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They’re just not that into you

18

Via Brigid comes the tale of Takeshi Miyazawa, an American manga-style artist who moved to Japan to follow his dream after being published in the US by Marvel. He had his big day showing his portfolio at Kodansha, the DC/Random House of Japan and the results were…sobering:

The editor flipped through my print-outs while I sat there totally blanking. I didn’t know what he was gonna say and he was expressionless throughout his viewing so there weren’t any hints for me either. Anyway, he put down the pitch and came straight out with that it wasn’t good enough. There were problems with both art and story but I’ll just focus on the art since that’s what I’m most concerned with.

One of the major points was that it didn’t have enough “manga-isms” to it. By that, he meant, more light-hearted touches like those wacky faces and more humourous touches that many people associate with manga backhome. I studiously avoided any of that stuff and it seems it came around to bite me in the ass. Also, not enough movement in the images. [snip]

He suggested maybe entering a seasonal contest for new talent his magazine had since I was at that level or assisting an established artist to pick up certain techniques I was lacking. Other than that, he couldn’t really do anything for me. I asked a few questions and we talked about some of the story elements afterwards but that was pretty much the bulk of our conversation. The entire interview lasted about 45 minutes.


Oh snap! One recalls — as Miyazawa does — that Paul Pope drew hundreds of pages for Kodansha before being told he didn’t cut the wasabi. None of it has ever seen print.

The Japanese manga publishing world is notoriously hard to break into if you’re not actually Japanese, apparently. We don’t mean that in a snarky, racist way — growing up in a dramatically different culture means there are things you just don’t get. Whereas kids who just learn to draw by copying seem to be the wave of the future. It’s an interesting situation. We don’t recall off-hand if foreign manga-ka are any luckier at smaller publishers, or any any “OGM/OEL” has made it in Japan. We seem to recall that Tokyopop’s PRINCESS AI was published over there, but our memory is a little spotty these days.

Miyazawa vows to keep on trying, and we wish him luck. That was a tough day for any artist.

18 COMMENTS

  1. I still think the average manga artist should learn the Marvel/DC way and try to break in that way or do webcomics like Penny Arcade or Megatokyo. I am not seeing the opportunities for creators with the recent growth in comics.

  2. I linked a while ago to an interview with the head of the manga department at Kyoto Seika University, who said that a lot of his students are from South Korea. His take was that it’s not impossible for foreigners to succeed in the Japanese manga industry, but they have to really be in tune with the audience. As Tak learned in this interview, the editors are very specific about what they want to see. It’s just like writing Nancy Drew novels—there’s a strict formula, and you have to conform to it.

    It was a tough interview, but I am really impressed with how well Tak took it, and his willingness to share it with readers. His attitude struck me as totally professional, and I think that, as much as his talent, will take him a long way.

  3. Yeah, I just don’t get why it’s so important for American kids to draw in a manga style. It seems limiting, redundant, and manga artist (along with manga) come a dime for fifty, every day, and sometimes at half price. It’s like aspiring to draw only in the Disney or Image style. Learn the fundamentals . (As the artist we like do) Come up with your own style. Believe in yourself, your imagination, and your own creativity. Don’t pander to what you think other people will want, and you’ll feel a lot better about yourself.

  4. It’s all very well saying “don’t pander to what you think people will want.” But we’re talking about what an EDITOR will want. Miyazawa is going to what essentially amounts to job interviews and trying to sell himself. He has to take what they want, and not just what he thinks they want, what they flat out TELL him they want, into consideration, if he wants to achieve his stated goal, which is to break into the professional Japanese comic market. The Japanese market, not the American market where he’s already achieved a decent amount of success.

    I personally hope he succeeds, for his sake and for Japan’s sake. And I hope he doesn’t have to change his style TOO overmuch to do it. It would be neat to see how the Eastern manga market will react to an injection of Western manga style. I look forward to Megatokyo’s reception with curiosity for the same reason.

  5. To be fair Miyazawa isn’t some kid. He started and did the majority of issues of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane plus several other things for Marvel including an arc for Runaways. He was never the highest seller, but he did great work and was very reliable.

    This isn’t someone trying to start from nowhere, he already had success now he is chasing his dream. If he wanted to he could probably return to the states and get a job tommorrow, but he is trying for something he really wants, and that deserves nothing but respect.

  6. No disrespect meant. All I’m saying is why draw like everybody else when you could probably make more money being yourself. There are thousands of kids who don’t have any style outside of the manga-type, and will only ever get pennies to the dollar. I’ve seen his work, and it is good. I respect it more then stereotypical manga, and I’m just saying that maybe he should, too.

  7. I agree with Mr. Moonlight. I think that having essentially a “house style” for an entire industry is a bad thing. The editor basically said “come back when you draw like mostly everyone else” and I can’t really see that as a good thing for the market overall. Imagine what comics would be like if someone had said that to Jack Kirby or Dave Cockrum.

    Another thing about this is that I pretty much hate those exaggerated faces and motions that pop up in an entirely serious scene in so many manga books. Yes I believe it has a place in many of the books, but I think it is used in far more that are wildly inappropriate. If I were an artist, I probably would have made the same “mistake” he did. I think that one little habit is one of the things that turns me off from manga more than anything else.

    -dennis

  8. “The editor basically said “come back when you draw like mostly everyone else” and I can’t really see that as a good thing for the market overall.”

    It depends on what segment of the manga market Takeshi is trying to break into. There’s more room for different styles in adult/mature audience manga, than there is for children’s manga.

