Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju was a gem from last year and its second season continues to dazzle this winter. As it comes to a close, I’d like to highlight an interview with its manga artist, Kumota Haruko. The interview was originally published in 2013 in Tokyo Manga Lab, and provides some interesting insight into Kumota’s various thoughts and ideas as she entered the field, created the story and characters–and she even discusses techniques for drawing lines and laying out the panels!

I must express my gratitude to fellow blogger, translator, and anime-enthusiast Karice for:

  • providing me the link to this article in the first place
  • correcting my rough draft of the translation (riddled with mistakes and “help these words make no sense strung together this way in this sentence!” m(_._)m)
  • letting me post the interview on my own blog

In short, she is a terrific person and you should follow her on her blogs and twitter.

This is Part 1 of a 3-page interview. Please excuse any errors or inaccuracies in translation and let me know so I can correct them. Enjoy!


Preamble

In the current BL field, new talents that transcend the framework of the genre are appearing like glittering stars. Among them, we have today’s guest, Kumota Haruko-sensei. She has published in multiple BL magazines, and her current manga Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju—a full-blown story about rakugo—is being serialized in Kodansha’s ITAN magazine. Here we have the full transcript of the interview previously published in the Winter 2012 edition of Tokyo Manga Lab and distributed at Comiket 83. This version is five times the length of the one that appeared in that booklet! Please enjoy it thoroughly from start to finish!

From her first manga to the doujin-era

When did you start drawing manga in earnest?

Kumota Haruko-sensei (henceforth Kumota): I had a late start: I was already in my twenties when I began. At first I drew doujins, but without a good handle on how to draw manga, I was only able to pencil-sketch 4koma and such.

From there, how did you learn to draw manga?

Kumota: Becoming an assistant played a big part. An editor, who was a friend of a friend, was looking for an assistant. So I did that for 3-4 years and learned a lot from it.

Specifically what techniques did they teach you?

Kumota: Oh no, at work we only made idle chatter (laughs), so they didn’t specifically teach me anything. Instead I feel like I stole the skills from being in contact with the raw manuscripts and catching glimpses of their hand motions as they drew. Even just seeing the raw manuscripts helped a lot. Nowadays there are lots of opportunities to see exhibits of the work of manga artists, so I recommend that students to take the initiative to give them a look.

It definitely is valuable experience to see professional skills up close. Since you debuted in a BL magazine, could you tell us how and why you came to draw BL?

Kumota: The desire to draw BL came first, before I started reading lots of manga to study what BL is.

The desire to draw came first?

Kumota: Yes. I read quite voraciously, consuming shounen works from people like Hagio Moto-sensei and Takemiya Keiko-sensei, as well as BL works from the authors I liked. I knew that I could pick up a fundamental understanding of the medium from these authors, and thought to myself “wouldn’t it be nice to be able to draw these?”

It’s very interesting that your desire to draw came first, as opposed to drawing a genre you fell in love reading. What did you learn from those works?

Kumota: BL has many rules that need to be followed. For example, you should try to include love scenes, and happy endings are preferred, etc. On the other hand, if you fill these prerequisites you’re free to draw whatever you want. That freedom is the driving force behind BL’s continued expansion as a genre. I think the fact that many interesting writers are coming out of BL shows that it’s a vibrant field. And another thing I like about BL is that it gives you a warm feeling after reading it.

In what way specifically?

Kumota: In a “healing” kind of way…perhaps? (laughs) Among the working adults who enjoy BL, many like to read it after a long day of work while relaxing in bed before sleeping. With other manga, you’re never certain how they’re going to end, but with BL, you’re sure to walk away soothed. I think that’s the main draw of BL.

Ahh, that’s good to know! How many copies of your first doujin did you make?

Kumota: About 50, I think.

That’s pretty confident for a beginner.

Kumota: I suppose it is, isn’t it? The genre that I was drawing was already established by the time I started, and people started taking more of an interest in manga artists. Thanks to that, I was able to sell out my first doujin.

What was the greatest number of copies you made?

Kumota: About 300 copies. Since the genre that I was drawing tended to be niche, it didn’t have a large following, so we continued our small-scale activities.

Industry debut, without having published originals?!

While doing doujin work, did you submit any ideas or drafts for publishing?

Kumota: I was always thinking that I needed to make some pitches while working on doujins, but in the end I never did (laughs). It was too fun to draw doujin and I couldn’t bring myself to draw originals: I didn’t have the confidence for it, even if I was parodying other works. Even now, I still lack confidence (laughs). I thought I wasn’t at the level where people could see me as a pro. Meanwhile, an editor heard from an acquaintance of mine about my doujin work, and contacted me asking whether I wanted to draw for them. I didn’t think I’d meet their standards, but somehow I did (laughs). And so, my first ever original work was my industry debut, You In The Window.

So you hadn’t drawn an original work before your debut? That’s really surprising! The magazine that published You In The Window was an anthology, wasn’t it?

Kumota: Yes, it was. Since I hadn’t drawn an original work before, I wasn’t sure what to draw, so I was thankful that they gave me a theme to work with for every chapter. That said, I never thought to follow their ideas all that closely. Maybe I over-thought it… (laughs)

It seems like there is a lot to reflect on in the early stages of your career.

Kumota: I planned to be learning more every chapter. It’s strange, but the many things that I didn’t realize when I was drawing all become clear when I read the works in the magazines. I think that alone is worth learning from. Since that magazine was published every other month, I had a lot of time in between chapters, so after finishing each one, I’d note down everything I needed to work on. I would feel like I was learning manga from the beginning again.

Afterwards, you were published in multiple other magazines.

Kumota: I think the editors from Kodansha read You In The Window, and called me asking whether I wanted to contribute to their new ITAN magazine. Since there was a lot of time to prepare before their launch, I worked on a commission from Citron magazine in the meantime. The two ended up being published at the same time, but it worked out in the end. Although I was juggling between the two series, I was able to work on each with a different mindset, for every chapter, because their content was completely different.

So you ended up being published in both Citron and ITAN from their launch issues. Were you worried at all to be serializing those two stories when the brand of the magazines they would be published had yet to be determined?

Kumota: I was always more into reading manga once they were published in individual volumes, so there wasn’t a particular magazine that I wanted to publish in. My greatest motivation, if I became a manga artist, was to try to produce whole volumes of manga. Hence, as long as I could reach that goal, I didn’t have any preferences for which magazine to publish in.

Then I heard my friend, who was a manga artist, say “since these are their launch issues, it’s fun in that you can draw what you want”. With well-known magazines, the readers read the works with their impression of the magazine in mind. On the other hand, with magazines that haven’t established a brand yet, I think you can get your works to be read as they are.

Because of this, I wasn’t sure what target audience I was writing Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju for. In the end, I’m glad it was with ITAN. Even now, you can’t really say whether ITAN is a seinen or a shoujo magazine: it has its own unique flavor. That’s why I thought men who like rakugo or older audiences might read it without reservations. Were it published in another magazine, I wonder if the image would be completely different…


Thus Part 1 draws to a close. Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3!

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is available for free legal streaming at Crunchyroll.

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