Soon, I was almost finished drawing my first volume of Umizaru.
The manuscript fees weren’t enough to keep my studio out of the red, so by this point, the 2 million yen of savings that I had at the beginning of the serialization had now been whittled down to 1 million. Of course, publishing the volume would fix that. Once my royalties started coming in, everything would be alright.
Royalties are the payments made by a publisher or record company to the author or artist whose copyrighted works are being sold. With manga, usually, manga artists receive 10% of the list price of every volume that’s sold. That means from a volume that sells for 500 yen, the artist receives 50 yen. If 10,000 volumes sell, then the artist makes 500,000 yen. If 20,000 sell, then that becomes 1 million yen, if 50,000 sell, then 2.5 million, and if 100,000 sell, then 5 million.
With Umizaru, there was also K-san, the person who had been credited with supplying data and the original idea to us. K-san didn’t actually write the story, whether or not he would be paid royalties was a question. He did come up with the original idea, though, and I respected him for that, but his main job was researching and coordinating, and he didn’t take part in the weekly meetings,so although he did help us create the work, it didn’t necessarily mean he could make a copyright claim.
But it’s true that without him, this serialization would have never come to be, so I could understand how one might think that he deserved to receive royalties. But if one starts going down that road, they would also have to include the Japan Coast Guard, since they gave us data, as well as the magazine itself, and lastly, me. (Of course, they could have just hired another mangaka to draw it.) On the other hand, K-san received a monetary sum for each chapter that was published, so in that regard, he was already being compensated for his work.
Deciding who receives what amount of royalties is a very difficult thing to do. It also seemed that K-san mistakenly believed that he was being treated as the “original creator,” so I imagine he also believed that he deserved royalties. Normally, with manga that have both a credited artist and original creator, the 10% of the royalties are split in half between them. If the original creator is a big name and the manga artist is a newbie, they might split it 6-4 or 7-3.
Once I had finished a volume’s worth of chapters, I started thinking about royalties. F-san, my supervising editor, said he was going to look into the company’s policy, and told me to wait a bit for the answer.
“The way I see it, Sato-kun, you’re the one drawing everything, so I don’t think we need to pay royalties to K-san. We have to make sure we don’t do anything different from how we’ve treated similar manga in the past, though, so can you just leave it to me to find out what the company says? I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
“I won’t let anything bad happen to you.” That didn’t necessarily mean he’d let anything good happen to me, either. When I heard those words, I realized that I’d be better off not raising my expectations. If anything, it felt like he was trying to prepare me to hear some bad news, which made me feel a bit dejected, but I didn’t tell him how I really felt.
I also bet that he was telling K-san something completely different. F-san wasn’t my ally, and the higher I raised my expectations, the more despair I invited on myself. I just kept telling myself that staying emotionless was the way to be, and told F-san: “I wouldn’t get mad if it was 5-5.”
Speaking of which, when was the volume actually going to go on sale?
It suddenly occurred to me that I still didn’t know the exact date. Publishing a trade volume is a big goal for any manga artist, and since I had never actually published one, I wasn’t exactly sure how the procedure went. The chapters were being serialized, so it seemed like we would have to talk about it soon. But when? All I could do was keep waiting.
I was just finishing up the final draft of the ninth chapter, which ended another story arc, and the first volume. When I got done, I was called into the editors’ office. I had worked my hardest in order to finish the first nine chapters on my own, and I wasn’t planning on asking for help for the 10th one. I already prepared an image in my head for it, and researched various sea accident cases to use as references. Still, I was surprised that anyone had yet to ask me about my plans for the next parts. I had heard that if it wasn’t popular, the series would be canceled at the 10th chapter, so as I entered the meeting booth, I wondered if they were going to end my series, and if there wouldn’t be a volume published after all.
When I entered the meeting booth, I noticed that K-san and F-san were already there. It seemed like they had been discussing something before I came. Suddenly, I was handed several documents. There seemed to be some sort of plot (?) written on them, in which a fishing ship capsized and the main character had to go out to save them.
It seemed like they were trying to tell me to write that story. “I think we can have another guy go out and do the research for this, so as soon as we figure out what we’re aiming for, we’ll send him out,” F-san said, as he continued the meeting.
At first, I didn’t really understand what was happening. I thought it was my job to think up the story. All the research on the Coast Guard had been handed to me from the editors’ office, but I was the one who had cooked it up. But now, the story was being pushed along without me. I was being left behind.
Appparently, F-san and K-san had a meeting without me in which they discussed how to handle the story from chapter 10 onwards. And since I had finished the 9th chapter, they had chosen that moment to show it to me.
That’s when I realized that they didn’t think of me as the author. To them, I was just a guy who sat down and drew pictures. “We’re the brains of the operation.” That’s how they saw it.
After that hour-long meeting, we went out to dinner along with ten other editors and the editor-in-chief. There, F-san brought up the topic of the trade volume.
“What do you want to do about the volume, chief? I think summer break may be a good time to publish it. Don’t you think that’d be a good time to publish a volume?”
“Hmmm, yeah, I guess,” the chief answered. “The second volume should be finished by then, so it’ll be easy to start planning it there.”
“In that case, let’s sell the second volume in August, two months later. That’ll make more of an impact. The bookstores will be like ‘Wow, they’re really serious about selling this,’ don’t you think?” F-san asked.
“No, the readers probably won’t have enough money to buy them both that close together. They’ll be using their money on other things during summer break.”
“Oh, come on! Kids these days get enough allowance to buy a volume of manga a month, you know! Gahahaha!”
And on and on they went.
My serialization was not being canceled, and they also planned to publish a volume of collected chapters. Of course, I didn’t find out about this until February, five months after July, after going in over 1 million yet of debt from drawing Umizaru for four months. At this rate, by the time the volume came out, I would not only have spent my entire savings, but I would probably have to borrow money to go on living. When I made mention of this, F-san got angry at me for managing my staff badly.
“You pay them too much,” he said.
At the time, they made 150,000 yen a month. I rented a beat-up apartment that I also used as my studio for 67,000 yen a month, gave them no insurance, and had them work 12 hours a day there. I tried to fix it so that they wouldn’t work more than 40 hours a week, but honestly, not giving them insurance was against the law. Every month, as I looked at my balance drop lower and lower in my checkbook, I always wished that I could pay them more.
Publishing that trade volume was a life-or-death situation to me, and I didn’t understand how they could talk about such a thing in front of me, as if it had nothing at all to do with me. I also couldn’t believe that they could pay me such cheap manuscript fees and then yell at me for paying my staff “too much.”
Eventually, I just stopped talking. I completely lost my will to speak.
At first, F-san got angry at me for this, but then he coaxed me into going to a second place with him.
Soon, K-san, F-san, and myself were sitting in a dimly-lit bar. There, I finally opened my mouth again. I felt as if I would never be able to go home unless I did.
“Aren’t I the one who’s drawing this manga?”
F-san and K-san stared at me in shock.
To Be Continued