Translator’s Introduction: This is part four of the five-part conversation between manga artist and J-Comi founder Ken Akamatsu and manga editor, writer, and professor Takekuma Kentaro. Previous parts, as well as a more detailed introduction, can be found via links on the index below.
“Out of Print Titles Mean a Certain Standard of Quality and an Assurance of Not Being Too Erotic or Violent”
“Monkey Manga 2.0 was Planned to be a Media Mix”
“If the Function of Magazines Moves to E-Publishing, New Artists Won’t Sell”
“Places for New Artists to Debut and Editors to Practice Will Disappear”
“When Manga Artists with Producing Skills Fade Away, the Industry Will Snap”
“Present-Day Japan Doesn’t Have the Time or Money to Read Manga That Isn’t Guaranteed to be Interesting”
“As Long as an Artist Pays Their Own ‘Entertainment Fee,’ They Won’t Make Money”
“Manga Artists Will Independently Hire Editors, as Lawyers or Accountants are Hired”
“Our Job is to Provide a Place to Debut for Those with the Fundamentals Down”
“Let’s Meet Again in Five Years. We’ll See Then Who’s Laughing and Who’s Crying”
[Original Article: Masahiro Yamaguchi, ITmedia.
Copyright 2011 ITmedia Inc. All Rights Reserved.]
Part 4: “We Might Start Seeing More Manga Artists with Six-to-Eight Million Yen Salaries in the Future” (Takekuma)
Akamatsu: Thinking in terms of frameworks is dangerous. If anything, I think it’s best to take a shotgun approach. Have a lot of talented artists draw something, do a media mix, or all sorts of added-value extras, and put out a lot of product. Being able to try many different things is one advantage of manga. Editors mostly pay attention to frameworks and packages. I mentioned this on Twitter, but I feel like people aren’t recognizing just how risky creating frameworks can be.
Takekuma: Though you’re saying that about frameworks, editors have to work alongside an author, since their job isn’t something they can do alone.
Akamatsu: The kinds of fixed models you’re talking about are disappearing. I think that editors will start to disappear, and we’ll basically move to a model where a ton of titles are constantly released, and the industry focuses on fostering along whatever sticks. If this happens, then editorial corrections aren’t needed anymore. It’ll basically be that as long as you have a lot to choose from, something good will show up, and you won’t need to fix those works.
Takekuma: Actually, in a way, that was how the manga industry used to work. They assumed that they had an unending supply of new artists, and that a poor marksman would hit a target eventually, given enough tries. But now, even if you have a talented new artist…
Akamatsu: That’s right. There’s nowhere for their work to be released.
Takekuma: People working at the publishers have all been going to Comiket and Comitia recently, too. Places like those are really efficient in terms of finding talent.
— Other than Comiket, isn’t there also the option of exhibiting your work online now?
Takekuma: Yes. For example, the woman who did the cover of “Mavo” is forty right now, and first debuted as a manga artist at 38. She drew as a hobby until she got married, and started displaying her animations and manga online after marrying. She became well-known through those, and people started coming to her with work. The number of people debuting online these days is increasing quite a bit. Actually, all the young editors these days are looking at pixiv, looking for people they can start using immediately.
Akamatsu: But it’s like you always hear, right? The people who make the top 10 at pixiv get a bunch of people offering them work, but none of them want to pay the artist for it.
— There are definitely a number of professional manga artists who got their start on pixiv, though.
Akamatsu: But they’re not working in major magazines, are they?
Takekuma: I think the concept of the “major magazine” is going to start changing. We might be entering an age where we stop hearing about things like million-selling volumes, or series selling 20 million. This current generation of people like Mr. Akamatsu or series like One Piece might just be the last of their kind.
Akamatsu: Isn’t that the same as what I just said? The industry is going to snap after all.
Takekuma: No, you see, artists will still be able to sell 50,000 copies, for example. You can make a living selling 50,000 copies of a volume.
Akamatsu: You say 50,000, but how expensive are those volumes?
Takekuma: Regardless, I think that we’ll see more manga artists living off of six to eight million yen a year, as long as they have at least a bit of a name.
Takekuma: That’s what I’ve been trying to say. Since you’re a major artist, creating a million seller is a certain marker of status to you. I won’t take away from that, but I’m thinking that it’s fine to hit a bunch of singles, or even bunts. Just as long as you get on base.
Akamatsu: That must be an editor’s point of view. As an artist, you would obviously rather have a million people reading your work and be making a few hundred million yen a year. If baseball players all got paid 5 million yen a year, you’d be taking away the dream.
