Most manga artists, except for those doing spin-offs of existing games, novels, and anime, own at least part of the copyright to their work. This stands in stark contrast to American comics, which until the 1990s were almost totally dominated by corporate-owned properties that viewed artists as interchangeable cogs. (Blade,Spider-Man,and X-Menwere all created as works for hire.) Manga artists occasionally switch publishers, as when Weekly Shônen Jumpartists left to form Comic Bunch(known in America as Raijin Comicsor when numerous Enix artists left the company in 2002, forming new magazines such as Comic Blade.(They took their manga series with them, but for copyright reasons they had to change the names slightly.)
Japanese publishers are besieged by applications from manga artists, but not just anyone will do. To find the best, publishers run new-talent contests, often printing the winning entries in zôkan(special editions) of their magazines. Other artists become famous through dôjinshi(self-published comics) and are later picked up professionally. When an artist is selected, he or she is assigned an editor, who oversees the artist’s work and frequently steers it in a more commercial direction. In the 1980s, editors started taking a heavier hand in manga production, and in the higher-selling magazines, they have major input regarding plots. But it is almost unheard of for a manga artist to be dropped from the series he or she created and replaced with somebody else.
Manga artists work under rigorous schedules. A typical weekly title is twenty pages, or a stunning eighty pages a month. Some artists draw more than one story at a time. In the artist’s notes for YuYu Hakusho,a weekly manga, Yoshihiro Togashi calculates how much free time he has, based on a formula of four hours per page (not counting time spent scripting) and five hours of sleep per night. He comes to the conclusion that he has nineteen free hours per week (“subtract time spent for eating, bathing, biological functions, and other necessities, and I’d only be left with three to four hours”). Some manga artists go days without sleep to meet their deadlines, and burnout horror stories abound. In the 1990s, the magazine Quick Japanran a series of stories about manga artists who had gone crazy as a result of their work.
To manage their workload, most manga artists employ multiple assistants, who lay down screentone (the black-and-white dot patterns used in manga), gather reference materials, draw backgrounds and crowd scenes, help with the inking and computer effects (if any), and generally do whatever the artist asks them to. Unlike in American comic books (but like many American newspaper comic strips), there is no shame in using assistants; most artists do not credit their assistants, but some do, and some even allow them to show off their own work in the extra pages of their graphic novels. The system serves as a sort of mentorship, allowing aspiring artists to practice the skills they need to go pro. Some artists, such as Takao Saito, have vast studios with dozens of assistants. Others do not; Akira Toriyama lived in his parents’ house while drawing the megahit Dr. Slump,and Mihona Fujii, artist of,used her mother as her primary assistant.
A few manga artists create “art for art’s sake,” whether in self-published dôjinshior in underground magazines such as Axand the now-defunct Garo.But for most creators, manga is both an art and a business: a mass medium that, unlike TV or movies, can be created by one person with the most basic tools. While the art shines through, the business finds new ways to thrive; many publishers are now experimenting with online manga, e-books, and other new media