As manga has gone global, so has its fandom and its businesses. I started out as an American kid who watched anime without knowing it was anime, got interested in manga as a teen, began writing professionally about it, became involved with publishing companies to adapt and help edit manga, and am now releasing my first book on the subject, Manga Art for Beginners.
When I began writing about manga, it felt like literature’s best-kept secret in America. There were all these manga titles being brought over and sold in the manga section of bookstores, yet many people stayed away from reading manga because it was too“different” from what they’re used to (i.e., American comics). However, tides are changing.
I started writing about manga not only because I enjoyed reading it so much, but because I wanted to spread awareness of these great books. I started writing about it for general otaku fandom places, like Anime Insider, Otaku USA and Anime News Network, but I also made sure to branch out and pitch manga articles to places that might not cover it much or at all. This brought me to writing about it for Booklist and Publishers Weekly, and then on to MTV, CNN and The Onion. The fact that more diverse places are publishing articles on manga shows they’re aware of manga’s appeal.
My manga-related job that usually brings the most fascination to people was my job in adaptation. For a while I was working as a freelancer, adapting titles for Digital Manga Publishing. I wasn’t a translator, though sometimes people mistakenly took me for one. I would be given a copy of the original manga in Japanese to see how the panels and art look, and a raw translation on my computer. The translation would sound very literal and proper, and I had to make it flow, make sure it fit inside the balloons for talking, and make certain the original meaning was not altered in any way. This means sometimes I would have to put in footnotes to explain certain terms.
It was a challenging but fun job, though it eventually went fully in-house and that was the end of my adaptation freelancing days. I began doing proofreading for manga titles out of Yen Press, involved in a less creative way of editing, and continued my articles on manga. At one point I was talking with an editor about all my involvement with manga, and several months later she reached out to me, saying her publisher wanted to do a manga how-to-draw book, and she’d be willing to look at a proposal I made for it.
I’d been wanting to write a book on manga for years, so I had to grab this opportunity, and I wanted to do a good job on it. I’d noticed there were quite a few how-to-draw books out there, but a lot of them seemed rushed, showing how to draw a character in maybe three steps. There are so many steps in-between those three drawings, but the books weren’t showing them. I also noticed that as interest in manga has grown, some companies had created subpar comics and slapped the word “manga” on it in hopes that it sells.
With my book, Manga Art For Beginners, I show how to draw character types in about twelve or so steps, not three. At the start of the book, it shows how to draw parts of characters, like faces and eyes, then goes on to proportions, then gets into common character types found in manga, like ninjas, bishonen, shrine maidens, chibi and butlers. I worked with the artist Melanie Westin on it (the drawings are all Melanie’s, and the writing and layout of the book is mine), and she came to me through a recommendation at VIZ Media, America’s largest manga publisher. She’s also a longtime manga fan, and she draws in a beautiful manga style.