Sato’s Road to Manga #18

At some point, my supervising editor I-san started giving me assorted illustration jobs.

 

I drew art for special presentation pages, 4-panel mangas that they needed to fill the space on poll result pages, and got paid about 5000 yen for each piece. And since I had vowed to write ten more storyboards before giving up, I was also bringing those in at a regular pace. Knowing that I only had ten chances left put a lot of pressure on me, and I did my best not to get too worked up as I drew.

 

One day, I brought a storyboard into the office, and I-san introduced me to the editor-in-chief. When I introduced myself, the editor-in-chief stood up and poured a cup of coffee. I thought he was going to give it to me, but he simply went back to his seat and sipped it. Then he said something to me.

 

“You’re our 4-panel man!!”

 

Apparently, he liked the 4-panel manga I had drawn for one of my illustration jobs, so I had been volunteered up as a 4-panel mangaka.

 

“When you’re in the zone, your 4-panels are so in the zone they’re practically top level! They’re super in the zone!”

 

I had no idea what he meant by “in the zone,” but he was really enthusiastic about it. According to the editor-in-chief, I wasn’t fit to write manga with actual stories, and that 4-panel manga is where I could truly shine.

 

I want to drink some coffee too…

 

I-san smiled and nodded repeatedly as he sat beside me. In the end, he told me to write 100 4-panel mangas and bring them to him.

 

I didn’t really have any desire to draw 4-panel manga, but if it’d help me become a mangaka, then I figured it was worth doing. I drew 100 4-panel mangas in two weeks and then brought them into the office.

 

I wasn’t used to drawing this type of manga, so it was hard work. Just sitting at home made me get writer’s block, so I hopped around to different diners and walked around with my notebook, aiming to think up one idea per every ten telephone poles. I walked from Koenji from Shibuya, and I didn’t come up with anything. That’s when I realized: thinking of funny stuff isn’t very fun.

 

When he saw my work, I-san was overjoyed. “4-panel manga really is your thing!” He passed on my work to his bosses and the editor-in-chief and told me to wait a little bit for whether or not they’d be featured in the magazine.

 

“The editor-in-chief is expecting great things from you too!” he said, which certainly didn’t make me feel bad. Up to that point, I had never had a chance to show an upper-level employee my work — I-san always just cast it all away — so it did get my hopes up.

 

I was “in the zone.”

 

But, I heard no news on that subject for the next six months. During that period, I drew nine storyboards, but all of them were shot down without ever making it past I-san.

 

If my 4-panels get shot down too, that’ll make ten, I thought one day. Then, I-san called me and invited me to a film screening. He wanted me to do a one-page illustration that reported on the film. I hadn’t watched a film for over two years — since the day I made my first ever submission. Even back then, I had been working hard to separate myself from manga, music and film. Wait, no. I think I allowed myself to read comics by the newsstand back then. Oh, and I-san sent me magazines every month, so I read those too. Now that I think about it, I-san was being considerate to me, in some strange way.

 

Unfortunately, the film was boring. Disappointed that the first movie I had seen in years was so boring, I thought: How can I make an interesting illustration out of this boring movie? I guess a real pro would be able to do something entertaining with it.

 

When I-san took me to a bar after the screening, I just asked him the big question. “What happened with my 4-panels? I haven’t heard anything since then, so I can’t help but wonder…”

 

I-san tried to evade the question.

 

“Can you please just give me a straight answer?” I asked, in an unusually clear and loud tone.

 

I was serious, after all. This was a dire question, which would decide whether or not I would give up on my dream to become a mangaka… even though that was only because I had decided it would be.

 

“Hmm… let me think. What happened with that? I didn’t hear anything from my boss, so I can’t really say. Are you really in that much of a hurry?”

 

As he finished saying the word “hurry,” I first felt like I needed to answer his question. But then, after I thought a bit, I realized: they’ve kept me waiting for a year now, how can they say I’m in a hurry?

