Sato’s Road to Manga #46

Are there only corrupt people in the manga industry?


If that’s true, then is it a mangaka’s duty to let these corrupt people abuse him or her?


At one time, I had thought about quitting manga, but for some reason I couldn’t fully bring myself to give up. I’d done nothing but draw manga so far, so even if I quit, I had no idea what else I’d do, and I knew that even if I got to the point of wanting to die, I wouldn’t have the guts to do it.


When Umizaru ended, the waves started getting rough around me again. After meeting with the editors from Kodansha’s Morning magazine, I got a call from a man named S-san who worked at Takeshobo. He was one of the supervising editors of F-san, the first mangaka I worked under. I had known him for 6-7 years, since I started working for F-san, but he had never so much as glanced at me. Naturally, I was happy to get the call, so I decided to meet with him.


We met at an okonomiyaki restaurant in front of the station.


We ordered some beers and made a toast to our reunion. The editors’ office S-san worked for published a mah jong manga magazine, and he wanted me to draw a mah jong manga for them.


He praised my work. “You’re the artist I want to work with the most, more than any other person in the industry,” he said, then went on to explain just how amazing and charming Umizaru was, in a tone so exaggerated that it embarrassed me.


“I’ve never wanted to draw a mah jong manga,” I replied.


“There are a lot of artists who draw manga without knowing the rules to mah jong,” he countered. “The editors will take care of that, so don’t you worry. ‘Mah jong’ is the key word here, so as long as you touch upon that, you actually might experience more freedom than you even get in a normal magazine. The good thing about mah jong manga is that anything goes.”


He spoke passionately, with his teeth set on edge, trying again and again to convince me. I was nothing but an art staffer when we first met, yet he was very polite and treated me with respect. I had just come from deciding that there were nothing but corrupt people in the industry, but he made me realize that good people do exist as well.


He asked me how much I got for manuscript fees, so I answered him honestly.


“That’s too cheap,” he said, and offered me a higher fee right then and there. “Shogakukan (the magazine I had previously worked with) doesn’t value its artists enough. There’s no future in editors who simply sit on their butts and use up artists like tools.”


The way he suddenly started badmouthing the magazine left me scratching my head, but it seemed like he had his reasons. Apparently, there were a lot of publishers and editors in the industry who wanted my contact information. Those people had to go through Shogakukan’s offices first, but Shogakukan kept themselves closely guarded, and didn’t give anyone any information.


“They keep too tight of a guard.”


Finally, some people came around to S-san’s office, asking if anyone knew my contact info. S-san replied with “I know him, but I can’t just give his information out to anyone. Next time I’ll see him, though, I’ll ask him if it’s OK, so please wait until then.”


It was basically the same thing that the Kodansha editors had told me the other day. At this point in my career, I was completely used to other people treating like a newbie, or like a child, so it was hard to really believe that there were a bunch of editors out there who wanted to hire me. I thought the only reason the Morning editors had contacted me was because T-san, one of my previous employers, had done some work behind the scenes.


S-san went on. “Of course, we’d like you to draw manga for us, but artists aren’t company employees, nor are they entertainers who belong to talent agencies. Hiding jobs from people and stealing opportunities isn’t what a publisher should be doing. When other companies contact us about artists, we answer them, after getting the artists’ permission first.” (Incidentally, after I met with S-san, I started getting a ton of phone calls from other companies.)


I was surprised by how greatly the values of publishers differed. Perhaps the entire industry was already aware of how badly Shogakukan treated its artists.


Well then, what should I do?


Seemed like I’d still be able to work even after Umizaru ended. If I decided to draw a manga for Morning, I knew they wouldn’t give me a serialization immediately, because they were such a big company. I decided the more realistic option was to work at Takeshobo for a bit, do some good work for a monthly magazine, and foster my art staff members.


If I could go on working as a mangaka, then I wouldn’t need to fire them. A mangaka who gathers and fires his art staff based on the conditions of his own career won’t last long. To me, employing staff members as long as you can and working them into every facet of your career is how an employer should be. The only time I would ever close my studio is if I went out of business.


In the end, I decided that if a mangaka’s job is to be abused by corrupt people, then I’d just have to get dirty as well and let them abuse me. Although, S-san from Takeshobo wasn’t corrupt at all.


There were still a few months left until Umizaru finished its run, and over the course of that time I met with S-san and the two Morning editors over and over. The Morning editors wanted to have a meeting concerning a possible serialization, while at Takeshobo, it had already been decided that I’d have a serialization. It seemed that S-san really did admire my work. I hadn’t even drawn any storyboards, but they had already decided everything. It was more than a bit of a surprise.


I had stayed up all night playing mah jong when I was a student, so I knew the rules. And so, without telling them how I had considered quitting my career as a mangaka, I told my staff members that Umizaru would be ending, and that we’d be working on a new mah jong manga for Takeshobo.


Kodansha’s Morning magazine sold way more copies than the magazine that had featured Umizaru, so my meetings with them didn’t go so easily.


“How about drawing for us?” they asked, but still seemed to be looking down on me. The general feeling of the atmosphere seemed to be “If you can draw us a good storyboard, then we’ll put it in,” and I wasn’t sure what I could put my faith in.


Whenever we met, we were always probing each other to find our our true intentions.


“How about a story like this?” I’d say, offering an idea, but they had no interest in what I wanted to draw. Instead, the question on their minds seemed to be “What should we make him draw,” and that came out quite clearly in the way they looked at me.


In the end, it left me feeling distant from them. All I need to do is understand that this is the way these people work, then accept that and draw some manga for them, I thought. Apparently, I still had some desire to draw a manga in a major magazine.


Until Umizaru ended, I focused only on drawing manga, then took a two month break for preparations before I dove into my next piece. I actually had a lot of things I wanted to draw, if it was possible for me to go on being a mangaka. For years, I had come up with all these ideas, but I wasn’t able to do anything with them. It felt like my suppressed emotions were about to explode.


I’m not saying Umizaru was something I didn’t want to draw. I drew it with all my might, and nothing will ever change that. There was a lot I wasn’t able to do, though.


W-san often lent me an ear in times like these. She got angry with me at the editors’ unreasonable behavior, listened to my ideas about my next piece, and told me her thoughts. She had worked with me since chapter 1 of Umizaru, and even when the editors were treating me horribly, I told her: “I’m still happy that I’m drawing manga, because it let me meet you.”


I trusted her more than anyone else, in all facets of my life.


“Once Umizaru ends, I’m thinking of giving everyone two months off. Of course, you’ll still get fully paid, but I’m sure that weekly schedule has tired everyone out. I’m going to take a whole month off myself. Then I’ll spend the next month drawing the storyboards for my next piece. So, how about getting married in the month we have off?”


And so, we decided to get married.


To Be Continued