DIY Manga Artist: Columbia Kho Making Manga Mine: Self-publishing manga for is a religion for true fans
At this point in time, young Filipino comic artists are decidedly the "mangaka" type.
Yes, there are other Filipino comic book artists out there who are extremely talented as superhero illustrators for Marvel, DC and Valiant comics and many other western comic book publishers.
But for all school kids and those young at heart who have already grown up yet still want a shot at making comic books as a worthwhile gig, no other comic book art style offers the same level playing field as doing manga.
And it's not even because it is Japanese and supposed to be cool like some pundits insist. But because manga as art and story transcends the fact that it is Japanese and still is something every kid can love as their own. Reach magazine talks to in-house, freelance contributor (I Refuse Rue! on the Imaginarium imprint section) Columbia Kho aka Kurohiko, a devoted mangaka Pinay artist, about what it takes to cultivate the ideal work environment to keep making Good Stuff manga for life.
Image Credits: Columbia Kho, used with permission Page Art for My Facebook Boyfriend for Real by Columbia Kho.
REACH: Hello Columbia! Going full-time like the characters in Bakuman as a mangaka does requires a lot of resources, a work team environment, and even a day job for the less fortunate to even things out if not working for any publishing house. How do you do your mangaka fix year in and year out? Do you write stories in a journal for mining in the future? How do you and your mangaka friends keep the fire burning for doing manga stuff every year?
Columbia: Being compared to the characters of Bakuman gives me a lot of pressure somehow! (LOL). I’m actually not very good at writing stories, so I read a lot of books; manga and novels alike! It helps to base stories from personal experience, but I tend to write down my dreams too! Most dreams are just silly, impossible situations, but reading my dream journal reminds me of the emotions I felt during those dreams, which in turn, inspires me to write!
As for drawing manga for more than 10 years now, I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, but it really helps me to read other people’s work. It makes me think “Wow, their drawing style is really good!” or “This character is really interesting!” and that makes me want to keep improving myself! Being friends with people who are more talented than me also helps quite a bit!
REACH: Some Filipino artists of a different stylistic preference tend to stereotype our love for manga as us doing gaya-gaya to what looks cool, but they refuse to admit that both anime and manga both transcend and bridge cultural boundaries, like American pop music, and are beloved by everyone who knows they are experiencing a great story with the best characters they've ever seen. What are the timeless anime series and manga stories that cemented your love for the medium and pushed you to decide that making manga art and stories is something worth all the time you put into them?
Columbia: I think “Candy, Candy!” was the first anime I had ever come across, but Sailor Moon pretty much sealed the deal for me. I’ve always loved drawing as a child, but because of Sailor Moon, my uncle (my drawing teacher) was able to teach me the basics of human anatomy thanks to their outfits! (LOL)
However, Rurouni Kenshin made an even bigger impact on me because this manga was set on real events that occurred in Japanese history. Watsuki-sensei’s art style and attention to detail also made me realize how important it was to learn how to draw backgrounds properly. It made me wonder if I could write something similar based on Philippine history.
Image Credits: Columbia Kho, used with permission Art for My Facebook Boyfriend for Real by Columbia Kho.
REACH: Asking you as a dedicated mangaka artist, we both know that we're only as good as the story, and no matter how great our artwork, if the story blows we get less than our time back from both reading and illustrating a manga book. What for you counts most for making good manga a possible blockbuster like say One Piece or Bleach? Do you prefer a quiet 'talking heads' story or one with fight scenes? If you were a publisher, what would you look for in a mangaka's storytelling skills? What manga series would you cite as an example for great stories?
Columbia: Although good art is the first thing that I usually look for in a manga, a good story is usually what makes a good manga. One Piece has a straightforward story about looking for the legendary One Piece, but the main theme is about friendship. Being able to expand on a simple theme like that makes the manga easy to follow and relate to, which is why, I think, it’s really popular.
I wonder if I’m even qualified to comment on this? (LOL) In my opinion, talking heads can make the manga pretty boring. Although not all manga are fighting-type, artists should play around with camera angles to make the panels more interesting. Take for example Bakuman: Although it’s quite text-heavy and calls for a lot of panels of talking heads, Obata-sensei still draws dynamic perspective shots, bird’s-eye views, and worm’s-eye views, making the artwork very interesting and, in turn, making the readers want to keep reading!
If I were the publisher? I think that the first 3-5 pages of the manga has to catch my attention. Aside from that, the story should be easy to follow in the next few pages. Even if an artist is purposefully writing a complex story, it’s hard to appreciate if it’s not easy to follow.
Death Note is a good example of a complex story that’s easy to follow. If you want something more of an emotional series that will pull your heartstrings, check out Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice) by Yoshitoki Oima, or Kimi ni Todoke (From Me to You) by Karuho Shiina.
Image Credits: Columbia Kho, used with permission Pin-up Art for Crystal Shadows by Columbia Kho
REACH: Character design is also one facet that manga artists slave over until they get things right. There are established design stereotypes for manga characters like the magical school girl, the mecha boy pilot, the hentai grandpa, the beautiful male villain and so on. Would you recommend to kids to cut their teeth first in manga work by designing characters or by learning page lay-outs and storytelling methods first? Do you keep a personal character design library? Is Deviant Art still a good place to collate your mangaka portfolio?
Columbia: I think that is also different for everyone. When I was writing Crystal Shadows, the characters have a tendency to “move on their own”. Although I have a general outline of how the story will go, it’s quite interesting to see how the characters interact with one another.
