Interview with the Author: Udagawa Takeo


ComiPress: First of all, please introduce yourself!

Udagawa Takeo: I was born in 1957, and since the 80s I've been a commentator on popular culture, especially the music scene. Since the late 80s I've mainly concentrated on spreading the word about artists who don't get any recognition in the commercial culture industry. The name I give this field is 'Fringe Culture' [which is also the title of Udagawa-san's Japanese-language website].

ComiPress: When you first started writing Manga Zombie, why did you believe the authors featured are not as well-known as you believe they should? Why did you choose this format to promote their work?

Udagawa Takeo: Japanese manga artists have started getting a lot of international attention in recent years, but the spotlight is mainly focused on artists from the 90s onwards. I felt that artists from before then weren't getting their work properly valued by critics and commentators on the scene. So that's why I decided to get an English-language version of Manga Zombie out.

ComiPress: What makes the manga series covered in Manga Zombie and their authors so special in story telling? What distinguishes them from others?

Udagawa Takeo: Contemporary manga aren't story-driven - they're character-driven. The whole question is how successfully the artists can sell these characters (AKA kyara) to the readership. So, the readers don't really connect with the artists' vision in any significant way. Instead, they use the characters as raw material for their own fantasies. The emphasis is on creating scenarios - with themselves front and center. Under those conditions, you can't really get a proper grasp of a manga series as a distinct work of art in its own right. I feel that this approach to manga is just squandering the fantastic artistic legacy the medium built up during the 1970s, and just turning it into one more media-consumer product. So, I thought it was about time to set the alarm bells ringing - because of what's happening to manga.

ComiPress: What did you hope would happen as a result of your book being published? Did the results meet your expectation?

Udagawa Takeo: Manga Zombie came out in Japanese in 1998. From that point on, the books I covered started to fetch good prices in the used book market, and a lot of publishers started talking about putting out reprints. So I'd like to think that Manga Zombie made a pretty big impact overall.

ComiPress: When did the idea of translating your work into English first come about? Why did you decide to have it translated into English? Did everything go well?

Udagawa Takeo: Ever since the first printing of Manga Zombie in 1998, I wanted to put out a version in English. There's a whole side to manga that still hasn't been shared with a lot of readers out there, and I really wanted to get that across to as many people as possible.

ComiPress: Why did you choose to release the book for free online? Will there be a print version eventually?

Udagawa Takeo: The translated version going up online is just one part of the full Manga Zombie. I'm hoping that an English-language publisher will get motivated to print a full-scale translation. So, the online project is essentially a promotion for that.

ComiPress: How was your experience working with John Gallagher and ComiPress?

Udagawa Takeo: John did a great job translating the nuances of what I was doing in the original. And ComiPress is American-based, so I hope it can reach a lot of readers in the English-speaking world.

ComiPress: The online version of Manga Zombie contains some chapters never published in the printed Japanese version, but it's also missing some chapters from the original Japanese version; will we ever see the full work available online?

Udagawa Takeo: Well, there was quite a lot of revision needed for the online version, and I added a lot of new material as well. On the other hand, some parts were edited out, and I'd like to see these sections translated into English somewhere down the line, time permitting. But both John and I have day jobs, and it's pretty tough to get everything done on a volunteer basis, as we're doing it right now. Anyway, even if I did put the entire book online, I'd still want to expand it if there's a print version.

ComiPress: What would you like the readers who are reading Manga Zombie to watch out for while reading; is there anything subtle that are easily missed?

Udagawa Takeo: I think manga fans overseas don't get fully informed at all about what's happening on the Japanese scene. So I've tried hard to spell out what I'm doing really clearly in writing about these artists, in a way can get the full picture across. However, I've glossed over a number of areas in fairly general terms - especially the ongoing problems of [burakumin etc.] discrimination that are still there in Japanese society today. So, I'd like English-language readers to keep that in mind when there's any discussion of minorities and discrimination on the page.

ComiPress: Please tell us about your experience with manga, how did you first get into manga, what was being a manga fan like back in the days?

Udagawa Takeo: I've been a manga fan since the 1960s, but I'm not very familiar with the post-Eighties scene.

ComiPress: Do you think that many of the styles mentioned in Manga Zombie, instead of "falling victim" to commercialization, might have instead undergone a transformation and is being re-used in different forms in men's and boy's manga today?

Udagawa Takeo: Well, for example [Fukushima Masami's] 'Saint Muscle' (San Muscle) later had an influence on 'Muscle Man' Kinniku Man『キン肉マン』and Fist of the North Star (Hokutō no Ken). In the same way, a lot of motifs used in the works I covered in this book worked their way into later artists' serials. And I get the feeling that a lot of these later artists enjoyed commercial success because of this underground connection with the past.

ComiPress: What have been both the best and worst of manga?

Udagawa Takeo: The best manga are always the worst manga. And vice versa. Manga should never be 'healthy' or 'educational' or 'good for kids'.

ComiPress: What are some of your favorite manga and manga creators? Is there any work today that particularly interests you?

Udagawa Takeo: Fukushima Masami

ComiPress: What do you see for the future of manga? How has technology affected manga and how will it affect it into the future?

Udagawa Takeo: Manga is continually developing as an industry in Japan, but at the same time the artists' individual voices are getting drowned out and erased. It's becoming just another interchangeable media product. And I reckon that if the Japanese manga scene sees itself as something special or unique, it's going to end up creating just the same manga produced in other Asian countries, or Europe.

ComiPress: Thank you very much for the interview! Any final words you'd like to say to the English readers of your work?

Udagawa Takeo: Thanks a lot!