Jamie Lynn Lano is a name you might have heard in manga circles before. How? Because she’s worked as an assistant to a manga artist. Well, not just any manga artist — the artist of Prince of Tennis, Takeshi Konomi, and she documented those times (from the good, the weird, and the bad) on her blog. Well after working as an assistant for two years in Japan, she moved back home and in her spare time, decided to share those experiences in her memoir. The Princess of Tennis: The True Story of Working As a Mangaka’s Assistant in Japan, is forthcoming and up for preorder on her site for a limited time (It will be available on Amazon soon). I had an opportunity to talk to her about the book and some of the challenges that took place, including working with Konomi-sensei.
So what was the moment you decided you wanted to become an artist?
Ohhh…wow! Um…when I was born? *laughs* No, seriously, I pretty much had a pencil in my hand from the time I could hold one. I was always doodling and drawing with crayons, drawing my cat, cartoons, or the environment, so yeah, forever!
How did you get into manga, or I guess when did you discover it?
I was in high school and I used to read comic books. I had a friend that I would always go to the comic book store with and we got into a comic called Elfquest. Through that I met some other people online, we did some roleplaying and writing and fanfiction and fanart type of things, and then one of the girls I met online said, “You should check out this anime series, it’s really funny–” and I was like, “What’s this anime thing?” I must have been maybe 16-17. And it just kind of spiraled out from there, and we started watching Sailor Moon on TV, and once I saw Sailor Moon I was hooked. I was a goner.
I guess at some point during high school or college you decided I can actually start drawing this too right? Maybe I could be a manga artist as well?
Well, when I was in high school of course I copied the Sailor Moon style, I drew me and all of my friends as Sailor Scouts, you know, the same thing everyone else does. I loved Ranma ½ so I did that, I went to Anime Expo and I cosplayed, I did it all! But I didn’t really think about becoming a mangaka or anything like that. It didn’t really even enter into my mind that this was something that was even an option for me until after I moved to Japan. So I went to college and got a degree in Animation, decided I didn’t really want to do animation because things were gearing towards 3D at the time and I wasn’t interested in that, so I said I was going to take a year off and go to Japan and work there, and I got a job as an English teacher.
While I was working there one of my students was a mangaka’s assistant and she told me that she saw me doodling and said, “You should be a manga artist!” And I was like, “…Can I even do that?” I considered drawing comics as something that maybe I’d want to do someday but I never thought of drawing them in Japan. So I met the manga artist that she worked with and met some people at Shueisha, but at the time, I don’t know, I didn’t have enough confidence in my abilities so I just kind of let it slide. It wasn’t for a couple of years that I wasn’t sure what to do with my life, still in Japan, still working as an English teacher, when I saw an ad for Konomi-sensei’s assistance, so I said, “You know, maybe this is the push that I need and maybe this will give me the confidence to go on.” Even though I didn’t think I would get the job when I applied, I thought maybe I’ll get to meet him or he’ll hire me as a coffee person or something, I never thought I would get hired as an artist because I didn’t have any confidence. Even though I had a bachelor’s degree in animation, it didn’t matter because I’d always been told that animation was for kids and you can’t do that for a living from my parents. So I kind of proved them wrong though, because I did do it for a living for a couple of years. Now I think I have the confidence to go through with it even though I would be lying if I said I thought that I was a really great artist. I think I’m ok, I think I’m good enough, but you know, confidence comes with time I guess.
Well…now you’re coming out with a book, so you must be confident enough! *laughs*
*laughs* Sorry that was a long one!
Well the book is prose – I mean it has some illustrations, some photographs, and some little mini-comics that I drew…I think the book is absolutely great, it’s something that took me two years to write, and it came from the heart, and it’s directly from my POV. I think people will love it, and the people who have read it, or the ones who have read it in its almost final incarnation have loved it, so I think people will really like it, especially if they want to know what it’s like working there. I’m very confident in that. But the next step will be working on my comics. The confidence will come, I hope, maybe, oh I just hope people will read it.
So how did the book come to fruition? Like did somebody suggest that you do it or did you think about it one day?
I’ve been blogging since college and I really love it, and years and years ago I decided to blog about that experience and what it was like. So at first I just thought it would be something on my blog, but as I neared the end of my story and relating that experience I thought it’d be really cool to have like an actual book. Plus at the beginning of this story, I grew as a writer over the years so I felt like the beginning needed to be re-worked completely. So it just seemed like a natural step, plus in the future I think that I would like to have my own manga publishing company and I thought, “If I’m going to start somewhere, then just start at the bottom and teach myself the basics first.” So if I learned how to write, edit, and publish a book, then that could be a good stepping stone to move onto eventually having my own company where I can seek out artists around the world, teach them how to do it, and nurture them and put out a big magazine that everybody will hopefully want to read. I guess I see this as the first step in that journey and I like learning a lot so it seemed like a fun challenge and I came back to stay with my parents after going through a lot in Japan, just to kind of take a breather, and I wanted something to do with myself in that time so…hence, book! *laughs*
Well, what were the challenges of working on the book? Was there any information you couldn’t share? Could you even have mentioned how many hours Konomi-sensei was even working on Prince of Tennis?
