Manga Answerman - What Tools Does A Mangaka Use To Make Manga?

by Deb Aoki,

When it comes to manga production, what's in a typical mangaka's toolkit? Are they still buying a lot of art supplies for work like this, or is literally everything digital now?

Well, every artist has a different approach to drawing, and as such, they may have different preferences to the tools they like to use to get the effect they want to achieve.

As a general rule of thumb I'd say that most manga artists start off learning how to draw / create comics with paper, pen and pencil – a.k.a. via analog methods. This is largely because it's the easiest and fastest way to start, and it's important to get a feeling for how to make marks, how to sketch, ink, and compose pages. It's also the cheapest, because a lot of the digital drawing tools out there can get pretty pricey, and you want to know that you can draw / enjoy drawing manga (or any kind of art, really) before you start investing in buying and learning how to use tech tools, software and techniques.

On the analog side, the basics start with pencils (different types – from pencils with harder leads like 2H, 4H; “H” for hard” and higher numbers mean the pencil lead is harder, and will make lighter lines, and 2B, 4B; “B” for blackness, higher numbers mean the pencil is softer, will make darker lines – I think, with “HB” being in the middle of the scale.). Some artists sketch in colored pencils like light blue, or non-photo blue, which has the advantage of being nearly invisible to the camera when the page is photographed for as part of preparing them to be printed.

Pens and brushes are also a basic tool – if you read a lot of “how to draw manga” books, you'll notice that there's a lot of use of dip pens, with different types of metal nibs, like G-Pens and crow quills that make different types of lines. Artists may use different types of pens depending on what they're drawing – for example speed lines, or facial expressions. Fine paint brushes are good for expressive lines with varying width, or for more calligraphic strokes, as you see in Goseki Kojima's work in Lone Wolf and Cub. They're also good for filling in black, or adding white accents. Some artists use fountain pens so they don't have to dip into a bottle of ink all the time, or may use brush pens.

For ink, a dark dense black with pigment is a general choice, and white water-based paint like goache helps to add sparkles, accents or just to correct any mistakes.

Other basics you'll see include rulers, erasers and things to dust away eraser dust, and of course watercolor or acrylic paints to create color pages.

As for paper, most manga artists will use paper that has light blue guidelines to show where the actual printed page will be, and where they need to draw outside the lines to allow for pages/art that bleeds to the edge of the page. For color art, they may use heavier watercolor paper or Bristol board.

To create greys or special effects, or maybe just to have a quick way to draw a complicated background, some manga artists use screentone, or clear adhesive sheets that have printed patterns on them. They can be laid on the art, and with the excess cut off, or sometimes scraped off for another effect.

So while I did say that analog was cheaper and easier to start off with, it can be a LOT of equipment and supplies to buy once you really get into it.

On the other hand, digital drawing can be pricey to start off with, as far as buying a computer, a digital drawing tablet and software, and there's a learning curve as far as getting used to the tool, it can be cheaper and easier in some ways because you're not needing to buy ink, paper, screentone all the time. All of that is in the software, and you can use infinite palettes of colors or draw with all kinds of digital brushes and pencils.

There are some artists who use a mix of hand-drawn and digital art. They may draw the characters, main parts of the page by hand with pen and ink, then scan it in, and add digital effects to it, like screentones, in digital format.

There are artists who use digital art very heavily in their work, such as Hiroya Oku (GANTZ) and Asano Inio (Dead Dead Demon's Dededededestruction) who use digital to create some eye-popping visual effects and tech in their stories. I saw a demo of Natsume Ono (House of Five Leaves) where she draws then erases the edges of her lines to create an almost wood-block effect to her lines.

For digital drawing, you can use either a Mac or Windows machine – the popular drawing software out there can accommodate both platforms. Wacom makes a popular line of digital drawing tablets, including ones that you can draw directly on the screen, or the Cintiq series. Microsoft has the Surface series of laptops / screens too. You can also draw on an IPad pro. These can be pricey devices, but you can find lower-cost alternatives from other manufacturers too.

As for software, artists have a lot of choices here. CLIP STUDIO PAINT, Manga Studio, and Adobe Photoshop are just a few, and they vary as far as what they offer in terms of ease of drawing and tools that are useful to comics creators, such as ability to create background effects, lettering and sound effects.

I don't think it's all digital now, but more artists are using digital methods now in their manga production than they did 10 years ago. What will it be like 10 years from now? That remains to be seen, as the tools get better and easier to use, and maybe cheaper too. But personally speaking, I think I'll always find it easier to draw on paper first.


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Deb Aoki was the founding editor for About.com 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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