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Message from Ryuji Tsugihara

“Even if a work contained good art or elaborate compositions, it still wouldn’t be an interesting manga unless it conveys a distinct sentiment or message to the reader. Indeed, a manga that clearly depicts a message can touch the heart of the reader, even if the quality of the art or composition isn’t very high.”

Tokyo, August 2013

Interview, from 2015

“Draw your own real feelings…”

A masterful artist who draws on his passion for cars to produce great manga. Tsugihara-sensei not only works at the forefront of the manga industry, but also finds time to teach younger mangaka “the way”, with many great artists having learned their trade while working as an assistant in his studio. We managed to pin down Tsugihara-sensei for a quick chat, where he imparted some invaluable tips and advice for all you budding manga artists…

SMAC: What was your overall impression of this round (SMA3)?

The theme for SMA1 was “Love Letter”, SMA2 was “The Finest Smile” and SMA3 was “Mothers”. After the judging, I thought about what Hojo-sensei said, and I agree with him; this theme may have been a little difficult for everyone to express.

Many of the SILENT MANGA AUDITION® entrants are still very young, aren’t they? Gratitude towards one’s mother is something that accumulates over the years, so for all those young artists, I think it must have been somewhat tricky to express those feelings within the pages of a manga.

For better or worse, our impression was that everyone struggled, but did their best all the same. We read a lot of stories, and many of them had a similar pattern. On the one hand, we’re happy that motherly love is so universal. On the other hand, we would have liked to see a little more variation from such an international competition.

SMAC: When evaluating a manga, what do you look for?

The three things I look for are : “how well different emotions are expressed”, “manga techniques” and “is there a message?”.  The “message” is particularly important. Works that displayed a message, and communicated that message clearly were awarded higher scores, even if the drawing or direction was still a little rough.

For this contest, we’re trying to evaluate an artist’s future potential. The strength and clarity of “the message” in their manga speaks very loudly about that. “Being able to express human emotions” is another key point we look for, which is an indication of future potential, often more important than “drawing skills”. Ichirou’s work is exceptional here, because the clarity and understandability of his work was simply a cut above the rest.

Tsugihara-sensei talks about SMA winners.

SMAC: So you check whether the artist has something to say, and whether the readers can sympathize with the character’s emotions?

Regardless of how good the art is, or how perfect the composition is, at the very heart of every story must be a message and emotion.

If you can’t express those, then your manga will NOT be enjoyable to read. Or to put it another way, as long as those elements are in place, and even if the drawings or composition aren’t of a high quality yet, you as an artist can still touch the readers’ hearts.

This is the reason why it’s best to create an episode based on something that you’ve actually experienced by yourself. The things one has felt first hand are much easier to tell with realism, and more likely to resonate with the readers.

However, just putting your experiences down on paper won’t be enough to move anyone. It’s not very interesting to read a random person’s diary, is it? But if you’re listening to a TV talk show, where a comedian is telling a funny story, then you’ll be on the edge of your seat.

Both are examples of “listening to another person’s experiences”, but what makes the difference? Two reasons : “the message”, and “the way it’s told to the audience”. Lines like “An interesting thing happened to me the other day…” or “Has this ever happened to you?” get an audience emotionally invested in the story.

In summary, to create “good” manga, first examine your own experiences, then find something that people can relate to, and fictionalize it. Only then, utilize manga direction techniques to help your readers understand “the message”.

Of course, you can try completely making up a story, but that takes a certain level of skill – expressing something you’ve never experienced first-hand is never easy.

Since the theme “mother” is quite a heavy one, I’m guessing everyone probably wanted to draw “something grand!” But, what we are looking for from the contestants, is a very real, “true to oneself” kind of expression.

In that sense, I’m sure the theme for SMA4 will be a lot easier to draw as a manga, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what everyone will come up with.

Every entry had its unique charms.

SMAC: Are there any other hints that you can give to produce a moving story?

I maybe repeating myself here, but the important thing is to express “your own feelings”, especially so in silent manga. A read-worthy silent manga is a piece where the artist’s real feelings – the message is clearly expressed.

Let’s take the 2 winners from SMA1 for example. ‘Excuse Me’ was a comical story about a girl who receives a love letter. Thanks to the dynamic art style, the readers could really sense her happiness.

Alex Irzaqi “Excuse Me” (2013)

On the other hand, in ‘Sky Sky’, we were left wondering “Did the dog actually receive the letter? Did he see it?” These feelings of unease were very well drawn, and then finally, when we saw that the dog actually got the letter, we were moved.

Prema Ja “sky sky” (2013)

The artists’ abilities for direction were amazing, but at the heart of it all was the clear “emotion”.

Technique-wise, the most important thing is to be able to draw the 6 basic emotions which were introduced in the Youtube video series “Japanese Manga 101”. Like they said, the clarity and techniques of expressing different emotions is what makes Japanese manga a universally enjoyable form of entertainment.

When telling a story with no sound or movement, one really needs to greatly exaggerate the expressions, or else they just won’t get across to the reader. This is especially so in a silent manga. You really need to go overboard to ensure your message gets through, told as a chain of human emotions and reactions.

Another important technique, is the ability to distinguish where one should and shouldn’t add lots of details. You need to achieve a good balance here. Drawing all those details is very important, but only where it is required. If everything is over-detailed, then the reader will not be able to focus on the important panels, and the manga will become very tiring to read. It is quite simple once you learn to separate the key parts of the story from the rest. For the key parts, utilize a “close-up”, zoomed camera angle with as much detail as possible. For the rest, add just enough detail to keep the story flowing.

