Takeshi Miyazawa talks about what itís like working on a shoujo Spider-Man series.
At most comic book stores, many anime fans pass by issues of Captain America and The Avengers to go straight to the manga section, without even glancing at the superhero rack. If they did, Takeshi Miyazawaís art might have caught their eye. Takeshi Miyazawa has a very unique style, especially when compared to the rest of Marvelís output. The Toronto residentís art is very much manga, with expressive characters and streamlined panels. His art has put a unique spin on many Marvel series, such as Mary Jane and Runaways. He also has several creator-owned series, such as Sidekicks and BFX, which are well worth checking out.
At the 2005 Canadian National Expo, Takeshi Miyazawa met with Animefringe to answer some questions about what itís like to be a manga artist working for Marvel.
Animefringe/Shannon Fay: Tell us a bit about your experiences in Japan.
Takeshi Miyazawa: I went to Queenís [University] and got a degree in fine arts. After that, I didnít have a job, and had to think, ďWhat do I do?Ē So thereís this thing called the JET Program, which is an exchange system where they get guys and gals from all over the world to come into Japan to work in city halls or teach English in high schools.
AF: And which one did you do?
TM: I was in a city hall doing interpreting, translating, teaching about Canada. Just a lot of cultural things, rather than comics. I didnít do any comics for those two years.
AF: You were too busy?
TM: Yeah, too busy. I also wanted to take a break and refuel my batteries, and do research. After work, I would go to the used bookstore and read. There were just so many different books, and so many different ways to show a scene or describe an action. I basically made mental notes every so often, so when I came back after two years, I had a bank of stuff I could refer to.
AF: Would that be some advice youíd give to aspiring artists, to read a lot?
TM: Yeah, sure. I donít know. It depends on where you are too. I started out copying Dragon Ball and Ultimate Muscle. Copying is good, but you also want to make it your own, so change it. Change it, kind of deviate from the original. Thatís a good start.
Iím all about storytelling right now, so I look to professionals for that. I guess Iím a professional now. Itís one of the things that I really, really study. Donít just pass up a scene because itís action. Read it. Feel it. Youíve got to get into it.
AF: What did you read growing up?
TM: Comics aimed at kids. Doraemon and a lot of old school Jump comics like Fist of the North Star, and soccer and sports comics. Theyíre just a lot more reader-friendly, with simple life circumstances. ĎIf your friend steals, what do you do?í Moral things like that.
AF: Does that moral element play a part in how you draw?
TM: Itís more just the inspiration. I think back to when I was reading that stuff, and it was almost magic on paper for me. I just love that, and it really inspired me. I was like, ďOh my God, people are doing this, and theyíre basically making dreams for kids.Ē I remember reading comics, and I couldnít wait to turn the page. Every new issue that came, I couldnít wait to read it. I want to convey that same feeling to kids now. I donít know if Iím successful or not, but I want to keep going, keep continuing.
AF: Do you still read the same kind of comics?
TM: Mostly comics aimed for young adults. Do you know Gantz?
AF: Thatís more of a mature reader title.
TM: Yeah, totally, but itís just entertaining. Blade of the Immortal; I love that. Spriggan; itís kind of old. Mostly action-based comics. I like the fluid aspect of storytelling, and action-based comics are amazing for that. But I also like to draw slice-of-life and calm scenes and stuff too, so a balance of both. And Ghost in the Shell is unbelievable.
The great thing about comics is that you can control how fast the action is going by how fast youíre reading it. Itís a lot more interactive that way.
AF: Youíve worked with a lot of different writers. What are some of your favorite collaborations?
TM: I would have to say one of my first projects with J. Torres.
TM: Sidekicks, yes. I was still in school when I was drawing that, and I was fresh. I was eager. I had so much energy. I would do my classes during the day, and I would draw at night. That was one of the times I still remember because I loved doing it. I still love it now, but I donít feel like I have the same fire anymore. And Jís writing is awesome, obviously. Itís one of the few creator-owned things Iíve done. As for any artist or any creator, it always has a special place in your heart when you do stuff like that.
AF: Right now youíre doing BFX [with writer Arthur Dela Crus], and thatís a creator-owned series.
TM: Yeah, totally.
AF: Do you have the same inspiration for that?
TM: Um, yeah. Itís a little bit different since I canít devote all my time to it. Itís kind of like when I get my Marvel work out of the way, and then I do it. Itís supposed to be updated weekly, but...
AF: Well, a web comic allows some flexibility. Speaking of Marvel, whatís unique about you is that you have a very manga art style, but you work for one of the biggest and most recognizable American comic book companies. Do you see Marvel hiring more manga artists in the future? Is that becoming a trend there?
TM: Itís been a trend for years. Itís just a stylistic change that theyíve been going through. I prefer people who do a little more manga storytelling; thatís what Iím drawn to most, rather than the superficial aspects of it. Theyíre cool. Itís really slick. Itís great for the kids, because they can get into it, but I like the subtle aspects of the storytelling.
And mangaís still relatively new, so not a lot of people know the vocabulary, how itís done.
AF: The language of it.
TM: Yeah, but I can foresee, even in the next two, three years, all the kids who are growing up with it now are going to start drawing, and itís going to be a totally different market.
AF: But you can say that you were one of the first.
