As we shared in previous articles, a mangaka is a Japanese term for manga artist and/or author. Some of you may have read the manga and/or seen the anime of Bakuman, the story of two young men who want to become a mangaka. As portrayed in that series, it is by no means easy work or a business to break into. Many big names such as Eiichiro Oda of One Piece, Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball, and Masashi Kishimoto of Naruto only get an average of 3 hours of sleep per night to make their deadlines.
In fact, artists at times do take breaks due to health reasons. Just recently, Gosho Aoyama, the mangaka of Detective Conan announced that he is taking time off due to health issues. With incidents of karoshi, a Japanese word for death due to overwork now becoming international news, it’s only natural for fans to be concerned over the health of these mangaka, but on the same token, it is the support of fans that keep them going. So what does it take to become a manga artist and reach the top? Read this Tuesday’s Editorial to find out!
Contests to Find The Next Big Name
For some of you long time anime/manga fans, you are probably aware that in the mid-2000’s, TokyoPop held contests in submitting your own original manga. In case some of you didn’t know, many publishing companies in Japan have been doing this since the manga has been in publication. As a matter of fact, a good number of famous manga artists made their breakthrough entering these respective contests. Akira Toriyama, Masakazu Katsura, Naoko Takeuchi, and any artist you can name at the tip of a hat all made some sort of gateway to the industry by placing in the top three.
In the even better news, medibang.com is the host site for Shounen Jump’s international contest where the grand prize is a million yen (give or take the equivalent to $10,000 USD)! So if you’re a Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, or French speaker, you can actually submit your own original work (by Jan 2018)! Even though this is a rather common way of getting recognized, there are other methods of getting in, even for non-Japanese prospects.
Becoming An Assistant
Considering the crazy schedules that a manga artist goes through (most especially for those that publish a new chapter every week), they can’t get all that work done alone. Thankfully, they have assistants to make those crunching deadlines. As most of you know, many manga artists started out as assistants to other established mangaka. For example, Kentaro Miura (the creator of Berserk) was originally an assistant to Jyoji Morikawa (the creator of Hajime no Ippo), who was, in turn, an assistant to Shuichi Shigeno (the creator of Initial D). So by working with big names, it can help artists develop their craft. Sometimes a mangaka needs an assistant who is a specialist in certain aspects of design, inking, etc. For Go Nagai, he needed assistance for military vehicles, and in 2016, Kentaro Miura announced he needed an assistant for backgrounds.
So how does one become an assistant? Thankfully, Jamie Lynn Lano, an American artist, found work as an assistant to Takeshi Konomi for New Prince of Tennis. Based on her blogs published on jamieism.com, it sounds like just about any other process in applying for a job but with some necessary stipulations. In addition to filling out an application, applicants must also submit drawings of two selected scenes from the manga and must be as accurate as possible.
When Konomi interviewed her, he asked about her familiarity with Prince of Tennis, and a majority of it was mostly through the anime as opposed to the manga. Despite her lack of experience with drawing manga professionally (and then limited Japanese comprehension abilities), she was selected for the job as a live-in assistant and learned the ins-and-outs of what is necessary to become a manga artist and the process behind it. So if any of you non-Japanese artists want to be an assistant to a popular mangaka in Japan, it is possible!
Working with Editors
Unlike American comics (such as Marvel and DC) where the creative team changes every few years for titles such as Justice League or X-Men, mangas are creatively exclusive to the original mangaka (to some extent). Just like in all forms of publishing, the editor is going to have a lot of input. There are instances where the mangaka wins, and there are instances where it can go in other directions. One notable example is with Toriyama and Dragon Ball, and there are numerous disputes he had with his editors.
