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!

R.I.P. Robofish…

TOKYOPOP will be closing it’s L.A.-based office and leaving the publishing business for good on May 31st, and to commemorate the occasion, Anime Vice asked me to share a few thoughts on my former employer:

Personally, I think the most tragic thing about any of this is that we’ll now never know how Faeries’ Landing ends…

The People Behind the Puppets: Jake T. Forbes

After the success of the first volume of Fraggle Rock, we naturally began asking ourselves what we could do to make the second volume even better. One of the ideas we embraced was bringing on some talented writers and artists who had worked on other successful Jim Henson Company comics. Naturally, Jake T. Forbes was at the top of that select list.

Jake is the writer of Return to Labyrinth, the New York Times bestselling manga series that also serves as the official sequel to the seminal 1986 fantasy film. He’s also a respected expert on manga in the United States and an experienced video game designer. And yet, Jake still manages to keep a low profile, spending his time writing and cooking from his home in the Bay Area.

With a variety of projects in the works, we’ll see how long that low profile lasts…

Jake, when I first met you, you were one of the most respected editors over at Tokyopop, and I was a freelance copy editor just learning about manga. However, what astounded me was that you were a few years younger than me at the time. How did you manage to become one of the most widely respected manga editors and authorities at such a young age?

It largely boils down to being at the right place at the right time. When I applied at Tokyopop, fresh out of college, the company wasn’t well known as a book publisher. I didn’t even realize I was applying for a manga editing position until I was at the interview — I assumed it was a junior editor position at the magazine or website that I was applying for. When I got the job, I was excited to have a grown-up job in a real office — it was great. Tokyopop employed close to 100 people at that time, of whom only six people worked on manga. Everyone else was devoted to the magazine, the anime line, soundtracks, toy importing and, most of all, the website. The company wasn’t Tokyopop; it was Tokyopop.COM.

Prior to being hired, my knowledge of manga and otaku culture was pretty low. In high school and before, I had friends who were more engaged in that nascent scene and so I was familiar with Ranma, Evangelion, Akira and Lone Wolf and Cub, but I didn’t bring a lot of expertise to the table. What I did have, however, was enthusiasm and a deep respect for fan culture and I dug into the secret language of otakudom with relish. At first I was just trying to figure out what was popular with those ahead of the curve, but in time I started to understand why things were popular and form my own educated opinions as I fell in love with the stories and creators I was exposed to. I made a lot of mistakes that first year, but I learned a lot and made many friends and contacts in the fan community.

Less than a year after I started, the company underwent a major shift in focus. Most of the staff moved on as the company dropped the magazine and web content and focused on localization. Suddenly, with just one year of experience, I was the localized manga authority in the office and found myself promoted to Senior Editor. Yikes! Any “authority” I earned came from keeping my eyes and ears open and trying to do right by readers.

Through all the work you did at Tokyopop, on such series as Fruits Basket, Chobits, Priest, Samurai Deeper Kyo and Rave Master, just to name a few, was a goal of yours to eventually move into writing full-time? Why did you leave editing?

I was truly blessed to work on so many amazing and high-profile titles, and I really did enjoy the work, but increasingly, I found my desire to create stories wasn’t being satisfied by localization, where fidelity is the ultimate aim. I was also frustrated by my inability to make the books I was working on better. Part of this was due to cost-cutting measures that caused retouch, lettering and image reproduction quality to shift radically volume to volume, partly it was my butting heads with the zero-tolerance policy on retouching sound-fx, and, perhaps most of all, I was looking for change. The opportunity to write an original series definitely helped me commit to leaving, but I wasn’t completely sure if writing was what I wanted to do full time.

Some people would say you got out at just the right time. I’m not going to ask you to comment on Tokyopop’s current problems, but did you foresee the decline in manga’s popularity? Was that something you’d say was inevitable? And do you still read manga today?

I won’t claim to have predicted manga’s decline at the time. After all, shortly after I left, I went on to lead production at manga upstart GoComi. Part of that was me falling back into a comfort zone, and part of it was my pride compelling me to try and fix the issues I had with quality at Tokyopop. It wasn’t until about a year later that warning signs started going off for me; but by that time, there was already a fair amount of doomsaying. As for reading manga, I do pick up titles from the library, but mostly these days I just read the Viz Signature titles like Children of the Sea, DMC and Urasawa’s stuff, but I’ll pick up the occasional shonen or shojo title to see what’s popular.

You certainly chose an ambitious gig for your first comic book writing project: scripting the official comic book sequel to Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, a film with no shortage of opinionated fans. Was it intimidating?

