Here’s a short interview with Parasyte and Historie artist Hitoshi Iwaaki, conducted via fax in 2005, when Historie would still only have been two volumes in. I got it from the same magazine I took the Sakuishi/Eguchi conversation. Spoiler alert: Iwaaki is exactly the kind of man you would expect him to be.
—The year 2005 marks your twentieth year as a manga artist since you first got published with “Sea of Trash” in ’85. Congratulations! I’d like to start by asking you to summarize what those twenty years have been like.
Iwaaki: I’m proud to have gotten this far. I’m pretty slow at drawing, though, so I suppose I don’t have that many works to my name, considering it’s been twenty years. I’ve always been busy, though.
–What was your childhood like? I’d love to hear about anything: your family, your hobbies, things you used to wonder about.
Iwaaki: I never once went to any cram schools. I used to doodle in my textbooks a lot. I would always hang around with the same friend, but sometimes I didn’t care to even spend time with him. I was a quiet child, one who didn’t stand out much, and yet I was also a self-centered child.
–I’ve read that you became an avid reader of manga when you were in your last year of high school, starting with the pocket editions of Osamu Tezuka’s work. You’ve mentioned learning a lot from Tezuka’s How to Draw Manga in an old interview, too. What is it that you find appealing about Osamu Tezuka?
Iwaaki: I believe he is someone who always made sure to put together the overall framework of a story before starting a manga. It’s not a method that everyone agrees with, but I consider myself to have made it through these twenty years thanks to his example.
–What manga or artists do you like, and does anything come to mind that they have in common?
Iwaaki: Phoenix by Osamu Tezuka, Ankoku Shinwa (“The Dark Myth”) by Daijiro Morohoshi, Yokai Densetsu by Yukinobu Hoshino, Domu by Katsuhiro Otomo, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki, Berserk by Kentaro Miura. I suppose what they have in common is that they’re all very imaginative and expressive. A pretty uninteresting answer, but anyway.
–Why did you go to art school after graduating from high school?
Iwaaki: It wasn’t an art school – I was taking art classes in the humanities department. I figured I managed to get in thanks to a letter of recommendation from my high school, plus the fact that they didn’t factor high school rankings into admissions. I’d really racked my brain over how to get into university, but I didn’t think much about what I would study once I got in.
–Was it an interest in creating stories that led you to pursue manga instead of painting?
Iwaaki: Different people have different reactions looking at paintings, and I started thinking that it wasn’t really satisfying for that reason, I believe. I started wanting to become more an artisan than an artist.
–What did you learn when you worked as an assistant for Kazuo Kamimura?
Iwaaki: We used to work in this room that we assistants had to ourselves, which was separate from Kamimura’s room, so I sort of learned about how hard the interpersonal relationships are.
–Could you explain step-by-step what kind of work process you go through to create a single chapter?
Iwaaki: I start by jotting down the scenario in my notebook, and then I rewrite a cleaner version of it that my editor will be able to read. Next I draw out the panels and work out how many pages it’ll take, and then I lightly draw in the outline of the characters and the speech bubbles in pencil. At this point I’m writing out the dialogue for the third time, so that’s pretty much settled at that point. From there I start drawing and then inking, which I do by going from the first page to the last page drawing the thick lines on the characters (mostly their outlines) and the speech bubbles, then putting my pen down and penciling in the dialogue. I fax that to the editorial department, and then I continue on doing all the thin linework for every page, and then the solid black parts for every page. This part of the work where I’m drawing the characters is something I can do for the first thirteen hours or so after waking up, but as it gets close to bedtime my hand becomes less reliable, so I’ll stop working on the characters for that day and start drawing the backgrounds that don’t involve much thinking about. After all the characters are drawn I do all the other backgrounds, erase the pencil underneath the pen, and stick on the screentone. That’s about it, although technically there are other tiny things I’m leaving out.
–When you’re planning the story, does the desire to draw something ever become a factor?
Iwaaki: Yes, it can.
–Where did the idea come from to have the characters’ heads and hands morph in Parasyte?
Iwaaki: I feel like I got it from playing with clay as a child.
–Starting with Parasyte, you started drawing things like corpses and blood and scenes of real carnage, and the smell of death started to really loom over your work. What is “death” to you?
Iwaaki: I think it’s only natural that one would try to make the deaths look real when you’re drawing a serious story, but lately I sometimes feel like I went a little overboard and find myself regretting it.
–In certain ways, like how you explored the morality of people armed with weapons in Tanabata no Kuni, it seems to me that you were expanding upon the themes and motifs of the manga you did before it – Parasyte. How do Parasyte and Tanabata no Kuni relate to each other?
