Two artists in conversation today about manga in the 70s and 80s. One is Naoki Urasawa, the big-deal artist who drew Monster and 20th Century Boys and Pluto. The other is Hisashi Eguchi, a one-time Shonen Jump comedy manga artist who simply could not cope with the breakneck pace of weekly manga and has since turned to doing pop art illustration work.
If the history of manga is at all something you’re interested in, you’re going to love this. Anecdotes abound. The conversation took place in 2009.
Eguchi: This was a while back, but I read in an interview somewhere that you were into Moebius and Hergé. Pretty much everyone says they like Moebius, but you’re the only one aside from myself who I’ve seen saying they like Hergé, so I thought we’d probably get along pretty well.
Urasawa: Come to think of it, not too many people mention Hergé.
Eguchi: Exactly. I sort of found Hergé through Moebius, and I first found out about Moebius when I saw him in Starlog. Did you use to read Starlog?
Urasawa: I even clipped out his work from it. When I talked to Moebius during his visit to Japan, I brought a whole pile with me. (laugh)
Eguchi: Starlog eventually did a special issue devoted to Moebius [in 1981], but when I went back and took a look yesterday, his work was running in the magazine since issue #5. Just small illustrations at first, though. Otomo was in there from pretty early on too, and [Fumiko] Takano had illustrations in a readers’ column kind of section. I guess she would have still been doing dojinshi back at the time. I’d already gone pro and was doing a manga series at the time, but you’d have been, what — in high school? What’d you make of Moebius when you saw his work? Being a professional, I was fairly jealous of him, personally. (laugh)
Urasawa: I felt at the time that manga had become boring, so it was like I’d found this oasis in the desert — finally, a manga that has what I like! So I used to absolutely visually devour Moebius’s illustrations in Starlog.
Eguchi: Same here.
Urasawa: That reminds me: Go Nagai was saying the other day that it was already too late at that point to let himself be influenced by Moebius. It was really tempting, apparently, but he didn’t want to let himself be sucked into it. You started your career with Susume Pirates, but you really changed over time due to Moebius’s influence, didn’t you? That’s a pretty rare occurence in the history of manga.
Eguchi: Yeah, it was pretty sudden. I really started my career from zero, still totally unformed, which is why I didn’t have the problem Nagai had with being unable to change. The difference is, most artists don’t show that process — they go through it at least somewhat before starting to get published — whereas I evolved while being watched by readers, making it all really obvious.
Urasawa: Even readers like me could see exactly what you were being influenced by. (laugh) Just when we thought we could see what the path ahead is, here’s this professional artist evolving and being influenced by Moebius. It made me think to myself, maybe this isn’t a bad way of going about it either, evolving right in front of the readers’ eyes like that.
Eguchi: I couldn’t keep drawing things the same way even if I tried, so I don’t mind. I didn’t think much about art at all when I was first getting published. Originally I was just doing Tetsuya Chiba’s art, and that was good enough. I’d never put any thought into the art — I didn’t think of myself as any good at it, but I didn’t think I was bad, either. Just so long as I kept the jokes funny. I still didn’t really see manga as pictures, before discovering Otomo and Moebius.
Eguchi: Around what point was it that you read Otomo’s work?
Urasawa: There was an extract in Puff [a magazine about manga] from “Fireball”, the part with the sliced-up person sitting up on the dissection table. I wanted to know what the hell it was.
Eguchi: Ah, I remember that in Puff. It was pretty intense stuff.
Urasawa: It struck me as the sort of thing that I was into, so I bought the issue of Manga Action with “Fireball” in it.
Eguchi: The first time I read something by Otomo was probably “Whisky-Go-Go”, and I remember thinking that the artwork was different, but not really up my alley. And then I came across him again when Short Peace, his first collected volume, came out in March 1979. I probably saw “Fireball” around the same time.
Urasawa: I think I’d probably seen Otomo’s work somewhere before then, but it was after he started drawing with that linework in “Fireball” that I started remembering him.
Eguchi: To be honest, I didn’t think much of the story in “Fireball”. It’s all in the art. The visual intensity.
Urasawa: That, plus the way “Fireball” just goes on plunking down scene after scene without narration. It was different from the conventional rhythm in Japanese manga and more like something lifted from Kubrick or Peckinpah — the stuff that we considered hip, right there in a manga.
Eguchi: Otomo really did draw manga totally unlike anyone before him. Where manga artists back in the day would draw action lines, he wouldn’t. Or, like, the way he’d draw things under shadows. There were a ton of discoveries for me in terms of how to draw things to make them look a certain way.
Urasawa: Do you think that Otomo took that stuff from Moebius?
