Sato’s Road to Manga #49

Soon, the first chapter of Give My Regards to Black Jack had been published in Morning.


After I had been told that the serialization would begin in five weeks, without any warning, they started exactly on schedule, without giving me any time to prepare. By the time the first chapter was published, I had only just finished the third one. I didn’t have a stock of storyboards either, and up until the third chapter, every page had been a color page.


After I finished a storyboard, my editor would say: “Congratulations. We’ve gotten the OK to give you color pages.” So I cut even more time out of my sleep to finish them. I was so busy at this point that I no longer had any time to shave or change my clothes. I was just a creature who went back and forth between my apartment on the 4th floor and my office on the 1st floor.


I had very little control over the production schedule, which was very unnerving. All I had were the reference books in my office and the small bits of medical data that the editors would bring me. I had no time to double-check and make sure everything was correct. So I used my imagination to think up scenes from a hospital that I’d never actually seen in real life. What I built up with drawing Umizaru was my ability to draw something a world I’ve never seen, as if I’ve actually seen it. I felt as if I was trapped up in a dark room with only a few parts, and being asked to create something amazing that no one’s ever seen before. But, without any other choice, I just desperately fought as hard as I could and kept working.


Aside from the intense schedule, I was also surprised by how in the first chapter, they had changed the lines I had written without telling me. If it was something as small as rephrasing something, I could understand it, but the main character’s monologues and the medical information had been replaced with completely different things. In 4 different spots.


After opening the magazine, for a moment, I couldn’t really process what was happening. After all, this was my work. I owned the rights to it, and no one else had the right to change anything about what I had written. Legally, that is. The same thing had happened in Umizaru, and as a result, I had gotten into a big fight with the editors… Now, it was happening again, but from the very first chapter. What I had written had been replaced with very explanatory words that lacked any sort of sense or suggestiveness.


I immediately protested to my supervising editor, but he quickly shut the door on me. “We’re working our hardest to make this piece as good as possible. Can’t you simply understand that we were just trying to make your work better?” I ended up getting nothing but a scolding.


“That’s not what I’m talking about. This is my work, right? If you want to change the lines, please talk to me about it first. The main character of my manga doesn’t say things like this. And if the lines get changed, that can also affect the plot later on.”


“Why don’t get it? This doesn’t belong to you,” he said, sighing and treating me like a complete fool who didn’t understand anything.


I had been through this many times while working on Umizaru. Every time I tried to explain to the editors that they couldn’t just change the lines whenever they felt like it, I ended up feeling like I was trying to communicate with an alien.


This time, I had two supervising editors. S-san, an editor who was a company employee, and T-san, a pro editor. In the end, it was determined that I was the one who had the wrong idea, simply due to influence by numbers.


I was a fool for thinking that even the tiniest thing might improve after switching to another magazine. The pitch black feelings I had built up toward the editors while working on Umizaru, and the equally pitch black feelings I now harbored toward the insane situation I was currently in became the fuel for my work. I turned all my anger toward my manuscript.


The more those adults with their shit-eating grins corrupted me, the purer my devotion toward my manga became. That was all I could believe. I was in a crisis situation, and I had no time to waste.


I had the owner of a public health center who I met while doing research check my manuscripts and fix any errors he found. I was very low on photograph data, so I just kept staring at the few photos I had and drew everything from them. Even though I had experience doing a weekly manga, I already felt like I had reached my limit…but the train had already left the station.


In the end, chapter one got very favorable reviews. It instantly jumped to the second spot in the reader polls, and requests to turn it into a TV show came from just about every TV station. Reviews were published in newspapers and magazines, and it was covered by a lot of media sources. In one night, my world was turned upside down.


Now that I think about it calmly, it seems impossible that the first chapter of a series without any published volumes could garner such a response. Even if reporters did publish articles about it one day after the chapter was released, it would still take several weeks for those articles to reach all the readers. There’s also no way TV stations would make offers like that so quickly… which means that the editors must have started doing PR from much earlier. And it had worked rather well. The editors seemed pleased with themselves. Their plan had been a success, which must have felt quite nice. They had succeeded in selling the manga. I recognize that.


But I’m the one who created it. They’re the ones who sold it.


S-san even went out of his way to show me a message that he had received from the ex-editor-in-chief. “He’s the one who taught me everything I know about being an editor, and he said this is the first manga he’s actually enjoyed reading since he left. And that he loves the way we planned it. He’s never complimented anything this much!”


He seemed really happy. And of course, by “the editor-in-chief loves the way we planned it,” he meant “The two of us editors are awesome.”


It went on and on. “Usually, as long as the first chapter gets out the door, the manga artist can deal with the rest, but editors are the only ones who can properly handle a project from the very beginning. Manga can be created without manga artists, but you can’t create manga without an editor. Editors are the only ones who turn it from a 0 into a 1.”


As I listened to this, I honestly had no idea what he was trying to say. Manga can be created without manga artists? It sounded like he was trying to say that he was the one who was creating the story, and it just made no sense. I’m the one who created it… It was the same old crap all over again.


