Stop Drawing Bad Manga! by Shaenon K. Garrity

Here’s the deal. I work for a manga publisher, Viz LLC, purveyors of such titles as Phoenix, Inu-Yasha, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, and Shonen Jump. I’m surrounded by manga and the attendant detritus of Japanese pop culture for eight hours a day, five days a week.

I like it. A lot.

And yet I don’t like most manga-style American comics.

On this side of the Pacific, manga-style seems to mean one of two things:

1. Comics by hacks who try to cash in on the manga boom by adding big eyes and speed lines to a basically Western-style comic – a bad one.

2. Comics by otaku who copy every element of their favorite manga so thoroughly that they bring nothing original to the table.

There are a lot of manga-style comics on the Web, and the vast majority fall into that banal second category. They beg the question: Why should I read this, when I could just as easily be reading actual manga?

Here’s a tip, fellow gaijin: ever since the Dragon Ball craze hit over fifteen years ago, Japan has been inundated with manga about absurdly superpowered psychic martial artists who hurl chi blasts. There are hundreds of these comics. The world doesn’t need any more. If you insist upon bringing yet another of the spiky-haired monstrosities into the world, it’d better be a damn good superpowered-psychic-martial-artist-who-hurls-chi-blasts story, a superpowered-psychic-martial-artist-who-hurls-chi-blasts story the like of which has never before been seen. And that doesn’t mean, In the one I read, the comic-relief sidekick was a cat, and in my version it’s a fox. That goes for you Sailor Moon wannabes, too.

Another example: high-school romantic comedies in which milquetoast heroes are surrounded by cute girls who flash their panties in every other panel are so old hat that Rumiko Takahashi was parodying the genre over twenty years ago. Don’t draw more. If you must draw more, then stop putting the girls in those damn sailor suits. You didn’t go to a high school where the girls were forced to dress in humiliatingly cutesy-poo uniforms. I know you didn’t, because you’re not Japanese. What’s wrong with drawing from life?

Speaking of drawing from life, I can tell you copied all your figures from the Manga Pose Resource books. Stop that. Cribbing from books is all right once in a while, when you can’t get a pose right and you’re in a bind, but if you base all of your art on other people’s drawings, your own style will never get the chance to emerge.

As manga becomes more popular and Westerners are introduced to the exciting innovations of the form, it’s only natural that more cartoonists will develop manga-influenced styles. But that doesn’t mean we should copy manga wholesale. The most interesting (and successful) manga-style artists in America are those who use elements of manga to tell original stories in original ways.

Take, for example, Lea Hernandez. A successful print cartoonist, Hernandez has two comics online: the autobiographical strip Near-Life Experience on Modern Tales, and the science-fiction action comic Rumble Girls. In some respects, Rumble Girls is a standard manga-style comic, built upon one of manga’s oldest and creakiest genres: mecha. It’s immediately clear, however, that Hernandez isn’t just setting up superpowered robot battles; she’s using the Rumble Girls to comment on larger issues of celebrity and what people are willing to sacrifice for success. It’s a more ambitious brand of mecha adventure, following in the footsteps of series like Neon Genesis Evangelion without treading anything close to the same territory. Her style, although obviously inspired by manga, is one-of-a-kind: Hernandez uses a broad, strong line that calls attention to the presence of the brush, and her style is chibi-cute while suggesting deeper emotions. Her art will never be confused with anyone else’s. Anyone who wants to draw manga-style can learn a lot by reading Rumble Girls.

However, as I keep saying over and over until my face turns blue, there’s no need for artists to stick to the established manga genres. As If!, by Mimi and Jet Wolf, is a four-panel strip about a friendship between two teenage girls at the bottom of the high-school pecking order, and the manga-style art is just a very very very small part of the charm. The voice of As If! is direct, funny, and, above all, unique: child pageants, summer camps, dread slumber-party makeovers, musical versions of Archy and Mehitabel, high comedy, high drama, and the weirdness of love all get tossed into the mix. The two central characters, tough tomboy Hunter and fluffy girly-girl Angela, are developed with intelligence and warmth. As the icing on the cake, the strip is set in the 1980s and incorporates very nearly every ’80s cultural artifact and cliché anyone could possibly desire. As If! is proof positive of the flexibility of manga-style art: you can use those big eyes and over-the-ears hair tails to tell any story with flair.

Then there’s Jen Wang’s intensely readable Strings of Fate. Wang combines some of the visual and story conventions of manga with character designs reminiscent of Disney movies. Her elegant, expressive art, delicately shaded with ink washes, is beautiful, and she ties it to an original and deftly-written story. Strings of Fate involves a man who discovers that he is the human incarnation of Rat, one of the twelve animal gods of the Chinese zodiac. In the course of the story, he learns to channel godlike powers (such as telling the rain to fall), but he also makes the unpleasant discovery that, as Rat, he wasn’t the nicest of entities. The solid premise is given flavor by a well-observed urban Chinese-American setting and by the strong, rounded personalities of the characters. That’s an interesting story. That’s a story worth telling.

You know what the most popular manga in Japan is right now? It’s called One Piece. It’s about a pirate. A pirate with stretchy powers. Who wants to be King of the Pirates. The story is a mix of improbable action and slapstick comedy. It’s goony, off-the-wall, and utterly crazy. Nobody could have predicted the popularity of this thing. Pirate comics were never big in Japan before. Neither were stretchy guys. And in pacing, dialogue, and art – especially art – it’s unique. One Piece was a shot in the dark, but it’s hit the bullseye, becoming the bestselling manga of all time in a period when the manga industry is in somewhat of a slump. Best of all, it’s a lot of fun. I couldn’t invent a better example of how original, lively work can succeed where timid imitation cannot.

As a longtime otaku whose income depends on the continued popularity of manga, I’m tickled pink that so many American cartoonists are turning to Japan for inspiration. But come on, people. Put away your pose resource books and How To Draw guides for a while, and draw what you see. Stick your favorite tankouban on the shelf, and write what you hear. Manga offers an exciting artistic toolbox, but use those tools to build something of your own. Go crazy. Ain’t nobody stopping you.

