Interview with Takehiko Inoue
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Feb 24, 2014 9:13 AM
Mar 23, 2015 9:06 AM
Oct 23, 2015 1:23 AM
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Q: HOW DID YOU BECOME A MANGA ARTIST? WHEN DID YOU DECIDE YOU WANTED TO DO THIS FOR A LIVING?
A: Well, I liked drawing--not just manga, I liked drawing anything from my childhood, so it came naturally to me that I would be working on something that relates to drawing. Right around when I was going to graduate from high school, even though I wanted to draw, I didn't have enough skill to become a fine arts artist, so it was natural and realistic to think of drawing manga--something that I liked. When I was in college, I started sending out manga to Shonen Jump's rookie awards [contest], and luckily I received a call from an editor. From there, it wasn't long until I debuted. I was really pretty lucky.
Q: DID YOU HAVE FORMAL ART TRAINING?
A: When I was a senior in high school, I wanted to go to a university of fine arts, so I went to a prep school for about a month and a half. It was just a summer program, and that's the only thing I studied for art. I didn't end up going to a university of fine arts, so that was the only time I learned [about art].
Q: WHAT DID YOU STUDY IN COLLEGE?
Q: SO YOU STUDIED MANGA BY YOURSELF?
Q: DID YOU EVER WORK AS AN ASSISTANT TO ANOTHER MANGA ARTIST?
A: I did that once. First, I drew manga by just imitating what I saw, but when I was 21--while Hojo Tsukasa-san was doing City Hunter--I had an opportunity to be his assistant for about 10 to 11 months. So I kind of learned the basics of how to draw manga there.
Q: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PUBLISHED WORK AND WHEN DID IT APPEAR?
A: Kaede Purple (Purple Maple), in 1988.
Q: WAS THERE A LOW POINT IN YOUR CAREER?
A: I never felt anything like a slump. Even if I did, I try not to think of it as a slump. I don't think that way.
Q: WHAT WOULD YOU CALL YOUR MANGA OR HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT?
A: If I think in terms of age, I think it is proper to say that [my manga] is for seinen (young men's) magazines, but I don't really think about who I draw for.
Q: WHO ARE YOUR READERS?
A: When I was doing Slam Dunk, since it was for a shonen (boy's) magazine, there were many young people--both male and female. But recently, the age range has expanded to older readers; there are even [some in their] 60s.
Q: IN CREATING A MANGA STORY, DO YOU BEGIN WITH A SCRIPT, A NAME (THUMBNAIL WITH DIALOGUE), OR JUST AN IMAGE?
A: First, it's nothing like a script or a synopsis, but I write down a list of things that come to mind and that kind of becomes the plot. And then from there I do the name, or actually the manuscript.
Q: BETWEEN THE NAME AND MANUSCRIPT (FINAL ART), DO YOU DO ANY ROUGH ART?
A: Usually, rather than a name, I just start on the manuscript.
Q: YOU GO DIRECTLY FROM THE LIST TO THE MANUSCRIPT?
Q: WHERE DO YOUR STORY IDEAS COME FROM? DREAMS, DAYDREAMS, READING, MOVIES?
A: Well, mostly, the backbone of the story or the motives of the characters and emotions are in that work's previous story, or the one before that, or maybe in the first or second tankobon (volume of collected stories), so the hint--or actually the answer--is mostly in there, so I hardly see movies or read books to get that. But for specific things, such as tips for sword fights, I may look at those [movies or books]--but hardly for the story.
Q: FOR THE MANUSCRIPT, DO YOU ALWAYS WORK ON PAGES IN ORDER, COMPLETING ONE PAGE AT A TIME BEFORE MOVING ON?
A: I basically start from the first page. The reason is that I start without any name, so I will get mixed up if I don't do it in order.
Q: HOW MANY ASSISTANTS DO YOU HAVE? DESCRIBE HOW YOU WORK TOGETHER.
A: I have five assistants. To explain it simply, they do everything except the human figures. I do the inking and the finishes, but for the backgrounds I just make a general perspective, draw it roughly in pencil, and hand that directly to them.
Q: DO YOU EVER FEEL RESTRICTED WORKING IN MAINSTREAM MANGA?
A: Hmm, hardly. In Japan, there are no restrictions. Depending on the country--if we take Vagabond, for example--there are scenes that have been omitted, such as cutting down people or the sex scenes. But in Japan, there's no problem.
Q: WHO WERE YOUR ARTISTIC INFLUENCES WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED?