 

I was quiet for a bit. “Fine, let’s just say they got rejected,” I said finally, and I-san looked a bit relieved.

 

I wanted to walk out right then and there, but I desperately exercised some self-control.

 

That was when I gave up on I-san.

 

I went back to my apartment, pulled out the copies of my 4-panels, and inked ten of them right then and there. I worked all night without sleeping, then went to the convenience store and bought the first manga magazine I had purchased in several years. I found some amateur contest forms, wrote out the required information, then put my manuscripts into envelopes and sent them out.

 

This was my 10th and last chance. I just wanted to know where I stood. Was it really in my best interests to give up on becoming a mangaka?

 

I happened to run into a college friend in a Koenji shopping district. He was with his girlfriend, who was also an old classmate of mine.

 

“Are you drawing manga for a living now?” he asked, sneering (at least, it looked that way to me).

 

Once, I somehow got the chance to take part in a drinking party where I was the only male. One of them got sick from drinking too much, and a few others missed their last train, so I ended up letting several girls sleep in my apartment. Watching all those girls sleeping right in front of my eyes gave me a very strange feeling.

 

I tried whispering to one.

 

“Not until you become a mangaka,” she replied.

 

I’m the kind of person who gets extremely affected by tiny events like that.

 

Every day of my life, I did nothing but draw manga and masturbate. Day after day, I agonizingly alternated between gripping my pen and gripping my dick, and I was sick and tired of it. I felt that if my life was just going to go on like this, then I’d rather have someone come and kill me. But then I realized that I probably hadn’t ever affected someone to make them feel such a strong emotion toward me, and so instead I just got pissed off at how boring I was.

 

I wanted to scream, but I had nothing to say, and it was suffocating me.

 

In less than a month, I got a call back from one of the new contests I entered.

 

If they think I’m crap, then I’m crap, I decided.

 

I think I was just looking for an excuse to give up, while pretending that I was really forcing myself to work hard. But drawing ten manuscripts in half a year isn’t as easy as it sounds. I really was working hard.

 

That’s it, I realized. I worked hard, but I still came up with nothing but crap. That’s all I needed to believe. I just needed to convince myself that I was really crap.

 

My work earned an honorable mention from the contest. Here’s what I submitted that time.

 

sh-blog-RMvol18
 

Sorry for the stupid name. I really worked hard on it. You can read it here.

 

I decided to meet with my new supervisor, E-san, on my next day off. When I went back to work, I told T-san about the contest. It did mean that I betrayed an editor from the magazine that serialized T-san’s work, so I apologized, then asked him if he would allow me to go meet with E-san.

 

Now that I think about it, all I did was change outlets. I didn’t really betray anyone or anything. But I had met T-san through I-san, so I figured I should run it by him. As I gravely explained this all to him, T-san kept a straight face and gave me a serious answer.

 

“Reactions only come to people who take action. You took action, and earned a reaction. That’s all. Of course you can go meet him. Do your best.”

 

I decided to keep doing my best.

 

To Be Continued



Sato’s Road to Manga #17

After I got my 4th contest award, I took a new storyboard to my editor as usual. This time, I-san met me in a diner near the office.

 

“I’m not looking forward to the discussion we have to have today,” he said.

 

With that, he gave me a bit of feedback on my storyboard and talked to me about how I would never be able to become a mangaka like this. My manga was too dark, lacked entertainment value, and simply wasn’t good from a “product” standpoint.

 

“Who are you drawing manga for?” he asked me.

 

If I said for the readers, would that be wrong? I wondered.

 

“For myself,” I answered.

 

“That’s your problem,” he said, then started criticizing me. Apparently, I wasn’t facing manga with the right attitude.

 

“Manga has to be written for the readers, not for the author’s own enjoyment. If you can’t think of your work as a product, then I want you to stop bringing me things. There are a lot of shojo manga artists who debut when they’re teenagers, and there’s a reason for this. Only young girls can sell their masturbation in our world. No one wants to watch you masturbate.”