Shaenon Garrity


  1. Can i get an AMEN?

    Thank you Shaenon!! As someone who only got into comics because of manga, I’ve read a ton of the above descibed “old hat” comics. The manga I read was typically the silly shojo stuff (Hana Kimi!) and the weird obscure stuff (Violinist of Hameln, which parodied a lot of that stuff too, while being a very original comic itself) so I’m lucky that I never got into all the typical stuff. And even though my own comic has a lot of manga influence, it’s the same comic I would have drawn if I’d never seen manga. It’s my own comic, and that’s what matters. People need to draw their own stuff, not copied things they don’t know very much about.

    Again, thank you. This was an excellent piece.

  2. I don’t know that this is a sign of the Apocalypse or anything – sometimes an artist needs a framework to start from, even if it’s something that’s been well-tred and diluted. Maybe in addition to simply looking at more “purebred” anime, it would be useful to experience a bit of *every* genre. Especially if you’re trying to find your own, unique style.

  3. Excellent column. I’m glad someone finally said something about the glut of bad manga web comics out there.

  4. It’s only going to get worse,… because now it’s more and more seen that the ‘style’ is popular… which means an inevitable glut of american made crap.

    I actually had this conversation with my husband last week due to the cover of our cable guide and the fact that we were attending A-kon.

    Outward features aside,… those who are doing it strictly for the money *Just like 95% of the cartoon garbage out there.* will continue to put out crap and water down the good quality stuff…

  5. I’m sure you do some absolutely wonderful comic online and that’s why you chose to post anonymously. There’s a difference between COPYING and being inspired by.

    Copying = About 75% of the fanart/doujinshi out there on the web where they have visually ‘traced’ the exact same poses and then changed small aspects like hair or clothing and then made it ‘their own’. That is what Shaenon’s talking about. It’s the SAME stock poses over and over again. Repetitive use of the SAME exact storylines down to the dialogue. There’s a LOT of it out there. I would list links myself to some of the most blatant abusers, but you know what, I’m above that and I don’t enjoy hurting people I don’t know unless they do something to directly offend me. 😛

    AGAIN! Since it wasn’t understood the first time. Copying does not equal inspired by. Now.. for inspired by, that means you look at manga. You study it. You understand it a bit and you look at OTHER things. You play with it. You find what you like. *And most importantly, you start with reality as a basis before you break the rules of reality.* And I DO collect a large number of the How to Draw Manga books myself. I think I have about 17 or 18 of them for references on occasion, although I tend to use the anatomy ones the most. She’s not saying don’t use them. She’s saying, don’t cheat off them constantly because you bind yourself to that style and then you become like the hundreds of horrible DC/Marvel graduates from the 80’s or 90’s was it,… when they were ALL essentially a carbon copy of one particular style without any personal flair whatsoever.

    THAT is what Shaenon is stating. I saw quite enough evidence of that at A-kon this year, as usual, although it wasn’t NEARLY as bad as previous years as people get serious and realize that you know… it’s find to draw someone else’s character and someone else’s poses, but eventually you want to do your OWN work and experiment. Why waste your time copying someone when you can spend it developing your own talents?

    – Zeta

  6. I agree with Ms. Garrity that the constant stream of banal rip-off manga out there is tiresome, however, I have to admit that I’m also getting tired of the anti-manga-imitation backlash. You can’t control other people’s art quality, only your own, so complaining about artistic trends isn’t likely to produce the desired results.

    Furthermore, while I’m certainly not against anyone voicing their opinion on something that they find distasteful, I think these “rip-offs” deserve a little more credit. Regardless of merit, actually producing a comic book is a difficult task, and poor content can always be improved as the artist matures. If imitation is so frowned upon, how are new artist’s who have yet to develop their own personal vision going to refine their skills? Imitation is often a step on the ladder to developing an individual style, which leads me to view an imitation comic as valuable for what it represents- an artist that’s actually putting the blood, sweat and tears into learning how to draw comics. Then, when they finally have a vision and their own unique story, their craft will be that much more developed, and they’ll have a chance of doing their vision justice.

    When I was a teenager, I drew a lot of crappy comics that ripped off anime, manga, and American comics. Of course they weren’t too good, but they helped me practice different drawing methods that I never would have practiced had I sat at my desk, waiting for the lightning bolt that would contain Karen’s Completely-Original Vision of Sequential Art to strike. Now that I have, if not that lightning bolt, than at least an original idea, I’m not starting from the ground up because my “derivative” phase taught me quite a few things about how to draw. I was able to hit the ground running.

    If young artists were to follow Garrity’s advice exactly, that would be on the level of saying that they CAN’T draw comics until they’ve got something original, and a lot of artists don’t have that until later in their lives, when they’ve acquired more life and art experience. Obviously, that kind of prohibition isn’t a good idea.

    In the case of experienced, older artists who are still just copying in an attempt to cash in on a trend, then I’m more inclined to agree that they should just stop. However, I think those cases are really a small minority; most of the people attempting to draw American manga are teenagers and young adults.

    This article was well-written and amusing, but it’s preaching to the converted; the people doing really derivative, soulless work typically don’t recognize what they’re doing, and some of them will use it as valuable practice experience and graduate to telling their own original stories, and some of them won’t. No amount of shaking and yelling “Why can’t you be more original, dammit!” is going to quicken the process.

  7. Shaenon didn’t say people shouldn’t learn from other people’s work, she said they needed to bring something of their own to their work, and that is absolutely good advice, and it doesn’t take years of copying other people’s work to do that. It takes WANTING to do that, and being BRAVE enough to do that.
    Shaenon also gave three good examples of how to bring something of one’s own to the table (including my work, for which I am flattered), and an example of a genre-defying manga that’s become a hit.

    But here’s something I find quite telling: you defend learning from other people’s work “leads me to view an imitation comic as valuable for what it represents- an artist that’s actually putting the blood, sweat and tears into learning how to draw comics”, and yet your own webpage says:

    “If you steal anything from me, prepare to have your kneecaps busted, for I am the STALIN OF WEBCOMICS. So just be safe and draw your own darned pictures.”

  8. Err…….DivaLea……I guess I can understand why you might have made that connection, but that meant I didn’t want anyone stealing my image FILES and putting them on their WEB PAGE. That’s generally what that kind of quasi-legal disclaimer means. The Stalin thing, in addition to just being a joke, is a reference to something in one of my comics; an injoke. I have no Stalin-like tendencies ^^.

    If you really interpreted that disclaimer as “Don’t draw anything based on my work”, that’s not what it means. People have drawn my characters and shown me, and it’s a rush. That has nothing to do with the fact that I don’t want my files STOLEN FROM MY SITE. Based on the fact that you are the only person to have ever made that mistake (and I suspect that there was a desire there to find something to discredit me with), I’m going to assume that the disclaimer is clear until I hear otherwise.

