Actually, several questions. I’ve become a follower of Yugata’s career since meeting her at the massive Comic Market (“Comiket”) event in Tokyo last December. At that event and also at Comitia in May, I bought some of her work. The juxtaposition of cute high school girls and creepy insects is interesting, but the main attraction is not so much the subject matter as that it’s just drawn and colored so beautifully. This is a lady with real talent.
|I feel I’d like to show characters who are both scary and cute. Putting horror elements together with cute ones, I think I can create something new and interesting. — Yugata
Stunned that this twentysomething artist is not already the toast of the Tokyo manga world, I’ve been wanting to spread the word about her. I first inquired about doing an interview in January. She has a lot going on, but finally found some time to sit down with me on June 21, 2015, in the Nakano area of Tokyo. What follows is a transcript, translated from Japanese and edited for length and clarity.
(Note: “Yugata” is a pen name; as is not unusual in Japan, she doesn’t put her real name on her work, at least in part because moonlighting is frowned upon. She also declined to let me take a photo of her; it’s your loss, I have to say.)
Working for a Living
DCP: Is making comics your job?
YUGATA: Well, I really want it to be my job, and lately I’ve been getting some things published in magazines.
DCP: But you have another job too?
YUGATA: Yes, right now I do.
DCP: Does making comics account for more than half of your income?
YUGATA: It’s right about half.
DCP: I see. Does that include not only tabling at events like Comitia, but also from getting published?
YUGATA: Yes, also working with businesses.
YUGATA: Game companies, publishers, comics companies…
DCP: I see. So, for game companies, you do art for the package?
YUGATA: Sure, there’s that, but also art for cell phone games, and lately the work is mainly in comics.
DCP: What magazine?
YUGATA: Kadokawa Shoten’s Monthly Asuka.
DCP: OK. And besides that, you’re selling comics you made at events. I see.
When you were a child, what kind of comics did you read?
YUGATA: Most importantly, Sailor Moon. Beyond that, Shaman King, that was appearing in Jump. I really liked that when I was little.
DCP: Have the comics you read back then influenced the work you’re doing now?
YUGATA: I really, really liked Shaman King’s creator, Hiroyuki Takei, so I think there must be some influence in my work. My favorite thing about Takei’s work is the mood, so I think that’s the thing that that would most show up in my work.
DCP: For example?
YUGATA: Well, I’m not sure what word to use other than “mood”, but maybe the pacing, a Japanese method of stretching out a particular moment in a scene, that point I really liked.
DCP: Did you go to manga school? Or are you self-taught?
YUGATA: In terms of manga, I’m self-taught.
DCP: Did you go to school for some other aspect of art?
YUGATA: Yes, for drawing. But for manga, I only studied on my own.
DCP: I see.
Cute and Creepy
DCP: In the comics of yours that I’ve bought before, there was a mixture of “cuteness” and “scariness”. What is it that you like about that combination?
YUGATA: I believe the Japanese word “kawaii” (cute) has many different meanings, but basically I like the idea of cuteness with some poison to it. Not pure cuteness, but seeing a bit of darkness in a person’s heart, or including the dark side along with everything else, but that’s how humans are, right? So, I feel I’d like to show characters who are both scary and cute. Putting horror elements together with cute ones, I think I can create something new and interesting.
DCP: I see. Are you into horror movies?
YUGATA: Well, I’m not sure. But if I watch it alone, I get scared. I watch them occasionally. Recently I finally watched The Sixth Sense, and I’d consider that horror, but it warms your heart. I thought it was really good. A lot of people said that it’s a good movie for a creator to see while creating something, and when I saw it, I thought they were right.
DCP: If you look at the comic of yours I bought, it looks scary, but in the story, nobody dies; it’s not so scary. It just has the appearance of being scary.
YUGATA: Yes. But really, there’s such a gap between how it looks scary but it’s actually a positive story that, in a good way, it feels like I’ve tricked the reader, and I enjoy doing that. In making the comics I self-publish, I feel like I want to make them as scary as possible to myself.
DCP: Like, for example, these high school girls you drew who have become big insects. I see.
DCP: Looking at the coloring in these two books of yours I bought, it’s basically all red, yellow, and green, right? No blue or other colors at all. Why is that?
YUGATA: Well, in other books I have used blue, but with this I wanted a retro feel. It looks green, but in context it looks a bit blue. I wanted it to look like it’s been aged, it’s deteriorated. That feel like it had turned yellow, so in the whole thing the blue looks yellowed, looks close to green. I gave the whole work a yellow shade.
DCP: Yes, it looks kind of like it’s old. One of my friends who I showed it to said it looked like “hanafuda” playing cards.
YUGATA: Yes, I see. That’s because it’s a “Japanese retro” color scheme.
DCP: The color choice really makes a difference in the mood of it. If you’d used blue in it, it would look kind of strange.
YUGATA: Yeah, it would look too “fresh”.
DCP: Blue could be scary, too, but just using three colors gives it a really specific flavor.
So you studied drawing, and your pictures can be really detailed. I think that’s great.
YUGATA: Thank you.
