Takekuma Memo: A Must-Read For All Aspiring Manga Artists
Veteran writer/editor Kentaro Takekuma (Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga) introduces us to a blog written by an individual who has spent 30 years of his life as a mangaka's assistant, and speaks at length on the world of mangakas' assistants.
A Must-Read For All Aspiring Manga Artists.
This blog is a memoir written by an individual who has spent over 30 years as a mangaka's assistant. It started in April 2005, and is still being updated.
Mangaka Assistant Story
I recently read this blog after having it recommended to me by a certain manga artist, but a lot of it was cringe-inducing. The artist who e-mailed me is a fairly popular artist who is writing for major magazines, but he stated that "it was very thought-provoking material."
The talents required to be a manga artist and the talents required to be a good assistant are fundamentally different,
something that becomes painfully clear when you read his blog.
Usually, people aspiring to be professional manga artists spend 2, 3 years at most assisting, but when your "sensei" ("teacher," in this case the artist you work for) is a good person, or your workplace is very comfortable, you end up dragging your feet and staying there longer and longer. yes-de1 also mentions it in his blog, but
5 years, 10 years...the longer you spend assisting, the more distant your debut becomes.
Personally, I think that if you go in with the mindset that this is what you want to do, assisting is a good profession too. People who have many years under their belt have at least a certain amount of skill, so it's harder for the artists to let them go. However, it is also quite common for people, as they spend time helping out with sensei's work, to gradually lose all motivation to write their own work.
It's unlikely that the artist yes-de1 apprentices under (you can find out who he is if you read his blog), but depending on who your sensei is, it's possible that one day, he or she might suddenly find themselves with no work, or unable to work. And if that happens, someone in their 40's or 50's is going to have a hard time working for an artist who's young enough to be their son, and the poor artist wouldn't know what to do with them either.
I know a manga artist with a 20-year career, and he had 5 assistants; 3 of them had been with him for 10 years. However, one day 2 of his series ended at the same time, so he had to hold back tears and let them go. If you spend 10 years working with them every day, they're the same as family. And the assistants were also planning on sticking with their sensei for the rest of their lives. But sensei was in a tough spot as well, and eventually he let all 3 of them go, but it was extremely hard for him to do so.
Because of things like this, some artists have rules in place like "assistants can only stay for a maximum of 3 years." Once you get close to them, it gets harder to fire them. Sensei doesn't know what tomorrow's going to bring either. So in some ways, it's better for the assistants too.
But if this were the world of cinema, a young director in his 30's using staff in their 50's and 60's is quite common. Whether it be a famous cameraman, or a master of lighting effects, it's a world of master artisans. So the camera and lighting people are happy mastering their particular trade, and usually don't think about eventually becoming a director. It would be nice if assistants could have the same sort of professional pride in the world of manga, say "I'm better than anybody else at backgrounds" etc and continue assisting into their 50's and 60's. But it usually doesn't work that way.
That reminds me, when I was interviewing Takao Saito (Golgo 13), I asked him "what is the most important thing you need to become a manga artists?", to which he replied,
with a straight face. When I looked at him as if to say "huh?", he continued,
"Being talented is merely a pre-requisite; if you're going to enter this field of work, you have to possess talent. More importantly, in order to make your debut, get your name known, to survive, you need something...that exceeds talent. I can only call it luck. I've seen many people who had talent, but faded into obscurity because they didn't have luck..."
What he said that day, with a distant look in his eyes, has been ingrained in my memory.
Translated by Neuroretardant