How do I become a UK manga artist?
[[Page currently in beta stage - illos to come!]]
I'm hosting this webpage because I get frequent emails asking me for "advice on how I could become a British manga artist?". The answer is not simple, so I thought I'd make a webpage about my experiences and links to resources that can help you get started.
There are worldwide links and suggestions for "being a mangaka" [manga-creator] in general online, but little focused on a UK-centric viewpoint. If you can read and write Japanese, why not submit directly to a Japanese publisher? If you do not, and want to focus more on what's happening on your home turf, then read along.
UK comics legacy
The first question to ask yourself regards embarking upon such a thing is, "is there an industry"? When was the last time you purchased a UK manga-style comic? Not on the shelves of a UK newsagents or supermarket, that's for sure. (In France, any supermarché has rows of books and comics available for sale, displayed just in Waterstones.) You can buy comics from a comic shop, some newsagents, and/or from a self-publisher. Here is a lowdown on the state of the UK comics industry by Down The Tubes, good reading.
The UK generally has comics for adults with a male skew (e.g. 2000AD) or comics for kids (e.g. Beano). Both are awesome reads regardless, so don't let categorisation put you off. There was a UK girls comics industry (titles such as Bunty, Misty etc), but this ended around the late 1980's because it was decided by some suits that girls didn't like comics and wanted younger versions of glossy women's magazines instead. Of course this is nonsense, because translated girl's comics from Japan did incredibly well in UK and US bookshops in the 2000's... but momentum got lost and there's not a lot available again from newsagents and supermarkets, so you have to dig a little deeper to find what you like to read - and not steal it for free off dodgy scanlation/comic sites either (please purchase subscriptions via official sites to support the authors!).
So, if - as a creator, you want-- no, need! - an industry involving where you live (i.e. the Western hemisphere), then you have to vote with your finances and purchase with your very credible consumer power first.
So - Comics, コミックス or 漫画? "Comics", "Komikkusu", or "Manga"? "Comics from Japan"? "Japanese manga comics" (urrgh!)? Is "manga" a tainted Western Y2K marketing buzzword? There shouldn't be a difference really! And I hope, in the future, people won't "categorise" any perceived differences like they do now. Just look at the French comics scene - brilliant stuff, an amalgamation of all sorts of influences. These words, they all mean the same thing :)
Remember - manga-style is still very, very niche in the UK and not often supported by mainstream publishers, and teachers who do not read comics still don't understand what it's all about. Comics have received prejudice since the dawn of comics-creation, so be prepared to fight this fight for drawing what you love.
Regards drawing "manga-style", "hybrid-style" seems to be better accepted by publishers - comic artwork by creators whose output is obviously influenced by many graphical styles other than Japanese styles. (I'd say it's great practice to absorb as many influences as you can for a truly original product!) Do take note of numerous Japanese comic artists who have been influenced by European artists - everyone seems to forget Osamu Tezuka was incredibly influenced by 1950's Disney films, after all - and amalgamate many influences as any artist would.
A brief history of Japanese comic works in the UK
Once upon a time, there was some manga-influenced work being published in the UK. They were mainly illustrations in magazines though, not so much in comic format. I put this timeframe down to a pre-internet era of the mid-90's in video games magazines, especially with the rise and fall of TokyoPop in the early to mid 2000s. TokyoPop ran an annual competition ("Rising Stars of Manga") in the USA and UK/Ireland for a number of years, but it has not ran since 2008 so it's not an option any more. SuperPlay and other games magazines were champions of showcasing Japanese video game artwork - but again they aren't published any longer sadly, and a lot of Japanese-influenced artwork made by people in the UK is published online only.
However! From the 90's to this present day, people have always, always published their own Japanese-inspired comics and printed works. Though fewer people make fanzines (fan-made magazines with news articles in them, etc), people are still making comics, merch and illustrations, and you can support them via online shops, in Comic Villages or at comic events around the country. The ones I am going to personally are listed here.
Nothing has really changed from this format in the last twenty years for people who make their own, alternative, home-produced, Japanese-influenced comics in the UK, so for now that's just the way it is - until there is a demand, and a sustainable creative market. So do support what we've got with your purses and wallets to create supply and demand at events and online!
Do it yourself
So "Manga" or "comics" terminology aside - there are benefits to both self-publishing and being published. Many artists just really love Japanese-style comics so they make their OWN books. While there is a lot more marketing and advertising involved with this method, any money you pay goes directly to the artist to support them - no publisher money-cut!
If you wish to go this route, I'd say the first step is to locate the type of comics you want to make, and they can be bought by people who self-publish (published individually, or published as a group). Learn from what's being made already. There are numerous comics/anime/game events that run up and down the country now, so it's best to check out the Comic Village sections of such events to see what people are making, and work on making your own version!
Once you have drawn your comic (by hand or on a computer) you will need to make a digital file ready for printing it with. This is the bridge between your pages and a final book. A guide to making PDFs for your comic is listed here. Obviously use specific UK publishing sizes (A4, A5 etc) if your comic requires it!
Finding a good publisher is user-specific trial and error thing. Some folks use the same one each time - some folks move around and try out new ones. It's up to you, and what works for Person A may not work for Person B.
To get started, UKComics Stuart will help you get cracking regards publishing issues! Obviously, you will need funds (savings? Kickstarter? IndieGogo? A monthly Patreon?) to publish your own works. There are numerous printers available in the UK, but Stuart specifically helps out comic creators, especially new ones.
