Sato’s Road to Manga #27

Before I knew it, my mini-series had come to an end.




Looking back on it now, it makes me moan in embarrassment.


The series ranked at about fifth place in the series popularity contest that they ran, which was pretty good for a brand-new author. It was pretty good… but not good enough to let me continue the series. After all, my next project was already in the works.


I had already begun working on a storyboard for the first chapter. F-san said I still didn’t have to start yet, but I hated just sitting around and waiting. And I hated doing work just because someone told me to.


I draw because I want to draw. I didn’t know what sort of expectations the editing department had for me, but if they thought that schedule-wise, a person of my ability shouldn’t need to start drawing yet, then that meant it was time for me to show them that I was above their standards.


I wanted to take the challenge of bringing my own draft to the drawing board with nothing but my own ability. I didn’t want to have to be ordered to do it.


Before the serialization began, I went to Hakata numerous times to collect data. K-san, the man who had given us the original idea and data, didn’t seem to have any desires other than the ability to introduce himself as the “original creator” at the coast guard headquarters.


When I was working on my draft at our hotel, he came to me without a care in the world and said: “When you’re collecting data, you should just switch into play mode. You don’t need to treat it like work.”


The editing department said that they wanted to start the serialization within the year, but I didn’t want to draw just when they told me to, so I had already rung my gong. K-san probably had no idea that for me, the fight had already begun, nor did he know how much time I was really putting into this.


So, I asked him how long he thought it took me to draw one page.


“One hour? Huh? Nope? Uh… thirty minutes?” he answered.


The correct answer was that it took about six to eight hours until I finished the final draft’s page. Some pages took 12 hours. Some spread pages with detailed backgrounds could take up to three whole days.


It seemed like to him, drawing the manga just meant drawing pictures to represent the story, so it didn’t involve much creativity. It was actually kind of refreshing to run into someone who understood so little about manga. That’s when I started to realize that as long as I didn’t carry any expectations about anything, I would never feel disappointed.


Every time we went out to dinner after collecting data, F-san and K-san would talk about the story. We had toured a smuggling ship, so they thought it would be a good idea to use that real incident as a basis for a plot about capturing a smuggling ship.


Too bad I’ve already finished the first draft, I thought. To me, it just sounded like they were flapping their gums for no reason.


After eating blowfish for the first time, and getting to touch a girl’s boobs outside of the boob pub after it had already closed, you know, just having all sorts of great first experiences, I felt like I wanted to thank them somehow. But for some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to be that honest with them, and I wanted to focus on the manga as much as possible, so I just kept my ears shut. I developed a tendency to ignore everything the two of them said. All I did was draw manga, but I would still grab a boob or two when the opportunity presented itself.


Now that I look back on it, I think both of them were trying to work hard for the sake of the manga. At the time, though, I could only see them as two people who insisted on chattering in my immediate vicinity.


Those two won’t be any help to me. I need to get it together and do this on my own.


I had to be that way, otherwise I’d have no reason to keep drawing the manga.


I wasn’t the editors’ slave. I couldn’t just sit still because they told me to. I desperately wanted to make this manga my own original creation. But I can see how I may have looked conceited to them. What I really regret is not saying “That won’t be of any help to me at this stage. It isn’t necessary,” right then and there.


One day, after we returned to Tokyo, I finished the storyboard for the first chapter and took it in to the editors’ office.


F-san read it, and whispered: “Good… good!” over and over.


Of course it is. I poured my blood, sweat and tears into it.


As usual, I was grumbling to myself, but after seeing F-san so pleased like that, I couldn’t help but feel a bit happy myself. I was happy, but I had been betrayed so many times up to this point, that I couldn’t just be honest and smile.


After that, the usual (?) 10 editors gathered up and went out to dinner with me. Now that I look back on it, I guess they really had a lot of expectations for me. My mini-series hadn’t necessarily been bad, but I think they just thought: “With his skills, he can handle an even bigger series.” In short, they were gambling on me.


Even though they weren’t actually paying me to draw these storyboards.


At this point, it had been half a year since I made my debut. After many years of being told “there’s no seat for you on this train,” all of a sudden, I was riding in a VIP seat on a bullet train.


I had to stay cynical, or else I might have lost myself.


For the draft, I had thought up my own vision of a coast guard’s day-to-day life. “An accident happens, and when the coast guard gets to the ship, they find out it was a smuggling ship.” That was basically the story.


