Here's a transcript of Kodansha Comics' Event at Kinokuniya NY involving the Editor-in-Chief of WSM and editors of titles like Aho-Girl and Fire Force.
On Sunday July 30, Kodansha Comics invited three editors of Weekly Shonen Magazine to host a roundtable discussion at Kinokuniya. Here below is a transcript of what was said, so read on to gain a bit of insight into what the Japanese editors deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Note some details were edited for clarity.
Questions are in bold and asked by Ben, and for audience questions towards the end they were repeated/clarified by Ben.
Four Hundred Pages of Manga Every Single Week: A Roundtable Discussion with The Editors of Weekly Shonen Magazine
Host: Ben Applegate
Translator: Haruko Hashimoto
General Manager of Kodansha USA: Naho Yamada
Editor-in-Chief of Weekly Shonen Magazine: Kiichiro Sugawara
Editor (Aho Girl, Tsuredure Children): Tetsuya Fujikawa
Editor (Fire Force, The Heroic Legend of Arslan): Megumu Tsuchiya
*Panelists have been introduced to the crowd*
Ben Applegate: First of all I’d like to start by asking Sugawara-san to explain to us briefly the process of creating a weekly manga magazine because I think it’s something everyone in the US wouldn’t even know where to start to put something that together.
Kiichiro Sugawara: Thank you for coming today. I’m very happy to meet you guys. I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Weekly Shonen Magazine. (this was said himself in English.)
I’m going to start by explaining a little bit about Japanese comic magazines. In Japan there are two kinds: a weekly shonen magazine or any type of magazine, and also a monthly magazine. In weekly magazines you may know some like Jump, Sunday, and Champion, but for those there’s usually a manuscript that’s 20 pages long and gets submitted by the authors. And there’s about 20 works because every single one has 20 pages as well.
So in Japan, the manga and the comics are in black and white. This is because if you were submitting 20 pages on a weekly basis in color it would never get done. *audience laughs* For shonen magazines the creator spends about two to three days doing a rough draft, then three to four days finishing the final piece so there’s really no time for rest at all for these authors. So we do that every single week and within a year we put out 50 magazines.
In addition to the weekly shonen magazine that Kodansha puts out we also put out a monthly magazine. As you all may know Attack on Titan is in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. So I was doing some math before I got here and basically the editorial team for this weekly magazine reads about 10,000 pages of manga a year.
For the manga artists they have assistants as well just to draw and finish one page, and to draft it up even, it takes 4 hours. If you can look at the monitor– and look at 32, in Japanese you can see the number 2. The author of this page you’re seeing, Days, a soccer manga, drew two chapters within one week. So it means he drew 40 pages within the week. For the reader it’s exciting because they get to read 40 pages of stuff, but for the author it’s just dreadful *audience laughs* And it is super difficult but the one who asked the author to do that was me. If it was me I wouldn’t have wanted to do it. *audience laughs*
Next we are gonna talk about how these manga are actually made, and we’ll turn over to these two editors here.
Ok, so we are lucky to have the editors of three Kodansha shonen magazine series that we are publishing in English today. Tetsuya Fujikawa is editor of Aho-Girl, A Clueless Girl. It’s on Crunchyroll and it’s one of their top anime streams this season and I don’t think anyone expected it because, and I mean it as a compliment, it’s really dumb. *audience laughs* We all in the office are enjoying it, and as you can see on the cover, the character really loves bananas and is also…stupid. *audience laughs* So each cover is here having a simple trap set for her using bananas as bait.
This is a four-panel manga, which does not often get translated into English, so I’d like to start by asking Fujikawa-san what is it like creating a four-panel comedy manga in Japan and what was your process with the author like on that?
Tetsuya Fujikawa: So unlike other manga in Japan, yonkoma, or four-panel manga is very specific: it has four panels on one page and that alone shows you what the plot and the twist of the story were. The four-panel manga is very popular in Japan because even though it’s short and only one page it’s very worthwhile to read it because the content is varied. So the way that the manga is set up is different because it’s four-panel, however the way the manga comes to be and the meetings they have with authors is exactly the same for other manga.
