Sato’s Road to Manga #14

One day, I-san asked me if I wanted to work as a staff member for a mangaka named T-san.


T-san was one of the magazine’s poster mangaka. His drew as if he had carved out the black emotions that lie deep in human hearts with his own brush, and he depicted it all with lots of style. His overwhelming expressions were his trademark, and I loved his work. I thought I would only get to work with him for a few days as emergency staff, but the more I heard about the job, the more I realized it was something different.


“T-san looked at the work you submitted and said he wanted to meet you. He’s looking for a new long-term staff member,” I-san said, which made it seem like I was getting hired.


I was used to working as art staff from my experience at F-san’s studio, and this was an artist that I loved, but I had no desire to take a step back and do the same job again. Besides, I had already decided that I would keep drawing manga until I ran out of the money I had saved up, and get my own serialization in half a year. I told this all to I-san, and had worked as emergency staff just in order to please him. I couldn’t initially understand why he would have recommended me to T-san.


But editors didn’t pay much attention to what amateurs had to say. Taking one of his pawns and sacrificing it to a serialized mangaka who was low on staff would earn I-san a point in the editor’s office, and that’s all that mattered to him. With that said, looking back at this situation now, I think I was being really childish with my “become a mangaka in half a year without getting a part-time job” plan. In the end, my honest feelings were neglected, but if I refused I-san’s offer, it’d make things very awkward. So in the end, I agreed to meet with T-san.


I-san told me there was a place in Koenji that T-san often went to, so he took me there one evening.


I think our meeting started around 7 PM.


In the beginning, I decided that I was going to tell T-san directly that I had no intention of working for him as art staff. There he was, sitting in the back of the restaurant. I wondered how he’d reply. He looked like a rock star. He had long hair, was wearing black clothes, and… hmm, now that I think back on it, I guess he didn’t really look that unusual. He just gave off a different aura than most people, I suppose.


They ordered a beer for me, and after a sip I introduced myself. “I’ve been reading your manga for a while now, T-sensei…” I began, when I was suddenly interrupted.


“You don’t address mangaka as ‘sensei,'” he said.


“Huh? Then, um… what should I call you?” I asked timidly.


“Just call me T-san,” he said.


He was a bit different than all of the mangaka I had met up to that point.


“I worked as an assistant for F-sensei, so I have experience…” I began, when he interrupted me again.


“I don’t like the word ‘assistant.'” When I asked him why, he said: “You’re not some part-time helper. You’re not just assisting me, are you? I’m looking for members that’ll work together with me like a band. If all you’re going to do is help me out, I’ll be in trouble.”


Apparently, he was once in a band.  Looks like I was right about him being more on the musical side.


“Huh? What word should you use, then? Geez, you sure ask a lot of questions, don’t you? Fine. You’re ‘staff.’ Words are just words, you know. We aren’t master and pupil. We’re just members on the same team. Staff. Doesn’t that make sense?”


Indeed, T-san’s words made a lot of sense to me. The truth was, I had never liked being called an assistant. If the person calling me it sounded out every last syllable, then maybe it would have been alright, but whenever the mangaka called the editor on the phone, they would always say “I’ll have my assi take care of it. I’m going out now, so please come by and pick up the manuscript in the evening.”


Oh, I used to think as I listened. Assi? That’s what I am? It was kind of depressing.


Somehow, the term seemed discriminatory, and always reminded me of the hierarchy that existed between employer and the employees. To this day, I’ve always called my employees “staff,” thanks to T-san’s influence. Even in writing this essay, I’ve made a point of using the word “staff.”


Next, T-san asked me: “Why are you drawing manga?”


I couldn’t think of a good answer. “I want to become a mangaka…” I began, and then he interrupted me.


“That’s not what I meant. I mean, you could have gone into movies, or novels, right? Why manga?”