Takekuma: No, editors think that as well. But what happens if you fall short and can’t make it that far? Do you quit altogether, or do you stay, because you love manga? In any case, I think that we’ll start seeing a business model completely different from the one we have now. And, if it involves the overseas market like you were talking about earlier, there is certainly room to make however many hundreds of millions of yen. But the Japanese manga industry hasn’t been attempting to make that happen at all.
“As Long as an Artist Pays Their Own ‘Entertainment Fee,’ They Won’t Make Money” (Akamatsu)
Akamatsu: Which is better, a manga that’s interesting, or a manga that sells? Do you think it’s no good if a boring manga starts selling?
Takekuma: Hmm, I’d have to say the interesting manga.
Akamatsu: So you’re fine if a manga doesn’t sell, as long as it’s interesting?
Takekuma: If you put it like that, then yes. But doesn’t everyone think that they want to sell something interesting?
Akamatsu: Hmm, I don’t really like that line of thought. Isn’t that being too much of a romanticist?
— Recently in the world of J-Pop, there have been a lot of young artists who are fine with not selling a million copies, and are thinking of ways to just pay the bills by selling 50,000 or 100,000 copies. They’re also starting their own independent labels, and running their own businesses. At the same time, those people are also trying to get into the Oricon1 top five. I think that we’ll start seeing something similar in manga. The only problem is whether or not we’ll have as many people still hoping to become manga artists once that happens.
Akamatsu: That’s the problem. Why not just draw and upload what you do to pixiv?
Takekuma: I’ve never made a huge amount of money, so I’m more of the type who feels like if you don’t have money, you don’t have money, and I find that there’s a lot of enjoyable things about that kind of lifestyle.
Akamatsu: But back when Monkey Manga was selling and everyone was reading your work, you also had the experience of making a lot of money and everyone knowing your name, didn’t you?
Takekuma: Well, for “Monkey Manga”… Even if you say that it sold well, it wasn’t anything amazing. The company went and printed 200,000 copies for the first printing of the first volume, and Koji Aihara and I got them to hold up after that. We said to start with 50,000, then see how sales go. After that, the volume sold about 120,000 or 130,000 copies. Even so, there were a lot of unsold copies, so they printed 80,000 for volume 2, and 45,000 for volume 3. In the end, my read of printing 50,000 and waiting was right.
Akamatsu: If they were able to sell 120,000 copies of a 200,000 copy print run, they still must have made money.
Takekuma: Of course it still made money, but I’m a minor artist at heart. An underground, super-minor artist.
Akamatsu: In Bakuman, you have a story where upstart young boys say “we’re gonna sell a bunch of manga!” and an upstart editor who says “we’re gonna sell a bunch of manga!”. Do you think there’s something wrong with that line of thought?
Takekuma: Of course I’m fine with that. Just, I think that there are books that sell a million copies in one year, and books that sell a million copies, but not until after a hundred years. Of course, you’d think the former case is better, but it’s becoming a lot harder to do that.
Akamatsu: I don’t understand that. You’ve even had experience working on something that sold well.
Takekuma: But what I want is for something I worked on to last, even after I die. You were saying that I was being a romanticist earlier, but you’re exactly right. I’ve been living my life as a romanticist for the last fifty years. (laughter)
Akamatsu: I entered the manga world with the intention to quit if my first work didn’t sell, and even had a backup plan secured. But my juniors in the industry don’t have backup plans. In order to persuade my parents, I won a newcomers prize, and when I was debuting as a manga artist, I was simultaneously hunting for jobs. They were very demanding. I absolutely wasn’t thinking something like “I know I can make it!” or “I won’t give up until I make it!” You can say that I wasn’t much of a romanticist in that regard, but there are a lot of manga artists who are. In that way, I think of you as being like a manga artist, Mr. Takekuma.
Takekuma: Well, maybe I have an artist’s mentality. The reason I call myself an editor, too, is because I want to create a work as an editor.
— What kind of mentality do the students at Tama Art University and Kyoto Seika University who want to be manga artists have?
Takekuma: There’ve been a lot of people who I’ve thought are incredibly talented, but as far as I know, not a single one has debuted. There’s a lot of reasons for that. For example, they can’t communicate well with others, or they’re such perfectionists that they can’t show people something that might still have room for improvement.
Akamatsu: All the talented artists say that.
Takekuma: I had one female student who I thought was a genius, and she told me an idea she had for a manga. I told her it sounded interesting, and that she should draw thumbnails for it, but it’s been two years and she’s still not finished with them. Basically, she’s a perfectionist. During this period, she’s been selling BL (boys’ love) manga at Comitia, so she’ll draw those. Except, even though she received a booth at Comitia, she didn’t get there until three in the afternoon.2 She was drawing all the way until that point, and just brought bundles of unstapled copies with her to the event. Clearly, she’s not thinking about sales. When I looked at those copies, I thought that she was definitely very talented, but that if she’s this kind of person, she could never become a pro.
