The art of manga

(From right) Mashiro Moritaka and Takagi Akito from Bakuman.
(From right) Mashiro Moritaka and Takagi Akito from Bakuman. Source: writtenepisodes.com

If you are someone who is following in my blog, you will note that I write a lot about manga. So what is so special about manga? They are just comics like Marvel or Amar Chitra Katha. 

Yes, they are just comics if you want to define it broadly. There is so much more to manga, right from its inception to the way it reaches the consumer that makes it very unique unlike its western counterparts.

The Japanese comics in black and white portray all kind of stories starting from day to day life of teenagers to nail biting fight between good and evil. Manga accounts for about 20-30 per cent of total literature published in Japan and has very high readership. You will be surprised to know that it is very common for not just youngsters but also for adults to read manga in a train while they commute to and from work. One of the reason is that manga has content for everyone from teenage romance to pornography that is normally referred to hentai.

Shueisha and Kodansha are one of the major publishers of manga, who publish magazines for each genre of manga. Before we go further, you need to know how genres are defined in manga. Broadly they can divided into – shounen (male protagonist who is a teen), shoujo (teenage female protagonist), josei (heroine is adult female who is in her twenties), seinen (the guy could be anywhere between 20 to 50), yaoi or shounen ai (boys love aimed at female audience) and finally shoujo ai/yuri (lesbian love).

So most of manga publishing houses have separate magazines for each of its genres. For example Shueisha’s Shounen Jump is very popular and is the dream of many manga artists to get their works published in this particular magazine. Kaichou wa maid sama!, a very popular shoujo manga (and one my favourites) was serialised in Hana to yume, which is run by the Hakusensha. Kodansha too has different magazines that publish shoujo, shounen, josei and seinen works.

The magazines are a compilation of different manga that are serialised anywhere between few year to decades. If you take the manga Watashi no Ookami-kun, it was serialised for close to two years with 18 chapters. At the same time, take Naruto was serialised for 15 years before it came to an end two years ago. There are others like Oishinbo (since 1986) or Glass no kamen (since 1976) that are still being serialised.

Since unlike other form of literature, manga comes in installments that are published weekly or monthly whose pages could be anywhere between 20 and 40 pages. It is more or less like western comics like Marvel or DC, except for the art. The art in manga is one of the most striking feature that makes it unique. Everything you see in manga is hand drawn by mangaka who spends many sleepless nights before completing the plot. That is why no two manga by different authors can have the same style of art. Each author has a style and that alone makes this category of literature unique.

It made me want to know how manga is created, developed and reaches the consumer the way we consume it. It is a long, arduous process apparently from what I learnt from few manga based on mangaka (people who draw manga). There are not a lot of manga that exactly tell you how a life of mangaka is. But reading the ones like Bakuman threw light on what a life of mangaka is and the process involved in getting your work published. There are other manga like Gekkan shoujo Nozaki-kun and Mangaka-san to assistant-san that revolve around manga.

Bakuman, written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, follows the story of two aspiring manga artists in their teens. Though driven by different reasons, Mashiro Moritaka and Takagi Akito work together. In the course of the manga you get to know the life cycle of manga – from its inception to reaching end customer, life of mangaka and also about editors who work closely with .

Most of the manga artists begin their career from one-shots, which are like short stories, whose story end in a single chapter. Mashiro and Takagi, too begin their mangaka career from an one-shot. Mashiro is an illustrator while Takagi comes up with stories. They are always cooped up in Mashiro’s uncle’s apartment that becomes their office room for drawing manga. After many drafts and equally sleepless nights, they finish their first one-shot, a science fiction.

So how exactly is it done? First Takagi draws the outline of the story and gives it to Mashiro. That is the basics. The real struggle starts from here. Since the everything is hand drawn by mangaka, there is no possibility of copy pasting like we do in computers. The face of characters, their clothes, style and mannerism should be exactly the same. Can you imagine yourself drawing a picture exactly the same twice? Probably. Imagine doing it for years 40 pages every week. It takes skill, patience and perseverance. And also a lot of energy. Consider it. You need to do all these work every week without break. It is impossible to do them unless you are passionate. It is more or less like a manual work, except it is just your hand and eyes that is working. You need to be fit, if you want to be in it for a long haul. 

So Mashiro begins his work that involves sketching and colour characters in the 40-page story, do the background, write dialogues, apply shades and draw the impact. I will take sometime to explain what drawing an impact is. How will you know the mood of the person when you are reading comics? By facial expression right. But in manga, they have special effects. In shoujo manga, you will see flowers around the hero, which means that he is very charming. More the flowers, more charming he is. Shades around the person becomes darker or lighter if she/he is depressed or angry, can sparkle depending on their state of mind then. These too have to be taken into account when drawing manga. But all these background works are pushed off to assistants once serialisation begins. 

So what happens once you are done? You need to approach a publishing house. But it is never easy to get it published, is it? When at last the time comes, you again need to make a lot of changes as the editor says. If you are lucky you get a good editor, who takes your welfare in mind just the one Mashiro and Takagi gets. You will hear them repeating, “They are where they are because of Akira Hattori san,” throughout the series.

Editors can nurture you and bring out the best in you or they could be your worst enemy. Hattori brought out the best of Mashiro and Takagi making them the strongest duo. You know what would happen when you have bad editor – your work loses quality and you lose interest in drawing manga. The best part about Bakuman was, you get to glimpse the life of editors as well. Hattori is calm and collected and always keeps the best interest of the artists and publishing company in mind. He needs to know what works and what does not. When a manga is going to be serialised for years, it is the editors who need to keep the flame alive and readers engaged by giving right suggestions to mangaka. They invest as much time and energy as the authors.

And after all this effort, comes the magazine that many like me look forward. Does this not make you want to appreciate manga more?

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