Must Read: Can you make a living creating manga in North America?

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That’s the question Russo-Canadian cartoonist Svetlana Chmakova—by any standards, one of the most successful North American manga creators—posed to a bunch of us at breakfast during TCAF. And Deb Aoki has responded with a comprehensive five-part series examining the question. Four parts are up thus far. Aoki starts with examining the reasons why manga by non-Japanese creators—whether you call it OEL or Global Manga or Bruce— has a hard time in the market, listing nine reasons. Among them:

A smaller pie = fewer slices - Compared to Japan, fewer people per capita purchase and read comics on a regular basis, thus the North American comics publishing industry is much, much smaller / generates much less money.

Want to be published in manga magazine? Dream on – Unlike Japan, there are few North American anthology magazines that feature up-and-coming comics creators.

American manga readers tend to snub/ignore ‘fake’ manga - While North American manga readers love manga from Japan, they have have been reluctant to show the same level of support for homegrown content. This includes the artists’ alley scene at many anime cons where pin-ups and buttons featuring fan art of Japanese manga characters outsell original comics stories and characters.


Aoki goes on to quote the Twitter and email responses she received from a laundry list of the most knowledgable folks in NA manga, from Jason Thompson to Lea Hernandez. For instance, in part 2, Chris Butcher suggests part of the problem with selling global manga is the snobbery that manga in NA was launched with:

“One of Tokyopop’s greatest sins is creating an asshole generation of readers obsessed with ‘authenticity,’ hatefully pointing out ‘fake’ manga. There is an audience for work influenced by manga and Japan. It was at TCAF this weekend. We just gotta ignore the haters and press.”


This is echoed by this:

“Interestingly, I recently spoke to a high school class who asked me how they could break in to the industry. I asked them how many manga they bought by American artists and they told me ‘none.’ But they didn’t see the connection.”
- Erica Friedman (@Yuricon), Manga publisher, ALC Publishing and manga/anime blogger at Okazu


In part 3 the panel examines the lack of technique among the many manga aspirants:

A frequently heard complaint from pros in the comics publishing business is how many portfolios and proposals cross their desk from aspiring manga creators who simply lack the skill, polish and experience to produce professional-level work. Whether it’s a lack of basic drawing skills, sloppy paneling and pacing, or lackluster storytelling, or a combination of these things, many novice creators, even ones that have completed four years of art school seem ill-equipped to make their dreams of a career in comics into a paying reality.

For example, for the past two years, Yen Press has put out an open call for new creators to submit a sample short story for their Talent Search. But in 2012, as in 2011, no ‘winners’ were announced. In the May 2012 issue of Yen Plus magazine, Yen Press Editor JuYoun Lee described what she had received in the 2012 Talent Search and why she found many entries lacking.


Among the topics touched on—what art school doesn’t teach you:

“We all know art is super personal and largely insular. But like anyone else looking for jobs, you need the skills to sell it, not to mention basic accounting, public speaking, and other really important skills. Well, they never teach you that stuff in school, though they really should unless they’re gearing artists to work for companies. It should be the standard for every single art major who is going into art for application, not research. Can’t be ignorant with money. In general, the whole education system really needs a massive overhaul. Technology is changing the way we do everything. ”
- Audra Furuichi (@kyubikitsy), Webcomics creator, Nemu-Nemu


In Part 4, Aoki looks at the dark side of Tokyopop’s huge OEL movement:

From what I’ve heard, the company has never made back their investment from publishing these original stories. This is possibly why TokyoPop is holding on to the rights to these series — It’s money they may be hoping to recoup someday with movie or other publishing deals, even though TokyoPop shuttered their N. American publishing operations in June 2011. As one of the first to undertake publishing manga-style comics by non-Japanese creators on a large scale, TokyoPop ventured boldly into unknown territory. They gave a lot of talented creators their first shot, they had a few successes, and they made their share of mistakes. TokyoPop made many contributions to the growth of manga in America, so it’s too bad that their past efforts have left a long-lingering sour taste in the industry. Looking back on what they accomplished, what can we learn from TokyoPop’s manga publishing efforts?


and offers a rare critique of the Minx line that blames the content:

Well, speaking as a reader, I found most of the Minx titles to be… dreary, preachy, and so self-conscious about sending a politically correct message about ‘girl empowerment,’ they forgot to be fun, and (gasp) as trashy/romantic/silly/sexy and addictive as shojo manga, or even Twilight, for crap’s sake. Nice try, DC — but given how much you missed the mark, and how quickly you gave up, maybe you didn’t try hard enough.