    Finally, yes, you should bring something original to your work! I just disagree that everyone can. Maybe everyone EVENTUALLY can, but that takes some people more time than others. It happened to take me a long time, but I don’t think that makes me any less of a person, or an artist. It’s just that the imitation phase can drag out longer for some than for others.

    If you interpreted my post (which was basically, a criticism of being overly-critical) as any kind of an attack on your work, then I’m sorry, but that was never my intention. It had nothing to do with anything I said as far as I can tell, but I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that all of us are a little on the defensive side in webcomic land….

  9. While all the points in the article are valid, I believe that it should be pointed out that with web comics (and to many other things) if you don’t like what you see, you don’t have to read it. It was even mentioned in the article, if you want good stuff, there’s plenty of actual manga to read.

    It should also be pointed out that there are reasons people produce web comics and web manga that differ from the reasons and motives of mainstream print comic or manga creators. If someone decides that he or she wants to just mess around with stereotypical big eyes small mouth characters, or wants to re-hash the tournament plot line yet again, who’s to say that it’s wrong.

    The great thing about the net (and also one of the most annoying things about it) is that the cost of entry is really low. So, anyone can put pretty much anything they want to on the net for next to nothing. This doesn’t mean you have to read it though. If you can’t stand all the manga cliches, then don’t read them. It’s not like anyone is forcing you to go to his or her web page. But I do not believe that the creator of said work is necessarily wrong in what he or she is doing. Perhaps they’re just looking for an outlet for their fandom. Not everyone who starts up a web manga is looking to become a professional manga-ka. The way I see it, the effort that it takes to actually produce the work and then the courage to put it up in a forum where anyone can see it should be respected, regardless of the final quality of the work.

    And for all the people who are being “hacks” and trying to cash in on a trend, I think people will recognize crap when they see it. If there’s no substance under the manga-esque fluff, I do not believe it will go very far… and even if it does, then that’s what people want… why deny it to them.


    … why do I feel I’m going to get flamed for this …

  10. Forgot to add a sig or somethin’…my name is Lea Hernandez.

  11. Well, I don’t think your going to get any argument from anyone that original works are better.

    However, I think those of us that disagree with Garrity disagree for different reasons, having to do with the function that imitation serves in the developement of an artistic style, which she never addressed. Though an original, thought-provoking work is the goal, it’s not as simple as “original=good, copy=bad!” Art is not created in a vacuum; you have to know a bit about what’s out there to start generating ideas, and that often comes from copying- at least at first.

    There’s a process that takes place in order to get to the good work, and I’m saying that just yelling “stop drawing crap!” does not aid the process. Encouragement is great, but it should be positive. This isn’t encouragment. Yelling “Stop drawing bad manga!” will probably be about as effective as all the parents who yell at their kids “stop goofing off and do your homework!”, and then wonder why the kid just turns up the volume on the TV higher to drown ’em out. It’s been proven: Trying to change behavior through criticizing is more likely to create resentment then actually result in change.

    If the intent is to truly encourage artists to come up with their own ideas, then let’s see a follow up that includes advice on how to channel your feelings and life experience into art. It’s not a skill that people are born with; they have to learn. Many artists have trouble mining their own lives for feelings that they want to communicate. Rather than yell at someone for what they don’t know how to do yet, if you honestly want to see results, Put forth some effort and teach them how. Now that article, I’d like to read

    Remember that all human communication begins with mimicry; we mimic what we hear. We don’t value the mimicry for what it produces (an echo), but for what it represents- the first step on the path to original expression.

  12. That’s why I now use my full name as my nic on all MBs, because it’s much easier than having to shift between identities. I’ve seen the nic “DivaLeah” before though, so in this case I didn’t require clarification. Best to be thorough though.

    I continued this conversation in a PM, and I haven’t received any indication that you received/ read it. I hope you did, because it was fairly in-depth and I don’t want to re-type it. Anyway, that explains what I was saying in my initial post, because I think that there was some misinterpretation.

  13. Shaenon wrote an article, not a tutorial. Those lessons you are eager for are taught every day in life drawing classes everywhere.

  14. Just one thing: it’s “Tankoubon,” not “Tankouban.”

    KarenGellender suggested a follow up including art advice, and while this isn’t quite what she meant, I would recommend that, rather than reading “How To Draw Manga” books, aspiring comics artists read Visual Storytellyng: The Art and Technique. In addition to the theories, analyses and explanations, it uses examples from a wide variety of comics styles and even other media, such as movies, storyboards, and video games. Regretably, the only manga examples are from a manga-style American comic (Soul Chaser Betty), but at least they’re good examples of the techniques discussed, and the writer, Tony C. Caputo, understands them and explains them well.

    Ironically, the publisher, Watson-Guptill, also publishes two books I wouldn’t recommend even to people who want to rip off manga style wholesale – Manga Mania, Anime Mania, and Mecha Mania. I mean, if you’re going to copy manga, copy manga, not an American artist’s version of manga.

  15. What she wrote is a rant.

    If you just want to express your opinion, by all means, say what you want. However, if you actually want something to CHANGE, then you have to meet someone halfway and offer advice.

    I would agree with you that a life drawing class is a good idea for just about everyone, however, that has very little to do with what I’m talking about. How to find inspiration to create good comics from events in your life is actually, NEVER taught in life drawing classes! And if that topic was ever covered in your life drawing class, let me know where your located so I can sign up.

  16. The Watson-Gupthill manga books are pretty weak, and I say this even though I contributed to the first one, and creator Svetlana Chmakova contributed to at least two.
    (I also hate the titles, and begged the author, Chris Hart, to reconsider. “Manga Mania” has been used to death. It’s TIRED. Let it DIE.)
    That said, there is some nice art in Manga Mania by me, Svetlana, and Colleen Doran. It’s doesn’t make up for the weakness of the book, but it is nice!

    PERSPECTIVE! For Comic Book Artists by David Chelsea (for the nuts and bolts of that debbil perspective) and sitting out somewhere where there are people and OBSERVING and DRAWING THEM, instead of imitating people’s art, will be far more instructive and useful in the long run.

