How it all started and why this is important
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I'm a scientist, so this is obviously something that interests me. I also like to communicate science to anyone who is interested and, of course, all things sciency/geeky. One of them being manga. There just isn't enough manga about science! So, now that I'm living in Japan for a short stint for work, I've decided to combine teaching science through manga with having super smart but relatable girls as heroes that save the day using their awesome STEM skills (as also there aren't enough girls in STEM careers). However, the books can be enjoyed by everyone, feminism is not just for women. All contributions very much appreciated!
I am also an advocate for science literacy. Science and technology are part of our daily lives and everyone should have basic knowledge in order to make informed decisions (and just know more cool stuff in general!).
This is the first of a series of books. What will the girls do next? Go to space? Meet an evil artificial intelligence robot? Make new friends and use chemistry to solve a new mystery?
Mari, Jun, Miki and Yui are four bright high school students with a sense of adventure. After school they use their science skills to solve mysteries and save the day. Each one has their own personality, style and STEM area of expertise, but they work very well together (most of the time!) and have a lot of fun.
Mariko Watanabe (Mari) 渡辺 真理子（マリ）
Mari loves animals and everything to do with biology and genetics. She is super bright, shy and a little clumsy (which makes her hilarious at times). Only her heart is bigger than her appetite.
Jun Mori 森 潤
Jun’s mind is full of numbers and formulae, she loves maths and physics. Anywhere she looks, spaces and objects can be explained by equations. She is also very fashionable and into all things kawaii.
Miki Sato 佐藤 ミキ
Miki has a passion for engineering. She is very practical and loves to build and fix things, as well as pull them apart to see what’s inside and how they work!
Yui Matsubara 松原 ユイ
Yui can be found attached to a computer, phone or tablet. She spends a lot of time coding and listening to music. She likes to wear black and can be a bit grumpy at times.
Their first adventure
The girls witness a crime, but must gather evidence by themselves. Did you know that you can analyse skid marks and calculate if a car was speeding? Jun will show you how. And what happens when they can no longer access the crime scene? Well… engineering and coding can be put together to conquer that challenge. Also, fingerprinting is not all about fingers anymore! In 1984 Professor Alec Jeffreys from Leicester University, UK, discovered that each person’s DNA has a specific pattern, which can be used to identify criminals. Mari wants to do some DNA fingerprinting, but will the girls be able to get a sample from a dangerous man?
Market research and cultural context
I do a lot of STEM events at schools and for a while I've been showing high school students, especially girls, the characters and a glimpse into the first story. So far, I've received very positive feedback, they seem to really like the characters and the idea. Also, I've run the actual script through high school students, as well as Japanese educators. That has helped shaping some details and adapting the story to a more Japanese context. For example, I have added some characters that were not in the initial script. A teacher has pointed out that here mothers play a crucial role in deciding what course to do at University and, especially, what route NOT to follow (often STEM). So, the story and action are pretty much the same, focussed on science and the girls' ability to solve problems using their STEM skills and knowledge, but I've added some parents that are supportive and others that think girls should instead practise their calligraphy, look pretty and cook delicious food. This is Joshiryoku, often mistranslated as "girl power". Throughout the series readers can also learn about Japanese food, traditions, festivals, musical instruments and sports.
I'm working on a Japanese version and an English version, both available as digital files and printed books in a few months. However, given that previously the Japanese version was not popular on Kickstarter and I am looking into reducing the budget, it will not be part of this campaign. I've done a ton of research on manga books and they will be standard Japanese size and overall appearance. Colour soft cover and black and white strips on newsprint paper (yellowish in colour). The printed versions will also be assembled the Japanese way (think reading back to front). During the campaign I will add videos explaining a bit more about the characters, the story and the creative process as the campaign progresses and I will endeavour to quickly answer any questions you may have or take into consideration any feedback you may want to share.
I wrote the script, created the characters and made diagramas for the storyboard (ocd much?), but you would not like to see any drawings from me (seriously, you would not!)! So I've hired a very talented Japanese illustrator to do the art work. This will be the bulk of the cost and my target for this campaign (including 5% for Kickstarter and 3.5% for e-payments handling fees). Costs such as book printing and the T-shirts will be initially supported by myself, as I am going ahead with making them (if the initial goal is surpassed, then great, and everyone gets an extra reward). I'll be attending a few comics/manga events and there is a Dōjinshi shop (Japanese shops that sell books from self-published authors) that seems to be interested in selling the books. So, the books and T-shirts will be printed no matter what. I managed to get a better deal on printing as well, which helps. Packaging and posting costs will be added at checkout.
- The books, of course! English; digital or printed.
- T-shirts (adult and child sizes available)
- School package - great promotional price! Each session is carefully and individually prepared. According to the nature of the workshop/session, I usually ask the participants to do some reading and/or give them a little bit of homework in preparation, as well as the agenda for the day in advance. No session is like the other.
- Character looks like you - only one of each available (bad guy, Yui's nerdy, Jun's and Mari's parents. These characters were added to the original script to illustrate the current situation in Japan, where girls are usually discouraged from pursuing STEM interests, especially by their mothers (in this case, Jun's parents think she should quit science and focus on more "lady-like" activities). On the other hand, to offer some balance and a different perspective in hope of changing (especially Japanese) culture a little bit or at least make people think about it and consider different options, Mari's parents are very proud and supportive of their daughter's choices.
- original watercolour painting of the girls by Ukrainian artist Ira Baykovska
Who's supporting and talking about STEM heroes manga?
Finally, this journey has been amazing so far and here are just a few people who supported the project, said nice things about it or interviewed me saying nice things about it:
I even got to do my own little blurb at Comix Launch!
Risks and challenges
The script is written and a draft of the story board is done. The fact that my Japanese is pretty terrible and Mine san's (the illustrator) English is basic has made our brainstorming and feedback sessions quite interesting and challenging at times, but so far so good.
Prices for all costs have been quoted for and I managed a better deal for printing. All this will be done by professionals with many years of experience and regardless of the campaign the books will be printed.
The artwork will be done by a senior arts student who has already successfully completed several works with companies on time and without issues.
As soon as the products are ready, they will be shipped or delivered in other ways, depending on what it is. What happens after that is out of my control, but I will let everyone know when their parcel has been sent out and estimated delivery dates. I will personally deal with any issues people may experience so that we can sort them out.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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