“It takes money to make movies, and I’m not good at working on teams. And I’ve never written any novels or prose or anything, so… for example, if I was in the movie business and I had the choice of making a movie about how Tokugawa Ieyasu actually came from a discriminated lower class, and a movie about how Hitler was actually Jewish, the costs would be completely different since one is set overseas. With manga, though, the cost wouldn’t really change all that much. I think one of the good points about manga is that you never have to limit your imagination, I guess. I think the same is true for novels, but manga means you can use pictures too, so…”


“You’re smart. But you’re also stupid,” he replied.


Several weeks later, I told him “I think I want to draw manga because I like manga.”


“What more do you need?” he replied.


When I met him, I had secretly intended to directly explain to him that I had no intention of working as an assistant again, but then I realized that T-san was looking not for an assistant, but staff. He was a bit rude in the way he spoke, but he had actually read all of my pieces, and gave me detailed feedback on my work, so I also realized that he was someone who really thought about the other person when he spoke with them.


When I told him that I was working hard so that I could get my own serialization in half a year, he said: “Alright, just think of this as a temporary thing, then. You can quit as soon as you become a mangaka.”


“Well, of course, I don’t know if I’ll really be able to do it or not, but if I actually do, then I won’t be able to do anything to repay you for giving me this chance…”


“You’re going to become a mangaka in half a year, aren’t you? If you are, then don’t act lame about it and say that you don’t know if you’ll really be able to. Save your gratitude for the next person who comes along. When you become a mangaka, you’ll need your own staff, right?”


After hearing this, I decided to take the job.


Seeing that things were going to work out okay, I-san gave us his best and made a quick exit.


As I was wondering what just happened, T-san called up a mangaka friend on the phone. He kept filling up my cup with more sake, and then, all of a sudden, I was surrounded by people and it was past midnight. The restaurant was in Koenji, so I didn’t have to worry about catching a train, but I still couldn’t help but wonder when this meeting would actually end.


Huh? He’s ordering another bottle? Now he’s calling someone else…


Before I knew it, I could see light shining in through the window.


In the end, we left the restaurant around 5:00 AM. The owner of the small place came out clutching an empty case of empty beer bottles in his arms, with an exhausted look on his face. “You guys drank it all!”


Next month, I put myself under the care of T-san.


To Be Continued

Secrets of Manga #13 – How to Create Something to Convey, Part 2

Welcome to the 13th installment of Secrets of Manga.


Today we’re going to continue talking about “how to create something you want to convey.” In order to convey something, first you need something you want to express. Otherwise you’ll never be able to convey anything. But coming up with something you want to express is easier said than done, isn’t it? People draw manga to convey things, and I bet there are many of you out there who question whether there really is a method to come up with something to convey. You either have it, or you don’t.


Most people, when they first want to draw manga, think “I want to draw an entertaining manga.” They sit down in front of the paper and think “Alright, now what’s interesting?” In the end, they come to the conclusion that they have no idea what really is or isn’t interesting and give up.


“Expression” is defined in the dictionary as ‘a psychological or emotional thing made subjective through outer or sensory manifestation. Or, a facial movement, bodily movement, word, symbol, or structure that acts as that manifestation.’


A smile is an outer manifestation of “enjoyment.” If someone is sad, they express that emotion through crying. So if you want to express something fun, then you just need to draw fun manga. If you want to express something sad, then you need to draw sad manga.


Since I’ve become a mangaka, I’ve had a lot of different experiences. Fun experiences, painful experiences, discord with publishers about due dates, arguments with managers about payments, so I often found myself asking the questions: “What is a job?” and “What does it mean to draw manga?”


That’s not all, though.


“It’s so hard, and I hardly make any money, so why am I drawing manga? Maybe I should just quit? But then why do I have this urge that tells me to keep drawing? Is it bad to want to make something you like into a full-time job? Isn’t it because I like it that I can work so hard? What is a job?”


I suppose any working member of society has thoughts like these, but that’s basically what I think about day to day. Most of the people I met midst my cruel struggle to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of the manga industry have all disappeared. As I watch other mangaka get used up and thrown away, I wonder what the point to all this is, and I sometimes feel very nihilistic. But in the end, I come to the conclusion that there is purpose in going on.


