So You Want to be a Manga-ka

Recently, I was putting together some writing samples for a job application when I came across a blog entry I’d written back when I was still editing manga at Tokyopop. Near the end of my time there, all Tokyopop editors were asked to create and maintain a blog on the company’s newly redesigned website. Considering we were being asked to do this while also overseeing a full slate of books each month, not everyone was the best at the maintaining part. However, I saw it as an opportunity to directly connect with fans and hopefully sell some of them on the new original manga titles I was working on.

I tried to update my editor’s blog at least a few times each month, usually with some thoughts on a series I was editing or some preview pages from one of my original titles. However, once I strayed a bit from that formula and wrote a pretty lengthy entry offering some advice to fledgling comic book and manga creators. That entry, which I called “So You Want to be a Manga-ka,” went on to become the second most viewed page on the website. (I believe the most widely viewed page was a poll about which Naruto character was the cutest.)

There’s no longer a, and most of the content that I’d written for my old blog has evaporated into the Internet ether. However, I did manage to back up my “So You Want” entry, and figured it couldn’t hurt to repost it here, in case there’s anyone out there who may benefit from reading it. While it was largely written for the manga community and uses a few terms specifically aimed at them (like “manga-ka”), everything in it applies to artists and writers interested in creating Western comic books as well. If I were to write an article like this today, I’d use different terms, but my thoughts and advice on what it takes to create graphic novels would be pretty much the same. Enjoy!

So You Want to be a Manga-ka

There are tons of very good blog entries on this website offering advice and direction to aspiring artists. So many, in fact, that the thought of putting together my own never crossed my mind until recently. Even when it did, I initially brushed it off, simply because I’m not sure what more I really have to say. However, after receiving a message from an artist asking me for a few suggestions, I began rethinking the issue. After all, most of the art advice blog entries that I’ve read are written by other artists. As far as I know, none of my fellow editors have chimed in and blogged about what makes a good manga artist. Perhaps it’s worth hearing the editorial perspective if you’re interested in drawing manga professionally. After all, if your goal is to get published by TOKYOPOP, we’re the people you’re going to have to impress.

There is one caveat, however. Editors are every bit as different as the artists they work with. I’m by no means claiming to speak for every editor out there, or even every editor at TOKYOPOP. All of us look for different things when we evaluate a new artist. However, I do believe there are a few essentials that we can all agree on, and that’s what I’m going to write about here. A lot of aspiring artists say they dream of becoming a manga-ka, but what does that really mean? What does it take for someone to achieve success as a manga or comic book creator? Well, it takes a good many things, and after a little thought and a lot of Mountain Dew, I believe I’ve hit on most of the essentials.

1. You must be dedicated. If you want to be a manga-ka, this one probably seems like a sure thing. I’m sure you believe you’re dedicated to your art and manga. But are you really? Each volume of original manga that we publish boasts a minimum of 160 pages of sequential art, and takes most artists anywhere from nine months to over a year to complete. If your manga series runs for three volumes, that’s nearly 500 pages of art you’ll be responsible for creating, and around three years of your life that you’ll be devoting to your manga. Sure, it’s easy to feel enthusiastic and dedicated about your manga when you’re just getting started, but after two years of drawing the exact same characters and illustrating the story you outlined and conceived ages ago, are you still going to be that dedicated to it? Or are you going to find yourself getting bored and wanting to work on other things? You’d be surprised how many people find themselves falling into the second category. Make sure you don’t.

2. You must be fast. As I just said, each volume of manga consists of at least 160 pages of art. If you can only complete a page a week, then it’s going to take you over three years to finish a single volume. That’s not practical. While there’s no hard and fast minimum number of pages you MUST be able to do each week, if you can’t at least manage to complete one volume’s worth of manga within a year, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to publish your manga. As a manga-ka, you need to be able to complete solid pages at a relatively quick clip.

3. You must be consistent. This is every bit as important as being fast (and maybe even a little more so). If you’d like to be a manga-ka, consistency is essential, and it’s not as easy as you may think. Do your characters look different in every panel? Do they look like different people when you draw them in profile or from less-common camera angles? Does their height change throughout the series? Do articles of clothing and jewelry you’ve given them disappear and then reappear throughout your manga? Consistency is essential, and while you’ll have an editor to watch your back when it comes to character details, they can’t do your job for you. Your characters and settings have to stay consistent on every page of your manga, whether it’s page 1 or page 387.

