Soon, the changes made to Umizaru in the magazine started to turn everyone’s heads.
Until then, series that had been pillars of the magazine were ended one after another, and the series that began to take their places were nothing but sterilized, bland manga.
Even the editors themselves were starting to get upset. “I know the editor-in-chief has all the editing power, but isn’t it wrong of him to keep ending good manga and starting bad manga like this?”
The only answer they received was “The magazine is better than it ever was now. Artists don’t have the right to argue about editing policies.”
Nothing constructive ever came from discussing this issue with the people who thought the new manga was good, so at the meetings, I closed my ears and drew my drafts and manuscripts as I liked. In order to make the editors feel like they were doing their jobs, I made sure never to forget to act like I was listening to what they said for about a half an hour each meeting.
My manga was always in the top five of the popularity ranking, so there was nothing to be worried about.
This magazine won’t live to see the next decade, I thought absently.
I also realized that it wasn’t where I belonged. And so, in between my weekly chapters, I started drawing another one-shot. Once I finished it, I planned to send it in to another magazine’s amateur contest. I was so busy that I was hardly able to perfect it, but working on that manuscript late at night, after finishing my work, seemed to help me stay true to myself.
I think that’s about the time when it happened. N-kun was a male staff member in his early twenties who joined after I made S-kun quit. One day, half a year after he started working with me, W-san, a female staff member who had been working with me since the serialization began came up to me and said “N-kun wants to speak with you.” I followed her, and saw N-kun sitting on his knees crying.
“I can’t draw the way I want to. I’m useless, so please fire me,” he whimpered, as he continued to cry.
Apparently, he just wasn’t able to draw a Maritime Safety Agency helicopter. He was crying, so I had no choice but to console him.
“It’s your life, so if you want to quit, I have no right to stop you. If you really want to quit, then you may, but why do you need to get so bent out of shape over not being able to draw something?” I asked.
From the beginning, I never expected to use any of my staff members to do my work for me. In fact, I made sure never to have any special expectations for anyone.
“You’re probably having so much trouble because you’re trying to recreate my images,” I said. “Just draw it the way you imagine it. You don’t need to worry about the work quota.”
N-kun had won an amateur contest in the same magazine that Umizaru was being serialized in, so he had been recommended to me by the editors’ office. Apparently, at first, he had thought that I was just some amateur, and that he was way better than me. He even admitted that he thought that when he came to my studio, he’d be a ton of help, and might even be able to teach me a few things as well. He believed that he would be able to go independent in no time.
But I kept making him redraw things, and not only did he never get his own prized serialization, he couldn’t even get a one-shot into the magazine. Realizing just how unskilled he was tortured him day in and day out. In other words, he wasn’t thinking about quitting because he thought he’d be “useless.” He simply realized that the simple image of success that he had in his mind was never going to happen, so he was trying to escape from reality.
“Running won’t solve anything. I won’t give you any extra work to do, so why don’t you try drawing a bit slower?” I asked.
This was his reply: “I’m going to stop working and cut off all sources of income, so that I can force myself to become a good mangaka. I was naive. I took your kindness for granted, and I can’t stay like this forever. I need to push myself to my limits and get serious.”
As he said all that through his tears, I realized just how naive he really was. It’s harder to draw a manga while working, and thinking that things would suddenly change if he quit his job didn’t make much sense. It also sounded like he was negating the path that his fellow staff members had chosen.
“Think about which decision is the best for you,” I said, and then left him there. A few weeks later, N-kun quit.
Apparently, he had tried to justify himself with my other two staff members for the several weeks before he tried to give up. “I can’t draw the way I want to” became “There’s no point in me staying here.” He claimed that people who stay as manga staff for too long have a lower chance of becoming mangaka, and that really famous manga only worked as staff members for a short period before they quit and sought out their own unique styles.
“Are you just going to stay here forever? Don’t you care about developing your own unique style?” he preached to them. “People can become mangaka even if they can’t draw backgrounds. Being a mangaka is something completely different than this, and Sato Shuho is a bad person for hiding that from his staff members. I’m so glad I realized it this soon.”
It’s like when a kid quits a sports team and says “There’s no point in staying here, so why don’t you come with me?”
I had to be the villain in order for him to justify himself in his fantasy world. It all made me feel really hollow, and when he came up to me again and said “I’m quitting,” I didn’t try to stop him.
I also suffered from the enervation and sense of meaningless that came with continuing to draw my serialization. At this point, my series was secure, its volumes were being published, and I didn’t have to worry about money anymore. But the magazine it ran in continued to deteriorate, the editors wouldn’t pay attention to me, and it was a very difficult workplace to build up human relationships in. People were only just barely starting to use the internet, so I had no way of getting in touch with my readers, and wasn’t really sure of whether there was any point to what I was doing.
All my friends from university had joined companies and were doing well at their jobs. But I was a mangaka, some weird anomaly, so there was a lot of distance between us. It didn’t even feel normal for me to contact them anymore.
There was one friend I still kept in touch with, though. She was a girl who I had often shown my manga to before I became a mangaka. She had a fiance, but I still had feelings for her. We often shared long phone calls in the evening. I had told her about my feelings, and she had accepted them.
The first time we spent a night together, she told me: “I want to go to the zoo.”
My staff members were going to arrive at 11. It would soon be time for us to check out from the hotel, and then I would have to go back to my office. I had a deadline every week, so every day was precious.
“Who cares about that?” she said to me. “Let’s go somewhere.”
I hesitated. I often wondered if drawing manga was meaningless, but at the same time, I didn’t have the courage to abandon everything and face the truth head-on. If I had done so, perhaps she would have abandoned everything as well, and chosen a life with me instead. But, I hesitated. That’s the extent of who I was. I wasn’t serious about her.
So, I returned to my office and started drawing manga.
At the time, I was working on the sixth volume of Umizaru. For this arc, I had done research on a large ferry accident, since I felt like the magazine itself was turning into a sinking ship. I didn’t believe that a magazine that continued to betray its readers and artists would live on forever.
I wanted to draw a story about people who got rescued from a sinking ship. I was currently working on a manga series in a magazine along with artists I had always worked up to. My dreams had come true, yet I didn’t feel satisfied at all, and I couldn’t even do anything for the people who needed me. In the end, all I could do was draw manga.
That was my desire. The reason I was alone, I realized, was because I wanted to be. The magazine changed, and all the people I had looked up to started to disappear from my side.
I’m going to survive.
That’s the thought that remained in my mind as I drew the sixth volume of Umizaru. Manga was all I had. Looking back on it now, I see that drawing manga was my way to escape.
To Be Continued