 

That’s basically what he told me.

 

“But I’m only happy if my readers enjoy my work,” I said. “I’m not just always thinking about myself.”

 

“Whatever,” I-san went on. “You’ve won the contest four times now, and I’ve realized that you’re only making contest-level work. You have to bring me serialization-level work next time, or you’re finished. And you’re not allowed to submit anything to the contests anymore.”

 

I couldn’t believe it. He had just forbid me from entering contests that were open to anyone.

 

“Go to a prostitute,” he also told me. It’s not that he thought visiting prostitutes would be an especially good hobby for me, he just felt that I was a person who never made any effort to break out from his comfort zone, which was a problem.

 

Or was he just angry that I refused his initial invitation way back when?

 

It was I-san’s second year at the company, and I noticed from the day I met him that he was always studying how his senior editors responded to things. The problem, he explained, was that there had never been an amateur who won the contest four times in a row before. The only thing this meant was that my manga was contest level, and nothing more, but his senior editors thought that it was I-san’s fault that my work hadn’t made any progress.

 

“You have me! Why aren’t you getting any better?!” It seemed like this is what he was really trying to say. Personally, I just saw editors as walls I had to climb in order to get my own serialization in a magazine. I wasn’t trying manga to try and get I-san’s approval, nor was I drawing it to test his abilities, so after hearing this, I was at a loss.

 

After my first submission, that editor had told me not to simply read manga in order to draw manga, and I thought I had done a good job at widening my perspective.

 

But abstract arguments like that never did any good for me.

 

I tried changing the subject and asking him for feedback on my most recent manuscript. “What do I need to change in order to make this better, then?”

 

“Anything you write right now will be garbage,” I-san replied.

 

Apparently, as long as I continued functioning on my Sato Shuho OS, whatever I came up with would disappoint them. In other words, I needed to find a new brain, or just give up. He had just rejected my entire existence.

 

“Are you saying I should just stop drawing manga, then?” I asked.

 

“I didn’t say it was all bad.”

 

“You said that anything I write right now will be garbage, didn’t you?”

 

“What I’m saying is, talking about this storyboard will get you nowhere.”

 

“Please, I want to talk about it. Discussing psychology isn’t going to help my storyboards get better, is it?”

 

“This problem is deeper than that.”

 

I no longer had any idea what to say. So I said this. “Please let me talk about the storyboard. what do I need to change?”

 

And here’s what he said.

 

“You’re the problem.”

 

Instantly, my point of view was warped. Why did I have to suffer this kind of treatment just after winning another award? I ended up zoning out and missing my stop again on the way home.

 

After my depression faded, I made a decision.

 

I’m going to draw ten more storyboards.

 

And if none of them amounted to anything, I decided that I’d give up on my dreams of becoming a mangaka. I had been living deep in the manga industry for three years now, ever since I turned 20, and if I really had no ability to create anything that could be featured in a magazine, then perhaps it was best for me to pull back and think of another route while I still had the chance.

 

On one hand, I wanted to force myself to go all out, but on the other hand, I wanted to relax and and enjoy myself. Ever since I started working to become a mangaka, it had brought me much more suffering than pleasure, and I wondered if there was really any point in continuing it if I wasn’t enjoying myself.

 

That’s about the time that T-san hired a new staff member for our studio.

 

Before O-san quit, I said to T-san: “It’s weird that you call O-san ‘O-chan’ (more colloquial) but you call me ‘Sato-kun’ (more formal). Please give me a nickname.”

 

I’m pretty sure we were drinking when I brought this up.

 

“Alright, what kind of nickname do you want?” he asked me.

 

“One that sound strong.”

 

“Alright then, how about Bison? Since you were born in the year of the ox.”

 

Ever since then, T-san started calling me Bison. And when we got our new staff member, we decided to think up a nickname for him too.

 

Our new staff member was male, but he had very clear, white skin.

 

“He must have some natural moisturizer in his body,” T-san mentioned. “Isn’t there some beauty product out there called Nippi Collagen?”

