by Rebecca Silverman,

Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga

Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga
Mangaka Hirohiko Araki, creator of the ongoing JoJo's Bizarre Adventure series, shares his tips and methods for creating successful manga in what turns out to be an excellent craft manual for multiple creative endeavors.

While there are many components that go into any creative work, arguably one of the major ones to consider is craft. A creator may have outstanding natural ability or imaginative skill, but without a good understanding of the craft of writing/drawing/etc., their work runs the risk of appearing sloppy or simply not being able to maintain its quality over a period of time. There are numerous craft manuals out there for almost any creative project that you might want to undertake, all of varying quality. With Viz's English translation of Hirohiko Araki's Manga in Theory and Practice, aspiring writers and artists now have the chance to check out his take on the act of creating a story, and it's one of the better books to hit the writing shelves.

Before we discuss the actual book, it is important to look at the difference between a craft manual and a how-to book. A how-to book (such as How to Draw Anime Girls or something in that vein) is an instruction text designed to give you the basic knowledge you may need to embark on a project in the first place. If may be a drawing guide, it may be a rhyming dictionary, it may be a programming textbook – all it needs to do is teach you the base skills for a field. A craft manual, on the other hand, is about honing those skills. It assumes that you already have a basic grip on drawing or writing; its job is to teach you how, or rather suggest to you the best ways, to use those skills. It assumes you already have a goal; the craft manual's aim is to help you reach it successfully.

That said, there's a great variance in terms of how useful any given craft manual is for its given field. The best ones are up-to-date without giving any easily outdated information, less useful ones will focus specifically on the trends of a given time. In part this is why Araki's Manga in Theory and Practice is one of the better ones – Araki goes over the changes in his own manga as time has passed, from how his storylines have changed to go along with prevailing tastes to artistic choices pertinent to when he began versus now, but all without ever telling the reader what trends they should follow. Araki's advice to seek out trends but then not necessarily wed yourself to them is timeless advice – unless we somehow end up in the world as represented by My Little Sister Can Read Kanji, awareness of trends versus religious adherence to them will always be an important distinction to make in creative works.

Although Araki's focus is shounen manga specifically, his text can be used as a craft book for almost any creative writing/drawing endeavor. In several places he notes differences between shounen and shoujo manga form, such as how shoujo can get away with less background art at times, but generally speaking his advice is solid all around. In part this is because Araki recognizes that good manga is literature: it needs to follow the same tenets of writing as a novel or a film script. To that end, his examples of where to look for solid writing and artistic examples are all over the board – he recommends looking at both Akira Toriyama and the works of Leonardo da Vinci, and for dialogue he suggests reading Ernest Hemmingway. Much of his advice on the writing front is comparable to what is given in creative writing classes at the university level. The fact that Araki is clearly a well-read individual on both the literary and artistic fronts comes across clearly, and his willingness to apply what he's learned to manga creation makes this feel like a much more informative and intelligent text than many other books on a similar subject. Particularly strong are his character interview layouts, which are more in-depth than most others in textbooks I've seen, and his advice to learn classic drawing techniques before attempting to create a “manga” sensibility – you can play with the human form once you know how to really draw it, he says, and then backs himself up with figure sketches that help to prove his point.

From a fan perspective, it is thrilling to learn about how the man behind JoJo creates his work, as well as some of the background details that go into each story arc and character. (I feel better knowing why Phantom Blood ended as it did and how he developed Dio.) It's also a chance to see some of his previously untranslated work in part, as excerpts from Poker Under Arms and Thus Spoke Rohan Kishibe appear, as well as later story arcs of JoJo are included with his notes by way of example. The book is written so that you almost feel like you're sitting down with Araki while he explains things to you, a bit like a master class between two covers.

Whether you're a writer of novels, short stories, games, or comics of any kind, Manga in Theory and Practice is one of the better craft books out there. It provides solid, useful advice that is easily applicable to a variety of writing and drawing disciplines in an easy to read style. Even if you're not a fan of JoJo, his creator has a lot of good insight into the craft of creating a solid work.

Overall : A-

+ Good, clear advice that isn't bogged down by authorial conceit or dated notions
Some advice won't be applicable to readers outside of Japan

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Story & Art: Hirohiko Araki

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