Manga Answerman - How Do Manga Authors Get By When They're Not Publishing Something?

by Deb Aoki,

Q: How do mangaka get by financially when not publishing?

Ah, the life of the manga artist…. While several manga creators hit it big and make a LOT of money, many of Japan's manga makers (much like the comics creators all over the world) deal with those not-exactly-rolling-in-the-big-bucks times in their careers.

So what do manga creators do to pay the rent / buy groceries when their manga isn't being published? By the phrasing of your question, I'm not sure if you're asking about manga creators in general (e.g. everyone from total beginners who've never been published or mid-career comics creators who've had a series or two published but are currently between serialization or manga creators who are essentially retired), or just manga creators who are taking a break between series.

The answer is (like it is for almost every question I'm answering for this column), it depends.

In the case of a manga creator just starting out, chances are they're doing what most people in not-so-lucrative creative careers do to pay the rent/make a living: they get a job. They may be doing work that is completely unrelated to making manga, or may be getting financial support from their families. For a true-to-life example of this, check out My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and the sequel, My Solo Exchange Diary by Kabi Nagata, both published by Seven Seas Entertainment. In My Solo Exchange Diary, Nagata goes into great detail about her financial travails as a manga artist, even after the success of her first book.

Other potential sources of income include selling doujinshi (self-published comics), working as an assistant to another manga artist, or doing other creative freelance work such as illustration, character design for movies, games or animated features, storyboards, or graphic design.

In some cases, freelance illustration/character design work can be even more lucrative than drawing manga. It can be so much more lucrative, some manga artists transition to doing mostly illustration work instead of the monthly/weekly grind of a manga series. Katsuya Terada (The Monkey King), Junko Mizuno (Ravina the Witch), and Eisaku Kubonouchi (Chocolat) are examples of manga creators who are in high demand for their fine art / illustration/concept art work.

If the manga creator has published work, they may earn money from publishing or merchandising royalties. However, there are many, many manga creators whose work will *never* get turned into toys and t-shirts, will likely never have their stories adapted into animated series, and therefore can't count on income from licensing their artwork to be made into figures, keychains and so on. That kind of merchandising/licensing income is largely only made by the lucky few, and even then, a manga/anime series may only generate toy and merchandise tie-ins for a very short period of time.

Other manga creators take on a second career as teachers. For example, Nao Yazawa, creator of Wedding Peach, teaches manga drawing classes, both in-person and online at Manga School Nakano International, while other manga creators go on to careers as college professors, sharing their experience in storytelling arts to the next generation of creators. Prominent examples include Keiko Takemiya (To Terra…, Song of the Wind and Trees), who teaches at Kyoto Seika University, and Tetsuya Chiba (Ashita no Joe), who teaches at Bunsei University of Art in Tochigi Prefecture.

For an in-depth look at what the everyday financial realities for Japanese manga creators are like, I recommend reading Manga Poverty by Shuho Sato, creator of Say Hello to BlackJack. It's available in English as an eBook on Amazon Kindle, and if you're curious about the financial ups and downs of a manga creator, this is a good place to hear it straight from a published pro's perspective.

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Deb Aoki was the founding editor for Manga, and now writes about manga for Anime News Network and Publishers Weekly. She is also a comics creator/illustrator, and has been a life-long reader of manga (even before it was readily available in English). You can follow her on Twitter at @debaoki.

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