I hadn’t given a single thought to anything F-san or K-san had said, but in the end, they didn’t seem to care. I wanted to mix exciting rescue scenes with the smuggling incident to add more tension and make it into an unpredictable, thrilling story. And it seemed like I had succeeded.


Soon, F-san started a long speech.


“I heard that the draft of the first chapter got finished today, so I had you all make a little room in your schedules so you could come out and celebrate with us. Now, if this draft was crappy, that would really ruin everything, wouldn’t it? And you know, on top of that, Sato-kun didn’t listen to a single thing we told him. I was really worried for a while, but hey, it’s great, so who cares? I figured that guys like him do better work when they’re left alone, so kudos to me for not bugging him! A bad editor would scold him here, but I let him draw what he wanted! I’m awesome, aren’t I? You can see the editor-in-chief sitting there grinning his face off, and you know why? Because we’ve got an exciting new serialization to carry us through to the next year! Now he can put his feet up for the rest of the year! And it’s only September!”


For better or worse, F-san was certainly entertaining. Whether he praised you or put you down, he made it entertaining. And drank a lot. Incidentally, one of the other editors at the table, whom F-san really tore up, happened to become the supervising editor of “New Give My Regards to Black Jack,” ten years later. It’s funny how things work out like that.


Since the draft was finished, it was time to think of a title. F-san suggested putting “Blue” in the title, since it was about the sea, so everyone started thinking of titles that had “Blue” in it.


“Innocent Blue.”


“Blue Fish.”


“If we’re gonna put fish in, then what about Scramble Fish?”


Then, someone suggested that if the title was written sideways, maybe it’d be better to use actual Japanese characters. Then someone asked: “There’s an animal called a sea cow, right?”


Everyone stared blankly at him. But then…


“What about sea monsters?”


“Monsters? That won’t work.”


“Sea snakes!”




“Sea lions.”


“Congers are so yummy.”


Then, finally someone suggested: “Sea monkeys.”


“No way!” Everyone said, and started laughing about it. But as you may know, a few days later, “Umizaru” (Sea Monkeys) became the official title.


This reminds me of another connection. Many years later, the assistant editor-in-chief, who was present at that celebration, took part as an instructor in a seminar toward people who aim to become editors of magazines. Apparently, during the seminar, he claimed that he had been the one who thought up the title.


Perhaps he was the person who actually tossed out the word, but that was during a brainstorming session where everyone was tossing out words. That’s all it was. Allegedly, he said something to the effect of: “No one else there could come up with any good ideas, so I tossed one out.”


Everyone wants the credit.


“I thought up that story.”


“I thought up that character.”


“That joke was something I came up with.”


“That manga wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for me.”


Soon, it really starts to sound like they just could have done it all without me.


But that’s how people are, I keep telling myself. As long as I don’t expect certain things from them, I shouldn’t have to feel disappointed again.


To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #26

And thus, my mini-series began.


By the time the second chapter had appeared in the magazine, it was time for me to meet with the original creator of my next serialization.


“Nice to meet you. I’m K, the creator.”


I met with him in the editors’ office. K-san was gentle-mannered and relaxed.


What does he mean by creator? As I looked at his outstretched hand, I started to get a bad feeling.


F-san, my supervisor for the new serialization, talked candidly with K-san, and K-san returned his words with a smile. It seemed like they had met with each other many times already. They used a lot of technical words that I didn’t understand, so I just stared at them blankly from across the table. K-san kept smiling, even though there wasn’t anything amusing going on. I suppose he was doing it to show that he harbored no ill will toward me.


“So you’re Sato-kun? F-san told me he had found a new talented young mangaka. I’ll guide you around the coast guard offices, so let’s work hard together. I saw your current serialization. It’s great. You’re the real thing.”


K-san didn’t really do anything to put me off, but the way he was acting just felt unnatural to me. He used a respectful tone when he spoke with the editor, but talked to me like a teacher would a student. He acted like he and the editor were equals, but treated me more like a child, or at least in a different fashion.


He worked at a TV company, and he was older than me. I wonder if, through his relationship with publishing companies, he came to think that mangaka were like subcontractors. Either way, it really seemed like his stance was “I came here to talk with the publisher, not you.”


Maybe he’s just the kind of guy who goes with the flow? I thought.


Then all of a sudden, K-san changed the subject. “Just a bit ago, M-kun came crying to me.’


M-san was the editor who was originally in charge of the project, but later moved to become the editor of a different shonen magazine.


