Erica Neville: Manga Workshop

“I am most definitely not a comic artist.”

If you’d rather see an entertaining Youtube video like to read my first post regarding this CIP (in Japanese), please gently click here at your leisure.

For those of you not in the know, finding this CIP became series of trial and terrible, spirit-crippling errors. For a country well-known for its specialty in comics and animation, an affordable, accessible, and personally appealing manga classroom proves to be especially difficult to stumble upon. My first insight: two out of three really isn’t that bad.

Lucky for me, after wading through the train lines to Osaka and the despair of reading and writing far too many e-mails riddled with keigo, I managed to find myself at the Nijo Art School, a small and warm classroom taught at a teacher’s home where students of all ages are pretty much free to pursue their own area of interest, ranging from oil painting to sculpture to comics.

I’m a slow learner, but I did eventually come to some realizations about classroom culture.

First, Japanese workshops and classrooms take their jobs very seriously. At every school I interviewed, the instructors were not only intent on finding out exactly what you want to study and practice (even going so far as to ask you which manga artist you want to draw like!), but they were also concerned with whether or not you aim to take the class in order to prepare for your application to a full-fledged art academy. These classrooms are more than that private tutor you had for the piano back in elementary school. There is no such thing as a casual class you take for fun, just to learn – even the smallest of classrooms is all about getting you to past that test for that art academy, first and foremost. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that Japanese culture seems to be very focused on the end goal – it is always up, up, and onwards. While that sort of diligence and intensity is impressive, I did at times find it very wearisome to be unable to find a manga class that was not geared towards a final exam, and the atmosphere can initially be very intimidating when you want a more relaxed experience.

Secondly, I discovered a surprising dynamic to the student-teacher relationship. This may be a solely personal experience, but when I encountered problems with my CIP (wherein I was suddenly spending too much time working on realism rather than the comics focus I wanted), my Japanese teacher was very adamant that I had a right to question my art teacher and request that I get back on track. While in America I definitely had a friendly rampart with all of my teachers, I never dreamed of challenging their directions – if Mr. Huggett said that we were going to draw spheres from different angles for three weeks straight, then by golly, I would suck it up and slave over those spheres, quietly muttering under my breath and occasionally grinding the B6 pencil into the paper to express the blackest depths of my discontent. I’d assumed that it’d be the same for the Japanese student-teacher relationship, wherein you do not question your educator’s methods. Yet it seems that if those methods interfere with the straightest line to the end goal, especially if you’re paying ¥17,000 a month to go once a week for only three hours, you have every right to ask to get back to business. Unfortunately I still have reservations about requesting such a thing of my teacher, so I’ve spent a lot of time drawing redundant things rather than learning how to make comics, but it was interesting to find out that I do, indeed, have that communication option, whether or not I have the pluck to use it.

Finally, I’ve learned that everyone gets their time. My teacher always managed to pinpoint the faults in my drawing, and subsequently always managed to explain how I was to fix them, either through gestures, tone, drawing by example, or a combination thereof. He didn’t let me get away with anything, and had no issues with focusing squarely on a single student for twenty minutes, or running over time rather than rushing his critiques. Although Japan has been criticized by Americans for its strict educational system, the fact is that they are far more serious and effective about helping individual students reach their full potential than they are given credit for. Although Japanese culture may be more about the group than the individual, another underlying philosophy is that the stronger an individual is, the stronger the group itself becomes.

9 thoughts on “Erica Neville: Manga Workshop

  1. I’m so glad you finally found a teacher! The fact you could disagree with your Sensei is really interesting. I also very much appreciated your use of the word “golly.” Please continue

    • I’m glad I found a teacher too! Just a little chafed that I have yet to draw a single panel of a comic…ahahaha! Another interesting thing I’ve noticed is what a manga teacher considers important – up until now I’ve dealt with the usual, but recently my teacher’s assigned me to draw two sets of uniforms for a male and female, which is pretty bizarre because where I live in California there are usually very few differences between the men’s and women’s work outfits. Everything’s pretty much gender neutral! As a result I’ve been pretty annoyed with this assignment since, to me, it’s kind of a sexist thing. Also, in the list of examples I was given, the ‘male and female’ costumes for those in the medical profession? Doctor and nurse. Ahhh. I might switch the expected/demonstrated genders on that one just to make a point. Last time I drew a pair of painters…good times. Stickin’ it to The Man, yeah!

      But yeah, disagreeing with teacher = all kinds of strangeness.

      And golly gee whiz, Calvin, I will totes keep using the American Era’s finest examples of lingo just for you, Daddy-O.

      • Wow, I didn’t even think to look for a CIP like the one you participated in, but it sounds like you learned a lot. So, what are your manga interest (and who do you want to draw like)?

