How a Manga Is Made: Behind the scenes of Taiyo Matsumoto’s These Days
By Christopher Woodrow-Butcher
Hello everyone! As mentioned last week, we’re getting to do something really interesting because of this newsletter: a very rare ‘behind the scenes’ peek at how manga is created. We have received permission from manga creator Taiyo Matsumoto, and translator Michael Arias, to show their development work for the short story These Days, which we ran last week here on MSX. The next chapter of Susumu Higa’s Okinawa will return next week, never fear.
Because not everyone knows how manga is created, I wanted to take you on a little walk through that process.
Typically, manga is created when an artist works with their editor to come up with a story.
The next step involves the author creating ‘thumbnails,’ which are basically rough drawings or tiny illustrations of whole pages. Usually, 8-12 pages of manga will be roughed out on a single page of printer or sketchbook paper, to figure out how the story will actually be illustrated and to show how the images will ‘flow’ on the page. At this time, the artist might come up with some dialogue too, but it’s mostly about choosing which ‘shot’ to use (i.e.: how a panel is framed), or what the characters expressions will be. Some artists will do many, many rounds of thumbnails to try to work out a story, to make sure it ‘flows’ as best it can. Some draw very simple sketches, while other artists create very detailed drawings for this stage of the process.
After thumbnails comes the ‘pencil draft’ stage. The illustrator takes the rough sketches, which have been approved by an editor and ‘blows them up’ to full size. Depending on how detailed they are, the author might literally ‘blow them up’ and draw on top of them, either by using a lightbox, doing it digitally using a tablet, or simply redrawing them from scratch. This stage is almost always done using materials that can be edited afterwards, like pencil, or digitally on an editable layer. That’s what we’re going to see today with These Days.
While every artist is different, I can say with some certainty that during this pencil stage, Taiyo Matsumoto tends to finalize the dialogue in his scripts—by writing it directly onto word balloons on the page! He’ll also add where the sound effects will be placed too. Typically, these drafts are scanned in, and are sent to his publisher, so the letterers and typesetters can start the process of lettering the book. It’s because of this that we actually have the ‘rough’ pencils for this work at all! Most manga artists don’t typically save this material, it’s usually thrown away.
A quick aside about ネーム (nemu): It’s pronounced nay-moo, but it’s more accurately translated as “name”, a catch-all word for the rough sketches for manga. Usually it refers just to thumbnail drawings, but depending on the artist’s process, it can also refer to the ‘full-size’ pencil draft stage. In the files we received from Matsumoto-sensei, they were referred to as “nemu”, but popping “manga ネーム” into Google Image Search will yield a lot more thumbnail results than pencil draft results.
The last stage of making a manga page is the full draft stage. The pencils are ‘finished’ with ink, pencil markings (including the hand-lettering) are erased and removed, and a more-or-less final version of the page is ready. Screen tones might be added at this point, or more solid blacks might be inked in (‘spotting’ the blacks), but for the most part, the page is considered done.
In Matsumoto’s process, this is when his wife and artistic collaborator Saho Tono works with him. Together, they ink the pages, add Matsumoto-sensei’s trademark ink washes, and otherwise ‘finish’ the pages for print. Matsumoto also draws his own sound effects too.
The next steps usually happen at the publisher: The work is scanned in, lettering finalized by digitally adding it to the scanned artwork, grey tones applied when necessary. It then goes through various approvals processes, then it gets dropped in a magazine for printing. After a few chapters, a Japanese edition graphic novel is published (called a tankoubon).
This tankoubon edition can be picked up and licensed by international publishers for publication in other languages. To do this, the overseas publisher scrubs out the Japanese lettering and works with a translator, and then a letterer to re-letter the story. In this case, we’re working with Michael Arias as translator, who has graciously allowed us to run his script next to the work. I lettered it because I wanted to cross off a bucket-list item (In all seriousness, I used to be a pro letterer, and enjoyed getting back into the swing of things). That’s a very simplified version of how a manga goes from an idea in a creator’s mind to a physical book in your hand.
All of this is to say: We owe Taiyo Matsumoto and Hideki Egami a huge debt, in allowing us to publish this works. Without knowing for sure, I can only say that sensei is probably a little baffled, a little embarrassed, and a little amused that I wanted to show all of you these roughs in the first place, but he’s also used to me asking hyper-nerdy questions about his manga and process, so I’m grateful he indulged us here.
I’d also like to again offer special thanks to Michael Arias for not only working with us, but also allowing his translations to be showcased as he originally submitted them to us. We wanted to offer a very ‘complete’ look at the behind the scenes manga creation process. :)
So, please enjoy this unique look at These Days, by Taiyo Matsumoto. Oh, and you might want to click through to the website—because of the file size, this will look much better on a big screen.