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Interview: Dr. Stone Creators Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi

by Tim Rattray,

If a massive banner in the show's central hall didn't make it clear that Dr. Stone's presence at AnimeNYC was big then the personalities of the manga's creators sure did. Between their panel and our opportunity to interview them, writer Riichirō Inagaki and artist Boichi gave fans an inside look at how they came up in the manga industry.

The convention was a big deal for the duo. For Boichi, not only was it his first American event but it was also his first time in New York, a place he only dreamed of visiting before. Meanwhile, Inagaki reminisced on attending Otakon Vegas where he mentioned that he was really impressed by Boichi's Wallman. His editor remembered this years later - who put him in touch with Boichi and joked that maybe AnimeNYC would also lead to something great.

Attention turned to Boichi as he discussed how he became a mangaka. At age two, his mom realized that she could keep him occupied while she was working by giving him just a newspaper and ballpoint pen. Those who saw his sketches told him he should pursue drawing manga though Boichi had other aspirations, telling them, “No, I'm going to be the President of South Korea.” That idea was given up on once he realized there was only one President of South Korea and thus a mangaka he became.

Over 26 years, Boichi worked his way up to drawing for Shonen Jump. It's a dream job for him and it was really hard to achieve that dream. He encouraged aspiring artists in the audience that they too could get there. “I would like to emphasize that if you have newspaper and a ballpoint pen, and if you draw every day, then you can get to Shonen Jump too.” He expressed that his dream is that anyone anywhere can become a manga artist, not only just in Japan.

For the rest of the panel, Boichi speed-drew two surprisingly detailed pictures of Dr. Stone's cast while Inagaki was interviewed. The writer spoke of his own origin story, submitting storyboards to writing-focused contests. He noted that Shonen Jump has contests that are open to artists outside Japan and that people should submit their work. He also gave a tip to writers: start with the characters, not the story.

As a kid, Inagaki was intrigued by the sciences and even thought he would become a scientist himself. But while Dr. Stone is filled with science facts, his intentions in making it are purely for entertainment. “Maybe some other manga artists might be angry at me for that answer, but for me, as long as it's entertaining and fun, that's what I'm always aiming for.”

Later in the day, we had a chance to sit down with both creators to ask them some questions of our own.

Where did the concept for Dr. Stone originate? Was there a specific event in your life that germinated the idea for this series?

Riichirō Inagaki: In today's entertainment landscape there's a lot of Supermans and superheroes, and they can do everything. But, in reality most people are not like that. I thought about the average person. For the average person to accomplish something, you need to keep working and build up towards whatever your goal is. I think that's cool, and wanted to write about that. I started wondering, “what's a cool way to portray that average person working hard for their goal?” To amplify that idea of not being able to do anything was the idea of petrification; when you're petrified, you can't do anything. But you can count in that situation. That's what the main character, Senku does. He embodies the idea of working diligently by counting for a couple thousand years.

But come to think of it now, he didn't necessarily need to become petrified. He could have been in ice or some quote-unquote magic where he doesn't age for thousands of years… those could have been other options.

As far as the germinating the idea part, I think in Dragon Quest V there's a story where you can get petrified and I love Dragon Quest so I think that's where the inspiration for specifically the petrification came from.

Did you read Shonen Jump growing up? If so, which series were your favorites, and which do you think had the largest influence on Dr. Stone?

Boichi: Actually, I couldn't read Shonen Jump when I was a child. My family was too poor to afford it. It was actually when I was 21 that I read my first Shonen Jump.

There was this time at the age of 19 where I had a chance to go see another established manga artist so I went to his studio and I found these three volumes of Shonen Jump in his bookcase. I was like, “Oh my god, is that that famous Shonen Jump?” and the artist said “Yep, that's what it is.” [Boichi asked,] “Can I actually look at it?” and he says, “No, no, no, no, no, that's collection only. That's vintage. You're not allowed to open it.” Well, I became a manga artist the following year when I was 20, and the next year when I was 21 years old, my friend and I went to this very rare bookstore in Korea and bought my first Shonen Jump.

I have so many favorite Shonen Jump manga and of course a lot of them influenced my style. but if I had to choose just one, you may think “wow, really?” but it's Video Girl Ai. Because I wanted to pay homage to Video Girl Ai, when I started Dr. Stone, Yuzuriha's character has a headdress. The swirling pattern is a homage to Video Girl Ai.