It’s also noted that the dream of moving to Japan to make manga is impossible unless you speak Japanese, and even then there is so much homegrown talent you really need the ultimate in perseverance to break through. Finally, the webcomic model is examined with MegaTokyo’s Fred Gallagher (who you would think would be one of the most successful American manga-ka of all writing:

“I fantasize about drawing for a living too :( All the work put into the content for webcomics are loss leaders. #sadfact”

“After (the) manga presence in book stores went toes up, people once again went online to get their fix, except this time they aren’t wading through webcomics – the scantranslation sites all fill ever need a manga fan could want. We are competing against free content that isn’t just other creators — it’s like, the pro stuff. ^^;; I still think people are happy to support and buy stuff related to properties they really like. We just have to be that good.”


There’s much more—yet to come, Part 5, in which Aoki’s crew points the way forward. We’ll link to that as soon as it’s up!

Comments

  1. Just throwin’ this out, but maybe part of this whole issue is that “Manga” is treated like its own genre. Like NA comics are just all Superheroes.

    Maybe if the emphasis could be changed to just telling good engaging stories with art to match, a lot of the elitism that some readers of both would decrease.

    In the late 70′s there were Jack Kirby/Neal Adams wannabees just like there are “Mangaka” wannabes today. It’s cool to want to emulate a style, but It’s more important to actually have the knowledge first-hand on how to actually draw.

    Steve Gerber once said that anybody who copied Gene Colan’s style would actually learn about camera angles and light & shadow. In the process of copying Colan one would find his/her own artistic talent and voice.

    But just look at any one of the “How to draw Manga” books and it’s like they’re teaching shorthand, this sqiggle means this and that dot means that and so on.

    I would give just two sections of advice to any aspiring Comic Artist (and that means Manga artists, too):

    1] Three words: Draw. From. Life.

    2] Three more words: Draw. Every. Day.

    And for those who want to both write and draw: Do research. It’s easy now with the interwebs. Take cues and inspiration from the world around YOU and not what you read hours ago. Take a break from reading comics/manga for a few months. Watch old movies, read books that you wouldn’t normally read.

    I think if more creators would do this, Comics as a whole would improve.

    But I rant and digress. I’ve been following this on twitter and it’s been interesting. Too bad everyone is focused on too small a section of the whole thing — Manga may be big in Asia, but Comics is its sibling and it’s time to merge the two and forget about the where it was created and focus on how well it tells a story. Because that’s the incantation on the floor that holds the spell of fiction intact.

  2. monopole says:

    Amen to Michael Rhodes!

    I wouldn’t consider “authenticity” as the primary barrier to NA Manga. I have purchased every volume of MegaTokyo published even though I previously read it on the web.

    The problem is that Gresham’s law applies to both Japan and NA for manga. 90% of Japanese manga is crap too. But the volume is so large, and the worst never makes it across the Pacific, so the number of good mangas in the US market from Japan is correspondingly larger. In the same fashion, I’m certain that there are a few world class curling champs in the US as well, but the crop from up north swamps them.

    I’d liken the situation to rap by white artists. For every Beastie Boy’s, Fort Minor or Mc. Frontalot there are a dozen Vanilla Ice’s with bigger hype levels. If I see that a manga is coming from NA, it raises a flag, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, but I’ll fear the worst.

    I’d point to Adam Warren as an excellent example of an NA Manga artist I will buy sight unseen. This is because he is an excellent artist in both the conventional and manga realms. Second, he is never slavish in his emulation of the manga style. Finally, his writing is top notch.