    Some of the most copied manga artists make serious gnarly mistakes in their work: Takahasi, Manabe, Masamune. Don’t even get me started on the big-eye stylization of the eyes turned down at the corners, and placed on the same line as the bottom of the nose, not to mention the hair that’s a mass of spikes!
    Studying someone’s art to see how they solve problems is GOOD, copying/imitating it teaches you to copy what’s good AND bad about their work, and without a solid background in the basics of life drawing, perspective and storytelling, you’re, to be blunt, screwed. You have ZERO critical faculty on which to draw and build.

  17. Drawing skills can be taught, assuming one is willing to learn. All creative endevors are derivitive in that everybody has their influences. Nobody creates in a vacuum. But beyond the age of say… 6, one learns nothing from the simple imitation of other people’s work.

    There is no magic bullet, inspiration cannot be taught. Either one is inspired or one isn’t. And if it’s the latter, there are many fine careers to be had in non-art-related industries.

  18. After giving it more thought, I’d like to elaborate on what I just wrote. You have spoken much about “inspiration” and “vision.” Neither of these things can be taught. You dislike Shaenon’s rant (and you’re right, that’s exactly what it is) because it offers non solutions to the perceived problem. I would argue that that is not the function of a rant. However, what it HAS done is sparked conversation.

    The final reality is that nobody can teach anybody else how to find inspiration or how to refine their own artistic vision or style. That is up to the artist. But to use a single artistic source (in this case, manga) as the point from which one expects all things to flow is at the least, idiotic, and at the worst, self defeating. There are more things in Heaven and Earth Horatio…

    Since you specifically have voiced so much concern over the difficulties of finding inspiration and vision, I will say to you, LOOK EVERYWHERE, STUDY EVERYTHING.

    Take a break from manga and anime entirely and throw yourself into all the art history books you can find. Sit on a park bench and draw whatever is within 20 feet of you. Spend an entire weekend drawing nothing but your own feet and hands. Become a biologist, and an anatomist, and above all an observer of human nature. Art styles need not be complex or perfectly representational to convey mood. But the artist MUST understand what it is she sees and is trying to convey. You are an interpreter of life, and your art is the mode in which you communicate. That’s a powerful tool, and should not be wasted on pretty, pretty princess pictures.

    Do you think I’m harsh? Good. I hope I am. Let it prepare you for a world that is far harsher than I.

    The comics industry sucks. It’s full of nasty, treacherous fuckers. Most people I know working in this industry, loathe this industry. But they love what they do and are compelled to do it. You may not believe it, but Lea Hernandez (aka DivaLea) is probably one of the nicest, most forthright people in comics today. Her experience is hard won and her advice worth heeding… even if you don’t care for the delivery

    Lastly, none of this advice will do you a lick of good if you do not have the need, the damnable, irrational compulsion to write and draw. It’s what drags your ass out of bed in dark days, on the worst mornings and puts that pencil in your hand, despite what logic and common sense might be screaming to the contrary.

    I sincerely wish you success in your search for a vision.

    -Lisa Jonté

    Recommended reading: Drawing With Children by Mona Brookes

  19. Now you’re writing things that are much more my speed ^^. Thank you for taking the time to really respond to what I’ve said, I have no problem whatsoever with someone disagreeing with me, but I find the “one line-snipe and then run away” tactic frustrating. Your still being a tad condescending “I sincerely wish you success in your search for a vision”…now really, what makes you so sure I don’t have a vision, just because I’m arguing the cause of new, untested artists?) Still, this is more the kind of reply I expext from a group of mature adults.

    I would agree with you that you cannot TEACH inspiration, but I think that you can encourage people to look for it. For example, I talk very often with a teenager that is just starting to draw comics. His style right now is VERY manga-inspired, but what we often discuss is how to really look at the elements of what he likes in series like Yugi-Oh (excuse the spelling, I don’t know the series but he loves it), and how to integrate that into his own work. For example, he was telling me how much he liked the way items were used in the story, so we started discussing how he could use items in a similar manner in his plot- only make them completely original items having to do with his own personal themes. He really liked this idea, and as we speak he’s looking at greek mythology to find ways he can integrate greek-themed items (like ambrosia) with his backdrop theme (which obviously is related to the greek gods). In addition, I’ve also been encouraging him to take a life-drawing class, because his anatomy needs some work (so does mine btw, but I take life drawing classes already).

    Now this method- seeing what it is that’s inspiring the person to copy, not “dissing” the fact that they were inspired to copy, yet encouraging some more originality- is in my opinion, the best way to help someone break out of the imitation stage. If I’d looked at his work so far and said “Richie, stop drawing this bad manga that you obviously ripped off from Yugi-oh”, he would have been extremely hurt, and I doubt his future work would have been any better for that comment.

    I respectfully disagree that copying over the age of six is useless; if you take this kind of elitist attitude, then congradulations, you’ve just told 99% of all teenaged comic artist that they’re work is useless. Copying exclusively will not teach you what you need to know, but I do see it as a form of studying something that you think is well done. It is best complemented by more diverse influences, but I find it hard to believe that anything you do artistically is *useless*. Not as useful as some other modes of practice (which can be worked up to, with some positive encouragement), but it is far from useless.

    Besides, do you really think that it’s any accident that the grand majority of people who start out drawing comics start out by copying? You can take the approach of saying “Well, most people are stupid, and that’s why they’re stupidly copying!”, or you can look at why the behavior is common and what function it might serve. Obviously, I prefer the latter.

    However, encouraging a young artist takes time, and I think some people are much more comfortable making huge blanket statements about what they’d like to see changed, yet not doing anything productive to instigate actual change. I think this article was successful to the extent that it provoked discussion about the pros and cons of imitation, but do I think that my friend who’s just starting to find his voice would have been inspired by it? Hell no. For all I know, Ms. Garrity may be a great inspiration to lots of artists around her (and I don’t mean that in a snide manner, I’m merely saying that I don’t know her personally), but this article is a rant. This is why I took some umbrage when Ms. Hernandez and others started saying “It’s not a rant, it’s encouragement!”. Sorry, but no. Like I’ve said multiple times, it’s a good rant- I like rants! They’re fun!- but let’s all call a spade a spade.

