The author of One-Punch Man discusses the appeal of web comics
I had stopped updating One-Punch Man in February of 2010 due to getting a job, but then in spring 2011 I announced on Twitter that I had quit my job, and from there I was contacted by various people, which is what led to where I am now. Thanks to all of One-Punch Man’s readers, this web comic enabled me to go pro.
――I think that web comics are one option for getting your foot in the door professionally, as was the case with you. What are your thoughts on the possibilities of web comics in that regard?
I think it’s another effective option, besides the traditional way of going pro after winning a manga award. Series like Hetalia: Axis Powers or Hori-san to Miyamura-kun that were ranked high on the WCR (Web Comic Ranking) received print releases, and Diary of a Chinese Wife got one too after getting popular on the web. Apparently some manga editors check out web comics that have made a splash, and I think they probably look at sites like WCR or Neetsha. Those two sites have rankings, which makes it easy to judge what’s popular.
――What do you suppose is appealing about web comics, as pieces of work?
For readers, the fact that you can read them for free is huge. Also, since some web comic artists use Twitter and other such communication tools, thanks to the internet they feel very accessible; I suppose that’s another key point for some people. For creators, the appeal lies in the lack of restrictions: you can draw manga that you wouldn’t be able to draw in a commercial publication. There’s nobody to stop you, so you’re free. This all ties into what I guess you could call a sense of crudeness and lack of polish, an amateurishness which for some reason gives web comics a unique charm.
Encountering web comics for the first time
――What led you to begin drawing a web comic? How long have you wanted to be a manga artist?
I had decided I wanted to be a gag manga artist from the time I was in grade school. I was a fan of Crayon Shin-chan, and at the time I wanted to draw that sort of manga. For me it wasn’t a case of simply trying to be a manga artist and testing the waters to see if it was worth a shot. Rather, my thought process was to decide right off the bat that I was going to be one, so the rest was just a matter of effort. I guess that’s how I decided my whole future while still just a kid.
――What kind of student where you?
Well, I liked to draw manga, obviously. In middle school and high school I enjoyed using my notebook paper to draw manga full of funny lines of dialogue and character interactions, rather than cool faces or cute girls or anything like that. I guess what I found interesting about it was being able to turn my own wild ideas into pictures and create stories.
――What sort of response did you get from friends when they saw your manga?
I kept drawing manga from grade school onward, but never told anyone else about it, not even once. In grade school everyone else was into soccer or whatever video games were popular at the time, so I guess I was afraid of looking uncool if I drew manga. From middle school to college, I’d have friends who read manga, but didn’t know anybody who drew manga themselves, so I felt embarrassed about it. In the end, I went my entire student life without showing my manga to anyone or even telling people that I drew manga. But then, my parents got angry at me a few times when they found out I had drawn a gag manga called Middle-Aged-Man Man in my notebooks. In fact, I filled up about 50 notebooks just with manga. But what hurt the most wasn’t getting chewed out for goofing off. Rather, it was having something I loved to do be rejected.
Afterwards, I decided that instead of getting made fun of or rejected and losing my motivation, it was better to just not show anybody, and so I kept on drawing manga all by myself. Although having said that, it also felt really fun to store up so much “forbidden fruit” inside my notebooks. Back then I only drew manga about my crazy ideas, and never copied anything from real life. I think if I had drawn things from life back then, I’d probably be a lot better at drawing today…
Even in college things didn’t really change; the manga clubs and whatnot just didn’t feel right, so I didn’t enter them. And then I thought maybe there were other people out there in the same boat I was, so since I didn’t have a laptop at the time, I went searching for “aspiring manga artists” on mobile phone sites. This was what led me to encounter web comics for the first time.
The secret behind the birth of One-Punch Man
――What sort of sites did you visit searching for “aspiring manga artists”?
People who were like me at the time, aspiring manga artists in their teens who didn’t own laptops, would post their illustrations up on these mobile phone sites. Back then there were thousands of sites like that, and seeing them all I was seized with the desire to have people view my pictures, so I made a site of my own.
At first I didn’t put up manga, just funny pictures. For instance, even if I drew a person, the back of their head would be really long, or they’d have a really wide forehead, or an unbelievably huge cleft chin (laughs). While I was drawing stuff like that, my site’s visitors increased to about a hundred. At the time there were lots of people imitating popular manga, trying to make pictures that were likely to sell, so I guess because of that I stood out from the pack.
