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Manga has been a staple of Japanese culture for centuries but only recently have graphic novels made waves in the western hemisphere.
It’s easy to understand why: doe-eyed heroines and fantastic characters with convoluted backstories is enough to guarantee manga a loyal following.
That’s not all manga has to offer. Whereas most western animated art depicts the fight and triumph of good over evil, manga storylines are more nuanced and generally revolve around a single character’s struggle for personal growth or understanding.
In Japan, manga artists – mangaka, as they’re known number in the thousands while here, in the UK, a mere few ply their art.
Not that there’s a competition or anything, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for more aspiring artists in the UK to learn how to draw manga…
As manga originated in Japan and has since spread to China, Korea and Algeria, one might wonder why the characters are drawn with decidedly non-Asian features such as huge blue eyes and blond hair.
The reason lies in part because of a British cartoonist Charles Wirgman, who was entranced by the various types of manga he discovered upon his arrival in Japan in 1861. He founded Japan Punch a year later.
His satirical writing style failed to make an impact – his manga publication ended after only three issues, but one manga artist found value in Mr Wirgman’s simple depictions. He later incorporated that style of drawing in children’s books and the rest, they say, is history.
Even people who have no intention of embarking on a career in art find it stimulating to draw their favourite manga heroes. At once simplistic and complex, these two-dimensional depictions of charming, endearing and sometimes frightening characters fairly demand replication.
Don’t be fooled by their seeming straightforwardness! It takes a fair measure of skill to convey the energy and emotion they depict and this art form generally does not rely on subtle shading and colour nuance to create any interpretive illusion.
Instead, manga artists rely on bold colours and black lines to underscore their prowess. In no uncertain terms, they convey that mastering manga drawing is no mean feat.
If you are pursuing studies in art to make a living as an artist, you might have already heard your teachers disclaim manga-drawing as an indicator of artistic talent. Most art teachers are likely to dissuade their students from drawing manga, and they have a good reason for doing so.
Consider works by the Old Masters of art: Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Michelangelo and others. Their use of light and hue lends depth to their paintings, practically creating a three-dimensional effect.
Manga makes little to no use of such tricks, relying instead on the graphic nature of their drawings and the imagination of the reader to breathe life and action into the characters. Furthermore, the use of colour in traditional manga is rare; indeed, purists disdain the comic book nature of manga in colour.
As an art student, learning everything you can about your metier is essential – even if you aspire to become a mangaka. However, stopping your art education at drawing manga is very limiting.
Is there any value in learning how to draw manga, then?
Of course there is! You may have a story just bursting to get out and telling it through a graphic novel might be the best way to do so.
Even if you don’t yet have a story to commit to paper in graphic form, drawing conveys a wealth of benefits on anyone who practises it. Anything from improving fine motor skills to the calming effect of creating art – there are no downsides to taking pencil (or marker) to hand and executing your favourite characters’ likenesses. Or in creating a few of your own!
Besides, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. How much do you want to bet that mangaka continuously strive to draw characters so engaging that fans will want to copy them over and over?
Considering the British influence on manga, small as it was, it seems poetic that more Brits than ever want to learn how to draw manga.
If you are such a one, you might be surprised to find that there are art teachers who specialise in teaching that particular type of art, and they’re not hard to find!
If you have a classmate who is particularly gifted in the manga-drawing department, you may enlist him/her to show you how it’s done. Another way to find manga artists willing to share their technique is to cruise your local Freeads or Gumtree; you might just find the advert and teacher you were looking for.
Beware, however, of manga-drawing teachers who do not have credentials such as a DBS or any testimony from previous students. To avoid any scams or potential danger, it would be best to look for a qualified mangaka listing their services on a secure platform such as Superprof.
Most of our tutors specialising in manga art are happy to give lessons via webcam – another layer of security. To a one, they are either working artists or students themselves and, because they are Superprofs, you can rest assured that their credentials are all in order.
While manga still tends to be Japan-centric, there is nevertheless a booming market for manga produced in other countries, particularly in France. Thus it follows that you too could be a mangaka.
Even if you have a natural ability to convey character depth and motion in black and white, it never hurts to refine your skill and learn new techniques. Manga drawing lessons will provide you with a broader knowledge base, including which pencils and pens are best to right-to-left writing, as traditional manga is formatted.
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