TM: I donít know if Iím the first. Iím one of the people they really took a chance on. They havenít told me to do Marvel house style or anything like that. Theyíve always been cool with me, saying ďJust do what you do; we love your work, so just go with it.Ē Iíve been really thankful for that.
AF: At some American manga companies, when people are creating a manga, oftentimes the writer will just do the script in movie-script format, and then leave the art direction to the artist, since the emphasis in manga is on the art. Do you find writers write differently for you because of your style?
TM: I know sometimes, when the script is written, they know who the artist is; other times they donít. So when that happens, I have a tough time, because a lot of the pacing, a lot of the panels are like seven to eight a page. Thatís ridiculous. I prefer four to five, max.
AF: Right, because thatís how much you usually see on a manga page.
TM: It also depends on the writer. J. Torres, Brian K. Vaughn, Sean McKeever, all the people Iíve worked with know how to write for me. Their writing style is a lot more decompressed anyway. Sometimes Iíd add a panel here or there to make the transition smoother, but otherwise Iíve had very little problems.
AF: Does Brian K. Vaughn write differently for you than the regular artist when you do your guest stints on Runaways?
TM: Not at all, I donít think.
AF: The same scripts and stuff.
TM: Iíd interpret it a bit differently. Add a panel here or there.
AF: Yeah, whatís the point of having you draw it otherwise?
TM: And I always run it by them; I donít just do it. I donít want to change it or anything like that. Theyíve all been easy-going, very accommodating for me. Itís another aspect of Marvel I like.
AF: So you like working at Marvel?
TM: Oh yeah, itís great.
AF: Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
TM: Well, the next Mary Jane series has been announced. Itís slated as ongoing, but itís going to be in five issue arcs.
AF: So itís easier to collect it in a trade?
AF: I thought that was part of the reason the first Mary Jane didnít catch on, because I buy trades, and pretty much everybody I know buys trades. The series didnít read as well in a trade as when I had read the individual issues of it. But this new series, what will it be called?
TM: Itís going to be called Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane.
TM: Itís a different continuity from normal Marvel, so Mary Jane doesnít realize that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, so we can play on that romance more.
AF: Will Spider-Man be playing a more prominent role in this series, being one of the title characters?
TM: I believe so. I think Marvel wants him in a bit more. Not so much that it will distract from the actual story, but just so guys can say ďOh, itís a Spider-Man book.Ē
AF: I see. So youíre hoping to get male readers as well?
TM: Yeah, exactly.
AF: Marvel has released a Spider-Man aimed at the Indian market. Itís set in India, and all the characters are Indian, but it still has the same story as the American Spider-Man. With Japanís enormous comic-reading audience, does Marvel have any plans that you know of to try and break into it? Like a version of Spider-Man set in Tokyo?
TM: I have no idea of their immediate plans, but I have seen articles on the Internet where Japanese artists have interpreted the character in a totally different light.
AF: Do you mean doujinshi?
TM: Iím not totally sure; I just saw scans. It was a lot more controversial, showing Peter masturbating to a picture of Mary Jane. It wasnít an erotic comic; itís a fact of life. It was kind of interesting how deep it went to the character.
AF: Itís not superficial.
TM: Very psychological. Itís just different styles of culture and the way comics are done in Japan.
I donít know; itíd be cool, but they come out with weekly issues. Twenty pages a week is the standard there, and I donít know if I could do that.
AF: As a manga artist, have there ever been any jobs you didnít get because of your style?
TM: Oh, I donít know. Iíve applied to companies very few times. Marvel just kind of happened to me.
AF: Yeah. How did that happen?
TM: Well, my editor from Sidekicks eventually went to Marvel, and I just kind of went with him. I feel very fortunate about that too, because I really didnít have to go to cons, and stand in line, make friends with editors.
AF: And then be crushed.
TM: (Laughs) Yeah, totally, have my ego just stomped on. No, I guess that the Marvel credit has allowed me to walk through so many more doors. Oni Press has always been accommodating too. Thereís just so many more publishers popping out now, and once you have that kind of establishment, you meet people, and theyíre like ďOh yeah, Iíve seen your stuff,Ē and it just kind of grows from there.
AF: If you could recommend one series of yours to manga readers, which one would it be?
TM: Probably Sidekicks. Iíve meet some people whoíve said that itís what kicked off their manga fetish.
AF: Thatís kind of ironic.
TM: Itís funny. I donít know if my technique can compare to Japanese artists, but the storytellingís definitely there, and Iím proud of that.
AF: Sidekicks was one of the first American comics I read, and it really impressed me. I was like ďWow, they eat Pocky and talk about Miyazaki movies!Ē
TM: That was all J. [Torres]. Heís really in tune with Japanese pop culture; so am I, and we just wanted to incorporate all the things we love.
AF: But itís still a superhero comic.
TM: Thatís the American side of it. You canít get away from that, but it works.
AF: You probably get asked this at every interview, but any plans for more Sidekicks?
TM: We were talking about this like a month and a half ago, and we do want to do it, because the story is just hanging there, and we do want to finish it. It really depends on our schedules. We donít really get any money off of it too. Certain things have to fall in place before we can do it, but maybe do it next year.
Until then, you can check out Takeshiís art at his website http://www.takeshimiyazawa.com/ and his web comic at www.bfxproject2.com. You can also pick up a copy of Runaways or Mary Jane the next time you go to the local comic book store.