Book Review: Hirohiko Araki’s “Manga in Theory and Practice” – Animation Scoop

Book Review: Hirohiko Araki’s “Manga in Theory and Practice”

Manga have become so popular in Japan and throughout the world, that an increasing number of young people aspire to become mangaka, or manga artists. As its title suggests, Hirohiko Araki’s Manga in Theory and Practice is a how-to guide, designed to help young artists find their way. Araki says, “I want this book to be a kind of map in which are recorded the many different roads to creating manga. It’s a map for climbing undiscovered mountains. It’s a map for exploring undeveloped and undiscovered lands.”

Araki is the creator of the long-running Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, which has sold over 100 million books worldwide. It’s been animated for television, OAVs and theatrical features, as well as adapted to novelizations, video games, etc. Araki was one of five artists featured in the 1990 exhibit Le Louvre invite la bande dessinée (“The Louvre Invites Comic-Strip Art“).

Araki devotes most of the book to story and structure, which he organizes into a
five-part system he call “The Royal Road” Themes, Characters, Setting, Story and Art. Manga, he argues, is “the most powerful multidisciplinary art form…A creative person without the ability to draw can become an author or scriptwriter, and one without the ability to write can become a painter. But a mangaka must be able to do everything.”

He explains basic story structure as “ki-sho-ten-ketsu, or Introduction (ki), development (sho), twist (ten) and resolution (ketsu),” and explains what each section should accomplish and how it should relate to the other parts of the story. While he remains focused on manga, many of Araki’s precepts could be applied to Western comic books, graphic novels and story development for animation.

Although he’s not a draftsman in Takahiko Inoue’s league, he writes at length about the need to draw the human figure well and convincingly. He also stresses the importance of observation, not only of human and animal behavior, but of landscapes. “Without going there for yourself, it’s impossible to comprehend the feeling of scale in the midwestern United States, where the scenery stretches on forever and unchanging. The feeling of distance there is nothing like in Japan.”

Araki’s discussion of how a short manga story evolves from notes to a finished work recalls Japanese-American artist Stan Sakai’s “How I Do Usagi Yojimbo,” which appeared in the fifth volume of Usagi. Araki’s preliminary sketches are minimal; his initial panel breakdowns consist of little more than a few quick pencil lines and words. Sakai offers a more detailed account of how a single page goes from verbal notes to a thumbnail layout to a finished set of drawings. He shows how different one drawing will appear if it’s inked with a flexible-nib pen, a technical pen or a brush.

High school and college students who dream of creating manga and/or graphic novels should take advantage of the lesson both books offer. In addition, Sakai recently published the 31st collection of Usagi Yojimbo, The Hell Screen (Dark Horse: $17.99), and Viz will begin releasing the animated Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure on Blu-ray later in July.

Manga in Theory and Practice
By Hirohiko Araki (Viz: $19.99, hardcover)

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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