Eguchi: I’m not sure I’d say he took it from him, but I imagine Otomo probably used to look at Moebius and think to himself, “Huh, so that’s how you do that.”
Urasawa: Which explains where he gets the shadows from.
Eguchi: The way the guns fire is really cool too. Like right here, the way he draws this part. The bullet hits the guy’s head, the gun goes up in recoil, the shell comes out. He does it all in one panel.
Urasawa: And because of “Fireball”, now everyone draws this way — and I mean absolutely everyone, including myself. Part of manga is about pulling things off with the bare minimum of lines needed — how a well-placed line changes the way things look. Draw a wavy little line on the back of a hand and all of a sudden you can see the angle and depth of the hand. It’s that simple, but all those lines look cool. When I met Otomo, I told him that for us, “Fireball” was our New Treasure Island [Tezuka’s first major work]. Just as Fujiko Fujio and Shotaro Ishinomori were blown away by that opening scene with the car in Osamu Tezuka’s New Treasure Island, we were blown away by “Fireball”. It opened the door. It was the beginning of the manga of our age.
Eguchi: Ah — that’s not quite true of me. I’d already been published, and I was roughly the same age as him, so I was equal parts blown away and jealous. Really quite jealous. (laugh) Back then, there were a few manga artists being hailed as part of this movement called the New Wave, but as far as I was concerned it was all Otomo. Even Takano went through a phase where she was a little influenced by Otomo. Michio Hisauchi isn’t quite the same, but he’s similar in that he tells the story through the pictures. Basically, everyone went into Otomo shock. What it comes down to is, Otomo’s art is imitable. Yasuji Tanioka isn’t drawable, but Otomo is. His art is full of little “aha!” moments, chock full of discoveries and inventions — things like the drawing-things-in-shadows thing I already mentioned. And when you follow his example and try drawing it for yourself, it really does turn out the same as when he does it. It’s even easy to draw. Which is why everyone copied him.
Urasawa: There is that famous anecdote about how Tezuka told Otomo that he could draw like him if he wanted. (laugh)
Eguchi: But that’s what’s amazing about it, the fact that every panel in Otomo’s works is filled with discoveries. Like drawing the shadow of a person’s chin on their neck: that’s something a person can easily copy, and I did, as a matter of fact. (laugh) It’s amazing how Otomo kept on producing ways of drawing things that were different from how manga had been drawn before then.
Urasawa: I only realized this later, but there are things that you don’t notice when you’re looking at the long tradition of Western painting, but suddenly you do notice when you look at Otomo’s work. “Wow, they’re doing the same thing Otomo does!” (laugh) Just goes to show you how straightforwardly understandable Otomo’s art is.
Eguchi: It’s really just so clear, isn’t it. And then there’s the way he colors things — it’s so original, even looking at it now.
Urasawa: It really is stylish. He has a very pop way of doing color.
Eguchi: The way he drew this to be so dirty, for example, is probably Moebius’s influence, but ever since Otomo came along manga artists started to dirty up all their buildings. And then, you know that one he did about the guy who eats his friend? [“Nothing Will Be As It Was”, in Short Peace.] That was a really original one, the way it just goes on revealing the situation without even having a story to it.
Urasawa: He even manages to draw bleeding in that one. He just draws some specks, and it comes out looking like dripping blood.
Eguchi: Ah, this part. (laugh)
Urasawa: There’s something satisfying about it. And things like how he just adds dots to a white wall, and it makes the wall look dirty.
Eguchi: The thing that surprised me about this manga is, the faces on the corpses really look dead. It’s the texture or something — everything he draws looks like what it’s supposed to.
Urasawa: Normally this would turn out to be a scarier story, but it comes out jokier, like rakugo.
Eguchi: True. And at the end when he cuts the bone, there’s just that crack.
Urasawa: Which is why you could see a rakugo performer doing a routine with it. I’m not sure if the piece turned out this way because Otomo was a fan of rakugo, or if he just naturally has a rakugo-esque sensability to him.
Eguchi: There is a lightness to his work. Maybe he does like rakugo. Ah, I copied this face, too. Here he’s not doing a caricature of an ugly girl — he’s drawing an actual ugly girl. I mean, this is what an ugly girl really looks like. (laugh) Up until then, people could only draw really exaggerated caricatures à la Fujio Akatsuka, but Otomo draws ugly people that look like they really could exist.
