Now here’s a good one: a conversation between Inio Asano and Usamaru Furuya that ran alongside the last chapter of Girl by the Sea in Manga Erotics F, which means it would’ve been around the time Asano was working on volume 12 of Good Night Punpun.
Thanks go out to Vito for providing me with the relevant pages out of the magazine!
Furuya: Thanks for having me over. It’s a comfy workplace you have here.
Asano: I tried my best to tidy up.
Furuya: Ah, I see you were in the middle of work.
Asano: You do your color work digitally, don’t you?
Furuya: I’ve been going analog for color stuff lately too. I’ve started using Copic marker pens — it’s faster. How do you color your stuff, Asano?
Furuya: I’ve done my share of Photoshop, too, but in the end I wound up doing it by hand. (laugh)
Editor: How long had you been using Photoshop before switching over?
Furuya: A good 15 years, anyway.
Asano: So, are you saying that it turns out looking better doing it by hand and it’s faster?
Furuya: Absolutely. And there’s one other advantage to it: If you draw something in color, you can sell it.
Asano: Ah, because you’ll have that hand-drawn original picture. Good point.
Furuya: Got that advice from Suehiro Maruo. He told me to color my stuff by hand, and I assumed he was talking about how it looks better, but no, he says, it’s better because then you can sell it. (laugh)
Asano: That’s one way of looking at it.
Editor: Ah, the wisdom that gets passed down through the generations. (laugh)
Asano: I haven’t ever tried doing color by hand, so I have no idea how to even do it. When you’re just starting out with digital coloring, though, it tends to come out looking like something from a lame anime, so I had to do a lot of experimenting to figure out how to make it look like something done with watercolors… which basically means I was trying to make it look like something hand-colored, so I guess it’s true that maybe I might as well just do it by hand.
Furuya: Well, I was going digital for a long time too, and it does come out looking good, and I like that you can easily just redo it, but there’s a level of detail that I simply do not have the technique to pull off digitally, but that I can do with paint.
Asano: I actually want my colored stuff to turn out a bit differently than it does, but since I can only do so much with the software I’m using I’ve learned to just accept that. I haven’t really studied much about how to color, so I don’t feel very confident about my sense for it.
Furuya: I’m the same way. I used to do acrylics, but I do always struggle with color.
Asano: Really?! It doesn’t show.
Furuya: I mean, just look how good people are at drawing these days. Looking at Pixiv is so depressing.
Asano: They’re so talented, aren’t they? They’re probably all young, too.
Furuya: You’re pretty good yourself, though. I’ve recently decided to give up on being good at drawing, personally. (laugh)
Editor: What do you mean by that?
Furuya: For a long time I was trying to compete with everyone in art skill, but at some point I realized that I just didn’t have it in me. It was around my mid-thirties, I guess.
Asano: You’ve tried every technique in the book, though.
Furuya: Yeah, which is my stuff is all over the place. (laugh)
Asano: I’ve always thought you were changing your style according to the different goals you had in mind for your different series.
Furuya: For me, it’s not that I’m changing my style according to the manga so much as it just changes by itself. For example, when I was starting to draw Innocents Children’s Crusade, I happened to be really into Volks dolls, and I wanted to draw those glass-like eyes they have.
Asano: Ah, I see.
Furuya: I started drawing it with this idea that it’d be like those cruel puppet shows they used to do a long time ago, but then I started another new series, and the art style from that seeped its way in. (laugh) Sometimes I have trouble staying true to my original vision for a manga like that. I find that the art style for my manga takes shape when I’m at that preparation stage for it, gathering materials and imagining how I’m going to go about making it. Do you not find that?
Asano: Hmm… all I ever think about is doing the art well. For me, I tend to think of art skill as a matter of detail, so I’ve always been focused on making my art detailed. I’ve sort of hit the limit with that and resolved to keep things simpler from now on, but I wouldn’t say I decide on a certain art style before starting a series. I still haven’t made that many series, so I guess I haven’t really thought about that stuff so much before. I’ve always just thought about drawing it as well as possible.
Furuya: Even now?
Asano: Even now — although I feel like I’ve finally hit the limit in terms of detail.
Editor: How far is that limit, exactly?
Asano: In terms of image resolution, it’s the point where I can’t add another pixel. You can’t go any smaller than a pixel, so that’s the limit.
Editor: Wow. (laugh)
Asano: So when my assistants shade things in, they’ve learned to do it with really fine lines that come out single-pixel-thin when scanned. There’s no point in going any smaller than that, I figure.
