Inio Asano and Daisuke Igarashi, on getting started in the manga industry

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In 2012, Manga Erotics F did some interviews with manga artists regarding the first time their work was published — including Inio Asano and Daisuke Igarashi.

Inio Asano

“That’s a Bit Much, Kikuchi!!”, Inio Asano's 1998 debut

“That’s a Bit Much, Kikuchi!!” (1998), Inio Asano’s first work published

  1. How did you come to make your debut? (Did you bring your manga in and show an editor, did you enter a contest, etc.)

When I was seventeen, I drew about twenty pages’ worth of short gag pieces and brought them in to Spirits. The editor I was seeing was Naoki Yamamoto’s editor, and it just so happened at the time that Yamamoto’s one-shot “Fine Girl” came out to be shorter than originally planned, so they ran my manga to fill the gap. I lucked out, not having drawn something too long. (laugh)

  1. When did you draw your debut work, and how?

Ah, the date I took it in to Spirits is written on the margin: 3 pm on April 16, 1998. I’d submitted 4-koma manga to Famitsu and Dragon Quest 4-Koma Theater back when I was in elementary school and junior high school, but this was the first time I’d submitted anything to an actual manga magazine. I had no intention of going pro at the time. During class I used to sketch out 4-koma strips that were surprisingly popular with my friends, and I basically just wanted to see how they’d do in the pro world. They were all extremely surreal stuff, though, so I didn’t think people would be interested. I wasn’t holding my breath.

  1. Having reread your debut work, what do you think of it?

When I asked my editor about it later, he claimed to have felt some sort of diamond-in-the-rough potential in it, but maybe he was just drunk when he said that, because I can’t say as I feel too much potential in it looking at it now. (laugh) But actually, rereading it isn’t really that painful, precisely because it’s a surreal gag manga that looks nothing like my current style. Sure, the art is awful, and I didn’t have a single clue what I was doing, but why would I? I didn’t even know how to draft a manga out back then. I wouldn’t expect much more than this.

  1. What do you consider to be your strong point(s) as a manga artist?

What I consider myself to have a real knack for is book design. I had a designer come up with a few options for me to choose from for What a Wonderful World and Nijigahara Holograph, but I’ve had all my other books basically made according to the way I ask for. I don’t have much confidence in the content of my manga, so I think about how to make people want my books as objects. Compared to when I was starting out, I think I’ve gotten good at it. With the art in my manga, I never really had an ideal look to strive for or anything, so I don’t really feel like I’m getting closer to reaching my ideal or anything — I’m drawn to a lot of different styles, so I’m pretty wishy-washy about it. The last time I was influenced by someone’s art was Takehiko Inoue, when I read Vagabond and thought, “Wow, this guy is so good, this is what I want to be!” (laugh) So then the way I draw my characters’ faces totally changed partway through What a Wonderful World. My art is a mixture of different art styles I’ve admired over time, I think. There was a time when I was into Kiriko Nananan’s Haruchin, and my characters’ eyes became dots for a while because of her influence – the first chapter of What a Wonderful World was like that when it ran in the magazine, but it didn’t look right, so I went back and redrew all the eyes for the collected volume. I also went through a phase where I was using a brush pen in an attempt to master that unique look Taiyo Matsumoto’s linework has, so in addition to the dot eyes, I think Wonderful World’s first chapter was also drawn with a thin brush pen, strangely enough. Maybe my strong point is my willingness to experiment like that. (laugh)

  1. What do you consider your weak point(s) as a manga artist?

My weak point is that I can’t draw scenes that move, like where somebody’s running or something. I don’t know how to draw concentration lines, and I still haven’t figured out how to draw something that feels fast without using movement lines or sound effects. I have a lot of scenes where my characters should be running, but because I’m not used to drawing that stuff, I end up not making them run. (laugh) In the chapter I’ve just finished in Girl by the Sea, Misaki was originally supposed to grab a stun gun while spinning around, but after trying multiple times and failing, I gave up.

  1. When and with which of your works did you feel like you’d made a manga that’s really your own?

After I made my debut, I felt like it was assumed I’d be the new kid on the gag manga block, but I didn’t think I could do gags, so I tried doing stuff in a bunch of different genres, like horror. Just rough drafts. It’s not that I was trying to find a style that suited me and then go pursuing that — it was more about trying all kinds of things and just seeing what I could get my editor to say OK to. For the longest time I just kept getting my stuff turned down and couldn’t settle on anything. I did generally tend to make surreal stuff, though. I happened to be reading Usamaru Furuya’s Palepoli when I made “Kikuchi”, which is why I tried to do some hatching for the last panel.