 

And so, he earned the nickname “Nippi.”

 

Nippi was bringing work into same editor’s office I was, and we were the same age, so we often discussed manga together. Sometimes, when T-san was out, I’d even give Nippi some advice on dealing with editors, since I had more experience than him.

 

The next thing I knew, I was acting just as worldly and experienced as O-san had, and I started getting a little carried away with myself. I had just planned to give up on my dream of becoming a mangaka after drawing ten storyboards, but here I was gloating about winning the amateur contest four times in a row and acting like I had such a promising future ahead of me.

 

Then, I started to worry that T-san would catch on to me eventually, and I’d end up disappearing just like O-san did.

 

To Be Continued



Sato’s Road to Manga #16

Several months after I started working at T-san’s studio, I became a major element of the process. O-san was a quiet and diligent worker, but he really took his time. In a good way, he was reliable, but in a bad way, he was too serious. He’d never slack off, but he also didn’t take directions very well. Asking him to try and be more efficient just made him freeze up.

 

But his work was great, so even though it irritated the rest of us a bit, we had no choice but to wait for him. I ended up drawing 35 of the 50 pages of manga we needed to produce every month.

 

During work hours, T-san ate separately from the rest of the staff. O-san and I usually always ate out, and he would wait to go until we all got back. When he left, it meant that I would be alone with O-san. For some reason, whenever we were alone, the quiet O-san suddenly became very talkative.

 

He’d talk about manga theory and how to get along with editors, and I enjoyed listening to him. I-san was the first supervising editor I ever had, and I had only been with him for about half a year, so it was very interesting to listen to O-san’s rich experiences. He taught me a lot of good pointers on how to deal with editors and things to be careful of, so while he was a bit on the slow side, he was really someone I could count on.

 

I worked assiduously, and on my days off I kept bringing in storyboards to my editor. I-san no longer praised my work like he had when we first met, but he kept giving me hurdles, so I focused on overcoming them along with submitting more pieces. I also started relaying what I-san had told me to O-san, and then taking his advice.

 

Sometimes, T-san would take us out to BBQ after work. As I ate my meat, I thought this would be another good chance to talk to O-san about editor stuff. We had finished our work, and we were a bit liquored up, I thought it was OK to ask him a question even though we were in T-san’s presence. For some reason, though, it seemed like O-san didn’t want to talk about it.

 

Something was clearly wrong, and as I struggled to figure out what it was, T-san came to my rescue. I had been worried that I had touched on a subject that I shouldn’t have, so this relieved me — but only for a second. Then I listened to what T-san was saying.

 

“O-chan, how many months has it been since you went in to visit your editor?”

 

When I thought about it, I realized that I had never heard any stories about O-san submitting anything to his editor. I had just told him my own stories, and he had given me his own personal advice.

 

O-san resigned himself to silence, and I could tell T-san was getting a bit irritated. “How many years has it been since you’ve drawn any of your own manga?” he asked.

 

More silence followed, and T-san’s frustration heightened.

 

“Stop ignoring me.”

 

But the silence continued, for several minutes. Finally, T-san spoke again.

 

“The guy who was in charge of you got transferred about half a year ago. I thought you’d pick up on it yourself, but… you haven’t been there a single time in the past six months, have you? Your editor used his transfer as a chance to cut you off, man, do you get that? You don’t have a supervisor anymore. You’re in no position to be giving Sato-kun any advice!”

 

…is basically what he said.

 

Which begged the question: what time period was O-san pulling all his stories of experience from?

 

The atmosphere got even more tense. It looks like T-san’s getting really angry here. Hurry up and give him some kind of reaction, O-san! I thought, as I looked to O-san.

 

I was surprised by what I saw. O-san was staring straight into T-san’s eyes. Glaring.

 

Huh? I can understand it if he’s frustrated or angry about losing his supervisor, but T-san’s not the guy you should focus all that on, O-san!  But his eyes were serious.

