My usual Christmas break from blogging was extended by an unexpected job offer. All job offers are good for writers, but this turned out even better than most: challenging, demanding, but a wonderful experience.
I was asked to put together a team of artists at very short notice, and to create and edit a book on how to draw in manga style – in a little over a month. I love to work with artists and crafters, and I’m lucky enough to count quite a few of them among my friends, so I thought that despite the short timescale the job was do-able. And although a number of the people I approached were too busy to join the party, I found twelve artists up for the challenge.
These artists are a very mixed bunch: of varied age, origin and culture, some with a formal art education and some entirely self-taught, some seasoned pros who’ve sold comics and illustrations at home and abroad – even in Japan – and some doing their first professionally published art. They work in all kinds of media, from collage to traditional watercolours and inks to pixels. Their art style and approach to image-making, storytelling and character creation is as varied and dynamic as the manga medium itself.
The world of manga instructional books is full of candidates for your money, some worthy, some less so. There are books that blithely rip off other people’s art, thus encouraging readers to do the same. There are books that shamelessly cash in on the “big eyes/big hair/big robots” paradigm, ignoring the wealth and variety of Japan’s comics tradition. There are books translated from Japanese, like the excellent Comickers series. The best way to narrow down all this overwhelming choice, in my opinion, is to seek out the books that allow artists who’ve actually created their own work to talk you through how they did it, step by step.
As an historian and scholar I find the use of the word “manga” for any comics that aren’t Japanese unnecessary at best and misleading at worst. In Japan the two words, manga and comics, are used interchangeably and in Britain manga is all too often used as a label to tart up goods for sale to an unwary audience. But out in the unscholarly world, people who would never have made something called a comic are joyously creating something they call manga – and I can’t help but welcome the uprush of creative energy that choosing the manga label has given to a whole generation of fans-turned-artists.
So who are the artists who took on the challenge of sharing their skills with the next generation? Watch this space to find out!