The Strangest Thing…

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UK illustrator James Harvey shares with us his amazing story about how he developed his awesome style.

One of the things that stood out to me about your style of illustration is that they have a little bit of a manga-esque flavour to them. How did this style come about for you?

I’m really glad you asked that, because it’s a long and interesting story. It began while I was hiking up Mt. Arashiyama in 2008. I was stranded by a freak snowstorm. My guide was swept down the mountain, as were the rest of my climbing party, and I was alone. After hours of blind stumbling, feeling my way along the rock with my frozen fingers, I managed to find my way into a cave which I hoped to use as shelter for the night. I saw the debris of a campsite from maybe a hundred years previous, and the body of another poor soul who had lost his life on the mountain before me. Retrieving bodies from mountains is an expensive and dangerous process, and so many mountain peaks are to this day a grim open graveyard, the trail to the summit a parade of perfectly preserved corpses, a who’s who of who didn’t make it.

I managed to get my camp burner lit and attempted to thaw my frostbitten body. Looking around the dead campsite, I saw an old trunk on a bed of logs and ropes that looked as if it had taken tremendous effort to bring to this spot- what could be in there? I managed to get it open using my shoulders and the tips of my boots, not wishing to risk my extremities- and inside, perfectly preserved, I saw hundred of issues of Osamu Tezuka comics, as fresh as the day they were printed. Wasting no time, I began ripping the comics apart and stuffing them inside my snowsuit, plastering them to my body. Soon I was far warmer than I had any right to be, half-way up this frozen peak. But my body was spent. I lay down next to the malnourished little flame and waited for release from this white, frozen hell, whether through death or through rescue.

As I drifted into sleephood, though, a golden warmth flowed over me. And then, as clear and as real as you are in front of me now, the great Buddha appeared before me looking exactly the way he does in Osamu Tezuka comics, his huge eyes shimmering with a steely intensity. “You died here tonight,’ his honeyed voice boomed- as pure as a child’s but as powerful as that of Moses when Charlton Heston plays Moses in films. ‘You’re shinjin now. A new man. Now, you will give that life to me.’

‘From now on, what will stand out about my style of illustration is that they will have a bit of a manga-esque flavour to them,’ I said.

The Great Buddha smiled in acknowledgement as he receded from my vision, transient as a dream. The snowstorm continued to rage, but now death seemed as far away as this summit had once done back at base camp.

I made it back to base camp at around 10am. My guide (a human-sized baboon, whose powder blue snowsuit dashingly complimented his bright red face and golden fur) was miraculously alive. ‘Hah. Don’t worry about me. If I could be killed that easily I would have been dead a long time ago’, he told me in Japanese, a language which I do not speak. I’m pretty sure that’s what he was saying, though. He went on to tell me that I’d been taken for dead by everyone.

‘Well, the strangest thing happened,’ I began, reaching into the lining of my snowsuit to retrieve the comic books that had saved my life- but I stopped there. They were gone.

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Wow! Was this before or after your teaching gig in South Korea? 

I went to Japan during the summer holidays, when I was an English teacher in Korea. I was on my way to Australia but got stranded.

You published a comic about a day during this time in Korea teaching English. What made you decide to Travel half way across the world to teach elementary kids?

Needed the money.

How is your book ‘Zygote’ coming along? 

In terms of writing/layout, I am right now about to finish the final draft of Zygote. I’d finished drawing it completely, maybe 6 months ago… then I decided to show it around to people and hear feedback, let it settle and breathe, and see what was working and what wasn’t. Then late last year I started adding new material that fleshed out some of the relationships in the book, and… by the time I I was done, the book had doubled in size. I finally feel like I’ve figured out what the book is really about, now it’s time to stop writing. The book’s changed a huge amount since I first began it, as have I.

When can we expect it to be released?

Zygote’s still a ways off. At the end of last year, I’d finished drawing the book and wanted to sit on it a little. Since then, I’ve re-read it, thrown a bunch of it away, re-worked a load of it… and so, the completion needle’s moved back a good few points. So people are going to have to bear with me for a good while longer, but it’s going to be worth it.

This book sounds like it has been a massive project for you over the past year. What’s next for you once it’s finally wrapped up?

As for my other projects beyond Zygote… subscribe to my Twitter and Tumblr for updates. I have a lot of plans, but it’s too early to talk about any of them right now. Sorry!

See more of James Harvey’s work at

Originally published in Yume Magazine #5 (August 2013)