manga you like to watch/read during your leisure time?
Isom: “I rarely have leisure time anymore, but I’m always up for a popcorn night with “Cowboy Bebop.”
Kelts: “Right now I’m watching “Gleipnir,” and waiting for the next season of “Demon Slayer.”

Many, many thanks to Arthell Isom, Roland Kelts and the staff who helped coordinate the online interview.

As mentioned in the beginning, Isom and Kelts will be having a panel discussion called “Anime and Race”. It will be on Day One of V-CRX, Sept. 4th 5:15-6:16PM PST on the digital Hime Stage. Visit Virtual Crunchyroll Expo’s website for more information including where to register for the event for free.