I entered a vocational school specializing in animation with hope of becoming a manga artist. The following is a non-fiction account.
“PARA'S GAG COMIC”
*Fukushima City taken from Mt. Benten
I was born in Fukushima Prefecture in Japan. When I was four years-old, I moved to Boston with my family to support my father, who is a doctor. Initially, I felt uneasy about kindergarten and always cried. However, after a while, I became talkative. As a result, I also became popular among the kids.
I loved drawing manga since then. It wasn’t actually a manga. It was more like a picture-story show, where I drew on one sheet of paper, showed it to my mother, and came up with a line or two. This was my starting point.
In addition, I am fascinated with dinosaurs. My father used to take me to museums that had displays of dinosaur fossils. I especially like Parasaurolophus, so I created a character called “Para” using it as a motif, and I continue to use that character to this day.
*An illustration of Para I drew when I was four years old.
After about a year and half in the United States, I returned to Japan. While I exchanged goodbyes with everyone, the principal of the kindergarten, who was an elderly woman, said the following to my father: “Your son has a great sense of humor.” Apparently, I had told the principal that “I crossed the border on a sled from Canada to the United States.” It was true that I was playing on a sled near the border, but according to my father, it wasn’t much of a slope. The principal told me, “When you’re on your flight back to Japan, look out the window. I’ll be chasing you on my helicopter.” I have been in Japan since then.
*A picture of Boston back then.
As an aspiring manga artist.
Why I aspired to become a manga artist.
Time went by, and I entered junior high school. It was a terrible place, and I didn’t want to go to high school. But not doing anything and just letting the days go by was unthinkable for me.
Then I thought to myself: “What can a junior high school graduate do?” The only skill I had was the ability to draw manga. I was aware at that time that the manga industry does not discriminate based on highest education completed. I then decided to enter a manga vocational school. Until then, I never thought of actually aspiring to be a manga artist. Not even in my dreams.
Vocational school era
The vocational school I attended held meetings where manga artists and comic magazine editors gathered and critiqued the works of the students. Of course, critiques by the instructors was done on a regular basis as well. This experience was rather painful. Most of my works were given harsh reviews. One editor praised every students’ work except mine. My creation was the only piece that was ridiculed for an extended period of time. I was embarrassed in front of the entire class, which had its attention centered on me. Furthermore, there were instructors who returned my work with a “0” on it, while the lowest score among other students was a “60.”
One day, a review session was held with the assistant chief editor of a major comic magazine company. All the students received harsh reviews. The assistant chief who looked at my work said nothing. I thought, “He probably thinks it’s boring.” When I returned to the lounge to run some errands after the assistant chief left, the instructors and the clerks gathered around me with excitement. “You’re wonderful! He praised your work so much!” I was surprised when I found out that the assistant chief editor praised my work. Some of the people who surrounded me then were instructors who always criticized my work. If those instructors were that excited about a student receiving positive reviews, then the assistant chief must have really liked it.
*The path I used to walk while I attended vocational school. The summers were hot, and the cicadas were very loud. I clearly remember walking home covered in sweat.
Summer break came, but class was held in the form of a training camp. As part of the camp, we each submitted our work to a comic magazine company. The chief editor glanced at my work and reacted with an “ugh…” He left an insulting review. I was quite disappointed.
After that, we were given the opportunity to have two professional manga artists look at our work. I felt discouraged, so I stayed in my chair, and refused to line up. Then, my friends told me: “Show them what you got! You don’t know what they’ll think of it unless you show them!” As someone who can’t say “no,” I lined up, albeit reluctantly. The student who was right in front of me received a harsh review. Others got into a heated argument with the artists, shouting back at them saying, “There’s no way I can accept your statements!” I regretted lining up. When my turn came, the artist who had a fierce argument with the student looked at my work and said, “This is what you call manga!”
