This conversation was published December 2006, when the Tekkon Kinkreet movie came out in theaters and Matsumoto was in the early stages of Takemitsu Zamurai. The artist he’s talking to here, Fumiko Takano, is not a particularly well-known name in the English-speaking manga community, but she’s a huge deal — just look at how her name comes up repeatedly in the other interviews I’ve translated!
Matsumoto: So, what do you do, day to day? What does your life look like now?
Takano: Well… I go to the children’s section at the library, I make food and serve tea and work as an arts and crafts teacher at the local old folks’ home, and lately I’ve even been thinking about going to a kindergarten class nearby. (laugh) I’m kept so busy with stuff in my neighborhood that I tend not to ever go very far from home. I haven’t been to Shinjuku in forever.
Matsumoto: Yeah, I only ever come to Tokyo to go to the Shogakukan offices, although recently I’ve been going to places like the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Fukagawa, since I’m doing a manga set in the Edo era. It sounds like you’re quite active in your neighborhood.
Takano: It’s not something I have to do, but I do try to make an effort. I’ve been sort of off manga lately, so when I went back and read your work this week it was the first manga I’d read in quite a while.
Matsumoto: That’s very nice of you. I wouldn’t have expected you to have much interest in my work, though…
Matsumoto: I mean, I’ve been a long-time reader of your stuff, but…
Takano: Well, given our difference in age, I suppose it would be a long time. You’re ten years younger than me, right?
Matsumoto: I just turned 39.
Takano: Right — and I’m 49. Just think: you were born in ’67, and I was born in ’57.
—Which of his manga did you read over the past week?
Takano: Hanaotoko, Ping Pong, Number Five, plus the earlier work, but I only got to skim that. I took my time with Ping Pong, though.
Matsumoto: I appreciate it.
Takano: No need to be so humble. (laugh) Ping Pong, though! It was really good. I realize I am very late to the party in saying that, of course. (laugh) I was busy doing my own manga when Ping Pong was coming out, so I didn’t get to read it in real time.
Matsumoto: You were doing which of your books then — Bou ga ippon?
Takano: Right, it would’ve been around then. What a sad manga, though. The protagonist Tsukimoto is the strong, silent type, but the old woman in me mostly just feels sad for him. Makes me really realize that I’m old now, on the inside. (laugh) Feeling sorry for the character like that is an older generation thing, I’m pretty sure. When I think sports manga, I think more along the lines of Judo-bu Monogatari…
Takano: Ah, you think so too? I still think it’s really cool, but would readers now in their twenties or thirties read it and come away feeling pumped in the same way? I’m not really sure. I feel like if you compare Judo-bu Monogatari and Ping Pong you can really see just how much the world can change in ten years.
Matsumoto: I was trying to make Ping Pong into something in the “chivalrous yakuza” (“ninkyo”) vein, or something. (laugh) The way the character with the glasses, Sakuma, has his hopes thwarted, for example…
Takano: True, it might not really be a sports manga.
Matsumoto: I think this is true of all teenage boys, but I loved anything noir, and Otomo’s early work was really noir, right? So that sort of manga was what inspired me to become a manga artist myself, but then the bubble happened and people were out dancing at discotheques or whatever and noir suddenly went out of vogue, and I couldn’t see why. So I created Ping Pong really wanting to do something really noir, I think.
Takano: I was thinking that Ping Pong might be read more by people who don’t even like sports. What do you think of that?
Matsumoto: I don’t know. Seems possible.
Takano: As you already know, my husband is a manga editor, and he loves sports manga. He reads it all — Slam Dunk, Ping Pong, Shura no Mon — and when I was reading Ping Pong, he was saying that what makes it so great is how it manages to be so interesting despite the fact that it’s just a string of matches. In Judo-bu Monogatari there’s all sorts of stuff about the rest of the character’s life — his family, his girlfriend — but Ping Pong doesn’t do that, and yet it’s still so much fun to read, which we both agreed was really interesting.
Matsumoto: That wasn’t really something I was aiming to do when I made it. I love Judo-bu Monogatari and Captain Tsubasa and that sort of manga, and I wanted to do something similar. I think Nishino, the bald rival in Judo-bu Monogatari with the giant Asashoryu-level muscles, is really cool, for example, and in my eyes Ping Pong isn’t so different from those manga. I will however say that the rhythm is really different, but then, maybe rhythm is something that’s just innate to the artist. I haven’t read much recent manga, but sometimes I feel like the rhythm or panelling or something is different from what manga used to be like. Not sure if it’s gotten faster or slower or what exactly.
