How do I become a UK manga artist?
[[Page currently in beta stage - illos to come!]]
I'm hosting this webpage because I get frequent emails asking me for "advice on how I could become a British manga artist?". The answer is not simple, so I thought I'd make a webpage about my experiences and links to resources that can help you get started.
There are worldwide links and suggestions for "being a mangaka" [manga-creator] in general online, but little focused on a UK-centric viewpoint. If you can read and write Japanese, why not submit directly to a Japanese publisher? If you do not, and want to focus more on what's happening on your home turf, then read along.
UK comics legacy
The first question to ask yourself is, "is there an industry for comics in the UK"? When was the last time you purchased a UK manga-style comic? Not on the shelves of a UK newsagents or supermarket, that's for sure. (In France, any supermarché has rows of books and comics available for sale, displayed just like a UK bookshop would.) You can buy comics from a comic shop, some newsagents, and/or from a self-publisher. Here is a lowdown on the state of the UK comics industry by Down The Tubes, good reading.
The UK generally has comics for adults with a male skew (e.g. 2000AD) or comics for kids (e.g. Beano). Both are awesome reads regardless, so don't let categorisation put you off. There was a UK girls comics industry (titles such as Bunty, Misty etc), but this ended around the late 1980's because it was decided by some suits that girls didn't like comics and wanted younger versions of glossy women's magazines instead. Of course this is nonsense, because translated girl's comics from Japan did incredibly well in UK and US bookshops in the 2000's... but momentum got lost and there's not a lot available again from newsagents and supermarkets, so you have to dig a little deeper to find what you like to read - and not steal it for free off dodgy scanlation/comic sites either (please purchase subscriptions via official sites to support the authors!).
So, if - as a creator, you want-- no, need! - an industry involving where you live (i.e. the Western hemisphere), then you have to vote with your finances and purchase with your very credible consumer power first.
So - Comics, コミックス or 漫画? "Comics", "Komikkusu", or "Manga"? "Comics from Japan"? "Japanese manga comics" (urrgh!)? Is "manga" a tainted Western Y2K marketing buzzword? In the future, people won't "categorise" any perceived differences between comic types from different countries like they do now. The internet has homogenised manga and comic book art to a huge extent over the past 10-15 years.
Remember - manga-style is still very, very niche in the UK and not often supported by mainstream publishers, and teachers who do not read comics still don't understand what it's all about. Comics have received prejudice since the dawn of comics-creation, especially in the UK due to Victorian era snobbery, so be prepared to fight this fight for drawing what you love.
A brief history of Japanese comic works in the UK
Once upon a time, there was some manga-influenced work being published in the UK. They were mainly illustrations in magazines though, not so much in comic format. I put this timeframe down to a pre-internet era of the mid-90's in video games magazines, especially with the rise and fall of TokyoPop in the early to mid 2000s. TokyoPop ran an annual competition ("Rising Stars of Manga") in the USA and UK/Ireland for a number of years, but it has not ran since 2008 so it's not an option any more. SuperPlay and other games magazines were champions of showcasing Japanese video game artwork originally. Now, Viz Media have launched a new initiative (see links below). The doors are opening.
From the 90's to this present day, people have always, always published their own Japanese-inspired comics and printed works. Though fewer people make fanzines (fan-made magazines with news articles in them, etc), people are still making comics, merchandise and illustrations, and you can support them via online shops, in Comic Villages or at comic events around the country. The ones I am going to personally are listed on my website.
Nothing has really changed from this format in the last twenty years for people who make their own, alternative, home-produced, Japanese-influenced comics in the UK, so for now that's just the way it is - until there is a demand, and a sustainable creative market. So do support what we've got with your purses and wallets to create supply and demand at events and online!
Do it yourself
So "Manga" or "comics" terminology aside - there are benefits to both self-publishing and being published. Many artists just really love Japanese-style comics so they make their OWN books. While there is a lot more marketing and advertising involved with this method, any money you pay goes directly to the artist to support them… no publisher money-cut!