Eguchi: Come to think of it, music had its own “New Wave” then, too. Devo and all that. It was sort of in sync with what was going on in manga. In the New Waves in both music and in manga, it was sort of like artistic sense trumped technique. Take YMO — they were actually great technicians too, but they ended up making music that was more about flair. Otomo was about artistic sense, too. He was obviously very skilled technically, too, but his sense was just through the roof. Until then, I thought you could become good at drawing if you just practiced and honed your craft, but then I started seeing it differently. I started thinking of artistic sense as the more important quality. Technique was lame, even. This was just around the time Teruhiko Yumura and the whole hetauma thing started.
Urasawa: It’s true, hetauma and Otomo are somehow connected. I guess it must be style.
Urasawa: Coming up with even the idea for it. Right.
Eguchi: This is not a design that professionals would make back then.
Urasawa: Or even now, for that matter.
Eguchi: I really envied Otomo’s book design for Highway Star and the way he got to make it himself. I’d only ever got to put out books through Jump, where the design format was set in stone, and which I fought against when I did Stop! Hibari-kun with Otomo’s books specifically in mind. It was the kind of thing that never would have even crossed my mind when I was doing Pirates.
Urasawa: I’ve broken Shogakukan’s format quite a bit, you know. Instead of drawing the characters on the covers for Pineapple Army, I just have a photo of a model gun; for Dancing Policeman, I have a yellow cover with illustrations inserted onto it, inspired by American artbooks. I have to fight with them a little over it, but when I have something that I absolutely want to do and am willing to fight over, I’ve generally gotten my way.
Eguchi: Well, yeah — of course they’re going to let you have your way.
Urasawa: But they’ve let me do things even back when I was just starting out. Shogakukan had this thing where they always start their seinen magazines with sixteen two-color pages, but I told them I didn’t want to do it with the standard red and black and got to do it in green and blue, and then eventually in the last volume of Yawara I managed to get them to give up the two-color thing altogether. It’s really hard work making those first sixteen pages two-color for the collected volumes, and I suspected that people didn’t really care about it anyway, so I kept asking them pretty much every time, “Can we stop yet?”
Eguchi: Thinking about the books is something that in large part came from coming into contact with Otomo’s work. If he hadn’t come along, I might have just carried on with the old format without ever even doubting it. Otomo helped me realize.
Urasawa: What Otomo taught me is, if there’s something your artistic sensibility tells you to do, you’ve got to speak out. This is a pretty small example, but when I was doing this talk with Otomo as part of an ad campaign for the film adaptation of Spriggan, the cameraman asked us to pose with our fists raised, to which Otomo replied, “Let’s not,” and the cameraman backed right off the idea. Until then I’d always done as I was told, so I was surprised at how easily he just shut it down. All it took was a “let’s not” and we didn’t have to do it.
Eguchi: That’s the kind of guy Otomo is, and I don’t mean that in a mean way. He’s a neighborhood artisan kind of guy. (laugh) They used to tell me at Jump that I should be sillier because I was a gag manga artist, and I always disliked being forced to play the goofball, but I didn’t think I could tell them that.
Eguchi: He came before Otomo’s time, but Fujio Akatsuka was really good in the 70s, wasn’t he? He made it okay to do absolutely anything in manga. He did it all. Most of the ideas I come up with have already been done by Akatsuka.
Urasawa: Like doing just one panel per page.
Eguchi: Right — or doing a chapter entirely in black marker, or having a snowstorm turn things white. Akatsuka did it all first.
Urasawa: He just left the page entirely blank for that one, didn’t he? (laugh)
Eguchi: I thought that stuff was so cool when I was in high school.
Urasawa: It was really good to get to see these guys breaking all the rules when we were kids. I believe that we should probably be breaking the rules for kids today to see, too. It’s amazing that Akatsuka went mainstream doing that, though. Tadanori Yokoo did the covers of Shonen Magazine for a while when I was a kid, too, and I consider it pretty important that I got to see that.
Eguchi: Like that “Go, go, Hyuma!” one. (laugh) That would’ve been back during Magazine’s peak, when Ashita no Joe and Kyojin no Hoshi were running in the magazine and it was selling a million copies per issue, right? That really threw me for a loop, too. That’s where I would have found out about Tadanori Yokoo — from Magazine.
Urasawa: That one where the gravure pages just don’t start — you keep turning the page, and it’s nothing but just black…
Eguchi: And then you get to Yokoo with his tongue stuck out. (laugh) He made the “Fiber Pavillion” at the Osaka Expo, you know. It was this building that still had scaffolding around it like it was under construction, with a bunch of mannequins made to look like construction workers, and crows sitting on top of it. Apparently some of the visitors from out of the city thought it really was still under construction, turned around and left. (laugh)
Urasawa: Taro Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun was quite the prank, too. You really saw a lot of full-grown adults messing with people like that in the seventies. Even on TV, you had shows like Geba Geba 90 Minutes.