    And this critique sounds like the manga version of a Marvel/DC portfolio review: draw like us or we can’t use you.

  9. Since the other rant threads seem to be closed, I’ll have to dispense my righteous nerd fury here.

    …just kidding. Just some knit-picking is all.

    First, the “rejection” Mr. Miyazawa got isn’t as bad as it seems, just typical. The normal industry expectation is that you go through the usual process of first becoming an apprentice, or placing in a contest. Most major manga artists got their start that way. The culture of seniority in Japan must always be kept in mind.

    Two, any artist is the responsibility of the junior editor, who is more like a handler. (The junior editor reports to a more senior level editor, who in turn reports to the head editor.) As the sponsor, any failure by the artist reflects poorly on the editor, so s/he is less inclined to work with, or stick out his/her neck for, people with whom s/he had no prior history.

    Three, in regards to your inference that doujinshi is just about copying… if anything, many fresh and original ideas and new styles originate from doujinshi because there’s no editorial oversight whatsoever, which allows for a lot of experimentation. That said, doujinshi is still considered amature level… a proving ground for new artists. Only the best are plucked out by editors for professional work.

  10. It sounds like the kind of response you’d get from any big media business; if it ain’t like what’s selling now, they ain’t interested. It’s the same with movies, with music, etc. The innovative or different things are left to the smaller companies. If it sells well, then the big companies will buy it out or copy it. If American comics sold on the same level, DC and Marvel would likely be just as averse to experimentation.

  11. As with any art-job, it’s catering to the client/art director/editor. Sometimes a “no” isn’t about a person’s skill. The guy’s already done Marvel. He wants to see if he can get into Japanese publishing.

    Decrying house-styles is rather silly. It’s part of a company’s branding. When you pick up a Marvel book, you expect certain things that you don’t expect from an Oni book and vice-versa. Although it seems in this case, it’s more a case of what is “Japanese” versus “Western”.

    I think that’s why the anectdote was related not as, “OMG, these guys hate me, I suck!”, but more, “Now that I have art direction…back to the drawing board.” Miyazawa knows that he has the professional chops to do this, but he wants to test his artistic range.

    As a complete aside, I found his story fascinating for the art direction alone. More motion poses, more humurous moments. It’s always good when somebody shares what a client is looking for.

  12. Do all the people here complaining about the “house” style of manga not see any similarity in the vast majority of comics put out by DC or Marvel? I hope no one REALLY thinks all manga “look alike.” They don’t. Sure, you can find manga ka who imitate the best sellers and their idols just as half of DC’s artists look to me like Perez clones. But I’d never try to say that there’s no use imitating Perez or Garcia Lopez because many are making a living at it right now! Go look at Dragonhead, The Drifting Classroom, Fruits Basket and Happy Mania and tell me if all manga still look alike to you.

    Last I looked, half of the Big 2 comics were drawn from people outside the US so Chris Moonlight should probably also apply the “don’t bother” advice to all those copy cats at US comic conventions trying (and sometimes succeeding, as Miyazawa already did) to break in at the Big 2 since their art is obviously now also a “dime a dozen.”

    Also because of the strength and size of the manga industry, artists in Japan can make a lot of money and achieve a level of fame too few cartoonists in America have reached so who could blame an artist for trying to take his game to the next level? Unless you’re just angry and bitter that manga sells more than superhero continuity porn…

  13. I know Manga has many different styles and I like a number of them. While my manga reading is a minority in my comics reading these days, I would also like to point out that Marvel/DC make up a serious minority of my monthly comics reading. I have a number of different complaints about both companies that result in me not buying a whole lot of their out put. However, those reasons are pretty different from my complaints about manga.

    I am not complaining about manga in general, just about a lot of the stuff I see that is popular in the US. A lot of it appears similar looking and it puts me off. I wish that some of that more different/experimental stuff would come out over here. I’d like to see more of the different styles that are out there.

  14. a non-American point of view:

    An indonesian friend of mine, who’s already being published by a local company, decided to attend a Japanese university to get a degree in manga. Her reasons were basically that manga has so much penetration in Asia- that’s all of Asia, mind you, not just East Asia- as opposed to American or European comics, that the latter aren’t even a consideration- if they’re even aware that they exist. The DC comics- themes store in my local South Jakarta mall doesn’t even sell comics- just clothes with characters printed on them.

    If you make it in Japan, you make it across a huge, expanding market. You also acquire the kind of prestige that just doesn’t come with American comics. There are many Asian artists working for American comics, but not so many writers or creators.

    It’s much harder for non-American writers to break into the American comics biz. However, in Japan the writer and artist are usually seen as one entity. Hence, the comic is seen as the product of a single creator, which means the creator is more visible, she/he gets promoted far more, and acquires far more prestige…translating into higer wages and royalties of course.

  15. Edit: In the preceeding post I said that American comics aren’t that well-known over here; well, apparently Wizard has an Indonesian edition, so someone has to be buying them. I also spotted a few reprinted DC comics lurking behind the Hong Kong kung fu comics: the death of Superman, and something called Omacs that had Wonder Woman on the cover.

  16. For more on that, check Paul Pope’s recollections on his PulpHope: the Art of Paul Pope – as the Beat already mentioned. He spent about 5 years with Kodansha, drew hundreds of pages, worked on several projects – of which about only a dozen pages saw print. The editors there suggested to him pretty much similar things to what Mr. Miyazawa described in the article above.

    Well, if Mr. Miyazawa is reading, I love your work with American comics and I’d really like to see more, so screw the world and do whatever you want to do and pleases you.

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