But for Aho-Girl in particular the meetings are super simple. Hiroyuki always ask during these meetings, “Fujikawa-san, what do YOU want to read from me?” and I say I want to see Yoshiko (main female lead) cheer on Akkun (main male lead). And Hiroyuki’s like, “All right, got it,” and that’s it. *audience laughs*
Hiroyuki actually lives a very proper life, so the meetings with him are very succinct and as Sugiwara-san said before, there’s no rest for these authors but for Hiroyuki he definitely takes his rest *audience laughs*. So my theory is Hiroyuki is actually a ninja, and he’s super fast at making his deadlines and making his manuscripts. So for me I have no worries in the world and I’m not working hard! *audience laughs* Despite all that, I got to come to New York and that makes me super happy. Thank you! (This part was said in English by Fujikawa)
Ben: Could you discuss a little bit about the actual process he goes through in creating a chapter? *roughs of Aho-Girl is shown on the screen*
Hiroyuki works solely through digital programs. So these rough drafts and storyboard stages and even the final stages are all done digitally. Because of that the process for making the rough drafts and making the final ones are super detailed and that goes into the process as well.
So as I was saying before, because he’s a genius so there’s only one thing I have to say during the rough stage: It’s amazing! (says this in English) *audience laughs*
*Roughs to final draft are shown of Aho-Girl on the screen*
It is unusual for manga artists to work totally digitally isn’t that right? I know a lot of American comic artists work completely digitally, but the norm in Japan is to put pen to paper correct?
So this is something that is really particular to Hiroyuki’s style and the way he works. During his rough draft stage wants to make the piece as close to the final as possible so the editors can get an image of what’s going to come about it. Hiroyuki does this because thanks to that detail at the beginning that means the humor and the funny punchlines can be there first. So I think it can be said that for Hiroyuki, from the rough draft to the final version, there might not be that many changes.
Next we’re going to move on to Tsuchiya, the Editor of The Heroic Legend of Arslan and Fire Force. We’ll start with Arslan *shows some rough character designs and setting sketches on the screen* I imagine there was a lot of time spent on the setting and costumes and character designs — could you talk about that process and how long you and the creator spent on that, and how did it go?
Megumu Tsuchiya: Thank you for coming (says this in English). Starting with the character designs, for Arslan there was a lot of content from the original author Yoshiki Tanaka. He had a lot of research that was already done for things based on the setting of Persia at the time. That became the base of a lot of the manga that you see today from Arslan.
In addition to the research and designs from Tanaka, there’s Arakawa who really enjoys going around and looking at antiques and vintage things. So what she went around to see and picked up also became the base for these designs.
So I’m going to talk about the characters’ faces and the hair design. What you see on the screen now is what first came out when Arakawa read the original and put something down on paper. After doing these initial faces, Arakawa read it again and went into more detail, even with the side characters as well. And there are really a lot of poignant moments in the original. So you can also tell that some of the characters were changed throughout, like Daryun was changed from the first concept to now.
So you can see the biggest change is the character on the bottom left, Gieve. So for Gieve, what Arakawa wanted to do first was not just draw for getting a certain aesthetic and just the looks but really get the voice right so that the character was someone who could really talk to women. But after another re-reading of the original Arslan there was a realization that actually all of the girls are pretty amazing and hard to not just fall for so the looks are also gonna matter at this point.
So, Arakawa read the original work three times in that early concept stage. It sounds like a lot of time went into that. How long did you and Arakawa discuss the setting, and how many meetings did you have before the manga itself started taking shape?
Tsuchiya: Arakawa, no matter what she’s working on, she can’t start working on something unless they know the final chapter of this. So once there was a decision to serialize Arakawa’s story there were many meetings with the editor.
The core of the story is about a boy named Arslan who wants to surpass King Andragoras, his father, and it is incredibly difficult to defeat this King because he was so strong, and it was very hard to make a character that could actually defeat him, so it actually took about half a year to get to this point and make a character that could, and during that time is when Arakawa read the original three times.
That’s a really long time to be working in the conceptual stages for a manga. I think it’s also unusual for an author to know the ending of a story. You mention that she does this for all of her manga, not just Arslan?
Tsuchiya: Arakawa definitely always needs to know the ending before she starts doing the whole series, and so for Full Metal Alchemist, Silver Spoon, for FMA the ending turned out exactly what she intended from the beginning.