    Finally, I also agree with you that learning more about art- all art and not just anime/ manga art- is indeed the best way to go. You’re talking to the kid who got a perfect score on the AP art history exam and will blab to anyone who’ll listen how Botticelli was so clearly ahead of his time, and was recently heard to be complaining that a local exhibition on the work of Toulouse Latrec was using as it’s promotional image something far too reminiscent of a Degas for comfort. I think some people may be jumping to conclusions that because I’m playing devil’s advocate a bit, I must be someone copying manga in my basement who knows nothing about art. Au contraire: I would be the worst judge of my own comics quality (being biased and all), but I like my current artistic direction. Still, I’m close enough to my imitation stage to remember what it felt like to be there, and I remember what was helpful to me and what wasn’t. I think that’s something that the “professionals” may be discounting. It’s the classic story of someone who found their development stage difficult (because it’s difficult for everyone), then when they finally hit their stride wishes they’d been thinking that way all along, and develops zero tolerance for other people making the same mistakes. It would be nice if we could all jump from novice to grizzled professional, but the mistakes, and the soul-searching that comes from those mistakes, is part of that growing-up process. The mini-crisis when an artist realizes that they CAN’T copy anymore, and they will never become the artist that they are copying no matter how hard they try, is often the impetus for really original ideas, and while it would be ever-so-nice if those ideas would manifest themselves the instant the artist put pen to paper, for most it won’t; they need to go through the process, and make their own mistakes. Respect the process.

    Finally, since I’m interested in this topic, I’ve been writing about it in my recent rants on my website (which I believe is linked above)… not sure how many people still care, but it’s there for anyone who’s interested.

  20. I respectfully have to disagree with both of you. First of all, you both say that “inspiration” and how to search for it cannot be taught. I have to argue to the contrary.

    First of all, I believe the main obstacle to teaching or learning how to forage for inspiration is the believe that it’s a skill that can’t be taught. A battle lost in the mind cannot be won in reality. The way I see it, learning the basics of how to find inspiration is like learning how to track an animal or learning how to fish. For example, certain areas are usually better fishing spots (i.e. shady places) whereas certain places or activities are more likely to spark an idea (i.e. museums or parks). That’s a simple example, but hopefully it makes my point.

    Secondly, it doesn’t matter how good or bad of a teacher you have… in the end, it’s not how good or bad that they teach that matters, it’s how good or bad that you learn that matters (I also believe it’s possible to teach people how to learn, but that is beyond the scope of this response). Although this falls squarely on the shoulders of the learner, a good teacher will realize this and deal with it accordingly.

    Unfortunately, I do not believe that this argument can be easily proven one way or the other, but as a fairly ordinary person striving to be creative, I have to believe in these ideas or all my attempts would be a meaningless waste of time.

    What I’m ultimately trying to say is that anyone can be a creative and artistic individual, and people can either choose to encourage or discourage others in doing so. That having been said, I think that Garrity’s view expressed in this article (as well as a number of views found in the responses) aren’t exactly encouraging. I have never really understood why a lot of artists seem to act in ways to discourage others from entering the field… most notably, people who call themselves fine artists… but I’m beginning to rant.


  21. Actually (heh this is about to get really silly), you don’t have to respectfully disagree with my opinion, because I actually agree with a lot of what you’re saying, only that I didn’t get to it- hey, I’m typing essays here as it is, for reasons that continue to elude even myself *shrugs*.

    Criticizing the behavior (copying) is very shallow, because there’s monkey-see monkey-do copying, and there’s productive copying. If there’s no analysis of the material going on, then I would agree that it’s a waste of time. However, if in the process of re-drawing, you are internalizing different methods of comic creation, say what you want about it; it will never be useless, because you’re thinking about exactly what you’re supposed to be thinking about when you’re a developing artist.

    Like just about everything else in life, there’s a way to copy that’s helpful and there’s a way that isn’t helpful. I am of course a proponent of the more helpful kind ^^. And you’re right, it absolutely cannot be proven :).

    (What follows is a long rant about the subject of other artist’s being discouraging, and how it kinda sucks. I only realize in retrospect that it is a complete and total rant, but err, I blame you FD- you brought it up *sticks out tongue*)

    Finally, as to other artists being discouraging….it’s the whole “Let me be cruel to you now, because you need to thicken your skin to survive in this business” attitude. Doesn’t make any logical sense. I mean, I love the hypocrisy of saying that they want to be cruel to you out of a deep respect for your developing emotional resilience. You know, if someone is an asshole to me in the future, I’ll do special breathing exercises or something, I’ll be okay, really; I don’t need anyone to unduly harsh to get me “used” to it. Such concern for my emotional well-being is touching, but these artists should conduct themselves like a decent human beings and let ME worry about dealing with rejection later. There’s nothing more condescending than claiming that you have any power over anyone else’s emotional development.

    Can you imagine the same line of reasoning applied in other realms? It’s so great I got hit by that ten-ton bus, because then it didn’t hurt that much anymore when I got hit by the Mack truck that came later. It’s just peachy that the Spanish Inquisition and the Pogroms really got Europe all ready for that whole Holocaust thing. Seriously, it’s the exact same line of reasoning. Nonsense.

    That’s my assessment of that whole attitude, anyway. I think a lot of people have to deal with that BS when they’re young, but instead of thinking “gee this sucks, I won’t do this to anyone else if I ever become successful”, they think “Oh this must be some sick right of passage, I can’t WAIT until I’m at least on the other end, dishing it out instead of taking it!” And the whole ‘I’m doing it for your own good’ thing is carefully slipped in to absolve them of the responsibility of being well, assholes. Being an asshole is a lifestyle choice, kind of like smoking or willingly subjecting yourself to too much bad reality TV shows, but it’s one that people should take responsibility for; Don’t make up some crackpot ideology as an attempt to justify it.

    Thanks for discussing the issue Fractal Dragon, and I can certainly sympathize with you about having to deal with what you’ve described. Okay, final post on this topic, got to stop posting and back to my (totally non-copied, because I’m like, soooo past that) comic book ^^.

  22. Yes, it’s true–us people already in the field want to discourage everyone not getting paying work yet. We envy your youth and your talent.

    It has NOTHING to do with the possibility that someone’s work might not be good enough to be paid for, or that a dead editor would see every single element magpied from other people’s work, in spite of the fact that your Cyclops character has TWO eyebeams and your Sailor Moon character has BLACK hair.

    It has nothing to do with piles and piles of slush reading and portfolio reviews of pinup after pinup, or comic art swiped from someone who swiped from someone who homogenized their lack of drawing skills into a consistent style.

    We’re just mean. MEAN. MEAN. Grr! Grr!

