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At a table at the artists' alley during last weekend's Glass City Con, 19-year-old Halah Mohamed sat behind a stack of books, noticeable even though she wore jeans and a T-shirt, her hair tied back in a ponytail, as curious onlookers in spikey-haired wigs -- several wielding makeshift swords -- inquired about the products on her table.
This gathering at Owen's Community College in Perrysburg resembled a flea market--one where everyone shops in costume. Everywhere visitors' faces were painted and tricked out to look like their favorite anime characters.
Glass City Con is the only Japanese animation convention in the Toledo area and serves as a starting ground for anime artists such as Ms. Mohamed and a celebration of anime culture.
Once an active participant at Glass City Con, Ms. Mohamed now sits on the other side of the vending tables, selling her hand-drawn, self-published manga novels. Ms. Mohamed has been self-publishing since she was 15 and has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
"[My mom and I] did the math and figured out that if I followed the schedule I originally had planned, I'd be 29 by the time I finished the books I'm working on," Ms. Mohamed said.
"So I said, 'Maybe it's time you rethought your goals,' " Janet Mohamed told her daughter. "So she reworked a new schedule. She sets her deadlines and makes them about 90 percent of the time. She's incredibly organized."
At home, Ms. Mohamed's small work station has a drawer full of sheets she has outlined for her books currently in the works. Each sheet of 8 by 11 paper is covered with empty panels, the skeletal structure of the comics to be. On a line at the bottom is a one or two sentence reminder of what the page's comic should be about. It marks the exact place it will be in the book, down to the storyline and page number.
Ms. Mohamed's published works consist of two series and a one-shot silent graphic novel, meaning the story is told through pictures without any dialogue. Her books are all manga, or Japanese comic art, and can be purchased online or borrowed from the Bedford, Monroe, or Maumee Valley Country Day School libraries. Ms. Mohamed briefly described manga as Japanese comics and anime as Japanese animation.
She said the desire to write evolved from a love of drawing.
"She took this art class at the Toledo Museum of Art," Mrs. Mohamed said. "She came home and showed me these pictures and said, 'Look what I drew.' And I was amazed at how good they were. I said, 'I didn't know you could draw,' and she said, 'Neither did I.' "
Ms. Mohamed developed "an obsession for anime and manga" and immediately began replicating the style in her drawings. When she started attending Maumee Valley Country Day School, teacher, advisor, and technology coordinator Rollie Barnes noticed her in his study hall.
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"Most kids get rowdy and are loud and you have to constantly quiet them down," Mr. Barnes said. "I never had to with her because she always sat there and drew. I asked her to show me some of her work and saw she had a real talent."
The next year, the school developed an independent publishing class and Ms. Mohamed registered. She worked along with Mr. Barnes for the remainder of her high school career developing and polishing her craft.
"As a freshman she had a lot of talent and one of the strongest work ethics I've ever seen," Mr. Barnes said. "I was amazed at how quickly she progressed. It was more she would show me her work when she finished something and I'd challenge her to try something new, but mostly I just stayed out of her way."
Her first series, Kurokenshin, has five books published, with the sixth currently in the works. The story follows protaganist, Kentaro Yamaguchi, after he acquires an old book for history class that sends him on a quest to recover the Kurokenshin sword. Along the way, he battles villains and demons also after the sword.
Her other series, With A Cherry On Top, or WACOT, tells the story of a girl named Kira who is thrilled to join her high school soccer team, only to discover there is no girl's team. Determined to play, she disguises herself as a boy and attempts to juggle a new school, soccer practice, her new life as a fake boy, and her real life as a girl. Ms. Mohamed currently is working on the fifth book in the series.
Both series are written in traditional manga form, meaning the books are read from right to left.
"My calendar is filled with deadlines I've set for myself," she said. "I'm just trying to get all the books finished."
Ms. Mohamed publishes her books through an independent publishing company called Lulu. She sends in a script and the company allows her to purchase as many books as she wants.
"This way I can sell by demand," Ms. Mohamed said. "I can buy one book at a time or 10 books at a time depending on how many I sell."
To promote her books, Ms. Mohamed attends comic conventions in the area, such as the Glass City Con, with her biggest fan, her mom, at her side.
"My mom is my backbone through all this," Ms. Mohamed said. "She proofs all my pages and helps keep me on track."
Ms. Mohamed's love of manga and anime fueled her drive in school at the University of Toledo where she is a graphic design major and Japanese minor. A trip to Japan in May (where she visited Toledo's sister city, Toyohashi) encouraged her to reverse her studies for next year so she can graduate with a major in Japanese and a minor in graphic design. She's currently investigating an opportunity to move to Japan and work as a translator when she graduates.
"I have a background in Arabic, even though I can't speak a word of it anymore," Ms. Mohamed said. "And that exposure to language has helped me with Japanese."
The books are a giant leap from her life at home and Mrs. Mohamed says she rarely sees her daughter's personality show through in the comics.
"You can see it a bit in With A Cherry On Top," Mrs. Mohamed said of her daughter. "But in the other ones I don't see it at all, which is really pretty amazing."
On the side, Ms. Mohamed also creates anime-inspired plush dolls and custom T-shirts. Several of the dolls she's created are replicas of the characters in her books.
When it comes to writing, she's laid back and approaches her novels as something she enjoys rather than a potential means of income or career. She hopes someday to break into publishing, but for now is just enjoying creating the kind of manga she always has liked to read.
"I mean if publishers want to sign me some day, I'd be more than happy to let them," she said. "I just want to finish these [books] by the time I graduate so I can start with a clean slate wherever I end up."
Contact Ashley Sepanski at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6082.