Maki Murakami is the manga-ka [creator] of the silly, at times avant-garde boys’ love (yaoi) hit, Gravitation, published in the U.S. by Tokyopop. Gravitation is light boys’ love, suggestive but not sexually explicit like some boys’ love. It’s the story of a young pop singer on the verge of stardom and his ongoing romantic relationship with a famous male romance novelist. Murakami also creates her own doujinshi (self-published comics) of Gravitation, called Gravitation Remix and Gravitation Mega Mix. Remix and Megamix both involve the same Gravitation characters, but in more sexual and sexually graphic scenarios. PWCW interviewed Murakami at the Otakon fanfest in Baltimore, where she was a guest, accompanied by her Japanese editor, Masahiro Chiko of Gentosha Publishing, whom Murakami has been working with since 1996. Tokyopop editor Lillian Diaz-Pryzbyl translated.

PW Comics Week: What inspired you to write create Gravitation?

Maki Murakami : It was something that I wanted to read except that it didn’t exist. So I decided to do it myself. I first decided that I wanted to do a boys’ love story; then I came up with a plot so that I could get away with it. I actually started working as the assistant to a friend’s older sister who was doing ero manga—hentai [pornographic comics]. I did that for a few years starting from when I was in my second year of high school [the equivalent of junior year in the States]. Then my friend’s sister switched publishers to a boys’ love company. I started to get to know the editors there—and then I had a falling out with the sister. Gravitation was not my debut—it was one of my later comics.

PWCW : Did you produce doujinshi when first starting out? Or did you start working directly with the editors?

MM : I was doing doujinshi at the time, and that’s what I showed the editor I was working with. From there they asked me to draw something. At the time I was drawing mostly parody comics [fan fiction] about musicians. The way I entered the industry is a bit unusual. I didn’t intend to be a manga artist. There are some people who want to be manga-ka from childhood. I never expected it. I just wanted the money—that’s why I became an assistant. But from there I just got carried away with the flow.

PWCW : What made you realize that this was something you could do professionally?

MM : Even though I wasn’t really planning it, I felt like it was something I could do. I had that confidence—otherwise I wouldn’t have shown my doujinshi to that editor. It wasn’t a sudden realization—more like, I know I can do this, and it also makes money.

PWCW: Was it fun?

MM : The first couple of years were fun. I was getting paid doing it. Then it became more like work. I got into a bout with my editor. It’s definitely a really tough business to be in. I keep going at it, but I‘m always at the verge of stopping.

PWCW : Music—specifically techno—plays a big part in Gravitation. Did you do specific research for the series or did this come from a personal love for Depeche Mode?

MM : I was a big techno fan myself. I did some composing when I was younger. But I didn’t think I could make it as a musician, so I did manga instead.

PWCW : How much research goes into your stories?

MM : Barely any went into Gravitation. I was too busy trying to get it off the ground. But later in the story the characters go to New York, so I asked my publisher if I could go and do research in New York City, and they said yes. In New York, I went to comic book stores, and they said that Sailor Moon was really popular. I didn’t really know what it was, so I wondered why it was so popular. I’m amazed that my work is popular now, too.

PWCW : You mention that your doujinshi was comic. Can you talk about the role of humor in Gravitation? A lot of the boys’ love that we see in this country, there are lighthearted and humorous parts, but Gravitation plays with downright silliness.

MM : I actually did it because there isn’t that much humorous boys’ love in Japan. It’s always about tears of blood, and “if you die I’m going to die, too.” So I did it because I wanted to see it.

PWCW: Is it difficult to draw humorous manga?

MM : It’s not that it’s hard to draw, but it all comes from feelings. That can be a little challenging. You can calculate a plot, but the humor either happens or it doesn’t.

PWCW : Chiku-san, how do you feel about Murakami-san doing doujinshi?

Masahiro Chiku : It’s her right to do doujinshi, so we can’t say anything. But there are times when I want to tell her, “Stop and do your work, concentrate and turn in your pages.” But I know that she’s close to stopping and that the ero-doujinshi is an outlet for her. So I let her do it.

MM: It’s fun to draw those ero-doujinshi.

PWCW: So all your doujinshi is ero-doujinshi?

MM : When I started off, it was gag stuff and humor. But my Gravitation stuff is pretty hard-core, adult stuff. Remix is softcore and Megamix is much more hardcore. It’s fairly unusual for a manga-ka to do the dirty version of her own work. I feel like I have to apologize for that to my publisher because it comes up in quite a few interviews.

PWCW: What made you want to do it?

MM : There was a lot of tension between the two characters, but because I was doing it for a mainstream publisher, I couldn’t explore it. But it’s a fun thing, mixing every possible coupling. I also take fan requests, like who they want to see with whom. But others have started doing their own doujinshi of Remix. I’m concentrating more on Megamix.

PWCW : How do you feel about other artists doing doujinshi of your work?

MM : I feel very honored and grateful. I actually get a lot of doujinshi from people. They give it to me. Getting that kind of thing makes me want to do it even more.

: Chiku-san, as a mainstream publisher, how do you feel about this suggestive content paralleling the main story? It sounds like your company wasn’t interested in this type of material.

MC : There are some publishers and some editors that may have trouble with that thing. But those characters appeal to the same fan base. They’re buying both. It’s not as though they’re only buying one and not the other. But I do wish she would draw more work for Gentosha.

PWCW : Chiku-san, how many manga-ka do you currently work with?

MC : About five or six. But I’m not checking storyboards much at this point. The workload depends on how much work is coming in. It’s five or six depending on who is keeping to their schedule.

PWCW : Murakami-san, do you get a lot of feedback or guidance from your editor?

MM : My previous editor gave me lots of notes and was very strict, Spartan, in fact. But Chiku-san doesn’t.

MC : I don’t have anything more to teach her. She doesn’t need to redraw things or fix things. When you’re dealing with young people, that’s when you need to give notes. But as you start working with older artists, you [as an editor] don’t need to go through that artist training any more.

PWCW : You received no formal training. What are the advantages or disadvantages to this?

MM : It’s kind of a complicated question. You do need that formal training—how to draw things true to life, to draw with style—but there are formal manga and anime schools, and I think if you need to be taught like that, it’s going to be a problem. If you don’t have that level of skill, you’re going to have problems in this career. You need that internal sense of what works and what doesn’t. You need your own way of doing things. If you don’t have your own sense of what makes a good story, the school is just going to teach you the school’s way of doing things.

MC : If you don’t have it in you to work like that yourself, if you have to have someone stand over you to force you to draw, if you are going to a school to learn a style or the “right” way of doing things—that’s misguided.