Interview with Gunjo’s Nakamura Ching

August 9th, 2009

You may or may not remember that my love affair with Gunjo began when I received a message on Mixi from a young manga artist, asking if I’d be interested in a non-moe Yuri manga.

Obviously, I was.

A few weeks ago I asked Nakamura-sensei if she didn’t mind, could she answer a few questions for us here at Okazu. Although she is very busy, she graciously took some time out to answer a few questions – I hope you will enjoy this interview as much as I did!

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Q1: Please Tell Us About Yourself
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I was born in June, 1985. I am 24 years old.
When I was 18 I drew my first manga, I made my debut at 20.
My favorite foods are Indian and Mexican. I like Japanese food, too.
My hobby is travel but, because I’m busy, I haven’t been able to go anywhere.
My favorite movies are The Namesake, KILL BILL, Roman Holiday, Bella Martha.
I love dogs, I have 2.
I have begun to study English, because it has become troublesome that I do not speak any English.
Recently, I have been corresponding with an older woman from America.
We discuss the joy of old age. And about things like dreams for the future, and living peacefully.

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Q2: How did you become a mangaka? Was it a childhood dream?
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I did not attend college, because I had no money to go to school.
When I was seventeen, I left school before graduation and took a part time job.
I wanted to obtain a job in a respectable company but, because I did not have the educational background (Japan is still a society where one’s educational record counts. I have had hardly any formal schooling) I thought I would look for a job where education didn’t matter, work that anyone might be able to get.
At first, I thought I might become an illustrator.
A friend said, “You should become a mangaka,” so I enrolled in a manga trade school for a year. (From the end of my 18th year into my 19th year.)
My childhood dream was to become a high school teacher, or be staff at a children’s home.

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Q3: Which artists are your role models?
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The artists who influence me most when I draw manga and write stories are neither mangaka, nor artists; they are those who write songs, are poets, novelists, and photographers.
Nakajima Miyuki, Yoshioka Osamu, Kumi (LOVE PSYCHEDELICO)…Song writers.
Mishima Yukio, Kajii Motojiro, Watanabe Junichi, Tendo Arata…Novelists.
Horiguchi Daigaku, Yoshiwara Sachiko, Taneda Santoka…Poets
Kuwabara Kineo, Hosoe Eiko…Photographers.

The artists that I think are really the most wonderful are my assistants who draw the backgrounds for Gunjo. I hold the pictures they draw in higher esteem than those by any painter. I am very proud to be working together with these ladies.

My favorite overseas artists are Eugene Delacroix, John William Waterhouse, Gustave Moreau.
My favorite Japanese artists are Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Nagaswa Rosetsu, Ito Jakuchu, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.
My favorite manga artists are Ikeda Riyoko, Miuchi Suzue, Yamamoto Sumika, Yoshinaga Fumi.

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Q4: If you were not a mangaka, what kind of work would you be doing?
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Child welfare work or international welfare work.
Or, I wanted to become a teacher.
I think there’s nothing more important than raising a child with love (sooner or later, that child becomes an adult who bears the burden of society.)

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Q5: What were your motivations for creating Gunjo?
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I wanted to draw the keen loneliness of a lonely person.
I wanted to turn our kindness and cruelty (the kinds of emotions that we can’t control with our own wills) into a manga.
And also, because I am gay.
Living a life of hiding I was gay was unpleasant, so I wanted to give myself the chance to admit I was gay.

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Q6.1: Please tell us a little bit about your process.
How long does a chapter take to draw? What is the first step, what is the final step?
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The time it takes to draw a chapter depends on the content and the number of pages.

First of all, the script, story and any other ideas I have are written down on paper. (I use B4 size paper and a mechanical pencil to draw.)
I don’t write neatly. Whenever I think of something, I write single-mindedly.

