A few weeks ago, Kate Dacy posted at her blog The Manga Critic about some intern positions opening up at Viz for the summer and mentioned my blog. After reading her post, it occurred to me that while I’ve been posting about my experiences as a comic-book editor, I haven’t posted that much on how my internship experience was. Well kids, tie your shoes tight because this post is going to be a roller coaster of advice that’ll get your hopes up and then sink them to hell. I hope you get something good out of it.
1. Just because you’re interning for them doesn’t mean they’re going to publish your manga– I think this is pretty self-explanatory. You’re not there to draw manga, you’re there to work on the publishing side of manga. While the fact that people at the company will know who you are works in your favor if you ever pitch an idea to them, it does not mean they are just going to make you a star. (Let’s face it, interning *IS* free labor.) Now that that’s out of the way…
2. Don’t be afraid to go for it, even if you major in bio-physics– I’ve met a number of interns who were doing something at TOKYOPOP that had NOTHING to do with their college majors. Why did they go for it? Because they had a vested interest in what they were interning in and some skill at it too. Does that mean you should go for it too? If you have that interest and a basic grasp on the tasks you will be asked to do, yes. Everything else is just learning how to adapt to the demands of your job, which I dare say is an ability you want in any work environment. I was totally terrified that I wouldn’t know what to do when I first started too, but then I realized my journalism degree had taught me the skills needed to do my work well even though I wasn’t doing journalism! If your major is comp sci and you want to do a design internship because you like to draw on the side. DO IT! *EDIT* My friend and fellow TP intern, Sumana, added some more great advice in the comments section, the choicest piece being: “be prepared to explain yourself! Because my major isn’t seen often in this industry, one of the first questions during my interview was “why are you here?” I don’t suggest saying “I <3 manga” as your only answer.”
3. Be knowledgeable and care about manga and the industry– During my interview, I was asked what my favorite manga series was. Knowing this question was coming, I went through my library of TOKYOPOP manga and picked out my favorite. I added it in along with my absolute favorite manga of all time and this showed that I knew the manga industry better than most fans (both were kind of off-the-beaten-path manga.) I also told them the truth: I read scanlations, but I preferred having a physical copy. I’ll admit I wasn’t the most informed person at the time, but I showed them that I cared enough about manga to explore less popular releases and that I wanted to learn more about the industry.
4. Work your ass off once you get in-Even if they give you manga to work on that you absolutely HATE, think of it as a learning experience. After all, you are gaining experience by working on it, if nothing else. I got thrown random research projects with the nastiest manga ever, but I read them and I survived. And now I even have some funny stories to tell! I also decided not to get a part-time job for six months and intern for 40+ hours a week at TOKYOPOP. Not because I wanted to be poor or because I was trying to get hired, (OK, I was, but it wasn’t part of the decision process here) but because I really really wanted to be at TOKYOPOP every single day and not to miss a thing while I was there. I was, perhaps, the only one who was crazy enough to do this, but I wanted to milk the experience for all that it was worth. (And hey, I got a job out of it! Yay!) Also, work your hardest to do better than you were before. I asked my mentors every few weeks to give me an overall constructive criticism. It helped me figure out what I was missing in my editing so I could learn and improve on my existing skills.
5. Know your way around social media– I am trying to think of an internship at TOKYOPOP that doesn’t require knowing basic social media skills. There isn’t one. From day one, having a Twitter account was important to my internship. That’s where Stu Levy found me complaining how TOKYOPOP hadn’t gotten back to me yet and directed me to the right person. When other people found out I was tweeting about stuff I was working on, they ENCOURAGED me to keep doing it. (Word of mouth is important to publishers.) When I started this blog, they not only loved it, but occasionally passed me news to break before anyone else could. If they know you can do this whole Twitter business, they will ask you to tweet on the official Twitter account sometimes. If I didn’t have Twitter and my blog, I don’t think I would have met Ysabet MacFarlene or Athena and Alethea Nibley, who also freelance for TOKYOPOP, or many other industry people I have the pleasure of being acquainted with now. Manga is a community, not just an industry, and social media is where you can get in touch with a lot of these people.
