Sato’s Road to Manga #22

Soon, I finished the manuscript for my one-shot.


When I handed it over to E-san, I was taken out to dinner with ten editors. They got pretty out of control there, and didn’t seem to mind relaxing in front of me.


Then, E-san said something. “We got a call from I-san, the editor you used to submit things to.”


I felt a shiver rush up my spine. Apparently, I-san had requested to meet and talk with E-san.


What did he want to talk about? Was he trying to ruin my career? Or did he simply want to complain that E-san “stole” his newbie?


Apparently, I-san had said “How did you get such a problematic person as him to write a good manga? I’d like to learn your techniques in order to better myself.”


“What is he, retarded?” the editors laughed. “He had such a talented person in front of him, and didn’t even know what to do with him! He’s the one who has problems!”


The editors continued to compliment me and laugh at I-san, using him as a side dish for their drinking. I laughed with them, so as not to reveal how uncomfortable it made me feel.


At the second restaurant, the editor-in-chief opened a bottle of wine that costed 100,000 yen. I wondered how much he had spent so far. The pages hadn’t even been allocated for my manga, and they were already talking about how they’d have me do a serialization next. I had never drawn a serialized work before, so I didn’t have any confidence.


“I’ll do my best! I have to do my best, don’t I?” I asked.


“Yeah, or we’ll kill you!” they replied.


After the 100,000 yen wine, the editor-in-chief tried to open a 200,000 yen bottle. The assistant editor stopped him, however, so he opened another 100,000 yen bottle instead.


They started talking about having me draw a rugby manga next, and I told them I didn’t even know how to play rugby.


“Good!” they replied.


I realized then that it was up to me to figure out a way to make it good.


After rejecting my dream to become a mangaka, and hiding the fact that I had dropped out of university to my relatives, my parents bought dozens of copies of the magazine my manga had been featured in and went around giving them to my relatives and telling them how amazing I was. I also got a call from a high school friend for the first time since I graduated. Apparently, he had read my manga.


“I’m so proud that I have a friend who’s a mangaka,” he said.


Apparently, we were only friends in times like these.


As I drank my 100,000 yen wine, I thought: I could live for a month on what it cost to buy this.


By that time, E-san had already switched over to English mode.


One day, T-san came over to talk to me.


“E-kun and the assistant editor came to see me. You need to quit. The assistant editor asked me to let you go. He said he’d take care of you until your serialization gets off the ground. He also offered to introduce a new staff member to me, but I told him that’d be OK. You need to go on and become a creator now.”


And so, I suddenly quit working at T-san’s studio. It had been fifteen months since I started working there. I don’t really know why, but it felt like this big force was moving me around against my will. It’s important to keep riding on the waves, though.


My co-worker Nippi said “You’re amazing, Bison!”


All I could think was: Of course I am. I put forth a lot of effort so that I could be.


It really disturbed me that there were certain things connected to me that were completely out of my control. I couldn’t think of any positive words to respond with.


Later, I met with the assistant chief.


“I heard you quit your job — because you’ve risen above T-kun. He’s only a monthly author. You’re going to become a weekly one.”


He used “kun” when referring to T-san, which implied that he was somehow above him. I think the assistant editor just wanted to express how much faith he had in my abilities, but I don’t understand how that made it necessary for him to look down on one of my teachers. Without T-san, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I had. Of course, the same went for F-san.


I didn’t like how he forced me to quit working for T-san and then started acting like my benefactor. He said he’d take care of me until my serialization began, but I had to keep drawing manga in order to get paid. It was true that there was a high possibility that whatever I drew would be featured in the magazine, but it didn’t change the fact that he had basically forced me to quit my day job. I wished that T-san had tried to fight to keep me, too. It wasn’t like I was easily replaceable… right?


After that, I had no steady income, so I became poor again. I had 2 million yen saved up in my account from the manga contest money, but that was money I wanted to put towards my studio when I became a serialization author, so I couldn’t touch it. I had no interest in drinking 100,000 yen wine, either. I just wanted to draw manga.


Suddenly, everyone around me seemed like an enemy. I wrapped myself in a protective cloak of thorns, and soon became irritated through all hours of the day. And it irritated me even more that I had, for some reason, switched over to these waves of irritation.


I wasted no time in preparing my next draft.


After organizing trips with the editor’s office to collect data on rugby, I started drawing the manga, preparing it to be a ten-part series. I drew up to the sixth chapter, then took them all in to the editor’s office. There, the editor-in-chief and his top five editors were waiting for me.


They exchanged opinions on my drafts, but they all had their own ideas of what it should be like, so it was hard for me to know what to listen to. In the end, I just decided to plug up my ears and wait for the meeting to end.