Here’s a page from chapter 25 of Tokko Island, which we used when discussing how to create a story.





“You’re the one person I want to keep alive. I’m going after you. Sekiguchi… forgive me for throwing away the life you desperately tried to protect. This is the only way for me to prove… that I’m valuable enough for you to have risked your life on me.”


This is the page in which I expressed my own feelings. This is what I wanted to express. Instead of putting my opinions about the hypocrisies of work into direct words, I channeled them through the mouth of this soldier.


It’s fine to express things you often think about. You don’t need any lofty ideals or unique theories.


“He asked me to just ‘make it look normal,’ but what does normal even mean?” Or “I don’t understand what fashion is.” Or “That girl at the convenience store is really cute.” I’m sure you all have your own questions and things you want to say. After you’ve decided on one, just go out to collect data and then make it into something.


But, for example, if you say something like “I want to draw a manga about a world of medieval knights,” that’s different. You aren’t conveying anything there. Why not? Because there isn’t any psychological or emotional output. If you put some joy, anger, doubt, or some other kind of emotion in with that, then you’re conveying something.


Whew. I let the intro get a little too long again.


Anyway — what you want to convey should already be inside you. First you need to work to find it. Everyone should have at least ten to twenty detailed things they’d like to convey. You don’t need to line them up. Just let them float around in your head. Still, that won’t be enough to create a manga.


Next, you need to collect data. Go to a library and read a book, watch a movie, or go to a museum. That’s where you need to start from. As you start reading it, keep the idea of what you want to convey in your mind. Gradually, the data you collect should give it shape.


I’ll describe this process with my own personal experience.





With New Give My Regards to Black Jack, I chose “an organ transplant between two unrelated people” as my theme.


This is a continuation of Give My Regards to Black Jack, which ended abruptly, so the main theme of the medical world had already been decided. The reason it had stopped so abruptly is because I didn’t agree with my editor on the writing conditions or how to continue the manga. When it was being serialized, the editors continually acted extremely unreasonable (at least to me), so I started to feel like I would have to change my working conditions in order to keep going.


I thought about switching magazines, but at that point, I could no longer get help from any editors. First, I thought “I’ve already drawn something about neonatal care, cancer, and psychological care, so I think I want to do organ transplants next. The harmful side effects of drugs could also be an interesting theme,” I thought.


So I started collecting books. It’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself when you start out. I ended up buying about twenty books from Amazon about organ transplants, medical disasters, and HIV infection through medical care. I didn’t really put any limits on my data at that point.


I read the books over several weeks and learned about organ transplants, live transplants (from live family members and couples) as well as the fact that brain dead transplants existed. (I didn’t even know about that when I started out.) Then I got some more books on brain death and brain transplants and started reading those.


Even if I decided to make the overall manga about brain death and organ transplants, I also thought it’d be nice to create a two or three-part bridge chapter to link the two series, so I also started reading books about urology. The stories about STDs and phimosis were interesting, and I thought I might be able to use them for something.


As I read books about transplants and urology, I learned that urologists also deal with kidneys, and also that kidney transplants were the most common organ transplants made.


In other words, I could make the urology department the stage of my organ transplant drama. This is probably obvious to anyone who knows a little about medicine, but I was a serious amateur when I started.


Gradually, I got more interested, especially in the medical disasters, so I took a trip to the court house. When I got there, I said to the person in the lobby, “I want to watch a court case about a medical disaster. Where should I go to do that?”


“If it’s your first time watching one, I’d recommend watching a pharmaceutical one,” he said.


He went on to explain that watching a pharmaceutical case would teach me how court cases ran, so I’d be able to better follow a medical case after that. I did as he said, and ended up watching a pharmaceutical case, a rape case, and then a medical disaster case in that order. They were all very interesting, but I couldn’t think of a way to get the main character involved in a court case, so I started to move back toward organ transplants.