4. You must be technically proficient. Yes, there’s a LOT more to art than just technical proficiency. That goes without saying. However, the importance of knowing art fundamentals should also go without saying. When I do portfolio reviews, I find myself pointing out the same three problems over and over again: anatomy, perspective and visual storytelling. If you want to draw comics or manga, you must–I repeat–MUST know the fundamentals of anatomy, perspective and visual storytelling. How you learn these things can vary. Whether you’ve learned them from art school, community college, books or web tutorials really doesn’t matter to me. What DOES matter is that you do know them and know them well. And practicing them is really the only way you’re going to get to know them, my friends. I realize that refining anatomy and perspective in your art is not very fun, but the end result will be greatly worth it. Quite frankly, knowing your fundamentals is what makes the difference between a professional unpublished artist and someone who’s just doing this stuff for kicks when they’re tired of playing video games.

5. You must be dependable. As an editor, I’m have nearly two dozen books that I’m responsible for. I don’t have time to hunt down creators to ask why their pages weren’t turned in on time. Dependability is essential for a manga-ka, and you’d be surprised how often I’ve found it lacking in the artists that I’ve met. As a manga-ka, you’ll be required to work with your editor on creating a schedule that includes deadlines for all of your pages. It’s crucial that you know what pace you can realistically work at when you do this because once that schedule is agreed upon, that’s it. Those are your deadlines. Your publisher is going to expect you to make them. If you don’t, there are people within the company that your editor is going to have to answer to. Those people are not going to accept excuses from your editor, so you’d better believe that your editor isn’t going to accept them from you. Remember, folks, manga publishing is a business. A company’s livelihood depends partially on the book you’re creating for them. It’s easy to lose sight of this when you’re corresponding with one single company representative, but believe me, there’s MUCH more at stake, and missing your deadlines creates much bigger problems than you realize. And for God’s sake, never pull a disappearing act! As your editor, I’m going to expect to be able to pick up the phone and call you during the day if I need to, or to get a response to any email I send you within a day. I get really frustrated when I can’t. It’s the sign of an unprofessional artist.

6. You must be collaborative. This is one that may not apply to all publishers, but it certainly applies to TOKYOPOP. Our books are not created in a vacuum. While the writers and artists are primarily responsible for what you see when you pick up a TOKYOPOP original manga title, they’re not the only people involved. Your editor’s job is to help you tell the best story you’re capable of telling in the time you have to tell it, and for him or her to fulfill that role, you need to listen to them and take what they’re saying to heart. They’re not interested in rewriting your story or “destroying your vision.” They’re interested in making your vision as strong as possible. That also goes for the designer that puts together your cover and even the reps responsible for marketing and selling your book. Everyone involved in working on your book all has the same goal in mind: they want it to be successful, both critically and commercially. While your opinion is extremely important and it’s crucial to “stick to your guns” when the situation truly dictates it, you’d do well to hear what others have to say.

7. You must be patient. A year ago, I probably wouldn’t have included this one, but things have changed over the past year and the reality of the current market necessitates it. As manga has become increasingly more and more popular, the number of hopeful manga-kas has risen, and with this rise in quantity has also come a rise in quality. That means that we’re no longer in a situation where anyone with talent and a great pitch will immediately catch our eye. Further escalating the problem is the increasing amount of global manga available and in development. Editors throughout the manga industry are busier than they’ve ever been, so patience has become quite a virtue among creators. Don’t be surprised if it takes months to hear back on a pitch you submit to a publisher, if you hear back at all. And don’t be surprised if it takes several pitches, or if you’re told to re-pitch an idea in “about a year.” It’s extremely rare for a proposal to get greenlit entirely as is immediately after it’s pitched these days, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

8. You must be talented and creative. I’ve grouped these two together not because they’re less important than the above traits, but because they’re the two that I feel are already the most widely known. Everyone knows you need talent and creativity to create manga, and you know what? It’s hardly in short supply. Talent and creativity are essential. However, it’s the seven other traits I’ve mentioned here that will allow you to stand out from the rest of the hopeful manga-kas and enter the realm of the professional ones.

Still there? Then you’ve definitely shown you’re interested in creating manga professionally. Now let’s see how serious you are about it. I welcome any comments and questions below from artists, whether they’re published or not. I promise that I’ll do my best to address them. Otherwise, go and create! After all, the first part of making manga is to actually go and do it!


The first annual Comikaze Expo is this weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and I’ve been assisting the organizers with some of their programming. I’ve put together three exciting and very different panels for the show, and I’ve been invited to participate in a fourth. In addition, I have two Fraggle Rock signings at the Archaia booth.

Yes, it’s going to be a busy weekend.

If you’re going to Comikaze—and if you’re not you really should be—here’s where you can find me.