“He said the manga he was in charge of wasn’t getting popular, so he came to me, asking me what he should do. So I told him, ‘how about giving the main character a newly-hired girl as an assistant?’ And what do you know? After a few weeks, that exact thing happened in the manga. It even seemed like that made the manga more popular. He thanked me, but, you know…”


It seemed like K-san was really trying to say: “Any mangaka who can’t even think up that much is a total idiot!” The mangaka was an utter moron, and it was only because the great K-san was benevolent enough to share one of his ideas that the manga became anything. Yet there was no malice in his words as he spoke. He was relaxed, and really trying hard to show us just how unfazed he was by the entire thing.


He’s deaf to how he actually sounds, isn’t he? I thought. He had probably never imagined what those words may sound like to someone who actually draws manga, and seemed to actually believe that it was thanks to his advice that the manga had gotten popular.


Just listening to him depressed me.


I shot a glance to F-san, and his eyes seemed to say: “We need to show respect and just let him say what he wants here.”


So I replied just how I was expected to. “Wow, that’s amazing.”


After the meeting, we went out to eat with the other eight editors who were currently in the office. My old editor, E-san, even came along.


E-san began by trying to congratulate me about my mini-series, but F-san cut him off. “Enough about old news! We’re talking about the future here!”


I actually wanted to hear what he thought of the mini-series now that it was in the magazine, but E-san was crushed under F-san’s pressure and said no more.


After he got a little alcohol in him, F-san started singing a different tune to K-san. “Hey, about the serialization – Sato-kun’s going to write it. You’ll stay as the original creator of the original script but I want to let Sato-kun think up his own story for the manga.” Basically, this was a roundabout way of telling K-san that he wouldn’t be credited as the original creator of the manga.


“Oh, I know that,” K-san replied. “I don’t expect him to follow the original story down to the letter. It’s better to give him a little freedom, right?”


F-san went on. “It may seem presumptuous on our part, but we want you to get a little more experience under your belt before you give us an original story. We respect all your accomplishments in the TV industry, and we greatly treasure all the data you’ve given us, but we have our own way of doing things when it comes to manga, so we’d appreciate it if you let us handle that part.”


Basically, F-san was saying “You won’t be the original creator of the manga” over and over again, in a variety of flowery narratives. K-san didn’t show any frowns of disapproval… in fact, it didn’t seem like he understood what he was being told at all. I thought about saying something, but since F-san was currently fighting on my side, I thought it best to just swallow my words.


When K-san stood up to go to the bathroom, F-san said: “He doesn’t understand manga at all. I’ll handle him, Sato-kun. All you need to do is think about the manga. I won’t let this get out of hand.”


That didn’t exactly put me ease, but what else could I do? This is my chance, I just kept telling myself. It was certainly not the place for me to suddenly come out and admit how I was sick of being surrounded by editors, but I wasn’t able to cheer myself up and act social, either. So I just kept drinking.


The next week, K-san set up a research tour for us at the coast guard headquarters in Hakata. F-san, the assistant editor-in-chief, a camerman from Tokyo, and I accompanied him.


K-san lived in Hakata, and he was waiting for us at the HQ. When we got there, we were taken to the private office of a very important man whose official title I forget. K-san and this man knew each other, so K-san introduced the rest of us.


“This is the assistant editor-in-chief, ___-san, from ___, and the supervising editor, F-san.” K-san seemed to be pleased that he was introducing the assistant editor-in-chief of a big publishing company. I imagined that he had come to this office quite a few times already. The people from this office had probably also put pressure on him, asking when all this research would be used in an actual manga. But now, the dark clouds had parted, and he had actually brought a very important man from a big publishing company all the way down to Hakata. I could understand how satisfied he must have felt. Of course I could.


“Who are those two?” The coast guard official asked.


“Oh, the cameraman, __-san, and Sato-kun, the artist,” K-san answered.


The official showed us around the headquarters, then took us out to tour a patrol boat. Several of the people we met there seemed to have never met K-san before. K-san introduced himself to one officer, took out his name card, and then said: “I’m the creator, K. This is the assistant editor-in-chief, ___-san, from ___, and the supervising editor, F-san. That’s the cameraman, __-san, and Sato-kun, the artist.”


K, the creator > Editors > Cameramen > Sato-kun the artist


By that point, I had a pretty clear picture of the hierarchy that existed in his head.


The cameraman was handling all the photography, so I focused on looking and listening. After the patrol ship, we toured a seized smuggling vessel, and listened to how they had captured it.