Eguchi: And Tamori, and Yasutaka Tsutsui, and Monty Python. (laugh)
Urasawa: I consider myself to have been raised on that immaturity. We really need to make sure that kids get to see adults being mischevious like that today, too.
Urasawa: I’ve heard tell that I managed to trick even a certain well-known editor-in-chief.
Eguchi: I’m not sure I believe that one. (laugh) I thought maybe you’d make a full volume out of it, separate from the main story.
Urasawa: I might have done that if I were still with Shogakukan, but I’m the new guy at Kodansha, so… (laugh) That part lasts 24 pages, and when I read it recently in volume form, I found it really quite long — and I say that as the guy who drew it. (laugh) It felt like I kept it going for a little long, but I do think it worked well enough.
Eguchi: Pulling that kind of stunt at a big-time magazine like Morning makes it all the more effective.
Urasawa: It was Hergé and early Tezuka that I was channeling when I drew that part. Boy, though, Tezuka’s art back then was just lovely.
Eguchi: Tezuka can seriously draw. His lines are erotic.
Urasawa: His art is just really pleasing.
Eguchi: Tezuka was much more about the pictures back then. Then he started claiming that the pictures in manga were nothing more than symbols, and manga in Japan started becoming simplified into stories and characters. I feel like it was the New Wave that helped bring manga back around to the artwork. Takano sort of did that, too — bringing things back to early Osamu Tezuka. So I can totally understand why Tezuka was so jealous of Otomo. On the train ride here I was reading this interview with Tezuka in this magazine about the New Wave, and there are like four times where in a really roundabout way he just keeps refusing to accept Otomo. (laugh) He’s like, “Of course young people are going to be producing original work — I want to reserve my judgment of Otomo for ten years from now.” I mean, come on. (laugh)
Urasawa: Tezuka went to his grave claiming that he could see going as far as creating Akira through a flukeish inspiration, and he wanted to judge Otomo based on his post-Akira work. (laugh)
Eguchi: There’s about six pages to this interview, and he spends pretty much the entire time refusing to acknowledge Otomo. I found it absolutely hilarious, reading it on the train here.
Eguchi: I like that competitiveness he has, though, despite being such a living legend himself. (laugh) Tezuka was younger than me when he did this interview, though — he was 51, and Otomo was 25.
Urasawa: Yeah, you can see how he would want to crush him.
Eguchi: Definitely. (laugh) You can feel that he really hated that he was even dragged into appearing in a magazine about the New Wave to begin with. (laugh)
Urasawa: I’ve been saying the New Wave was a sort of renaissance for a while myself, actually. Manga is sort of like a game of telephone, in that it keeps getting distorted a little bit with each step. Guys like Ikki Kajiwara started showing up and they were so intense that manga starts to drift in their direction, and then after a while people forget what manga was like before. The artwork in manga loses a softness, a lightness to the lines — and it was the New Wave that helped us remember how nice that lightness is.
Eguchi: In gekiga you had Takao Saito, who Tezuka was jealous of as well, but gekiga isn’t actually realistic. The pictures have more lines, that’s all — it never at all transcended the framework of what manga is. I see Otomo as having showed us how to make manga realistic not through more screentone and more lines, but through skewing things a little. I’d say that’s what Tezuka envied him for.
Urasawa: This is not a great way of putting it, but in gekiga you see people do things like take a split-ended brush to some ink, slap it around on the page, and use those split ends to make a grassy field. That’s gekiga. Since the New Wave, on the other hand, people have started going about every blade of grass with more of a deliberateness, drawing them one by one knowing that the collective whole is going to turn into a field.
Eguchi: Gekiga boils down to the propagation of cheap techniques. There aren’t any individual ideas or discoveries. Tezuka let his art get dragged down by gekiga, but toward the end it was starting to look a little Moebius-esque in some ways. You’ve got to hand it to him and that shameless ambition of his. (laugh)
Urasawa: You know, Tezuka had a chart in his studio showing his assistants how to draw different kinds of effect lines, and “Moebius lines” was on the list.
Eguchi: What?! He really had that? That’s amazing.
Urasawa: He’d tell them to draw things like “Moebius clouds”, too. (laugh)
Urasawa: I wonder why it is Otomo stopped drawing manga.
Eguchi: It’s a good question.
Urasawa: Have you ever asked him?
Eguchi: If I asked him that, he would turn the question right back at me. (laugh) He always really wanted to do movies anyway. You can see how in a way he was always doing movies in manga form, so maybe he’s just satisfied that now he gets to do film, but…
Urasawa: But the thing is, he actually can draw film. Otomo told me that he’d already drawn from every angle there is, so he lost interest. He kept testing to see what he was capable of drawing, and in the end he managed to do it all, so he’s finished with drawing.