How would you describe your writing process?

Inagaki: First I start with a name which is roughly a storyboard in the animation world. If there's a new character I have a rough sketch of it and then it goes to Boichi-sensei.

Boichi: Actually, Inagaki-sensei said what he gives is simple but that's not true. I'm thinking, “Wow, this is already complete, perfect. So what can I do? Maybe I can just submit it?” But then I won't be paid. So I make some little subtle changes and add my own stylistic changes, too. However, he does everything. The most important and difficult parts, he already gives me that, so I just do it in a hurry and go have my food. That's my goal. [Laughs]

In your opinion, which characters anchor the series and which do you think have the most important relationship?

Inagaki: I would say everyone is a player in the story but if I had to name someone, it would be Senku. As I had previously touched upon, he moves everything forward.

The important relationships are Senku as the central spoke and then whoever is around him at any given time because that then gives rise to a theme. And there are relationships between the non-Senku characters, so I guess you could say those are not as important because they don't dictate the theme. Because it's about Senku and those around him, online I'll read reviews and comments that say, “Wow, Senku has a lot of partners,” but it's because those relationships he has are important and core to the theme.

Which character(s) do you enjoy drawing? Are there any character designs that you particularly like?

Boichi: I'd say I love all the characters equally and deeply. They are all my children; they are another character representing me. Well, you'd think… that's not true. See, actually, when I draw Senku, I keep asking Senku, “Why don't you go back to being petrified?” And when I draw Taiju, “Do you want to be stone again?” And the same with Gen, “I wish you went back to being a stone again!”

The only character I truly love is Kohaku. She's my favorite and I wish I could only draw Kohaku. I'm asking you, Dr. Stone fans, please buy only Kohaku figures.

Inagaki: Quite a demand! [Laughs]

Do you have an idea in mind of how long you'd like Dr. Stone to run?

Inagaki: So as far as the end, I'm not sure and that's not necessarily about the story. We have a general idea of how the story will end itself but as we've gone along this journey, sometimes it's three steps forward, two steps back. I would be writing one storyline and I think it'll just be one storyline but it ends up taking ten, and then something I think is going to take five will only take one. It's a moving target and it's hard to tell.

One thing I can tell you is that in my head, I'm hoping three years and that's not to be greedy, but I definitely want to see it to the end. What I can definitely promise is that I would never stretch it out just for the sake of business. But I will definitely see it to the end.

I'm making a statement about making it longer than it needs to be due to business reasons because of my previous work, Eyeshield 21. Online, a lot of people were saying that maybe the editors had made it longer than necessary but in actuality that is exactly how I wanted to tell the story. There was also Murata-sensei's wish in there, too. That's why I wanted to double down on the guarantee that I would never overstay a story, so to speak.

Boichi: For me, I'd love to have Dr. Stone just run as long as possible. So I want the editing department of Shonen Jump to keep pressuring Inagaki-sensei so he will continue. But if Inagaki-sensei hates the pressure and so he decides to kill Kohaku, then probably quit, too. [Laughs]

Do you have a message for your fans?

Inagaki: When I think about Dr. Stone, I think it's definitely different when it comes to Senku's "power”… it's not like he has a super power and he's going to create a time machine all of a sudden. It's just pulling from his knowledge. He even says that he's building on the past and hopefully people think that's cool. I was never sure how readers would take that but the feedback has been great and the support from fans has been great, too. I'll keep making it fun and entertaining and thank you for your continued support.

Boichi: You may not believe me, but I think Senku is someone who lives a similar life that I do. What I'm saying is that I came to Japan by myself and I have survived this very serious, fierce competition to get to today. I really worked hard, and I always think about what I can do to make this world a better place to live in. I would like to help aspiring manga artists. I think about that all the time. So, I believe that Senku and I share our philosophy in life. That's what I think when I draw.

My message to my fans is thank you so much for loving Dr. Stone. I cannot thank you enough. As you believed in Santa Claus when you were five years old, I believe in and appreciate the fans of Dr. Stone one-hundred million percent.

DR. STONE © 2017 by Riichirō Inagaki, Boichi/Shueisha, Inc.

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