By Kerry Erlanger

The manga crowd is always smaller at New York Comic Con, but no less voracious than its comic fan counterparts. That was evident at Friday afternoon’s Celebrate Fairy Tail: Live-Sketch and Q&A with Hiro Mashima, a panel presented by Kodansha Comics and hosted at the con’s Main Stage.

For those unfamiliar, Fairy Tail is a fantasy adventure story about the powerful wizards of the Fairy Tail guild, from which the series gets its name. Written and drawn by Hiro Mashima (of Rave Master fame), it’s one of the most popular mangas in the world and is unfortunately coming to an end with the release of volume 63, available this January in English.

The panel started out with an introduction from Ben Applegate, Director of Publishing for Kodansha and moderator of the panel. He quickly introduced Mashima and his translator, as well as Noriaki Matsuki, Fairy Tail’s editor. Applegate also explained the element that would make this panel slightly different from most others: Mashima was going to draw Fairy Tail characters throughout the discussion, prompted by the fans in the audience.

“I just finished a series in Japan and they’re telling me to draw again,” Mashima joked.

The crowd got a little unruly at points, as they sometimes do, but Applegate did his best to rein everyone in. After several moments of very loud screaming from the audience, it was decided that Mashima would start his drawings with Happy. The live-drawing was fascinating, and a really cool way to set the panel apart, but at times it was almost distracting, as fans were too busy yelling out their favorite characters instead of listening to the interview.

A lot of the questions focused on his craft; Not surprisingly, Mashima prefers to do his rough sketches in pen and ink before transferring them to digital for final touch ups. He also concentrates on appearance first when creating a character, sometimes drawing from real people for inspiration (a reporter he met in the U.S. named Jason, for one). When asked where he gets the inspiration for his epic title pages, Mashima revealed that he likes to take them as an opportunity to draw something that he wouldn’t draw for the main series. For instance, if the current chapter features all the male characters fighting each other, he prefers to draw all the female characters for the title page.

Matsuki and Mashima both answered questions about the hectic work load of a manga-ka. Fairy Tail was originally serialized in Japan in Shounen Magazine. That’s 20 pages a week appearing in print, an incredible pace common in Japan that’s almost unimaginable here. As Matsuki explained, Mashima rarely, if ever, gets break.  Interestingly enough, he imagined when first starting out that Fairy Tail would be 10 volumes – a far cry from the eventual 63 he would draw!

The panel revealed the power of the fans, both in the room and elsewhere. Mashima has historically taken some cues from his audience, whether it be to keep a character around longer than planned or to delve more into a relationship. The latter, obviously, got a lot of attention. Who does Mashima want Natsu to end up with? Lucy, of course. He even drew a fan-requested picture of their imaginary child – fanservice at its best, and undeniably breaking Tumblr as we speak.

Fans did their best to be respectful and conscientious of time during the Q&A portion. One fan went outside of the normal ship-war settling questions to ask why shounen manga is so focused on fanservice, as opposed to romance (think panty shots instead of kissing), which everyone on the panel was unfortunately evasive about. A few fans asked questions about Rave Master, which Mashima explained he was inspired to create after realizing that Shounen Magazine was lacking a fantasy/magic series in its lineup. Where did the name Rave Master come from? Rave music was popular in Japan at the time, he said. Simple enough.

One of the better questions during the fan Q&A was a philosophical one, and one very important to ponder as a creator about to end his latest masterpiece: When all is said and done, what do you want to be remembered for? Mashima said he has tried very hard throughout Fairy Tail to convey the message of the strength of friendship. He hopes, he said, we all come across friends like his characters who we are friends with for the rest of our lives.

Mashima also fielded a question about any manga-ka he considers his rivals, which he quickly answered, “Naruto” to thunderous applause and laughter. To add insult to injury, Mashima revealed that the last time he was in the U.S., his bodyguard asked, “who do you like best in Naruto?”

The panel ended with a rock-paper-scissors battle to the death for the drawings Mashima had made during the hour-long session. People generally behaved themselves and at the end, 14 very happy fans got to walk away with a one-of-a-kind souvenir, including one fan who had been bold enough to ask Mashima to draw him during the Q&A, and who Mashima had been kind enough to agree to do so.

Fans of Fairy Tail are obviously upset that the series is ending, but don’t lose hope – Mashima revealed during the Q&A that he would love to write about the other dragon slayers and their powers, if given the chance. Will it happen? Nothing was revealed definitively, so we’ll just have to wait and see.