Eguchi: I guess when you’re as good as he is, maybe that’s true. I mean, drawing manga is hard work, just in terms of sheer labor. I’ve already left it once, so it’s hard for me to work any harder than I’m working now. You’ve been going at it nonstop, but you must think it’s tough work too, don’t you?
Urasawa: I wouldn’t be able to come back if I were to ever stop.
Eguchi: It really is impossible. I’m not one to talk, though. (laugh) I certainly couldn’t put myself in your position, anyway. I’m too old for it now, for one.
Urasawa: That’s why I never stop. I’ve never not had a series on the go, so I don’t think I would be able to return if I were to ever rest.
Eguchi: You’ve never rested after finishing a series?
Urasawa: I’ve had one series or another going at all times for the past twenty-six years.
Eguchi: You’ve never taken, say, a month of vacation before?
Urasawa: I’ve been allowed to take individual chapters off, but I’ve always had a series going.
Eguchi: Doing that for twenty-six years… That’s impressive. I started as a manga artist about thirty years ago, but I’ve probably only had manga series for a combined total of ten of those years. (laugh)
Eguchi: Takano really did a lot to teach the rest of us new ways of drawing, like Otomo.
Urasawa: How to draw jeans, for one.
Eguchi: I immediately copied the way she draws jeans in “The Sexy Girl on Azemichi Road”, but Akimi Yoshida started doing it right away too. I took it as a sign of her good taste, but she refuses to admit being influenced by anyone else. (laugh)
Urasawa: Jun Ishikawa used to draw these jeans, too.
Eguchi: Yes, he did! It’s another example of something that anyone can draw, though. You’ve gotta give her props for discovering it. I suspect Takano might have taken after Otomo in that respect.
Urasawa: I got Seiichi Hayashi vibes from her.
Eguchi: He’s from a different era, but I consider Seiichi Hayashi to be part of the New Wave, too. It was quite a bit later that I read his manga, though I’d obviously seen his illustration work.
Urasawa: You had to love how he would draw Koume-chan with that swooping linework that would go just a little bit too far, but he wouldn’t fix it.
Eguchi: Yeah, Otomo does things like let his lines stick out of the panels like that too, or leave the screentone numbers stuck on the page.
Urasawa: We used to squabble at my studio quite a bit about whether or not to whiteout lines that stick out of panels.
Eguchi: So did we! Although it was just this one assistant who used to always remove the offending lines, and I’d tell him off for it and draw them back in. (laugh)
Urasawa: That reminds me: I’ve heard that Atsushi Kamijo wouldn’t let his assistants ever use whiteout. Apparently it was a matter of wanting the physical pages that he’d drawn to be works of art, and he felt that you wouldn’t ever put something with whiteout on it in a picture frame. Which I really understand.
Eguchi: Actually, I didn’t really know how to use whiteout for my first couple of manga and was redrawing things from scratch. I didn’t want to make a mess of things and I thought it’d be faster to just redraw it, so I went through a phase like that too. (laugh) I was even drawing screentone by hand. How much are you drawing yourself? I mean, you’re obviously drawing the characters, but…
Urasawa: I’m drawing almost everything.
Eguchi: What?! Even the backgrounds?
Urasawa: I pretty much do up to the rough draft of the backgrounds.
Eguchi: How many assistants do you have? Otomo only had two at most, and it’s true that manga starts to look blandly generic when you’ve got six or seven assistants working under you, which isn’t good. Isn’t it hard to control that?
Urasawa: I’m working with five assistants at the moment, and I go over everything with all of them closely along the way, one-on-one.
Eguchi: That must be tough. Normally when you’re using that many assistants, you delegate more of the work to them.
Urasawa: But it wouldn’t be my art if I do that.
Eguchi: Do you ever touch up what your assistants have drawn?
Urasawa: I do, but more often what I do is have them redo things until it’s more like what I have in mind. I think I’m a hard guy to be an assistant for.
Eguchi: So you do touch things up at the end, then. Tezuka was the same, I think.
Urasawa: It’s really tough using assistants. It requires a sort of talent different from what you need as an artist — you need managerial skills, which is something artists obviously don’t have.
Eguchi: You’ve had your assistants around for a long time though, right?
Urasawa: They’ve all been with me for over ten years now.
Eguchi: So you must pretty much be in sync with them and not have to even tell them that anything.