“Look at this,” he said, as he reached over to the other artist. The other artist then said, “Wow! This really is something!” Then he asked, “Where do you want to work?” I reluctantly answered, “If possible, I want to work at Shūkan Shōnen Jump…” He told me: “You can work anywhere you want.” That was the best compliment I had ever received. I expressed my gratitude to my friends who encouraged me to show my work to the artists.
The manga I showed the artists was a comedy manga called “Kuru-cho! What a joke.” and it’s included in “Para’s Gag Comic” (vol.2) which is available at retailers such as Amazon, but if contemporary manga fans look at Kuro-cho, they might not understand why professional artists would praise such artwork. However, that was during a time when manga artists, editors, and even readers kept saying, “Manga isn’t about the artwork. It’s about the content.”
When I was in elementary school, I lived in both Hokkaido and Kagoshima (in northern and southern Japan, respectively). I remember discussing manga with my friends back then. Although we were only in elementary school, we often criticized manga artists who were great at drawing but terrible with content. We were saying they were trying to use good drawings to hide their lack of talent for creating interesting contents. It was thought that manga artists with poorer drawing skills are a lot better since they are truly trying to create great manga with great contents. It was a time when the sense of values for writing manga was nearly opposite to the current manga industry where things to do with drawing such as drawing skills and patterns called “trendy drawing” are more focused upon.
* “Kuro-cho! What a joke.” 1991.
In the vocational school, there were few instructors who thought well of my work. Back then, about 30% of the instructors loved my work. The remaining 70% outright rejected it. Those instructors who criticized my work complimented all the other students' work. On the other hand, instructors who complimented my work criticized all the others' work. Critiques of my work were always different from those of other students.
After graduating the vocational school, I started sending my completed manga to comic magazine publishers. Given what had transpired in the lounge, I decided to send my manga to the assistant chief editor of the major comic magazine company. I may have failed to receive the New Artist Award twice, but I was able to receive the award on my third try. As far as I knew, I was the only one among my vocational school classmates that won the rookie award for a major manga magazine. However, a different person was positioned as my editor, not the assistant chief editor, either because he was an old-fashioned person who never compliments one’s work directly to the artist, or because the assistant chief editor never becomes a rookie’s editor. That was the beginning of a series of unfortunate events.
The new editor went hysterical over the most trivial matters and constantly berated me. He gave uncorroborated excuses and threatened me to erase or change most of the jokes I wrote. It was a stupid request that would obviously lead to my work becoming worse. Making changes to my work for the worse tore me up and was painful. I protested once and told him that doing so would leave me with nothing to draw and asked to give me a little more freedom, but my attempts were futile. I was in a place where I had to erase, or change for the worse, most of the jokes I had created with my heart and soul. Later, I had an opportunity to make my debut on the magazine, but then I realized that there is no meaning to writing manga if I continue to simply write what the editor wants like a puppet. Therefore, I refused the opportunity and left the magazine publisher.
After that, I decided to try making my debut at the biggest comic magazine in Japan. I was immediately a finalist for the rookie award and felt that there was no way I wouldn’t win.
However, starting from around this period, I was unable to draw manga. I don’t know if this was because I was rejected so many times. I questioned myself over my work over and over again and, under such pain, I was unable to move my pen when I tried to write. The agony of not being able to write made me seriously ill three times in a short period of time. After the third time, I thought about what I should do for the future and decided to give up on my career as a manga artist. It was a heart-breaking decision. 15 years have passed since then.
*The apartment I used to rent back then. I stayed indoors trying to draw manga, day and night. The only time I wanted to go out was to buy food.
*The “Mega Crash Tomorrow” I drew immediately before I was unable to draw. 1993.
The Kindle version can be read on Windows, Mac, Android, and iPhone. (You need to download and install the app first.)
The Kindle version and the Kobo version combines the first and second volumes into one comic book.
The revised edition of “PARA'S GAG COMIC” is now on sale. If you purchased the book on Amazon before July 2019, it is not possible to renew it unless you request Amazon to do so. For iBooks, you can renew it by deleting the existing data and re-downloading it.