It’d be impossible for me to get inside a place like this on my own.  The power of publishers and data reporters is really something. By that point, I was really thankful. I was shown things that I would have had no other way to see, so I decided just to enjoy it, even if it meant that I had to be lower on the ladder than a cameraman.


That evening, we had dinner in Nakasu. K-san seemed to really want to go somewhere else, so the assistant editor-in-chief loaded him into a taxi, and then turned to me.


“Let’s talk about the manga a bit more,” he said.


Apparently, the oldest “boob pub” in Japan was located nearby.


“Sorry, but I don’t go to prostitutes…” I began.


“This is part of your research. And besides, boob pubs are different from prostitution,” he replied.


Once every thirty minutes, the pubs lights would darken, the music would get really loud, and girls would straddle our laps wearing nothing but their panties while giving us peeks inside. Every man got a flashlight to peek with, and was told that they could touch anywhere on the girl’s body other than the inside of her panties.


Hakata isn’t too bad, I thought.


“He’s young, but he’s a genius when it comes to manga,” the assistant chief said to the girls.


Of course, they asked: “What manga has he drawn?”


I had nothing to say. Sure, I could tell them that I did have one series that was currently in a magazine, even though it was only a mini-series, but that was nothing to brag about. It all just made me more depressed.


Since my original serialization had been demoted into a mini-series, I started to think that it was more fun to have a serialization waiting in the wings than to be actually working on one.


F-san and the assistant chief pointed at K-san. “That guy has nothing to do with the manga,” they said, over and over. They acted like they really understood me, although I assumed they were doing it to keep me from getting too angry. Regardless of everything they said, they never seemed to doubt that they were both far more accomplished than me, the lowly mangaka.


“Here, look. We’re letting you touch girls’ boobs. Now you won’t dare to step out of line, will you?” The oppressive aura that I felt from both of them never left my mind. It didn’t matter, anyway, since I knew they would let K-san go on and say whatever he wanted.


I was chronically frustrated, and constantly searching for a chance to say “I’m leaving now.” But whenever the lights went down, I had to start grabbing girls’ boobs again. Gradually, I began to lose sight of what it is I originally set out to do, and I just aimlessly moved my hands from boob to boob, clenching them tighter and tighter.


Then, one girl said “Ow.”


To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #25

The day after I spoke with the assistant editor-in-chief, I got a call from E-san.


“I’m sorry about what happened yesterday. I let him say all he wanted back there, but I just want you to know that you don’t have to do this. If you don’t want to, you can refuse. Please just tell us what you really want to do.”


What I really wanted to do was keep writing the manga I was currently working on. But that wasn’t possible, and all of a sudden it had been turned into a mini-series. The end was already in sight. I felt like the next time I drew a draft, no matter what I drew, it wouldn’t fly. I was just one of the editors’ pawns, and it seemed like all they cared about was figuring out how to use me for their own benefit. Basically, they had given me no other future than the project they had pushed on to me.


E-san was my supervising editor, so he also had love for the manga we had built up together. He was a new employee, though, so he had a tendency to be silent when his superiors were discussing something. He’d never done a completely new serialization project all by himself, but I could tell that he had a lot of expectations for me, and was passionate about creating the manga.


It seemed like after putting so much work into me, E-san didn’t want one of his senior editors to steal me away. “You don’t really want to do that project, do you? Let’s turn our backs on them and go and make a completely new project,” is what he was really trying to say, I think.


I thought I had a good working relationship with E-san. We had worked on my debut, a two-partner, and now this mini-series together. I wanted to do a serialization with him, and I also wanted to give something back to him to show my gratitude.


But, I didn’t think that staying with E-san would open up any new possibilities for me.


“They’ve already decided that this manga will be a mini-series,” I said. “I’m going to go with the project they’ve offered to me.”


That’s what I thought the mature response was.


But E-san didn’t give up. After the call, he came out all the way to my apartment and tried to show me just how much me “valued Sato-san.” It seemed like he was just trying to make himself feel better about the whole thing, so instead of letting him inside my home, I went out drinking with him.


E-san got drunk and started complaining about the editors’ tyranny. Even when the last train rolled around, he didn’t make any move to leave, and even started speaking in English. Soon, it became time for the first trains of the next day to start moving, and he still didn’t make any move to leave.


I was drunk too, and by 8:00 AM, no more places were open, so we ended up back at my apartment. We drank even more there, and he started asking me to show him the new draft. “This is really great,” he said, while he mumbled some other stuff, and then fell asleep on the floor.