Saturday, November 5th

10:00-11:30 a.m. – Archaia Booth (#1709)

I’ll be signing copies of Fraggle Rock, discussing the upcoming Dark Crystal graphic novel series with fans and singing selections from Les Miserable and Jesus Christ Superstar. Well, maybe not that last bit. (That is, unless you want me to. I mean, it’ll be first thing in the morning, I’ll be signing on my own and will probably be hurting for company. I think it’s safe to say that if you’re actually at the show that early and come by to see me, we can talk about or do whatever the hell you want.)

1:00-2:00 p.m. – Room 4

Darkness Rising: New Voices in Horror Comics

Do the things that once gave us the shivers still have the ability to terrify? How many times can we be startled by zombies, vampires and psychopaths before they lose their shock value? What can a genre that’s existed for centuries do to remain relevant to a generation of readers who grew up watching Freddy, Ghostface and Jigsaw? Join Dan Fogler, R. H. Stavis, Jackson Lanzing, David Server and Nicole Sixx as we discuss the process and practice of writing horror comics and figure out how to offer up a fresh serving of fear in this era of Paranormal Activity and The Human Centipede. If you’re a fan of horror or a writer looking to work in the genre, this is the panel for you!

I assembled the above panel and although I’m not mentioned in the panel description, I’ll be serving as moderator. It’s an eclectic, lively and very bright batch of panelists who are sure to have interesting things to say on the subject of scary stuff. If you’re a fan of horror comics (or horror in general), be sure to stop by.

4:00-5:00 p.m. – Room 306AB

Spotlight on Womanthology

Originally devised by Renae de Liz as a way to give women creators of all abilities a chance to be published, the Womanthology project has become one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever. This anthology graphic novel has gained the support of virtually everyone in the comic book community and the first volume, HEROIC , remains one of the most highly anticipated comic book properties in some time. In this panel, various contributors will discuss the development of Womanthology, their individual roles in the project, and the legacy they are building. With Cat Staggs, Bonnie Burton, Kimberly Komatsu, Jenna Busch, Jody Houser, Amanda Deibert, and Mary Bellamy. Moderated by Nicole Sixx.

I won’t be appearing on this panel (for rather obvious reasons), but I did help pull it together and will be out in the audience showing my support. This will be the largest Womanthology panel held since the project was announced, and will be the first panel to show art from the project. As far as I’m concerned, that makes this one a can’t miss.

Sunday, November 6th

1:00-2:00 p.m. – Room 2

How To Make Comics (Great For Kids!)

Everybody’s talking about how comics are growing up, but have we (gasp!) forgotten about the children? With a bunch of publishers starting kids-oriented imprints and many educational programs introducing youngsters to reading through comics, is this audience finally getting proper recognition? Join Tim Beedle (Muppet Robin Hood), Neo Edmund (Zenoscope’s Silver Dragon books), Kazu Kibiushi (Amulet), Paul Morrissey (Casper the Friendly Ghost) and Heather Nuhfer (Strawberry Shortcake) as they chat about what makes “all-ages” awesome, what titles hooked them in the first place as kids and what
downright fun it is to make comics the whole family can enjoy. Moderated by Tom Pinchuk (Unimaginable).

I was invited to participate in the panel on all-ages comics, and of course I was very happy to do so. I’m a firm believer that we need more comics for kids in the market, and an industry-wide system of support to ensure that they reach the readers they’re intended for. Everyone on this panel is a friend of mine and an extremely talented creator. It should be a good time for the whole family, provided I can remember not to swear.

2:00-3:00 p.m. – Room 306AB

Fraggles, Froud and a Frog Named Kermit: Bringing Jim Henson to Comics

For over 75 years, the work of Jim Henson has entertained and inspired viewers of all ages and won him millions of fans worldwide. Today, the legacy of this creative genius has expanded into a new medium—comic books! Join Tim Beedle (Muppet Robin Hood, The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths), Paul Morrissey (The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock), Joe LeFavi (Fraggle Rock, Return to Labyrinth), Jeff Stokely (Fraggle Rock) and Ian Brill (Farscape) as we discuss and dissect all the ways that The Jim Henson Company and Disney are putting puppets to paper. Learn how classic fantasy movies such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth along with beloved TV shows like The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock and The Storyteller have been brought back to life by the writers, artists and editors responsible. Plus, discover how this new medium is allowing The Jim Henson Company to bring life to some of Jim Henson’s unrealized projects, such as the upcoming A Tale of Sand.

I did a version of this panel at the West Hollywood Book Fair, but we have a different crew of panelists this time around, as well as the ability to show art from the books we’ll be discussing. If you’re a Jim Henson fan, you’re going to want to be there, especially if you’re curious about some of the new Henson comics that Archaia will be putting out this year.