After the meeting ended, I went to E-san and told him how all the editors’ various opinions had deeply confused me.


“They just want to say something to feel like they’re the ones raising you up,” he said. “You don’t need to worry about what they say. All you need to do is listen to me.”


I instantly felt relieved. But at the same time, I wondered if E-san’s style didn’t cause trouble for him in the workplace. He really was my only ally.


After making some corrections, my draft was accepted without any further problems. Around that time, the one-shot I had drawn earlier appeared in the magazine.
You can read it here.


To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #21

By the time my debut manga was serialized, I had already finished my next draft.


This draft was the first and second parts of the yacht-themed one-shot I had agreed to do earlier. When I handed over my debut manga, the editors really liked it and requested that I draw a 64-page piece next.


To a magazine, there’s nothing worse than a one-shot drawn by a new mangaka. It doesn’t contribute to sales, can’t be turned into a trade volume, and basically has no way to make them any real money. They feature them in the magazine in order to raise up new artists, but rarely do such attempts actually bear any fruit.


I knew that I couldn’t waste any time before drawing my next piece. By the time my debut was featured in the manga and got some attention, I needed to have the next bullet already loaded into my gun. This was a weekly magazine, so I had to be able to work at a weekly pace. I had to exceed their expectations, or the editors would soon forget about me. I had absolutely no time to enjoy my debut.


The second draft I submitted was well received, and after making a few changes, they quickly gave me the OK. It was going to be serialized, so I immediately began work on the manuscript. I think this second success made me more panicked than happy. Perhaps this was because I saw my debut not as a goal, but as a “beginning.” Finally, I was standing on the verge of a fierce survival of the fittest. The bell had rung, and I was now engaged in a deathmatch. If I stood still, I would disappear, I thought. These sort of self-threats constantly racked me, and I could never seem to calm down.


Whenever I took my character sheets and sketches to the editor’s office, the editor-in-chief and the senior editor to my supervising editor would always take me out to eat.


“Weekly publications really must be doing well,” I thought at the time. When I think back to it, I realized that they were really putting a lot of hope into me.


Every night, they had me drink with them until around 2 or 3 in the morning. My supervising editor E-san had lived abroad for a while, and when he got drunk he would start speaking English. (All the words he used in English while speaking Japanese are in capital letters.)


“YOU… YOU… need more passion! AHHH… you need more passion in your manga! DRAWING! HOT! HOT!” It was hard to listen with a straight face. I named him E-san here for “English.” He also often fell asleep in the middle of the street.


After these nights, I’d always start working the next day with a serious hangover. On these days, I’d always think “Alright, now how do I get back those five hours I wasted yesterday?” In the end, the only way I could see to make up for lost time was by cutting down on how much I slept.


I continued my work with T-san, but I had a lot of my own work to do too, so eventually it became pretty taxing. After working at T-san’s studio for 12 hours, I’d plan to go home and work on my own manuscript for 6 hours… but usually it’d take me around 10 to finish what I aimed for.


I didn’t want to cause trouble at the studio, so I planned to sleep for at least three hours a night. In the end, though, I often stayed up all night working on my manga. Once, I even fell asleep at the studio, and T-san got mad at me.


“Take the day off tomorrow!” he said, and forced me to do so. I was sorry for what I had done, so I obediently rested the next day. But I always worried that unless I kept drawing, I would fall out of the competition, so even when I slept, I dreamed of nothing but drawing manga.


As my workload increased, so did my tobacco intake. I smoked so much, in fact, that I probably spent more time smoking than I did not smoking. I was always sleep-deprived, always had a hangover, and always had a cigarette sticking out of my mouth.


Several days after my debut manga appeared in the magazine, I got a call from I-san, who was my supervising editor when I first started submitting things.


Apparently, he had read my debut. “I want to meet with you and talk about some things,” he said.


I worried about what I should do, and felt a little like I had betrayed him, but in the end I went to meet with him. It was true that I owed him something, so I thought that at the very least, I should go to thank him and apologize to him.


Once I got to Shinjuku, and I-san got a few drinks in him, he started criticizing my debut manga. He treated me to sukiyaki at the first restaurant, and by the time we got to the bar in Kabukicho, he was telling me how my manga was a complete ripoff of this artist’s work, how it was just all momentum with no depth, how the shapes of the bubbles were shoddy, and how the handwritten dialog looked stupid. It was a storm of critiques.


When I thought about how he had obviously just called me out here to tell me all that, it made me feel pretty sad.


“You’re free to have your own opinion,” he went on, “but don’t you have anything to say to our editor’s office, after all we’ve done for you?”