Takano: You’re right, there might be something different about the way manga is paced. And not just sports manga, either.
—Zero is a very mature sports manga, in a way. Boxing manga and hot-blooded sports manga were dead at the time, and here’s this young artist looking at what happens when that noir coolness is gone. What were you thinking at the time you were drawing it?
Matsumoto: Well, it came after the series I was doing for Morning flopped, and my current editor Hori invited me over to Big Comic Spirits and told me to do a boxing manga. So me and Eifuku — who I’m now working with on Takemitsu Zamurai — got together and started hashing out how to go about it, and basically we decided that we’d do the standard “scrappy smart-aleck takes up boxing” kind of story. But first, we’d never seen Ashita no Joe before, so we watched the whole show on VHS, and we both just went really quiet. (laugh) We saw immediately that it’d all been done before and knew we couldn’t make the protagonist a young man anymore, so we decided we would start with a world champion at age 30 who’s starting to decline. I remember Hori being decidedly unenthused about the idea. (laugh) I didn’t know much about boxing — I loved the manga Ganbare Genki and had read it about a hundred times, and I’d gone to a boxing gym before, though I immediately stopped going… and that was about it. (laugh) I’d hadn’t watched Ashita no Joe before because I had this image of it being a manga about poverty, but it turned out to be really cool. Of course, comparing myself to Ikki Kajiwara and Tetsuya Chiba back when I was just a scrub who knew nothing about manga was pretty presumptuous of me. (laugh) You know, the coach at the start of Zero thinks to himself about the main character, “God, he’s turning 30 next year… And he looks it, too.” I’m 39 now. When I wrote that line I was in my early twenties and 30 must’ve sounded really old to me, but now 30 sounds like a young man! (laugh) It just goes to show how young I really was when I was working on Zero.
Matsumoto: Do you read much manga? I read the interview you did for Aera magazine, and you told them that you were tired of it.
Takano: That’s right.
Matsumoto: So you’re trying to get away from manga, then?
Matsumoto: I’ve always wished so badly I could draw like you, but then again, I guess it must be tough to keep drawing at such a high level. I was under the impression, though, that you were always making whatever manga you wanted to make, whenever you wanted to make it, for whatever magazine you wanted to make it for…
Takano: Absolutely — I never draw manga when I don’t feel like it. Wait a minute, though: isn’t that true of you too? Have you been doing manga when you don’t want to?
Matsumoto: I almost never have times that I don’t want to draw manga.
Takano: Ah, right, apparently some people are like that.
Matsumoto: When the pace gets too tough and I’ve got editors nagging me to do a chapter every week, that’s when it’s hard on me. But as long as I have time to sleep, I’m happy to keep working on manga — which is why I was curious what it must feel like when I read you saying you were tired of it.
Takano: I mean, I didn’t expect to feel this way either. It’s not that I don’t like manga anymore. I just felt like I’ve been too steeped in fiction for so long — manga, novels, movies — and I felt like I had to get away from creating it as well as reading it for a while.
Matsumoto: You’re saying you didn’t like the feeling of not facing reality when you were drawing and reading manga?
Takano: You could say that.
Matsumoto: I think I can relate to that. It’s fun drawing manga, but sometimes I do feel like I’m using it as an escape. Drawing manga lets me forget about society — or maybe not society, but like, things I regret saying and doing. It’s really fun, being being able to get rid of all those worries by drawing manga. (laugh) But sometimes I do wonder if maybe it’s not a good way to live one’s life.
Takano: Hmm… I’m trying to remember what was it like for me when I was your age. There was a time when I was really putting my all into making manga too, you know. Roughly when I was in my thirties, when I was doing “The Bird Born by the Spring Wharf” (春ノ波止場デ生マレタ鳥ハ) and Young Miss Lucky’s New Job (ラッキー嬢ちゃんのあたらしい仕事), I was happy just working on manga.
Matsumoto: That was quite a while ago.
Takano: Yeah. (laugh) And then in my mid-thirties I was just like, “uh-oh.” I couldn’t work at the rate I used to, and I started to notice the younger generation catching up to me, and I started thinking, like, what am I supposed to do once I’m tired of this?