Now, the question was whether to focus on a brain dead transplant or a live transplant. With brain dead patients, there’s always the problem of how to take care of the body. It seemed very dramatic to me. With live transplants, it seemed simpler (?) and would allow me to depict the complicated relationship between the donor and the patient. When I did further investigation of transplants for people with kidney-related illnesses, I found that most of them had diabetes, and that many of them did dialysis prior to the transplants. In addition to books, I also used the internet to research this.


In the end, here’s what I came up with: “Next, the main character will go to do a term at the urology department. There, he’ll perform a live kidney transplant for a patient who has diabetes and is doing dialysis.”


There are two types of Diabetes: I and II. I is the kind of diabetes that children get, and we still don’t know why this happens. By this point, I had read about 50 books. As I read them all, I was constantly thinking about what it was I wanted to express.


At the same time, I was also struggling with my own ego. Because of personal reasons, I had cut off my serialization, so I was making all my readers wait to find out what would happen next. I also had no income, and no insurance for any kind of future with my career. Sometimes, it scared me to realize that I somehow had the energy to write a continuation despite all this, but I knew that if I didn’t, I would never be able to go on drawing manga.


If I accepted the unreasonableness and let people do what they wanted with me, then my manga would cease to be my manga. In order to keep drawing your own manga, you need to be selfish. If you stop being selfish even for a second, the manga ceases to be yours, and you can no longer fulfill your responsibilities to your readers. So, in order to deliver the true end of this tale to my readers, I knew that I had to keep being selfish. But is that really the right thing to do, even when it means that my series will be canceled? I knew that I needed to abandon my ego, but at the same time, I knew that abandoning it would make it impossible for me to go on drawing my own manga.


Could that mental battle be something I could express in my manga? How could I connect it with transplant medicine?


Then, I remembered a novel by Ariyoshi Sawako that I had read once. It was called “The Doctor’s Wife.” It was a story about a doctor in the Tokugawa Era who was the first person in the world to succeed at surgery using general anesthesia. The more he tried to develop his anesthesia medicine, the more his wife and mother competed with each other by throwing themselves at him as guinea pigs, in that primitive medical setting. It was really something, and left a significant impression on me.


“Next, the main character will go to do a term at the urology department. There, he’ll perform a live kidney transplant for a patient who has diabetes and is doing dialysis. The patient is a friend of the main character’s, and has been suffering from Type I Diabetes since she was a child. The main character thinks of donating his own organ to her, but multiple ethical standards stand in his way. He still tries to do it, but at that point, is it simply his own ego forcing him to do so? Or is transplant medicine truly wrong?”


With that, I had created the prototype to what I wanted to convey.


Next time, we’ll discuss data collecting in more detail.


Sato’s Road to Manga #13

After winning my first contest, I started bringing manga to the editor’s office weekly.


I had about 800,000 yen saved up, and my rent was 56,000 yen a month. As long as I was careful with how I spent it, I figured it would last for about half a year.  I decided for half a year, I would work only on manga and try to go pro.


Whenever I brought in a draft to I-san, he’d say “It’s good,” and after a few corrections, I’d start writing it into a manuscript. My goal was to enter something into the contest they put on every three months.


After my first win was announced, I had one month to prepare something for the next contest. I wasn’t working, so I finished a piece in only a few weeks. It was so much fun. The results were always announced in the actual magazine three months after the contest began, which meant that I had two months left to wait this time.


I started working immediately on my next piece while I waited. The magazine I had been submitting my pieces to was a monthly magazine, so I figured that if I didn’t have the ability to draw manga at a monthly pace, I’d never be able to handle my own serialization. I had to show my editor that I was fully capable.


Whenever I couldn’t come up with a story, I’d put a notebook in my pocket and go for night walks. When I brought in a new storyboard to I-san, he praised me and took me out to eat and drink again. As we drank, he told me the status of the piece I had submitted to the last contest.


It had passed the first round. In this round, the company handed the pieces to young editors and volunteers, who took turns reading the manga. Manga that was technically confusing or hard to read got dropped while those that left some sort of impression on the readers got to stay in the running.


