I had my meeting with Kodansha yesterday. I'm not really sure where to begin with this report so I'll just start at the beginning and write about what I remember. I was pretty dazed and confused throughout the visit so there might be some backtracking. Bear with me.

My meeting was at 3 in the afternoon. Took a train with my writer (yes, I'm working with a writer) that let's us off right at Kodansha's doorstep and, first of all, the place is huge. It looks like a courthouse with a surprisingly high level of security roaming in and outside the building. There was a building attached to the main one where visitors have to go to fill-out an ID form, be given a badge and wait to be personally escorted. I sat for a bit while trying to calm my nerves and eventually the editor came down to greet us and guided us upstairs where an entire terrace and floor was devoted to tables and chairs meant for meetings and powwows. I'm gonna be pretty anonymous with names and titles from here on in just to be safe, btw.

My writer had previously mentioned that I'd worked for companies in the States and that I'd moved here hoping to get work in Japan, blah blah, so I didn't have to explain where I was coming from with my style and look and all that so it was really just down to business. The editor flipped through my print-outs while I sat there totally blanking. I didn't know what he was gonna say and he was expressionless throughout his viewing so there weren't any hints for me either. Anyway, he put down the pitch and came straight out with that it wasn't good enough. There were problems with both art and story but I'll just focus on the art since that's what I'm most concerned with.

One of the major points was that it didn't have enough "manga-isms" to it. By that, he meant, more light-hearted touches like those wacky faces and more humourous touches that many people associate with manga backhome. I studiously avoided any of that stuff and it seems it came around to bite me in the ass. Also, not enough movement in the images. If you check out my more physical scenes or action sequences for SMLMJ or BFX you'll notice that I mainly work with suspended shots rather than blurry and trailing arms or legs. He mentioned it's okay to use once in a while but when it's the same note throughout it loses it's impact and becomes dull. The sound effects weren't dynamic enough either. He cited examples and it quickly dawned on me that I should've taken more care and time with what seemed like something rather minor to me. The way I greytoned everything came across as rather lifeless as well since I'd filled in the majority of backgrounds with gradient just for sake of having something. Ultimately, it just wasn't drawn well or tight enough. He suggested maybe entering a seasonal contest for new talent his magazine had since I was at that level or assisting an established artist to pick up certain techniques I was lacking. Other than that, he couldn't really do anything for me. I asked a few questions and we talked about some of the story elements afterwards but that was pretty much the bulk of our conversation. The entire interview lasted about 45 minutes.

I was disappointed of course but it was disappointment directed at myself. I don't like making excuses and I was very thankful he was being honest and forthright. I really needed to hear what he had to say. Especially now. I think I'm still trying to come to grips with reseting my style and look for a market that I've only known through reading and reading is good but doing is much more important. To be honest, I thought I'd shed some of my habits from backhome but yesterday really made me realize I had to fuckin' heave everything out the window and start fresh. Daunting, yeah, but I sorta have to.

I had coffee with my writer afterwards to review our review and decide to on what we wanted to do. We're gonna try another publisher to hear one more opinion before changing course but we're assuming the result will be the same. Not good enough. Faaaaack.

I recall a Paul Pope interview I read a while ago in which he stated he'd produced hundreds of pages that never saw print and it's quickly sinking in that I'll probably be treading similar waters over the next year. Not that I'm anywhere near as proficient or as good as that guy but the process of getting a gig here seems to prerequisite that amount of patience and effort. And then just maybe little bird...


18 Comment(s):

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So no quick break in to the industry huh? I admit I was hopeful, although pessimistic on how it'd go.

Well at least the editor provided an helpful critique instead of just turning it down.

Good luck.

9:24 AM  

Blogger pandamingstudio© said...

personally, i thought that this visit may just be the best thing for you at this point. As an artist, you try to establish your style and stay the course. However, it seems that we all eventually have to address one equally important element in artmaking: the audience (in this case, the Japanese manga market.) I am empathize how you might feel when sitting there taking in the criticism. then again, it's better than having a guy wasting your time with useless remarks.

Hang in there! =) You will come out on top for sure....

11:16 AM  

Blogger Tivome said...

I'm sorry to hear about the rejection, Tak, but at least he did give you some good advice. I think he hit the nail on the head about the action scenes; it was one of the glaring difference between Western comic and manga which I couldn't verbalize before. Static action scenes just seemed more dull.

As for the humor part, I think that's more a cultural thing. You really need to adopt yourself in more of a Japanese or Asian way of mixing drama with timely humor in order to have the readers really identify with the characters emotionally.. the biggest hook in manga is this emotional attachment with the characters and I think the editor is trying to help you get more of that hook. It's not you... I think every American comic artists will fail at this one.

