Hirohiko Araki is a famous manga creator, whose Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure franchise has attracted fans for over thirty years. How does he do it? What has he noticed about the manga industry? What tips and wisdom can he pass down to budding writers and artists pursuing their own comics dreams? Araki’s Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga, translated by Nathan A. Collins and published in hardcover dress similar to Viz’s Jojo’s releases, has a lot of answers.

Araki offers a few different frameworks for the ideas he promotes. His overall method is labeled “the royal road” and prescribed for creators of shonen manga, though he suggests creative types of all stripes will find something valuable along the way. On the topic of story introductions, he breaks down a conventional “Who, What, Where, When, Why, How” explanation, complete with examples from his own work, including pre-Jojo’s stories. His method for dividing a story into structured acts, “ki-sho-ten-ketsu,” or “introduction, development, twist, resolution” sets the stage for a lot of the additional lessons in the book.

Pop culture references are sprinkled throughout each chapter. Dozens of manga series are referenced, along with movies, novels, sculptures, and dances. Their combined effect reinforces one of Araki’s major pieces of advice regarding the study of life and art in pursuit of an original approach. Simply studying other successful manga creators isn’t enough, he says. Artists must get out of their bubble and explore the world and analyze the media they consume to better understand what they like or dislike. Readers will be hard-pressed to find another art advice book that references Clint Eastwood, Star Wars, Kick-Ass 2, Jules Verne, Rome’s Galleria Borghese, Linda Hamilton’s role in Terminator 2, John Steinbeck, and Michael Jackson, complete with an excerpt from Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers.”

These examples are not referenced for pop-culture gluttony: Araki uses himself as an example of the kind of practice and hard work required to stand out to editors and audiences. He recalls that even when he got his foot in the door with his first published work, editors still picked apart his art for errors. He acknowledges the lonely nature of making art as a career and encourages listening to constructive critics to avoid becoming too self-satisfied. Constant improvement is the name of the game, and Araki still pursues new illustration techniques and storytelling methods to stay fresh. He compares working under a constant deadline and on paper to the improvisational excitement of jazz music and Italian fresco painting.

A lot of heart goes into the book’s messages, too. Araki sometimes prescribes certain approaches as being more audience-friendly, but at the same time pushes artists to create something they will love to make, too. He warns against intellectual burnout—creating a hit will feel good, but then there’s pressure to keep that hit high quality, and artists may as well put that much effort into something they like as well as the audience. Drawing character deaths drives him to tears. In the included manga excerpts, commentary boxes point out the purpose of including different images and why Araki drew them a certain way, including the process that leads from ideas on note cards to finished pages. These personal touches elevate the book’s advice from textbook best practices to friendly wisdom.

The tone throughout the book is that of a conversation between Araki and an eager student. He does not talk down to the reader, but does clarify opinions every so often to avoid being seen as writing off certain methods or mindsets. For example, on the topic of digital versus analog art, Araki sides with creating on paper, but makes sure to emphasize that each artist’s preference is unique and personal. One of Araki’s pages includes a nude woman, and his anecdotes and sample pages sometimes include swearing. Having said that, this book should be fine for mature teen and adult readers who are ready to take their approach to art to the next level, shonen or otherwise. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure fans will enjoy just picking Araki’s brain.

Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga
ISBN: 9781421594071
Viz, 2017

  • Thomas

    | He/Him Teen Services Librarian, Richland Library

    Features Writer

    Thomas is a teen services librarian at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. While studying for his MLIS at the University of South Carolina, he won an award from Thomas Cooper Library for his curation of the works of “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. He has spoken about manga, graphic novels, teen programming, and podcasting at NashiCon, DragonCon, ColaCon, New York Comic Con, and American Library Association conferences. He has been on on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels For Teens selection committee, written articles for Public Libraries, The Hub, Book Riot, and Library Trends, and reviews for School Library Journal and Kirkus.

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