If you wish to go this route, I'd say the first step is to locate the type of comics you want to make, and they can be bought by people who self-publish (published individually, or published as a group). Learn from what's being made already. There are numerous comics/anime/game events that run up and down the country now, so it's best to check out the Comic Village sections of such events to see what people are making, and work on making your own version!
Once you have drawn your comic (manually or digitally), you will need to make a digital file ready for printing it with. This is the bridge between your pages and a final book. A guide to making PDFs for your comic is listed here. Obviously use specific UK publishing sizes (A4, A5 etc) if your comic requires it!
Finding a good publisher is user-specific trial and error thing. Some folks use the same one each time - some folks move around and try out new ones. It's up to you, and what works for Person A may not work for Person B.
To get started, UKComics Stuart will help you get cracking regards publishing issues! Obviously, you will need funds (savings? Kickstarter? IndieGogo? A monthly Patreon?) to publish your own works. There are numerous printers available in the UK, but Stuart specifically helps out comic creators, especially new ones.
If you wanted, you can pitch your self-published book to a publisher or editor at a comic convention to sell your idea to a larger company. Basically I think we can all agree that receiving a box of books you have made YOURSELF is the BEST feeling ever!
I often see younger artists at events and they tell me "my teacher doesn't like manga" and other similar tales. (And, exasperated teachers, please read this excellent piece, and a great follow up here regards "mangaphobia".)
Some teachers do not mind Japanese comic style, most do not 'accept' it (or comic style in general!). I think there are some things that can be learnt from this, so take heed!
I suggest "do what you have to do for your exams" - because it will improve your art anyway! I do not like the whole "ugh, don't draw manga" thing (some teachers are guilty of this), because it kills student's enthusiasm and art development - but I feel a better tactic would be to say "you can do this good enough now, so try drawing better [buildings? Foliage? Animals? Clothing folds?] to improve your comics". Drawing things you don't like will ultimately improve your entire comic-making experience, as well as taking influence from stuff other than Japanese media.
Why submit artwork you like to someone who will be grading it and marking it down due to both National Curriculum requirements and personal taste? You do not need an exam result for something you can (should!) develop in your own time. There is no such thing as "manga GCSE"/"comics GCSE" or a 9-5 "manga" "comics desk job" :) (There is a MLitt available, though, and The University of East Anglia, near Norwich, will launch a Master of Arts program in Comics Studies in September 2020).
You do not have to submit comics as part of your arts courses, but DO make comics in your own time if you are inspired too. Draw what you need to do for your schoolwork (obviously make sure you are working hard on your exam work! Priorities!) and utilise those July-August summer holidays because you will miss having those as an adult!
As a creative person, in life you will find that you usually have to "spin plates" - doing many things at the same time. You may likely have a full-time or part-time job in the day (doing something completely unrelated to art) and do your comic in the evening (especially for unpaid comic pitches to publishers, the advertising and desktop publishing stuff that comes with self publishing etc). So learning to do this when you are at school is supergood practice for freelancing - a huge majority of commissions will be ad-hoc random things, so these can be done whilst doing a more full-on job. Rotate what jobs make you happy throughout life as required.
Do life drawing! Being influenced by one style of comic art is really restrictive and you can end up drawing some totally weird anatomy. Don't get trapped! I think we are all guilty of this narrow focusing at some point, though - so a great thing to help is Life Drawing and Still Life Drawing. Don't wait for your school/college to offer it up either - your local community colleges and groups should offer some, so Google to see what's near your area and get involved with those classes.
When drawing, do take note of numerous Japanese comic artists who have been influenced by European artists - everyone seems to forget Osamu Tezuka was incredibly influenced by 1950's Disney films, after all - and amalgamate many influences into your work, as any artist would.
Sometimes you may just want to draw a comic without worrying if it gets published by someone else. This is great if you are suffering 'burnout'.
Maybe publish two short stories in one book with a friend's comic too? Share table costs, publishing costs and distribution responsibilities :)
You may not want to publish in print, but publish online using SmackJeeves, Tapastic or other comic hosting sites. Or get a WordPress site up and use a plugin (like this one, this one, or this one) - or code a website yourself, and use adverts via a platform such as Google Ads to raise revenue (but be aware you will be currently responsible for EU VAT via VATMOSS every tax year to do so). You can do all of these options! (Do ensure your website does not take any copyrights away from you. Protect your own content.) If needed, collaborate with a talented programmer friend for assistance, or commission them to help you out.