On the other hand, Celestia’s storyline was already established before the characters were developed. Both series are a joy to create, but they were made very differently.
I’d advise new artists to keep a small journal. Write down ideas, dreams, and inspirations. Draw people, characters, and nature. This will come in handy once you start making your own manga. I have several sketchbooks full of characters and notebooks filled with ideas which I use for all of my series.
Deviant Art’s daportfolio.com lets you create a professional looking portfolio that’s easy to edit and maintain. This is good to show to publishers. In order to create a fanbase, however, I would advise making a Facebook page. Keep your dA full of finished works, then post work in progress shots in your Facebook. Fans love seeing unfinished works more than finished ones because in a way, it proves that you were the one who made it.
Image Credits: Columbia Kho, used with permission Art for Celestia by Columbia Kho.
REACH: The anime Bakuman serves as great inspiration and a real look into the actual work that goes into a manga business by creative people including the publishers (who have a weekly ratings system for gauging reader interest). We both know that the current local reader environment market here may not be as established as Japan's but there are local manga artist and fan communities that support each other's work. If one would become a self-publshing manga fanboy or fangirl, how successful would one's sales of a self-made book turn out over a year's time given exposure to the local comic book fans of manga?
Columbia: That would depend on how many conventions you go to, I think. Although it’s true that there are loyal convention goers who go to any and all conventions that occur, there will be others who only go to certain conventions.
New artists should also learn to use the social media to their advantage. If you’re going to sell a new book at a convention, be sure to tell everyone about it a week before the convention occurs! Post it on Facebook, put a sneak peek on Instagram, Tweet about it! Forget about being shy about showing off your work! After all, who else is going to think your work is good if you, yourself, thinks otherwise?
REACH: Filipino mangaka artists and self-publishers are making a small but very promising impact on the local comic book scene as well as the local publishing industry. For one thing, it might surprise most people to see kids sustaining a comic book hobby like manga well into their adult lives and not even treat it as 'hanapbuhay' but a vocation to create something cool for themselves to share with other manga and comic book fans. Even big publishers are hiring manga artists over anyone else to do book covers for Wattpad novellas, to design brand logos, or design everything else with that manga/anime flavor. If Filipino Wattpad fans are nuts enough to collect up to 40 copies of different authors and titles worth P200 each and post hoard pics on their Facebook, do you think this interest can extend to a local manga hobby if there were enough awareness of what stories were out there and everybody got a constant peek at the Good Stuff of mangakas the same way they do on Wattpad? What other insights can mangakas get from doing a self-publishing gig and seriously getting better at art and story? Does it all pay off eventually?
Columbia: Self-publishing a manga on the internet does have its perks. For one thing, you already have sample pages ready for a potential publisher to look at. This will also build your fanbase and constantly drawing pages will help you improve continuously. You also get to work at your own pace, which can be good or bad, but as as long as you have the discipline, then it is definitely good practice.
Making an indie (independently published book, usually xeroxed--aka photcopied) for an event is also good exposure. The people you meet in conventions are usually different from the people who like your work on the internet. It’s a great way to create a network of friends who share the same goal.
The only downside is that publishers usually shy away from works that are already on the internet or self-published. The keyword here is “usually” so keep drawing your best because you never know, a publisher just might be interested in making a book out of your webmanga!
Image Credits: Columbia Kho, used with permission Page Art for Celestia by Columbia Kho.
REACH: Your network of mangaka friends have managed to find niches where they can do professional manga-design related work and sustain their manga hobby (drawing and writing manga) and projects even with a day job. Is it easy for mangaka hobbyists to find a 'raket' in spite of being a manga artist these days? Are local publishers constantly on the lookout for the best mangaka talent they can find for in-house production of cover designs or books themselves? Columbia: While it’s true that there has been a manga boom lately, it’s still not that easy. I would suggest to artists to continue to hone their skills and keep applying. If one publisher turns you down, then keep improving your skills and try for another or apply again when they are applications re-open!
REACH: The reality of self-publishing requires that one save up for either having a print house print your comics or you photocopying pages for cheap and stapling them on one's own for comics to bring at convention. A self-publishing effort may also requires one to keep a network of mangaka friends to help each other out, from writing scripts or looking for a great print shop. How long have you and your friends been doing manga as a hobby and as a small and very personal business project and what insights can you share to other kids who want to see their books out there too? Columbia: I started self-publishing in 2012, and only stopped when I had too much work to do with a publisher. If you are really interested in selling your own book, I would suggest registering at conventions who give free tables to comic artists. This will be a good trial to see if your work will sell. How popular you are on the internet doesn’t necessarily reflect in the real world, but marketing through social media is always helpful.
REACH: Can we have a look at your personal workspace at home for your manga work? We ask this of all writers and artists we get the chance to interview. What are your favorite work tools, from inking pens and brushes to paper sheets and pen tablet? Your fave computer design tool for fast sketches and coloring?
Columbia: I always start with a mechanical pencil and my favorite sketchbook. I used to ink traditionally, but nowadays, I use Manga Studio for inking, adding screentones and speech bubbles. I color on Manga Studio too, but Photoshop is indispensable for adjusting the balance and adding effects.
Image Credits: Columbia Kho, used with permission Kurohiko aka Columbia Kho showing off her personal mangaka workspace at home.
REACH: Thank you for giving us your insights into the life of a Pinoy mangaka and we hope to turn things around for local manga comics to be as big as Wattpad pulp stuff soon! Columbia: Thank you very much as well! I hope artists young and old alike who want to become manga artists will continue to draw as much as they can!