Furuya: I see. You know, I heard before that you started Girl on the Sea because you thought you wouldn’t have to put too much effort into the backgrounds if you set it at the beach.
Asano: Right — it’d be simpler if I could just put a lot of sky in the background… was the idea, anyway.
Furuya: But it didn’t work out that way, did it? (laugh)
Asano: It’s compulsive with me: I don’t feel like the manga looks finished if the backgrounds are just left blank. As the title says, it was supposed to be a manga that takes place at the beach, but I kept taking it to the city because I just can’t be satisfied without buildings in the background.
Furuya: It’s a disease. (laugh)
Asano: I need to change some fundamental part of my approach. I feel like I’m going to start hating drawing if I don’t make a point of doing it in a way that’s easier on me — which doesn’t sound good, but there it is.
Furuya: You’re what — 32? Once you get around 40, you really get just… sick and tired of it. (laugh)
Asano: Physically, you mean?
Furuya: Physically too, but also you start to wonder why you’re still just doing the same old thing, drawing the same face again and again and all that. You enter this stage where it all just feels like a chore. I’m not sure exactly how I got over it, but basically the key is to start trying new things and finding ways to have fun with the work, because otherwise you’ll eventually just snap, mentally.
Asano: You do have to shake things up to some degree, to keep yourself from becoming bored.
Furuya: That’s it. For example, when I was about your age, I got a request to do a two-color-page thing for the magazine Studio Voice, and I decided I wanted to try some carpentry work, so I made manga out of stuff like stained glass and stone. Whereas normally you make panels by simply drawing lines on the paper, all of a sudden they became most of the work. I had to spend two or three days just on preparation: I would go to the craft store, browse through the different supplies they have, then maybe I’d decide to draw on tiles that day, so I’d go and harden them together with mortar.
Asano: It’s like starting with the physical creation of the paper to draw on. (laugh)
Furuya: I have to do things like that in order to keep myself interested. I made it so that I actually had to get up and move to make my manga.
Asano: I was in high school when I read Palepoli, and the things you did to manga… My impression was that you wanted to take manga — this thing that’s supposed to be made up of things like panels and speech bubbles — and see how far you could push its limits.
Furuya: You could say that.
Asano: Reading your manga really forces the reader to see how much we take for granted our notion of what a manga is. Everyone goes around drawing speech balloons without thinking about it, but at some point there had to have been someone who actually came up with the idea for that. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Furuya: No, it doesn’t.
Asano: As a kid I never did really take to shonen manga, so while everyone pretty much just accepts a lot of the conventions in manga, I always found myself thinking that the art can be pretty strange, and that it doesn’t really have to the way it is. Reading your manga helped me realize that other stuff was possible. There was a time where I was following your interviews really closely, and there was this one article in particular that ran in Comic Cue beside the story “Tsuki no Sho” (“Moon Book”) where you said that you really struggled with panel layouts.
Furuya: See, I made my debut before I was even able to draw manga: I started off with 4-koma because I didn’t know how to handle different sizes of panels, and I decided that was all I could do. It’s only recently that I’ve become able to do that stuff without having to think about it. For a long time I’d been making manga while wondering the whole time about what manga even is, but over time I gradually became used to it, and now I’ve finally reached the point where I can unabashedly call myself a professional manga artist.
Furuya: I was a high school teacher until I was 34, which means I was still teaching when I was your age. I was sort of straddling those two worlds.
Asano: When was it that you stopped?
Furuya: Around the time I was about to start Pi.
Asano: So it’s possible to do a manga series and be a teacher at the same time. Who knew. (laugh)
Furuya: I was giving myself something to fall back on. Manga is for fun, was my thinking: You couldn’t really make a living off of it, but if I could have fun experimenting with it and make a little money at the same time, that’d be just great. It was after finishing my weekly series in Big Comic Spirits [i.e. Pi], though, that I felt like I’d really become a manga artist.
Asano: I see. I tell people that I’m a manga artist just to make things simple, but part of me does feel unsure about it.
Furuya: Don’t worry: If you’ve made it on Jounetsu Tairiku, then you’ve officially made it as a manga artist. (laugh) [Note: Jounetsu Tairiku is a documentary TV program that had recently done a feature on Asano at the time.]
Asano: You think? (laugh) I still do look at manga and find myself thinking that it really is a strange beast, so I’m hoping to get some advice talking with you today so I can figure out where to go from here.
