Shangomola Edunjobi is a British Manga artist. He talks about the skills you need to make it in the industry, and how to turn storytelling into a career.
Do you have an early memory of drawing?
My nursery called my mum when I was about two or three years old, and they showed her a detailed picture I'd drawn of a car. Mum wasn't shocked, because that was what I was doing at home.
That's my earliest recollection of drawing. Since then, I've followed art through the education system. I did fine art at college, and graphic design at university.
In England, there's no route to comics through education, so I chose courses that taught skills that were as close as possible to what I wanted to do.
In 2014 I saw a competition for a one-page comic. It was really short and simple, and the deadline was two weeks away. I did it, and I won. Since then, I've gone step-by-step and found opportunities to create work.
You mentioned that there's no education path in in your country for comics. Is it different in other parts of the world?
My recent success with winning silver in the International Manga Award allowed me to go to Japan for 10 days. We went to museums, animation studios, and a Manga school where people were learning techniques for drawing faces and proportions of bodies. They were also learning how to animate, and to create sculpture and figurines for merchandising.
The people who learned there could create a portfolio to submit to animation studios and comic publishers.
There are also courses in the United States where you can study the craft of creating comics, which can lead to apprenticeships through big houses like Marvel and DC.
It's a vision of mine to create a hub, platform, or even find a building that people can go to and learn the craft through short courses or workshops. People could practice drawing, storyboarding and marketing their work.
There are so many people who want to create comics, but it can be hard to see it as a possible career path. I'd like to see a place where people can learn from a young age, carry that through to adulthood, and learn how to turn those skills into a profession.
When I was growing up, there weren't many black characters in comics who I could relate to. It would be nice for kids who read comics to also have a place where they can learn to create comics of their own, and tell their own stories.
Why did you choose Manga?
There's something about Manga that speaks to me more than the other styles.
Western comics tend to focus more on storytelling as a whole, but with Manga, the storytelling is about the character. There are challenges and journeys, and we see how they emotionally deal with them. I relate to them more than western comics.
Western comics also focus more on superheros. I loved it when I was little, but when I first got my hands on Manga, and read Naruto, which is about Ninjas, and another series which is about pirates, I wondered what other stories I could tell in comics.
The lifestyle of a superhero is far-removed from most people's lives. But Manga also has stories about people who go to work and deal with everyday things, or about cooking.
What makes a good Manga artist?
Storytelling is the hardest part of being a Manga artist. You have to understand the flow of the story. You also have to understand what makes readers connect with a character and want to follow them on their journey.
Discipline is also important. In Japan, where the industry is competitive, artists have to maintain creativity as well as productivity.
Here, we don't have that discipline, because we don't have an industry that facilitates that kind of work rate. Artists make comics when they have time, and there's no demand that it must be done now.
I'm a full-time dancer. I dance with three companies, and the work is very physical and tiring. I don't have a set schedule, but I know other artists with more traditional day jobs who draw in the evenings.
What kind of schedule does a full-time Manga artist have?
On my trip to Japan I got to visit Kodansha publishers, which is one of the main four publishers of Manga in Japan. They allowed us to talk to the Manga artist Yui Sakuma, who created the comic series Complex Age. She works on a weekly schedule, and has to produce 19 pages of comic. On top of that, she has to do front covers and promotional work.
She said that from when she gets up to when she goes to bed, she's drawing. She prioritises sleep, and gets seven hours a day, which I think is pretty good.
I was there with the other competition finalists and we all wanted to give her our comics, to thank her for her time. But she apologised and said she wouldn't have time to read them.
She said that she does watch films and TV, and works while she watches those. She can't read for fun because she needs her hands to work.
You mentioned that Manga artists have to be good storytellers. How do you become a good storyteller?
Do your research.
Storytelling is one of the earliest forms of human communication, and so we've built up a lot of knowledge and resources. Learn about the devices and techniques to writing. Once you understand those, you can break the mould.
I can recommend Story by Robert McKee, and Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels by Peter David. There's also The Story Circle by Dan Harmon, who creates the animated series Rick and Morty.
For Manga specifically, there's Manga in Theory and Practice by Hirohiko Araki, the author of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.
Good stories come from powerful themes that relate to us; love, for example, or connections between family. They can happen within a space adventure, but at the heart of it are those relationships.
Those come from the writer and their personal experiences. What story do you want to leave behind for people?
How do you get an audience for your work?
Most successful writers are very weird people. They have a weird vision of the human condition, which they put into their stories, and people see themselves in a new way.
You have to create consistently. So, people who do web comics might put out one or two pages per week. They have to know their capacity and know that they can stick to that weekly volume.
It doesn't have to be that frequent. Someone else who I researched said that they finish a comic every three months. Three months is a long wait, but if readers know that the story is good and know when it's coming, they'll read it.
How do you get your work published?
The first step in comic-making is to make a comic. A lot of people can draw, and have ideas, but you're not part of the comic world until you've made your comic and can give it to someone to read.
I self-publish my work. When I tell people that I do comics, they say 'oh, okay', but when I show them a comic I've made, they take me more seriously.
I did a collaboration with the writer Emmanuel Adelekun. He wrote the story and I did the drawing. We worked out how to get it onto digital distribution platforms like Kindle and ComiXology. When you've worked through the process once, doing things like purchasing a bar code, it becomes easier.
Marketing is the hard part of self-publishing. When you work with a publishing house, publicity is the main thing that you gain.
It's difficult for an international artist to get published in Japan. The industry is very competitive, and publishing houses would expect you to be fluent in Japanese or work with a translator.
I don't think that the industry in Japan is ready for stories that are outside of the Japanese experience. However, there are stories that are set in fictional fantasy universes, so maybe there will be opportunities in the future.
There are big Manga scenes in Europe and North America. Saturday AM is a digital Manga magazine based in the United States, and they feature artists from all over the world. Diversity of stories, protagonists and ethnicity is a part of their ethos.
UK in Japan 2019-20 is a year of collaboration and exchange, jointly organised by the British Council and the British Embassy Tokyo.
Shangomola won first prize in 2018 in the Manga Jiman Competition, supported by the UK Embassy of Japan. The 2019 competition is now open for entries from UK residents.
Follow @shangomola on Instagram.
If you're in London, you can visit the British Museum's Manga exhibition.