I was reading a lot of different manga at the time, but I didn’t know much indie stuff. With “Kikuchi”, I got paid 40,000 yen for the four pages, half of which I spent on a camera to take photos to use as reference, and the other half of which was blown on manga. There was this bookstore in the middle of Shibuya 109, and I just went to town buying stuff like Yoshitomo Yoshimoto’s Blue Car and Naito Yamada. I can still vividly remember the paper bag actually busting open in Ueno on the way back because of the sheer weight of it all. (laugh)

In a way I don’t think I’ve changed that much since that first chapter of What a Wonderful World — I’ve basically continued down that same path, trying everything I can think of. It’s not that it’s what especially clicked for me so much as that’s what my editor was willing to publish, and so I stuck with it.

Later, when I did Solanin, I felt sort of finished with that style, like I’d reached a sort of end with it, so I started letting myself be a bit more experimental since then. My starting point was gag manga, and I especially feel with Good Night Punpun that I’ve sort of returned to those roots. Things like making stories and plots, or knowing how to pull the reader’s heartstrings—they’re all just techniques that I acquired later on. Making coming-of-age stories is something I do as a business, as bad as that sounds. (laugh) Gags are what I really have fun doing, and what I’m trying to do is find the right balance between the two.

When I was doing my coming-of-age manga, though, I believed it was the right sort of manga for me to be making at the time, and my own personality then really was like the characters in those manga, which is why I guess I wasn’t really into doing gags. I was a pretty earnest guy, back in my twenties.

  1. How have you honed your style?

I started working on my artwork with a computer around the start of Wonderful World, and I felt guilty about it, like it was cheating. So I decided I’d do extra things like put in a lot of light and shadows, almost as compensation. I didn’t have a fixed idea of what I wanted my manga to look like; it was more of a process-of-elimination sort of thing. Also, if you googled “Inio Asano” back when my first volume came out, you’d only get six results, and one of them described me as being “just awful at backgrounds”, which I really hated, so I started trying all sorts of different methods. There’s a part in Dennou Manga Giken [a collection of manga artist interviews regarding how they use computers in their work] where it says Usamaru Furuya printed photographs in light blue and traced them, so I tried doing exactly that myself, for example.

After a while, people started describing my work as “lyrical”, which is something that didn’t really click for me. Again, it was just the process of elimination: after crossing off all the things I didn’t want to do – nothing too over-the-top, etc. – in the end I wound up doing the manga I did. Of course, part of it was also the fact that I liked manga that have ambience, like Naito Yamada’s work.

The idea was to get a volume published while I was still a student, as a confidence booster. I didn’t quite manage that in time before graduation in the end, but, anyway: I really lacked confidence. I devoted so much time towards manga, and abandoned so many things for it. It’s all I had left. Without it, all that would be left is an empty husk of a man, incapable of even functioning in society. (laugh)

  1. What is it that you’re especially working hard at now when drawing your manga?

I’m approaching the end of some different series now, so I have less that I need to carry around mentally stocked in my brain, and that makes things easier on me.

Lately, I feel like I need to think more about training my assistants. Assistants come and go, so I need them to adjust to my art style when they’re helping me. There’s no point in having assistants if I have to keep going back and fixing their work. I don’t have much experience as an assistant myself, so I’m not very good at giving people instructions. Teaching people to do things really is hard work.

  1. What dream do you have regarding manga?

I want to make manga that’s impervious to criticism — something that everyone praises, regardless of their particular taste. It’s not a dream that could ever come true, of course, but that is what I honestly want right now. I’ve already gone through all my achievable goals and dreams, so now all that’s left is stuff that I don’t even consider possible – like, I wouldn’t mind getting three million copies made for a first print, for example. (laugh)

Daisuke Igarashi


“The Day the Festival Music Played” (1993), Igarashi’s first work published

  1. How did you come to make your debut? (Did you bring your manga in and show an editor, enter a contest, etc.)

I made my debut by winning Afternoon’s Seasonal Grand Prize with two pieces: “Still Winter” and “The Day the Festival Music Played”, which went on to become the first chapter in Hanashippanashi.

I’d submitted the same pieces to a contest in a shojo magazine, but they sent them back along with a letter along the lines of, “Something with this kind of art and setting might do better in a seinen magazine,” so I took their advice and sent it off to Afternoon. I’m really grateful to them for sending that letter.

Up until then, I just had this vague idea that I wanted to do some sort of work that involved drawing, so I wasn’t exactly dead-set on becoming a manga artist. I wasn’t doing anything the year I graduated university, so I was also partially just going after the prize money. (laugh) I figured I’d be able to get a runner-up prize or something, anyway. I was still only just starting out, so I think I really wasn’t expecting much to come of it.

  1. When did you draw your debut work, and how?

“The Day the Festival Music Played” went on to become chapter one of my first series Hanashippanashi, and I’d drawn it the year after I’d graduated from university, which is also when I won the prize.