Many of the entrants displayed an art style that is very much in sync with today’s manga trends in Japan, but I was left with the impression that many of them were a little short on ability when it comes to drawing different emotions convincingly. Within “drawing techniques”, there are many fundamentals, like a sense of perspective and human anatomy, but it’s important to remember that in manga, the ability to “express emotions as a set of human facial expressions” far outweighs those skills of traditional illustration.

This may be a hard concept to grasp at first, but once you master these techniques, your story will be so much more convincing. Manga is a form of “entertainment” and that means, for it to be complete, is must be in sync with the readers. “How to entertain the reader, how to make it more reachable” are the things that any manga artist should always keep in mind. A manga for the artist’s sake, will never resonate with people.

SMAC: During the judging, it was suggested that “if these artists had editors helping them, they could probably make something even better!” How do you feel about this?

An editor… or rather, just someone to talk to, is a great help any creator could utilize. To take the creation process from 0 to 1, you need some kind of clue to get started. Having someone help draw out your ideas and search for that clue makes everything go that much more smoothly.

For example, if someone suddenly told me “Draw a manga about mothers”, I wouldn’t really know where to begin. But if I had an editor who could start asking me questions like “What is the happiest memory of your mother?”, then we might find something manga-worthy.

In other words, stories are born in dialogue. Some gifted artists have a dialogue with themselves, inside their own heads, and come up with stories that way. But for the rest of us, it’s not easy. That’s why pro manga artists have an editor-in-charge to bounce ideas off.

Alternatively, you might have an idea which you think is pure gold, but in the eyes of the readers, it may be a complete flop. An editor is also someone who can give you a second opinion or dissuade you from a silly idea.

If you’ve got creative-block, and you can’t figure out what to do next, get another person’s opinion. For the theme of SMA3, if you couldn’t think of a good idea for “mothers”, it might have been wise to go talk to someone about their mother, and see what you felt or thought about their story. When in doubt, talking to someone really helps.

…entertaining works all of them!

SMAC: If you had to draw a story with the theme “mother”, what approach would you take?

Haha, well, this really is a question of artistic taste. I first began to really appreciate my own mother when I moved out of my parent’s home, and started living on my own. As such, I’d create a story based on that message. I’m sure there are many people like me who are living far away from their parents, and could sympathize with this idea.

It’s been several decades since I moved out, and the more time passes, the more I love my mother. It’s something you only understand when you’re far away.

And when you’re a child, you have no idea what your mother is thinking, but as you get older, you start to see things at her level. What I’d try to express in a manga is “closing the gap of perspective.”

SMAC: I see! That’s definitely a theme that many people can appreciate. By the way, which work from SMA3 do you think was the most accomplished?

I myself couldn’t draw as well as many of the award winners when I was their age so I feel somewhat embarrassed to choose a few works, but Ichirou’s ‘Homesick Alien’ had both an excellent story and a high-level of art. It was the hands-down victor worthy of the Grand Prix. Among the others, I thought the animals in ‘The Warmth of Your Love!’ were exceptionally well drawn. It’s as if bande dessinée art style were applied to Japanese manga. Hiro’s ‘IMPRINTED’ was also a great example of an orthodox theme. I can see in his drawings that he has a lot of potential.

Saying that, it’s really hard to choose only a few. All the winners are truly amazing. It’s incredible that they could create their own stories utilizing the techniques of manga so well. Even when compared to the young artists debuting in Japan, they are already on par or even on a higher level.

Ichirou “Homesick Alien” (2015)

Rerekina & Jeyre “The Warmth of Your Love!” (2015)


SMAC: To conclude, a message for the SMA Community?

Set the theme with the readers in mind, and be true to yourself. Draw your own, real feelings, not something borrowed from somewhere else! Once you become a pro, this helps you define your own genre.


Hailing from the Kyushu city of Fukuoka, Ryuji Tsugihara first ventured into the world of professional manga making when, alongside studying to becoming a car mechanic, his 1977 motorcycle action one-shot ‘Datsu Bōsōzoku’ won a ‘Weekly Shonen Jump’ newcomer award. After being published in a special issue of the magazine the following year, Tsugihara further raised the bar by winning Shueisha’s coveted Tezuka Award for his Baseball one-shot ‘Tobe Lions’.

In 1980, while still at the tender age of 21, Tsugihara landed his first serialization in ‘Weekly Shonen Jump’ with his super bike action manga ‘Bōsō Hunter’. But it wasn’t until 1982 that he really poured his mechanical know-how into manga, by creating the fast paced racing bonanza, ‘Yoroshiku Mecha-Doc’. An instant hit amongst car enthusiasts and shonen manga lovers alike, his manga spawned an anime adaption, further cementing Tsugihara’s affable characters in the hearts of petrol-headed fans across the nation.

Penning several titles throughout his career, ranging from the motorbike hijinks of ‘Roadrunner’ and ‘Super Patrol’, to baseball titles like ‘Don Vulcan’, and even a detective manga serialization called ‘Tokyo Crime Story’, Tsugihara was a regular fixture for countless young manga readers growing up in the 80’s and 90’s.

Tsugihara joined forces with his fellow manga comrades, Tetsuo Hara and Tsukasa Hojo, and former Shonen Jump editor, Nobuhiko Horie to establish COAMIX Inc. in 2000. With the subsequent establishment of ‘Weekly Comic Bunch’, Tsugihara immediately put pen to paper to create the much loved ‘Restore Garage 251’, along with the fascinating ‘Shonen Readom’, a unique story told through the eyes of an aspiring manga editor.

Aside from creating manga, Tsugihara also devotes time to teaching the next generation of manga creators via his lessons for the Laugh & Peace Entertainment School in Okinawa, in addition to being one of the judges in the SILENT MANGA AUDITION® Committee.