Matsumoto: You’re working at such a high level that I don’t think you have to worry about young people overtaking you.
Takano: Is that how you see it? I’m not as special as all that. (laugh) You got your start by entering a contest, right?
Matsumoto: I did — and then I really struggled getting anywhere for a while after that.
Matsumoto: It was a really hot time to be in Morning, back when it was the magazine that had Katsuki Tanaka, Seiki Tsuchida, Wakabayashi Kenji, Hitoshi Iwaaki… and I wanted to be a part of that. Then when I did get in, things went really badly. (laugh)
Takano: Ah, I don’t think I realized how cool Morning was at the time.
Matsumoto: I saw it as cool, anyway. So I submitted to them because I wanted to be like Seiki Tsuchida — or maybe it’s more like I considered my manga to be Tsuchida-esque — but something about seeing my manga there in the magazine allowed me to see how ugly the art was, and I was just gobsmacked. It was fun, though.
Takano: Huh. I suppose by then Otomo was required reading for an education in manga, and not really someone you would aspire to run in the same magazine with. He’s even older than me, after all, by five years.
Matsumoto: Well, he would’ve been doing Akira for Young Magazine at the time. Otomo was the reason I started drawing manga.
Takano: It really is so true that people decide which magazine to apply to based on imagined rivalries with artists of the same age group. It keeps you motivated to keep improving.
Matsumoto: Young Magazine was really cool too — I thought Minetaro Mochizuki’s Bataashi Kingyo was amazing — but Seiki Tsuchida was definitely the big one for me. Now that I think about it, I’ve only ever read your work after it comes out as a book — never really thought much about what magazine you’ve been drawing for. Hell, if you told me you’ve never read a single manga, I’d believe it. (laugh)
Takano: Oh, but that’s not true! I’m interested in seeing what sort of techniques are popular at the moment, just like anyone. Except I don’t read manga when I’m working on something of my own. Do you?
Matsumoto: I actually do. It’s like… I need to be pushed. Before I start drafting a chapter, I’ll read the work of my long-time favorite artists, like you or Otomo, and then I get to work. So I end up reading my favorites like a hundred times.
Takano: I can’t read other people. I lose confidence! (laugh)
Matsumoto: I lose confidence when I read someone who’s really bad, whereas when I read someone who I really admire I get psyched up — like, “Alright, I’m going to be like this, too!” Sometimes it rubs off on me a little too much though, and my editor will be like, “Are you trying to draw like Otomo here or something?” (laugh) I really just adored his early work, although it doesn’t get read much these days — instead people are reading beaten-up, yellowed old copies of artists like Tsuge.
Matsumoto: I really enjoyed your manga in Aera, “Let’s Fold an Origami Crane” (おりがみでツルを折ろう).
Matsumoto: It was really impressive. For a long time now I’ve been wanting to do a manga showing the process of how things are made — how an umbrella is made, say, or a mechanical pencil or something.
Takano: Oh, like when kids go on a field trip to a factory? I like looking at pictures of machines and seeing how precisely they move, too.
Matsumoto: I think it’d be really neat.
Takano: True. Say, do you like doing color pages?
Matsumoto: Hmm… not really, I guess… ah, maybe I do. I don’t know. (laugh)
Takano: The Tekkon Kinkreet movie was very prettily colored.
Matsumoto: I really enjoyed it. Drawing it myself would be another story, though.
Takano: But even while you were drawing it in black and white, I’m guessing you were thinking about it in color, right?
Matsumoto: True, I was. But while I might have something in mind, like maybe I wanted something to look dirty or something, it was really frustrating because I wasn’t good enough to pull it off, or I wouldn’t have enough time because I’m working under a deadline. The lack of time is a real source of stress — hence Gogo Monster, which they let me spend three years working on, without serializing it in any magazines… which turned out to be even harder on me. (laugh) Since I had the pages sitting there in front of me, I kept revising them again and again. I even considered not giving it to the publishers at all, but they talked me out of it. (laugh)
Takano: It can become a real quagmire once you start redrawing things. You start to even wish the thing you’re working on would just burn up in a fire or something. (laugh)
Matsumoto: I was never quite that far gone. (laugh) So, then what I started doing was leaving the finished pages with my editor to keep them away from me. (laugh) I’ve heard that you do a lot of revision.
