The Life of a Shojo Artist

Last night I caught a great profile on NHK spotlighting a young shojo (girl’s manga) artist getting into the business.

The first thing that sort of surprised me was how she looked. Contrary to the image I have of most manga creators (read: very otaku-style with no fashion sense whatsoever), this young girl (she’s 22) was very into fashions and accessories. My first thought was that, yeah, this makes sense, since shojo manga tends to be very fashion-conscious (the costumes and accessories of the characters). But Yuko assured me that she was actually an exception, and that the vast majority of people working in the manga field (men and women) do fit into the nerdy-image we have of them.

As they explained how she’d gotten into the business, they gave a good rundown of how the system works within the major weekly comics — without naming the comic they were referring to, it can be assumed it was one of the top ones, probably RIBBON. They way it works is that you have maybe 10 artists that have weekly serials. They’re the big names. Then you have a second tier of creators that get serials published maybe 2 times a month. Finally, at the bottom rung, and the level where most creators start, are about 40 artists that have one-shot type stories that are published once a month.

The girl they were spotlighting (apologies for not remembering her name) recently entered the bottom level, and one of the editors of the comic had taken an interest in her and offered her the opportunity of starting a new series (or maybe it was just a one-shot, I’m not sure) based on the life of uber-idol Aya Ueto. We follow her as she starts work on the project, proposes unfinished layouts, and we even see a meeting with Ueto, who looks quite excited about the pages she’s seeing.

Another interesting topic was talk of salary. The creators that get those one-shot stories (like the profiled artist) only get paid 8000 yen a page. The girl in question’s main work is as an assistant for one of the top shojo creators (and again, I can’t remember her name). Her specialty is accessories, and you would see her drawing amazingly detailed Dior bracelets, etc. Working as an assistant, you get paid around 10 000 yen a day. Yes, I said day, not in hours, since they actually end up sleeping on the premises. A major creator’s studio (usually in a typical Japanese apartment), includes a room with bunk beds for the assistants to sleep in when they need some rest — since salaries are so low, the main artist usually pays for food and snacks also. As for that top creator, she makes around 1 million dollars a year, so if you can become a big name in the business, it obviously becomes quite lucrative (much more than the North American equivalent).

Definitely an interesting look at something I didn’t know much about — and these are just the parts that I understood, as it was entirely in Japanese.