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