A: There's nothing that influenced me directly. It kind of soaked into me from my childhood, and the layers of those things naturally made me think of becoming a manga-ka. For example, Dokaben [a famous baseball manga by Mizushima Shinji], and I liked Ikegami Ryoichi-san's art, I liked his Otoko-gumi (Male Gang). Besides that, Kobayashi Mokoto-san [manga creator of What's Michael? and a judo manga titled Judou-bu Monogatari]. Those three are the ones that influenced my work style the most.
Q: WHAT WERE THE INITIAL MOTIVATIONS TO BEGIN EACH OF YOUR SERIES?
A: Well, for Slam Dunk, I was in a basketball club in high school, and there were no manga about basketball at the time, so I thought I had to do it. For Real, I came across wheelchair basketball on TV and thought it was very interesting and wanted to make it into a manga. Vagabond started after Slam Dunk, and that was a time when I wasn't drawing manga for a while. An editor from Morning recommended Miyamoto Musashi [the novel by Yoshikawa Eiji] to me, so I read it. After Slam Dunk, I had felt like ending my manga career, but when I read that, I wanted to draw the faces of the characters and my hands started tingling, so I started. In a nutshell, it's something like that.
Q: IN ANOTHER INTERVIEW, YOU SAID THAT YOU GREW AND DEVELOPED ALONG WITH SLAM DUNK. TELL US ABOUT THAT.
A: When I started Slam Dunk, I was very inexperienced as a manga-ka, so there were parts that are very unpolished. I was never satisfied with my work, and I tried to make each episode better than the one I had done the week before. I had feedback from readers, and there was kind of a give-and-take. I was showing the public how I was growing up, and I was revealing that to everyone in real time! When I look at it now, I really think that I changed a lot as a person and as a manga-ka from the beginning to the end.
Q: REGARDING VAGABOND, I READ A COMMENT BY YOU THAT YOU WERE EXPLORING "WHAT IT MEANS TO BE JAPANESE."
A:What I wanted to say was simple: Nowadays in Japan, people around my age and much younger are pretty much out of touch with the history of Japan and our traditional culture. I myself was ignorant of those things. So I hoped that this would spark an interest in them.
Q: WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DID YOU DO FOR VAGABOND?
A: The basic things. When I started, I had little interest in history, so I didn't even know what I didn't know. For example, for armor, depending on the era, there are various types, and it changes according to [social] class as well. I didn't know which armor to draw. It was more than I could handle by myself. I didn't know about kimonos or hairstyles, so I couldn't figure out where to start. So at the beginning, there are many things that I'm not satisfied with now...but I'm not working on a history textbook. There were priorities, and ascertaining the historical evidence was a low priority back then.
Q: SOME SEQUENCES IN VAGABOND ARE EXTREMELY CINEMATIC. ARE THERE ANY FILM DIRECTORS YOU ADMIRE?
A: I think I would have to say that I've been influenced by Akira Kurosawa. One reason I started using a brush was that I wanted to get that dark and dirty feeling, I wanted the kind of art texture that Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai) and Rashomon had. That's the feeling I'm trying to achieve in my art.
Q:TELL ME ABOUT THE THEME OF REAL.
A: When things don't go right in your life, that's not the end of it and there's still more to go, so I wanted to draw about the things beyond that. When you haven't experienced that before, you think it's the end. A handicap is one example, but it can be other things in your life. For example, there's a character named Nomiya who quits high school, and people think it's unbelievable to quit high school and that there's nothing for him in the future. Beyond that, there's a lot of drama--there might be things that make you happy, that even make you want to cry, and there may things that don't go well, but that's what I want to draw.
Q: ARE THERE MAJOR THEMES IN YOUR OTHER WORKS?
A: Well, I recognize it after the fact. I don't have a conscious intention, but when I re-read it later on, it's something like...an aspiration to be better, or that kind of thing, I guess.
Q: HAS YOUR DRAWING STYLE OR METHODS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
A: My art is completely different from the first volume to the last of Slam Dunk, and for Vagabond from the middle of the Kojiro part, I started drawing with a brush. [Kojiro Sasaki is Musashi Miyamoto's main rival in the story.] I made the change because I couldn't express what I wanted with a pen, drawing through the lines; I had to use the touch of the brush to intensify the emotion, so the change was made by necessity. But right after I switched, there were parts that I wasn't used to, so there wasn't enough skill in it. I got more comfortable by doing it and now it has the feeling I like.