6. Be sure you can live wherever your internship is– I promise, this is not impossible despite the fact that most internships are in expensive cities (LA, SF, NYC.) I was lucky enough to have a ton of people I could impose on when I got my TOKYOPOP internship, but I was apparently very close to interning at Viz. San Francisco has a higher cost of living than L.A and I don’t have family there. Still, there are many interns who came to TOKYOPOP from the far reaches of the country, relocating a short period of time. Some of them have family here, but most haven’t and are working part-time jobs or relying on scholarships. Basically, don’t do what I did because I had people to fall back on. You most likely don’t, so get a cheap apartment and a job while you intern, if your school gives you an intern stipend, take it.If it’s too expensive for you still, try taking the internship class at a community college to cut down on tuition costs.
7. Intern in the right department– Every time I tell someone interning at TOKYOPOP that I work in editorial, they say they want my job. Understandable because editorial is totally awesome, but also kind of sad because more than a few of those interns aren’t having a good experience in their department. Did they make the wrong choice or is it just a matter of having a tough time with the work given to them? I don’t know, but at least if it’s the latter it’ll be a learning experience for them, even if they only learn that they don’t want to work in publishing. I learned this lesson by not getting an internship at Viz. When I applied there, I asked if I could apply for both the Magazine and Editorial internship. They made me choose and I chose Magazine. I should have chosen the Editorial one, I probably would have made a better impression on them and gotten the internship! (Ah, but would I be where I am now if I’d gone to Viz?) Choose wisely. Just because the job market is tough doesn’t mean you can’t be a little picky about an unpaid internship.
8. Not everyone is a fan– That’s right, not everyone in the industry is a fan of anime and manga. Hopefully, all the important people are. I know the people in my department are, but not everyone in accounting or design are. And that’s OK. A job is a job and hopefully they’re enjoying the work they do anyway. Just don’t assume everyone’s a fan and go fan-crazy. You can be enthusiastic and passionate about manga without scaring people, I promise, and being restrained and professional isn’t going to hurt you.
9. For the love of CLAMP, enjoy yourself– If you’ve gotten yourself a internship, you’re doing it to learn something. And yes, learning can be SO BORING if you’re in a class you hate. Don’t let that be this class. Make this the one class you take your entire college career that allows you to experiment with something you think you might want to do for the rest of your life. Even if you have convince your advisor that an internship involving graphic novels does not mean you’re dabbling in illustrated porn, (true story.) Do it because this sounds like the most fantastic idea ever and you just also happen to need an internship to graduate! Do it because you live and breathe manga in a totally not creepy way! Do it because you want to have a job you’ll just adore because you get to work with manga ALL THE TIME.
10. Don’t expect a job to fall into your lap– I was extremely lucky that TOKYOPOP hired me. Other interns did not get hired, the majority of them, in fact. If you want that internship to turn into a job in this industry, you have to be exceptional and prove to them that you are worth paying. I can promise you, every company in this industry is keeping a tight grip on their purse right now. You are going to need to work your ass off and have a little luck on your side. I honestly don’t think you can get a job like this without it.
I hope this has helped some of you to take the step to intern in the manga industry. Despite all the negative points I’ve highlighted in this post, I want to say that my internship in manga was fantastic and worth every sacrifice and every mental scar that happened along the way. Obviously, I had the -IDEAL- experience, and you might not have that, but you won’t know that if you go in there thinking to yourself that this internship is going to suck. Go get ’em, everyone!
If you have any burning questions about doing this kind of an internship, I’d love to answer them. 🙂
Edit: In case you want a little more, one of Viz’s summer interns posted about her experience at Viz on their Shonen Sunday Blog.