Urasawa: Actually, as I tell my assistants a lot, I can’t have them getting too comfy with the way we’ve done things before, because a manga artist changes a lot in ten years, and I need them to keep up with me. If they’re still doing things the way I taught them back when they first started working for me, they’re behind. With five people I can get a division of labor sort of thing going on — I’ll have one guy doing the crosshatching, one guy drawing the plants and trees, et cetera. The problem is, they just aren’t getting good enough.
Eguchi: (laugh) Are you sure you want to put that so bluntly?
Urasawa: When manga artists get together and drink, bitching about their assistants is all they do. (laugh) In the same room as my assistants I have butter them up and encourage them, worrying that I might’ve sad too much to them. I’ll go back and forth in my head for a good two hours — “I was in the wrong just now… no, wait, actually yes, he was the wrong one!”, et cetera.
Eguchi: Doesn’t sound fun. (laugh) Why not work in a separate room from your assistants?
Urasawa: I did try that. It didn’t work. When I don’t check their work until they’re finished, they end up having to redraw a lot of stuff.
Eguchi: So you realy have to be there face-to-face with your assistants, then.
Urasawa: There’s also the matter of whether assistants are capable of drawing New Wave manga.
Eguchi: It is tough. I suppose that’s why the artwork in your manga isn’t very New Wave at all anymore.
Eguchi: It’s just not possible when you’re doing a series.
Urasawa: It’s because of the New Wave that the weekly magazines don’t have their regular series more or less all appearing in every issue anymore. Like, you know how they’ll write, “So-and-so is on break this week”, or, “So-and-so will be be returning in issue number X”? That happened because the New Wave made manga into something that can’t be done in weekly magazines.
Eguchi: Right, yes. True.
Urasawa: I’m doing a chapter every second week in Morning, and that’s because it would be impossible to put out the same level of quality on a weekly basis. Fifty years ago you had the weekly magazines Sunday and Magazine start and people said they wouldn’t be possible, and here we are fifty years later — but when Otomo and company came along, the quality of artwork in manga changed big-time. Once people had seen that stuff, there was no going back. You yourself have shown everyone the hard way just how impossible it is to produce that kind of quality in a manga on a weekly basis, I believe. (laugh)
Eguchi: Don’t bring me into this. (laugh) I would like to think of myself as perhaps having contributed to making it easier for artists to take time off.
Urasawa: The process you went through starting with Pirates and ending with Hibari-kun is exactly what I’m talking about: your standards changed in such a way that a weekly series just wasn’t possible anymore. Meanwhile, the reason I wanted to mass-produce my manga is because I loved that world Otomo and the New Wave created. If the production rate continues to decrease, that flame will definitely go out, so I wanted to do my best to cement its place as the standard in the manga world, in order to preserve manga like Otomo’s. And so I worked at a downright lethal pace and really just about killed myself in the process. (laugh)
Eguchi: I’ve really got to hand it to guys like you and Takehiko Inoue for working so hard. Inoue takes time off sometimes though. (laugh)
Urasawa: Inoue’s hard at it too.
Eguchi: The two of you are working so hard, everyone else can take it easy.
Urasawa: I would definitely prefer not to have to keep going from deadline to deadline — it feels like the hurdles I have to clear just keep going on and on forever, and I’d like to be able to stop. The problem is, if I do stop, I don’t think I’d ever be able to come back.
Eguchi: How many days of work does it take for you to put together a chapter these days?
Urasawa: It takes quite a bit. One week to go from meeting with my editor to putting together a rough draft, and then another week to actually draw the thing; so, exactly two weeks. I can live something like a human life this way. Before, I was doing a weekly series and a biweekly series — which adds up to six chapters a month — for seventeen years.
Eguchi: So your workload’s pretty light now, in comparison.
Urasawa: Much lighter. I couldn’t even go outside when I was doing six chapters a month.
Eguchi: I see. Now that Pluto‘s over, you’re down to two a month.
Urasawa: I had rashes all over my body when I was doing Pluto, I might add.
Eguchi: Whoa! Why?
Urasawa: Tezuka’s curse. (laugh)
Eguchi: The pressure of it? What I’d heard was that you’d volunteered yourself for the job.
Urasawa: How Pluto came about was, 2003 was the year of Atom’s birth and they said we could use the character in whatever we wanted, so I was asked to do something with him, to which I replied I simply wouldn’t dare to. It’d be boring to wimp out and just do some sort of parody and just leave it at “Tezuka was amazing”, so I asked if there was anyone out there who might do an full-on remake of the Greatest Robot on Earth arc, and they were like, “Why don’t you do it yourself?”, and I was like, “I’m not going to do it, come on now!” And that’s when the rash started. (laugh)
Eguchi: But the impressive part is that you actually do go through with it. You’ve really gotta be careful with what you suggest — they’ll greenlight anything for you. (laugh)
Eguchi: When I was editor of Comic Cue, I was trying to make it a magazine of the children of the New Wave, having guys like Taiyo Matsumoto and Minetaro Mochizuki contributing. Recently, though, I also feel the New Wave in, say, Daisuke Igarashi.