3:30-5:00 p.m. – Archaia Booth (#1709)

I’ll be wrapping up Comikaze with a group Fraggle signing in the Archaia booth. I’ll be hanging out with Joe LeFavi, Heather Nuhfer and Paul Morrissey, and we’ll be signing copies of Fraggle Rock while dancing our little bums off to the show’s soundtrack. If you’ve never experience a group Fraggle signing before, they’re usually a lot of fun. And considering we’ll be coming down off of a weekend of con craziness, I’d say anything could happen!

This is Comikaze’s inaugural year, so hopefully you can make it down on Saturday or Sunday to ensure they get a good turnout. LA could use a good comic convention, and the people running Comikaze clearly have their hearts in the right place. Plus, Elvira is one of their special guests. How cool is that?

Hope to see you there!

2011 West Hollywood Book Fair

The 2011 West Hollywood Book Fair is less than a month away, and once again I’ve been helping the fair with its comics and graphic novel programming. I certainly hope you can make it this year because we’re putting together some great panel discussions and signings to mark the fair’s 10th Anniversary.

If you’re not familiar with the West Hollywood Book Fair, it’s one of the largest literary events in California, drawing over 25,000 people to the city of West Hollywood over the course of one day. All genres and types of books are represented: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s, YA, experimental and, of course, comics. If you enjoy reading at all, there’s something for you.

This year’s fair is on Sunday, October 2nd. I’ve put together two panels for the Comics and Graphic Novels stage, one of which I’ll be moderating and both of which I’ll be attending. I hope you can make it out for at least one of them…

Creators Assemble!: The Rise of the Graphic Novel Anthology

12:15-1:15 p.m.

Moderator: Asterios Kokkinos (Devastator)

Kazu Kibuishi (Flight, Explorer)
D.J. Kirkbride (Popgun)
Michael Woods (Outlaw Territory, Low Orbit)
Nicole Sixx (Womanthology)

As the graphic novel has grown in popularity, so too has the graphic novel anthology. Are these story collections an attempt to keep short fiction relevant in long-form comics? Are they born from a desire to explore a theme from many points of view? Or are anthologies simply a way of compiling some of the best work in comics into one diverse book? Join some of the writers, artists and editors responsible for five of the most highly acclaimed graphic novel anthologies as we discuss how bigger can be better, what makes a great collection and how the anthology format benefits creators.

Jim Henson and Comic Books: Putting Puppets to Paper

2:45-3:45 p.m.

Moderator: Tim Beedle (Muppet Robin Hood, Fraggle Rock)

Brian Holguin (The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths)
Heather Nuhfer (Fraggle Rock)
Joe LeFavi (Fraggle Rock, Return to Labyrinth)
Jim Formanek (Director of Product Development, The Jim Henson Company)

For over 75 years, the work of Jim Henson has entertained and inspired viewers of all ages and won him millions of fans worldwide. Today, the legacy of this creative genius has expanded into a new medium—comic books! Learn how classic fantasy movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth along with beloved TV shows like Fraggle Rock are being brought back to life by the writers and editors who are doing it. Plus, discover how this new medium is allowing The Jim Henson Company to bring life to some of Jim Henson’s unrealized projects, such as the upcoming A Tale of Sand.

The West Hollywood Book Fair is a great way to meet and interact with local authors, and to pick up some new books while you’re doing it. It’s free, runs all day and this year coincides with the opening of the new West Hollywood Library. I hope to see you all there.

For a full listing of this year’s programming, check out the fair’s website:

And take a look at this year’s PSA while you’re at it:

Behind the Scenes: Muppet Robin Hood, Part 2

A couple days ago I posted some Muppet Robin Hood audition art from Armand Villavert, Jr. It was strong enough to get Armand the gig, but he wasn’t the only artist who was considered. After all, this was one of the first Muppet comics to be produced since the 1980s. There was a considerable amount of fan interest in it, along with plenty of artists who grew up watching the Muppets and wanted a chance to put their spin on Jim Henson’s classic characters.

In fact, at one point, it really looked like Armand might not be able to draw the book. Muppet Robin Hood had already been solicited and we had a deadline in place, so Paul Morrissey, the comic’s editor, had to scramble to find a potential replacement. And the first person we both thought of was Amy Mebberson.

Now if you’re a fan of BOOM’s Muppet comics, then Amy Mebberson is probably a name you know well. She was the artist on both Muppet Peter Pan and Muppet Sherlock Holmes, and she served as the guest artist for several issues of Roger Langridge’s Muppet Show comic. But all of that work came after Muppet Robin Hood. At the time, Paul wasn’t sure how well Amy could draw the Muppets or whether her style would be one that Disney would get behind. To get her greenlit, he asked Amy to draw a short sequence from my script.