At the time I suggested Tokyopop pursue that license, I knew that Labyrinth had fans, but I had no idea how opinionated the fans were. I considered myself about as hardcore as Labyrinth fans could get, but it was a personal obsession that I shared with friends and family only. I wasn’t aware of the size of the community who shared that passion. Any intimidation I felt — and there was a lot! — came from working for the Jim Henson Company, as Henson was and is one of the people I most admire. It wasn’t until Comic-Con, where the series was first previewed to a standing-room-only crowd of 200+ fans, that I knew just how big this was.

The cover to the first volume of Return to Labyrinth, beautifully painted by Kouyu Shurei.

How does one go about creating a sequel to such a beloved work of fantasy? Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do, or did the idea change and evolve as you went along?

The story definitely evolved as I went along. The initial outline was much heavier on action and adventure, but the more time I spent with it, the more the series shifted towards melodrama. If the volumes had been scheduled back-to-back, I probably would have stuck to a more action/comedy format, but with six months of downtime between volumes, I ended up getting very introspective and wanted to know more about the characters. I was also finding my voice as a writer.

Did you think about how long the project was when you started? I mean, you were working on it for nearly five years!

The series was originally contracted to be a trilogy. After volume 2, Tokyopop had a major wave of troubles that led to layoffs and the series’ fate was in limbo. I don’t think the executives at Tokyopop realized until after the fact that Return to Labyrinth had become one of the publisher’s best-selling titles! When we finally renewed the contract for volume 3, I convinced them to do another volume so that I could expand the story.

A spread from Return to Labyrinth Volume 1. Yes, that is Travelling Matt making a cameo appearance in the lower left, which technically makes Jake the very first Fraggle Rock comic book writer since the 1980s!

Are you pleased with how it turned out? Is there anything you would do differently?

I’m very pleased with the series as a whole. I hope that the original characters, like Skub, Moppet and Mizumi, will be remembered for years to come. Certainly, there are some things I would do differently in retrospect, and there were a few scenes that got trimmed that I wish could have stayed in for the final volume, but overall, I’m proud of the work that Chris [Lie, the illustrator] and I did. It’s a book created with enthusiasm and love, and I think that sincerity comes through. In my future work, I hope that passion continues, albeit with a little more discipline that comes from experience.

While I know that Return to Labyrinth has plenty of fans — some of them pretty obsessive, actually — not all of the fans of the movie have embraced it. Why do you think that is? Does it bother you?

When you’re working with beloved source material, opinions and emotions invariably and understandably run high with readers. I definitely don’t take it personally if there are Labyrinth fans who don’t embrace Return to Labyrinth.

A page from Return to Labyrinth Volume 4 featuring Moppet, one of the original characters created by Jake for the sequel comic.

At four pages, your Fraggle Rock story was one of the shortest in the book, and yet I felt it was paced perfectly. It didn’t feel like you were trying to cram in too much, which is a common problem with the shorter stories. Was it at all difficult to write something so short and concise after working on such a longer series?

It was tough! I had to trim and trim and trim to make it work. Having a song as the foundation helped, as it helped me focus on what was most important. While writing Return to Labyrinth, I had a tendency towards indulgent dialog. The Labyrinth books are very talky. In the script I’m writing now, I’m really trying to keep dialog short and sweet and less expositional.

Your short is one of the very few Fraggle Rock stories to attempt to incorporate music, which was such an important element of the TV show. For all its strengths, the comic book medium is not a very good one for music. How do you add an audial art form into a medium that’s entirely silent?

I agree, it’s tough to sell lyrics in the comics format. Nine times out of ten, when I read song lyrics in print, it doesn’t feel particularly musical. As a writer, when you put lyrics to the page, you’re counting on the reader being able to turn the text into a song, but for most readers, I have a feeling it’s looked upon as (bad) poetry and glossed over. In the case of Return to Labyrinth, I think the song worked because Bowie’s ballads are so ingrained in the readers’ minds that it’s not hard to imagine the words coming from Bowie cum Jareth. In the case of Fraggle Rock, it was a little easier as the song is more whimsical verse. Verse is a lot easier to sell in print, provided it’s in the right context.

Why did you focus your story on Boober? Can you relate to him?

I mentioned this in another interview, but I admire Boober more than I relate to him. The Fraggle I relate to most is Wembley. Wembley stories sort of stress me out, whereas Boober stories always make me smile.

A page from “Boober and the Ghastly Stain,” Jake’s Fraggle Rock short.

You’ve now written two projects for The Jim Henson Company. Do you see yourself working with the Henson Company again, or are you ready to move on to something else?

As I said up above, Henson is a true hero. My earliest TV memories are of watching Fraggle Rock on HBO. The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan were favorite childhood films (for whatever reason, I didn’t get into the original Muppet Movie until adulthood). I loved both Storyteller series, the fantasy films, and any Creature Shop work in other movies. Being able to work with the Henson Company is a dream come true. Would I work with the Henson Company again? In a heartbeat, if there is an appropriate story that I felt needed to be told and the Henson Company wanted to share in its creation.