Furuya: The thing is, I myself have been doing nothing but experimenting, so I’m so scattered all over the place in terms of art and story that I’m probably not in any position to give advice. (laugh) You seem like you’ve got things pretty well together from my perspective, you know.
Asano: Really? Hmmm…
Furuya: I mean, I’m sure you have your things you struggle with, but you seem to have found your voice, and your art seems really very settled.
Asano: You think so? I feel like I wouldn’t mind outright scrapping my current art style altogether, though.
Furuya: Is it that you’re tired of it?
Asano: That, plus I’m jealous of what I see other people drawing. I’d like to try some sort of art style that’s totally different from what I’ve got now.
Furuya: Is there a style in particular you have in mind?
Asano: There is: Yotsuba&!
Asano: It’s got a simple overall look to it, with no screentone. I do realize that it’d be harder to do than it looks, of course.
Furuya: I think up a lot of different ideas for manga, and I give up on about 80% of them when I realize that I just wouldn’t be able to pull them off with my art. After all, I have my own little Usamaru Furuya brand name, and I’ve started to take it more into consideration lately — how much can I betray what my fans have come to expect of me? I used to be all about just ignoring that and plowing forward, but now I feel more like I want to tend to my brand a little and see if I can’t make it grow.
Asano: I see — so you want to satisfy the fans who are already in your camp, while at the same time making that tent a little bigger?
Furuya: Exactly. I used to want to branch out and make all kinds of different manga, to the point where people wonder which one is the real me. I believed that if you read my various manga, you’ll find that at root they all have the same thing running through them, and that’s what makes my manga uniquely mine, and not things like the way I draw eyes, or the long eyelashes, or the red lips — I felt like it was just stupid to look for an author’s uniqueness in things like that. Now, though, I’m sort of interested in nurturing that Usamaru Furuya “brand” and making sure not to betray the fans I’ve managed to win over. But then again maybe I’ll end up deciding to just scrap the brand after all. (laugh)
Asano: So that’s the mode you’re in now, you might say.
Furuya: I got all of this a few years ago when I read this book, Karuto ni nare [“Go Cult”]. At first I thought it was going to be about cult religions. (laugh) It used examples like Harley Davidson, Star Trek, Macintosh, asking, What do they all have in common? The fact that their products make you feel that you’re special, and that they can be used to communicate things to others. For example, the book says that in the US, they have these big conventions for Harley Davidson riders once a year, and that Macintosh has these MacExpo things, which are based around the idea that Mac users have something about them that they only share with fellow users. They’re more than just electronics — they have some sort of special extra value attached to them. That’s what the book says, anyway. I thought it was interesting, so I decided I’d try to implement it myself. (laugh)
Asano: I’m not sure it’s the kind of thing you’re supposed to consciously aim for… (laugh) So, basically, you’re talking about making the reader feel like he’s part of a special group?
Furuya: Yes. You do a good job of that, I think — so now the question is what you’ll do with that Inio Asano brand. You could just abandon it and blow everyone away something totally different — that’s one path. But the people who so love the current Inio universe as it is now and the depressing feeling that comes with it — people such as, say, Rino Sashihara (laugh) — are positively worshiping your brand, so this is kind of a crossroad that you’ve come to, where you have to choose whether or not to keep expanding that cult. [Note: The documentary segment on Asano apparently included an appearance by AKB48 member Rino Sashihara talking about how much she likes Asano’s work.]
Asano: Yes, I’m debating that right now.
Furuya: I’m in the reverse situation: I’ve played around doing whatever I want for so long that now I’m starting to feel more like making a brand for myself and slowly working at it. Whereas playing around is what you want to do now, right?
Asano: That’s about right. I have a vague idea of my current audience, but I don’t quite trust them.
Editor: Could you expand on that a bit?
Asano: If you were to ask me what my aim has been with the manga I’ve made up until now, I’d say that I’ve inevitably been making stuff that I myself like — but since I imagine there are a lot of people like me, I figured I could count on there being a decent number of people out there who’ll be able to “get” my manga. The problem, though, is if my readers are people are like me, and I don’t really like people who are similar to me, then that means that I dislike my readers.
Furuya: They do say that people tend to dislike people similar to themselves.
Asano: That’s what it is—it’s hard to like someone when you can see through them like that. I understand the reason people read my manga, what they like about it and what they’re going to eventually dislike about it, so I just can’t fully accept my readers. Hence my urge to mess with them.