What follows is the sequence as it ran in the comic, followed by Amy’s version of it. Her version was never inked or colored and the lettering is rough and temporary, but it’s easy to imagine how it would’ve come together. Whichever version you prefer, seeing the two side-by-side helps illustrate just how much control the artist has in shaping the tone and pacing of the story, even when they’re working from a completed script. Armand’s version reads considerably different than Amy’s.

Here’s the sequence as it ran in the comic, with art by Armand Villavert, Jr.

And here’s the sequence as drawn by Amy Mebberson.

Amy really managed to bring out the comedic beats. Her version is laugh-out-loud funny and Kermit’s reaction to being handed the staff is priceless. Armand’s version, on the other hand, reads a little more aggressively. He chose to draw the sequence fairly straight, making sure the action got its due. Neither is right or wrong. They’re just different.

I would’ve loved to work with Amy (and I since have on a different project), but I’m  just glad she got her chance to work on the Muppets. After seeing the pages above, it was clear to me that she was born to draw these characters. If you haven’t read Muppet Peter Pan (written by my good friend Grace Randolph) and Muppet Sherlock Holmes, do yourself a favor and hunt them down before they go out of print!

Behind the Scenes: Muppet Robin Hood, Part 1

The process of selecting artists is a little different for me than it is for many editors. Most editors have a full roster of projects in need of artists, so when they find an artist that they like, often they have a project immediately available that they can offer them. But as a freelance editor — which is still a rarity in comics — I’m only working on a handful of projects at any given time. So when I discover a new artist that I like, I save their info, bookmark their website…and I wait. I wait for a project to come my way that would really suit that artist’s style.

Sometimes I may wait to work with a particular artist for years, but when I do finally find a good project for the artist, that’s really just the first step. Since I work primarily on licensed comics these days, I’m not the only person who needs to approve creative teams. The publisher and the licensor both get a say, and the only way they can really judge whether an artist is fit to draw Warcraft, The Dark Crystal, Fraggle Rock or The Muppets is to see some sample art.

Trust me, if there was a way of getting the guys in charge to sign off on an artist that didn’t require asking for sketches and sometimes full pages on spec, I’d be all in favor of it. But there really isn’t, particularly when it comes to the licensor. They want to know what their characters will look like rendered in the artist’s style.

This audition material is often truly remarkable, and outside of the occasional sketchbook section, it’s usually not seen by readers.

Muppet Robin Hood completed its four-issue run two years ago, and with a new Muppets trailer playing in theaters, it seemed like a good time to revisit it and share some fun behind the scenes stuff. Obviously, the Muppets are still © The Muppets Studio and none of this stuff should be considered official Muppet canon. (Especially since I’m pretty sure that the official Muppet canon is property of Gonzo. At least, you’d think so considering he’s always the one who’s getting fired out of it.) Also, I should probably mention that I wasn’t the editor of Muppet Robin Hood. I was the writer. The editor was Paul Morrissey, but my points about sample art still hold true.

The artist on Muppet Robin Hood was Armand Villavert, Jr., an illustrator that Paul Morrissey and I knew from TOKYOPOP. Armand really wanted the gig. So much so that to get Disney to sign off on him, he didn’t just provide character sketches, he came up with a couple of sequences and wrote a complete script for them. These were never meant to be an actual part of the comic, but they’re as funny as anything I came up with. None of the below was written by me. This is all Armand.

The below two pages were colored by T. J. Geisen. I’m not sure why he wasn’t hired to color the entire comic as I think he did a great job on these samples. Note the extra detail and texture he’s provided, which helps give Armand’s line art a little additional depth. That wasn’t an approach used in the actual comic, but it probably should have been.

If you’ve read Muppet Robin Hood and you’re perceptive when it comes to art styles, you may notice something else about the above pages. They’re drawn in a different style than the one used in the comic. Armand originally drew the Muppets less stylized, opting to try to reproduce the actual look of the puppets a little more faithfully. However, after the success of Roger Langridge’s Muppet Show comic, a decision was made to render the Muppets in a style closer to his.

I understand the reasons, but I’m rather fond of this initial approach and can’t help to wonder how the book would’ve looked if we’d stuck with it. The above pages and the below sketches of Kermit and Sweetums at least give us a hint.

Later this week, we’ll look at how much differently a scene can read when drawn by different artists following the same script, and get a glimpse of what Muppet Robin Hood might have looked like had it been drawn by another popular Muppet artist. Stay tuned!