Ok, I’d like to move on to Atsushi Ohkubo’s Fire Force. You’ve been kind enough to bring over some of the roughs and final draft for it. This is another series that seems like a lot of work went into the setting since it’s supposed to be an alternate history Tokyo, that is a little bit steampunky and mechanical than modern Tokyo…what was the process of creating the characters and setting of this manga like?
Tsuchiya: So in Fire Force the setting and the world-building is certainly Tokyo but not exactly Tokyo so there is some steampunk elements to it. Ohkubo was inspired by the concept of “What would happen if WWII never happened and the Taisho era continued as a culture and wasn’t interrupted?”
Now for the characters, Ohkubo wrote a manga called Soul Eater, does anyone know what is–*audience acknowledges they do* For that manga Ohkubo drew and had all students in the cast so they have a sort of childlike quality to them. So the biggest key that started the characters in Fire Force was that they’re all professionals working in their careers so there is no point of child workers.
The main character name’s in Fire Force is Shinra, but Ohkubo likes to make up characters by a sort of word association, and that’s how he builds the characters. So for Shinra the first word bubble was Akuma, or demon/evil. So for Ohkubo the whole point is that someone who’s evil is completely opposite to heroes in society like firefighters, and that polar opposite leans itself to Shinra the character because he will have a scary face but then also a silly face. And I also heard that the main character in Soul Eater, Kid, is the child of the Death God. So for him that character had to be one who’s very complete and perfect and has no flaws.
*screen flips from rough draft to final draft*
It looks like these names are done with pencil and paper. Could you talk about Ohkubo’s process, does he switch to digital for the final version or is the whole thing on paper?
Tsuchiya: Both Ohkubo and Arakawa only work by hand and draw on paper, however Arakawa for color uses Copic markets on paper while Ohbuko on the flip side uses digital for colored pages.
So I can see a few differences on the layout of these pages (from rough to final draft). How much feedback do you give to Ohbuko on a chapter and what is that process like? Does he depend on you to get that feedback or does he tend to push back?
Tsuchiya: So from my meetings with Ohkubo as you can see during the rough draft stage, we meet a lot and talk about the story but since it’s so fun the story that comes to the editor there’s not much to change. The things the editor changes more or suggests is asking who’s really saying this line, where are the characters standing, just to make it clear for the readers.
So during these editorial meetings Ohbuko is usually like, “all right, I get it,” and will go with it. But when he’s feeling really moody it actually helps to have him play the smartphone game that he’s super into and once he plays that he kinda just goes along with it and is like, “Ok, it’s just fine.” *audience laughs*
I’d like to get to questions from the audience soon, but just one more question I want to ask everybody — all of you have been editing manga for a very long time. Do you have any funny stories surrounding deadlines that you could share with is. Maybe missed deadlines, barely made deadlines or authors who had trouble meeting deadlines?
Sugawara: For me just fresh out of school I went straight to Kodansha, and been working there for 20 years. This is a really common story but when there was a deadline coming up I showed up at the author’s house and he wasn’t there. *audience laughs* Clearly the author ran away *audience laughs*. What I did at the time was I told my boss, and he said “don’t come back until you find him.” *mix of laughter and surprise* so what I did was go to the usual places the author might go to, which is usually for male authors is either a hotel or a manga cafe. So for two whole days I went around where the author lived and to those places in search of the author in a two kilometer radius.
…At the end of the day I couldn’t find him, so that week there was no submission.
Mostly all authors do stand by the deadline and submit things on time. Given the 20 year career that I’ve had, it really was only that one time and for that I’m super thankful and fortunate.
So does that mean authors are exceptionally frightened of you or—*audience laughs*
The author in question at the time was incredibly scary and he surprisingly apologized profusely after that incident.
Fujikawa, Tsuchiya, do you have any stories to share in this area?
Fujikawa: So I’m here today as the editor for Aho-Girl, but I do edit other series as well. And of course within that there are authors who are notoriously late with their manuscripts. And whenever these manuscripts are late there is always a phone call of an excuse. But the order of calls goes something like this:
First the editorial department
Second, then the printing company.
…And I ignore all of those calls *audience laughs* So if I’m actually physically there at the office of the editorial department people are gonna ask where that manuscript is so I just don’t go. *audience laughs* In the Kodansha building in Japan, the 15th floor is my office. And because that floor is where they do the editorial work I’m always on the 3rd floor in the bathroom area. *audience laughs* The whole time I’m there the phone is ringing. I ignore it.