Akamatsu: In Akamatsu-ian Theory, there’s a concept called the “entertainment fee”. If you’re enjoying what you’re drawing, you are paying your own work’s entertainment fee, and so you won’t make any money from it. If you draw something so that your editor and your readers enjoy it, you receive that entertainment fee. If you’re enjoying what you make, you’re paying your entertainment fee, and it’s harder for other people to enjoy the work, while your chances of debuting also decrease.
If a genre requires a high entertainment fee, it means that the genre is also fun to draw, causing everyone to be attracted to it, and the number of writers in that genre will become very high. When that happens, page rates will go down, and you can’t make money. That’s why you shouldn’t get involved with something with a high entertainment fee when you can help it. On the flip side, commercial magazines have to make all sorts of people happy, so you have less freedom to enjoy yourself. As this happens, the chance that you’ll receive that entertainment fee becomes higher.
Takekuma: Does that mean that you couldn’t stand to continue doing what you do if you couldn’t make money from it?
Akamatsu: That’s another way to put it. If you look at it the other way around, I feel that something drawn by an artist who’s doing nothing but entertaining themselves couldn’t possibly make money. I’m not saying that it’s karma, though.
— Akamatsu-sensei, what motivates you right now?
Akamatsu: Seeing enjoyment on the faces of readers. After all, you can see how much people are enjoying themselves when you look at sales numbers. Sales numbers, or royalty checks. I see those and think, “I’m glad that people enjoyed my work this much.” It works out so that if readers are happy with my work, I’m happy too. It was definitely like that toward the end of Love Hina.
“Manga Artists Will Independently Hire Editors, as Lawyers or Accountants are Hired” (Takekuma)
Takekuma: While I can’t help but speak from an editor’s standpoint again, one thing I want is to see the state of manga change into something new before I die. My end goal is to die after I’ve created that state. J-Comi drew my attention because it’s one part of this new state, and if I were running J-Comi, I’d think about releasing it as a system for new authors and their work, as an attempt to revitalize the manga industry. Listening to what you’ve said today, though, that’s not what you want to do.
Akamatsu: That’s not something that I’m considering. Really, I’m trying to avoid any risk whatsoever.
Takekuma: But don’t they say “no risk, no return”?
Akamatsu: What I’ve concluded is that I can’t take the time and effort to raise young artists whose ability to create something interesting or something that sells is still unknown. You might say that doing just that is the most interesting part of all of this, but that’s a romantic way of thinking.
Takekuma: All editors are that way. The greatest joy an editor feels is when they meet a promising new artist.
Akamatsu: Editors might feel that way, but what about the lives of manga artists whose work doesn’t sell? There seems to even be a mood where editors aren’t considered true professionals until after they’ve gone through and crushed however many artists first. Looking at editors from a manga artist’s perspective, if I’m going to get involved with an editor, I want a 100% guarantee that my book is going to sell. All manga artists wonder why it’s them who are getting cut by publishers, while their editors are still employed at a company despite canceled series after canceled series.
— Won’t that be fixed once the number of freelance editors increases, like Mr. Takekuma was talking about? Up until now, manga artists haven’t been able to choose their own editors. Things might start getting better if the number of freelance editors goes up.
Takekuma: Freelance editors will become agents. Manga artists will hire editors, just like how they might hire a lawyer or an accountant. I think we’ll be seeing this happen in five years or so.
— That’s something that editors won’t be able to do as long as they’re hired at a company. Also, while you might be reassigned editors at a publisher, that won’t happen with freelancers.
Takekuma: I think that one reason that “Nodame Cantabile” was such a success was because the editor for the series, Ms. Mikawa, was a freelance editor, and was able to work on the series for eight years straight, from the very beginning to the very end. Have you ever worked with an editor who really wowed you, Mr. Akamatsu?
Akamatsu: I felt like that when I was first starting, but after two to three years, you start figuring out what an editor’s probably going to tell you. Once that happens, in theory, you could just start correcting your own manga.
— Looking at it the other way around, that means that those first two to three years are essential.
Akamatsu: That’s right. At Magazine, when a new editor is assigned to an artist, they’re also assigned a senior editor. That senior editor will tell the manga artist what they should fix, then turn to the younger editor and ask, “by the way, what do you think?” By doing this, both the manga artist and the senior editor are working together to train the younger editor. This means that it takes years to train an editor, and it also takes years to train a new manga artist. There’s no more room to do something like that. We’re in a situation where you have to get artists with some sort of immediate sales potential, so there’s no more room for training.