 

“Don’t glare at me,” T-san said. But O-san was serious.

 

“Don’t glare at me…” T-san repeated. But O-san was serious.

 

T-san pulled money out from his wallet, laid it on the table, and then walked out.

 

T-saaaaaaan! O-saaaaaaan!!

 

That was the last day O-san ever gave me editor advice.

 

There was one problem, though. O-san continued discussing manga theory with me whenever T-san was out, but it started heading into a pretty weird direction. When I told him about taking my storyboards into my editor, he’d say things like “You have no love for manga, Sato-kun.”

 

“You’re just mass producing one piece after another, and when one gets shot down, you go right on to the next. You haven’t put enough heart into each piece.”

 

“Manga without heart in it will never be able to move readers. And that isn’t even real manga. If you become a mangaka just from drawing fake manga, you should be ashamed of yourself. If I was able to draw even one piece of manga that really satisfied me, that’d be enough for me. That’s why I look down on you, Sato-kun. You draw manga way too easily.”

 

I tried defending myself. “But you have to keep going up to the plate in order to hit anything, right? Isn’t being able to sit down and draw the most important thing?”

 

“How dare you compare manga with baseball?” was his reply.

 

At a later date, when I found myself alone with T-san, I told him about it.

 

“So he finally completed his theory of fail…” T-san mused.

 

O-san had been working at T-san’s studio for five years now. And then, I found out for the first time that during those five years, O-san had drawn hardly any of his own manga.

 

Clearly, those two had a long, deep history that I couldn’t begin to understand.

 

After a period of time, O-san quit.

 

He told T-san that at this rate, he’d never become a mangaka, and that he had been forced to make a decision between trying to still be a mangaka while working at the studio, and giving up and completely washing his hands of the industry. It seemed a bit of a cruel decision, but he believed that it was something he had to decide eventually in order to make sure he didn’t waste his life. T-san had worked with O-san for a long time, and I could feel him expressing a unique type of affection for his co-worker as he left.

 

Meanwhile, I finished another one-shot and sent it into the competition. I won a runner-up prize again.

 

Here’s my 4th piece.

 

sh-blog-RMvol16
 

It’s up for free viewing here, if you’d like to peruse it.

 

I thought I had cleared all of I-san’s requirements: it wasn’t plain, dark, and didn’t leave a bad aftertaste after you finished reading it. I felt  it was fit to be published in the magazine, but it never saw the light of day.

 

To Be Continued



Sato’s Road to Manga #15

And so, my days at T-san’s studio began.

 

I worked from 12 PM to 12 AM. No staying overnight. 11 to 15 days a week, 150,000 yen a month. Meals were included.

 

I thought I had died and gone to Heaven.

 

I had to work from the first of the month up until around the 14th, when the magazine chapter was due, for about two weeks, then got the rest of the time off. It was a bit hard to work for two weeks straight without any breaks. But having the second half of the month all to myself was extremely attractive. And since my work schedule was set, it also meant that our meals were set, which was something I really couldn’t believe.

 

Working 20 hours a day at F-san’s studio was normal to me, as was staying up all night. It was normal to have no days off for an entire month, and I only got food at F-san’s whims. At T-san’s studio, I only had to work 12 hours a day, and I had half of the month off. And I even got paid more! It was so unbelievable, I wondered if he was specifically going out of his way just to be charitable to us.

 

It wasn’t. In exchange for all those excellent conditions, T-san required an extremely high level of work. For each page we had to draw, he gave us notes, explaining which angle the light was coming from, whether it was morning or night, whether the light was coming from streetlights, what kind of weather it was, what he was trying to convey with this scene, and so on and so forth. And on top of working as T-san’s arms and legs, he also wanted me to put my own color into all the background and supporting art I did.

 

T-san used a variety of materials: sometimes pencils, Copics, or Liquitex. At the time, I believed that manga should be done with pens and ink, so I was surprised by how little he limited himself.

