Q: When you started your career, it was a different time to be a female comics artist. Do you feel like you've paved the way for subsequent generations of female manga artists to to tell stories that maybe aren't typical "girl" subjects?
Moto Hagio: I'm not sure about that, if I've made that sort of contribution - but I've often heard men say that they had no interest in reading shojo manga until they read my work; they started taking it more seriously.
For a long time, men/boys found it really hard to read shojo manga, because the character all had huge eyes, long eyelashes and sparkles in their eyes, and they didn't put much attention into drawing the backgrounds. Some male readers found that my drawing style was closer to shonen manga style, so they found it easier to read; that's how they got into reading my work.
I've also met men who actually prefer shojo manga. When I've asked them why, they would tell me, 'shonen manga is all about fighting, whereas shojo manga is more about describing the psychology of the characters. They find that they can empathize with the characters a lot more.
Q: I've read a lot of shojo manga over the years, and even given that, your interpretation of human relationships and emotions is really very deep, very profound compared to most stories that I've read. I've rarely read manga that makes me cry - your stories do that.
Moto Hagio: Oh, thank you.
Q: How do you tap into these feelings and ideas, to express them in your manga?
Moto Hagio: Ah. Well, when I a child, I used to read manga and cry myself. I had similar reactions watching movies and reading comics. Basically, I'm just expressing my own feelings like that. So it was with my own parents, and for a lot of people of that generation, who said that manga is just for small children, it's very simplistic. But from my point of view, manga is just one medium like movies and novels; it can be just as deep and just as moving.
Q: You've written so many stories over the years. Do you have a personal favorite?
Moto Hagio: My personal favorites are Hanshin and Iguana Girl, both of which are in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories.
Q: What makes each of these stories special to you?
Moto Hagio: When I was little, I always wished that I had a twin sister. The reason why was that I didn't get a lot of attention from my parents, so I thought that if I had a twin sister, then we could talk all the time with each other.
Do you know the story, The Parent Trap? The original story that it was based on was a German novel called Das doppelte Lottchen. (NOTE: This novel was published in English with the title Lotte and Lisa) I really liked that novel. As I got older, I realized that even twins are separate individuals, so there's no guarantee that they will really completely understand each other. That in turn made me question whether it is really possible to understand yourself.
With Hanshin, I made this extreme setting, where you have two girls: one is ugly but extremely intelligent, and one is extremely beautiful, but completely empty-headed, not thinking about anything at all. At the end of the story, they trade places. To love someone, to hate someone seems like two opposite extremes, but at their roots, there's a connection there.
Q: Right - there's that saying that the opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is indifference.
You've mentioned that you've worked very closely with Keiko Takemiya (creator of To Terra, Song of the Wind and Trees). How do you feel that your work influenced her, and how her work influenced you?
Moto Hagio: I was able to move from Kodansha to Shogakukan thanks to Keiko Takemiya. Keiko Takemiya was working with Junya Yamamoto, so she introduced him to me. I sent all of my old work that I had done for Kodansha that they had rejected to Keiko and Keiko sent them to him, and he bought them all. I am very grateful to her for doing that.
After that, we shared an apartment for two years. If you've read Takemiya-sensei's work, you might notice that her characters tend to be very lively and bright, cheerful types. The world that she draws is like the sun shining, whereas my own work is kind of like the reflection of the moon on the water, sinking down into the depths. (laughs) From my point of view, they are totally different types!
But when we were young, we liked the same kind of artists like Shotaro Ishinomori and Hideko Mizuno, so there was a point in time when our drawing styles were fairly close. Takemiya's style is very bright, shining and dazzling, so I feel that I was influenced by that.
There was a time when Keiko invited a friend and I to see a movie. It was a French movie set in a boys' school about two boys in love. It was such a beautifully filmed movie, and the love portrayed between these two boys was so pure, that was the inspiration for Heart of Thomas. So Keiko's influence (on my work) was that she dragged me to this movie! (laughs)
Q: You've accomplished a lot in your 40-year career. Is there anything else you'd like to do?
Moto Hagio: Yes, there are a lot of things I want to do. I've become interested in medieval European history, so I'd like to do something about that. I recently saw Henry VI by Shakespeare, and found that to be very inspiring. In Shakespeare, the stories tend to focus around the men, but there's not a lot in these stories about the women. I'm interested in telling the stories about the women.
Q: Wow, that sounds really interesting. I would love to read that! You're obviously very well-read and have lots of interests besides manga. If you were not a manga artist, what do you think you would be doing instead?
Moto Hagio: I like to work with my hands, so if I weren't a manga artist, I might work as seamstress, sewing clothing!
Q: You've enjoyed a long career, and experienced a lot of things along the way. Do you have any advice to share with a new manga artist?
Moto Hagio: The manga that you can draw in your twenties, the manga you can draw in your thirties, the manga you can draw in your forties, are all different. It doesn't matter when you debut, but when you have the drive to create, create as much as you can.