Takano: Yes, I did.
Matsumoto: I hardly do any revisions at all for the tankobons now.
Takano: I think that’s the right way to do it — I don’t think it’s so wrong to start leaving more of the page blank when you’re getting exhausted halfway through. And I consider the way characters’ faces change over time to be a feature, not a bug, of drawing manga by oneself.
Matsumoto: Have you always worked without any helpers?
Takano: I get someone to come in to do the simple stuff when I have a deadline around the corner.
Matsumoto: Same here. Lately I’ve been getting Saho [i.e., Saho Tono, Matsumoto’s wife] or Eifuku, my partner on Takemitsu Zamurai, to help out with the art, but that means I’m always working with the same people. It’s really easy to do this job without ever meeting people, which is a little scary sometimes.
Takano: Yeah — when you’re with people you know really well, it gets so that you understand each other without even needing to talk.
Matsumoto: Exactly. Back when I was doing a weekly series I used to have an assistant come in two or three days a week, and he used to watch this show on Fuji TV that was just two solid hours of comedians doing impressions, and he used listen to listen to idol girl-bands. I have no idea what he saw in that stuff, but it’s not the kind of stuff we listen to at my place. (laugh) But he also loved baseball, for example, which is something I never used to watch, and as I ended up watching a lot of it with him I came to learn quite a bit about it and even learned to enjoy it. That’s why having other people come in is so valuable, I think.
Takano: There are more artists these days drawing their manga by themselves, though, don’t you think?
Matsumoto: That might be true with magazines like Ikki and Afternoon. Working alone certainly does produce a more idiosyncratic manga, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.
Takano: I didn’t draw it like that — I had them invert it at the print shop. I could’ve done it in white ink, but that stuff is scratchy and wouldn’t come out right, so I went to the local print shop and had them invert it.
Matsumoto: I was wondering how you did it, although that’s not the kind of thought I usually have reading manga. Since I’m working on a series set in the Edo period now, I’ve realized that it must’ve been really dark at night back then, and I’ve been experimenting with things like living by candlelight…
Takano: Ah yes, I do that stuff too.
Matsumoto: It turns out it’s brighter if you put the candle in a paper lantern, because it reflects the light.
Takano: Same with shoji (paper screen walls/doors). Although I guess in the Edo period you’d only see shoji in fancy manors.
Matsumoto: So that’s why I was so amazed by that nighttime scene in “Yellow Book.”
Takano: I see. I actually happen to have a book pertinent to the topic right here. (takes out Kido Okamoto’s “Memories of Edo”) Eh heh heh heh. This is an interesting little book. Really makes you understand the brightness and darkness of Edo. I figured you might already own it, but…
Matsumoto: No, I don’t have that one, though I have read Kido’s The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi, which I really like.
Takano: Ah, I thought you might. I haven’t read it myself, but they say the Hanshichi series is really good. Supposed to really capture the atmosphere of the time.
Matsumoto: You know whose work I’ve suspected you would like? Harunobu Suzuki, the ukiyo-e painter.
Takano: I don’t know much about Japanese art, but you might be right.
Matsumoto: His work is sort of like yours in Ruki-san, I’d say.
Takano: Interesting. Did you prepare for Takemitsu Zamurai by checking out a lot of paintings and samurai movies and all that?
Matsumoto: A lot of ukiyo-e, yes. I don’t really know much about movies — samurai flicks make me really sleepy. I did really like Sharaku, however — the one starring Hiroyuki Sanada as Sharaku, directed by Masahiro Shinoda. I did check out a lot of stuff in preparation.
Takano: Together with Eifuku, your storywriter, I assume. He used to draw manga too, which must help.
Matsumoto: Yes. Another cool find was the Kidai Shoran, which is this scroll painting that depicts Edo starting from some bridge called Imagawabashi all the way to Nihonbashi, and after you look at it for a while you start to feel like you’ve been sucked into it or something. It’s really neat — they even had rudimentary wheelchairs back then. I’d like to do something like that set in the modern day, starting from Dogenzaka in Shinjuku or something.
Takano: Showing how it looks now if you were to just walk down the street and draw what you see as you went along? There wouldn’t be any story to that.
Matsumoto: Right. And I don’t want to break it up into pages like in manga, so I would want to do it as a scroll.