What a pain in the ass, I thought, and began to recount the several months we’d spent working together. As I did so, I’m pretty sure I fell asleep too.


When I awoke, E-san’s face was right in front of me, and it startled me up. Apparently we had slept side by side. I looked back down at E-san. He was using my most recent draft as a pillow.


I had two chapters left to draw. I finished them in two weeks, and then took the drafts in to the editor’s office. When I handed them over, the editors invited me out to dinner yet again to “celebrate.” The editor-in-chief, along with ten other editors, took me to a Japanese-style restaurant in Kanbo-cho, where I was introduced to my new editor.


He was actually someone I had met several times while dining with the other editors. He was the loudest editor of the bunch, he was brimming with confidence, and left a lasting impression on people.


His name started with F.


It was the same letter as the name of the first mangaka I had worked for, so I felt like we already had a bit of a… history.


“I was wondering what we’d do if you had said no!” the new F-san said. “Not like we would have let you, though! Hah!” He laughed, as if this had been a joke, but I could feel the pressure behind his words.


He asked me what I thought after reading the original script, so I answered honestly: “I thought it was bad so I threw it away.”


Instantly, everyone present froze up.


“Yeah, it was bad…” F-san agreed. And as soon as he said that, everyone started laughing.


“The story was kind of a train wreck, so I just wanted you to read it to get a good idea about the setting,” he went on. “We want to go with your own original story for the actual serialization.” It was basically the same thing that the assistant chief had told me.


Apparently, this project was the brainchild of another editor named M-san, who wasn’t present at the time. He had a friend in a certain TV company who also liked sailing, who had come up with the idea of planning a manga that had to do with the coast guard.


They came up with a script, but it didn’t turn out well, so they were ordered to rewrite it. Even after the rewrite, however, it wasn’t any good, so the project was put on hold. Eventually, M-san left the editing department, so F-san took custody over it and then set his sights on me.


“When I asked M how his project was going, he said they were still working on it, but in the end, he never came up with anything. He just didn’t have the power to make it into something. But the project itself is great, don’t you think?! There’s never been a manga about the coast guard before. I think it’s a great idea. They had a great project, but they still couldn’t do anything with it, which means only one thing: they sucked. Both the editor and the writer. So, I thought to myself, now what do we do? Then I remembered we just found a great new amateur! So I figured we might as well let him handle it. Oh, that “him” is you by the way, Sato-kun. I can make this project into something in no time. The only reason they couldn’t is because they didn’t have what it took. Apparently the guy who wrote this has already gone to the coast guard to gather data, so that’s why M thought he had to use him as the “original creator.” No way. Absolutely not. The guy’s got no talent. We can just use HIM as data. He’s got no talent for writing, so how can we use him, right? We need someone with real talent to write this thing. Oh, that’s you, by the way, Sato-kun.”


As he spoke, he laughed, but I didn’t see what was so funny about all of it. I was glad to know that he had faith in me, but I wondered about how they had explained all of this to the original creator. I bet they explained it in a much different way to him.


I made sure to clarify the fact that I would be able to draw this if it was my own original work. If it was a work based on someone else’s, I wasn’t interested in it at all. I also made sure that while there would be credit given to the original creator for data, he would not be credited as a “creator,” and I would retain all copyrights.


The fact remained, though, that he was the one who had pushed this project forward, so a portion of the royalties from the published volumes would be given to him. It wasn’t entirely unreasonable, but it’s not like I had a choice anyway.


I had completed my mini-series, but they hardly touched on that at all. It hadn’t even started running in the magazine, yet it was treated like something that was already over and done with. E-san stared down at the ground the entire time. Although he did keep eating food and saying “This is really delicious.”


F-san ended the meeting by telling me that next week, he was going to have me meet with the original creator so that we could start collecting data from him. Then, everyone got drunk and left.


After we left the place, F-san roughly shouted: “Hey, E! Walk Sato-kun to his car!”


“OK!” E-san answered politely, giving me a clear image of how the power was divided up in the editors’ office.


When he handed a taxi ticket to the driver, he was back in his half-English, half-Japanese mode. “Meet with me NEXT WEEK, OK?”


One week later, I met with E-san in a coffee shop in Koenji and he handed me a letter.


“Read it once you get home,” he said. And I did. The letter contained his thanks to me, and described how he had been happy to work as my editor.


It almost made me cry, but then at the end I read this: “I am dedicating this poem to you, Sato-san.”


A poem? Really?


