Manga creator Hiro Mashima made his first American comic convention appearance at San Diego Comic-Con 2008 and brought with him the same kind of fun-loving spirit that readers have come to love from his creations Fairy Tail and Rave Master. Mashima met his fans at two autograph sessions and at a spotlight panel appearance, all hosted by his U.S. publisher, Del Rey Manga.
Dressed in a grey Monster Hunter t-shirt, olive cargo pants and over-sized sunglasses, Mashima bounded into his Saturday panel appearance with a big smile on his face and an enthusiastic "What's up, guys!" greeting to a room full of fans. "Thank you for coming to see me! I hope you have a rockin' time!"
At his panel appearance, Mashima answered questions from fans and from Del Rey Manga Associate Publisher Dallas Middaugh. Mashima also demonstrated his speed and skill in drawing that allows him to pump out new episodes of Fairy Tail weekly in addition to monthly installments of Monster Hunter Orage.
Before the panel, I also got a chance to talk with Mashima to ask him a few more questions about his beginnings as a professional manga artist, and his real-life inspirations for his characters. I also found out a few hints on plot twists to come and got a taste of his mischievous sense of humor that makes Fairy Tail such a blast to read.
"AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, I WANTED TO BE A MANGA ARTIST"
Q: Where did you grow up and how did you get started with drawing manga?
Hiro Mashima: I grew up in Nagano prefecture in Japan. As long as I can remember, I wanted to draw manga. When I was younger, my grandfather would find discarded manga for me to read, and I would trace the pictures.
Q: Was there an artist or a particular story that inspired you to become a professional manga artist?
Hiro Mashima: Toriyama Akira, the creator of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. Also, Yudetamago (a.k.a. Yoshinori Nakai and Takashi Shimada), the creators of Ultimate Muscle (a.k.a. Kinnikuman)
Q: What did you love about their art style or stories?
Hiro Mashima: I love that the main character gets in trouble, but somehow always manages to win! I also enjoy the fierce battle scenes.
Q: Did you go to school to learn how to draw manga?
Hiro Mashima: At first, I thought you had to go to school to learn how to draw manga, so I went to an art school after high school. But it just didn't sit well with me, so I ended up teaching myself.
Q: How did you become a professional manga artist?
Hiro Mashima: I created a 60 page original work that I took into editors to review. Then I won an amateur manga artists' competition. After a year, I made my official debut in 1999.
RAVE MASTER AND THE REAL-LIFE INSPIRATIONS FOR FAIRY TAIL
Q: Your last story Rave Master ran for a long time -- 35 volumes. Was it difficult to come up with new stories and keep it fun and fresh?
Hiro Mashima: Hm. That's true. It was a long series, so there were some difficult times, but now that I look back, I can only remember how much fun I had.
Q: Do you think Fairy Tail will be as long a series as Rave Master?
Hiro Mashima: That's my goal, but it's yet to be determined if it will go on for that long.
Q: When you decided to start work on Fairy Tail, was there something that you really wanted to try to accomplish with this new series, or a different approach that you wanted to try compared to your work with Rave Master?
Hiro Mashima: Towards the end of Rave Master, the story was a little sentimental, a little sad. So I wanted to make this new story a lot of fun.
The main difference is that in Rave Master, the goal was to save the world. In Fairy Tail, it's all about this guild of wizards, and the jobs they have to do. It's about their everyday lives. Over time, this might change, but that's for the fans to find out as they continue to read this story! (laughs)
Q: One character that has crossed over from Rave Master is Plue. Is there a reason why he appears over and over again?
Hiro Mashima: In my mind Plue is every where. He could actually exist in this world as well. He's my personal pet! (laughs)
Q: The villains you come up with are very creative, they're really interesting. Is there a particular one that you came up with that made you think, 'Wow, I outdid myself!'?
Hiro Mashima: Hm! (pulls out Fairy Tail volume 1 and points to a character -Sieglein) There's a big secret about Sieglein that'll be revealed in Fairy Tail Volume 12. So please, keep reading so you can find out about him!
Q: What was the initial inspiration for Fairy Tail -- was there a movie you saw, or a book you read that made you think it would be cool to do a story about a guild of wizards?
Hiro Mashima: There weren't any books or movies per se, but I've always love magicians and wizards. So I thought it would be interesting to do a story about a group of wizards.
I might be getting older, but I still like hanging out with my friends, I still play video games with friends until the early morning hours. So just the idea was to draw a community of friends, and how my friends and I would be if we were magicians.
Q: Fairy Tail has a lot of funny, fantastic characters. In Western comics, plot is the most important thing. Is the plot or the characters more important for you?
Hiro Mashima: Both are very important to me, but I had to choose one, I'd definitely choose characters.
Hiro Mashima: You actually have to think and create a plot, but I have many kinds of characters in my real life.
Q: Are the Fairy Tail characters based on people in real life? Is there a character in Fairy Tail that is most like you?
Hiro Mashima: Definitely Natsu. He's like me in junior high! (laughs) All the other characters are based on my friends, my editors, people I know through work.
Q: I really enjoy Natsu -- he's really fun, energetic and likeable. But one thing that's unusual about him is that despite being really powerful, his weakness is his motion sickness. Do you get motion sickness yourself?
Hiro Mashima: I'm actually afraid of heights and airplanes, but I don't have motion sickness. A friend of mine has that. When we take taxis together, he just gets sick. On one hand, its bad for him, but on the other hand, it's kind of hilarious. (laughs)