I used to doodle things in my notebook in high school — little episodes like, say, someone who’s walking along and sees something strange — some of which made it into Hanashippanashi. When I went to an art school for university, I wanted to put that kind of thing into my art, but it’s pretty hard to do in just one picture – which got me thinking that maybe I could do it in a series of pictures, which I realized was basically manga. I still wasn’t actually drawing manga just yet, though.

  1. What do you think is the difference between your debut work and your work before that? (Why do you think it was the work you were able to make your debut with?)

I hadn’t really made manga before that point, so I can’t really talk about a difference between my work up until then and now, but there might have been a change in my thinking: Until then, I’d thought of manga as fantasy – something where you dream up an alternate world – whereas what I wanted to draw were scenes that I was familiar with. I think it was maybe around that time that I made the connection between manga and the things I wanted to draw.

  1. Having reread your debut work, what do you think of it?

When it first ran in the magazine, I remember really feeling like I should have taken more time and drawn it better. I was embarrassed of it. I thought I’d absolutely screwed myself over, starting out with something like that. I still sort of feel that way rereading it now, but I also feel like I did a pretty good job in some ways, too.

Having reread it, what I think I did well is that you can see I clearly put a lot of thought into making sure there weren’t any unnecessary panels. Like, in “The Day the Festival Music Played”, you can tell right away from the first panel just looking at the picture what kind of setting we’re in, and you can tell roughly what time of day it is from the way the light’s coming in. I’ve got it so that you can tell what’s going on while using as little dialogue as possible. I came up with the title to help with that, too, so that you really can understand the situation entirely from that first panel. I actually had other scenes that I wanted to draw, but I wanted to keep it short, so I pared it down as best I could and kept the dialogue to a minimum, all in an attempt to present the manga within as few panels as possible.

While I do think I could’ve done the art better, I do also find myself thinking that I’m probably not capable of putting as much thought into my manga anymore as I’d done with this. I came up with the original idea for it years before finally submitting it, and I spent months working on fitting it into sixteen pages, so I think it was a good experience, being the first time I’d really thought hard about manga. I learned how to think about things when putting together a manga.

  1. What do you consider to be your strong point(s) as a manga artist?

The way I try to create opportunities to show off a little with my art, I guess.

igrshpanelI try to not only create climaxes in the story, but also in terms of the art. I want to communicate through the pictures. In “The Day the Festival Music Played”, the story was about a boy who manages to make it home safely in the end, but there’s also something else that I laid the groundwork for in the first three pages or so, and the payoff comes in a picture on the last page. Unfortunately, when I asked my editor about it afterwards, it turned out that he hadn’t even caught it. (laugh) I hope people will find new things with every time they read my manga.

Another reason I draw manga is because I want to draw pretty scenery. One of my strong points is how hard I try to make the reader feel the atmosphere, I think.

  1. What do you consider your weak point(s) as a manga artist?

The same points are also my weak points: I don’t put enough care into the story and characters, which makes my manga unbalanced.

At first I’ll be thinking of a simple story, like a boy who falls in love with a girl or something, but then when I go to draw it, it just doesn’t turn out that way. I’ll have some sort of plot development planned and lay the foreshadowing for it, but then forget to actually draw it…

  1. When and with which of your works did you feel like you’d made a manga that’s really your own?

It’d have to be my debut manga, I guess. I don’t see the manga I make as having changed that much since then. It was around the time I’d finished Hanashippanashi, though, that I started to really think about conveying things to my readers. After that I was just drawing a short piece every year or so, and that was the only work I was doing — the reason for that being not that my work stopped getting approved by the editors, but that I’d stopped drawing, and was just screwing around. I was running away. (laugh)

After that I did Witches, and I think I sort of went a little overboard at first; I felt like I’d been restraining myself until then, so I was in a hurry to throw off all those chains.

What I wanted to make was something like a bunch of short poems, but then, poetry comes in different types — there’s lyrical poetry, narrative poetry — so I decided to try branching out and doing different things. Part of it was also that I decided that I didn’t care if I ended up embarrassing myself, too, I suppose. Before, I had this sense of duty about the job, where I was convinced that if I’m going to be expressing myself to people for a living, then I can’t put out anything less than perfect. After I tried doing things I wasn’t good at, though, I realized that maybe it was okay if I was putting out flawed work so long as I was still getting across to people what I wanted to say. So I just sort of let go, and started to draw whatever came to me. Little Forest started around the same time.

Having gotten my start as a professional right after starting to draw manga really gave me a narrow view of things. I was only meeting with people that were part of the manga industry. By playing around and getting to meet a bunch of different people, I started feeling a bit more comfortable about things.

  1. How have you honed your style?

I think drawing manga pretty much boils down to presenting the world as you see it to others, so I guess I’ve honed my manga through trying to observe things.

At the same time, if I just keep drawing things as I see them, I’ll end up just drawing the same thing, so I’m also always trying to mix things up by adding different view points, too.