The second round was where the entire editor staff including the editor-in-chief decided which manga would win the award. When the pieces were decided upon, editors who wanted to be put in charge of the work would volunteer themselves. If multiple editors wanted the same piece, they’d decide who it went to in a meeting.


“My senior co-workers get all the really talented amateurs,” I-san said.


“So I was one of the leftovers then,” I said, feeling a bit dejected. But I-san was only a couple years older than me, and he was easy to talk to, so I didn’t have any complaints.


Amateurs that had a supervising editor like me worked together with their editor to create a piece for the contest, and I-san reassured me that as long as he gave it a proper push, I’d make it through. In the third round of the contest, the editors invited in a guest mangaka to judge, and this was where they decided which of the winning pieces would receive the grand prize or only be a runner-up.


I-san always drank a lot of alcohol. I drank too, so we’d often barhop together until the sun came up. Now that I think back, that period was a good time for publishers. “This editor-in-chief reserved an entire soapland (non-penetration prostitution establishment) and then tried to get the bill written off by the company — and they actually let him! Ridiculous stories like that could be heard wherever you went, and publishers back then even had the economic power to pay for the food and drink of an amateur like me.


“I won’t be able to write this off, but wanna come to a prostitute with me? I’ll treat you,” I-san said to me once. I refused, but it told me a lot about how much these editors were getting paid, since I-san apparently had no qualms about treating one of his amateurs to such a service.


It started to make me think that if I was successful here, then someday I’d be rich too.


After drinking a lot, I-san told me he had to go pick up a manuscript from a mangaka’s house. For some reason, he brought me along, and after meeting with that mangaka, he started calling me to come in as emergency staff time to time.


I had vowed to go pro in half a year, but when my editor ordered me to help that mangaka make his deadline, I had no choice. He had paid for so many of my meals, and I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I started working at the mangaka’s studio. If I looked at it in a positive light, I-san was introducing me to a lot of good part-time jobs, but if I looked at it in a negative light, I saw that I was basically his pawn.


I got paid for my work, so although I was technically unemployed, I managed to make an unstable 100,000 yen or so per month. I had been well-trained at F-san’s studio, so I didn’t complain about being made to work all night, and I was fast, so I think I was a pretty good staff member. I was able to work on a lot of different mangaka’s work through that connection, and learned that working all night was not the standard in the industry, and that it was alright to answer with words other than “Okay.”


Of course, I had some tough jobs, too. One job was so harsh that one of the staff members ran away, and I was called to step in suddenly and fill the spot. That studio had its curtains shut tight at all hours of the day, and the mangaka was deeply in love with his female staff member. The cat had the most power in that studio.


We weren’t allowed to talk, and the refrigerator was supplied with nothing but convenience store rice balls. If you were hungry, you had to eat those. That was the rule. Of course, we were also required to stay there overnight, but there was only one bed, so we had to take turns sleeping in it for three hours at a time.


Even when people were sleeping, the radio was on full blast. I slept right after the mangaka, and just before he got up, there was a certain program on the radio that he wanted to listen to, so he had me record it. When I started to go to sleep, he’d play the recording so he could listen to it himself. The room was always dark, and it was very easy to lose track of where you were and what you were doing. Even if the cat decided to jump up on the bed, I wasn’t allowed to try and move it, or the mangaka would get mad at me. I understood full well why that one staff member decided to escape.


I got paid 5,000 yen a day for that job.


As I was finishing my piece for the next contest, I found out the results of the previous one. When I took the manuscript to the editor’s office, I-san informed me of the news. I was a runner-up again, which earned me another 300,000.


“Thank you very much!” I shouted happily, but honestly, I had been aiming for the grand prize, so I was a little disappointed.


Here’s the piece that won that time.



It’s up for free viewing here. Check it out if you like. (Looking back over it makes me so embarrassed.)


Then, some harsh words suddenly came out from I-san’s mouth.