One major instance is when Toriyama decided to make Goku grow up because he felt that by making him bigger, it would make the action sequences easier to execute since it was transitioning to an action series. However, his editor was opposed to the idea because boy heroes shouldn’t grow up, but Toriyama won by saying if things didn’t go his way, he would end Dragon Ball. There are some rumors out there that Toriyama bases some of his villains (such as the original Piccolo and Cell) on his editors due to these differences, but Toriyama has indirectly confirmed this that if he did, he did it subconsciously.
Another instance of when working with editors can get controversial is with Battle Angel Alita: Last Order by Yukito Kishiro. Despite the series showcasing intense scenes throughout its 20-plus year run, the editors complained about the use of the words サイコ野郎 (saiko yarou), meaning psycho bastard and 発狂 (hakkyou), or insane in some of its dialog. The editors felt the words were inappropriate and offensive to those with mental conditions. To some fans and Kishiro, they consider this an excessive form of political correctness since using such words don’t nearly compare to a majority of what is chronically portrayed in the manga such as limbs being pulled apart, bodies exploding, and the excessive gushing of blood and guts. Due to this dispute, Last Order was actually put on hiatus so Kishiro could continue through a new publishing company.
Last, Oishinbo, a long-running manga itself has been forced into hiatus due to the main character suffering from nosebleeds after returning from Fukushima, the area where the nuclear power plant faced a meltdown due to the March 11, 2011, disasters. The mangaka chose to portray this because he experienced illness after a visit to Fukushima. Due to the potential national backlash of a portrayal of a real-life issue could face on many fronts such as tourism in Japan and Fukushima, the manga was forced into a suspended hiatus. Despite manga having some form of exclusiveness to the mangaka, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have full creative control.
So if you want 100% creative control and guarantee that your work will see the light of day, the best way to do that is through Internet publishing. Many comic artists from English speaking countries have done this for years. Some notable examples are with Penny Arcade and MegaTokyo. But what about web-based mangas from Japan? One Punch Man actually happens to be a perfect example of being a web exclusive manga. Even 10 years before the debut of One Punch Man, Takehiko Inoue, most famous for Slam Dunk and
Vagabond used the net to self-publish his own works. After Slam Dunk, he published Buzzer Beater, another basketball manga on the Internet and was given 4 official translations in English, Korean, and Chinese! And with the recent rise of smartphone and tablet technology, self-publication through the net is easier than ever!
As some of you may know, Rumiko Takahashi, the creator of numerous mangas from Urusei Yatsura to Kyoukai no Rinne is considered one of the richest women in Japan. And as we previously shared, if you win some contests, prizes can range from fifty thousand yen to a million. So if you become a mangaka, what is the pay? It is easy to conclude that it depends on the success of the manga. A majority of the big names are valued at $20 million USD! As for Toriyama, he is valued at $45 million USD! As for other mangaka out there that are not as big as the ones we mentioned, they averagely make to the equivalent of $30,000-$35,000USD a year. In order to make a standard of living, an estimate of 120,000 copies of a manga tankobon, or volume, needs to be sold, and keep in mind that some mangaka also have to pay their assistants and materials.
It is wonderful that manga’s appeal has managed to inspire future mangaka not only in Japan, but also in numerous countries, and they now have a chance to make it in Japan. Nobody can deny that a great percentage of Japanese manga takes the imagination to levels nobody could ever conceive. Due to this impact, it influenced fans around the world to seek their creative influences from manga to the point that some non-Japan based artists wish to make their own manga, or create their art through a style that is visually similar to it. In the late-1980’s, we had Ben Dunn’s Ninja High School. In the mid-2000’s, we had MBQ. In recent years, Marvel has published their own manga-style stories based on their iconic characters.
Thankfully, it inspires people that they have a shot at being the next Akira Toriyama, but as we stated, it is not going to be easy and once you do, that’s where it really begins. If a contest doesn’t work out, you can still get work as an assistant. So if you think you have the creative ability and can make the sacrifices to become one, then all things are possible. But when you have no other methods left, there is always the Internet to promote your work in your way without any bureaucracies rejecting you or telling you what to do.