As soon as the manga started getting popular, there was an also an incident among my art staff.


One day, when I entered the office, K-kun, one of my staff members, said he wanted to talk with me.


Apparently, his editor had told him that he could start a serialization if he quit working at my office. I was confused, though. For not only had K-kun not drawn any sort of storyboard, he hadn’t even gone to a meeting where they discussed what sort of manga he was going to draw. Why did he have to quit all of a sudden?


Why would an editor say that sort of thing to an assistant like him who hadn’t any real serialization experience? But he was worried about raising any questions and being seen as unreliable by his editor.


K-kun had always wanted his own serialization, and his editor kept inviting him to meetings where they promised him a spot for his own piece, but telling him that they’d let him draw something if he quit working for me just didn’t sound right.


Incidentally, the editor who K-kun had been dealing with worked for the same magazine that had published Umizaru.


Not long after that, I received a call from F-san, who had been my editor during my Umizaru days.


“Congratulations on your new serialization,” he said. Ever since Umizaru ended, I hadn’t met with K-san, the original creator and data provider, so F-san suggested the three of us get together.


As soon as we met each other in a diner nearby my office, K-san told us about his recent work.


“It’s hard to find someone who can draw as well as you, Sato-kun. I-kun is working hard, but his art is just, you know…”


K-san was currently working on a different piece in the same magazine that had published Umizaru. But I think he was only credited as the ‘original creator’ this time.


After he finished putting down the artist, he said: “I wish we could work together again.”


Apparently, he had tried doing a piece with a similar theme to Umizaru in the exact same magazine, but it didn’t gain any popularity, and was going to end soon.


Well yeah, of course.


I’m the one who thought all that stuff up.


Soon, I asked F-san the big question. “An editor told K-kun that they’d let him draw a series if he quit working for me. What’s the deal with that? It seems like they haven’t even decided what exactly he’s going to do… Don’t you think it’s a bit rash of them to force him to quit so early?”


F-san seemed a bit taken aback, but soon regained his composure. “K-kun has talent. It’s true that they haven’t decided what his series will be yet, but I’m sure they’ll get on that right away. You left a big hole in the magazine. Just believe in us and let us take care of him.”


Well, that made it very clear. K-kun was supposed to be my replacement. K-san had worked on another series similar to Umizaru, but it hadn’t gone well, so now he was going to try and take one of my assistants and force him to draw art similar to mine. Just when my new serialization had just begun to make some waves.


I went back to my office, but I didn’t tell K-kun what F-san had said. Meanwhile, Black Jack just kept getting more and more popular. Every week, the media interviewed me and did coverage on it.


Very soon after that, K-kun stopped working for me.

To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #48

In April, Umizaru’s serialization ended, and I started drawing a serialization for a Take Shobo mah jong magazine in September.


After making my debut as a mangaka, I hadn’t taken a single day off for three years, but after Umizaru ended, I took a month-long break, then started writing my next piece in the next month.


In October, I had my staff members return from their paid vacations to their new office, and we officially got back to work. If I stopped here, people would just start saying “I haven’t seen Sato Shuho’s name anywhere,” or “He just disappeared.” The two editors from Morning said they were planning my serialization, but in the end, if the storyboards I submitted weren’t interesting, it would have been like we had never spoken at all.


I had to draw 24 pages each month for Take Shobo’s monthly magazine. I had three staff members, so I actually struggled finding things for everyone to do. We had made it through a weekly serialization this way, after all. Economy-wise, I was paying out over 500,000 yen a month in personnel expenses alone, and if I included office rent and materials, that easily became nearly one million yen per month. Calculating the manuscript fees from that meant that I’d have to draw 80 pages a month to stay out of the red. I also needed to make enough for my own living expenses. If this serialization with Morning didn’t work, then I wouldn’t be able to sustain my office. Still, “letting staff go” wasn’t a choice to me – unless I gave up on drawing manga, that is. When an employer hires someone, they need to keep them employed. In other words, securing that serialization with Morning was the only choice I had.


What I needed to do was “create a stock of pages for the Take Shobo serialization at a weekly pace, so my staff members have something to do” and “start drawing a good storyboard for the Morning serialization.” After I calmed down, I realized just how frightening a gamble I was about to engage in.


Every few weeks, the two editors from Morning would come to a family restaurant near my office and talk to me absent-mindedly for 30 minutes. At the end they would always say “Let’s think about this again later” and leave.


The framing of my manga as a “medical” one had already been set, so I wanted to hurry up and start gathering data so I could draw a storyboard, but they didn’t want me to start just yet. I wasn’t sure whether they were really serious about this or not, so I went out and bought a bunch of medical-related books so that I could start thinking up the structure. After several more weeks, I explained this structure to them at our next meeting. They didn’t really seem interested, though, and repeated the “Let’s think about this again later” thing.


