Sporadic Sequential
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Cultural Relativism

I was re-reading Usamaru Furuya's Short Cuts over the weekend and I came across an interview with Furuya at the end of volume one that I don't remember reading before. It's a short interview, but it provides an interesting insight into the realities of manga publishing in Japan. Furuya was first published in Garo, an avant-garde manga magazine, and then went on to do work for more popular/commercial manga anthologies, such as Young Sunday. In the interview, Furuya discusses the difficulties of making the transition from working more-or-less on his own to having a very hands-on editor:
Chikao Shiratori: After making your debut in Garo, which in a certain sense was a peculiar magazine, you began drawing Short Cuts for a very major magazine, Young Sunday, which is published by Shogakukan. Let's begin our discussion from that point.

Usamaru Furuya: Yes, I'd like to discuss the circumstances of manga in Japan. At the same time, I'd also like to make this discussion as accessible as possible to an American audience. Garo really focused on the personality of the artist. In other words, they emphasized letting artists create whatever they wanted to create. On the down side, you didn't get paid. Those were the merits and demerits of Garo. With a major Japanese manga magazine, where magazines are a business, the artist doesn't create by himself. You work together with your editor. At first, this put me at something of a loss.

CS: When I was your editor at Garo, I used to make comments on your finished work, like, "You should do this," or "Next time, you should head in this direction." But I never told you to specifically "draw this" before you actually started drawing. I guess you can't really say such things if you aren't paying for the work, [laughs] You don't get a break with the major magazines. They start rejecting things even when you're just doing rough sketches.

UF: Right, they don't just accept or reject what you draw. Your editor feels that you're creating in cooperation with him. He'll force you to make slight changes in this direction or...With Short Cuts, I originally intended to create a manga in the vein of Palepoli, but with a lighter touch. Inevitably, though, black humor came up, or the subject matter was discriminatory or touched on religion. These kinds of elements were cut at the stage of the rough sketches. When it came time to actually draw it, they weren't even considered.

CS: That can be frustrating.

UF: It is frustrating. On the other hand, I also admire people who can persevere through such situations. Business-minded manga artists have their special strengths, and I find that strength incredible. I think that those who hold onto their integrity while still remaining business-minded are "stronger" than those that draw whatever they like. You have to be able to create things that will be accepted without weakening your own integrity, or you won't be able to survive in the Japanese manga industry. Or you have to gradually create more and more of what you want without giving in to such pressures. That's why I think that you have to first put your efforts into getting recognized.

CS: I think that's the major stumbling block for people coming from Garo. Or rather, it's a step they have to overcome.

UF: Yes, because Garo is almost exactly the same as a dojinshi [self-published comic].

CS: A dojinshi with a magazine code. [laughs]

I thought it was an interesting reminder that the tension between art and commerce exists in probably every culture. And just because we American readers look at manga like a breath of fresh air when it comes to sequential art, it doesn't mean that Japanese creators don't have their own complaints about structural issues within their industry.

Also, I had just read this thread on The Engine, so after reading the interview with Furuya I had this strange daydream of manga-ka complaining about not being able to do the superhero comics they long to do. "FUCK MANGA! All my editor ever does is tell me to focus on things like 'character' and making my composition clearer. Why won't he just get out of my way and let me tell the stories I really want to tell — big superhero slugfests with shocking retcons and arcane references to stories that happened decades ago. Doesn't he understand that intricately interconnected shared universes are where it's at, man?"