Q: DO YOU USE ANY REFERENCE MATERIAL, SUCH AS PHOTOS, TO DRAW FROM?
A: Of course.
Q: DO YOU YOURSELF USE THEM IN DRAWING, OR DO YOU JUST GIVE THEM TO YOUR ASSISTANTS TO REFER TO?
A: Well, especially for the backgrounds and scenery--those things cannot be drawn without a photo to provide the image.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEDIUM?
A: The brush. I'm getting used to it and I think my method has improved, so I like that the best.
Q: IN TERMS OF STORYTELLING AND DESIGN, ARE THERE ANY DOS AND DON'TS YOU STICK BY?
A: I guess I do have one. I won't force the characters to do what's contrary to their nature, just because of the demands of the story. I don't want to force things on the characters just because they're needed to advance the story, and only for that purpose.
Q: HAS YOUR STORYTELLING TECHNIQUE EVOLVED OR CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
A: There's been a change within me. Back in the days of Slam Dunk, I was drawing what was "cool" and just the good side of things. But now, I think I've been able to draw things such as ugly people, or people having hard times, or the story of a killer. I think I've gotten better at drawing and writing about the not-so-good side of people, And one of the reasons that I draw is because I want to make manga about those kinds of things.
Q: WHAT'S A TYPICAL DAY FOR YOU? HOW MANY DAYS A WEEK DO YOU WORK?
A: I really don't work much on a schedule. First of all, I want time to think about the idea before I start on a manuscript--three or four days. On those days, I wake up in the morning and go out and go around to places like cafes, and think about an idea. When I get enough ideas and plots, I face the manuscript. I spend about four to five days in front of the manuscript...if there's time. When there's not much time, I draw it in about three days. [Laughs.]
Q: HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO DO A PAGE? HOW MANY PAGES A DAY DO YOU DO?
A: About four to five pages are ideal, but I'm a little behind schedule recently, so I like to do 10 pages a day, at the worst. [Laughs.] But there have been a lot of "worst" days recently. It's always like that on the last day, since I need to finish it by the deadline.
Q: ON A DAY LIKE THAT, DO YOU DO EVERYTHING ON THOSE 10 PAGES...PENCILING, INKING, BACKGROUNDS?
A: Yes, indeed. [Laughs.]
Q: DO YOU WORK OVERNIGHT?
A: Uh-huh, I have to do that, of course. [Laughs.] My assistants are crying. The later I am with my work, the less time they have, so I hear "We have to do all this work in only this much time?!"
Q: OTHER THAN THE TOOLS WE SEE HERE IN YOUR STUDIO, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU NEED FOR DOING MANGA?
A: I have a basement floor and there's a Japanese room there, so I just shut myself away there when I do names or rough drawings or think of a story. Later, when I'm doing manga up here, I usually have music on. And I drink a few cups of coffee. That's about it. Nothing special.
Q: ANY PARTICULAR MUSIC?
A: I don't have any principles, so I listen to anything. Recently, I was only listening to Brazilian music and bossa nova. I even listen to hip-hop. When I was depressed, or felt hurt, I listened to Hawaiian tunes, and couldn't listen to anything else. But I'm all right now--I can even listen to loud music, too. [Laughs.]
Q: ARE THERE ANY OF YOUR WORKS THAT YOU ARE UNHAPPY WITH?
A: I do have those, of course. The body of my work may be good, but there are stories [in the middle] that I thought didn't go well, actually.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WORK?
A: I can't compare them. The two works that I'm doing now haven't ended, so I really can't say. As for my feelings, the two that I am working on now are the ones I like best [Vagabond and Real], but it's really something that can't be compared. I don't really have a feeling that I like one the best--I really like all of them.
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE MANGA OR COMICS BY OTHER ARTISTS?
A: I really don't read manga and look forward to it, like I used to in the past. There's nothing that comes to mind.
Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANY ASPIRING MANGA ARTISTS?
A: Manga is a very direct way of expression, and because of that, the artist himself is revealed easily. It can show what kind of person you are, so--although it's important to develop your manga skills and acquire knowledge--I want you to think about developing yourself when you work on them.
Q: WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN DRAWING MANGA?
A: The most important thing is having a feeling that you want to pass along to the reader. For me, it's the best way of expressing myself naturally.
Q: IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SAY TO YOUR FANS OUTSIDE OF JAPAN OR INSIDE JAPAN?
A: Well, it is an accepted theory that my manga's story moves a little slowly, but I hope you will stick with me doggedly. I want to make a story that will satisfy you in the end, so please keep reading.