Furuya: I see.
Asano: So part of me wants to disappoint my readers with my next manga, but then another part of me knows that I need to satisfy these people who are willing to read my work, and now I’m not sure which of these two directions I should go with.
Furuya: That is a dilemma. Was that part of the idea behind starting Girl by the Sea – that you’d go off in a different direction and draw something sexy?
Asano: Girl was totally just about me regaining my balance.
Furuya: How so?
Asano: I’d never done much sex before, so I’d included that aspect of it to give myself something new to look forward to. The actual content, though, was about me finding my balance and doing the manga carefully. My Big Comic Spirits series, Good Night Punpun, is pretty extreme, in that it’s something I draw based on impulse; the goal behind Girl by the Sea, meanwhile, was to preserve a satisfying level of quality for the earnest reader. I wanted to take care in making it, basically. Girl should be the manga that my fans find the most satisfying. Punpun is something I make knowing that people might be annoyed a little by it.
Furuya: It’s in a weekly magazine, so it might be better for it to be a little on the extreme side. Spirits in particular runs a lot of extreme stuff, too — you’re there side by side with I Am a Hero and Ushijima the Loan Shark, after all. (laugh) I feel the same way about having to add some spice sometimes.
Asano: It’s true. Do you ever find yourself influenced by the other series running in the same magazine as you?
Furuya: I do. How do I distinguish my series from the others, how much can I stand out within a weekly magazine. That kind of stuff.
Asano: It’s really easy to relax and work on your manga when it has an established position within the magazine. It’s so nerve-racking when you’ve got someone else there with a manga that overlaps with yours.
Furuya: How true. Actually, that reminds me: I recently had this dream that I was doing a naginata manga in Spirits, and it was really freaking me out.
Asano: Ah, because of Ai Kozaki’s Asahinagu [a pretty popular series in Spirits about naginata]. Just imagine how stressful that’d be for both of you! (laugh)
Editor: It’d be master versus student. [Apparently Kozaki used to work as an assistant to Furuya.]
Furuya: It’s all a matter of where you take your brand. If you ask an auteur type, he’ll probably tell you to run right over it — “Quit worrying about your image and just rock and roll, my man!” or whatever. (laugh) But that sort of advice doesn’t really have your future in mind. That’s why I think you should always continue making manga that upholds your brand. On the other hand, though, it’s definitely true that going off the reservation and drawing something different to relieve stress is a very good thing in terms of mental health. Right now is the first time in well over ten years that I’ve only got one series on the go — just Teiichi no Kuni in Jump SQ — and I’m somehow satisfied with just that. For now. Up until now, though, one series alone was never enough; I always needed at least two on the go at any given time. Two that contrasted each other — like, to contrast against the teenager story Genkaku Picasso in Jump SQ, I had the super dark No Longer Human. Doing a teen story and a dark story at the same time allowed me to stay emotionally balanced, and that’s the only way to expand your brand while also keeping your stress from getting pent up, I think. Girl by the Sea is a good manga, but if you try doing two good manga at the same time…
Asano: You’ll snap.
Furuya: It’s too much, emotionally.
Asano: You’re right, I do need to keep myself balanced.
Furuya: So you do your rock-and-roll manga on one side. Or, really, you could relieve that stress through actual music or something like that.
Asano: Ah, doing it through a hobby.
Furuya: Right. Personally, I find myself as an individual drifting farther and farther apart from my artist identity as Usamaru Furuya [a pen name].
Asano: Ooh. So you’re saying that you’ve found a way to maintain a private life?
Furuya: I have — especially since I became a father. When I’m not working on manga, I’m almost never manga artist Usamaru Furuya. I play with my kid, I ride around on my motorbike…
Asano: Did you become that way after you took on this new role as a father? It’s true that you can’t really bring your manga artist identity into that.
Furuya: This might anger some of my fans, but… I’ve come to think of this as a job. I know it doesn’t sound good saying that being an artist is just my job, but.
Asano: Is the reason that you’re satisfied just working on Teiichi no Kuni because instead of balancing yourself between two manga, now you’re able to balance yourself between that one manga and your private life?
Furuya: I think that’s probably it. I’m able to relieve my stress in my daily life now, I guess you could say. Children, that’s what does it.
Asano: I see… So I need to start by making babies, then. (laugh)
Editor: This has turned into some pretty heavy life advice. (laugh) Asano, are you always Inio [also a pen name] the artist, twenty-four-seven?
