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ROMB's Ju-Lian Interviewed by Leah Fitzgerald

A "Sadistic Shoujo" manga with an Angelic Layer theme, Rules of Make-Believe is another one of those webcomics that surprised everyone last year – starting out of nowhere, and gaining notice faster than a speeding broadband connection, Ju-Lian and co.'s work is a quality-rendered webcomic that's about a very specific game, without being a gaming comic. Leah Fitzgerald had a quickie chat to pick Ju-Lian's brain about the whole thing, as well as gloss on gaming and sprite comics, too.

Why did you decide to take a hiatus?
The usual story. Burnout and life catching up on me. I had a job change and had to sacrifice a lot of my time training for it. My free time is being used for sleeping and reading up job-related knowledge-transfer materials instead of doing ROMB. Heck, I don't even have time to do my laundry nowadays. (Ew)

But yeah, the very very main reason of going on a hiatus is because I was pushing myself to draw too hard. Not the readers, but me myself. I stay up to draw when I should be sleeping for an early meeting tomorrow. I end up waking up late next morning, looking like the behind of an ape, naturally. Dark Ages. This actually went on for a couple of weeks until my brain went on strike and I just stopped functioning for awhile.

But actually it's going on well these days. I might not be updating but I'm drawing the new pages. I want to get the current scene over with fast in a batch update at the end of the hiatus. If time permits, Shinyu, my webmistress, will be redesigning the site too. And there's so many stuff to update and tinker with. I hope we make it by the end of Jan. Ayup, that's when the hiatus ends.

Why did you start your comic?
I started the comic because I wanted to improve my drawing for another story. That story is a brainchild of Shinyu and I. It has all the coolest stuff in manga like cats and ninjas but I wasn't too confident with my drawing skills to start on that yet. So yeah, I
told her to put that idea on-hold, while I whipped up a quickie plot for a short and sweet manga script to practice on first. And ROMB was born. But it's anything but short.

You know how it is. The number of characters just grew and grew and suddenly the story is so complex that I have to start drawing timeline charts and archiving pages upon pages of scripts. And it just went on...and on...and on....

Why did you focus on gaming?
It's because I was just done writing my final year paper on 'NPC Realism in Dating Sims'. I developed a (pretty lame) game prototype (complete with designs for the NPC Architecture and the emotion engine) with a (even lamer) DirectX interface with C++. It was fun and I got good grades. My lecturer just swallowed that whole. I guess he was just impressed with the raving enthusiasm I showed during the demo.

At that time I was just fresh from playing Tokimeki Memorial I and Yuina Himoo's my idea of a perfect girlfriend. All my guy friends thought I turned lesbian on them. But the idea of interacting with a game character, so impossibly realistic, is too delicious for me to let go.

And so I made a manga about it. Kinda.

I figured, if I want to tell a story, I might as well talk about the things that I'm familiar with, and is comfortable doing research on. So ROMB has all these elements: gaming technology, violence, pre-cyberpunkish decadence and tales of all the poor sods stuck in between.

In truth, I don't think ROMB fits well under the genre of Gaming Comics. Like someone once said, ROMB's actually Sadistic Shoujo. It started like a Shoujo and deteriorated to Shonen action. Then, come the bishies and the yaoirific characters. I don't know how to categorize it anymore.

What do you think drives the popularity of gaming comics?
First and foremost, I have no idea. I don't read gaming comics, except for a few one-times, like 10K Commotion and MacHall.

And I'm not cool. I don't particularly like playing MMORPGs or FPSs or anything like those. I play adventure games (the type where the protagonist does not die, mind you). So I don't care enough for who does what in Quake or UT to crack a smile. Yeah yeah, my loss.

But I imagine gaming comics are more popular with the Western readers, and less so with Asian readers; firstly because of the language barrier, and secondly probably because we asians are manga dorks. Ninjas and cats or nothing. That sort.

What do you think about sprite comics?
I think a good gag comic is hard like hell to script. Give me a choice between drawing and sprite creation and I'll choose drawing because it seems way easier. Honestly I've not much to say about sprite comics. I truly believe anyone who puts effort and work into their comics are worth reading.

Mysterious terminology

What's an angelic layer theme?