“Learn by doing” is the motto of my alma mater, California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. You’ve probably never heard of the place, but that’s alright.
Cal Poly, as everyone calls it, is a very practical school. In fact, the best way to describe it is a fancy vocational university mostly for majors that make a lot of money. The engineering, architecture, agriculture, math and science schools are the most popular and impacted, and they are known for graduating students who have the most hands-on experience. And I went there to study journalism. (I had my reasons!)
The teaching policy in the journalism department was still the same: You don’t teach kids how to do things, you tell them how to do it and then throw them into the fire.
What does this have to do with being a manga editor? Cal Poly taught me all my basic editing skills. They also taught me some of the basics of blogging and, without blogging, I might not have as many clients as I do now. But that’s what I’m trying to get at, just give me a little bit more time to explain.
There is no school, except maybe in Japan, out there that specifically teaches you how to be a creative professional working in manga. (As in editing, lettering, design, etc.) If you want to learn how to work on manga, there are two ways to do it: One, you get into publishing or a related field elsewhere and somehow find your way into manga; or two, you intern at a manga publisher and they hire you fresh out of college.
I know a number of people who got in the second way, even someone who wasn’t out of college yet before she was hired on. A few of these people are even recognized as industry talents. And I bet you all of them think that some of their early work was really awful.
This is a pretty common thing. I’ve found that artists have the same problem, they look at their early work and gasp in horror and embarrassment that they made something they now consider to be shoddy work. I’ve seen a lot of professionals in manga reminisce about this feeling. I’ve certainly felt it too.
When I admitted to this a while ago, someone got kind of angry at me for suggesting that their manga was my training ground. It surprised me a little, but it’s perfectly natural to want to buy the best manga that can be produced. Of course, from my perspective, it’s completely different.
It isn’t that those new to manga production aren’t trying to make the best manga they can. Quite the opposite, I think, most are trying their hardest since their career has just begun and there is a need to prove their worth and talent. But working on manga is something one gets better at over time, just like the artists and writers who create manga. A professional learns with every mistake they make and every new thing that they notice they could be doing to make a better manga. So, looking back, a lot of these people see the mistakes they made and the things they didn’t know they could improve yet.
It’s basically all in the mind. If you, a regular manga reader, looked at the same book that we professionals think of as our worst example of our work, you might not be able to tell where we messed up. Professionals can see it because we have to look at manga every day and have to identify what is good and what is better.
But, you say, the manga I want to buy is still your training ground. I don’t think that’s cool!
Well, it might not be cool with you, the reader, but that’s kind of just how things go.
If publishers incubated and trained creative professionals until they became the best before letting them work on manga it would be extremely expensive for the company and the cost would be passed onto the reader. (Let me guess, you don’t want more expensive manga, right?) Not to mention the fact it would make working in manga almost as difficult as earning a law degree or becoming a doctor. People working in manga don’t need a PhD before they’re allowed to touch manga. What manga professionals do need is to build up experience working on manga to be the best. If they are still working on manga 5-10 years later, they’ll be like a perfectly-aged wine or cheese. But they have to be given the chance to work on manga and push through all the challenges that come with book publishing.
Incubating talent would also prevent new talent from entering the industry. For one, such strict adherence to the publisher’s idea of perfection would not only stifle that talent, but prevent fresh ideas from entering the industry as well. Only one or two translators and a teeny tiny handful of letterers, adapters, editors and designers would be working on any given manga. If you truly disliked the style of any one of these people, then you wouldn’t have too many other reading choices. Publishers wouldn’t be able to put out the variety or quantity of manga that they do now with such a small team. Some people would really, really like it if publishers put out less K-on! or Naruto, but that was manga publishing 20 years ago when manga was only for 30-something dudes. Now the market is much bigger and more diverse than before. Having a wide variety actually helps the bigger publishers in today’s market because it allows them to draw more readers in.
So allowing manga professionals to learn by doing rather benefits the industry in the long run. You get a wide variety of manga to read and we get to build up our experience. We apologize that you have to put up with our inexperience at times, but we’re always trying our best!