As you’ve been writing these projects, you’ve also had a successful career in video game development. Do you feel video games and comic books have much in common?

Console games and super-hero comics have much in common in that these aging, mostly male, communities of fans and creators are having to come to terms with their no longer being synonymous with their respective mediums. There’s a lot of overlap in terms of art styles, as many artists work in both industries or are inspired by the other. Both industries are going through major periods of adjustment, but I think games have a definite leg up there as activities monetize much better than content.

How difficult was making the transition from a full-time comic book professional to a full-time video game one?

Having published graphic novels to show at an interview was a big help. My first games job started shortly after Return to Labyrinth debuted, and if I didn’t have that book to supplement my resume, I don’t know that I could have scored a game writing job. To be honest, my games career had a rocky start after my first employer imploded and several contract jobs didn’t amount to much. In the console games space, what titles you’ve shipped and who you know makes all the difference in landing a good job. At this point though, the games industry is much more diverse, and there are more opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds. I’m finally on stable ground now, working with a new company that is getting ready to publish some great social games.

While the comic book influence can definitely be seen in today’s entertainment, it’s a very small industry and market compared to the number of game developers and players out there. Do you feel video games and other forms of interactive entertainment might ultimately be responsible for comic book readership’s erosion?

Comics are such an inefficient medium, taking hundreds of hours of an artist’s time for an experience that is consumed in a matter of minutes. As a means of expression, I have no doubt that comics will continue to thrive. As a serious business, I’m not bullish on the comics industry’s potential for growth, outside of perhaps kids’ comics. I’m not worried about comics — the creators and publishers who have comics in their blood, who create works that matter and resonate with readers, will keep on putting out amazing work. As for the explosion of fandom that continues to grow as children of the 80s and beyond grow up and exert their influence — that fandom we see at the madhouse that is Comic-Con — I don’t think it’s the comics industry that will ultimately benefit from that passion. Games, on the other hand, have huge growth potential as they evolve from $60 console experiences into a multitude of forms. I’m a book fetishist, so I still hope to publish a few more bound books before I give up on the medium, but as a storyteller, I expect I’ll reach a much bigger audience through games.

So what’s next for you?

I wish I had more details to share. Right now I’m working for a company called Making Fun, a new games division of Fox, working on a few games to debut this summer or fall. On the comics front, I’ve got an original graphic novel project with an amazing artist you’ll recognize that I’m looking for a publishing partner for. Check in with me in a month and hopefully I’ll have an update about that one!

And finally, I’ve heard rumors that you’re also a whiz at LEGO construction? Do I smell a potential third career path?

That was a path that I’ve long since diverged from. In college, a friend and I built LEGO displays for toy store windows. I probably have 200,000 bricks in storage right now, and every once in a while I start dreaming about undergoing a major building project again. It’s intimidating, though. Ten years ago, when I was last active, the “Adult Fan of LEGO” community was pretty scattered and the standards weren’t all that high. Since then, multiple LEGO communities have exploded online, and adult creators have shared techniques and refined building practices from the chunky styling I once knew to SNOT (studs-not-on-top) sleek designs. Instead of the eight main colors I knew, there are a good two dozen shades. It’s not that the bricks have gotten more specialized and dumbed down, as happened in the late 90s, but rather the standards are so much higher. It’s scary!

Actually, it’s a lot like the Magic the Gathering scene. Today’s cards are great, benefiting from 15 years of refinement, but for an “old-timer” like me, it’s a little intimidating to go back. I actually dipped my toes back into both LEGO and M:TG waters this past month, having bought the amazing Diagon Alley set to decorate my new desk and participated in a booster draft. If only I had more hours in the week to be a nerd! I’m having a hard enough time getting through my stack of games. And right now, everything takes a back seat to Dragon Age 2.

Well, LEGOs have proven to be a surprisingly fun subject for video games. Do you think there may be LEGO comics in the future?

I don’t see it. The main appeal of LEGO comes from their wonderfully tangible nature. The Traveler’s Tales games like LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Harry Potter do a great job of invoking the look, feel and sound of the bricks. The limitations imposed on their narrative by way of the bricks makes for great comedy in motion. I don’t think it would translate well to comics. Actually, that’s not quite true. The Brick Testament is amazing. For the most part, I think LEGO works best as vignettes and not as a medium for storytelling.

For more information on Jake and his projects, be sure to visit his website,

And check back again soon for more Fraggle Rock creator interviews, including one with another Jim Henson manga creator!

Manga is not a dirty word…

I don’t think I fully realized how big a hole Tokyopop blew in the comic book horizon when they shuttered their original manga program until recently. Say what you will about Tokyopop as a company, it’s hard to argue that for a few years, they created a lot of opportunity for a lot of artists. Thanks to Tokyopop, thousands were exposed to the work of Felipe Smith, Rivkah and M. Alice LeGrow. Popular indie artists like Becky Cloonan, Ross Campbell and Brandon Graham got a boost to their careers, and dozens of unpublished creators received their first break through the Rising Stars of Manga contest.