Takano: Wow. (laugh) So… it looks like things are about to really go down in Takemitsu Zamurai.
Matsumoto: Yeah. It’s really a relief to have someone else doing the story — it lets me not have to worry much about that side of it. You know, I make all sorts of characters — evil ones, goodhearted ones, etc.— but I suspect that if you were to make a pie chart of the spectrum of human emotion, the characters I can dream up would only cover maybe ten percent. Working on Takemitsu Zamurai, meanwhile, I have Eifuku throwing in these characters and it’s my job to flesh them out, including their personalities, and maybe this is just an illusion, but I feel like my slice of the pie is getting bigger. Some rather ugly characters appear in the story, and that ugliness is something I haven’t been able to pull off very well in my previous work — which isn’t to say that I don’t have my own ugly side, but I feel like I’m unable to resist making those characters a little bit likeable. So now I’m doing these characters who are bad in a way I’ve never done before, and I’m having a lot of fun.
Takano: True, it’s pretty hard to produce a character far removed from yourself.
Matsumoto: Maybe it’s a matter of personally not wanting to see those scenes. There are things I might not want to see a character do, but if Eifuku writes it into Takemitsu Zamurai I’ll draw it anyway, thinking to myself, “Oh god, I can’t believe this character’s really doing this!” (laugh) If there’s something I really feel isn’t within my wheelhouse I’ll change it, which Eifuku says is totally fine with him, but I don’t like doing that too much either because then it feels like I might as well be creating the story on my own to begin with. But then when I decide to just try drawing it according to Eifuku’s story, it ends up being fun to read. Somewhere around Ping Pong I kind of stopped being able to enjoy coming up with my own stories, like I’d lost interest in seeing what I would draw next or something. So I’ve wanted to do something based on real events for a long time now, and even now I still really want to. Does that not really happen with you?
Takano: No, it does. Doing stories based on history or real events is something that old writers do, though. (laugh) I do sort of feel like I’ve gotten there, but don’t you think it’s a bit soon for you?
Matsumoto: I’m not sure why it is. Like, if I were doing a story in which Character A and Character B are going to fight, I used to get really drawn into it wondering who would win, but somewhere along the line I lost all interest in that. I mean, Characters A and B are just my creations anyway. (laugh) I could easily kill A off if I want to, or I could throw a Character C into the mix, or whatever — it’s all under my control, and I just got sick of the way I did things and seeing the characters repeatedly do the same things to the point that I stopped even reading my own work. I used to be the kind of artist who could read his own work a hundred times and still enjoy it, but it got so that I couldn’t even bring myself to eat the vegetables I was growing on my own farm, metaphorically speaking. I’d been asking Eifuku to do a story for me since back when I was still doing Ping Pong, and now that it’s finally happening I’m back to being able to read my work and enjoy it as a reader again.
Takano: Roughly when was it that you suddenly got sick of it?
Matsumoto: I started feeling that I was bored with my own stories after Ping Pong, when I did Gogo Monster. So then I started toying with the idea of doing something based on real people or the Edo period or something. Started consulting with historians, doing some studying.
Takano: Huh. My body of work is pretty limited, so I think I might not be able to relate with you on this one. You’re saying that Characters A and B are both you in the end anyway, so you stop caring about the fight and who wins in the end?
Matsumoto: That’s basically it. And I’m writing the dialogue too, so whereas I used to read it and think it was really cool, now I’m just like, these guys are just saying the stuff that I wrote. It’s not that I dislike it, but I don’t go back and reread my work as much. That’s not something you’ve felt, then?
Takano: Maybe the difference is that I feel like I can just change up the way I draw if I need a change of pace, even though I may still be drawing the same old characters. It’s true, you do get tired of drawing them.
—Do you think your age has anything to do with the change in how you feel?
Matsumoto: It might. Looking back at Tekkon Kinkreet through the anime now, as much as I enjoyed it, it also struck me as so young and innocent. I was 25 or so when I made it, and I guess at that age you’ve got young and innocent things to say. Also, there’s the fact that I’ve received a fair amount of understanding from my readers. When I did Ping Pong, I really felt like I’d done a good job of expressing what I wanted to say and had received the right reaction from people. People got it. But the thing is that, while I wanted to keep drawing manga, I didn’t have that many things that I wanted to say, and so even though the time had come to move on to something new, I still didn’t know what. Which is why I’m enjoying having Eifuku come up with the story. I also want to do a manga about what happened to me as a kid someday, but I’ll probably do it as fiction. I wouldn’t want to come outright and make myself the main character, but I do want to do something about the things that I personally experienced. Anyway, it seems like drawing manga is still what I want to do.
