Sato’s Road to Manga #48

In April, Umizaru’s serialization ended, and I started drawing a serialization for a Take Shobo mah jong magazine in September.


After making my debut as a mangaka, I hadn’t taken a single day off for three years, but after Umizaru ended, I took a month-long break, then started writing my next piece in the next month.


In October, I had my staff members return from their paid vacations to their new office, and we officially got back to work. If I stopped here, people would just start saying “I haven’t seen Sato Shuho’s name anywhere,” or “He just disappeared.” The two editors from Morning said they were planning my serialization, but in the end, if the storyboards I submitted weren’t interesting, it would have been like we had never spoken at all.


I had to draw 24 pages each month for Take Shobo’s monthly magazine. I had three staff members, so I actually struggled finding things for everyone to do. We had made it through a weekly serialization this way, after all. Economy-wise, I was paying out over 500,000 yen a month in personnel expenses alone, and if I included office rent and materials, that easily became nearly one million yen per month. Calculating the manuscript fees from that meant that I’d have to draw 80 pages a month to stay out of the red. I also needed to make enough for my own living expenses. If this serialization with Morning didn’t work, then I wouldn’t be able to sustain my office. Still, “letting staff go” wasn’t a choice to me – unless I gave up on drawing manga, that is. When an employer hires someone, they need to keep them employed. In other words, securing that serialization with Morning was the only choice I had.


What I needed to do was “create a stock of pages for the Take Shobo serialization at a weekly pace, so my staff members have something to do” and “start drawing a good storyboard for the Morning serialization.” After I calmed down, I realized just how frightening a gamble I was about to engage in.


Every few weeks, the two editors from Morning would come to a family restaurant near my office and talk to me absent-mindedly for 30 minutes. At the end they would always say “Let’s think about this again later” and leave.


The framing of my manga as a “medical” one had already been set, so I wanted to hurry up and start gathering data so I could draw a storyboard, but they didn’t want me to start just yet. I wasn’t sure whether they were really serious about this or not, so I went out and bought a bunch of medical-related books so that I could start thinking up the structure. After several more weeks, I explained this structure to them at our next meeting. They didn’t really seem interested, though, and repeated the “Let’s think about this again later” thing.


It seemed like their plan was just to succeed in capturing a serialization author from another magazine. They repeated the “planning” spell over and over, but they weren’t really interested in beginning the serialization immediately.


At our meetings, they’d often gloat about other authors they’d work with. “We gave this author this advice, and he was able to draw this sort of thing” or “I thought up that project.”


Oh, so these are the kind of editors who take all the credit for themselves, I thought. I listened to the rest of the stories with half an ear, and couldn’t help but feel a bit depressed. Even if they do agree to let me do the serialization in the end, are they just going to turn me into another one of their accomplishments?


Even though I had changed publishers, there was no escaping from the problem of editors treating authors as pawns. I was just one of the many authors they had control over, and they only gave me 30 minutes every few weeks. They were salarymen, and I was a freelance author. I’m pretty sure we had different ideas about the economic use of time. And so, as we continued to have our meetings, my savings dropped by hundreds of thousands of yen.


I was working on creating a stock of pages for the mah jong manga, but in the end, since there was no real deadline, I was unable to keep drawing pages at a weekly pace. This was supposed to go weekly, not monthly… I panicked.


Take Shobo didn’t go far enough to say “We’ll take whatever you draw,” but they possessed a looseness that was close to that and OKed my storyboards in no time at all, so in a way I felt like I wasn’t really getting any work done. And unfortunately, the magazine wasn’t very popular inside the magazine. When that news reached me on the phone, my editor S-san dropped his tone of voice. At first he had told me that I was the author he most wanted to work with right now, but all of a sudden my calls were ceasing to get through.


My new office was close to the office of F-san, one of my teachers. It was a complete coincidence, and F-san had just moved there himself, so we didn’t even know at first. Then, when I thought about contacting him to let him know that I was getting married, I realized that he lived nearby, so we decided to have lunch together. F-san was one of the biggest authors in Take Shobo’s mah jong magazine, so he was very keen on what was going on inside the editors’ office, and also knew that my series wasn’t very popular.


When I told him that I was thinking of drawing a serialization for Morning, he said: “Even for a veteran, having a serialization planned for a major magazine is quite an accomplishment. If Umizaru was popular, you should have kept it going until it lost popularity, right? You’re such an idiot, Shuho. At this rate you might just disappear.”


Several months passed, and the Morning editors finally decided that they wanted to do something. They started bringing data to me, and I also went out to go do research. I had done this many times when working on Umizaru, so I had developed my own method. I would take in the entire scope of something as an observer, while K-san would ask questions, and the camerman would take reference pictures. The stories we heard from people were also very important, so I would free up my five senses and just try to imprint as much of the people and atmosphere as I could in my mind. Going to do research and getting so focused on the pictures inside the lens of the camera is pretty terrible, I think. But the only reason I was able to research so freely was because the editors had prepared everything for me, and I had come to expect it. In that respect, they really had gone all-out for me, and I’m thankful to them for that.