“My boss looked at this and said ‘you’re his supervisor, aren’t you? How could you let him draw something like this?’ Now that I think about it, it’s far too plain and gloomy a manga to stick in our magazine. I knew that, but I figured that now was the time to let you draw as much as you could. But if you’re really aiming to go pro, then it’s really time for you to step it up. You won, but…”


Personally, I felt that all I had done was draw what I-san told me was good, so I was a little surprised. I drew the storyboard and showed it to I-san, who gave me advice that I applied to the finished product. Of course, it had been me drawing the whole time, so I bore the responsibility. It wasn’t I-san’s fault if the manga was bad. However, to me I-san equaled the editing department, so when he told me “I thought it was good, but the editors didn’t feel the same way,” it really shocked me.


Now that I look back, I can see how the manga isn’t good enough to be featured in a magazine. The editors gave up one of their awards to an amateur mangaka who had an editor behind him, so it was only natural that they’d make a complaint.


But I didn’t understand that at the time.


“You’re already done with it, so I’ll submit it to the contest for you, but… don’t hold your breath.”


Saying this, he took my manuscript and walked off.




Isn’t he going to take me out to eat again today?


Unsure if it was okay or not to be happy about winning another contest, I quietly went home to Koenji and entered a Mos Burger by the station. Usually, I was never able to eat those sort of restaurants. If McDonald’s was peasant food, then Mos Burger was a high society banquet. But I wanted to celebrate my win, so I allowed myself the pleasure of dining at Mos Burger.


I sat in a window seat on the second floor and looked across the street to a pachinko sign. If you take off the “pa” from “pachinko,” it becomes “chinko,” I thought. Chinko means penis.


To Be Continued

Secrets of Manga #12 – How to Create Something to Convey, Part 1

This is Secrets of Manga #12.


Up until now, we’ve talked about panel composition and story. What I always keep repeating is basically “Convey to your readers what you want to convey, how you want to convey it.” I introduced some story creation and composition techniques that can help you do this, but they’re only several of many other theories.


Methods are only paths to achieving a goal. In order to convey something, first you need to have something you wish to convey.


If there’s nothing you want to say, then you’ll never be able to convey anything to your readers. You have to have something you want to convey. Manga exists as a medium to express these things, and that’s why we have things like panel and story composition. Technique alone is just technique.


So, how do you know what it is you wish to convey?


Maybe you’re anti-war, or you want to convey some sort of political message, or you want to question the meaning of life. Exaggerated messages like those aren’t the only things you can convey, though.


I don’t believe that all manga has to have a message. Maybe some authors just want to say “Isn’t this heroine cute?” or “I think this sort of thing is really cool.” If the readers who finish their manga think “This heroine is so cute!” or “This is really cool,” then I suppose those authors have succeeded. If you read it and think “I understand that the author thinks this is really cute (or cool), but I don’t think it is,” then you’re still giving feedback, I think.


I did an experiment and searched for feedback in regards to Tokko Island on Twitter.


“Tokko Island is amazing… how can you draw a manga like this? I love Sekiguchi… he’s a real man. I can’t stop crying. I hate war!” 


“I read Tokko Island by Sato Shuho. It’s so intense. It’s the memories of all the people who have risked their lives to protect our country. Everyone’s so young. Just when they were deciding what to do with their lives, death was thrust upon them. Their desires to protect their families and their country are passionately written in their wills. It’s not about whether or not they can to protect them, but the fact that they want to.”


“Sato Shuho-san’s manga is so detailed, I feel like reading it over and over again. Every time I do, it makes me think. His honesty and careful expressions make the reader more and more curious to explore the depth in his work.”


“I started reading Tokko Island, and now I can’t stop thinking about the special attack squad.”


“Tokko Island is a manga about reasons. It isn’t simply about war or everyday comparisons, it’s about something like ‘I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of not dying like a man.'”


“Whenever I read Tokko Island I dive right into it.”