*laughs* I wish I knew! Because I did keep a diary back then and I referenced that diary and I referenced the things that I had written on my blog at the time. When I was writing this memoir, I didn’t think to keep track. We did go through periods where he would work a lot and hard, but other periods, as I talk about in the book, it became very frustrating because we would be at work and we would have nothing to do, and as his assistants, our job was to finish the pages, to take his penciled in comic and turn it into a final and finished product. I mean he did everything, but we would be there for days or weeks stuck in the studio with nothing to do because we wouldn’t even see him. He would call us for work and then just not be there. And it got very frustrating. I don’t know how much time he spent at home working on it – our studio was on the first floor of his house, so he wasn’t far away, but he couldn’t even come downstairs to talk to us or to give us some directions, or send us home.
Yeah, it’s the kind of job where you stay overnight and we would stay overnight for like, a week or two at a time, and sometimes we would never see him at all, and we’d kind of have to find something to do with ourselves that was productive work. It was hard, there really wasn’t much to do during those times, but other times he would come in, be with us – there was either 4, 5, or 6 of us there at a time – and we would work three days without sleeping, all of us. I can’t say how much time he worked on it. I’d say when we were pressed for time, we could do all our monthly pages, I think 32 or so a month, we could do all of those pages in 3 or 4 days, but if he didn’t give us pages to work on then we would be there for 2-3 weeks a month, almost 4 weeks when we have no days off, and we would still be pressed for time at the end. I know it’s a really hard thing to judge when it’s spread out like that!
I made the decision myself to keep the other assistants and Konomi sensei’s private life out of it, or anything that wasn’t related to the manga or my experiences there, like his family, if he’s single, etc. Oh, and there was an incident where I dated someone sort of related to the manga, but I didn’t want to use real names and I didn’t want to put identifying information on that individual because what I wrote wasn’t necessarily very kind *laughs*.
I guess that’s pretty much it. I mean I was told not to write about things in my blog, they all knew I kept a blog, and…I broke some of that so *laughs* I don’t know, I’m not working for them anymore so I was like, “Is it really going to hurt anybody to say I met so and so or I talked to so and so, actor or voice actor, or whoever?” I don’t think it’s bad. I used my own judgment on that. But most of that information is still in there, even if they told me not to. I’m sorry! *laughs*
How much time did you spend working on it? Like from when you started to each day?
Well for talking blog posts I started that back in…2010 I believe? So it took me 3 or 4 years of writing now and then on my blog to get the whole story out. As far as editing the book, I took about two months to put together and re-write half of it because I felt it wasn’t detailed enough, and at least…10 to 12 hours most days? I didn’t really have weekends, I did take a break here or then so I wouldn’t go crazy, so it took a little time. That was one of the learning processes for me. I had never written a finished, long book, and it’s over 200 pages, and in my head I’m like, “Yeah I’ll be done with this by the week! I’ll just work on it every day, all day, morning to night, and be done with it!” But in reality it didn’t work out that way. I was lucky enough to have the time to work on it but…yeah, it took a lot longer to work on it than I thought.
As you was working on the book, were there some things that you was writing about where you were like, “Wow, I really did this?” Did you start to reflect on what you did as you were going over this just to write the book?
There was no surprises. I remember pretty much most of the things that happened and I wrote down a lot of things, so there weren’t any surprises but I did get really emotional at times. Working there was a very, very eye opening experience and I did go through a lot of tough things. There were times I teared up and I couldn’t finish it, I’d have to put it down for the night and relive a lot of that when I was writing.
There’s probably going to be a lot people take away from your book. But out of everything, what would be some things you hope they’ll learn or take from it?
Well for me, I wrote the book as a memoir, and I wrote the book as a way of teaching or providing information. It’s a story in of itself, it’s a true story of my journey, or self-discovery kind of thing. I hope that people are able to connect with me personally and I hope that people who are interested in what happens in a manga studio or even just in the Prince of Tennis, or I hope people get a real sense of what it was like working in at least that studio. I’m sure they’re all different but I’d like people to get a sense of that.
Lastly, I hope people get inspiration. I’ve followed my dream in a sense and I did something that I’m really proud of that not a lot of people have been through. I want to give other people who are aspiring to something, either to be mangaka, or to something their family opposes or that everyone says is a pipe dream. I want to give people something to look at and say, “She did it! So can I!” I’d really like people to take that to heart, whatever your dream is, whether it’s being an assistant, or being a mangaka, or writing comics in general. There are always going to be people who say you can’t do it, or something is impossible, or you’re not in the right position to do it. I just want to show them that I did it, so can they. I don’t want anyone to have to give up on their dream, or listen to their parents, or “reality”, which is what my parents like to say. I just hope people get inspiration and feel heartened by it.
Jaime, thanks for your time!
And once again, The Princess of Tennis: The True Story of Working As a Mangaka’s Assistant in Japan is up currently as a limited time preorder. It will be released on June 15. You can keep track of updates (or because she’s a former manga assistant!) by following her on Twitter (@Jamieism).
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