Asano: I suppose I am. I don’t even remember what kind of person I was before becoming a manga artist.
Asano: I’ve become really distant from my high school friends from back home. I debuted in high school and came to Tokyo totally full of myself for having gotten published in a magazine, so that manga-drawing part of me has really become what I am at my core — so now, when I meet a friend from back home for the first time in ten years, I’ve forgotten how I used to act, so I sort of start acting like I’m gay for some reason.
Asano: I mean, I’m not, but I start acting all, “Oh darling, it’s been too long!”
Editor: So you’re almost 100% manga artist, then.
Asano: Yes, though maybe I’ll eventually return to myself like Usamaru has.
Furuya: I know it must be hard for you, but I think you pretty much have to maintain your brand with your current art style.
Asano: Do you really think so?
Furuya: Well, it’d be alright to draw less for the backgrounds. Like, you could come up with some sort of premise for a one-shot where all the backgrounds are blank or something. (laugh)
Asano: True — if I don’t decide beforehand to do something like that, I’ll end up drawing them in.
Furuya: You should do it in Erotics F — you could call it White: The Backgroundless Manga, or The White City or something. (laugh)
Editor: I’m all for this.
Furuya: Also, I think it’d be okay if you cut back on screentone.
Asano: Oh — really?
Furuya: The truth is, I have to concentrate a bit in order to read your manga, because it hurts if I let myself think about the amount of work that must’ve gone into it. I can see how you did it, and I can more or less imagine how long it would’ve taken, so it takes me a few pages before I can focus on the story.
Editor: You can’t help but think about it?
Furuya: Yeah. It makes you one of the more painful manga artists to read as a fellow artist, Asano. (laugh)
Asano: You do feel the enormous time that goes into a detailed artist’s work.
Furuya: You just have to keep it within reason. It’s not good to leave the page too blank, either — I have a bit of a phobia of open spaces, so I don’t like looking at those shojo manga with the words just floating there in space. For my money, the most readable manga out there is Naoki Urasawa’s work.
Editor: How interesting.
Furuya: The pictures and lines are fairly rough, but he keeps the artwork at a high level, so it’s easily readable. The cinematic way he cuts between scenes, the close-ups, the panel layouts — I learn a ton from him, while getting pulled into the story at the same time, which goes to show how eminently readable Urasawa’s art is.
Asano: Even his backgrounds contain plenty of information, but then they’ll be shaded really crudely. He cuts corners like that at just the right amount, which makes his stuff read really smoothly. His characters are somewhat cartoonified too, so it’s easy to tell his characters apart, and it makes it easy for him to do their facial expressions. It feels like he’s what you get when you take readability and quality as far as you can.
Furuya: (looking at pages drawn by Asano) When you’re drawing the hell out of things the way you do, though, you’d be able to get away just using those drawings as they are too, you know.
Asano: Hmmm. So there are parts that you think I’m using too much screentone, then?
Furuya: There are parts where you have to use it — the emotionally expressive parts. I know what those parts are going to be, and I always make sure to take my time doing the screentone for those parts. But things like when you’re just drawing the characters’ day-to-day lives, or scenes that are just necessary in terms of plot — I try to use as little tone as possible on those unimportant scenes.
Asano: I see — so you’re saying you adjust the amount of work you do depending on what’s going on in each given panel.
Asano: That’s not something I do — I put the same amount into everything. Wow. Nobody points out technique-related stuff like this, do they? Especially after you become a manga artist. Is there anything else?
Furuya: Well, again: Parts like this [see picture below], for example, are where you’re drawing an emotion, so I think this is a good amount in this case. The thing is, though, that the reader doesn’t really care whether you’re using screentone or not. If you were to run this in Erotics F without using any tone, nobody would think you were being lazy or anything.
Editor: I remember that! You were saying that at first.
Asano: This is a really minor thing, but Koume’s jeans in the first chapter are the sort of thing I normally would have filled in with some 20% grey tone, but I forced myself to hold back.
Furuya: (laugh) Ah, it’s true, you just did it with lines.
Asano: Exactly — but now I’m back to tone.
Furuya: I understand where you’re coming from. I went through a time where I was using screentone like crazy myself.
Furuya: Somewhere along the line, screentone became the hardest work for me to do.
Asano: Ah, it must’ve been the digital stuff, wasn’t it?