As I got more readers, I figured that it was about time I show them a manga, but camera phones weren’t as advanced back then as they are now, so the images were too small to read any of the lines. While I was looking around for a good solution, an aspiring manga artist friend of mine who had put his manga up on mobile phone sites told me that all I had to do was put the pictures and lines on pieces of paper about the size of your palm and photograph them close up.
――And from that was born a series called Sun Man (currently unavailable). That was the first time you showed your own manga to others. How did it feel?
It felt great to finally fulfill my dream of showing my manga to others. Before then some of my pictures had included panels with stick figures, but after I started posting manga up on my site I stopped doing that.
I kept on posting manga to my mobile phone site for a little while after that, but I realized that I was never going to get good at manga if I just kept on drawing ones that were the size of the palm of your hand, so I stopped. Later that same friend who had told me how to draw manga for mobile phone sites started making manga with his laptop. Web comics are really easy to read up on a big PC screen, and I thought it was just perfect. And so, One-Punch Man became the first web comic I made on the PC.
Overcoming days of conflict to make his professional debut
――At the time of its debut in July 2009, One-Punch Man was hosted on Neetsha, a site for posting manga and novels. These days it’s up on your own personal site and gets about 20,000 visitors a day. When did it start gaining in popularity?
Roughly from Chapter 5, which went up about a week after Chapter 1. At the time, Neetsha’s yardstick for determining a popular series was if it got 30 or so comments with each update, but I just kept getting more and more comments, so that by the time Chapter 30 went up in October I was getting about a thousand comments per update. This was in large part due to other web comic artists like Oshan Manabu creator Takusu Totsuka-san or Kendo creator PD-san both showcasing One-Punch Man on their blogs, and also thanks to it being featured on blogs covering 2chan threads and whatnot.
――What did you think of the constantly growing response?
The truth is that One-Punch Man was originally simply a way for me to practice using a manga-creating software called “Comics Studio”, and I uploaded it intending for it to be only a single chapter long. But I was happy to see it get a bigger response than I had anticipated, so I quickly drew up Chapter 2. And then lots of comments came in saying “put up the next chapter soon!” So I figured I would draw this thing properly, and came up with the plot all the way up to the final chapter, which I’m still following even now. Though I hadn’t expected that initial response, afterwards I’d draw certain parts specifically to get a reaction from readers, and it felt great to get lots of “LOL”-type comments.
Once lots of people were reading it, I’d get offers to have it showcased in a Recruit web comic anthology and things like that, and I even learned that manga professionals were aware of it; I could really feel the series expanding.
――But then in February 2010, just as One-Punch Man’s popularity was on the rise, you announced that you were putting it on long-term hold. You said this was because you had gotten a job…
Due to family matters, I decided to get a job for a year. But my plan was to not goof around and just save up as much money as I possibly could, then quit. That way, the year after that I wouldn’t have to bother with even a part-time job, and could focus on drawing manga full-time. I intended to spend 365 days doing nothing but manga, and if that didn’t lead anywhere, I’d give it up.
――I imagine you faced some very difficult struggles during this period.
Not being able to draw manga was hell. During that year I tried as much as necessary not to think about manga. On the flip-side, I also sometimes thought that I might calm down once a year had gone by. Even though work was tough, my boss was nice, and I wondered if I really needed to take the risky path of giving up my job.
But thinking it over, in the end it had to be manga. My schedule didn’t even allow me to draw manga on my days off, so I passed each day with no time to express all the story ideas that popped into my head. I decided to give it a real shot, rather than just gloomily go on working my whole life, and so I quit my job.
――Which brings us back to the start of the interview. Due to your high profile, you ended up being contacted by a publisher. Will you continue to update the One-Punch Man web comic even after your professional debut?
I’ll keep on drawing it. The web comic is something I do as a hobby, and messing around with my home page is always fun. But above all else, there’s plenty of readers who look forward to updates. I’m very grateful for that.
――Finally, I’d like to ask you what web comics mean to you.
I think they’re the best place for saving people unable to show their manga to anyone, as was the case with me. You can draw a web comic even if you’re not that great, challenge yourself, and if it doesn’t work out you’re free to quit anytime at your own discretion. Also, in my case it enabled me to meet up with ambitious friends aiming to go pro. I encourage anyone in the same situation I was back then to try out drawing a web comic.