Looking down
By looking down
you question me
What am I risking my life for?
in a weathered raincoat
with a curry bun poking out from your pocket
with a soul like a straightened arrow
with the intensity of someone who has only that much
with the levity of someone who only needs that much


Looking down
By looking down
You assert yourself
You assert what you are risking your life for
with the scarce hairs on your chin that need no razor
with a thin neck as dirty as a child’s
with an existence as heavy as lead
you confront yourself in that shape
you organize yourself in that dream


Looking down
By looking down
you say no to me
I cannot hear the word no from your mouth,
but I see the word no in who you are


Looking down
By looking down
You take a step toward life
The sun of early summer warms an old Zelkova tree
The sun of early summer warms your cheek
You do not say no to it


That poem is “The young man who looks down” by Tanigawa Juntaro.


E-san is a good guy, I thought.


I decided to treasure him in my memories and move on to my next step. I thought that looking ahead wasn’t always the best answer. As long as I had enough energy to keep looking back as I moved forward, then I figured I’d be OK.


Either way, I was slipping further and further into the shit-stained world of adult society. But, the more stained I became, the more my passion toward manga became purified.


To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #24

Soon, one month had passed since I started working on the drafts for my serialization.


After finishing the draft for the third chapter and taking it into the editor’s office, the editor-in-chief invited me out to dinner. By this point, eat dinner with the editors had truly become nothing more than a waste of time to me, so I tried to go straight home that day as well. However, he told me that we had “something important to talk about,” so I begrudgingly went with him.


At the time, I was paid 8,500 yen for one manuscript page. If I drew three in one day, that meant 25,500 yen. Subtracting what I spent on upkeep and materials, it left about 20,000 yen in my pocket, so it wasn’t bad.


But whenever I went out to eat with the editor, I would easily see more than double that amount slide out from his pocket. I also had to make sure I thanked him for treating me. In the beginning, I was just happy that they were paying attention to me, but gradually I began to notice the hypocrisy. The publisher made a profit from selling manga drawn by the artists. How was it possible for him to use more money than an artist made in a day on one meal? Aren’t the artists the very people who allowed him to eat? This is something I still think about regularly.


At dinner, it took the editor a while to get to the “important” thing. First, he told me his thoughts on my drafts, then started talking about how he needed me to “keep working hard from here on out.”


“Most mangaka make their big hit within their first three serializations,” he said. “Just think of it this way – you have three tries. Now, what kind of story do you want to tell in your first serialization?”


I always already in the process of drawing the drafts, so I wasn’t really sure how to answer his question.


“How about baseball? I think you can draw nine different distinct characters, Sato-kun,” he said, and soon the discussion moved into very dangerous territory. “You can keep this draft going for six chapters, and that’s fine. But I want to start talking about your next serialization now.”


Huh? Isn’t what I’m drawing now going to be the serialization?


All of a sudden, I realized that at some point, my new serialization had gone from being a new serialization to a six-part mini-series.


If he had said “We want you to make this draft into a mini-series. We know originally we said that it was going to be long-term, and we’re sorry for changing things up like this, but we want to talk to you about a new long-term serialization now, so we hope you understand,” then I would have understood. But that’s not the way editors work.


My supervising editor E-san was with us, but as the editor-in-chief spoke, he was completely silent. Oh wait, he did say one thing, as he ate. “This food is really delicious!”


I thought that once my serialization started, I’d be able to hire staff, put out a paperback volume, move into a slightly bigger room… but it was all still a dream within a dream. Suddenly, I started to feel like everything I was doing was just one big waste of time, and when I went home that night, I didn’t do any more work.


But depression wouldn’t make me any money, so from the next day I started moving my hands like a machine and finished another chapter in one week.


When I finished the fourth draft, E-san brought the assistant editor-in-chief to Koenji. When I brought the finished draft to our meeting spot, he said: “I can’t take that today. If I got drunk and happened to lose it, we could be in trouble.”


They took me up to a bbq grill on the second floor, and told me to “eat to my heart’s content.”


“I’m sorry that this happened,” the assistant editor-in-chief told me. “I know that this series was originally supposed to be a serialization, but it’s going to be a mini-series now. Thanks for understanding.”


They hadn’t really ever asked me to “understand,” and had just been telling me what they had decided on their end, so I thought it was strange that he said that. Especially the “thank you” part.


“We have a new serialization project in the works, though. Do you think you’d be interested, Sato-kun?” he asked. “We have this serialization project. If you’re interested, I’ll tell you the details, but the thing is, it’s based on an existing story. The problem is, the story is kinda boring… the project itself is interesting, but we can’t use the original story, so we were wondering if you’d be interested in writing a new one.”


