CLAMP: The Known-Unknown Manga-ka

“Who?”

“You know, CLAMP,” I said excitedly before repeating the name with Japanese pronunciation: “Ku-la-n-pu”. My Japanese co-worker scrunched up his face in the same way my students looked at me whenever I spoke English.

“Who?”

Oh, how I wanted to die. Apparently, he was another Japanese person–who liked manga–who didn’t know the four-member manga group, CLAMP. How could CLAMP, the CLAMP who created Chobits and a dozen other manga titles, the CLAMP who have been awesome guests at Anime Expo, the CLAMP who influenced great artists around the world like Kriss Sison (SevenSeas’ Last Hope), be so unknown among my Japanese co-workers?

I thought that when I came to Japan, CLAMP’s name would be well-known, but sadly, even some of the most ardent manga readers weren’t in the know. The only way I can get recognizing eyebrows to go up is by saying, “They made Card Captor Sakura.” I look on that series with affection; the first volume of CCS was the first manga volume I ever owned, so the CLAMP who got me interested in possessing volumes, and thus, an expensive (outside of Japan) hobby was born.

Come to think of it, CLAMP was the first for a lot of things for me. CLAMP’s Chobits was the first manga series I completely collected and the Magic Knight Rayearth series was the first manga I followed religiously when it was in the throw-back issues of Tokyopop Magazine (before its papery demise). Many of my early drawings were based from studying CLAMP’s work.

What I love about CLAMP is the art style between the three artists, Tsubaki Nekoi, Satsuki Igarashi, and Mokona, and the refreshing writing from the leader, Nanase Ohkawa. The characters are drawn very beautifully and their expressions are spot-on in regards to the writing. Most of the stories have romance in it, but there are more parts of their stories than love (unless you’re reading The One I Love). The consistent elements inside of CLAMP’s stories are magic, endearing characters, relationships, and the child-like adventurous quality from the 1980’s.

From all of their manga I’ve read so far, I think that Clover and Legal Drug (Drug and Drop) are experiments for the artists. In Clover, the expansive negative space in the panels and the minimal dialogue gave a usual story–magical kids are taken into the military to be used as weapons–a completely eerie, sad feeling, one that has resonated in my mind like a heart break. Legal Drug, though typical in story and art style, has only male leads in the entire manga and seems to lead readers towards a close BL style like The Descendants of Darkness and Brother x Brother.

Whenever someone asks me, “What’s your favorite manga?” I always think of a title by CLAMP first. But now that I’ve met another person who’s not familiar with their work, I think I’ll just carry around a picture of Sakura from Card Captor Sakura.