It seemed like their plan was just to succeed in capturing a serialization author from another magazine. They repeated the “planning” spell over and over, but they weren’t really interested in beginning the serialization immediately.


At our meetings, they’d often gloat about other authors they’d work with. “We gave this author this advice, and he was able to draw this sort of thing” or “I thought up that project.”


Oh, so these are the kind of editors who take all the credit for themselves, I thought. I listened to the rest of the stories with half an ear, and couldn’t help but feel a bit depressed. Even if they do agree to let me do the serialization in the end, are they just going to turn me into another one of their accomplishments?


Even though I had changed publishers, there was no escaping from the problem of editors treating authors as pawns. I was just one of the many authors they had control over, and they only gave me 30 minutes every few weeks. They were salarymen, and I was a freelance author. I’m pretty sure we had different ideas about the economic use of time. And so, as we continued to have our meetings, my savings dropped by hundreds of thousands of yen.


I was working on creating a stock of pages for the mah jong manga, but in the end, since there was no real deadline, I was unable to keep drawing pages at a weekly pace. This was supposed to go weekly, not monthly… I panicked.


Take Shobo didn’t go far enough to say “We’ll take whatever you draw,” but they possessed a looseness that was close to that and OKed my storyboards in no time at all, so in a way I felt like I wasn’t really getting any work done. And unfortunately, the magazine wasn’t very popular inside the magazine. When that news reached me on the phone, my editor S-san dropped his tone of voice. At first he had told me that I was the author he most wanted to work with right now, but all of a sudden my calls were ceasing to get through.


My new office was close to the office of F-san, one of my teachers. It was a complete coincidence, and F-san had just moved there himself, so we didn’t even know at first. Then, when I thought about contacting him to let him know that I was getting married, I realized that he lived nearby, so we decided to have lunch together. F-san was one of the biggest authors in Take Shobo’s mah jong magazine, so he was very keen on what was going on inside the editors’ office, and also knew that my series wasn’t very popular.


When I told him that I was thinking of drawing a serialization for Morning, he said: “Even for a veteran, having a serialization planned for a major magazine is quite an accomplishment. If Umizaru was popular, you should have kept it going until it lost popularity, right? You’re such an idiot, Shuho. At this rate you might just disappear.”


Several months passed, and the Morning editors finally decided that they wanted to do something. They started bringing data to me, and I also went out to go do research. I had done this many times when working on Umizaru, so I had developed my own method. I would take in the entire scope of something as an observer, while K-san would ask questions, and the camerman would take reference pictures. The stories we heard from people were also very important, so I would free up my five senses and just try to imprint as much of the people and atmosphere as I could in my mind. Going to do research and getting so focused on the pictures inside the lens of the camera is pretty terrible, I think. But the only reason I was able to research so freely was because the editors had prepared everything for me, and I had come to expect it. In that respect, they really had gone all-out for me, and I’m thankful to them for that.


Research with Morning was an editor bringing in a medical writer, a doctor, and a medical intern. Then, I’d talk with them and listen to what they had to say. I didn’t get to go and see an actual hospital, but I just thought: This is probably the initial stage of the research, and they’ll let me go and see one next time. But next time, all they did was bring in someone else. Over a period of two to three weeks, I met with nurses, a director of a public health center, and overall about 7 different medical professionals. What they said was really just a rehash of what had been written in the research documents Kodansha gave me, so these meetings didn’t really seem too meaningful to me. Only one time did I have a chance to go to an emergency center and stay there for 24 hours and take pictures. But once it got to around evening time, my editor said “Don’t you think we’ve seen enough?” and went home. The cameraman also left, so I had to the rest all by myself.


Compared to the research I had done for Umizaru, this felt really lacking. But it was still just the beginning, so I was prepared to keep fighting as things progressed. Then, all of a sudden they said to me: “Now draw a storyboard.”


I was shocked. “Huh? I’ve met several people, but I’ve still only been to a hospital once.”


I asked them to let me go on more detailed hospital research trips, but they just kept ordering me to draw. It was all they ever said, so I really had no choice in the matter. We had had a few meetings so far, but the contents had all been so abstract, and none had really gone in a specific direction. All the details had been left up to me, which was of course fine, but when I showed them what I came up with, they didn’t really seem to like it, and made me redraw it. All it made me think was: Tell me what you want in the beginning!


I redrew it immediately, and this time they gave me the OK.


What? I thought. They’re OK with this? I was beside myself in astonishment. What are they going to do next, ask me to draw the second chapter?


Then, they told me: “We’re interested in seeing what sort of art ends up in these frames, so do a rough draft and let us check it again.”


Does this mean I’m getting a serialization for sure? I wondered.


It took me two weeks to draw the rough draft. When I showed it to them, they both nodded and said it was good, then said: “Please let us use this as the manuscript.”


They had managed to shock me yet again. “I could add backgrounds to this rough draft, but if you want it to be completed, then I’ll need some documents so that I know how to draw the details of the hospital. I took photographs when I went to that emergency room, but his part-time hospital and other hospitals also appear in this chapter, so I want to prepare data on those as well. I can’t draw all of them just with what I have now.”