He seemed to be asking me if I wanted to create a completely original work using an idea that he had come up with. It felt like someone had stolen my girlfriend and asked me to start going out with someone completely new. I didn’t want to do it, but I said “I’ll think about it,” so he pulled out a bundle of paper from his bag and handed it to me.


He said he would tell me the details if I agreed, so since I had taken the papers, did that mean that I agreed?


E-san said “This food is really delicious!” and continued eating his meat.


With the paper in my hands, I mustered up my courage and said “This doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve agreed to do this.”


It looked like the assistant chief furrowed his eyebrows for a moment. Then, he said “Of course not. Just give it a read over. Are you alright with E-san still being your editor?”


At first I didn’t quite understand what he meant. But I suppose what he was trying to say was, “If we decide to go through with this, I’ll give you a skilled, veteran editor.” And since this veteran editor was one of the key people pushing this project, if I had him with me, then the series would surely become a hit, and I would instantly become a famous author.


In other words, he was indirectly telling me over and over again that I had no reason not to agree to do this project.


If I said no, they’d probably never give me another chance. I’d go back to being a 20-something loser with no job… which meant that I had no choice but to do it. I had no choice, yet they weren’t ordering me. They were pretending like they were giving me a choice, making it seem like I was doing this all out of my own volition, and I thought that was really unfair.


And through it all, E-san just kept eating his meat. He was potentially going to be kicked off this project for a veteran editor. Didn’t he care? At one time, he said he was going on work hard on this serialization with me. The whole project had been switched from a long-term serialization to a mini-series, and he didn’t even seem to care. In the end, he was completely at the mercy of his superiors.


Amazing newbies like me are hard to come by, you know…?


I left the restaurant and took my draft home with me.


The papers the assistant chief had given me had a bunch of sentences organized like a movie script. I read a few pages, but it was really bad. Reading it actually irritated me, so I ended up throwing it in the garbage before I read it all.


The manga I draw is way better than this crap, I thought, as I grit my teeth.


But I felt like I understood the assistant chief a bit more now. The story itself was about the Japanese coast guard. What actually happened in the story was boring, but I hadn’t ever heard of a manga about the coast guard before, and I thought there might be some meaning in chronicling their untold stories.


This was how “Sea Monkeys” (Umizaru) came to be.

To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #23

My first serialized work was about to be published.


In front of me was a stack of drafts for the first six chapters. The day the serialization would start still had yet to be decided, but once it did, I would become a weekly author.


At the time, I was living in an apartment in Koenji that was 9.6 square meters, with a kitchen that was 6.4 square meters large. It didn’t take long for me to start fantasizing. When my serialization starts, I’ll have to make the big room into my staff studio, while I draw manga in the kitchen. I wonder if I’ll be able to hire three people? I won’t make my staff stay up all night…


Since I was a weekly author now, that meant I had to draw one chapter, or 18 pages a week. So if I drew six pages of characters and three pages of backgrounds a day, and then inked all 18 pages by the sixth day, I’d be fine. Once the serialization began, I could hire staff and then let them draw the backgrounds to shrink my workload into three days’ worth. I could deliver a draft within three days.


I took a deep breath, and then started drawing my drafts.


If I decided to sleep three hours a day, and it took me a day to draw six pages of characters, that meant the equation was 21 hours divided by 6 pages = 3.5 hours. I’d have to get as far as inking a page every 3.5 hours in order to finish in time.


It didn’t seem like an impossible pace. I could buy several days’ worth of food and cigarettes at the convenience store, and then just stick my nose to the grindstone. If it took me 3.5 hours to draw one page, then I’d have to finish the sketching within 1.5 hours.


One page meant an average of seven panels, so I’d have to sketch one panel every 12-13 minutes. And in order to finish one every 12-13 minutes…


I decided to check my progress every ten minutes to try and meet my goals.


The first chapter was extra-long, at 36 pages, and I think it took me about two weeks to finish it. After taking the manuscript to the editors, they invited me to join them for dinner, but I declined and ran back to keep drawing. I decided on the sixth day, after turning in the manuscript, I’d allow myself to sleep for six hours.


The first time I went to turn in a draft, the assistant editor-in-chief saw me and said “Oh, you finished it?” He approached me, picked up the draft on the table, and started flipping through it. “Stiff…stiff, the art’s really stiff. You need to get more used to using your pen… you’re still at this level. (Gesturing with his hands) When __-sensei was here, he was…” After spouting off everything he had to say, he walked right off.


