I entered a vocational school specializing in animation with hope of becoming a manga artist. However, the reality was far from what I had expected. The following is a non-fiction account.
*Fukushima City taken from Mt. Benten
I was born in Fukushima Prefecture in Japan. When I was four years-old, I moved to Boston with my family to support my father, who is a doctor. Initially, I felt uneasy about kindergarten and always cried. However, after a while, I became talkative. As a result, I also became popular among the kids.
I loved drawing manga since then. It wasn’t actually a manga. It was more like a picture-story show, where I drew on one sheet of paper, showed it to my mother, and came up with a line or two. This was my starting point.
In addition, I am fascinated with dinosaurs. My father used to take me to museums that had displays of dinosaur fossils. I especially like Parasaurolophus, so I created a character called “Para” using it as a motif, and I continue to use that character to this day.
*An illustration of Para I drew when I was four years old.
After about a year and half in the United States, I returned to Japan. While I exchanged goodbyes with everyone, the principal of the kindergarten, who was an elderly woman, said the following to my father: “Your son has a great sense of humor.” Apparently, I had told the principal that “I crossed the border on a sled from Canada to the United States.” It was true that I was playing on a sled near the border, but according to my father, it wasn’t much of a slope. The principal told me, “When you’re on your flight back to Japan, look out the window. I’ll be chasing you on my helicopter.” I have been in Japan since then.
*A picture of Boston back then.
As an aspiring manga artist.
Why I aspired to become a manga artist.
Time went by, and I entered junior high school. It was a terrible place, and I didn’t want to go to high school. But not doing anything and just letting the days go by was unthinkable for me.
Then I thought to myself: “What can a junior high school graduate do?” The only skill I had was the ability to draw manga. I was aware at that time that the manga industry does not discriminate based on highest education completed. I then decided to enter a manga vocational school. Until then, I never thought of actually aspiring to be a manga artist. Not even in my dreams.
Vocational school era
The vocational school I attended held meetings where manga artists and comic magazine editors gathered and critiqued the works of the students. Of course, critiques by the instructors was done on a regular basis as well. This experience was rather painful. Most of my works were given harsh reviews. One editor praised every students’ work except mine. My creation was the only piece that was ridiculed for an extended period of time. I was embarrassed in front of the entire class, which had its attention centered on me. Furthermore, there were instructors who returned my work with a “0” on it, while the lowest score among other students was a “60.”
One day, a review session was held with the assistant chief editor of a major comic magazine company. All the students received harsh reviews. The assistant chief who looked at my work said nothing. I thought, “He probably thinks it’s boring.” When I returned to the lounge to run some errands after the assistant chief left, the instructors and the clerks gathered around me with excitement. “You’re wonderful! He praised your work so much!” I was surprised when I found out that the assistant chief editor praised my work. Some of the people who surrounded me then were instructors who always criticized my work. If those instructors were that excited about a student receiving positive reviews, then the assistant chief must have really liked it.
*The path I used to walk while I attended vocational school. The summers were hot, and the cicadas were very loud. I clearly remember walking home covered in sweat.
Summer break came, but class was held in the form of a training camp. As part of the camp, we each submitted our work to a comic magazine company. The chief editor glanced at my work and reacted with an “ugh…” He left an insulting review. I was quite disappointed.
After that, we were given the opportunity to have two professional manga artists look at our work. I felt discouraged, so I stayed in my chair, and refused to line up. Then, my friends told me: “Show them what you got! You don’t know what they’ll think of it unless you show them!” As someone who can’t say “no,” I lined up, albeit reluctantly. The student who was right in front of me received a harsh review. Others got into a heated argument with the artists, shouting back at them saying, “There’s no way I can accept your statements!” I regretted lining up. When my turn came, the artist who had a fierce argument with the student looked at my work and said, “This is what you call manga!”
“Look at this,” he said, as he reached over to the other artist. The other artist then said, “Wow! This really is something!” Then he asked, “Where do you want to work?” I reluctantly answered, “If possible, I want to work at Shūkan Shōnen Jump…” He told me: “You can work anywhere you want.” I expressed my gratitude to my friends who encouraged me to show my work to the artists.
The work I presented to the artists is called “Kuro-cho! What a joke.” It’s a comedy manga that is currently available on platforms like Amazon. The work is also included in “Para’s Gag Comic” (Volume 2), but if contemporary manga fans look at Kuro-cho, they might not understand why professional artists would praise such artwork. However, that was during a time when manga artists, editors, and even readers kept saying, “Manga isn’t about the artwork. It’s about the content.”
When I was in elementary school, I lived in both Hokkaido and Kagoshima (in northern and southern Japan, respectively). I remember discussing manga with my friends back then. Although we were only in elementary school, we often criticized manga artists who were great at drawing but terrible with content. We always talked about how these artists compensated their lack of comedy with nice graphics. We felt it was better if the artwork was bad and the content was funny. In that sense, the value we placed on drawings back then is almost completely opposite of what is expected in the current manga industry.
* “Kuro-cho! What a joke.” 1991.
In the vocational school, there were few instructors who thought well of my work. Back then, about 30% of the instructors loved my work. The remaining 70% outright rejected it. Interestingly, those who criticized my work praised students’ work, and those who criticized the work of others praised mine. Critiques of my work were always different from those of other students.
After graduating, I began sending my drafts to comic magazine companies. Given what had transpired in the lounge, I decided to send my manga to the assistant chief editor of the major comic magazine company. I failed to get the rookie award twice, but the third time was the charm. That was when my editor changed. Either he was very conservative on giving direct praise, or he just didn’t edit newcomers’ works. That was the beginning of a series of unfortunate events.
The new editor went hysterical over the most trivial matters and constantly berated me. He gave uncorroborated excuses and threatened me to erase or change most of the jokes I wrote. It was a stupid request that would obviously lead to my work becoming worse. Making changes to my work for the worse tore me up and was painful. I protested once and told him that doing so would leave me with nothing to draw and asked to give me a little more freedom, but my attempts were futile. The jokes that I came up with after putting in so much work were about to be mostly deleted and my work would have to be revised into something terrible. I was an inch away from my debut, but all I was doing was being controlled like a puppet. There was no meaning behind drawing other peoples’ manga. I refused the offer and left that magazine.
Afterwards, I made it my goal to debut at the Shūkan Shōnen Jump magazine. I was immediately a finalist for the rookie award and felt that there was no way I wouldn’t win.
However, starting from around this period, I was unable to draw manga. I don’t know if this was because I was rejected so many times. I pondered about my work for quite a while. I suffered so much so that I was unable to hold a pen. In fact, it was so painful for me that I collapsed three times within a short span of time. After falling for the third time, I thought about what I needed to do. I decided to give up on becoming a manga artist. It was a very tough decision to male. 15 years have passed since then.
*The apartment I used to rent back then. I stayed indoors trying to draw manga, day and night. The only time I wanted to go out was to buy food.
*The “Mega Crash Tomorrow” I drew immediately before I was unable to draw. 1993.
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