This was their response. “If you want to know how to draw a hospital, just go look at a photo gallery or watch a movie or something. There are a lot of medical dramas out there, right?”


“No,” I replied, standing my ground. “I’m drawing a medical manga here. I can’t just use generic data books or rip off stuff from TV, right?”


“You’re the first person who’s ever asked for something like this…” One of the editors muttered.


In the end, though, they let me go to a hospital in Chiba that had yet to open and take pictures of the inside. Nowadays, I have the skill to make plans on my own and go and do my own research, but at the time, I had no choice but to rely on editors for research at special institutions. Perhaps I was expecting a bit too much of my editors.


After taking photographs at the Chiba hospital, I still lacked a lot of the data I needed, but I eventually succumbed to the “We’ve done so much for you already, just draw it!” pressure from the editors and started drawing the manuscript. I still wasn’t really sure at what pace they were planning to proceed. First they had told me not to draw anything, and now they wanted me to draw the entire thing. But I knew that I had to do what I was told, or else I’d be out of luck. I spent another two weeks perfecting the manuscript, and what did they say?


“Pff, look! You drew all these hospitals perfectly!”


Actually, it took me a lot of work to come up with what I did, because I lacked data on entire subjects…


As they continued to stare at the finished manuscript, they asked: “What should we do about a title?”


The full-time editor S-san spoke up. “Since it’s a medical manga, how about working ‘Black Jack’ into the title?” *Black Jack is the title of Tezuka Osamu’s famous medical manga.


I wasn’t sure about using the title of another manga in my manga’s title, but they told me that copyrights don’t exist for titles, so people are free to use them as they please. If we asked Tezuka Productions to give us permission to use the title, they would ask for money or something even more complicated might happen, so they just planned to send a notice and be ethical about it. Afterwards, I heard them complain about Tezuka Productions for quite a while. Even though Mr. Tezuka had passed away, they still considered themselves a leading figure in the manga industry, and tried to strongarm the whole deal.


When I heard them getting so angry over it, I spoke up. “How about we think up another title without Black Jack in it?”


But that seemed to only make them angrier. Eventually, I gave up. No matter what I say, they seem committed to only proceeding things at their own pace.


“How about ‘Leave it to Black Jack?'” I asked. I decided to suggest the worst possible name that included Black Jack that I could come up with.


A few days later, after I faxed the completed manuscript of the second chapter to them, they called me back. “The second chapter looks great. By the way, we decided on a date for the serialization to begin. Five weeks from now, next month.”




“We got you a space five weeks from now. Congratulations.”


“But I’ve still only drawn two storyboards. I completed the first chapter because you ordered me to, but I haven’t made any preparations. And we still haven’t come up with a title…”


“The title? It’s ‘Leave it to Black Jack.’ We already created a logo for it. So, five weeks from now. Got it?” the editor said, then hung up. The serialization was official now.


Umizaru ended in June, my Take Shobo serialization started in September, and then two months later, my serialization with Morning was going to begin. Over eight months, my savings had dropped by 600,000 yen.

To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #47

It’s been a long time since the last installment, so I imagine some of you have forgotten a bit about what’s happened. I’m very sorry to have kept you waiting for so long.


Lately, I’ve been busy working on a new creation, and I’ve been thinking of nothing but drawing, regardless of whether I’m asleep or awake. I’ve also been writing about nothing but drawing on my blog. Drawing in color has filled my mind with new methods and approaches to drawing, so I’ve even been drawing in my dreams.


I finally discovered a new style, and then, when I felt overjoyed about being able to work that into a new method, I woke up, realized it was a dream, then got depressed. That’s been happening about every day recently. Sometimes it’s fun to mull over something and struggle through it, and in a way I think that’s how a mangaka needs to be. But it also tends to make me stuck, so I’ve ended up making you wait for longer than I should have.


I’m going to try to keep a better balance from here on out. Now then, here we go.




With Umizaru finished, I left the town I had lived in for two years.


I paid my staff two months’ worth of salary, got married, then moved my home and studio to different places. This was the first time I had ever separated my home from my studio. My wife W-san had lived at home for her entire life, and said she wanted to try living in Kichijoji. After looking at different places, we got the feeling that Kichijoji was a disorderly place with a lot of market districts, so we moved to the 4th floor of a small apartment in the next town over. I rented space for my studio on the 1st floor as well.


I had another serialization lined up, but for the time being, I was technically unemployed. I kept paying my staff even though we had no work to do, and I was now renting two rooms, so I was worried for my future. I really wanted to thank my wife for following me despite that, and vowed to make her happy.


We had planned not to get married, but my parents just wouldn’t shut up about it, so we had a small wedding with our families only. My parents, who had been against me becoming a mangaka, then had gone around the neighborhood boasting about me after I had become one, celebrated our wedding by giving us a million yen as a present.