    Lea (my first name is not spelled with an ‘h’)Hernandez

  23. If that was addressed to me, then I’m sorry; I have a cousin Leah and I spell it her way without thinking. I would have corrected it earlier, but you seemed to want to just drop the whole thing, so I respected that *shrug*.

    Once again, I see your point to an extent. But you know, if my work isn’t good enough to receive pay for it, then it’s 100% my responsibility to deal with that. Furthermore, if editors only were sent professional-quality work, that would kind of negate the purpose of having editors *nervous laugh*. It must get frustrating, but some people have an accurate perception of their own artistic progress, and some really don’t. The problem is probably people sending in stuff that is just nowhere near ready for prime-time, not whether it’s copied sub-par or just “I can’t draw and I don’t know it yet” sub-par.

    This is why I put my comic on my website for free, ‘cuz I would hate to be in that category.

    You know, Ms. Hernandez, I honestly don’t think that you’re a mean person in the slightest; I took some offense at one or two things you said, but you’re busy and you don’t necessarily have the time to worry too much about some debate on a comic site. I understand that. BUT, regardless of how much talent, or experience, or complete lack thereof that I may or may not have (how’s THAT for noncomittal!), I don’t think anyone else can direct my artistic destiny. Even if it’s for the right reasons that they’re trying.

  24. Great article…must say I agree with everything written here…I think the great part about manga is how so many different rendering styles are available, and how much more potential it has.

    Last I heard Kishimoto (Masashi)’s ninja comic, Naruto, is doing a good job of challenging One Piece as the most popular while increasing interest in manga, and Hikaru no Go increased awareness in the strategy game Go.

    Btw, I’m still bright green with the idea that you work for a manga publisher

  25. (apoligizing for poor spelling and grammer in advance)

    after reading the artical, i felt i had quite a few things to say. then i read through the comments and realized most of them had already been said. but that is not going to stop me from reiterating what came to my mind. bare with me for a bit though if i’m a bit slow in getting to the point.

    i am an artist, and since the time i was 5 i have been for most of my life in one form or another. a novice and a student of art through elementary school, high school and weekend courses at the local community collage. a Graphic Illustratior and multimedia artist in the US ARMY. a murilist and underground comic book artist during long weekends. and now i am an aprentis tattoo artist and flash desinger.

    over the years i have had to copy other’s style and work to learn how the basic principles of desine work. i started with garfeild and snoopy, then went on to batman and spiderman, then european comics like tank girl and Sandman as well as american underground comics from the sixties up through the goth and punk movements. i startedd to grow and intrest in anime and manga as well as vintage horror and sicence fiction comics and films. i even gathered influance from tattoo magizines long before i decieded on my specific career path. and all the time reading about the master artists that have existed through the ages.

    looking back on all of it i can rightfully say all the things i produced coping from others are crap. but due to all the years of testing and developing i have my own style, i have managed to achive the level of ability that i’ve always desired to reach… being able to draw what i see in my minds eye exactly as i dream it.

    sure, people look at my work and say “hey, You were heavily influanced by xxxxx, right?” but “xxxxx” isnt always the same. one person my see my anime influance in visual perspective where someone may see the where i derive my pen style from classic EC comics and someone else may see that my use of anotomy resembles that of the underground counter culture artists from almost 50 years ago. but then, after defining the influance i am proud to say most people make the coment that “no one does this style quite like you do.”

    it makes me proud. but i wouldn’t have been able to do it if i didn’t have years and years of drawing cartoon aninimal ripoffs of garfield that i would show to friends, family and teachers who would give their input and dirrect me in which way to go and tell me what you are doing right and wrong.

    as said by someone else on the thread, the web is a outlet and a testing ground for people who are learning. most who on some level have a desire to become better. be it as an artist, a writer or even simply as a person. any artist (and many tharapists) will tell you, you will never get any better if you dont A: learn to crique yourself or B: learn to lisen to the crique of others.
    the internet is great for this (though anyone who has been badly flamed may argue), because the internet is a gigantic forum that opens you up to hundreds of relitively unbise crique.

    but all art talk aside, the quality of a writer/artist’s creativity is not defined by the quality of their technical ability. i have seen a large number of webcomics that are astondingly creative and intresting that are terribly drawn and horribly written. that dosnt make them any less creative. (this is why some 8-bit comics are accually intresting and fun to read) like wise just because the art or writing is good dosent make the work creative. like movies with big budgets in compariason to low quality B-films.

    and using that segway, all the bad “Manga/Anime ripoffs” create comparitive material for the “Quality Manga/Anime.” just about any serious film enthusiest will tell you; if you watch enough films that are compleat rubbish and apritate them for what they are, the Quality films seem that much better. doing this also trains your eyes to see throught the glint and glimmer to see what is the truely creative and artistic peice. compair the first Godzilla movie “King of the monsters” to the relitively recent american Godzilla movie. the new is flashy and cool looking, but it is simply just a poor knock off of the original witch seems much more intresting and creative in direct compairison.

    but in the end, it comes down to the fact that unless you become a hermit, you cant help being influanced by Pop Culture. Shaenon says “stop putting the girls in those damn sailor suits. You didn’t go to a high school where the girls were forced to dress in humiliatingly cutesy-poo uniforms.” Now why cant i draw girls in sailor suits? because i never went to a school that forced it on people? Now be honest, it may not be a social status quo thing here in the US (unless you went to Catholic School, but that’s a different uniform), but the sailor suit (as well as spiky haired psychic martial artists) has become a Pop, Sub-, and Counter culture image.

    Enough anime fans run around in silly outfits, so i’ve been exposed to it, i’m drawing from life but also pop culture. heck, if you are into fetish clothing there is enough psudo-school girl clothing to go around. drawing from pop culture is drawing from life if you are an artist. Andy Warhol lives on in spirit in this country and it dosent matter if you accually lived it, as long as you saw it on tv, read it in magazine or saw a poster depicting it- it’s now part of your life.

    well, thats all i have to say about the subject but i’ll end on this final note.
    Shaenon, though in the article you are rough about how you have said it, you have basicly said what any striving artist needs to hear. despite weather it was your intent or not, after cutting thought all you said it boils down to…”if what your doing is garbage, don’t be satisfied, work harder and develope something great”
    if i’m wrong, let me know.

    and with that, have a nice day everyone

  26. Yeah you are going to get a lot of “what about this” responses to your post. Please allow me to be the first.

    I am surprised you didn’t mention ever summer eve:

    Denise has a great comic with an orignial story and the most professional production I’ve seen in a webcomic. Her style is manga influenced but it is clearly her own as well.