…So the story is really about how much I can ignore something while I’m there.
Tsuchiya: So Arakawa has three kids. And apparently she’s been telling them that I am the deadline guy *audience laughs* and that I’m a scary enemy *audience laughs*. Her workspace is on the 5th floor of a building. There was this one time I was trying to pick up a manuscript from her and during my journey those three kids would shoot me with water guns and set toy traps, making her incredibly hard to get to *audience laughs*. She would still submit her manuscripts on time.
*Opens up to audience questions*
Audience Q: Have you worked with authors who give you a lot of pushback when you give them feedback and who you enjoy working with and also challenges you?
Fujikawa: Depending on the author it just depends on the day if they’re really in a feisty mood or not.
So during the meeting within the internal conversation there was talk of turning Aho-Girl a moe manga and making it more cutesy and appealing to a different crowd, maybe. And a point came up where someone wanted to make Yoshiko just cute and adorable and that alone should have been the selling point. And during the entire time I’ve been editing with Hiroyuki that was the biggest pushback he ever gave. “No I’m not doing that. I’m not making that manga moe, it’s a manga about life.” He said he doesn’t want to change the way that she lives and her life and feels very, very strongly about that opinion.
So what I think is most common in authors is that some will be pushing back a lot, but there are also times, it just depends, where they’ll accept something and be like, “ok.”
I think we’re all very glad that Yoshiko is living her very unhealthy, somewhat obnoxious lifestyle *audience laughs*
Audience Q: When trying to get into Shonen Magazine is the best way to get acknowledged is to enter a contest?
Sugiwara: So I’m not going to explain what it takes to get into the magazines themselves but what is most common process for the artists themselves.
There are two crowds: the first are manga authors who really want to write in this specific magazine, whether it’s Magazine or Jump, and the reasoning for that is that they have authors that they look up to that are published in those magazines or authors from the past that they looked up to that was published in those magazines. So most manga authors fit into that first category. The second category is manga authors picking a magazine where their work will definitely fit into because they want to be published. Some within that second category think about how their work might fit into the bigger magazine and whether it might be suitable and if they’ll get accepted, and also think about how many copies are sold.
So picking a magazine for an author can really set their life in a different way depending on the magazine and of course we can’t put everyone on the magazine, so the authors have to work really hard and it’s difficult for them.
Ben: So I’ve actually heard that in one of those categories the Attack on Titan creator submitted to a bunch of different companies before getting accepted by Kodansha and the editor who ended up editing that series happened to be the guy who was in the office and answered the phone.
Audience Q: So the question is about doujinshi circles — how do editors and authors feel about that, particularly for authors who see doujinshi use their characters?
Fujikawa: So the author for Aho-Girl is a professional manga artist, but is also a famous doujin artist. The first hit in his professional career was a manga about the doujin circle and doujin life. So for Hiroyuki, it was a big part for him that first brought him into fame. He was saying that doujinshi circles and the community is a really great place to start, not only making money but also acquiring fame. He also said it’s a really great place to think about how to gain popularity and you have to think about it alone.
Of course there are other authors who are like, “I don’t like doujinshi stuff at all or their circles.” And within that crowd there are some authors who think doujinshi is riding off the coattails of the fame and hard work of the professional authors and some don’t appreciate that. So the reality is that it depends on author and it can’t be a generalization on that.
Audience Q: Last question is on the weekly serialization system. It can be a brutal place as there are reader surveys that sometimes determine what series get continued and what series get cancelled, and the question was are there any series you worked on that got cancelled where you thought if it had a little more time it could’ve caught on with the readers and if you think the system needs to change at all?
Sugiwara: So in reality there are 10-15 stories that start serialization in these magazines. And of course at the start we’re thinking we all want them to succeed. Unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t go as planned and at the shortest turnaround some manga get two bound volumes, and it can be said that within those series that you mentioned it could’ve gotten a bit more time maybe it could’ve succeeded and caught on with the readers. But if I really start thinking about that too much then 10-15 series we start anew that we start every year…I wouldn’t be able to start them. There’s always that looming “what if” but there’s still more importantly the quick decision making about turning around those titles as well.