Last December, Kodansha, one of the largest publishers in Japan, held its first international manga competition. Now, on the heels of that contest’s success, the publisher has decided to hold another. The Morning International Manga Competition, presented by Kodansha’s manga magazine Weekly Morning, is soliciting submissions from artists around the world. The deadline for submissions is December 31. The grand prize winner will have his or her manga serialized in Morning Two, Weekly Morning’s bimonthly sister manga magazine, and will receive a cash prize. Weekly Morning is a 25-year-old publication with a circulation of 500,000 geared toward an adult audience and has featured series like Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond, which is published in the U.S. by Viz. Morning Two is only four issues old and showcases new Japanese talent.
Eijiro Shimada, editor-in-chief of Morning Two and deputy editor-in-chief of Morning, visited the San Diego Comic-Con to check out the comics scene in the U.S. He was joined by Yukari Shiina, president of world-manga.com, a literary agency for non-Japanese manga, who was also there to scout for talent. PWCW spoke with Shimada about the new contest and the growing international influence of manga. Anastasia Moreno translated.
PW Comics Week : You have such an immense pool of talent in Japan. Why the interest in manga-style comics from outside of Japan?
Eijiro Shimada: So many people are creating manga outside of Japan, I think it would be rather unnatural not to ask for submissions. I always thought that the biggest barrier was language. The content, what the artist is trying to convey, is similar. There’s no language barrier in the contest; if there are submissions from all 50 states in the U.S., I’m sure we’d get different stories from each. Also, I want to [receive submissions] from [international] artists. I don’t want them to feel held back by the language obstacle.
PWCW: How often will the contest be held?
ES: Kodansha plans to hold it twice a year. In addition to the international contest, we also have an open Morning contest twice a year for [Japanese] artists. As you know, many publishers have talent contests and usually submissions have to be black and white, a certain number of pages, etc. But for the Morning competition, there are no restrictions. They can submit in color, on whatever paper they want to use. Allowing artists to have freedom makes for better submissions.
I foresee the international manga competition and the internal one converging. It may turn into one contest in the future. This is my first time at Comic-Con—to the U.S. in fact—and I went to a bookstore. I’m impressed by the number of manga, but disappointed that Americans have such a limited view of what manga is. When I originally put out this contest, I was expecting American superhero-style submissions, but most submissions were in the Naruto style.
PWCW : Are Japanese readers interested in manga created by foreigners?
Eijiro Shimada by Kazumi Yamashita.
ES:Even now there’s a small core of fans who are interested in what’s coming from Italy, Germany, etc. But I’m trying to target the regular manga fan. I want to sell it as a manga and have them discover later that it was created by foreigners. We will have very rigorous standards.
Japanese manga is still evolving, but it needs to keep moving, it needs to be stimulated. We need to push the envelope every week. I believe it’s always important to expand the artist base. Although the circulation for Morning isn’t as high as [the popular manga weekly] Shonen Jump, Morning has the same status and social influences—but for an older audience. Any manga magazine has to pay attention to its status. We have to break the mold, so we also started Morning Two magazine and the contest.
PWCW : Do you have a specific interest in non-Japanese manga, or was this project assigned to you from within Kodansha?
ES: The competition was my personal advice [to Kodansha] and I have been pushing it aggressively. At Kodansha, they pretty much give the editors freedom. If something needs to be done, we are free to bring up projects, to explore creativity. Anyone who is interested can join the team. But so far, the majority of editors are not so interested. It’s just myself and Ms. Shiina.
I feel that this is the beginning of a trend and my supposition is that other editors and publishers will start dealing with foreign publishers and artists even more. I think I’m riding the wave early. I was surprised when I was interacting with U.S. manga artists—I didn’t think I would have common ground with them. I thought that the cultural differences would get in the way, but they didn’t.
The main difference between manga and comics is that manga focuses on one main character. The reader follows in the footsteps of that character and sees everything through the character’s eyes.
PWCW : What are your plans for the contest winners?
ES: If the idea is interesting enough, it may be published in Morning Two. And if their series makes it into Morning Two, it will be serialized bimonthly and then monthly (when Morning Two goes from bimonthly to monthly publication.) And every year they will be able to put out one tankoubon [book collection]. I’m trying to treat contest winners like Japanese artists. I want to push out the tankoubon at the same price with no special frills. Publishing a tankoubon by a foreigner in that fashion will [be a first in Japan].
PWCW : Are you concerned that American artists won’t be able to keep up with the demanding schedule of Japanese publishing?
ES: That may have been true 10 years ago, but these days many Japanese artists haven’t had apprenticeships [assisting established manga creators]. They just break out and hit the ground running. Many artists don’t use assistants and can meet the deadlines. Even in Japan there’s a new trend where artists use computer graphics. The traditional ideal of sweat and blood and many sleepless nights while creating manga—that image [and that reality] is slowly going away.
PWCW : Can you talk about the role of the editor in Japanese comics?
ES: The actual drawing is done by the artist but even before that is the team effort between the editor and artist. This is my impression of how to make manga: the idea for story is [metaphorically] dropped into a deep pool and the artist and editor put a lot of effort into trying to dig it out. And I think, from an editor’s perspective, the way we assist is in finding a pool deep enough for that artist—so that he is unsure how deep it goes—and then drop that stone and help him find it. If it’s only a shallow pool, you can pull out a little rock [easily]—but that’s not real manga.
PWCW : What strengths do you see in manga-style comics coming from the U.S? The weaknesses?
ES : Whether good or bad, it’s very similar to Japanese manga. I think on the one hand because it’s similar, it’s easy to coordinate. But I was looking for something very American and not Japanese. I think American artists are cutting that creativity off. They’re trying to emulate Japanese manga a little too much. So the term “manga” is a little misunderstood. Manga is supposed to be free and unrestricted. It’s the creativity to express yourself on the page. It’s like American baseball; [in the U.S.] it’s one thing, but in Japan baseball has its own flavor.
PWCW : There is an ongoing controversy about manga by non-Japanese creators among American fans who can be hostile towards original American manga. What is your perspective on manga created by non-Japanese creators?
ES: From a Japanese perspective, I find that [attitude by American manga fans] very peculiar. The concept of manga is supposed to be free. It’s supposed to be any style. For those American fans who claim that manga must be a certain way, they need to come to Japan and see what we call manga. There’s a whole lot that’s not imported into America.
PWCW: Who are the judges for the competition?
ES: So far it’s just the two of us—myself and Ms. Shiina. We’re thirsting for new ideas from all over the world. We’re looking for submissions that are aggressive, pushing a new idea of manga, something that says, “This is the new manga, take it or leave it.” We’re up for the challenge, so please join us.