But more than any of that, Tokyopop embraced a style of art that most other publishers wouldn’t touch—the manga-influenced one. An entire generation of young comic book artists had grown up reading the books that Tokyopop, Viz and Dark Horse had helped bring to the United States and wanted to draw in that sort of style, and for a few years, it actually seemed like they may be able to make a little money doing so.

Then Tokyopop ran into trouble, and the rest of the manga industry soon followed suit. Yen Press has scaled back their original manga plans, Del Rey Manga no longer exists and Viz, if they ever intended to publish original content created in the United States, seemed to have a change of heart. Of course, in so doing, the options for manga-influenced artists were gutted, leaving most to look to web-publishing and self-publishing for getting their comics out there.

Now, I’m not knocking self-publishing or webcomics. If done well, they can pay off handsomely for a talented creator. But they shouldn’t be the only options out there for talented artists. Yet the unfortunate truth is that the majority of western comic book publishers really have no interest in publishing manga-style comic art. And you know what? I really don’t blame the publishers. They aren’t interested in publishing that style of art because it doesn’t sell for them. Of course, the reason it doesn’t sell is entirely due to us, the fans.

Why are we so limited in what we’ll read? I’ve already written about our reluctance to sample anything not published by the Big Two, but we also need to really ask ourselves why we’re so biased against manga-influenced art. I understand why much of the Japanese manga that gets published out here may not be of interest to a reader who isn’t interested in interpreting another culture’s mores and sense of humor just so they can enjoy a comic book. But we’re not talking about Japanese manga here. We’re talking about American comics that just happen to be drawn in a style that’s influenced by Japanese sequential art.

Before I go any further, I should probably make it clear that I’m writing this as someone who was once ridiculously biased against manga. I started at Tokyopop with an inherent love for superheroes and a complete lack of interest in Japanese graphic novels. Had I not landed my job there, it’s unlikely I’d even know what a tankoubon was, let alone actually sat down and read them. It’s also worth mentioning that since leaving Tokyopop, the amount of manga that I’ve read has seriously decreased. There are titles that I enjoy, but when I compare the amount of manga I read each year with the number of western comics, western comics win by a mile.

But I still read Bizenghast. I still read Nightschool. I read Re:Play through to its conclusion (and not just because I was the editor of that series for a while). If I have any interest in the subject matter of a comic, I’ll read it, regardless of the style. So why is it that comics drawn by manga-influenced artists (other than Adam Warren) seem to always struggle to find an audience in the United States?

Unfortunately, I still think there’s a lot of misunderstanding among both readers and publishers. They hear manga and they instantly think of big eyes and flowery backgrounds. The problem is that far too many people still cling to the idea that manga is a style. Manga is not a style. It’s a format, and even within that format there’s a lot of diversity. To say someone is a manga artist is no different than to say they’re a comic book artist. And just like with comic book artists, manga artists can draw in vastly different styles.

Svetlana Chmakova’s manga art is very different from Nam Kim’s. Christy Lijewski’s art looks nothing like Rem’s. All of them are manga-influenced, and not one of them draws characters that look like Sailor Moon. Sure, it’s possible they could adapt their art, make it look more western. Being stylistically diverse isn’t a bad thing, especially if it can get them more paying work. But why should they have to do that if they don’t want to? Why should any talented artist have to?

I should mention that there ARE publishers out there who seem more than happy to hire gifted, unique artists regardless of their style and influence. Thank goodness for Oni Press, First Second and traditional publishers like Penguin. We need more of them. But for that to happen, we first need to be willing to prove to publishers that comics drawn by manga-influenced artists can sell, and that means recognizing that manga isn’t this evil, threatening entity that we must destroy before it absorbs all the shelves at our local comic book shops, but part of the family. Don’t roll your eyes when you hear someone call themselves a manga artist—look at their art. Really look at it. It won’t hurt you, and if you keep an open mind, I can guarantee that there are quite a few manga-influenced artists that you’re going to love.

At New York Comic-Con last month, I was introduced to a ridiculously talented manga-influenced artist. She showed me her latest comic (which she had self-published), and after seeing how skilled she is, I thought about a few of the projects I’m working on that are in need of artists. I asked her if she only drew in a manga style, and she said yes. It was the only way of drawing that she really felt passionate about. I remember looking down at some of the comics in front of me, shaking my head, and telling her that unfortunately, I didn’t have any opportunities for her right now. None of the publishers I’m working with are interested in publishing comics drawn in a manga-influenced style. She smiled and said she understood, and that it’s something she’s heard before.

It’s a conversation I hope to never have again.