After that, when the idea has been organized, it is called “Name” and the storyboard of the manga is drawn.
(The panel arrangement, script, people’s movements, 90% – 100% of these are decided at the “Name” step.)
Name is first drawn small on a big piece of paper, like a thumbnail.
This is revised many times and when I think “This can’t be fixed anymore,” Name is drawn neatly on a large piece of paper. (I draw on a piece of B4 copy paper folded into 2.
When Name is completely drawn on the large paper, it is sent to the Editor in charge of the Editorial department.
When this has been checked, I start work on the manuscript.
First, the paper is divided into the panels、and I draw the frames of the panels with a felt-tip pen.
From there I use a mechanical pencil to draw the rough sketch.
The rough sketch is inked, then screentone is applied and it’s done.
After that, the script is added, then it is passed to the editor. Afterwards it is printed and it becomes a book.

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This Name
In the magazine becomes this .

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This Name
In the magazine becomes this .

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This Name
In the magazine becomes this .

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The last thing I do is check the work in the printed manga.
The kind of things that are checked are that the screentone was applied properly, or that the art is drawn well. Or any mistakes in the script.
Any inconvenient points or faults will be corrected when it is made into a tankoubon.

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Q6.2: (Please tell us a little bit about your process.)
How many assistants work with you?
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Currently, I have 3 main assistants.
(Up until now I had 5 people, but recently 2 retired.)
Nakayama Aya, Wakayama Yoshiko, Kumazawa Sayuri.
The Gunjo title page in the magazine will always list their names.
And from time to time, Nakazawa Tomoko comes to help.
Therefore, 3-4 people total.
They are women, ranging from 22~30 years old.
Without my main assistants (Regulars*), it would not be possible to finish up a manuscript.
When I’m very busy, I employ a number of freelance assistants to help out.

The number of assistants depends on the number of pages and the number of days until the deadline. A 32-page chapter and a 72-page chapter will need a different number of people to work on it.

* Assistants who always help out are called “Regulars” 「レギュラー」 in the Japanese Manga Industry. People you call only when you’re very busy are called “Help”「ヘルプ」.

by CHIEF ASSISTANT/ NAKAYAMA Aya (outline)

by WAKAYAMA Yoshiko (outline), NAKAZAWA Tomoko (screentone)

by KUMAZAWA Sayuri (outline and screentone)

I trust their skill and natures.
Therefore, I don’t give them much direction.
I rely on their sense.

That way, they can achieve the picture I want to see.

If reference material is needed, I do the research, take a picture with a camera, buy a book or search on the Internet.

This is a reference picture I took in Tokyo.
(東京浅草・吾妻橋/Asakusa, TOKYO, AZUMABASHI bridge)

This is the line drawing drawn by my assistant.

It’s completed with the addition of screentones.
(On this scene of a rainy day, after the tone was added, the rain was drawn in.)

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Q7: How has Gunjo been received by the Japanese audience? Is it popular? What kind of reactions have Japanese readers had to it?
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People who like Gunjo, love it, people who do not like Gunjo, hate it.

(Note from Erica: Ironically, the day before I received these responses from Nakamura-sensei, I had said the *exact* same thing to someone.)

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Q8: What was your reaction upon seeing the Gunjo cover of Morning 2 magazine? What did you feel when you saw it?
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Happy.
The readers thought there were pros and cons.
However, I also thought there were pros and cons.
When the cover went to print, the editorial office made a regrettable error in the spelling of the title.
When I saw that it had been spelled GUNJ”Y”O, I was surprised.
The correct version is GUNJO.

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Q9: Why don’t the protagonists have names?
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For the moment, the names of all the characters is a secret known only to me.
It will be revealed to the public in the final section of the tankoubon (probably.) However, this will be an omake.
Within the story of Gunjo, I didn’t feel that there was a necessity for the characters to have names; to the very end, they are not called by name.

When I am drawing the manuscript with the assistants, or meeting with the editors, them having no names is inconvenient so, we call BL “Les-san” and BN “Megane-san.” Because BL is a Lesbian and in chapters 1-7, BN wore glasses.

There are two reasons they don’t have names.
My Editor-in-chief said, “The characters names are an important element of manga.”
“If the character names stand out, or they aren’t good names, the manga will not become popular.”
I thought, how ridiculous, what a foolish idea. Therefore no names are used in this manga.