A suggestion for you to test skills - you may want to self-publish a doujin (non-ecchi I'd assume) and sell it at COMIKET as a circile. Being a published circle also adds more weight to your professional negotiations. The otakus at COMIKET are really honest and straight forward, so if nothing else you'll really learn what the market needs to see. Get to know a few otaku and create do a series you'll know will sell like Lucky Star, and just use it as a testing ground for your skills. The otaku will let you know if you have it in you or not (and they'll buy it anyway).

Hang in there Tak... I'll be waiting for your first published Japanese manga.

5:11 AM  

Blogger Scott Sackett said...

I totally feel your pain. Nothing like the editorial kick in the nads!

I had a similar thing happen to me in Chicago. My portfolio was one of the few to be picked to meet with a Marvel Editor. I was psyched (I even called my Mom!)

While the editor was very positive, his final word was 'I won't be going back to the office and sending you a script.'

I'll be honest, initially I was crushed.

But in the end I realized this was the best thing that could have happened to me. He told me fix one thing, ONE THING, and I'll be getting work.

So now I (and you) have a goal, I have guidance and I have motivation! Three things I did not have before my meeting.

Good Luck!

8:53 AM  

Blogger M said...

Working in a somewhat similar field in writing I think I can understand the mixed feelings with getting a rejection.

They say the average writer sends his poetry to 20 different companies before he gets published.

An established poet still sends his to 10.

I don't write poetry but I knew when going into writing that meant that there will be a stack of rejection letters. I currently have a few, but I know more are on the way.

So only thing I can tell you is to keep trying, this is something that happens to a lot of people even vets, and you certainly have the talent to pull it off.

As for preparing to make your style closer to what japanese readers want, a thing I was taught, is if you want to get into a magazine (I mainly write for mags) you need to go buy a few, read them, and try to see the kinds of things they do and make your article match their style.

So in your case that would probably mean buying a good amount of manga from the companies you'd like to do work with, and seeing the kind of stuff they are putting out there, and trying to get your work to jive with their personas.

1:06 PM  

Blogger Tu said...

I gotta disagree Tivome. Humor isn't necessary in all manga. There are definitely an extreme amount of series out there with little to no humor and just a serious tone that are doing very well.

2:58 PM  

Blogger TAK said...

Hey all,

Thanks for the comments and the support. I really appreciate the feedback and your opinions.

I just wanted to add that I wasn't crushed or angry or even jilted in the slightest from this interview. I knew going in that it was going to be a tough sell and was prepared to take both the good and the bad. Even the bad in this case felt like something positive to me since the editor was very thorough and direct with his comments. He cared enough to tell me what he found wrong and wished me to fix. It seriously was a win-win for me.

I also wanted to add that in the broad scheme of things, it's really one editor's opinion and every editor has tastes and an agenda. I respected and appreciated his feedback but it doesn't mean I will or have to adjust for everything he suggested. I'll most definitely digest and incorporate his advice into how I approach my work from here on in but I'd like to think my personal touch is also somewhat valuable. Even the tiniest bit.

Anyway, I'm far from giving up. If anything, it's blown my comfort zone wide open and I'm desperate to try new things.

11:57 PM  

Blogger Tivome said...

tu: not if your work is shonen, and based on what I've seen Tak do, it seemed shonen is what he's doing. There are plenty of humour-less seinen titles out there, and most of them don't sell very well. Humor-less shonen is almost non-existence; even the incredibly uptight Claymore has a few clowns.

Tak, seriously, do a Pixel Maritan doujinshi and circle at C73 or 74. It will sell like crazy and you'll be an amature manga god. Then watch Kodansha begging you to do a serie for them. :) With your English skills you should find plenty of materials.


yeah I'm just messing around.

4:17 AM  

Anonymous Sean McKeever said...

Sorry to hear it, brother. I always thought there was a real diversity in terms of styles over there, but maybe not? Will you be doing Chibi-type stuff on occasion, then?

Keep at it, Tak, and know that your beautiful work is very much missed over here in North America!


4:26 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tak, like you said, it's good to have a good editor like him to give you honest comment. His suggestions did have some valid points. However, I think a big publisher like Kondasha is simply competitive. Your unique style may fit for a smaller publisher first.

I agreed with a comment earlier that you should consider to self-publish doujinshi at Comiket, it is a great place to promote your name and art styles to the Japanese fans first. Take care.

7:49 AM  

Blogger TAK said...

tivome - well, I totally understand that starting at a grass-roots level is important. Heck, it's how I started my career backhome and I suggest the same thing to new artists at cons all the time. The difference here is that I have a time limit or rather a purse limit.
It's expensive living here, yeah, but doubly so when you don't have income and live off savings. The time it would take to draw, put together and get a dojinshi printed (not to mention the cost of printing) I would rather devote to solid and well written projects to pitch with. But thanks for the advice. Once I get somewhat settled financially I aim to have a booth at Comitia or Comiket so perhaps in the future.