If you wanted, you can pitch your self-published book to a publisher or editor at a comic convention to sell your idea to a larger company. Basically I think we can all agree that receiving a box of books you have made YOURSELF is the BEST feeling ever!
I often see younger artists at events and they tell me "my teacher doesn't like manga" and other similar tales. (And, exasperated teachers, please read this excellent piece, and a great follow up here regards "mangaphobia".)
Some teachers do not mind Japanese comic style, most do not 'accept' it (or comic style in general!). I think there are some things that can be learnt from this, so take heed!
I suggest "do what you have to do for your exams" - because it will improve your art anyway! I do not like the whole "ugh, don't draw manga" thing (some teachers are guilty of this), because it kills student's enthusiasm and art development - but I feel a better tactic would be to say "you can do this good enough now, so try drawing better [buildings? Foliage? Animals? Clothing folds?] to improve your comics". Drawing things you don't like will ultimately improve your entire comic-making experience, as well as taking influence from stuff other than Japanese media.
Why submit artwork you like to someone who will be grading it and marking it down due to both National Curriculum requirements and personal taste? You do not need an exam result for something you can (should!) develop in your own time. There is no such thing as "manga GCSE"/"comics GCSE" or a 9-5 "manga" "comics desk job" :) (There is a MLitt available, though! Amazing!) Don't submit it, but DO make comics in your own time. Draw what you need to do for your schoolwork and ALSO do your comic in your own time (obviously make sure you are working hard on your exam work! Priorities! And utilise those July-August summer holidays because you will miss having those as an adult, haha :) )
As a creative person, in life you will find that you usually have to "spin plates" - doing many things at the same time. You may likely have a full-time or part-time job in the day (doing something completely unrelated to art) and do your comic in the evening (especially for unpaid comic pitches to publishers, the advertising and desktop publishing stuff that comes with self publishing etc). So learning to do this when you are at school is supergood practice for freelancing - a huge majority of commissions will be ad-hoc random things, so these can be done whilst doing a more full-on job. Rotate what jobs make you happy throughout life as required.
Do life drawing! Being influenced by one style of comic art is really restrictive and you can end up drawing some totally weird anatomy. Don't get trapped! I think we are all guilty of this narrow focusing at some point, though - so a great thing to help is Life Drawing and Still Life Drawing. Don't wait for your school/college to offer it up either - your local community colleges and groups should offer some, so Google to see what's near your area and get involved with those classes.
Sometimes you may just want to draw a comic without worrying if it gets published by someone else. This is great if you are suffering 'burnout'.
Maybe publish two short stories in one book with a friend's comic too? Share table costs, publishing costs and distribution responsibilities :)
You may not want to publish in print, but publish online using SmackJeeves, Tapastic or other comic hosting sites. Or get a WordPress site up and use a plugin (like this one, this one, or this one) - or code a website yourself, and use adverts by Project Wonderful or Google Ads to raise revenue (but be aware you will be currently responsible for EU VAT via VATMOSS every tax year to do so). You can do all of these options! (Do ensure your website does not take any copyrights away from you. Protect your own content.) If needed, collaborate with a talented programmer friend for assistance, or commission them to help you out.
Entering a competition can really help develop you as a storyteller and artist. You get a theme and a set deadline. Some comps mean you hand over all character and story rights, some you are free to republish yourself afterwards. Read the small print and decide from there.
Then, it's up to you to complete your work! Competitions running in, or accept submissions from the UK, are as follows;
SilentMangaAudition (SMAC) - Organised by Nobuhiko Horie and legendary names in Manga industry in Tokyo. A biannual global manga publishing competition with prizes.
Manga Jiman [Hosted by the Embassy of Japan in London] - you can publish and sell your work after the deadline has passed and the winners have been announced after every annual competition (usually in March)
2000AD Portfolio Competition - [By Rebellion/2000AD] - Not Japanese comic style-specific, but Rebellion are always on the lookout for new works and artists. Hosted at Thought Bubble festival.
Manga Awards [Hosted by Shonen Jump, Shueisha, Japan] - another worldwide manga competition, get your work seen by Shueisha Publishing.
The Annual International Manga Award [Initiated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Taro Aso]. Four top prizes including a stay in Japan, exchanges with other mangaka and visits to publishing companies.
[* Links may be down due to being out of date, but I will update them as and when I can.]
If you decide to self-publish and market your work, here is a list of things that can help you on your comic-making quest!
Stickman’s Tips for Having a Table at a Comic Book Convention :: Handy tips for newcomers and oldskoolers alike!
The problems of OEL mangaka :: Difficulties faced by westerners adapting to certain styles in their comics, and ways consumers can support their local OEL manga comic community.
Mangaka.net :: Website with resources for manga artists, featuring lessons on how to draw characters, coloring, materials and a free gallery open for submissions. Though it hasn't had many updates recently, it will still contain loads of resources for you to look into.
I hope this has laid out the case clearly, so there are no obstacles in your way to create your own comics! It is not an easy path to take, but incredibly satisfying and very rock'n'roll :D Get to it! And party hard!
Any other questions? Contact me and I will respond if and when possible :)
Thanks for reading! If you're interested in the works I make, please visit my links below :)
Last updated - August 2014