  1. What is it that you’re especially working hard at now when drawing your manga?

I feel like my manga becomes hard to read if I overdraw things or cram too much information per panel, so I’m trying to find the right balance at the moment. The plan is to play around and experiment a little to find that just right amount.

  1. What dream do you have for your manga?

I want to do what I’ve got in front of me, one thing at a time: Finish working on the latest volume I have coming out. Start on my next work. ♦


5 thoughts on “Inio Asano and Daisuke Igarashi, on getting started in the manga industry

  1. I get so much encouragement from reading these interviews. Your heroes can feel so far away that they take on a transendental feeling; especially along with the cultural gap that already exists when you’re American and many of your heroes are japanese. The figurative distances can blend together in a pretty lonely way. Your blog restores a human quality to a lot of my manga heroes and gives me some rare creative insight. I seriously come back and reread interviews when I’m feeling paralyzed and full of doubt. Thanks so much for translating them.

    What do these interviews mean to you?

    • Hmmm. I’ve always been a really big fan of interviews with artists of all sorts — love reading the ones in The Paris Review or The Believer, or Vanity Fair’s oral histories — and it seemed to me that there was a distinct lack of English-language interviews with manga artists despite the fact that there ought to be a real audience out there for them, so I decided to make a little project of it. There aren’t as many interviews out there in Japanese as you would think — there are plenty of artists selling millions of copies who don’t appear to have any interviews, which I get the impression is really different from, say, the American comics scene. A lot of interviews turn out to be mostly dull, too — I’ve translated maybe a third of what I’ve found. The conversation has to be something that strikes me as pretty interesting more or less the whole way through for me to bother with it. I like it when they say something that actually surprises me — that’s when I’ve found something good. Asano is good for that — the guy clearly gets a kick out of being intentionally shocking, and that’s pretty much why he has four interviews on here now while the other artists only have one or two. I do want to stay away from him for a bit, though.

      If I have a broader goal here, I guess I hope these conversations will all add up to something like a portrait of manga artists in general, which isn’t really something English-language manga readers have access to aside from, like, that one time they read Bakuman. I think there are some common themes that tend to run through the different conversations, and it certainly informs the way I read manga a little. I need to broaden my horizons a little more in terms of the artists I do, though. I’ve got some stuff in the mail now; should be pretty good. Stay tuned, tell your friends, and most of all, thank you for your comment! You are 300% exactly the kind of person I hoped would find this blog.

      • That’s a great goal to have. It’s like a neverending documentary on what manga means to people and manga’s such a personal medium that the wisdom tends to apply to life in general. I look forward to following you on your journey and I’m really stoked and honored to hear you say I’m part of your intended audience.

      • First off, I’d like to express my gratitude for granting us these delicious peeks and glances into that world, borderline voyeuristic in their raw realism.

        Hats off to you on your sense of tone and style, you’ve won my genuine admiration as a former language professional myself. Most of the readers will probably never notice, but FYI, the cultural differences in interviewing conventions, reader expectations, and most of all in the basic FLOW of the “humble formal Japanese speech” makes adapting an interview into oh so much more of a job than just translating directly… if you, the reader, ever read such content that you found jarringly wooden, awkward, barely decipherable, and painfully lame in that quintessentially Asian “embarrassed babbling” sense, that’s what word for wording such texts gets you.

        Turning it into a palatable English read this well takes mad translation mastery and vast experience. Excellent job here, truly!

        As to insights into mangaka life from manga, curiously, it’s just as ridiculously common in erotica manga as it is rare elsewhere… a ton of ecchi (risque smutty) to hentai manga (hmanga = hardcore pornographic visual novels meant to be pornos first and foremost) features realistic~ish depictions thereof, likely because such autobiographical character back stories practically write themselves, and the steamy fantasies added In make their day to day monotony, a potential dealbreaker for depiction in less titilating mainstream woks, rather moot…

        Some of these popular “mangaka channels Marty stu” romps, though you might expect the worst from such half-assed last minute insta-plots, contain gigantic, thorough backgrounds for the mangaka prototypes

        Whether this is driven by artists’ self-centered vanity, or is them simply using the fastest way to make emergency filler martial for an unfinished job, we might never know. But it is what it is, and makes for a very candid and compelling look.

        Additionally, such genres typically allow far darker and more dysfunctional characters than are welcome elsewhere. Neuroses, isolation, poverty, and anxiety over deadlines and fears of yet another failure costing the artist what little employment they still got – these pop up again and again…

        Then again, perhaps it is just largely a profession that attracts the naturally quirky and somewhat antisocial types to begin with.

  2. Yes, piggybacking on KCB I absolutely adore what you’re doing and hope that you keep up the great work! Although I wish I could say more to possibly encourage you I’m afraid I can’t find any more to say in me. So this short comment has to suffice.
    Much love and thanks.

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