Competitions and open submissions
PLEASE DO BE CAREFUL OF SIGNING PREDATORY CONTRACTS / SUBMISSION FORMS. Always ask someone to double check the Terms and Conditions of wherever you are submitting to or committing to. Unfortunately some people will take advantage of the love and effort from comickers wanting to make their next big step and include terms such as signing over all your IP (stories and characters, all content) for very little. This is why developing separate stories and characters to enter into competitions is good practice to protect your content.
On the plus side! Entering a competition can really help develop you as a storyteller and artist. You get a theme and a set deadline. Some comps mean you hand over all character and story rights, some you are free to republish yourself afterwards. Read the small print and decide from there. You don;t even have to enter the competition in full - you can take a look at competitions out there and use the brief as a starting point for your own inspiration independently.
After you have decided to pursue, it's up to you to complete your work! Competitions running in, or accept submissions from the UK, are as follows;
International Illustration Contest - Each contest has a theme and a chance to win JPY prize!
MediBang! Art contest - Four winners will be handpicked by the MediBang Paint team in Tokyo. Winners will get Deviantart premium memberships, Deviantart points and have their art displayed on MediBang’s sites and social networks.
MediBang! x Koudansha Shonen Shojo Manga Award - Contest hosted by Monthly Shounen Magazine and Bessatsu Friend, who are looking for shounen manga that will set your soul on fire, and shoujo manga that will make your heart skip a beat.
MediBang! x Bessatsu Friend Shoujo Manga Award Illustration Section - Single-image works that you put up on Twitter, Instagram etc. are especially welcome! There are no particular rules for panel layout etc.
MediBang! MCPO Award - “Manga Contents Promote Organization” is to actively research, domestically and internationally, new manga which has the potential for success, and promote it worldwide.
Shonen Jump’s Universal Manga Contest - Recruiting top talent from all over the world to guide JUMP into the future! Available in 8 different languages. Entries created on smartphones and tablets are welcome too!
The World Manga Senbatsu - Your work should be a 1 page manga (submitted individually), accepting works from all over the world, anyone can participate.
Silent Manga Audition (SMAC) - Organised by Nobuhiko Horie and legendary names in Manga industry in Tokyo. A biannual global manga publishing competition with prizes.
Manga Jiman [Hosted by the Embassy of Japan in London] - you can publish and sell your work after the deadline has passed and the winners have been announced after every annual competition (usually in March).
2000AD Portfolio Competition - [By Rebellion/2000AD] - Not Japanese comic style-specific, but Rebellion are always on the lookout for new works and artists. Hosted at Thought Bubble festival.
The Annual International Manga Award [Initiated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Taro Aso]. Four top prizes including a stay in Japan, exchanges with other mangaka and visits to publishing companies.
In March 2019, Viz Media launched Viz Originals. This is a new North American imprint dedicated to publishing original graphic novels developed by manga-inspired creators. [*No news as of yet regarding any global restrictions, so I feel this can be considered a global opening.]
Here are links to other open submission/competition pages;
[* Links may be down due to being out of date, but I will update them as and when I can.]
If you decide to self-publish and market your work, here is a list of things that can help you on your comic-making quest!
Stickman’s Tips for Having a Table at a Comic Book Convention :: Handy tips for newcomers and oldskoolers alike!
Mangaka.net :: Website with resources for manga artists, featuring lessons on how to draw characters, coloring, materials and a free gallery open for submissions. Though it hasn't had many updates since 2010, it still contains core resources for you to look at.
I hope this has laid out the case clearly, so there are no obstacles in your way to create your own comics! It is not an easy path to take, but incredibly satisfying and very rock'n'roll :D Get to it! And party hard!
Any other questions? Contact me and I will respond if and when possible :)
Thanks for reading! If you're interested in the works I make, please visit my links below :)
Last updated - August 2014