I kept on working as a mangaka because I enjoyed it. Even if I became poor, I didn’t want to accept economic help from anyone just so that I could go on drawing manga. My parents had asked for it, so I shelled out the 300,000 yen to put on a small wedding for them. Then they gave me a million yen in return. It really hurt my pride. That 300,000 was all I could muster at the time.


“We’re going to live on our own now,” I said, and gave them the money back.


“Are you going to trample over your parents’ wishes?!” My parents pressed back, then stuffed the envelope into my pocket.


To my parents, the way they appeared to the public was far more important than the wedding.


After Umizaru ended, F-san put on a celebratory banquet. I had closed myself off from him, so we hadn’t eaten together in quite a while. He reserved the second floor of a blowfish restaurant in Shnjuku, then invited the young editors there so that it wouldn’t just be the two of us (and therefore it wouldn’t be awkward). He went so overblown with the preparations that it all seemed really forced.


Expensive-looking platters came out one after another, and the editors who came took turns drowning me in compliments. They all talked about how unfortunate it was that the series had to end, and when the waiter came back to ask for drink orders, they shouted: “Bring out the most expensive alcohol in the store!”


K-san, the original creator and data collector, was not invited. The editor-in-chief and vice editor were also not present. I made sure to put on a smile so as not to ruin the atmosphere, but in the back of my mind, I was just hoping that I could go home as quickly as possible. Then, once F-san got a bit tipsy, he began to talk to me.


“So, what should we do about your next series? You just finished drawing one, so you may not be able to think up another idea immediately, but let’s make sure we start thinking about the next thing, OK?”


I guess this means the time for smiling is over, I thought. F-san went on.


“Umizaru was a really serious piece, so I bet it was hard to draw. Let’s go for a really bright and cheerful one next time. For example, sports. How about baseball?”


As he spoke, he took out some newspaper clipping that he had prepared. The story detailed a weak high school baseball team that had somehow made it to the national championship.


“You’re pretty good at drawing comedy stuff, right? Like, a sports manga that makes people laugh and cry.”


I took some time to think before I replied.


“I’ve already set up my next series.”


The editors instantly froze.


“With who…?”


“No… I shouldn’t say.”


“What’s the big deal? Go on.”




“C’mon, we’ve come all this way together. What are you holding back for? Say it.”


“It’s… with Take Shobo.”


“Huh? Oh, them? That’s fine. You can keep that going until your next big series. I know how those things go.”


“No… I’ve also been contacted by Morning.”


“… What are you going to draw?”


“I’m sorry, but I can’t talk about that here.”


“Why not?”


“We’re still in the process of hashing it out.”


“Fine. You don’t have to tell us, but since you owe us a lot…”




“No, I know that artists are all technically freelance, but… Come on. You were a no-name newbie, and you were able to draw Umizaru with us… And it worked out really well, didn’t it?”


“No, it didn’t…”






The silence continued. The air around us had gotten so heavy that no one could say anything.


Worried, the waiter came upstairs. “Oh my… So even you people quiet down sometimes!” he said, trying to make a joke. But the oppressive atmosphere forced him to make a quick exit.


Ever since that moment, the editors at the magazine that serialized Umizaru have called me a ‘traitor,’ and have continued to talk about me behind my back. So much, in fact, that I eventually started to hear about it.


Soon after, I started drawing the storyboards for my serialization with Take Shobo. They instantly got approval, and pre-serialization schedule was quickly decided upon. I felt like the editors there were adamant about keeping a tight grip on me, since I was an artist who had done a serialization in a weekly magazine.


This serialization was a mah jong manga about a negotiator working in the underground. I read books, went out to collect data, and focused on writing the story. I was keeping a pretty good pace.


I also continued going to meetings with the two editors from Morning. In the end, we decided to write a manga about a doctor. Umizaru was a rescue manga, so they requested that I write some manga about “life.” I offered up some ideas about stories that I wanted to do, but they all got shot down.


At the time, Umizaru wasn’t really selling that much, so to them, I probably seemed like a minor author who had the potential to sell more, if properly cooked by a major publisher like them.


F-san, not the editor, but the mangaka who had been my first mentor, was one of those ‘not so major’ mangaka who had been drawing a manga in a mah jong magazine when I had worked for him. The manga itself was really entertaining, so I had thought that he would become a major mangaka in no time. In truth, he did get scouted by a major magazine, and started drawing a gambling magazine. F-san was a gambling mangaka. Perhaps that made me a “life mangaka,” then.


“In the end, they always want you to draw the same sort of thing,” I thought, and decided to just go with it. Otherwise, it didn’t seem like they’d be willing to work with me. Instead of dragging on these meetings any further, I was more interested in making some money to pay my staff members, and had confidence that being pigeonholed into a “medical manga” wouldn’t be enough to completely kill my originality.


What I ended up stuffing into that manga would prove just how good an artist I really was. “Medicine” is a pretty broad field, and just about anything goes. And so, I decided to stuff the frustrations toward my profession and its unreasonable nature into this manga.