DCP: I read your story Nonoyama Girls’ High School: Insect Class (in Japanese), but for the benefit of the reader, explain what the story is.
YUGATA: The main character is this girl who’s a bit geeky. (Besides high school), she’s busy with her job, and she has to take care of her two younger siblings, so she’s really got it rough. Plus, she’s not so bright, and doesn’t have many friends. She happens to meet this mysterious girl who says she’ll do away with her suffering. That’s the girl on the cover, Yatsume-chan, who appears mysteriously, and we wonder what her true nature is. But she says she’ll do away with the cause of the other girl’s suffering.
DCP: Is Yatsume kind of a supernatural being?
YUGATA: Something like that!
DCP: At the beginning I thought Yatsume was a danger to the other girl, but she actually helps her, right? So, yes, you could say in this case, too, you kind of trick the reader.
Bunches of Bugs
DCP: You seem to really like insects.
YUGATA: Yes, I like bugs.
DCP: Both these books have a lot of insects in them.
YUGATA: Yes, they do! (laughter)
DCP: (Looking at Yugata’s Nonoyama Girl’s High School: Insect class illustration book; pointing to the illustration at the top of this article) Is this one a scorpion?
YUGATA: She isn’t a scorpion, she’s an insect that eats paper and clothes. Or old books. They’re called “shimi” in Japanese. I think it’s “silverfish” in English.
DCP: Ah, silverfish. OK. And what kind of insect is this girl?
YUGATA: It’s called a “hiru” in Japanese. It lives in the mountains; it looks like a slug that sucks people’s blood. I think they live in America too.
DCP: I wonder what that is in English. Would that be a “leech”?
YUGATA: I’ll look it up. (She looks at her phone) But I’m sure they live in Europe and America too. (laughs) Did you catch insects as a kid?
DCP: No, not really.
YUGATA: Do energetic, kind of naughty kids catch them?
DCP: Probably. Not me so much, but I did play outside… when you were a kid, did you look for insects?
YUGATA: Yeah, I used to catch butterflies and dragonflies. (laughter)
DCP: And then you put them in something?
YUGATA: Yeah, I put them in an insect box. When I went to camp, I’d catch a lot of them. (laughs) And I’d use a bug as a brooch! Oh, “hiru” in English is “leech”.
(Yugata calls up a photo of a leech on her phone. Tim shudders.)
YUGATA: It’s a scary creature.
DCP: Yeah, it’d be really scary if it were as big as your character here!
YUGATA: Yes, it would be really scary at human size! (laughter)
Sexism in comics: Unknown in Japan?
DCP: In the U.S. comics industry, there are more men than women. There have been a lot of reports that women in comics there experience gender discrimination. What’s it like in Japan? Have you been aware of any gender discrimination in comics here?
YUGATA: I haven’t really sensed anything like that. (laughs) You often see it in fiction, but I haven’t experienced it.
DCP: The comics industry here is pretty balanced between the sexes, right?
YUGATA: Yeah, there are lots of male and female artists, and lately there has been a big increase in female creators who make comics for boys. I don’t think there’s really any discrimination among comics artists.
DCP: Yeah. American comics have been dominated for a long time by superhero stories, so the creators have tended to be male. Recently there are somewhat more women than before. But it’s still male-dominated.
YUGATA: I see.
DCP: I think it’s going to be more balanced in the future. But sometimes at conventions in America, men say impolite things to women. Does that ever happen at events in Japan?
YUGATA: I haven’t heard of it happening here.
DCP: I don’t know if you’re in a relationship, but I’m wondering if your partner is accepting of your job making comics.
YUGATA: I’m not in a relationship. But my family doesn’t really say anything. (laughs) I’ve loved drawing since I was a kid, and they just let me go ahead and do it.
DCP: How many events do you table at in a year?
YUGATA: At the most, three or four per year. Sometimes just one. It depends on how busy I am with my other jobs.
DCP: Where will you be appearing next?
YUGATA: It’s not set yet, but for this summer’s Comic Market, another creator suggested that we make a book together, and just recently the other creator said we’re going to do it.
DCP: So, in August?
YUGATA: At the event this August, I won’t have my own space, but I’ll be there with three other creators, selling an anthology book with work by all of us in it.
DCP: So a different situation from before.
YUGATA: Yes, that’s right.
DCP: Which day of the event will you be there?
YUGATA: The artist who reserved the space said the book would be there on Sunday (August 16), the third day.
DCP: I think my friend (Mulele) will be there on the third day, too.
YUGATA: On the third day they have sexy stuff for men, and a lot of original boy’s manga.
DCP: What’s coming up from you?
YUGATA: What would I like to do? I’m scheduled to draw a complete story in a commercial comics magazine.
DCP: Is it another story related to insects?
YUGATA: No, this one’s about cooking.
YUGATA: I like cooking, too!
DCP: We can eat insects, too!
YUGATA: Yes, that’s true! (laughter) Do you eat insects in America?
DCP: We don’t really. But, you know, insects do contain a lot of protein!
YUGATA: Oh, yes, they do! (laughter)