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Making a Living in Manga: Part 3

The Skills to Pay the Bills: The Manga Training Gap


Young Artists Draw Manga

Young Artists Draw Manga

© Christopher Hart

In Making a Living in Manga Part 1, I explained nine reasons why the manga-making economy in North America is broken. In Part 2, we discussed the issue of fan and creator perception of original English language (OEL) manga, and whether it was "Real" or "Fake" Manga.

Now in Part 3, we'll discuss the role that art school plays (or maybe how it doesn't do enough) to teach would-be manga artists how to draw comics, and how the training gap leaves them without the drawing, writing and business skills necessary to pay the bills. We'll also discuss apprenticeship opportunities (or the lack thereof) in N. America.

The comments you're seeing here were mostly from a wide-ranging discussion held on Twitter in May 2012, with additional comments sent to me via email. Read on, and see what this mix of fans, novices, pros had to say about the training gap for manga artists in America.


A frequently heard complaint from pros in the comics publishing business is how many portfolios and proposals cross their desk from aspiring manga creators who simply lack the skill, polish and experience to produce professional-level work.

Whether it's a lack of basic drawing skills, sloppy paneling and pacing, or lackluster storytelling, or a combination of these things, many novice creators, even ones that have completed four years of art school seem ill-equipped to make their dreams of a career in comics into a paying reality.

For example, for the past two years, Yen Press has put out an open call for new creators to submit a sample short story for their Talent Search. But in 2012, as in 2011, no 'winners' were announced. In the May 2012 issue of Yen Plus magazine, Yen Press Editor JuYoun Lee described what she had received in the 2012 Talent Search and why she found many entries lacking.

"Although I can see that a great deal of effort went into each page, sometimes just trying hard isn't enough.... Artwise, since this is a new talent search, the main thing we look for is potential for growth. One of the main aspects of that potential is whether or not the basics are there. Many of the submissions were too focused on the individual artist's style -- which is good to have, of course! -- but were lacking in fundamental skills."

This is not a new observation. Back in 2009 at a industry-only panel at Anime Expo, TokyoPop editor Lilian Diaz-Pryzbyl had this to say:

"I've been doing portfolio reviews for five years - some artists get the character design and storytelling, but they don't have the drawing skills to tell the story they have in their mind. The combination of drawing chops and having an understanding of how the story works is hard to find together in one creator."

Yamila Abraham, publisher of Yaoi Press had this to add about the quality of applicants that she's seeing cross her desk:

"Anyone touch on the 'How to Draw Manga' syndrome? It's hard to hire American artists to draw in the manga style. Their art work looks so dated. Those instruction books out there are teaching a manga style from 15 years ago. If you don't want to be called 'fake' manga you have to be contemporary with what artists are currently doing in Japan."


I have heard this complaint from many pros: that young creators think 'manga' means they don't have to know the basics. Copying your favorite manga artists is fine for starters, but if you don't know the fundamentals of design, composition, and figure drawing, how to render light, shadow and color, how to use different line widths to create texture and dimension, and how to tell a sequential story, your weaknesses will be apparent to any professional who reviews your work, and will ultimately stunt your creative growth.

Whether you go to art school, a four-year or two-year college or just go straight into the comics biz from high school, you need to know the basics before you can be taken seriously as a pro.

"That's certainly one of my complaints. Learn anatomy. Learn good acting. Learn storytelling."
- Lea Hernandez (@TheDivaLea), Comics/webcomics creator and illustrator, Rumble Girls (NBM Publishing)

"Figure drawing courses go a LONG way! Taking some lessons and learning to draw properly, not just manga, helps immensely!"
- Heather Skweres (@CandyAppleCat), Artist, toy collector, and photographer

"Hey, a lot of pro superhero comics artists can't draw perspective, background, or, y'know, feet. Art class for all!"
- Alex Decampi (@alexdecampi), Filmmaker, author

"Writing is THE most important part of the whole. If your art is so-so, but your writing shines, you're golden. Reversed, give up."
- Jon Krupp (@WEKM)

"I think sometimes what N. American creators miss is making characters that people love or hate and can relate to."
- Benu (@Benu), Anime podcaster and blogger, Anime Genesis

"One problem I've noticed among American 'manga' creators is that they tend to put artwork above interesting characters/storytelling. What I always loved about manga was the storytelling. The most successful creators tell great/interesting stories, even if they can't draw well (look at Rumiko Takahashi). Some good artists (Tanemura Arina) are popular at first, but become obscure when they fail to produce stories with good storytelling. Almost nobody talks about her manga anymore and instead she has artbooks."
- Jamie Lynn Lano (@jamieism), Expatriate American comics creator, now living in Japan, former assistant on the Tennis no Oujisama (Prince of Tennis) manga

"No slight to art school, but I taught myself more from drawing 100s of comics pages -- mainly DIRTY PAIR -- than I ever learned from any teacher. No art teacher could teach you more about inking than you'd learn from, say, the brutal DIY inking course in PEN & INK. The advantage of art school? I was able to work on comics pages fulltime, rather than trying to fit 'em in around a (non-art) work schedule."
- Adam Warren (@EmpoweredComic), Comics creator, Empowered (Dark Horse) and Dirty Pair (Dark Horse)

NEXT: Teachers Who Don't Get Manga, Students Who Don't Want to Learn the Basics

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