For the new people following my blog—hello, welcome! :) My name is Svetlana Chmakova, I’m a manga/comics creator working mostly in North America, though my books have been published in various other corners of the world. The following is a bunch of my own personal thoughts and experiences on working in the North American manga industry for the last 8-9 years, framed as responses to a few interview/research questions sent to me recently. I get these pretty regularly, so I thought I’d post these here, in case anyone else is curious in hearing my take on it.
And if any manga/comics pros out there have something to add or share their own insights and experiences—please contribute!! :D Here’s my bit.
1. What are the chances of “making it” in the Western manga industry? As in what are the odds of someone in the US becoming published and being well-known among manga fans?
This is an interesting question! In my opinion, there is a difference between ‘making it’ and ‘being known’. I’ve observed that exposure does not necessarily translate into paycheques/sales, though sometimes they do happily coincide.
I always understood ‘making it’ in any field as being able to support oneself consistently with one’s work in that field. That’s something that is not a common thing in manga, as I understand (North-American OR Japanese). I am not very familiar with the inner workings of the Japanese manga industry, so cannot speak for it, but I recommend reading “Manga Poverty” by Shūhō Satō which has a lot of very interesting and sobering insights. Especially about the difficult differences between getting something serialized (therefore ‘being known’) and ‘making it’ (being able to actually make a living).
As for chances of being known and making it in North American locally-grown-manga industry, well, that depends. First, it needs to be mentioned that said manga industry, as it’s often understood (traditional publisher driven, large print runs distributed to bookstores) is quite small and kind of in a coma at the moment. So there’s not really a vast amount of places where an aspiring manga-ka could submit their work for widely-accessible print publication. As far as I know Yen Press and Dark Horse are pretty much it as viable opportunities for printed/bookstore distributed volumes of original manga work; there are several smaller publishing entities that do mostly digital-only (Chromatic Press being a really exciting one to watch, IMHO), but aside from that there’s not really an established layer of manga publishing print houses that would throw their budget at publishing an original manga series.
Considering that, the answer to the question ‘what are the chances of someone in the US being published, being known’ should be ‘SMALL! Very Small!!’ ….And they are, I suppose. But that’s where this glorious thing that is the internet comes in.
The internet is the great leveler of the playing field—I’ve seen so many artists start small and get big by consistently providing quality comics and putting them online. I know for a fact that there are people who make a living from their online publishing. Publishers came to _them_, offering to publish their online material in paper format.
So, TL;DR—my understanding is that a person will have a lot of trouble getting their manga published with a traditional publishing house these days, but on the internet they can theoretically do well if they have the work ethic and something that people want to read.
2. What is the average pay for a manga artist in the US?
As far as I know there is no such thing as average pay for a manga artist in the US. The market here is just still too small for any such patterns to emerge. I would _guess_ it’s somewhere between $40 and $100 per page? The lowest rate I’d heard of was $10 per page (…consider that it takes 6-10 hours to make a manga page, so that’s about $1.30 per hour, ouch!). The highest rate I’ve heard of was $200 per page, but my understanding is that it’s rare.
If you travel sideways into magazine publishing (not manga magazines, but stuff like National Geographic and Seventeen), a page of a comic there could have the rate of $1000 per page. Of course, they’d never commission a 180-page book, nor do they really commission the 1-page comics on a regular basis.
I should also mention that with book trade publishing, the way that you would usually get paid is by receiving an ‘advance against royalties’—an amount of money that would later have to be recouped by publisher from the royalties that would be due to you once the book is out. Basically, it’s your money from the future that the publisher advances to you if they believe they can sell your book. Once that advance is recouped, the royalties that continue to come in after that belong to you, the author. (…However, sometimes books don’t sell as well as projected and the advance never gets recouped. This really sucks for the publisher for obvious reasons, since I’ve never heard of a publisher asking for the unrecouped advance back from the author; they just absorb that financial loss. I suspect this is a big reason why publishers don’t just publish EVERYthing that is submitted to them.)
3. What would happen if a manga-ka gets injured or ill? Is there some kind of insurance? Or do publishing companies boot them out the door if they can’t produce any more chapters?