“Yes,” I replied. “I win.”


They had the talent, and it was their choice not to send it out into the world. I didn’t have any more time to waste with these stupid games. I had already spent four hours listening to his crap, and in order to get this time back, I’d have to cut back on my sleep again.


Later, a friend from my hometown came to visit me in Tokyo. This was the same guy who had once told me, when I was a university student, that I was nothing but talk, and how everyone back home said the same thing. After that, he had taken examinations for a university in Tokyo, but had been unable to get in. His words had stung me so much that they had pushed me to take time off school and really work hard to jump into the world of manga.


He asked me if he could stay at my apartment, so I let him, but I felt like hanging out with him would be a waste of time, so I just showed him my manga and then ignored him. I had no time to waste on an effortless 24-year old who dreamed of living in Tokyo but was still pouting back home. I was an amateur that an entire editor’s office had put their faith in, after all.


I went to pick him up at the station and even went as far as having tea with him! That was two whole hours I spent with him!


In order to get those two hours back, I’d have to cutback on more sleep…


Yes. I had truly become an asshole.


To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #20

I always spent the first half of the month working nonstop at T-san’s studio, then had the second half to myself.


That year, I worked at his studio until December 16. I had a lot to do at the end of the year, and I also needed time to go and take photographs for my manga. In the end, I realized I’d only have ten days to finish my manuscript.


I wanted to try and finish it by the end of the year. If I didn’t finish it before then, work at T-san’s studio would start again, and I’d have to wait another half a month to finish it. Including the extra days of vacation I got for New Year’s, that gave me 12 to 13 days. I had 32 days to draw. If I stayed up all night on some days, it would be possible.


I started working on the manuscript immediately. This time, since I was staying up all night to do my own work, I had no complaints. And on top of that, this time I was writing something that I knew would be featured in a magazine. At the time, I was a heavy smoker. Next to the shelf that enclosed my kitchen window, I had hung a big Asian-style pot from the ceiling, and I used that as my ashtray. Smoke was always wafting out from it, as if there was incense inside, and it continued to fog up my room as I worked. I probably got about two or three hours of sleep per day.


While I was writing this, I remembered that I had moved again by now. I had left my 5 sq. meter apartment in Koenji and was now living in a 9.7 sq. meter room with a kitchen that cost 67,000 yen a month. I was still living in Koenji. My previous apartment had just been too small. I don’t know much about Feng Shui, but the air in that room had felt stale, and sometimes it was difficult to breathe.


This room is going to ruin me, I thought, and decided to move out.


I also thought that if the view from my room changed, my prospects might change as well.


But in order to ensure that it all didn’t end up being another form of escapism, I vowed that this would be the room I became a mangaka in. And at that moment, it looked as if it’d really happen. (Now that I think about it, that was also the room I lost my virginity in.)


On the last working day of the year, E-san called me and said he would come check on how the manuscript was going on January 2. I decided that I’d make that day my deadline. I cut back on even more sleep and did my best to finish the manga in time. I bought some rice balls and a few cartons of cigarettes, shut myself up in my room, ignored my phone, and just silently worked for days.


On January 2, my manga was finished.


E-san was surprised, but very pleased by how quickly I had finished. He told me he would show it to his bosses as soon as they came back to work, and left. After that, I collapsed into a daze. I had intended to celebrate by myself, but the evening air of the new year felt so good, and I could hear the trains rumbling in the distance… then, at some point, I just fell asleep on my floor. I woke up later, pulled out my futon, and went to bed.


I went back to work at T-san’s studio, and then, in the middle of January, I got a call from my editor. They had decided on when my debut manga would be published: in late February.


When I told T-san, he said: “If they’re going to slip you in that soon, they must really be expecting great things from you.”


Nippi also complimented me. “That’s amazing.”


I also wanted to tell my (ex-)senior co-worker O-san about my serialization, since I owed a lot to him, but then I realized that I didn’t know his phone number. I asked T-san for it, and then called O-san at a later date.


I was still pretty innocent then. A lot had happened before O-san quit, but I still felt that I owed him a lot, so I just wanted to let him know that I had finally gotten my debut. I was also curious about what he was doing now.


I called him at 11 in the morning, and soon heard him pick up. “Yeah?”


“It’s been a while. Um, this is Sato, the person you used to help out at T-san’s studio. Are you well?”




“Um, it’s Sato. This is O-san, isn’t it? Do you remember me?”




“Long time no see. Um… a magazine agreed to give me my debut. In only another month, my manga will be published. That’s what I called to tell you.”




