Manga Dogs Volume 1
A light gag manga is just what I need during busy times, and Manga Dogs by Ema Toyama fits the bill, with a slight overlay of information on making comics for the Japanese industry.
Kanna Tezuka is thrilled that her high school has established a manga degree program, since she’s already a published author. She writes and draws “Teach Me (Heart) Buddha”, a shojo manga. She’s excited that she can work on her story during school, although she hopes to keep quiet the fact that she’s a pro.
Unfortunately, her manga class consists of her and three pretty-boy wannabes. The program doesn’t have a teacher, yet, and the school doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. The three guys quickly figure out that Kanna knows what she’s doing, so they pester her to teach them. Their encounters are shown in a series of short (10-page) chapters, each of which touches on a factor of making manga. For instance, Kanna has to get her reader-response numbers up, since if her series stays at the bottom of the rankings, she’ll get cancelled. Or she struggles with meeting deadlines while she’s sick, or with inserting more “moe” into her work at her editor’s direction.
Two other Ema Toyama works have been published by Kodansha: I Am Here! and Missions of Love. The latter started strong but continued long after I wanted to stick with it, and the former I thought relied too much on cliché. This series seems designed to play off the strengths of the other series — teenage characters with understandable desires in humorous situations — without wandering into more flawed areas. It’s also short, only three volumes, which should keep it punchy without wearing on the reader’s patience.
Toyama’s art style is incredibly typical of shojo — mostly head shots with lots of spiky hair. Kanna has the long straight hair and heavy bangs of the comedy heroine, where her eyes are rarely seen, so she’s more a plot object than a character. She’s contemptuous of the other “normal” kids around her because she’s got a purpose (much like the heroine of Missions of Love, who writes cellphone novels). Thus, while I can sympathize with how annoying it would be to deal with her three wannabes, it’s also fun to see her get frustrated.
The way the boys think so superficially about the field made me realize that there are similarities between aspiring manga creators and wannabe American comic makers. None of them realize how much effort goes into making art, and their motivations are shallow. For instance, one of the boys wants to make manga because “you get to buy manga and read it for work!” Another wants to win the top prizes in the field without realizing what it would take to get there. The third just wants to have his work made into movies.
They give up too easily, waste time debating how to spend contest prize money (without bothering to enter) and picking the perfect pen name, and rebel at learning technique in favor of digital shortcuts. Having run into this type in real life, I found the book funny, and I imagine anyone who’s thought about making manga will feel the same.