Makoto Tateno is one of the first names that springs to mind in any discussion of yaoi manga (also known as BL, or Boys Love). Not only is she a prolific creator, but her series, which include Yellow and Blue Sheep Reverie, have been hugely popular with U.S. readers. But Tateno doesn't confine herself to one genre; she also writes and illustrates shoujo manga, and several of her shoujo series, including Angelic Runes and King of Cards, have been translated into English.
Yaoi is a genre that focuses on romantic relationships between men. It can be very sexy, even explicit, but Yaoi or BL can also be completely chaste. It is generally created by straight women for other straight women.
Tateno was in the U.S. as a guest at the MangaNEXT convention in East Rutherford, New Jersey, earliler this year traveling with executives from her publisher, Shinshokan, and the digital manga site JManga, which publishes several of her works digitally: A Bloody Kiss Tonight, Romeo/Romeo, and See You in the School of the Muse. She appeared at two question-and-answer sessions with fans during the convention, and we had the opportunity to sit down with her for a one-on-one conversation about how she started and how the BL manga scene has evolved since she started drawing in 1986. (Robert Newman of JManga served as the translator.)
PWCW: How did you come to become a manga-ka? Did you read manga as a child, and did you draw manga?
Mokoto Tateno: The first manga I read was probably Astro Boy, and I really liked the title Devilman, by Go Nagai. I tried really hard to copy the drawing style of Devilman.
PWCW: Do you remember the first time you saw or learned about BL manga? What attracted you to it?
MT: The first BL manga I saw was a title from Moto Hagio called Toma no Shinzou [The Heart of Thomas]. Seeing The Heart of Thomas, I felt really drawn to the BL genre and felt it was a wonderful title.
PWCW: How did you learn to draw manga?
MT: I really enjoyed manga and liked trying to draw manga as a child. By the time I was in junior high school, I decided I wanted to become a manga-ka, I practiced from how-to-draw [features] in various magazines.
PWCW: Now that you are a creator, why do you prefer BL?
MT: I don’t feel I am trying to work primarily in the BL genre. I like BL and shoujo equally and I try to continue creating titles in each genre.
PWCW: How have your opinions or tastes changed since you started drawing manga?
MT: I feel that my drawing has evolved rather naturally over the years. I have been drawing manga for about 25 years now, and in that time there have been various other manga-ka that have come out and various new types of expressions that have influenced me, as well as the progression of time. Different generations have influenced my drawing as well.
PWCW: There is something that I have noticed about yaoi manga: On every cover, the characters are always looking straight out at the reader. Why is that?
MT: It's mainly for sex appeal. The covers are trying to directly charm the readers.
PWCW: Which comes first for you, the story or the characters?
MT: Generally speaking, the story comes out first and then I make the characters to fit the story, but occasionally I begin a title with the creation of the characters, and in my experience so far I have found that when the character comes out first, the series tends to go on longer.
PWCW: How has the yaoi genre as a whole changed in the 25 years you have been doing manga?
MT: Over the years, a lot of different genres have come about, and through the different genres, different magazines have come out, so there is a much larger variety of magazines and a much larger variety of genres than previously. Even within the BL or yaoi genre there are sub-genres that have come about. In short, the manga industry has become finer, there are more fine points.
PWCW: Your work is very popular in the U.S. Do you have American readers in mind when you are writing and drawing it?
MT: Fundamentally speaking, I create works for the Japanese audience, but for example with Yellow, it was released abroad before Japan so I did have that in my mind when I was writing it.
PWCW: What is the most frustrating part of your work?
MT: The whole process of creating a manga is really difficult, coming up with the story and [making] it into an image is a very, very difficult process, but I am able to do it because I love doing it so much. The thing that makes me most happy about creating manga is hearing from readers what their thoughts and feelings about my work are.
PWCW: What are you working on now, and what might we see over here?
MT: Some of the things I was working on last year could very well come out, and I have some long running series that she will continue doing new volumes in. I can't comment on what titles may come out [in the U.S.], but Blue Sheep Reverie will continue to be putting out new volumes. The rest are all new titles so I can't say.