“Umm… it’s my debut. In late February, in ___ magazine. Um, well, that’s all I really called to say…”




“Um… this is O-san, isn’t it?”




“Um, it’s Satou. We worked together at T-san’s studio…”




O-san hardly said anything except “yeah,” right up to the very end. Before he hung up, he said: “I work at a bar now, and I sleep in the morning, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t call me at this hour anymore.”


I was so shocked. Both T-san and Nippi had both congratulated me. People who are working hard can congratulate others, but those who aren’t can’t muster up the words.


He must not have had enough courage to go back home. Now he’s just clinging onto some nowhere job in Tokyo. He’s a loser, I thought, disparaging him in my mind.


But when I went back to work and told T-san what happened, he had a different take on it.


“Yeah, I thought about telling you not to call him when you asked me for his number. You guys were never close enough that you exchanged phone numbers, right? He left the industry, which means that all you wanted to do was call and brag to him. You’re the one at fault here!”


I hadn’t meant to. I wasn’t trying to make O-san feel bad by calling him, and T-san could have always chosen not to give me his number. For the first time, I thought T-san was being unfair.


But after thinking hard about it, and looking deep within my heart, I couldn’t be sure that there wasn’t some small percentage of ill will lurking deep in there.


I never told the news to F-san, the first mangaka I had become indebted to. I thought about telling him once the serialization started, but when the time came to call him, I hesitated. Even though it was something positive, there was no telling whether or not it would piss him off somehow, so in the end I got too scared to go through with it. Looking back on it now, I may have just wanted to call up O-san in order to feel better about myself.


In the end of February, my debut manga was published in a magazine.


Here’s a page from it.




You can read it for free here.


To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #19

Several days later, I met with E-san, an editor from a weekly seinen manga magazine. I entered the editor’s office carrying stacks of all my storyboards that had been previously rejected.


E-san was a new hire, the same age as me. Memories from a previous submission floated back into my head, and I got a bit scared. I nervously wondered if E-san’s supervisor would come out, and I would be used as a training tool all over again.


But no one came out. After E-san gave me his comments on my 4-panel manga, I shakily untied the paper sack that held all my storyboards. Story manga was what I really wanted to draw.


“The truth is, I’ve written a lot of story manga too,” I said.


“I’d love to take a look,” he replied.


I won the award for my 4-panel manga, so I thought that if I could get them interested in my story manga as well, it’d just be a nice bonus. But he started reading my storyboards right then and there. I think this happened at about one in the afternoon.


As he flipped through the pages, he smiled, furrowed his brow, and nodded. He carefully spent about 15 minutes on each manga, and then said: “Wow, that was really good! Do you have any more?”


I took out my second storyboard, and he spent another 15 minutes reading that, smiling and furrowing his brow as he did so.


We repeated this several more times. By the time he read my last storyboard, four hours had passed. But E-san didn’t show any signs of tiring — he read each storyboard with no less enthusiasm than the last.


Doesn’t he have any other work to do? I worried.


“Wow,” he said, after he finished reading everything. “You didn’t tell me you were a genius, Sato-san.”


A genius?


“Want to come with me to a coffee shop?” he asked.


I accepted his invitation, and when we got to the coffee shop, he continued to praise my work. According to him, I was far beyond amateur level in both the quality and quantity of what I produced. As he treated me to an extra-large plate of fried rice, he kept repeating the word “genius” over and over — so much, in fact, that I wondered if this was all some big joke. Perhaps this was some sort of trap I-san had set in order to punish me for betraying my first editor.


But it couldn’t have been — I never told I-san about the honorable mention. In the end, I figured he was simply the type who compliments people in order to try to raise them up. Words didn’t cost him anything, after all.


I knew there had to be a catch. There was no way such good fortune would just fall into my lap like this.


Then, E-san started talking about going to collect some data together. “I have a friend who was in the yacht club in his university days. Let’s go to his training camp and collect some data. Our magazine needs more sports titles.”


I decided to give it a shot. I was worried that at this stage, any bit of hesitation could make me miss my wave. I had absolutely no interest in sports (sorry), but I knew I had to ride this train while it was in the station, because there was no telling when the next one would come. So what if it was really just a joke or some kind of scam? What did it matter at this point?


He asked me if I wanted another drink, but I declined.


“No, please, have another,” he said, so I ordered another. When I finished, he asked me to order yet another drink.


My stomach felt like it was about to burst. It takes a surprising amount of energy to get carried away with yourself.


Outside, the sun had already gone down. At this point, I started suspecting that E-san didn’t even work at the publishing company. For starters, there was no possible way that I was a genius. Perhaps E-san was just some weirdo who enjoyed sneaking into editor’s offices and acting like one. And since he had no actual work to do, he had all the time in the world to play around with me.