    PS Im an anonymous fan GIRL, drat the gender biased internet.

  27. All bow before her Majesty. She is the Oracle. The Chosen One. Her Word is law. Or at least should be.

    Shaenon, how I love thee.

    The existence–and the popularity–of those “How To Draw Manga” puddles of bile is proof-positive that Satan is real. Every time I see one of those ***** things, it’s all I can do to hold myself back from vomiting/pissing all over them. Or burning them right there in the store.

    Please, dear sweet otaku nerd, I beg you, listen to Shaenon. Don’t become another human-photocopier. Find your own voice. You’re an individual. You are creative. You are talented. You can see the world around you. You don’t have to draw panties on *****-up anatomy barely resembling a human being in every one of your drawings. Your story doesn’t have to be about a barely-pubescent alien/goddess/interdimensional girl who pops out naked from a TV(or falls naked out of the sky or emerges naked from some space pod or gets washed ashore naked from the ocean) who begs to the be the sex slave to a barely-pubescent boy where he trips and “accidentally” gropes her tits in every other panel which angers the girl with the school uniform that has a crush on the barely-pubescent boy who is really his “true love” but never knows because they are both too shy to say anything for 32 volumes which is too late anyway since the alien/goddess/interdimensional bounty hunter/brother/father of the alien/goddess/interdimensional barely-pubescent girl comes and hunts him down before he realizes he can focus his chi through an ancient scroll/tablet/wand and ***** everything up. Really. It doesn’t. Pleeeeease? Pretty please? I’m on my knees here… *sob*


  28. Good article, Shaenon, and I’m not just saying so ’cause you think Rumble Girls is aces.

    A small point though: Rumble Girls pre-dates Evangelion by several years. (I wrote the original novella and series proposal in 1993!)

    I nearly cried when I saw the Eva mechs, because they were so gorgeous, so female-looking (as opposed to the generally blocky Gundam mechs or the heroin chic impossi-mechs of 5 Star Stories), and I so am not inclined to filch someone else’s work, even though it would’ve meant my mechs would’ve looked a million times better than they do.

    The genesis of RG was my disgust with girl’s sci-fi where the heroine is so ultra-mega-supremo talented at the thing no one else can do that people hate her for it, and their revenge schemes drive the plot. Well, that’d be okay, I guess, but these heroines are like freakin’ Mary Poppins: Perfect In Every Way. Also a factor in RG was the whole “rape the heroine to give her a reason to be a hero” thing. Why can’t a girl want to do right because it’s, well, RIGHT?
    Gimme some Madeleine L’Engle heroines: warty and imperfect, instructed to face up to their mistakes, and willing to do better.

  29. Jap, Jap, Jap!

    ***** Japan.

    Who cares if the kids copy manga, who the hell are they going to copy, Superman??

    The popularity of Anime is more indicative of the failure of the US market to reach the teen readers more then anything else.

    It’s a mistake to say “Don’t copy Manga, do something original,” as if the average kid infatuated with comics could do anything else then copy.

    You’re just like those asshole art teachers who shove a blank paper in front of their students and complain when they don’t draw a ***** Monet or construct an installation about the meaning of the paper pulp.

    They will copy, they will learn.
    Some will excel and outgrow, other will be merely competent and draw more mediocre shit that makes up the oft praised 90%.

    The simple fact is “manga” is just more accessible to more kids then then male/geek power fantasies of superheros that made up the market.

    And all bad comics by definition suck.
    You rather they draw shitty Image comics?

    Five, ten years form now the real artists will emerge, those who’ve never made any kind of distinction where the what came from.

  30. Jap, Jap, Jap!

    ***** Japan.

    Who cares if the kids copy manga, who the hell are they going to copy, Superman??

    The popularity of Anime is more indicative of the failure of the US market to reach the teen readers more then anything else.

    It’s a mistake to say “Don’t copy Manga, do something original,” as if the average kid infatuated with comics could do anything else then copy.

    You’re just like those asshole art teachers who shove a blank paper in front of their students and complain when they don’t draw a ***** Monet or construct an installation about the meaning of the paper pulp.

    They will copy, they will learn.
    Some will excel and outgrow, other will be merely competent and draw more mediocre shit that makes up the oft praised 90%.

    The simple fact is “manga” is just more accessible to more kids then then male/geek power fantasies of superheros that made up the market.

    And all bad comics by definition suck.
    You rather they draw shitty Image comics?

    Five, ten years form now the real artists will emerge, those who’ve never made any kind of distinction where the what came from.

    PS I can’t believe you mention Lea Hernadez as an example of a “good” manga! She a nice person, very busy around the net and all, but come on! She’s barely above drawing… fanzines or something. Rumble Girls??!!! If that isn’t a classic defintion of sh1tty amerimanga…

    Why not mention the Ubergod of US crap, Megatokoyo: The most embarassing (and popular) blatant otaku wank fest ever seen since Ben “Benjo” Dunn and his Anarctic piles of dung heap, Ninja High School.

    Strings of Fate???
    Couldn’t pick people who actually INK??!!

    Say Locke and Mel for example:

    They do comics that are NOT abour Elves or badly drawn fighting robots piloted by chicks, or losers with harems and what not.

  31. Excuse me, but I think you missed the point of the post. I’m not even going to deem this with a further response because you so obviously missed it. Not worth my time. 😛

  32. >Jap, Jap, Jap!

    ***** Japan.

    Better yet, let’s put them all in internment camps. Banzai~

    >Who cares if the kids copy manga, who the hell are they going to copy, Superman??

    See that thing out your window? It’s called “life”.

    And who said anything about kids? There are tons of adults who do bad americanized manga.

    >You’re just like those asshole art teachers who shove a blank paper in front of their students and complain when they don’t draw a ***** Monet or construct an installation about the meaning of the paper pulp.

    That’s funny. I don’t remember a single teacher telling me anything resembling that in all my years at art school. We had to BUY the paper for one thing. Gosh, I wish all my art teachers had shoved blank paper in front of me. I woulda shaved a big chung o’ change. Oh, wait, that’s right, you never went to art school.

    >And all bad comics by definition suck.
    You rather they draw shitty Image comics?