Furuya: Right. At first doing it on the computer seemed so easy that I was even enjoying it, but now I use it as little as possible — just for the colors of things, plus a little bit of shading. It takes me all of ten minutes from having scanned the page in to finishing it.
Asano: Ten minutes?!
Furuya: I have my assistants do the backgrounds, so.
Asano: Ten minutes… Wow. I’d say I put in about an hour per page.
Furuya: Now, obviously I’m not saying that it’s better to finish it within ten minutes; it’s just that the fine-tuning process at the end became progressively exhausting for me.
Asano: That’s exactly the situation I’m in now: the computer work is my least favorite part.
Furuya: It is tiring, isn’t it? Drawing the characters is pretty fun, and even taking the photos to use as reference for the backgrounds isn’t bad, but having to then apply those backgrounds behind the characters is just… So anyway, I became fed up with that computer work to the point where I thought it’d be easier to just give someone else the reference photos and have them draw in the backgrounds. But then I had to scan those line drawings in and apply screentone according to the original background photos, and then apply tone to the characters, and it was really tough work. (laugh)
Asano: What is it about it, anyway? I mean, it’s boring work, yeah, but there’s something about it that makes it feel so much like manual labor.
Furuya: It really does. It puts me to sleep. It reminds me of when I was working part-time at a bento place, just doing nothing but putting in pieces of carrot or whatever. Doing a whole day of that stuff is pure torture.
Furuya: I’m starting to lose the concentration that it takes to do 18 pages. Drawing panel by panel, I get tired. “Well, that’s another one down!”, I say, and I take a rest before moving on to the next panel. At that rate I can’t even get through four pages a day, so what I do is go through all the pages inking just one specific thing — inking all the eyes, then all the noses, then the mouths, then the hair. (laugh) Doing it like that, I can work at it without having to stop. So, when I’m drawing wrinkles in clothing, I become a professional wrinkler for a little bit.
Asano: Doing nothing but wrinkles.
Furuya: And as a pro wrinkler, when I come across a body that’s sort of awkward to do, I get really angry at the professional body-drawer that drew it earlier. “That frigging guy — he doesn’t understand the first thing about wrinkles.” I sort of argue like that as I draw. Doing it this way allows me to maintain a certain level of quality while also doing it quickly. I can get the main linework finished for 18 pages within a day.
Asano: Whoa. That fast, huh?
Asano: So it’s like you set this goal for the entire chapter, and you won’t rest until you meet it. You need experience for that to work, though. You’ve got to finish the work within a time frame, after all.
Furuya: I have a few different theories on how not to get bored. I believe that when I simply cannot bring myself to draw, there must be something wrong with my method. So if I get to the point where I can’t work on my manga even with my “just the eyes, just the mouths” method, I change it. I time myself with a stopwatch and give myself five minutes intervals to work on a page.
Asano: You move on to the next page even if you haven’t finished?
Furuya: I stop in the middle of just drawing the outlines. (laugh) Doing it like that, I get through 18 pages in an hour and a half, which I think of as one lap, after which I do some stretches. If I go through that about five times per day, in the end the manga gets done in a pretty timely manner — though in a sort of roundabout way. (laugh)
Asano: So, the idea is that you constantly have that five-minute limit in mind as you work.
Furuya: Exactly. “Three seconds left… Two… One… Okay, next!” I’ve got myself constantly working under a five-minute deadline.
Asano: Wouldn’t that tire you out, though?
Furuya: Yeah, it does. (laugh) But the way I see it, if I’m end up exhausted anyway, I might as well get it out of the way as quickly as possible. I’d say it was only when I was in my twenties that I ever used to slowly draw my manga page by page. I’ve been doing it like this for the past ten years or so, since my mid-thirties.
Asano: I work at home without a firmly set deadline, so I lose track of time. I’ll just sit there staring off into space sometimes and half a day will pass by.
Asano: When we met before, you said that you set a number of pages for yourself to draw in a week, and you keep drawing toward that goal, regardless of deadlines.
Furuya: Yes, I do.
Asano: Wow… I couldn’t do that.
Furuya: What’s the basis you work on, then?
Asano: I don’t especially work on a “basis”.
Furuya: What day does your Punpun deadline fall on?
Asano: Um, well, I have periods that my stuff is running in the magazine and periods where it’s on break, which means I’m constantly working on building up a backlog and don’t really have deadlines, per se. That’s what I mean when I say I don’t especially work on any particular schedule. It’s basically a matter of getting a certain number of chapters finished within a number of months.