I tried asked E-san numerous times if he was alright on time, but he never showed any signs that he would stop talking to me.


In the end, I spent over seven hours with E-san that day.


Several weeks later, I went to a university yacht club to collect data. I spent a day drinking with university students in their training camp and tried racing with them.


I’m not really sure what’s going on here, but this editor is really doing a lot for me. I guess I have to try and answer to his expectations, I thought, and spent the next several days drawing a storyboard.


I was rewarded with another storm of praise from E-san. Since I was depicting something I knew nothing about, the manga felt a bit different from my normal work. I also wasn’t really interested in it. (Not that I’m trying to dis yachting.) As I researched, though, I began to get more interested, and discovered the entertaining aspects about the sport. Or, rather, I had to find the entertaining aspects of the sport, or else I wouldn’t be able to draw anything good.


So that’s what gathering data is for, I thought.


E-san made hardly any revisions to my storyboard, and said: “I’m going to show it to my boss, so just wait a bit.”


Everything was moving so smoothly that it was starting to really creep me out. I figured I’d probably half to wait another six months to hear anything, but then a week later, E-san called me and told me to come in to the office.


When I entered the office that evening, the associate editor was waiting for me.


Oh… so this is where the associate editor appears, I thought. Suddenly, it all made sense. They were going to tell me “You’re a 4-panel man!” again. After seeing out of control his new hire was getting, he had probably just come to apologize for giving me false hope. He also must have been angry with E-san for wasting money on taking an amateur out to gather data.


The associate editor took a copy of my storyboard out from an envelope and put it on the table.


“So you’re Sato-san?” he asked. “The amazing amateur that everyone’s been talking about.”




The first time I visited that office, I had brought with me a ton of rejected storyboards. If anything, I had confidence that I was crap.


There was an A4 sheet of paper attached to the envelope, which contained comments from the editor-in-chief and the associate editor about the work, along with their stamps of approval. The comment space was filled with words of praise.


I started to feel dizzy.


“Do you know why I called you here so late?” the associate editor asked me.


After I shook my head, he took me to an expensive-looking Japanese restaurant next to the office.


“Next time you get hungry, just come to our office,” he said.


“But I couldn’t possibly…” I started, but I was cut off.


“A mangaka and his supervisor need to spend a lot of time discussing their manga together,” he said, and suggested that I visit the office daily.


“I have a job, so I can’t come every day,” I answered.


“What? You have a job?!” the associate editor asked angrily. “Once you become a mangaka, having meetings will be part of your job.”


He spoke in a low, subdued voice, and during the second half, I got so drunk that I couldn’t really hear most of what his said. So I just studied his facial expressions and answered him with “Okay, okay” over and over.


What I had learned about the word “Okay” at F-san’s studio really came in handy here.


After that, he requested that I turn in some inked drawings of the characters for the piece. Once they passed, I would be making my debut.


Before we parted, he said: “I don’t say this often, but you really became a mangaka.”


I felt like I was dreaming.


This is a joke. It’s a trap. It has to be.


As the last days of the year approached, I quickly finished up my character profiles and waited for the results with bated breath. I didn’t talk about what was going on at T-san’s studio — it would be too embarrassing if it all just blew up in my face.


Soon, it was December 8, my birthday. After work, T-san said he was going out to drink, so I rode my bike to the usual place in Koenji. T-san and Nippi went by taxi. T-san’s studio was in Nakano, and I was using a hand-me-down bike from T-san to go to work. On my way there, I used a public phone to call my house and check my answering machine. At the time, cell phones weren’t widespread, so I used a public phone to enter a code on my home phone and check my messages.


E-san had left a message on the machine. “Your serialization has been approved. You’re making your debut.”


I can’t really remember what else he said. It was midwinter, but after I hung up, I started pedaling my bike so fast that I was soon covered in sweat. When I met T-san at the restaurant, and I picked up my beer glass, my hands were still shaking.


“Your hand’s shaking,” he said.


I tried to speak, but my voice was shaking too. “It’s my birthday today.”


“Oh. Happy birthday.”


“My editor left a message on my answering machine. I’m going to be making my debut. Um… I was so happy that I biked standing up all the way from Nakano to Koenji!”


Hearing this, T-san clapped and celebrated with me.


Nippi, however, just grinned. “Why standing up, Bison?”


“Yeah,” T-san agreed. “Why did you have to stand up and pedal?”


“Sorry,” I apologized.


I was 24 years old. 4 years had passed since I decided to try and become a pro.


To Be Continued