Takano: Did you ever work a real job?
Matsumoto: I did a lot of part-time work, but never anything full-time.
Takano: So you wanted to be an artist since you were little, then?
Matsumoto: No — I wanted to be an athlete. But then in junior high school my soccer team got crushed by this really tough team 13 to 0, so…
Takano: Soccer, not ping pong?
Matsumoto: Right, soccer. (laugh) I wanted to be a professional soccer player and was practicing super hard, but then in the middle of that match in eighth grade we were getting whupped and I said to myself, I’m going to have to change direction here. I realized during the first half that soccer just wasn’t going to be viable, and I was seriously racking my brain during half-time about what I was going to do instead. My father used to say that what I wanted was something to apply myself to, and he’s right — it’s a comforting thing for me. I had a cousin who was always saying he was going to become a manga artist, and so I gradually came around to the idea too. I’ve never had a day job where I was pulling in a regular salary, though. You worked as a nurse, right?
Takano: Yeah. I figured I had to have a day job because, as much as I liked manga and drawing, that wasn’t something you lived off of. Such were the times, after all, and it’s not like I knew anybody doing that sort of work. The idea was that I’d get a job with a regular paycheck like the people I went to high school with, and then I could draw manga with what time I had left.
Matsumoto: I’d feel the same way too, now. (laugh) Has your husband always been your editor?
Takano: I’d like to say no… but yes, I suppose he has been. It’d be awkward for the editors from the actual magazines to work with me, I imagine. He’s been with me since back before I went pro.
Matsumoto: Since your first book, Absolute Safety Razor (絶対安全剃刀)?
Matsumoto: Wow. That’s great, though. Saho isn’t my editor, but I do get her to help me sometimes — especially to draw women. (laugh)
Takano: Your work so far is mostly just boys anyway, though. Girls hardly even appear in it.
Matsumoto: Well, I’m trying to make a point of putting more of them in Takemitsu Zamurai, I guess — or, actually, it’s more like Eifuku keeps putting them in, so I have no choice but to draw them. I’m not very good at drawing girls. My editor tells me I’m overthinking it — he says I’d be able to draw them if I just went about drawing them as just normal people, but the problem is that I get caught up in the fact that I have to draw them as female. It’s all in my head, but telling myself to stop thinking about it does me no good, because that means I’m still thinking about it. It’s hard to get in the right mindset. Lately I’ve been doing my best to stop thinking, though. (laugh)
Takano: I can’t draw men either, for what it’s worth. Do you get any exercise these days?
Matsumoto: Just going for walks. Walking is my only hobby, I’d say. I did take up running recently, but I gave that up a couple of months ago. I even entered a marathon. I kept it up for about a year, the whole time thinking that this probably isn’t for me. What I like to do is listen to music and let myself think as I walk, but you can’t do that when you’re running.
Takano: You can’t think while running a marathon?
Matsumoto: After like a few months I got so that I could think, but only for the first few kilometers. Some people enjoy that, no doubt, but not me.
Takano: True, some people run because they like the not thinking of it.
Takano: Do you only use one type of pen?
Matsumoto: That’s right.
Takano: I figured. The lines for the people and the backgrounds stick right together.
Matsumoto: Ah, that’s true.
Takano: Which makes it hard to tell at a glance what’s far away and what’s in the foreground — it’s just swathes of black and white. It was hard to read, at first, you know. I suppose everyone must tell you that, though, right?
Matsumoto: This is the second time I’ve been told that the lines for my backgrounds and characters stick together.
Takano: I mean, it does get easier to tell the difference as you go along.
Matsumoto: I have been trying to make more of a distinction, though.
Takano: But maybe that difficultness is what makes people want to put on their thinking caps and read your work extra carefully.
Matsumoto: You think? It’s not like I wanted to draw it to be hard to read. Now that I’m making more of a distinction between foreground and background I feel pretty good about it. You, on the other hand, draw in a way that is very easy to read.