Since that editor wasn’t an artist, he probably had no idea about how much time it had taken to draw that “stiff” art. I wasn’t expecting him to encourage me, but it was still discouraging.


Does he just think that time and money are all that’s necessary to create a manuscript? I wondered.


What he was probably thinking was, “I’ve read tons of manuscripts, and I’m being nice enough to take time out of my busy schedule to give advice to this newbie, so he must be very happy.”


Sometimes, there were cases when even an amateur reader’s opinions could come in handy. It’s true true that readers and editors do contribute to an author’s growth, but I thought something was wrong with an editor who had absolutely no respect for an author, regardless of whether or not he was an amateur.


Why do they always talk down to me? I wondered.


After I left T-san’s studio, he’d invite me out to drink to check up on me time to time.


But I’m busy… I’d always think. Alright, if I lower the sketching time from 12-13 minutes to 9 minutes, that should give me 60 extra minutes to spare across three days, so I should be able to go out for that long, I decided, and ended up going out.


Going to the same place and seeing the same faces made me feel like I was in a place where I belonged, and that was fun. T-san was an artist, so he understood the quality of my work, and knew how difficult it was to finish an entire manuscript alone in one week. He understand the amount of work I was dealing with, and could also tell that I had focused on speed with my art. All of a sudden, I felt very ashamed.


But deep down, I had confidence in myself. I felt like I was working harder than anyone else. I felt like I had spent more time on manga than anyone else I was drinking with, and that I was drawing even more manga than T-san himself. Then I remember the words the assistant editor-in-chief had once told me.


“You’ve risen above T-kun. He’s only a monthly author. You’re going to become a weekly one.”


They had pissed me off at first, but in the end, they had poisoned me.


I think I had been called out at five in the morning that night. It was right before the place closed, and the sky was just starting to brighten. After it closed, we’d always go to T-san’s studio and continue drinking there. When I got there that time, I was so tired from work, and just tired in general, that I got drunk in no time at all.


As one of my teachers, T-san started giving me advice, but I was sick of hearing people talk about me. I didn’t feel like hearing other people’s opinions anymore.


No matter what anyone said, I just thought things like “Fine then, let’s see you try and do it. Do you know how hard I’ve been working?”


I didn’t just want people to tell me “You’re working hard. Wow!” or things like that. It’s just that no one would honestly acknowledge that I was doing anything good, and this lack of approval was starting to get to me.


I thought about talking back to T-san that night, but of course, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.


Later, my ex-co-worker Nippi stated talking to me. I think he asked me something about how I was scheduling myself. I think he thought that he’d be in the same shoes as me soon, so he wanted to know how my life was going.


It was just an innocent question. But I ended up unloading all my frustration on him. After I emphasized how amazing I was to finish all that work in one day, I asked him why he didn’t try drawing his own manga.


“I want to, but I have trouble finishing drafts,” he replied.


I saw this as Nippi being too easy on himself. “I drew manga even when I felt I couldn’t. Are you serious about wanting to become a mangaka?”


No one’s serious here. They’re all just drinking their time away. All they care about is feeling like they’re a part of something. None of them really like manga. They’ve created these tiny worlds for themselves where they can’t be negated by anyone. They just want to stay in here, smile, and feel like they’re important. Not a single one of them is fighting. Why aren’t they drawing manga? If you’re not serious about it, then don’t say “I want to be a mangaka” in front of someone who is serious. Stop being proud about just sticking one foot into the industry, you self-satisfied jerkoff.


I unloaded all my stress and frustration on Nippi. T-san noticed this and got between us. At the time, I didn’t think that I was doing anything wrong, so I didn’t give any mind to T-san when he tried to calm things.


Of course, T-san wasn’t about to take this. “You’re lonely, aren’t you? You don’t have any friends, do you? Nippi’s just trying to be your friend.”


But for some reason, I wanted to prove him wrong. So things escalated even further, and I started into some verbal abuse. Nippi stopped responding to what I was saying, and then finally, T-san told me to just go home.


Go home? My pleasure. I’m tired of pretending to be friends with you posers.


When I left the studio, the morning sun was high in the sky, and I shuffled onto a train that was ripe with the alcoholic stench of salarymen on their way to work.


“Why am I drawing manga?”


I couldn’t really think of an answer.


When I woke up in my apartment in the afternoon, I was so disgusted with myself that I couldn’t even move.


To Be Continued