In the world of manga, Takehiko Inoue is a mega-superstar. His basketball manga SLAM DUNK was so successful it made he sport itself more popular in Japan. It’s sold over 100 million copies worldwide and has been voted the #1 all-time manga. VAGABOND, telling the legend of swordman Miyamoto Musashi has also been a smash hit. He’s even been listed among Japan’s top tax-payers.
Mangaka of his level rarely come to America and it’s even more rare for them to do press with American outlets (or usually, any press at all.) Thus when Inoue-sensei came to New York to paint a mural for the new Kinokuniya Books on 6th Avenue, and Viz made him available for interviews, it was a singular chance to talk to one of the world’s most successful cartoonsits. This opportuniy was so unusual that The Beat decided to team up with PW Comics Week’s Kai-Ming Cha for a tag team interview! You can read the first part of the interview here.
The occasion was also to announce the launch of a major initiative to publish Inoue’s work here in the states. SLAM DUNK will soon appear in tankubon format; VAGABOND has finished its 25 book run, but will have a new omnibus edition next year; and Viz has announced an American edition of REAL, a manga about wheelchair basketball players.
Inoue’s website even has a section in English where you can read his blog (his latest posting takis about his trip to New York), and the complete run of BUZZER BEATER, another basketball comic, is also online.
The interview time was brief, and due to the constraints of translation, the interview itself is short, but Inoue-sensei was very engaged and engaging, and the entire event definitely opened doors — both ways.
PWCW: You’ve also done work for Shiseido cosmetics – commercials where you paint large scale pictures on huge swaths of paper. Can you talk about your development as an artist? How did you go from drawing for something so compact like a comic, to something so large like in the Shiseido commercials?
Takehiko Inoue: I’m an artist so it’s basically the same. It’s all drawing. But when it’s so large scale like in the Shiseido commercials, it’s like a sport. I have to think ‘how do I move this brush to draw a straight line?’ It becomes more physical.
PWCW: On your website you have small thumbnails or works in progress. How do you think of your work? Do you think of words and pictures at the same time?
Inoue: I don’t have one set way that I do things. Sometimes I might come up with the words first, or I might write a script out, and then the drawings come later but sometimes an image will come to me, and I’ll draw that first. That was a very good question.
PWCW: There is a very strong yanki (thug) attitude in both, Slam Dunk! and REAL. What is the importance of this attitude? Why do you like your characters to have that as part of their personalities? Inoue: It’s not like I was a bad boy like that when I was young. It’s more like about being alone, not being part of the group, the down on your luck types, minorities, that type of character.
PWCW: You lived in a America for a year. Did you follow American comics at all?
Inoue: No. I didn’t read many American comics.
PWCW: What do you think of the acceptance of manga in America now? Your work is getting more popular here and the acceptance for manga is growing everywhere.
Inoue: People are people everywhere and manga has something that is universal. Accordingly, I think manga will be a success in America, too.
PWCW: Is it the storytelling that makes it universal or the artwork? What is the element?
Inoue: The universal aspects are the feelings and the emotions the reader gets when they read the manga. It’s about how they enjoy the manga, It’s not about the art or story.
PWCW: How do you maintain your energy and interest and love for your characters?
Inoue: I consider drawing manga a way of getting to know your characters. The more you draw it the more you have an affinity with your character.
PWCW: On your website you also have Buzzer Beater posted in its entirety. Are you interested in Web comics at all? In Japan, I understand a lot of people are reading manga on cell phones now. Is that something you think about?
Inoue: When Buzzer Beater came out I considered it as something new, and that’s why I did it. There weren’t a lot of web comics online at the time. It was about 10 years ago.
As far as online manga or cell phone manga, I have my doubts about that. The act of reading a book is very different from looking at a monitor or looking at a cell phone screen. You have to be very specific in creating something like that. You have to understand the actual medium and specifically create towards that medium for something to be a success.
PWCW: What is next for you? You are so busy with many projects. What do you enjoy the most?
Inoue: I try not to think about what’s coming next. As for what I enjoy, I can’t talk too much about it or give too many details but next year, I’m going to do a small exhibit. I’ll be borrowing a gallery for 45 days and displaying new artwork in different sizes. I’m very much looking forward to it, but I’m anxious about it as well. Everything will be new. It takes place from the end of May until the beginning of July in Japan.