What does it mean to be a mangaka?


What does manga exist for?


Why do I draw manga?


“What does it mean to be a doctor?”


That’s the story I decided to write.


To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #46

Are there only corrupt people in the manga industry?


If that’s true, then is it a mangaka’s duty to let these corrupt people abuse him or her?


At one time, I had thought about quitting manga, but for some reason I couldn’t fully bring myself to give up. I’d done nothing but draw manga so far, so even if I quit, I had no idea what else I’d do, and I knew that even if I got to the point of wanting to die, I wouldn’t have the guts to do it.


When Umizaru ended, the waves started getting rough around me again. After meeting with the editors from Kodansha’s Morning magazine, I got a call from a man named S-san who worked at Takeshobo. He was one of the supervising editors of F-san, the first mangaka I worked under. I had known him for 6-7 years, since I started working for F-san, but he had never so much as glanced at me. Naturally, I was happy to get the call, so I decided to meet with him.


We met at an okonomiyaki restaurant in front of the station.


We ordered some beers and made a toast to our reunion. The editors’ office S-san worked for published a mah jong manga magazine, and he wanted me to draw a mah jong manga for them.


He praised my work. “You’re the artist I want to work with the most, more than any other person in the industry,” he said, then went on to explain just how amazing and charming Umizaru was, in a tone so exaggerated that it embarrassed me.


“I’ve never wanted to draw a mah jong manga,” I replied.


“There are a lot of artists who draw manga without knowing the rules to mah jong,” he countered. “The editors will take care of that, so don’t you worry. ‘Mah jong’ is the key word here, so as long as you touch upon that, you actually might experience more freedom than you even get in a normal magazine. The good thing about mah jong manga is that anything goes.”


He spoke passionately, with his teeth set on edge, trying again and again to convince me. I was nothing but an art staffer when we first met, yet he was very polite and treated me with respect. I had just come from deciding that there were nothing but corrupt people in the industry, but he made me realize that good people do exist as well.


He asked me how much I got for manuscript fees, so I answered him honestly.


“That’s too cheap,” he said, and offered me a higher fee right then and there. “Shogakukan (the magazine I had previously worked with) doesn’t value its artists enough. There’s no future in editors who simply sit on their butts and use up artists like tools.”


The way he suddenly started badmouthing the magazine left me scratching my head, but it seemed like he had his reasons. Apparently, there were a lot of publishers and editors in the industry who wanted my contact information. Those people had to go through Shogakukan’s offices first, but Shogakukan kept themselves closely guarded, and didn’t give anyone any information.


“They keep too tight of a guard.”


Finally, some people came around to S-san’s office, asking if anyone knew my contact info. S-san replied with “I know him, but I can’t just give his information out to anyone. Next time I’ll see him, though, I’ll ask him if it’s OK, so please wait until then.”


It was basically the same thing that the Kodansha editors had told me the other day. At this point in my career, I was completely used to other people treating like a newbie, or like a child, so it was hard to really believe that there were a bunch of editors out there who wanted to hire me. I thought the only reason the Morning editors had contacted me was because T-san, one of my previous employers, had done some work behind the scenes.


S-san went on. “Of course, we’d like you to draw manga for us, but artists aren’t company employees, nor are they entertainers who belong to talent agencies. Hiding jobs from people and stealing opportunities isn’t what a publisher should be doing. When other companies contact us about artists, we answer them, after getting the artists’ permission first.” (Incidentally, after I met with S-san, I started getting a ton of phone calls from other companies.)


I was surprised by how greatly the values of publishers differed. Perhaps the entire industry was already aware of how badly Shogakukan treated its artists.


Well then, what should I do?


Seemed like I’d still be able to work even after Umizaru ended. If I decided to draw a manga for Morning, I knew they wouldn’t give me a serialization immediately, because they were such a big company. I decided the more realistic option was to work at Takeshobo for a bit, do some good work for a monthly magazine, and foster my art staff members.


If I could go on working as a mangaka, then I wouldn’t need to fire them. A mangaka who gathers and fires his art staff based on the conditions of his own career won’t last long. To me, employing staff members as long as you can and working them into every facet of your career is how an employer should be. The only time I would ever close my studio is if I went out of business.


In the end, I decided that if a mangaka’s job is to be abused by corrupt people, then I’d just have to get dirty as well and let them abuse me. Although, S-san from Takeshobo wasn’t corrupt at all.


There were still a few months left until Umizaru finished its run, and over the course of that time I met with S-san and the two Morning editors over and over. The Morning editors wanted to have a meeting concerning a possible serialization, while at Takeshobo, it had already been decided that I’d have a serialization. It seemed that S-san really did admire my work. I hadn’t even drawn any storyboards, but they had already decided everything. It was more than a bit of a surprise.


I had stayed up all night playing mah jong when I was a student, so I knew the rules. And so, without telling them how I had considered quitting my career as a mangaka, I told my staff members that Umizaru would be ending, and that we’d be working on a new mah jong manga for Takeshobo.