Furuya: So, with an 18-page chapter, say, how long would it take you to draw it?
Asano: About a week per chapter, I’d say.
Furuya: One week, to go from penciling to the final touches?
Asano: Not including the time it takes to plan the chapter out, yes: one week. My personal rule of thumb is that it’s enough if I get four pages inked in a day, so that takes about four and a half days, and then I generally spend a day and a half doing the computer work and all that, so it should be about six days. It never actually works out that way, though — there’s always something to throw me off.
Furuya: I guess it would take a week to put out art of that quality.
Asano: I don’t have much concentration, so I just work at my own pace. My powers of concentration have clearly hit their peak two or three years ago, and I’ve been getting lazier ever since.
Furuya: Your peak was in your 20s, was it? (laugh)
Asano: I take some pride in knowing that I used to work pretty hard.
Furuya: I heard that when your assistants come in to your studio, you talk for more than an hour before you even start to work.
Asano: I’d say we go on for about two hours.
Furuya: What about?
Asano: Just chit-chat, really.
Furuya: You don’t do it as you’re working, though?
Asano: We talk the whole time. It’s constant. There’s no particular reason for it, it’s just become a habit.
Furuya: When I heard about you doing this, it struck me as pretty unusual. Are you gathering information through it?
Asano: There’s some comparing notes, you could say, but we talk about stuff like the weather every day.
Furuya: Is there a fixed time that your assistants come in and stay until?
Asano: From around noon to whenever their last train home is. I tell them that as long as they finish the backgrounds for two pages of a decent size within the day, say, then that’s enough. We might yak on for as long as three hours before starting, though, so it might actually only be six hours of actual work.
Furuya: That sounds nice. Very relaxed.
Asano: Yes, I like to keep things relaxed for the assistants, so I don’t rush them. I can go at it pretty hard when I’m by myself, though.
Furuya: Well, my method certainly isn’t for everyone. Your more easy-going pace is probably better suited for the work you’re doing. How many assistants do you have at the moment?
Asano: I’ve got three, so I generally have one of them come in every weekday. I used to work right on through the weekend, but for the past year or so I’ve had assistants coming in regularly enough through the rest of the week that now I generally sleep through my weekends. (laugh)
Furuya: You do tweet a lot about how you should be exercising more. (laugh)
Asano: Yeah, that’s right. Actually, just recently I… (does running gesture)
Furuya: You’ve been jogging?
Asano: Err, well, that was the plan, but then as I jogged I got this sharp pain in my heart, so I figured I’d better play it safe and give up. (laugh)
Editor: How far did you get?
Asano: About 300 meters.
Furuya: (laugh) That’s normal, though.
Asano: Do you exercise?
Furuya: I do a little walking. Haven’t done anything the past couple of months, though, so I’ve put on three kilos. I’ve gotta start back up.
Asano: When someone who exercises stops doing it, it really affects them, doesn’t it? I never exercised to begin with, so.
Furuya: Do you have some sort of vision as to what kind of manga artist you want to become in the future?
Asano: Well, let’s see… I had a pretty good idea of what I was doing up until I did Solanin, but I didn’t think at all about anything past that, so I hadn’t in the least bit planned to do what I’m working on now, and I don’t have much of an idea of where I’ll go from here. I’d like to eventually be drawing something super simple like Hige to Boin (“The Beard and the Tits”), but…
Furuya: What?! As if. (laugh) You’ll never become like that.
Asano: You don’t think I could?
Furuya: Certainly not, although I do think the way you do backgrounds and screentone is going to gradually evolve. You’re good at drawing, so all that’s left is for you to come to terms with the fact that you could halve the amount of screentone you use and still produce more amazing pages than most people ever could. If you can just free yourself from your overdrawing every little thing, it’ll be a lot easier on you.
Asano: You’re right. Do you have any idea what you’ll do in the future, Usamaru?
Furuya: What I’ve always said is that I’d retire at 50, but I think I’ll keep on drawing even after that.
Editor: Oh, please do.
Furuya: I do think I’ll eventually stop doing this fifteen-to-eighteen-pages-a-week rate I’ve been going at for the past ten years, though. My hope is to one day stop using assistants and just stick to an amount that I can do by myself, which will probably lower my monthly output to about twenty to thirty pages. In terms of content, I’ve done plenty of what I’ve wanted to do already, so now I want to cater to my fans who’ve followed me this far. The editor-in-chief of Garo once told me something that Suehiro Maruo said, and it’s always stuck with me: “My manga is like the measles: I’ve got a lot of female readers fresh out of junior high school, but they only get the bug for a year or two before forgetting all about my manga and moving on.” And he’s fine with that. It means that his manga will continue to be sold, and with young people coming and going, his manga becomes like a rite of passage.