  3. Rich Johnson says:

    I think one of the biggest issues is that the generation of kids who grew up loving manga have no place to cut their teeth. American comic style artists can work at a variety of publishers; DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, etc. Manga style artists don’t have that option. When I left Yen Press I have lunch with an executive from one of the big Japanse publishers – I told this to the exec and suggested something crazy. Hire American artists to re-do some older manage properties. This might help build the talent here in the states.

  4. Coming from this gen of cartoonists and once being into manga myself, Svetlana and Mike Rhodes are mostly spot on. The kids in the Manga scene are more concerned with being the most “Manga” as possible that they forget to develop their own voice and those who are deemed good are only because they are the most manga-like. like Glam Rock or Gangster Rap it more about fulfilling the image than actually making good comics.
    Suggesting young manga uninfluenced artists to work on their craft or even suggesting art to look at outside their spectrum is something rly hard to convince them about, sometimes they feel its an attack on what they like. I was like that and it was not until I graduated from HS I started looking at art more broadly at Community College.
    For a decent portion of people @ SVA, they go through a sort of personal “Manga Detox” where we took what little we liked from it and left everything else behind. some of us went a more mainstream route, some went indie, or a more pan cartooning direction, but there were some who never left that and their work just looked like 90′s and 00′s manga. their craft was up there mostly but there were some who had nothing meaningful to say within that besides “I like shonen/shoujo/seinen/josei” it was more a trite love letter than personal piece.
    Yes it a matter of telling them to work on their anatomy and such, but also develop a voice. most heavily manga influenced pro-artists are not that inspired in terms of personal flare and voice, its just a more polished fly in the swarm.

  5. Seconding the advice Matt Rhodes dishes out! Adding that a really important element most young artists who want to create manga gloss over is storytelling.

    Many aspiring manga artists love reading subject matter and themes in Japanese comics and make the mistake of retelling the exact same stories for an English audience and emulating their favorite creator’s styles.

    I also agree with Rich’s comment. I think the absence of creative manga ‘mentors’ in NA contributes to the a general ignorance of what it takes to stand out. I just think theoretically if they connected with aspiring manga artists in NA, they would tell young artists to work on their drawing foundations, tell their own stories. Right now, most of this advice is coming from art teachers and publishers and my impression is they aren’t as welcomed as they would be if they were from actual successful manga artists.

  6. keghen says:

    why did you leave yen press?

  7. DarkArmor says:

    Manga like anime is a stylistic art form with formatted storytelling. American manga artists are just bad at it’s style. They draw like they are coping someone else’s work. Until American manga-ka creators understand the simplistic complexities of the art form and the creative formatting of manga storytelling, no one will pay for it!

  8. Becoming a mangaka as an American is NOT impossible but it doesn’t seem to be a life long job like some of the greats such as Rumiko Takahashi. There are a few manga artists who are not Japanese that I know of that worked in Japan for awhile for a Japanese magazine, however, he could speak fluent Japanese and be able understand the manga and its storytelling. There are MAJOR differences between the storytelling not just the art style. I am one of those people who do want to become a mangaka however, I know all the risks and complications. I have been looking at it all for years. Here is some of my advice to some others who are looking to become a mangaka (I have no professional experience, but I have read interviews about other non Japanese manga artists.)
    1: DO RESEARCH–As I have said, there are BIG differences between the manga style and the American style, grab your “How to draw books” that have been translated from Japanese–I recommend a series of books

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/544328.How_To_Draw_Manga_Volume_28

    These are by actual Japanese artists that KNOW how to draw manga and this series has books on EVERYTHING! I have TONS of these and they help big time!

    2: DEVELOP YOUR OWN UNIQUE STYLE–There are so many aspiring artists who seem to be copying works of famous manga I find here in America, I mostly see Naruto and Bleach. Try to break away from that specific style of manga, look at other genres, shojo, seinen, shonen, kodomo–they all have different styles. Look closely at the small detailed differences of each style. STUDY THEM!
    I also found trying new art styles helps you incorporate your own manga style into a more realistic or even more cartoony nature. For example–I grew up copying CLAMP’s work page by page when I was only 8 years old. However, the more manga I read and research I did on the art styles and stories–as well as the more I drew–the more I began to develop my own style but still keep the manga basis I so desperately wanted to keep :) I have developed this over a span of 18 years or more!

