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.
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