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Interview: Moto Hagio

Manga Artist and Creator of A Drunken Dream and Other Stories


Matt Thorn and Moto Hagio

Matt Thorn and Moto Hagio

© Deb Aoki

For shojo manga fans, comics creator and innovator Moto Hagio needs no introduction. Since her professional debut at age 20 in 1969, Hagio-sensei has been creating stories that transcend the label "comics for girls." Gender-bending science fiction, wistful romances, thought-provoking tragedies touching on taboos like incest and fratricide, and even a comic about a mischievous cat - topics like this and more have been touched by her pen.

In Japan, she has won numerous awards for her work, and her stories have been adapted into live-action films and stage plays. Meanwhile, in North America, Moto Hagio's work hasn't quite reached the level of recognition that other manga pioneers like Osamu Tezuka and Yoshihiro Tatsumi now enjoy.

VIZ Media published a few of Hagio's stories in English, notably A, A' and They Were 11 in the Matt Thorn-edited collection Four Shojo Stories in 1997. Both graphic novels are, unfortunately, out of print. The Comics Journal also published Hagio's short story Hanshin in issue 269, July/August 2005, as part of an issue that focused on shojo manga. But other than that, North American manga fans haven't been able to read much of Hagio's work. That is, until now.

In 2010, Fantagraphics and manga editor/translator and scholar Matt Thorn made it easier than ever to read Hagio's stories with A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, a collection of short stories that include some of her earliest and her most recent work. Hagio and Thorn were also special guests at San Diego Comic-Con 2010, her first appearance at an American comics convention.

The petite, always smiling 60-year old comic creator wowed fans at her panels with her easy-going, wry wit and undeniable intelligence. Comic-Con International also bestowed the Inkpot Award to Hagio, for "her achievements in comic art."

I was able to chat with Hagio and Thorn on Friday afternoon and ask a few additional questions about her impact on the evolution of shojo manga, her love of American science fiction novels, her relationship with fellow shojo manga pioneer and colleague Keiko Takemiya, and her advice for aspiring manga creators.


Matt Thorn: Hi, I'm Matt Thorn, and I'll be translating. Miss Hagio will be talking about her career, and then she'll be taking questions from the audience.

Moto Hagio: Thank you for the kind introduction. I'm Moto Hagio. I want to give a brief introduction to my career, and talk a bit about my last 40 years as a manga artist.

The Poe Clan (Poe no Ichizoku) - 1972-1976, 5 volumes
Moto Hagio: I made my professional debut at the age of 20, as a shojo manga artist. Originally, I was only doing short stories. My first long story was I had published was a story about vampires, it was called The Poe Clan (Poe no Ichizoku). This was serialized from 1972 to 1976. This is a story about two boys who are turned into vampires before they reach adulthood. The story begins in the 1970's in England. The story then moves from the 18th century to give background about how Edgar Poe, one of the main characters became a vampire. Then the story returns to now, or rather the 1970's, when the story was first being published.

Poe no Ichizoku was awarded Shogakukan Manga Award in 1976.

Heart of Thomas (Thomas no Shinzou) - 1973-1975, 3 volumes
Moto Hagio: After I finished The Poe Clan, the editor asked me to get ready to do another long serialized series. The second serialized work was the Heart of Thomas (Thomas no Shinzou). (pause) This was very unpopular. (laughs)

Once Heart of Thomas began, the editor told me, 'End it quickly.' Then a miracle occurred. The Poe Clan was published in paperback format. The Poe Clan was the very first shojo manga from Shogakukan Publishing to be published in this new (at the time) tankobon format. The first print run was 30,000 copies; it sold out in one day. (applause) The publisher then said, 'Well, maybe you can continue this story a little longer.' (everyone laughs)

Thomas no Shinzou has been adapted as a feature film and as a play.

They Were 11 (Juichinin Iru!) 1975 - 1976, 1 volume
Moto Hagio: Then the next long series was They Were 11. This was a science fiction story. It's a story about 10 boys who take the exam to get into the space academy. Part of the test is for them to get on a space ship to get hands-on experience. When they first get on the ship, this is the first time that they've ever seen each other. But when they take off their helmets and do a headcount, they realize that there are 11 of them. It's a mystery/suspense story: Who is the 11th person?

They Were 11 was published by VIZ Media in the collection Four Shojo Stories, which was compiled and edited by Matt Thorn. They Were 11 won Shogakukan Manga Award for shōnen manga in 1976.

Marginal (Maajinaru) - 1985-1987, 5 volumes
Moto Hagio: Starting in middle school, I had always read a lot of American science fiction; Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein and so on.

Marginal is a science fiction story set a thousand years in the future. It's set on Earth and the oceans have been polluted. There are no human females left on the planet, only males. There's only one woman who gives birth to all the males on the planet. But, it turns out to be much more complicated than that — there's a lot going on behind the curtain.

I had read many science fiction tales where all the males had disappeared and there were only women left, so I wanted to imagine a story that was opposite. But the primary reason is that I really like drawing good looking guys! (laughs)

Hanshin - 1984, short story

Moto Hagio: This is a short story I did called Hanshin - it's a very short story, just 16 pages. It's a story about two girls who are conjoined twins. One is ugly and very intelligent. The other is very beautiful but empty-headed. The ugly girl has the stronger heart and she is basically supporting her weaker, more beautiful sister. As they grow older, the doctor tells their parents, if the girls aren't separated, they will both die. The question is, which girl will survive? For the rest of the story, you can check out in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, which is available at the Fantagraphics booth and other fine bookstores. (everyone laughs)

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