Shojo Beat’s Manga Artist Academy

Promising “Manga Tips From Manga Experts”, what I found most interesting about this how-to volume is how different it is from an American instruction book on making comics.

Shojo Beats Manga Artist Academy cover
Shojo Beat’s Manga Artist Academy
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Take, for example, Scott McCloud’s Making Comics or The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel. These books emphasize having a story to tell, learning to draw well, and similar basics of creation and authorial integrity. Manga Artist Academy, on the other hand, jumps right into what tools you should use, with plenty of brand names mentioned.

The approach is breezy, with tips mentioned once and the reader moved on quickly. The opening sixteen color pages demonstrate techniques beyond the basics. Amu Sumoto covers “from idea to inking” in only four pages, so you can guess it’s pretty high-level. And the likely reader of this book already does know the basics, at least conceptually. It’s refreshing to start from a different, more accomplished place.

Shoko Akira (Monkey High!) shows some inking and tone tricks, and Yuu Watase (Imadoki!) gets six pages on creating color art. Mayu Shinjo (Sensual Phrase) concludes with a very brief section on digital tools, which I found memorable mostly for the high cost of the equipment she uses. (The topic is revisited later in the main part of the book.)

The main section follows Satomi, a panda who wants to draw manga. Her comic adventures (told in right-to-left manga form) instruct the reader as she learns what to do. The mean Mr. Manga Star is her guide and tormentor, introducing her to various artists (including Emiko Sugi, Chie Shinohara, and Rie Takada) and their lessons. For some reason, he knows all these female artists well. He’s also not afraid to be aggressive and violent towards his young student, which makes him seem to have wandered in from some boys’ comic. Satomi also contributes frequent poems that sum up what she’s learning. (This is a very odd book in some ways.)

In addition to advice on manga-specific items like screen tone use, here are some other points that struck me as the kind of advice you don’t hear in American artist-first guides:

  • “A manga artist also needs to be open to other people’s opinions”, in reference to editorial guidance.
  • “Even pros can get visibly rusty if they haven’t used a pen for a while.” The need to practice inking is reiterated (and rightfully so), but I was surprised to see a how-to book sold on the reputations of its contributing professionals point out that pros can look bad too.
  • “The key to success is in the character’s eyes!” Artists are told to patiently layer and highlight for brightness and energy.
  • “Copying professional drawings is the first step to becoming a pro.” New artists are encouraged to copy in order to learn the know-how packed into accomplished work. After you can accurately copy a favorite artist, you should try original work, but feel free to take what you like from other pros.
  • “The longer the legs, the more handsome” when it comes to male characters. I like that better than the over-muscled steroid freaks we get in American genre work.
  • The virtues of cuteness and attractiveness. No ugly characters here!
  • The main character must be liked by the readers. Shy is better than normal to build empathy, because exaggeration is good. And she should probably be a girl. In other words, don’t be afraid to use formulas.
  • Create your characters before your story. And make sure your main plot event is the same as the one-word theme you want to convey.
  • “Don’t be a hermit.” You have to keep up with trends to avoid creating outdated work.

Of course, some instructions are necessary no matter the culture, like the need to practice drawing a variety of expressions or to give characters unique personalities or the virtue of showing something through action instead of using excess amounts of dialogue. The cover and title are important to draw reader attention, and the goal is to create something original, something only this individual artist could produce. And, of course, nothing replaces practice practice practice and hard work.

I found this book enlightening not just in its tips but in its whole attitude towards shojo manga as a successful business that can be taught, craft instead of art. That perspective — summed up by the list of what you need to do manga, which puts talent third after effort and practice — was eye-opening.


3 Responses to “Shojo Beat’s Manga Artist Academy”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Feb. 23, 2009: Return to Big Nothing Says:

    […] [Review] Shojo Beat’s Manga Artist Academy Link: Johanna Draper Carlson […]

  2. MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Numbers games Says:

    […] Manga Reviews) Erica Friedman on vol. 2 of Papaya Gundan (Okazu) Johanna Draper Carlson on Shojo Beat’s Manga Artist Academy (Comics Worth Reading) Julie on Sighing Kiss (MangaCast) Johanna Draper Carlson on Tokyopop’s […]

  3. J. Kevin Carrier Says:

    “The longer the legs, the more handsome”

    Coming soon = “Stilt-Man: The Manga” ;-)




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