Research with Morning was an editor bringing in a medical writer, a doctor, and a medical intern. Then, I’d talk with them and listen to what they had to say. I didn’t get to go and see an actual hospital, but I just thought: This is probably the initial stage of the research, and they’ll let me go and see one next time. But next time, all they did was bring in someone else. Over a period of two to three weeks, I met with nurses, a director of a public health center, and overall about 7 different medical professionals. What they said was really just a rehash of what had been written in the research documents Kodansha gave me, so these meetings didn’t really seem too meaningful to me. Only one time did I have a chance to go to an emergency center and stay there for 24 hours and take pictures. But once it got to around evening time, my editor said “Don’t you think we’ve seen enough?” and went home. The cameraman also left, so I had to the rest all by myself.


Compared to the research I had done for Umizaru, this felt really lacking. But it was still just the beginning, so I was prepared to keep fighting as things progressed. Then, all of a sudden they said to me: “Now draw a storyboard.”


I was shocked. “Huh? I’ve met several people, but I’ve still only been to a hospital once.”


I asked them to let me go on more detailed hospital research trips, but they just kept ordering me to draw. It was all they ever said, so I really had no choice in the matter. We had had a few meetings so far, but the contents had all been so abstract, and none had really gone in a specific direction. All the details had been left up to me, which was of course fine, but when I showed them what I came up with, they didn’t really seem to like it, and made me redraw it. All it made me think was: Tell me what you want in the beginning!


I redrew it immediately, and this time they gave me the OK.


What? I thought. They’re OK with this? I was beside myself in astonishment. What are they going to do next, ask me to draw the second chapter?


Then, they told me: “We’re interested in seeing what sort of art ends up in these frames, so do a rough draft and let us check it again.”


Does this mean I’m getting a serialization for sure? I wondered.


It took me two weeks to draw the rough draft. When I showed it to them, they both nodded and said it was good, then said: “Please let us use this as the manuscript.”


They had managed to shock me yet again. “I could add backgrounds to this rough draft, but if you want it to be completed, then I’ll need some documents so that I know how to draw the details of the hospital. I took photographs when I went to that emergency room, but his part-time hospital and other hospitals also appear in this chapter, so I want to prepare data on those as well. I can’t draw all of them just with what I have now.”


This was their response. “If you want to know how to draw a hospital, just go look at a photo gallery or watch a movie or something. There are a lot of medical dramas out there, right?”


“No,” I replied, standing my ground. “I’m drawing a medical manga here. I can’t just use generic data books or rip off stuff from TV, right?”


“You’re the first person who’s ever asked for something like this…” One of the editors muttered.


In the end, though, they let me go to a hospital in Chiba that had yet to open and take pictures of the inside. Nowadays, I have the skill to make plans on my own and go and do my own research, but at the time, I had no choice but to rely on editors for research at special institutions. Perhaps I was expecting a bit too much of my editors.


After taking photographs at the Chiba hospital, I still lacked a lot of the data I needed, but I eventually succumbed to the “We’ve done so much for you already, just draw it!” pressure from the editors and started drawing the manuscript. I still wasn’t really sure at what pace they were planning to proceed. First they had told me not to draw anything, and now they wanted me to draw the entire thing. But I knew that I had to do what I was told, or else I’d be out of luck. I spent another two weeks perfecting the manuscript, and what did they say?


“Pff, look! You drew all these hospitals perfectly!”


Actually, it took me a lot of work to come up with what I did, because I lacked data on entire subjects…


As they continued to stare at the finished manuscript, they asked: “What should we do about a title?”


The full-time editor S-san spoke up. “Since it’s a medical manga, how about working ‘Black Jack’ into the title?” *Black Jack is the title of Tezuka Osamu’s famous medical manga.


I wasn’t sure about using the title of another manga in my manga’s title, but they told me that copyrights don’t exist for titles, so people are free to use them as they please. If we asked Tezuka Productions to give us permission to use the title, they would ask for money or something even more complicated might happen, so they just planned to send a notice and be ethical about it. Afterwards, I heard them complain about Tezuka Productions for quite a while. Even though Mr. Tezuka had passed away, they still considered themselves a leading figure in the manga industry, and tried to strongarm the whole deal.


When I heard them getting so angry over it, I spoke up. “How about we think up another title without Black Jack in it?”


But that seemed to only make them angrier. Eventually, I gave up. No matter what I say, they seem committed to only proceeding things at their own pace.


“How about ‘Leave it to Black Jack?'” I asked. I decided to suggest the worst possible name that included Black Jack that I could come up with.


A few days later, after I faxed the completed manuscript of the second chapter to them, they called me back. “The second chapter looks great. By the way, we decided on a date for the serialization to begin. Five weeks from now, next month.”




“We got you a space five weeks from now. Congratulations.”


“But I’ve still only drawn two storyboards. I completed the first chapter because you ordered me to, but I haven’t made any preparations. And we still haven’t come up with a title…”


“The title? It’s ‘Leave it to Black Jack.’ We already created a logo for it. So, five weeks from now. Got it?” the editor said, then hung up. The serialization was official now.


Umizaru ended in June, my Take Shobo serialization started in September, and then two months later, my serialization with Morning was going to begin. Over eight months, my savings had dropped by 600,000 yen.

To Be Continued