Asano: There will always be a demand for it.
Furuya: I didn’t see it as something to aim for or anything when I heard that, but I did think that maybe that would be enough for me, too. It’s stressful when you try to please too wide an audience.
Editor: Do you have any notion of what you’ll do in the future, Asano?
Asano: I think my art will evolve in time, but the content is what I’m worried about right now. I do come up with ideas, but they’re ideas that suit my personal tastes, which is not at all to say that they’re something my readers want. Another thing I have to take into consideration is the fact that at the end of the day I really want my stuff to sell — in which case maybe I should be making something that appeals to the demographic that buys the most manga, which would be… what, teenagers? Maybe it’s a bit older than that.
Furuya: The key demographic behind manga might be people over thirty, nowadays.
Asano: It might well be. It’s hard to tell anymore what the core audience is anymore.
Furuya: Young people don’t have any money, after all. It seems really difficult to me to go after a target audience. I mean, you might have a vague notion of one for some manga, but I’d have no idea what to do if I were to go about making a manga so that it will sell to some hot demographic.
Furuya: Are there people who look at it that way, though? “There’s a demand for X, so I’ll make a manga aimed at audience Y, and it’ll be guaranteed to sell.”
Asano: Yes, I think there are people like that. Something I’ve been thinking about lately is, you could more or less divide manga into two groups, shonen and seinen, and then within those two groups you could divide it pretty cleanly again between the mainstay publishers like Shogakukan and Kodansha on one hand and subsidiary publishers like Kadokawa and Square Enix on the other. Looking at some of the stuff that Square Enix and the like put out with their anime-style art, don’t you find that there are manga where the artist is just faceless? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I do think that they must be the product of the marketing division seeing a target to go after.
Furuya: Ah, I see.
Asano: That’s why you’ll see that once a certain title becomes popular, all of a sudden you’ll see all kinds of manga crop up with similar titles. I mean, it’s fine, though — that’s what sells now, and more and more people are making manga that way. That’s why I sometimes find myself contemplating what would happen if I went over to that side.
Furuya: A lot of people out there are going to object to this, but I consider Weekly Shonen Jump to be the epitome of the manga industry. The artists there are gods. (laugh)
Furuya: Marketing has a part in it too, but the artists there are the ones who’ve managed to come out on top in a battle of a level that we can’t even imagine, surviving the popularity survey and trying to create something purely entertaining. I think you could make a go of it there yourself if you wanted to, Asano. What do you think?
Asano: In a shonen magazine?
Furuya: As something new to challenge yourself. You’re flexible, so I imagine you’d be able to adapt to some degree.
Asano: Readers these days see manga of all sorts of genres displayed together side by side on the internet, so they’re choosing what titles to read from an even playing field. Stuff from Jump, stuff from obscure magazines — they’re reading it all as if they were the same.
Asano: In that sense, where your stuff is published doesn’t matter much, so I do think that running in a bigger venue would be quite a challenge. I just need one of the seinen manga artists I know to move to a shonen magazine and act as the canary in the coal mine… (laugh)
Asano: Kengo Hanazawa’s been saying for the longest time that he wants to do his next series in a shonen magazine, you know.
Asano: Usamaru, you know a lot of your fellow manga artists, don’t you? I’m totally antisocial, so that’s probably the biggest difference between the two of us.
Furuya: Really? (laugh) It doesn’t seem like it, talking to you now.
Asano: Oh, I’m perfectly capable of talking, but I don’t go out. I’m incapable of being the one to initiate contact with people and text them first and all that.
Furuya: Well, now that I know where you live, would you mind if I drop by and maybe bring you some snacks?
Asano: Well, I certainly don’t turn people away. (laugh) I just don’t go out myself.
Furuya: I pass by here on my motorbike a lot, actually.
Asano: Really? Please drop by any time. I’ll talk your ear off. (laugh)
Furuya: No, no — I’ll help out with work a little.
Asano: I’ll have you work on Punpun, then — anybody could draw it and nobody would ever know the difference. I’ll have you do the whole chapter. (laugh)
Furuya: It might end up looking completely differently, like it was done by Shiriagari Kotobuki or something. (laugh) ♦