Manga-ka in the US are independent contractors, freelancers, so they don’t receive any employee benefits like paid sick days or paid vacation days. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. There’s also no standard minimum wage in the art field, as far as I know; you’re pretty much on your own.
I thiiiiink in Japan there are some manga magazines that pay a creator a yearly salary, even if they become ill?… Not sure.
4. How much freedom do manga artists have in terms of content? I mean how much of the content do the editors/publishers have control over? I have heard of some manga artists not having any freedom over what they draw. Is this true in none, some, or all cases?
Freedom over content in US highly depends on the project, the publisher, and the creator. If it’s an adaptation of an existing work, then naturally there’s not a lot of freedom to do whatever you want, since it’s not your book. If it IS your book, then you probably were approached for your own unique take on storytelling, so there would be feedback as well as invaluable editorial guidance, but never an outright ‘draw and write what we tell you’.
5. What advice would you give for someone aspiring to be a manga artist?
Don’t wait for someone to pay you to draw your manga. Get to creating, put it online, continue creating. Get used to the thought of producing a LOT of pages, not just a couple here and there. Also, have a back-up career or alternate way to make a living!! I also highly recommend art school for sequential art of some sort—there are a growing number of online courses anyone could take, that are offered by active industry professionals. Just make sure you don’t go too far into debt over that, since it’s very difficult to build a successful career in any art field, let alone earn enough money to repay any debts.
6. How did you yourself become published?
I didn’t wait for someone to pay me to draw my manga. I got to creating, got it into an anime club newsletter (this was before the internet was what it is now), and continued creating. I drew comics because I couldn’t NOT draw comics. The first publishing offer I got was from an indy publisher Kat&Neko when I was in high school, for “Yoriko, Maiden of the First Fire”. It ran for about 5 24-page issues and I will give serious fan points to anyone who even knows what that silly thing was. Royalties weren’t huge but they paid for a nice dinner or two!
The next publishing offer was a digital one—Girlamatic.com and Wirepop.com were subscription online comics collectives and I was invited to create something for them, because they’d seen my stuff floating around. I think I ended up drawing over 200 pages combined for those sites. Royalties from that also paid for a few dinners, om nom nom.
The first big publishing offer I got was from TOKYOPOP—they had seen the comics I had on Girlamatic.com and Wirepop.com and wrote to me asking if I’d like to create a book for them, so we signed a deal for what ended up being a 3-volume series “Dramacon”. The advance against royalties for that paid off my college student loans.
After “Dramacon” hit the streets and became popular, I got several offers from various publishing houses, so I sought out a literary agent. Her name is Judy Hansen and she arranged the deal for “Nightschool: The Weirn Books” (and later “Witch &Wizard” by James Patterson et el.) with Yen Press, which has now been my comfy publishing home for 7 books and 6 years now. I love Yen Press <3
7. Some Western artists, like you, have gotten published here in the US. What, have you found, does the manga audience like? Do they like typical Japanese-like manga, or do they like Western-style ones? How willing are they to accept Western comics instead of the “authentic” Japanese ones?
I think that manga audience, in general, likes good engaging stories with characters that appeal to them, same as everyone else. Also, on a more specific note, and I speak for myself as a manga fan, I think a lot of us are drawn to the unique look and feel of characters and storytelling in manga. I personally love chibies and the elegance and expressiveness of character designs in general, and I loooove the fact that manga is mostly ink lineart with grey tones. But different manga fans like different things about manga, so it’s impossible to clump any of them into a group that ‘will love’ or ‘will hate’ Western-style manga, I think. In the end, it’s all sequential art, just with different flavours. I’ve had plenty of people say they initially stayed away from “Dramacon” and “Nightschool: The Weirn Books” because they weren’t by a Japanese author, but ended up loving them after reading. So, bottom line is—you just never know!
I hope this has been helpful to anyone curious about this field! If anyone has any more questions, feel free to use my ask box, I’ll try to answer what I can :)
For those curious about my work, here’s my site: http://www.svetlania.com
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That must mean Bing is a man, tries to convince people it’s superior and does a horrible job with pleasing its user.
sassy-spoon lives up to its url
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