 

“It doesn’t matter what you use, just as long as it prints. Art is a free medium.”

 

Every little thing T-san said to me was so powerful, and made so much sense. Up until then, drawing without any materials was the norm for me, and F-san wouldn’t check rough sketches. If the finished product was different from what F-san imagined, he’d just get angry at me and I’d have to start all over again. But at T-san’s studio, he administered how all the art would look with a rational system, so there was no such stress.

 

T-san would also compliment me a lot. “Good job figuring that out. Putting this image here was an excellent choice. You just gave a whole new level of depth to this scene.” Hearing things like that all the time quickly gave me a big head, and now that I think about it, T-san was very good at complimenting people and raising them up. For the first time in my life, I was feeling the joy of drawing as a profession.

 

We worked together not as master and student, but as two members of a team working on the same piece, and I liked that. Much of the system I use at my own studio now was built off what I learned from T-san. Work time and break time is set in stone, and I, the author, prepare all the data for the art, right down to the page composition. It may seem obvious, but I didn’t know it was alright to think it was obvious until I went to T-san’s studio.

 

I had one senior co-worker: O-san. He hailed from my hometown, and was seven years older than me, the same age as T-san. He had also been submitting works to the same magazine as I was (the magazine that T-san was serialized in) and had a supervising editor. He told me that he’d drawn over 20 books of manga independently. The number “over 20” made me panic a bit, but since he was so much older than me, I didn’t feel that inferior. And since it really seemed like O-san was the one who was supporting the high quality of T-san’s manga, I felt nothing but respect for him.

 

After our two weeks of work ended, we’d drink to celebrate, which was always a delight. We’d go to have dinner at a BBQ restaurant nearby, and then get together with T-san’s mangaka friends at the shop in Koenji. We’d drink until 5 AM, then go to another place that was open until 8 AM, then walk back down the road puffing alcohol breath in the faces of the salarymen who were going to the station. When we got back to the studio, we’d continue drinking there until noon. Those were the only all-night parties I ever experienced at work.

 

Meanwhile, I brought in another new piece to I-san. When I visited him, I told my editor all the amazing things I had noticed about the mangaka he had introduced to me. I focused on work for the first half of the month, then worked on storyboards in my free time. My goal was to take in a new storyboard to the editor’s office each month.

 

I-san listened to me praise T-san with satisfied eyes, then suddenly changed the subject. “That reminds me, that last piece you turned in won.”

 

Huh? I won?

 

The last time I talked to him about it, he had told me not to hold my breath, so I was really surprised. Of course, I was also happy.

 

The piece that time was called PROMISED LAND.
sh-blog-RMvol15
You can read it here for free if you like.

 

If he had such good news, why didn’t he tell me immediately? I thought. But then, I realized — the news wasn’t that good. I was just a runner-up again.

 

I had become a runner-up three times in a row in a manga contest that was held four times per year. In a way, it was amazing, but I also hadn’t made any progress. And it didn’t seem like they were planning to serialize any of the pieces I submitted. I really wanted to make my debut with my new piece this time, so I was pretty disappointed.

 

Then I-san started talking about how his senior co-workers had given him some pretty harsh criticism, just like last time. “Why did you let him draw something like this again,” he was apparently told. Afterwards, he went on and on about how bad my manga was, and when he was finally finished, I apologized to him.

 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to answer to your expectations.”

 

“I’m sorry for winning the runner-up prize again.”

 

“I’ve done nothing but win awards, instead of paying you back for everything you’ve done for me. I’m very sorry.”

 

After apologizing for winning my award, I went home to my apartment. Of course, my new storyboard had been rejected as well.

 

When I started work in the next month, I told T-san about the award, as well as what I-san had told me.

 

“He’s right,” T-san said. “It wasn’t very good.”

 

Apparently, T-san had gotten copies of the pieces from an editor and read through them all. He gave me a lot of heartfelt advice.