Takano: I do put more of a contrast in my lines.
Matsumoto: And you’re also really good at capturing things like sunsets and night and that sort of thing.
Takano: That’s something that doesn’t come up at all in Ping Pong.
Matsumoto: Yeah — when I draw night, I basically just color the sky in black. I really like the scenes you’ve done like at the end of “Beautiful Town” (美しき町) where the sunrise comes in gradually, or the Kirin beer neon light at the end of “Tomoko-san Is Sick” (病気になったトモコさん). I’ve gone back to them over and over, and it sort of feels like becoming a kid again, it’s so great — the sound, the color, the balance. Do you decide which screentone you’re going to use and where you’re going to use it during the rough draft stage?
Takano: I do.
Matsumoto: I could never do that.
Takano: What do you do, then?
Matsumoto: For every hundred pages I draw, there might be one panel that I’ll use tone on. You’ve got a really unique way of using screentone, you know. Can’t quite place it.
Takano: Yeah. (laugh) When I had someone helping me I used to have to draw a line in blue pencil to show them where to put the tone. Do you always use a Rotring pen to draw?
Matsumoto: I do.
Takano: Ah, and for paper are you always using that rough stuff?
Matsumoto: Since starting Takemitsu Zamurai, yeah.
Takano: It would have to be that construction papery stuff, or else I don’t think you could get this texture.
Matsumoto: I wish I could just use screentone like you do, but I’m no good at it. I have to do everything with brush ink instead.
Takano: What?! Whoa, you’re right — I hadn’t noticed until now, but your panels are clearly drawn in brush ink. I take it you opted for the pulpier paper because the ink works better on it.
Matsumoto: Right. It’s become a lot of fun since I started doing it all with brushes and ink.
Takano: I feel like if you’re drawing in ink with a brush, you’ve got to do it sitting formally, legs tucked underneath you.
Matsumoto: I don’t go that far. (laugh) I hate applying screentone, though. And when I do use it, it only makes the page look worse than before.
Takano: Do you think this whole drawing-black-lines-on-white-paper thing is going to last? I personally suspect that manga is not going to survive for that much longer. What do you think?
Matsumoto: That seems possible, but I want to keep doing it my whole life, even when I’m an old man. It is true, however, that although I’m making a living at it now, I’ve long felt that I won’t be able to forever.
Takano: But you’re still happy with the black lines on white paper?
Matsumoto: I am.
Takano: It’s fun even without doing color?
Matsumoto: Well, I do sometimes like doing color.
Takano: You did just say you wanted to do a scroll painting. (laugh)
Matsumoto: I do sometimes wonder how long manga as a medium will last, but then I figure there’s no real point in worrying about that anyway.
Takano: Don’t get old and unproductive on us yet — I want to go first! (laugh) I’ve got ten years on you, so you can’t follow me too soon.
Matsumoto: When I first started drawing manga I seriously used to think it was the most amazing thing ever, and couldn’t understand why more people didn’t do it. But what I’ve learned since starting to get paid to do this is, you have to like being alone. There are a lot of people out there who don’t like that. Some people may enjoy sitting at their desk alone with their imaginations, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It somehow took me years to come to this realization — I really used to think that if everyone would just draw manga they’d be so happy. (laugh)
Takano: Ooh, I thought the same thing! (laugh)
Matsumoto: You know, though, I consider your manga to be special. I know you’re not supposed to say that to an artist’s face — every once in a while someone’ll tell me that sort of thing and I sort of wish they wouldn’t. (laugh) I actually have a list of artists I didn’t want to let myself meet: Otomo, you, Minetaro Mochizuki, Seiki Tsuchida… it’s not that long a list, but basically, they’re artists I like so much that I decided I wouldn’t meet them. But now that I’m almost 40, it’s time to lift the embargo. Was there anyone you idolized, back before you went pro?
Takano: Moto Hagio, no question. Just her.
Matsumoto: Interesting. I’d never read her work until just a couple weeks ago because Saho’s been on a Hagio binge, and we were actually conjecturing that maybe you were a fan.
Takano: Wow, that’s all? (laugh) I mean, in high school I was trying to figure out how to become her disciple. I was even thinking maybe she could hire me to be her health supervisor or something, since I was in nursing school.
Matsumoto: You didn’t though, right?