Urasawa: He is really good.
Eguchi: Like, he did this story that was just about a white shirt chasing after a train [in Hanasippanashi], and you really just couldn’t capture that visually if you didn’t draw the way he draws. I can really feel the wind and air in his art.
Eguchi: The smell of the city, stuff like that. That’s what’s amazing about it. I could never do it. I might be able to come somewhere near Otomo if I tried really hard at it, but I feel like I could never draw what Igarashi does. I wouldn’t ever even want to try to imitate him. I do feel the urge to imitate guys like Taiyo Matsumoto, but Igarashi is just impossible.
Urasawa: I totally get that.
Eguchi: There are panels in Daisuke Igarashi’s work that are downright cathartic in terms of sheer artwork. Just amazing. I don’t really understand the stories much, though. (laugh)
Urasawa: If only he had that refined levity that Otomo has, he would be unbeatable.
Eguchi: True — he lacks in humor. Igarashi comes off as very serious. Humor really is crucial. Levity. Not caring so much. Something about Otomo seemed like he didn’t think much of manga, and that was really cool.
Urasawa: In Otomo’s Hansel and Gretel, he has this line — “Once upon a time there was an oh-so-poor family. We’re talking poor here — really poor, in a serious way.” I love that one.
Urasawa: It’s a miracle that people produce lines like that. You know, there are a few ridiculously playful people like that in that generation. Maybe it was almost a sort of backlash against the student protest movement and its extreme seriousness.
Eguchi: Could be.
Urasawa: They wanted to just laugh at it all.
Urasawa: So, I hear you’re starting a new series.
Eguchi: Just an eight-page one, in a seinen magazine that shall go unnamed. I’m hoping to start it in autumn — it’s going to be my warm-up for my return to manga. (laugh) I think I’ll hire maybe one assistant, too. As few pages as it is, the fact is that doing weekly chapters is too much to do by myself.
Urasawa: It’s just not possible.
Eguchi: If I had to draw sixteen pages or so by myself, it’d easily take a month.
Urasawa: And even then you’d have to set the story in a desert and draw it entirely by freehand to pull it off. (laugh)
Eguchi: Couldn’t do it if I had to use a ruler. (laugh)
Urasawa: There’s that story about how Otomo had something like just one day left to finish the piece he was working on, but since he couldn’t draw a futuristic city free-hand, he wanted to use more of a barren background — at which point he came up with the idea of doing a beach.
Eguchi: Ah, that beach house one [“Good Weather”].
Urasawa: Apparently he went with the beach and ocean because he could draw them quickly. (laugh)
Eguchi: But then the thing is, he’s really good at beaches. “Miner Swing” is another one set at a beach, and I really like it. I think it’s that he’s good at balancing the proportions, with the sky and that. I guess he probably drew it pretty quickly too. (laugh)
Urasawa: Otomo didn’t have any assistants back then.
Eguchi: Right — like he wrote in the afterword, he went and locked himself alone in his room. There’s another groundbreaking move of his: leaving the background completely white. It simply wasn’t done up until then. Manga artists tend to fill backgrounds with screentone or whatever because they have this fear of leaving open spaces, so you didn’t see any completely blank backgrounds before Otomo. The fact that he could pull it off without the page looking empty just goes to show the artistic chops the guy had. I definitely used to copy this stuff. (laugh)
Urasawa: I copied it too, and when I gave it to my editor I was told to redo it. It was back when I was still just starting out, doing my third or so piece for the magazine.
Eguchi: Was your editor too young, or what?
Urasawa: It was Takashi Nagasaki [Urasawa’s longtime collaborator/editor], actually. (laugh) He was assigned to Golgo 13 at the time, so he borrowed some screentones from Saito Pro and ordered me to use them to fill in the blank spots.
Eguchi: Wow — so even he used to think that way once upon a time. (laugh)
Urasawa: Otomo’s Domu had its release date postponed multiple times, and I remember the day it finally come out — I think I might have been on my way to my part-time job, and I went to the bookstore near the station and saw it on display in the literature section. I felt like it was the dawn of a new age — our age. Whatever the hell that means. (laugh)
Eguchi: Was that before you’d become a manga artist, or after?