    What does this have to do with the article? At least stay on topic.

    >Five, ten years from now the real artists will emerge, those who’ve never made any kind of distinction where the what came from.

    Couldn’t agree with you more. God bless them. Shaenon’s not talking about them. She’s talking about those who 10 years later are still tracing hentai comics.

  33. Would the real CLAMP please stand up?
    My thoughts exactly, kudos for speaking your mind. It’s hard to find a good online comic nowadays that doesn’t have sailor style school outfits and Japanese names, etc.

  34. Thank you for this article. Pseudo-manga drives me NUTS.

    And can I also say that if you’re going to take something from manga you should absorb not only the simplified lines, but the manner of story-telling as well? Japanese comics tend to be more atmospheric than American; the storytelling is slightly different. I’d like to see that sort of immersion rather than another Sailor Moon-type character.

    Oh yeah, and one last thing . . . if you’re going to use Japan as a setting for your comic, or have some Japanese main characters, PLEASE do research on customs, environment, etc. first. Reading caricatures gleaned from manga and anime isn’t particularly enjoyable for anyone with intellectual or ethnic ties to and understanding of the culture. If even a third-generation who’s never set foot in Japan can tell you know shit about your subject matter, then something is seriously wrong. And we’ll just skip fanboy Japanese. 😛

  35. Pft.

    I got the Manga audience, and I don’t even draw Manga.

    ‘course I draws gay guys and people in uniform…

    so it’s kinda automatic.

    Donna Barr

  36. Right on, Shaenon. Right on the money.

    People should also realize that everything said in this article can also be applied to other comic forms.

    Comic Strips: don’t create yet another white-washed family about how crazy kids can be.

    Superheroes Comics: stay away from muscle-bound, latex-wearing psychos who repeatedly yell “THIS ENDS NOW!” Note: gigantic boobs cause back pain.

    Alternative Mainstream: Maybe try coming up with something other than a hard-drinkin’, chain-smokin’, serial-killin’ good ol’ boy. Note: Superheroes that do this sort of thing should also be avoided.

    Slice-of-Life: How about something more original than the pretty straightforward depressed guy who can’t get chicks (or vice versa).

    All you really have to remember is that those comics you love . . . the ones that got so incredibly popular and garnered their creators massive quantities of love, attention and money did so because 99% of the time they were pretty original ideas. Yeah, you’ll get published if you can draw a comic that’s just like XMen with slightly different characters — Ooh! a WOMAN who shoots beams out of her eyes! — but that approach will rarely get you anything more than a brief flash of popularity and a whole bunch of unsold chromium-embossed comics.

    If that’s good enough for you, go ahead. If not, read Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks. THEN think about creating some comics.

    Chris Shadoian

  37. I’m the first to be irritated by bad manga rip-offs, but in the end I don’t think they’re such a bad thing, for the following reason. I read a lot of untranslated manga in the big Japanese phone books, and a lot of it is terrible. In fact, most of it is terrible. The reason why there are so many amazing Japanese comics out there isn’t because they have some sort of amazing-comic-writing-gene, but because there’s such a huge pool of comics that some of them have to turn out to be great. One of the reasons American mainstream comics are so bad is that there just aren’t very comics being written period. I think that even most manga rip-off comics are terrible, anything that will widen the comics pool will probably lead to good comics popping up in the future. Maybe.

  38. I was literaly inseperable from watching anime and manga comics 13 years ago but i’m getting detached to it. Everything seemed common and repeated and the old manga that i loved back then. I’ve also been drawing with manga style for 12 years..but since then.i stick to one particular style i liked and developed it to what it is now i consider the style that i can communicate well (in terms of what i see, think and feel). Now my friends are drawing comics that i find no different from manga out there. My comic still reflects its manga influence but i urge ppl to develop their own style and not just copying whats cool out there.

  39. Feh. Most of everything is crap. That’s why we’ve got editors, and more importantly, copy editors. At work, when i sit down to write something, it is a piece of utter shit. Give credit where it is due– to the people who redo their work until it is right, or the people who realize what they’ve been doing wrong this whole time.

    And most manga is shit. Most music is shit. Most everything, including people, is shit.

    I do wish that people would come up with quality webcomics… but the only two that i’ve found (yes, i read more) are sluggy freelance and something positive.

    I’m utterly sick to death of tired old plotlines, or tired old parodies of plotlines. But i don’t expect it to change.

    And, you can learn an awful lot from watching anime…

    Including the fact that they get their facts wrong as well.

    Look at Noir. Those telephone booths aren’t European, they’re japanese.

    Give people a pinch of artistic license…

  40. Hi Shaenon,

    Great article, although I must confess that I prefer anime’ to reading manga in print. Your point about tired and hackneyed premises cannot be stressed enough.

    As an adult whom has many interests other than manga and anime’, I always try to find the cream of the crop. To me this means a feature-length video, with at least some character development(as oppose to ZERO development in such pieces as Venus Wars), some plot development, and at least a couple of impressive animation effects.

    I don’t mind the occassional times when I’ve rented an anime’ thats SO bad that it’s unintentional comedy. If this is your cup of green tea, I recommend Fist of the North Star. This delightful shit-burger is chock full of violence, mostly the hero striking his opponents so hard that their heads explode and their skulls fly out like a greased watermelon seed.

    In the meantime, I’m always on the lookout for such pieces as “Barefoot Gen”, “Grave of the Fireflies”, or “The Tale of Genji”



  41. Original is better. No arguement.

    Really all this rant is just complaining about amatuers creating amatuerish material. They tend to do that for a while. Pretty pointless rant.

  42. I think we’re spending too much time argueing a point of opinion. 🙂 But maybe that’s just me..

  43. While I agree that artists such as Takahashi, Manabe and Masamune do make mistakes in their work, I fail to see how the examples you give are examples of these mistakes. Turning eyes down at the corners or drawing spikey hair isn’t a mistake, it’s a part of the artist’s style; it’s pure opinion as to whether it’s a good or bad thing.

  44. Wow… This makes me feel like I’ve got something original going with my comic Steal This Comic Book! It’s all stick figures and the ideas are all random crap I come up with after several hours of sleep deprived, caffeine-induced of video gaming and duct tape crafting(Don’t ask…). I feel so original! Ouch, broken glass…

  45. Good article. I will bookmark this one. Thanks for the glossary, too! 🙂

Comments are closed.