 

He found time to read through his staff’s manga and analyze them so that he could give them useful advice. He’s really a surprisingly sensitive, considerate person. If he was a girl, I’d probably fall in love with him, I thought, but then accidentally said the same thing out loud.

 

“You’re gross,” T-san replied.

 

To Be Continued



Secrets of Manga #14: How to Create Something to Convey, Part 3

It’s been a while, but here is the long-awaited next chapter of the “Secrets of Manga” series.

 

Last time, we talked about how having “something to convey” was necessary in order to draw manga. But how do I come up with something to convey? Normally, I just use things that stick in your mind, or my feelings on certain things. I read books and do research to add meat to the idea, and then I’m finished.

 

Do you still remember what we talked about? If not, you can review the last article here.

 

Even people who appear to just be living in a daze, without giving much thought to anything, have to have feelings about certain things. “Work sucks.” “I don’t want to go to school.” “I wish that girl liked me.” “I want to go and eat at that restaurant again.”

 

What you want to express = what you want to convey to someone.

 

Today, we’ll be talking how I came up with something to convey in “New Give My Regards to Black Jack.”

 

Before drawing this, I had a lot of trouble with my editor, and I wasn’t sure whether I should really just suppress my own feelings and do as they said, or whether I should work hard to push my own desires forward. It was easier just to do as they said, but my self-consciousness kept getting in the way.

 

During that period, I read a lot of medical books, and wondered if all this frustration wasn’t the very thing that I wanted to convey.

 

“The main character goes to the urology department next to continue his training. This becomes a story about a dialysis patient with diabetes who gets a live kidney transplant. This patient is a friend of the main character’s, and has been suffering with Type 1 diabetes since childhood. The main character thinks about donating his own kidney, but multiple ethical problems stand in his way. Yet he still wants to donate his kidney. Is it egotism? Should transplant medicine be outlawed?”

 

This is what I wanted to convey in this manga.

 

But it’s merely a mold. It’s important, but it only becomes clearer after meat is added to it. Terayama Shuuji-san was the one who said “Throw away your books and go into town,” right? There’s no need to throw away your books, but after you read them, it’s probably a good idea to go out and collect data.

 

Anyone can collect data. There are certain things you can’t do unless you belong to the media, as well as if you don’t have a publisher backing you. Mangaka included. But it all just really depends on how invested you are in it.

 

I began by looking up contact information for university hospitals on the internet, then sent out mails to ten of them. I apologized for my rudeness in contacting them so suddenly, then introduced myself and asked if they would let me collect data there. See? Anyone can do it.

 

Of course, none of them agreed to let me do it. I was able to talk to one place on the phone, but they told me “We don’t deal with manga at our hospital.”

 

During my serialization, I always thought about the possibility of switching magazines, so I never gave out the magazine name when I was collecting data, and always did all the work myself. “I don’t need a publisher to back me to do this,” I thought. That was when I realized just how cold the world could be to someone who isn’t attached to a publishing company.

 

“Hi, I’m a mangaka named Sato Shuho.” Yep. No one cares.

 

Still, it didn’t mean that it was totally impossible. I returned to the internet and checked for places that allowed study tours. I learned that one NPO allowed student visits, so I immediately sent them a mail and went to collect data. I wrote a list of questions in a notebook and took some rice crackers with me as a gift.

 

I listened to them, found out the differences between what was written in my books and the real world, and started to understand transplant medicine in a different way.

 

However, I wasn’t able to see actual transplants or talk with patients that had received them. I had reached another dead end. I did learn that there existed groups of people who had received transplants, so I sent them a mail too, but I got no reply.

 

After more researching, I found that these groups put on education events for other patients and media. So, after learning that university hospitals also put on demonstrations for patient study and the media, I went to visit all of them.

 

I gave my card to every person I met there, but I didn’t find any chance to do any real research.

 

See? Anyone can do it.

