Urasawa Naoki, 54, is well known for 20th Century Boys and Pluto, an adaptation of Tezuka Osamu’s Astro Boy. His works are on sale in over 20 countries and in various languages, and he recently produced “Urasawa Naoki’s Manben”, which means “Manga study”, on NHK. The TV program goes into his drawing techniques and puts a spotlight on the effort it takes to create a single manga.
He recently spoke with The Japanese Huffington Post about his philosophy and passion behind “Manben” and how online demand is changing the manga industry.
“Manga should be read across facing pages, not on small screen,” he said in the interview with Huffington Post. Moreover, he says that the demand behind online publishing would make his style of manga impossible and that he wouldn’t have time to think over its artistic direction.
“It is impossible to draw 20 pages in a week in the first place,” Urasawa said. “What there is in front of me is a completely white paper when I begin to draw. There are over million of ways to fill it, but even very experienced cartoonists draw with doubts and agony.”
He says this process is what inspired his new television series “Manben” that brings the public a behind-the-scenes view of the industry.
“The readers will be surprised and understand the struggle behind creation,” he said. “We may help change the public perspective.”
But the public seems to demand more and more of manga artists with less patience for those who delay releasing the next chapter.
As a manga gets famous, so too does its artist and an almost symbiotic relationship is formed between them. One Piece’s Oda Eiichira, Naruto‘s Masahi Kishimito, Akira by Otomo Katsuhiro, and Phoenix by Tezuka Osamu are just a few of the comics that have made these household names around the world.
But a manga artist is only able to continue working so long as his manga is still selling whether in standalone books or bought in magazines like Shonen Jump.
Countless manga series are published around the world and translated into various languages, but the struggle to produce a new chapter every week is rarely recognized. And with websites doing their own translations into other languages, markets outside of Japan are also being sealed off due to free access.
Who would buy a manga if they can just find it online for free? Urasawa, however, doesn’t publish his works online.
Since he debuted in 1983, Urasawa has continued to create manga even though he has faced some challenges, but he believes change can be good.
“All we can do is keep going forward,” he said.
But manga has faced these hurdles over its long history with the state of industry being in constant flux. For instance, initially manga had to be rented, but soon were able to be bought in monthly cycles.
Since 1959, weekly manga magazine have held a firm base of readers in Japan. Shonen Jump, the most poplar weekly magazine, was listed in the Guinness Book with the largest number of circulation of 6.5 million in 1995.
The readers waited for the next chapter every week, and it is a competitive field for the cartoonists. It’s as if the champion in weekly magazine is therefore at the top of Japanese manga culture, but today even waiting a week can be too much.
The industry will continue to adapt to new and changing demands of its audience, but whether or not artists like Urasawa Naoki, who believe in facing pages and the power of print, will continue to exist is up in the air.
Featured image: Naoki Urasawa in 2013 at the Japan Expo. Photo courtesy: WMC