Kodansha’s Morning magazine sold way more copies than the magazine that had featured Umizaru, so my meetings with them didn’t go so easily.


“How about drawing for us?” they asked, but still seemed to be looking down on me. The general feeling of the atmosphere seemed to be “If you can draw us a good storyboard, then we’ll put it in,” and I wasn’t sure what I could put my faith in.


Whenever we met, we were always probing each other to find our our true intentions.


“How about a story like this?” I’d say, offering an idea, but they had no interest in what I wanted to draw. Instead, the question on their minds seemed to be “What should we make him draw,” and that came out quite clearly in the way they looked at me.


In the end, it left me feeling distant from them. All I need to do is understand that this is the way these people work, then accept that and draw some manga for them, I thought. Apparently, I still had some desire to draw a manga in a major magazine.


Until Umizaru ended, I focused only on drawing manga, then took a two month break for preparations before I dove into my next piece. I actually had a lot of things I wanted to draw, if it was possible for me to go on being a mangaka. For years, I had come up with all these ideas, but I wasn’t able to do anything with them. It felt like my suppressed emotions were about to explode.


I’m not saying Umizaru was something I didn’t want to draw. I drew it with all my might, and nothing will ever change that. There was a lot I wasn’t able to do, though.


W-san often lent me an ear in times like these. She got angry with me at the editors’ unreasonable behavior, listened to my ideas about my next piece, and told me her thoughts. She had worked with me since chapter 1 of Umizaru, and even when the editors were treating me horribly, I told her: “I’m still happy that I’m drawing manga, because it let me meet you.”


I trusted her more than anyone else, in all facets of my life.


“Once Umizaru ends, I’m thinking of giving everyone two months off. Of course, you’ll still get fully paid, but I’m sure that weekly schedule has tired everyone out. I’m going to take a whole month off myself. Then I’ll spend the next month drawing the storyboards for my next piece. So, how about getting married in the month we have off?”


And so, we decided to get married.


To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #45

It was official now – Umizaru was going to end.


After confining myself to my studio for a bit, I went to visit the apartment of my old editor, the first F-san. After I had told him I wanted to make this arc of Umizaru the last, he agreed, and it had been decided right there that the series would officially come to an end.


After talking for a bit, he brought up something else. “Who do you want to be your supervising editor for the ending? I won’t force you to meet with that guy (the 2nd F-san) again, but a new editor who doesn’t know anything would just cause you problems, right? Do you want me to be your editor again?”


Editors aren’t something that can easily be switched out for another. When one editor left, it meant that another had to come in to replace him, which all had to be orchestrated inside the editors’ office beforehand. The fact that F-san asked me if I wanted him to be my editor again meant that the editors’ office had already considered this as a possibility, and were prepared to deal with it. The fact that we had been able to agree on Umizaru ending without talking to the editor-in-chief directly was also proof of that. Both sides realized that it was about time for the series to end, and that’s why were able to come to an agreement.


This was how far I had to go to get them to listen to the opinion of a newbie mangaka. My emotions had already frozen cold. Even though I still felt a lot of frustration, I didn’t let it bubble up to the surface. On that day, I didn’t want him to see the expression on my face, so even though we were inside, I was wearing a knit cap down so low that it covered up my glasses. I also intended to answer F-san’s question as stoically as possible. Possessing the eyes of a dead man was something I prided myself in.


“F-san, I believe that you’re someone who can listen to me seriously without trying to evade things. Please let me draw the ending to Umizaru. In order to do it, I need your help. I’m very sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you up until now. Please lend me your strength…”


Suddenly, I stopped speaking. No more words would come out. I thought I would be able to stay emotionless, but all of a sudden, I had started crying.


I pulled down my cap even further so that it not only hid my glasses, but my entire nose as well, as snot dribbled out of my nose while I continued to cry. Taking a step back, I bet I looked really embarrassing. Or funny, maybe? This was the only time I’ve ever cried in the presence of an editor.


F-san just said one word: “Sorry.”


Who’s he apologizing to? Not to me, that’d be completely missing the point. Apologize to the manga. Apologize to the readers! And destroy the entire editors’ office while you’re at it!


I decided that once I finished drawing Umizaru, I’d stop drawing manga.


Drawing the ending would let me carry out my responsibility toward the readers. I had lived a stupid, wretched life. At least this way I could die in peace.


And so, I started charging toward the final chapter. Lots of things had ceased to mean anything to me, and now I just felt bad for the art staff who had worked on the manga with me. I got together all the money I had slowly saved up, and decided to pay it to them as severance. It was all I could think of. In the end, I didn’t have what it took to be a proper employer. I felt sorry just for being born.


That was about the time I got a call from Morning, a seinen manga magazine that was published by Kodansha.


First I got a call from T-san, one of the artists who I had worked under. “My editor said he’s interested in you, but are you interested in meeting with him? If you are, then I’ll give you his number.”