Iwaaki: They were both ideas I came up with to submit to publishers back before I had anything published, so it’s not like one of them was an expansion on the other. But, honestly, the answer is that while I went about creating Tanabata no Kuni I was trying to avoid letting myself get too ahead of myself with major story developments the way I did with Parasyte. I’m glad that you saw it as an expansion, though.
–Do you ever find yourself influenced by current events in society or the world at large when you create your manga?
Iwaaki: Sometimes, but I don’t think it appears in a very recognizable form in my work.
–Was there any particular reason that you started working on historical manga since finishing Tanabata no Kuni? Also, what’s enjoyable about making a historical manga? What kind of criteria do you use in choosing your subject matter?
Iwaaki: I liked history and had considered making a manga based on history for a while, but I never quite got to the point of actually submitting something to a commercial magazine. So then following Parasyte I did Tanabata no Kuni, which was actually quite tough work, and it got to the point that I started thinking I was just about finished with my career as a manga artist. Starting history manga was, to tell the truth, basically an everything-must-go closeout sale kind of thing, where I just started emptying out everything I had left in me. Being such a slow drawer, of course, it’s gone on for several years now. As for choosing my subject matter, I tend to be drawn toward stuff that hasn’t been focused on much. Things that other people haven’t already used.
–What do you make of the idea that “human history is a history of slaughter”? How do you see history?
Iwaaki: I don’t really have a brain wired for understanding the truth behind axioms and all that. I don’t have any particular theories on history worth divulging, either.
–You wrote in volume two that Historie was a story that you’d had in mind since before you became a professional manga artist. When was it that you first came up with the idea, and what kind of story was it then?
Iwaaki: To talk about how I’ve had all these ideas “in mind” since before I was an artist might be a little strong… I came up with the idea a long time ago, but it’s not like I was constantly thinking about it ever since. I’ve forgotten about a lot from back then. I believe my original idea was for a story that starts just before Alexander the Great’s death, and then it enters a flashback through Eumenes that would go back about twenty years. As I recall.
–Why is it that you started creating Historie in 2003?
Iwaaki: When I was working on Parasyte, I met a lot of manga magazine editors and promised them I’d do a manga for their magazines. After finishing Parasyte, I basically went down the list and did manga for their magazines, although there were some problems – things like the editor’s magazine becoming defunct in the meantime – and by the time I was finished that and back to Afternoon it was 2003.
–I think Historie’s appeal lies in its protagonist. What is it that you think makes Alexander the Great’s secretary Eumenes appealing?
Iwaaki: He’s a mostly unknown figure, and yet he strikes me as holding a lot of potential as a protagonist in a period piece. He’s in this great position where he seems like he might’ve been a pretty grand figure, but then, maybe not – it’s hard to say. He didn’t especially accomplish a lot, but he left a real trail behind him, or something.
–How much further in the story do you have planned for Historie?
Iwaaki: In terms of the general gist of the story, I have it planned up to the end. That’s one of the unique things about history manga, in a way.
–What do you especially pay attention to when you’re drawing Historie?
Iwaaki: Lately my hands have been shaking a little, so I’ve been paying attention to the tip of my pen. I’m not working with lines that are that thin – only somewhere under a millimeter – but it’s still really mentally exhausting drawing things like small faces, and so it eats a lot of my time. If I get a little worse I’d say I’m not far off from falling down the stairs and the like.
–Is drawing manga fun? What is manga to you?
Iwaaki: Sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it isn’t. Having done it for twenty years, I’m emotionally balanced in a way that rather takes it for granted, so I think you could say that it’s sort of a pillar for me.
–One last question: What do you see yourself doing in ten years from now?
Iwaaki: I don’t have that much material saved up, but I’m such a slow worker that I imagine I’ll still be drawing manga. I’m really not sure I see myself doing a series in a magazine, though. ♦
Bonus: Iwaaki briefly commenting on all of his various works
Hone no Oto (“The Sound of Bone”): “A collection of the work from when I first started drawing manga, and from when I started to understand what kind of manga artist I am.”
Fuuko no Iru Mise (“The Café with Fuko”): “I mostly remember constantly trying and failing. I used to sit in a café just holding my head in my hands, trying to come up with ideas – hence why it’s set in a café. Straightforward as that.”
Parasyte: “It’s like I took a sheet of paper of only limited size and starting drawing really big, right square in the middle of the page.”
Tanabata no Kuni (“The Land of Tanabata”): “This was pretty tough work coming after Parasyte, but it’s a manga of mine that I personally rather like.”
Yuki no Touge, Ken no Mai (“Peak of Snow, Dance of Swords”): “The historical figures in these two manga are basically at the right level of name recognition that I like to deal with in history manga.”
Eureka: “My original plan was for the main character to be a general who protects the city, but as I went on planning the manga he turned into an ugly character, so I promoted one of the side characters to protagonist status.”
Historie: “It’s still in the early stages of the story, so I hope everyone will be patient with it.” ♦