Everyone’s really taking away a lot of different messages from it, some that I didn’t even intend in the first place. Once a message is conveyed to someone, it seems to get influenced by their own feelings and memories.


Originally, I never really had anything I wanted to say. This may seem to contradict everything I just wrote, but I have an excuse. I just can’t figure out how to put it into words. Anyway, I’ve always wanted to draw manga. And I want to draw manga that moves people. I’m always thinking about what moves people. When I’m at work, or at home, and I’m having fun or getting irritated, I think “I want to show my readers how this feels,” or “I might be able to put this into a manga.” Gradually, those feelings build up inside me and create a manga.


What I want to talk about now is “how to find something you want to convey.”


Just as a warning, I’m about to get a bit technical again. I think that there are a great number of people out there who want to draw manga but don’t know what to draw and an equally great number of people who have something they want to draw but can’t quite give it shape. It’d be great if readers could understand that mangaka don’t always have a strong image of what it is they want to express.


Tokko Island began when an editor came to me with a job offer, and I asked him, “As an editor, what kind of manga do you want to work on?”


My first step was to mix in something I wasn’t interested in or hadn’t thought of before. My editor answered that he wanted to do a story about a suicide attack squad, so I said, “Alright, let’s go with that,” went out to gather materials, and started reading them.


I feel like I’m a cook. I make delicious food with the ingredients I’m given. There really isn’t anything in particular I want to make. Most of the time, I just mix in a little of what I personally want to say and then work to make it into something.


I read about ten documents, searched for information on the internet, watched a few movies and read a few novels about suicide squads, visited the Yasukuni Shrine, an old naval base, a naval museum, an old soldier school on Eta Island, and training facilities on Otsu Island. I also met with people who had served as suicide squad soldiers, listened to their stories, and rode in a submarine. It gave me a lot of questions, so I ended up going back out to gather more material. Since it’s never clear to me what I want to say, I always have to go out to do research several times.


I throw away all my preconceptions when I do research. I find that if there’s something I want to draw, and I go out looking for the specific materials that will help me draw it, it only narrows my point of view. Instead, I just accept all the information that’s transmitted to me, widen my scope as much as possible, and then cut away all the excess.


After researching, I often end up with a lot of things I want to convey, so I try to find an opening somewhere to slip my own messages in.


As far as drawing manga goes, I believe that the work that goes into creating something you want to convey is the most important step. Next time, we’ll talk about this in more detail. Sorry this was so short, but that’s all I have for today.



Sato’s Road to Manga #12

The phone calls continued for days.


One time, after the “Please leave a message after the beep” ended, F-san started talking.


“Shuho… you’re there, aren’t you? Is this what we’ve been reduced to? You worked hard for me for two years, and now you’re just going to throw it all away?”


Finally, I picked up the receiver.


“I understand now that you really want to quit,” F-san said. “You can quit, but first let’s settle this, alright? How long do you want to keep working for?”


“The end of this month,” I answered. The next day, I went back to work.


I apologized to my co-workers for boycotting, and my days of staying up all night working began again. I was now the elephant in the room that no one wanted to get near, and I had brought it all on myself.


Several weeks later, I quit. On my last day, F-san was gone working on the storyboards. He called at midnight, and I told him it was my last day.


“Oh, alright. You can leave,” he said, and I finally put the studio where I had spent two years of my life behind me.


I really think my junior co-workers hated me. But I didn’t want to get emotional with anyone, so I kept myself completely shut down.


On my way home, I stopped by a supermarket and bought a head of cabbage. When I got back to my apartment, I peeled off some leaves, put mayonnaise on them, and ate them. On the next day, I got hungry again, so I pulled off another handful of leaves, then fried them with soy sauce and ate them. I didn’t feel like looking for another job immediately, but I was still worried about money, so I decided to try to survive for a week on a head of cabbage.


There was an abandoned apartment building nearby where I lived, and it was filled with a bunch of garbage that people had thrown inside. There was a washing machine in front of it that I figured was abandoned junk, but one day, I walked by the apartment building late at night and saw it moving.


