Monday, June 11, 2012

Manga Day

“Manga” is the name used for comics in Japan and they are quite fascinating to study. Manga art is highly symbolic and there exists a standard lexicon of common expressions, character marks, and gestures (of the face and body). This conceptual lexicon is a wonderful thing because if you learn it you can create cartoon images that will be as understood in the west as in the east (dialog aside). There are many books in print whose titles begin, “How to Draw Manga…” and many of them are quite instructive. But studying popular Mangaka (manga artists) can also be quite helpful. Although there is much standard (and substandard) manga (art and story) out there, there are also excellent manga artists with very recognizable styles.

One of my favorite manga storytellers is Yuu Watase. She has drawn and written many series going back nearly 20 years. Quite a few of her popular series have been made into anime (abbreviated from “animation”) cartoons, live-action TV shows, and plays.

Although I am familiar with other Mangaka whose artistic styles are more consistent and perhaps stylish, I would argue that Ms. Watase is quite masterful with the subtleties of the form. I decided to test my theory by doing some studies of two of her characters, a hero named Tamahome and his reincarnated self, Taka.

Tamahome sketches with notes
I didn’t do all that well with it. It seems easy enough to reproduce her characters’ extreme emotions like rage, fear, etc. But, as I suspected, she is doing something really subtle to get the thoughtful, peaceful, loving, and other quiet emotional glances. These latter expressions are critical in a romantic hero and she really does have them down.

Mostly sketches of Taka with one Tamahome on the top right
One piece of this is her characters’ eyes, which are not standard in any way. They change in each drawing! *sigh* But there more to it. The eyebrows are very graceful and have a relatively short range of expression (unless the character is doing something excitable.) Eye size is tricky too, too large and he’s too young, too small and he’s not to be completely trusted. I still have yet to figure out how to make these characters look thoughtful. It’s not a lack of expression, it’s definitely something she’s doing in her drawings.

I did discover one thing that seemed to work for me however. If I thought about the personality of the character as I was drawing him, I could modify what I thought I saw in my copy to make the character look more like “him.” Isn’t that strange? I certainly thought so! But it did work.

Fushigi Yugi manga cover (there's Tamahome on the left.)
Ironically, Ms. Watase didn’t think she was very good at drawing this particular character either. “…If you think I’m obsessed with Tamahome, you’re wrong…I’m not very good at drawing either of them [Tamahome or Hotohori].” (From an interview in the “Fushigi Yugi” manga Chapter 80: The Lost Heart.) She herself was most impressed by how Studio Pierrot drew him for the anime version. Go figure…

So that’s it for me today. I’m all drawn out… *lol* Time to put down for the day my pen and brush and go make a nice cup of tea.

If you are interested in more about the expressions used in manga click here to see a previous post about it.

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