 

I lived in Tokyo, so I had limited myself to only research opportunities in Eastern Japan, and I started to think that this had been a bad idea. And so, one day, I tried going to an event geared toward patients thinking about organ transplants that was happening in Western Japan. It was put on by an organ transplant organization, and a doctor came to give a lecture, so I listened to him and then went to the meet-and-greet afterwards and gave him my card. I also met a transplant coordinator there. Meetings like this always happen suddenly.

 

See? If you just keep it up, anyone can get this far.

 

Finally, I had gotten some real research done, so I contacted my editor for the first time and went to go watch some surgery. The doctors who I contacted them were very happy to help out, and even let me interview their patients. I went to Western Japan many times during that period to do interviews and watch surgery.

 

Meanwhile, I met with the transplant coordinator. This person had been a nurse before becoming a coordinator, and as they told me about the problems they had experienced while working as a nurse, they decided to put on a round-table discussion with their old co-workers, so I went to that too.

 

This time I traveled to Kyushu. There, I was introduced to a doctor from the university hospital where the coordinator used to work, so I decided to interview him. At the nurse round-table discussion, they talked about romantic relationships with the doctors, so I decided to put that into the manga as well.

 

During this, they asked me if I would draw some art for pamphlets, so I did it free of charge, of course. I had them introduced me to everyone they could, and I did whatever I could to help. Whenever I went to do research, I brought rice crackers with me, and always made sure to schedule the next appointment. And that’s basically how it went. Money never came up once.

 

The doctor whose surgery I studied also introduced me to another doctor who approached transplant medicine from a different point of view, so I went to go interview him as well.

 

He was in Hiroshima. He was proactive about working in organ transplants between unrelated people into his work, and had stopped working as an insurance doctor. That’s where I learned that people had differing opinions on transplant medicine, and that the practice was not monolithic.

 

That doctor introduced me to a dialysis hospital, and told me that organ transplants were not always the best solution. I met patients who had Type I diabetes and went to the houses of families of people who had decided to become organ donors in the event of brain death. Whenever I met someone I would be introduced to someone else, so I ended up jumping all over the country — on my own dime, of course.

 

Whenever a brain death transplant happened, the organ transplant network would put on a media event with the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Welfare, so I managed to get myself a special pass inside, and then all of a sudden, I was listening to the chairman of the organ transplant society speak.

 

I think in terms of total research sessions, I did about 50. See? Anyone can do it.

 

While researching, my vision for the manga changed a lot. More and more ideas just kept pouring out, and I was busy just trying to slim it all down. In any case, once I had gotten that far, the idea of not having anything to convey had become an impossibility.

 

I started to feel like I was no longer an amateur at this. I had put out a semi-hit and almost become an author of medium standing. But what was I supposed to do next?

 

Music-wise, it was like a new band who first few albums had been hits. Once their fourth or fifth album comes up, they’re faced with a choice. Do they keep going along the path that they know will sell, or do they start to experiment with their interests a little?

 

Then, I remembered that egotism was one of my themes. In the end, I decided to lower the emphasis on business, and focus more on how to seriously confront my readers. The more I do research, the more I get overwhelmed with that sort of stuff, but after the research is done, it’s best to drop it all temporarily. I go back to square one, remember what it is that I originally wanted to say, and then let my imagination run free.

 

That’s how I come up with something to convey.

 

And that’s pretty much all I wanted to say with this series.

 

Artists start by coming up with something to convey. Then they create changes from start to finish in order to frame this idea in a story. Up to this point, the process may be exactly the same for manga and novels.

 

In order to express an idea well in manga, it needs good panel structure and rhythm. Readers’ eyes need to be guided, and dialog needs to be created so that the idea can be conveyed to the readers without any stress. I imagine this is how most of the manga you read is created. All authors have varying methods, but I think the overall process is pretty similar.

 

Learning how manga is made makes manga more fun to read. Next time you read manga, try and think about what I’ve written here as you read through. The manga may start to look different to you.

 

For now, the “Secrets of Manga” series is over. If I get an idea or come up with something else I want to say, I may write a continuation. Thank you very much for sticking with me all the way through.