Someone was living inside the abandoned building. Ever since I saw that, I couldn’t stop thinking about who was living in there. At any rate, they didn’t seem to have much money. I doubted they were married, either. Looking at all the inhabitant’s belongings that were strewn across the driveway, I saw that below the stairway to the second floor, there was a pot filled with plum liquor. That made me think that the inhabitant was a bit up in their years.


I never had any plans to meet with anyone, so I stopped cleaning my room. I also started staying up late and sleeping through the day, so I could never wake up early enough to take my trash out, and soon my room looked like a huge trash can. I began to think that someday, I’d end up just like the person in that old apartment building.


When I had submitted my first short manga piece, the editor told me that I had to do things other than reading manga in order to draw good manga, and that had really shocked me. After he told me that, I sold all the manga I had to a used bookstore, threw out my TV, stopped listening to music, and completely shut off myself from the entertainment world.


I had no TV, and I didn’t read. I was just a guy who sat in his room and chewed on cabbage.


The phone was the only connection I still had with the outside world. As I stared at the silent device, I thought about what the fundamental difference was between life and death.


Then, I got a phone call.


It was from the editor who ran the amateur manga competition, I-san. “Congratulations. Your manga was a runner-up in our competition.”




I sent that manga in five months ago, and it had completely disappeared. And now, he was telling me that I won.


My hands began trembling violently.


I could barely breathe, and I had trouble getting any proper words out. After I quickly promised to go into the office for a meeting, I put the phone down and let out a happy cheer. It had been a while since I had spoken to anyone, so I was surprised by how loud my voice sounded.


On Saturday, I brought in a ten-page introductory manga to the editor’s office. Last time I had gone there, I was treated like a training tool for a new hire, but this time I was going as the recipient of a manga award.


I-san, the editor in charge of my piece, had been at the company for two years, and I think he was two years older than me. After giving me his feedback he said “let’s go get something to eat.”


Really? You’re going to have a meal with someone like me?


The prize money was 300,000 yen.


I couldn’t believe that I-san had come to work on a Saturday just to meet with someone like me. He said that he had other work to do at the office, but here he was, sitting at a grill and eating BBQ and drinking beer with me.


“I liked how you did your best to give us a solid story without using too many pages,” he said. “Your attempt to depict heartfelt human emotion shows a level of honesty that other recent authors lack.”


It was the first time someone ever had anything positive to say about my manga, and I didn’t know how to respond. I figured he was just trying to deceive me for some reason. He was trying to deceive me. Even though I had nothing he could possibly want, he was still trying to squeeze something out of me.


Maybe he wants me to sell one of my organs?


The results of the contest still hadn’t been publicly announced, and he wanted me to make a comment for the announcement page.


Wow! I feel like I’m famous!


It didn’t take long for me to get drunk on the momentum, and I decided that I would follow this man for the rest of my life.


Here’s the piece I submitted.


“Hamaguchi” was a really daaaaaark manga about bullying that embodied my gloomy feelings at the time. I uploaded it here. Looking at it now, I’m really ashamed of it, but it’s up there for free viewing, so check it out if you like.


Several weeks later, a magazine that contained the results of the award arrived at my house. I still couldn’t believe my eyes as I stared at the page. But my name was there. They messed up the phonetic reading for my name as “Sato Hidemine,” but that was just a minor detail. Those character should have been read as “Sato Shuho,” but who cared about names at this point?


I ran out to the convenience store and checked that the magazine was on the racks. I was afraid that maybe my name was only in the version they sent me, so I flipped through one of the store copies.


My name was printed there too.


I hurried to the next station over and started sifting through another convenience store’s copies.


Finally, I accepted the fact that I had really won the contest.


Life’s like a game of Othello. The fact that I was born is a miracle alone, so even if I get nothing but but a streak of blacks, if I suddenly get one white piece at the end, everything up to that point becomes white as well, I thought.


I continued to win that magazine’s contest for four straight years after that. And someone still has yet to break my record.


To Be Continued