Sean - hey, bud. Thanks for posting! I think every fabric of my soul would not allow me to do chibi-style. lol What the editor was saying, or rather, how I took it to mean was that those over-the-top expressions and buldging eyes were purely a sign or symbol for readers to connect with emotionally while reading. It's akin to, say, a laugh track on a sitcom, I guess. Virtual audience laughs so we laugh. When you draw face A you intend to get reaction B. So, it's not like he was pressuring me to draw like a certain artist but to use the tools they use to allow for an understood agreement between creator and reader. If I were doing a love-comedy I guess, yeah, Chibi-style up the wazoo but I've been doing slightly more serious noirish action-drama so I'll be using it more sparingly or trying to at least. Thanks for the support, man!

anon - I've got a few more publishers to pitch to picked out so I'll see how those go. I'm aiming high so the difficultly is much higher. If things don't work out then there are always options.

12:01 PM  

Anonymous Queenie Chan said...

I came upon this a bit later than everyone else, and would like to thankyou for posting your experiences up to share with everyone. It always sucks to be rejected by an editor, so I salute you for taking it so well.

What happened is unfortunate, but I guess I'm not too surprised by it. I've seen your work, and while it's good from a Western perspective, I can see how someone raised on manga will have trouble connecting to it. It's just a cultural difference and what you're used to looking at, unfortunately.

Still, I wish you luck in your endeavours. I would love to see you get picked up by a more open-minded Japanese publisher. When that happens, you GOTTA post it up so we all know about it.

12:19 PM  

Anonymous neo-rama said...

thanks for sharing your experience. when you mentioned the bit about motion, i thought about your old comic, sidekicks. it seemed to have good motion, and the kinds of endearing characters that particular editor may have wanted to see. maybe taking a look at older work will help you with new ideas and direction, too.

12:54 PM  

Anonymous Ian said...

Interesting read. Thanks for posting about it!
Kinda brings back memories of when I got into animation here (yikes!).

I understand the interviewers comments style-wise. I ran into a lot of that in the animation industry pitching Japanese stuff to Europe and North America, so I got a lot of the same comments the other way around. But "enter a contest"? Damn! You drew frickin' Spiderman! I think you could teach most of their artists a thing or two!

I hope you break into manga soon 'cause I’d like to see some new styles hit the scene. In the weekly I read, except for Vagabond and a couple others, the art is crrrrap!
And lot of the "motion" technique in manga (especially shonen manga like I work with) is just shortcuts because they're on such a tight schedule to make their deadlines.

That's just my Canadian opinion, though. LOL!
I don't mean to trash manga - the good ones are awesome - but I wish the editors weren't so anal about formats and guidelines and really looked at the "art" instead of the formula.
You know the real story, but from a reader standpoint it seems that there is more freedom for the artists in North America.

Anyway, it's good that the guy was up front about exactly what they're looking for, though, eh?
You might have to tweak things to break into the market here but I hope you keep a unique style. Manga has precious few really good, original and innovative artists 'cause everyone is so confined by the editorial guidelines.
I guess freedom comes with $ales. Tough spot.

Sorry for the long comment.
Keep pluggin', dude!
Hope you get your break soon.

6:23 PM  

Blogger TAK said...

Thank you to the posters. I don't have much to add for fear of over-analyzing the interview. There are a lot of other factors that led to the outcome which I haven't mentioned here cuz they are just too small a detail but the general outcome was simply that I wasn't good enough. And that's totally fine. I'm convinced it's not only about the art but the pitch as a whole that wasn't to taste and there are points I could elaborate on for hours but it would just be a waste of everyone's time. Yeah, it was rough but it's what I expected. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, right? Anyway, thanks for reading and following along. I'll make sure to keep everyone in the loop with what happens from her on in.

11:33 AM  

Anonymous Nestor said...

I recall watching a documentary on comics artists travelling to japan how Lewis Trondheim was in a similar position, receiving the same advice from his japanese editor, eventually he returned home and continued doing things his way and was much happier that way.

Not to say you should do that but it does seem the japanese editors tend to give out somewhat cookie cutter advice

10:17 AM  

Blogger mmmmmike said...

hey tak,
im late to the party.

you already know all this, and are probably over the experiencve anyway but.

keep pluggin' man, and rememmber, Koodansha's probably got more walls up than a minor. a lot of the good ones come up through the big three, but plenty start out in a smaller zine too!

that being said, I think a lot of what you siad about his feedback could be pretty correct. either way, good luck!

8:34 AM  

Blogger Pete said...

While it is always great to grow as an artist, and you may have to in order to succeed in Japan....there are some great examples of Manga that do not employ the "manga-isms"...the cuteness.
Akira...Lone Wolf...Mother Sarah...Oldboy (and those are just a few that made it to North Amer.)
I hope you can learn and adapt, without conforming. Good luck with the next review.

11:19 PM  
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