Takano: No, I didn’t. So, anyway… anime. Young people who want to become manga artists these days all seem to watch it. Do you watch anime?
Matsumoto: Well, Jarinko Chie came out on DVD recently, which is a series I love. Chie was my first crush. (laugh) The anime is really good — Isao Takahata did it, I believe. There are some anime I like, like Miyazaki’s work, and Mobile Suit Gundam, but I guess I don’t watch that much of it. Tekkon Kinkreet was really good though, so you should give it a watch if it comes on TV sometime.
Takano: No, I’m going to the theater to see it. I always prefer to watch movies up on the big screen, be they live-action or anime.
—I’d like you to talk a little bit about your plans for the future. You said earlier that you wanted to make a manga about how umbrellas are made, for example. Why umbrellas?
Matsumoto: Partially because umbrellas look pretty, but also because I saw this series of photos showing the process behind making an umbrella, and I thought it was really beautiful and would be interesting to draw. It wouldn’t be much of a read, I’m sure. (laugh) But I think it’d be great, showing the different steps the old craftsman goes through, spinning the umbrella in his hand as he goes along, and then maybe at the end the lights go off and his wife or someone brings him a beer. If I managed to draw it prettily enough I think it’d be really nice, although I guess it might only attract an extremely niche readership. (laugh)
Takano: I’ve been considering doing something like that too.
Matsumoto: Maybe it’d work if I made it educational? I think food is really beautiful too, so I’ve been thinking it’d be fun to do something like a story about making a cake, with this gay couple who are talking a little as they make it — like, “Crack those eggs, would you?” or “Yuck, vanilla” or whatever — and by the end the reader would actually be able to make himself a cake based on the manga.
Takano: That sounds fun.
Matsumoto: I’d actually like to just make it a how-to manga with a middle-aged woman making a cake and nothing else, and then the next chapter would be the old umbrella craftsman… I feel like it’d be fun to make a manga like that, just about capturing the beauty of making things. But it’d definitely get cancelled. (laugh)
Takano: Unfortunately true. (laugh) It’s actually the exciting, suspenseful manga that have become something of a dying breed in the manga world, though.
Matsumoto: Yeah, but I don’t think I could do another Tekkon Kinkreet now even if people wanted me to. I honestly used to wonder why Otomo wouldn’t do another Domu, or why you wouldn’t do another Otomodachi, but lately I’ve realized how impossible that is. I must say, though: you’re someone who never really went through a phase where you weren’t good at drawing. The style you draw in keeps changing, but it’s never felt like it was ever unpolished.
Takano: Nah, that’s just because I only draw what I’m good at. There are all kinds of things I don’t know anything about, and I just don’t show them.
Matsumoto: In my eyes, there are some people I consider to be born naturals, and you’re one of them.
Takano: A born natural what?
Matsumoto: It’s the artwork in manga that I tend to pay attention to, so I guess what I mean is, simply put, people who are good at drawing. It’s a subjective thing, obviously, but there’s a difference for me between putting a lot of effort into drawing and being naturally gifted, and I really admire the gifted people. Take ukiyo-e painters for instance: Hokusai is incredibly gifted, but Kuniyoshi — who I really like, for the record — was trying really hard. So, you yourself being one of the naturally talented people, do you look at the guys who are trying hard and know that you’re different?
Takano: Oh, not at all! I don’t think I’ve ever said anything like that! (laugh) But you know, the trick is to make yourself believe in it. Autosuggestion. You know what my husband once told me, though? “Your manga isn’t what people want to read when they’re sick in bed.”
Matsumoto: True, I might not reach for your books when I’m sick. (laugh) Every manga has its time and place.
Takano: The problem with being naturally good is that then people stop telling you things. I might draw something I consider to be a failed work, but then when I give it to people to read they’ll tell me it’s terrific. It’s up to me to control myself, or else I’ll be in trouble.
Matsumoto: Yeah, one time I gave something to an editor to read and told him there was a certain part of it that I couldn’t make up my mind on, and he burst out laughing and was like, “Who am I to give my opinion to you?” (laugh) I ended up sending it to Hori and had him read it instead. Now, in that story it sounds like I’m the naturally gifted type, but I’m very much the opposite. I’m going to keep working at it, though, in hopes of maybe someday looking at my work when I’m 80 and say, hey, maybe I really am a natural at this. ♦