        • I think I have learned quite a bit, on retrospect! Although it’s been frustrating and expensive at times, it’s still something I really look forward to every week – my sensei is boss, and his wife is really nice. I haven’t seen her around as often lately, but when I first visited she made me some green tea with a little sugar maple leaf – it was amazing!

          Hahaha, my manga/anime interests are pretty varied. I’m pretty much digging on Ao no Exorcist just for right now, but I’ve also really enjoyed shounen titles like Eyeshield 21 and Katekyo Hitman Reborn! (although it’s crazy right now, no lie), and Gurren Lagann, along with shoujo stuff like Ouran, Tora Dora, Wallflower, etc. If it’s got decent art and an interesting story, I’m hooked! Unfortunately finding relatively good comics can sometimes be like finding a needle in a haystack. Still can’t stand Slice of Life anime that well, too!

          And ffft, my face whenever they ask me that question. It’s like ‘But I…I want to draw like myself!’ And any examples I could give would actually be from webcomics, haha! Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name is one of my mad favorites and I would prolly die happy if I could use colors and fonts and shapes like Tessa Stone does, Hark! A Vagrant’s author is wonderfully clever and employs really good use of tempo in her short comics, and Lackadaisy Cats has some of the best expressions and panel layouts ever. Along with The Meek, Johnny Wander, Uitspan Era, Unsounded, Homestuck, Bird Boy…Ahaha! I love comics. Too much. Also I pretty much adore Marcus To’s artwork – he was working on DC’s Red Robin series up until they kicked off the reboot, and to me he’s one of the most expressive artists when it comes to superhero comics.

          Some people spend all day on Reddit. I spend all day checking to see if a new page has come out. Look at my life, look at my choices. ):

  2. Nice video! I was surprised at how much you had to go through to find a manga workshop. And I didn’t think it would be that expensive either! Does it feel like you’ve improved a lot?

    • To be honest? Not so much, really! I haven’t really done anything new, or practiced anything I didn’t already know how to do. I think that’s part of the few frustrations I have with the course, is that all the assignments so far have been pretty elementary and repetitive.

      “Draw two people! Now draw six expressions for each of them! Now draw them at three different ages! Now, out of nowhere – let’s draw your own hands! And six different textured balls! Oh snap, back to comics because you started getting pissy about the time-sucking stint of realism I’m having you do – okay! Now draw three different pairs of people…~*~IN UNIFORMS~*~. Male and female, because obviously we want to enforce gendered workplaces.”

      I have yet to actually do anything comic-y….so as much fun as it’s been, I actually haven’t accomplished what I set out to accomplish in a CIP, and have pretty much been paying a hefty sum a month to do something I could (and do) easily do on my own. Alas!

  3. Omgosh! That video was great…!

    I also find the ability to be able to question your teacher very interesting. As far as I’ve heard, the Mr. Miyagi wax-on-wax-off apprenticeship style of education that develops a student’s character for years before they get to play with the big kids is actually a very common form of skill acquisition in Japan. However, it would appear that the art-education industry is a bit different. I guess it doesn’t make too much sense to pay ¥17,000 a month to wax-on-wax-off.

    Other than the clear focus on the end goal (getting into art school etc) and other cultural differences, what do you think about the effectiveness of the class for you personally? Do you think you’ve improved more than you would have at a similar class in the US?

    • Yeah, I was definitely surprised by that part of it! Unfortunately I was either not strong enough with my input or demanding enough, because the track I was on didn’t really change at all, but it’s interesting to note that I could very well have demanded a better usage of class time.

      And, haha! Samantha just got an ear-ful of my lamentations about this, but tl;dr: No. In fact, I think it was actually pretty inhibiting on some levels; the assignments were monumentally un-creative, and didn’t really touch on anything of interest or import. It was all pretty rote and formulaic, to be honest. I’ve definitely received much more dynamic and challenging assignments back in high school and college. I think there might just be something about the manga industry here; most American art teachers aren’t far off the mark when they’re criticizing manga as an art, because as far as I can tell in the classrooms here that I’ve observed, there is very little emphasis on the fundamentals of art and creativity, unfortunately. The minute you go into a class and you’re asked “who do you want to draw like?”, you know you have a problem.

  4. You do humor well in writing! Actually, really well…but then, I feel bad laughing at it when “it” is your issues with your CIP. In any case, you framed your struggles well.

    So, did you end up with a sketch book or anything like that? I know in class you were saying you “didn’t really do manga” to the point of not having any manga at all to show for a manga-themed CIP…but manga or not, I’m really interested to see your art from your Japanese art classes! 🙂