Written by: Hiro Takashi
Student, Manga Lover and Writer, Hiro Takashi has some tips for future manga writers. He’s not an accomplished writer as of yet but Hiro has learned from the best. Here are some of his tips for those who one day wish to become a manga-ka.
Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida as quite possibly the only Japanese-American kid on the block (and maybe even all of Fort Lauderdale), I grew up with American comics. I read everything from Spider-Man to Iron Man but my biggest crush has always been those works where the writer and artist were the same person. I was 7-years old when I discovered the works of one Frank Miller and I become an instant fan.
Then one day, when I was 8 or maybe 9, my mother’s cousin passed away and a rather huge and bulky box arrived in the mail from Tokyo. It was a box with my name on it and inside was a massive library of manga titles. I was enthralled by the artwork and skimming through the 100 or so volumes I was determined to know how to read in Japanese. I took courses right away and used the volumes of manga I inherited from my mother’s cousin, Toshi, as a learning tool.
You see, my wish was to one day be a writer of graphic novels and as I started reading everything from Dominion to Akira, I became an huge admirer of manga. I want to be a manga-ka. I want to create manga and tell stories as a writer. I admired those works from manga-ka that wrote and drew their own books much like Frank Miller and headed out to college with writing in mind.
CHARACTERS COME FIRST
I’m 19 and I’m sharing an elevator with Frank Miller.
I stuttered out some words that were incoherent and suddenly blurted out that I was a huge fan. Mister Miller smiled faintly, as if smiling hurt his face, and said thank you. Then I mustered enough courage to ask him a question. I asked, “How do you do it? How do you write a graphic novel script?”
Frank Miller gave me a look and smiled again. “Know your story and know your characters. Know them like you know your mother, your friend or your lover. Take all that you know and just write. Forget the format and just write.”
I did as Frank Miller – my hero – said and concentrated on characters first then the story. Why the characters first? An English Lit professor sited that authors like Michael Crichton were hacks who put story first before characterization and the result is a fascinating story with cardboard cutouts as characters. He used “Jurassic Park” the novel as an example. Who didn’t love a story about dinosaurs that were genetically brought back from extinction only to run amok in a theme park? What we didn’t care about -until the movie was released – where the emotionless and uninteresting characters. Who was Alan Grant? What was his dreams, what are his weaknesses and why does he love dinosaurs? We don’t know because Crichton never told us … and thus we don’t care if he got eaten by a T-Rex or a mutant Golden Retriever.
Once a character pops into your head, pick up a piece of paper (I carry a notebook with me) and write down a description of said character. Take a good look at what you wrote. Why did you make him or her a blonde? Why did you include a scar on said character? These little details can serve to flesh out your character. It’s all in the details. Here’s a trick a fellow writer once revealed to me when characters became hard to create. He would walk into a spot where there are many people and one-by-one note everything about one individual. Examining people, he noted interesting features about them. Then, in his mind, created a personality. That man with the cane … maybe he was injured in Iraq during a special operation. That woman with the darting eyes … maybe she was an assassin on the run.
Manga-ka know characterization better than many accomplished writers (I’m looking at you Crichton and Grisham) and put it first because when you know your characters the story begins to unfold because of it. Let’s take a well-known character by the name of Naruto Uzumaki. We know that Naruto has a fondness for ramen, has a crush on fellow teammate Sakura and is determined to become the next Hokage. Naruto author, Masashi Kishimoto, fleshed out his character and as a result we care about him and his friends because we know their personalities, their desires and their backgrounds. It is no surprise that Naruto is such a popular manga title.
Once we know who the characters are and what they want and what makes them tick, we think about their situation. Shojo usually deals with a girl meeting a boy and vice versa and a drama unfolds surrounding a romance. The subject matter is very relatable and close to an author’s heart because we all fall in love. If you already had a story in mind, that’s OK, either way, you have a cast of characters readers will care about.
I have a fondness for action and a fondness for sci-fi. Both of these genres are favorites of mine and I keep them in mind when I write. If you suddenly have an idea for, say, a horror comic when you’ve never read a horror comic in your life then write your ideas down. I then suggest you pick up a horror title and read it. How does it compare to your idea? Did the story you have in mind follow a similar pattern befitting of the genre? I’m not saying copying other people’s style. I’m saying, look at the work and follow the format but make your comic your own. You put your own twist that format and tell the story the way you want to tell it.
Sci-fi manga doesn’t always have to be about giant mechs like Robotec. It can be something else entirely. Look at Desert Punk … the hero of that story doesn’t even come near a mech. Action titles can be fresh and original too like Black Lagoon. You can even mix and match different genres to suit your story so you have elements of magic and gunplay (Fullmetal Alchemist comes to mind) or take historical matter add elements of fantasy.
Remember, like a snowflake, the characters in your mind or in your life are never the same. If a story is born because of your characters’ personalities then you’re on your way to the next step and that is fleshing out the story. If story comes first, then know your subject matter and know your genre (or genres). The story is your own and how you interpret it is up to you.
Oh, and just write. Keep a notebook with you and write anything that pops into your mind. Write down everything from a line of conversation you might have heard, an interesting person you met or a situation that comes up. Write and never let go of the dream of one day seeing your name in print on your own manga or graphic novel.
NEXT WEEK – PART II
Brenda Greggson offers some insight on shojo manga and short guide to the graphic novel format.