I felt like I didn’t really care, but I said “Yes, please,” and shortly after, I got a call from their editors’ office.


Later, two editors came to meet me. One was a company-employed editor, while the other belonged to an editing production company, but was currently working for Morning’s editing department. We sat across from each other in a family restaurant near my studio, and since they had gotten there first, they took the seats of honor, while I sat in the lowest seat. It’s a small detail, but so far in every meeting I had ever attended, the author had always been given the highest seat, so it seemed a bit strange to me.


S-san, the company-employed editor, had a big wart between his eyebrows, and was wearing a T-shirt with Antonio Enoki’s motto printed on it: “Don’t hesitate, just go, and you will understand.” (Incidentally, this quote comes from a poem called “Roads” written by Kiyozawa Tetsuo, later known as Akegarasu Tetsuo, but for some reason everyone thinks the quote originated from Ikkyu. Sorry, I know this is pointless trivia.)


T-san, the editor from the production company, was tall, slim and without muscle, yet his stomach protruded outwards, and looked to be a textbook example of the effects of intemperance on the body.


Editors coming as a pair was something new to me. And when I told them that, they said: “Whenever there’s only one supervising editor, the talks have a tendency to become secretive, and opinions tend to become biased, so we believe more than one editor should supervise projects in order to keep them fair.”


Huh. Guess even common practice differs from company to company.


S-san went on. “At Shogakukan, you only had one editor, right? I find that autors usually can’t handle all the enclosure and trouble that brings. Besides, they say if an editor makes a mistake, and he doesn’t report it to the guys upstairs, then it becomes the author’s mistake.”


“Yes, that’s certainly true,” I replied.


“Well, how exactly do you feel about Shogakukan? Do you have any complaints?” S-san asked. “Please tell us your honest opinion.”


I wasn’t exactly comfortable with the idea of spilling all the complains toward my magazine to some people I had met for the very first time, so I kept quiet.


Soon, S-san started speaking again. “We tried to obtain your contact information through various methods, but it seems that no one has it. Usually, we can find at least one person who can get us in touch with an author, but Shogakukan has a very tight guard up. We think of authors as freelancers, and not property of companies, so we don’t really think their style. It seems a bit… pompous, wouldn’t you agree? They think they own the authors. I bet that’s why their authors don’t trust them!”


I was surprised that he was telling me this all of a sudden. I had never told anyone about the problems I had with the editors’ office, so I started to suspect that maybe they had learned something. Either that, or they simply viewed Shogakukan as a rival.


“C’mon, let’s be honest here,” S-san said. “That magazine’s bad news, right? Ever since the editor-in-chief changed, they’ve been floundering. Authors have been escaping left and right, like rats running from a sinking ship. We’re kind of like hyenas, so when we see an editors’ office start to sink like that, we try to snatch up authors as quickly as possible. All we need to do is dangle a few hooks, and authors chomp down on them one after another.”


Most likely after realizing how rude S-san sounded, T-san cut in. “S-san, you can’t use the words ‘rats’ and ‘hooks’ when you talk about authors. I’m sorry about that – he isn’t the most eloquent person. But as far as the situation goes, we’ve heard from various sources that Young Sunday (the magazine Umizaru was serialized in) is in a bad way. We don’t work at their offices, so we don’t know the details, and there is no way for us to, but there are certain things we can feel, since we’re in the same line of work. For example, let’s say there’s an apple in front of you. Obviously, I see that apple and think it’s ‘red,’ but Sato-san, perhaps you think it’s ‘green.’ At that point, we would have to discuss just what it means for something to be ‘red.’ What does ‘red’ mean? Maybe it’s not actually an apple at all. In order to properly discuss something, there’s a certain amount of prerequisite information that must be made clear. For example… what has led you to come in front of us now, Sato-san? Can you share that information with us?”


It appeared that T-san thought of himself as a “polite, smart person,” but I didn’t quite understand what he was trying to tell me through his abstract examples. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure if S-san was merely trying to draw appeal from the fact that he was straightforward and exciting, if sometimes a little harsh, or if he simply was just a rude person.


“Hey, T. Enough already,” S-san said. “We’re not out there trying to scoop out every author we can. We feel that Sato-san is capable of meeting our readers’ needs, and that’s why we’re here. So, I’ll just give to you straight. How about coming and drawing for us?”


It was so sudden, that I had trouble coming up with an answer.


“I know, you probably can’t answer such a sudden question,” S-san added, then let out a hearty laugh.


Grinning, T-san jumped in. “Oh, he’s always like this. For example…”


We split up shortly after, with the promise to meet again in a month. I didn’t quite understand either of them, but they had certainly made an impact on me.


When I got back to my studio, I got a phone call from the editor who was currently supervising F-san, the first mangaka I had worked under. “I have a job to talk to you about, can you come and meet with me?”


Just after I had finished drawing Umizaru, and was thinking about quitting my career as a mangaka, all of a sudden, I found that I had gotten really popular.


To Be Continued