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Old-school practice has manga lovers in stitches

Some art forms were just born to be together -- music and film, for instance. Others, well, can be a bit of a stretch.

For instance, there's the old-fashioned, labor-intensive utilitarian art of cross-stitching and then there's the garish, sensory-overloading Japanese style of animation known as manga. Not exactly a match made in heaven.

Yet, British author and manga afficionado Helen McCarthy has done just that with her new book "Manga Cross-Stitch" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $19.99). She thinks there's more overlap between the two things than one would otherwise expect.

"From speaking to groups of young artists in schools and libraries, I knew lots of them were into making their own characters in manga style, but I met very few who were using stitching," McCarthy says.

"Needlecraft isn't taught in many British schools now, and most of them had just never encountered it as a way of making images. So I thought it would be fun to make a book that showed how the two art forms could come together - pixels into stitches, manga and anime into counted thread embroidery."

The book comes with a CD of more than a hundred manga designs to print out and stitch, and software that lets you create your own manga-styled cross-stitch designs.

"Crafters make up some of the fastest-growing and liveliest online communities," McCarthy says. "There's so much creativity out there in every form of craft. Most people still think of counted thread work and cross stitch as very old-fashioned, but then you look at some of the amazing work that's being profiled on etsy or on sites like Mr. X Stitch, and find that it's a very flexible way of working.

"And manga is based in the traditions of Japanese graphic art, which go back centuries."

McCarthy's creations definitely lean more toward the cute animal character "Pokemon" side of manga than the more adult side, making the majority of these projects fairly kid-friendly. There are chapters on the historical and artistic traditions that inform and explain the very distinctive, strangely consistent manga style, which is helpful if you just don't get it -- but your kids do.

"I often talk to parents who are worried that their child's interest in manga and anime will lead them into some weird geeky world where everyone is socially inept," McCarthy says. "Whereas, the fan community is very creative and attracts highly intelligent kids.

"In the same way, people assume that cross stitch is about old ladies stitching cute flowers and animals, yet I know of stitchers ranging from retired military men and tough guys in prison to trendy types who go to clubs so hip most people never even get to hear of them.

"If this book goes even a little way to help the process of dismantling stereotypes and saying it's OK to be who you are and do what you love, I'll be very happy."

Additional Information:

Manga Cross-Stitch

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