    3: DO BE AFRAID OF CRITICS–Do not be jealous of those who are better artists than you. And don’t get intimidated by those people either. Learn from them and take in what some critics are saying to you about your artwork. I used to be really defensive when it came to my artwork throughout junior high school, however I broke this in high school when my teacher of AP art began critiquing my artwork. These informative critiques will not only allow you to see your mistakes but it also allows you to correct them as well.

    4–BECOME FLUENT IN JAPANESE–This is probably the most important. Learning the language is the major key especially if you want to work in Japan. Felipe Smith is one of the mangaka’s I told you about. Check out his videos on youtube and his artwork :) And check out Mark Crilley.

    5–DRAW EVERYDAY–manga artists work there BUTTS off! You have to be able to make it sometimes with no sleep what so ever and doing nothing drawing–there are only small breaks such as sleeping and eating then it is back to work. It is exhausting !
    Drawing everyday is also key for any artist…this helps you improve your skills as well as expand on your own style. Manga artists have changed/improved their styles from the beginning the series to the end–check out how much Tite Kubo and Yuu Watase have improved over the MANY years they have been drawing. That can be you :) WORK HARD GUYS!
    Things are changing–manga didn’t used to be as popular as it is today in the States–but it has made it and it is getting bigger and bigger. I believe things will change for us who aspire to be like the greats such as Yuu Watase, Masashi Kishimoto, Tite Kubo and CLAMP.

  9. I’m just saying this but i think american manga doesn’t feel like manga. the first thing is their drawing styles. Most Japanese mainly draw in pen and ink, but Americans mainly use Photoshop. Another thing about this is that Americans can’t quite get that little things like eyes can totally change the effect. Third is that when an american tries to draw manga, they try to do it for the English readers. for example, all the speech bubbles are fat and similar, but Japanese manga has a bit more variety. Overall, what i think is that if an american can notice these small things then they may just get a bit more popularity.

  10. Dillweed says:

    This actually really inspired me to try manga! I have a few original ideas for a story that I want tot try out. I just really hope I don’t end up at the bottom of the bin completely at the very least I want to enjoy what I make. That is if I do end up doing this!

  11. Sanza says:

    Hey guys my name is Sandile a.k.a Sanza-Boy(nick/pen name) I’m currently 17 and in grade 12 in South Africa,I want to study animation and thinking of being a professional mangaka. I got my own manga style and have a good story in the works and not bad at drawing my comic. I want to be a mangaka SO BAD but the salary is what kills me,I believe I can make it big like the creators of Gundam Seed,Bleach,Naruto etc but I’m wondering about what if I dont make it big I’ll be living in poverty like I am right now so any strategies to making a decent living(please don’t say getting paid to draw real life people cause thats my achilles heel)

  12. skakes says:

    @Sanza
    Hey Sanza, I am from South Africa too, that is not true about the pay, if you are talented enough, the salary can sky rocket, the creator of One Piece gets about 1 billion yen and when convert it into ZAR, it is about 10533297 rands but it is not realistic target because one piece has the most sales of volumes of all time. Also when a manga is serialized, your salary increases each year if your manga does not get cancelled within one year. This information is elementary, you will have to do extensive research and practising every single day on your craft.

  13. Sanza says:

    Thanks alot for the info,and don’t worry about my drawing skills all I need to do is come up with a good story-line then I’m set,I’m still researching though on being a mangaka

  14. cocobean says:

    Are there any manga magazines being published in north america right now? I have my own style and i study manga all the time but i dont know how you would get published in north america. I also agree with previous comments. I think that a lot of manga from north america just doesnt feel like manga. I would read anything if it had good art and a plot/storyline. I also think that if people who want to become mangakas had more options and could get published, manga would also become better in north america.

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