Urasawa: It might have been when I was going off to work as an assistant.
Eguchi: You did assistant work? For who?
Urasawa: Toshio Nobe.
Eguchi: Toshio Nobe! From Young Jump. Wouldn’t have expected that.
Urasawa: Shogakukan sent me to him. I’d say I was there for just under a year. We were doing nothing but baseball. (laugh) I met Yu Nakahara there, and…
Eguchi: Now that you mention it, Yu Nakahara’s art has an Otomo feel to it.
Urasawa: Originally they were more like Mitsuru Adachi or Masahiro Shibata — I say “they” because Yu Nakahara is two people, by the way — but then I quit working for Nobe, and the two of them came to work for me. We used to look at Otomo’s work and hold little study sessions where we would try to figure out how he’d drawn it. We used to test all kinds of things trying to draw like him — we’d even copy the shape of his speech bubbles. But by the time Domu came out, I’d pretty much outgrown studying from Otomo. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I was happy when Domu came out. But I felt like it was time for me to figure things out for myself.
Urasawa: Just around when I first got published.
Eguchi: Did you read the chapters as they ran in the magazine?
Urasawa: I did, so I was eager to see the ending for the longest time [note: because the last half of Domu wasn’t serialized in the magazine], so I bought the book immediately when it came out, skipped straight to the part I hadn’t read yet and read it on the train. The problem was, when I finished reading it, as great as it was, it wasn’t what I had pictured it would be. I guess it was because I’d started down my own path at that point that I felt that way. It might also have to do with the fact that Otomo went mainstream. I felt somehow like the New Wave movement was over.
Eguchi: Otomo would have already been making Akira at that point.
Urasawa: Right, and so when the first volume of Akira came out, I didn’t get too heated up about it. I was impressed with the book design and everything, but I feel like it was different from the stuff he did that really grabbed me. I thought he was totally correct to head out toward the wider world in the way he did, though.
Eguchi: Even in terms of the anime?
Urasawa: I mean the whole direction things went with Akira, including the fact that it was turned into a movie. I felt like he was doing the right thing, and was totally cheering him on.
Urasawa: Takehiko Inoue once said that being a manga artist is a job one someday retires from, and I strongly agreed with him. It’s just too tough, isn’t it?
Eguchi: One’s stamina simply doesn’t last.
Urasawa: Turning your name into something like a brand name might be one way to get your manga in today’s mass-production system, but that’s not why I started this line of work. But then again, I doubt I’ll be able to keep doing things the way I’ve been doing them so far, either — my eyes are going bad. (laugh) It’s really tough; I can’t see, it’s hard to concentrate. I can’t pull off the kind of feats I used to be able to when I was young.
Urasawa: And then there’s Fujimoto [i.e. Fujiko F. Fujio], who died at sixty-three. They were all so proud of how little they slept — three hours a night or whatever.
Eguchi: And their monthly production rate of four or five hundred pages. (laugh)
Urasawa: Shigeru Mizuki said he’d hear them talk like that and wonder why that stuff would be worth bragging about. “I sleep nine hours a day and look at me now — everyone else is dead!”
Urasawa: I started getting really into the whole Shigeru Mizuki world something like five years ago.
Eguchi: That’s surprising. You mean you got into his whole philosophy, or what?
Urasawa: Right. I thought he was just great.
Eguchi: Have you read all his work?
Urasawa: I bought all his stuff starting all the way back from his rental book (kashihon) days. [Ryoichi] Ikegami and [Yoshiharu] Tsuge were working as assistants for Mizuki back when he was doing Kappa no Sanpei, and Ikegami wrote about it in an essay or something, saying they had a poster on the wall that said “Waste the time away”. That’s just amazing. Here they are trying to overcome these deadlines, and there they have in the room: “Waste the time away”. (laugh) That’s what I aspire to. So good.
Eguchi: Mizuki’s pushing ninety, but he’s still pretty lively.
Urasawa: Pretty impressive vitality for someone who lost his arm in the war. This line of work really is dangerous, though. If twenty-seven is the age that rock musicians die at, sixty is when manga artists die.
Eguchi: I imagine they’ve all actually done more than sixty years worth of living, though, in terms of time spent awake. (laugh) I imagine someone like Tezuka would easily have been awake for eighty years worth. But people really do die when they don’t sleep, it’s true.
Urasawa: Tezuka put out four hundred books in forty years. I’m only up to about one hundred books after twenty years. I felt like I was going at it on all cylinders, and yet I’d only managed a hundred. There’s no way to catch up to Tezuka at this rate — it’s simply not possible.
Eguchi: All because we discovered the New Wave. (laugh) ♦