Also, BL’s feelings, BN’s feelings, are not only theirs.
Their feelings resemble the feelings of many people in the world.
BL’s or BN’s feelings might resemble the way you feel,
Gunjo is not only a story for BL and BN, but it is a story for you.
Therefore, BL and BN (and also BL’s former lover) in the manga don’t really need to be called by a specific name.
You only have to read to think that you are them.
When BN calls “Hey” looking for a reply, it’s not to BL, it’s you.
If BN uses BL’s name, then you won’t be able to respond.
When BL calls out “Hey,” the reply isn’t from BN, it’s from you.
If BL uses BN’s name, then you won’t be able to respond.

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Q10: What question do you have for overseas fans of Gunjo?
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When you read Japanese manga, how do you read it?
Can you read Japanese from the start? Or do you use a dictionary? Or do you just look at the pictures?

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Q11: What message do you have for overseas fans?
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If you have any impressions or opinions, absolutely please let me know.
Or, please tell me about yourself.
Where do you live, how old are you, where you work, what kind of person is reading my manga, I always want to know that kind of thing.
In Japanese, English, there is no problem with either.
If you want to use email, please send it using the mail form on my website. (http://ching.tv)
Handwritten letters are also welcome.
Kodansha Ltd. “MORNING 2”
(GUNJO Nakamura Ching)
2-12-21, Otowa, Bunkyo-ku,
Tokyo 112-8001 JAPAN
I will personally read the letters and emails you send myself.

***

Thank you so very, very much, Nakamura-sensei for taking time out of your tight schedule to answer these questions and share so much of yourself with us! We all look forward to the tankoubon of Gunjo. And thank you for all the wonderful pictures, that allow us a glimpse into your work.

I hope you, my dear readers, will all send letters to Nakamura-sensei and tell her about yourselves. :-)

(And some extra super sparkly thanks to Erin S who helped me out with a bit of the translation.)

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12 Responses

  1. ana says:

    Wow, amazing interview. (*_*)
    Thank you, Erica!

  2. kieli says:

    I have to say, this is the most honest, realistic interview that I’ve read in quite a long while. Even moreso because of her willingness to share her feelings with being gay and how it influences her work. Thank you for this.

  3. Eric P. says:

    I certainly enjoyed reading her honest, informative answers. After reading all of Erica’s praise for this title, I’ll be sure to collect the tankoubon whenever it comes out.

  4. Thespi says:

    Great Interview! What a fascinating woman! She sounds like she’d be a fun friend. :)

    I wish I could read Japanese, so I could actually read more manga, like Gunjo (which is not usually my first genre of choice, but would end up in my reading shelf b/c of a lesbian character… then again… my first manga I purchased… “Gunslinger Girl” — so who am I to talk, right?)

  5. Pattie says:

    Wonderful interview. It only adds to an already amazing story.

  6. ahgreenwood says:

    What a great interview! Thanks for sharing it.

    She sounds so grounded and yet has these fascinating insights. This is one of those interviews you wish would go on an on. Like the type of talks you have with friends over drinks that go way into the early morning hours.

  7. Pinsel says:

    Very interesting interview, thanks.

  8. Katherine says:

    Thank you for contacting Nakamura and posting this interview here! It’s an excellent read. Nakamura sounds like an interesting, refreshingly honest person who would be enjoyable to be friends with. The fact that she gives her assistants their due credit for their work illustrates this especially.

  9. Nimara says:

    That was a great interview. I learned so much both about manga and the author’s life.

  10. grace says:

    what a wonderful interview! it’s awesome the time you, Erin, and especially Nakamura sensei took to share with us. thank you.

  11. Rinu says:

    Thanks for the interview, Erica, Erin, and Nakamura-sensei :). Quite interesting. Though I understand only a basics of Japanese basics (lol), I definitely should buy (hopefully) an upcoming copy of tanboukon.

    PS. Her willingness to provide contact adresses and all made me smile in amazement :)

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