Manga Jiman Competition 2019 - 2nd Place!
“On Friday 14 February, the shortlisted artists, judges and manga creators from across the UK and beyond gathered in the Embassy of Japan to hear the results from the 13th edition of the Manga Jiman competition. In a year which saw seven first time entrants make the short list, there was tangible anticipation in the room as the results were revealed. In second place, winning a PFU Fujitsu A3 scanner was Alexandra Cook, with her entry Kiyomi's Prequel. An unusual love story full of trickery and twists, it impressed the judges with its atypical take on the subject of love and Gods.”
- Excerpt from the Embassy of Japan in the UK’s website.
Last year I applied for the first time to the Manga Jiman comic book competition hosted by the Japanese embassy in London. 2019 marked the 13th year for the prestigious competition and I was extremely excited to find out that I had been shortlisted in the top 12!
Getting a taste for the London Manga Scene...
It all started in June or perhaps July of last year (2019). I was graciously invited by the Japan House in London to one of their opening nights for their new exhibition at the time: 'This is Manga, The Art of Urasawa Naoki'. Urasawa was there in the flesh to do an exclusive talk, Q&A, a short live drawing session and also play a little guitar for us all. Those of you true manga buffs out there will know how much of a big deal this was! Urasawa Naoki, born in 1960, is a really well know japanese manga artist (and apparently musician too). Urasawa has been called one of the artists that changed the history of manga, and has received mutiple awards for his work during his current lifetime. By 2016, his various works had over 126 million copies in circulation! (Thanks wiki!) He's most notably known for his series '20th Century Boys' (a science fiction mystery 1999-2006) which was then followed by the acclaimed 'Pluto' (2003-2009) inspired by 'Astro Boy' by Osamu Tezuka, one of Urasawa's biggest influences.
I had attended with, my plus one, Max Walker (Producer, Musician and overall bf/life partner in crime) and during the initial free sake/beer portion of the night we joyfully bumped into his cousin, Daniel Byron! It was a great unexpected surprise but made sense since Dan is also an awesome published manga artist based in the outskirts of London who gets around a fair bit in the Uk manga scene (he runs a great manga meet up in London and also sells incredible original manga artwork and anime cells via mangaoriginals.co.uk). When we ran into one of the Manga Jiman judges at the event, Dan was kind enough to introduce us. This impromptu meeting reminded me that the competition was coming up and that perhaps this year I would finally enter. As a multi-shortlisting artist of the competition himself, Dan suggested I finally commit to entering which he had proposed many times previously! So... I finally decided this would be the year.
Writing 'Kiyomi's Prequel' - How I got started.
Considering I am not always the most organised person, I totally missed the initial date for the competition opening. This led me to not having as much time to create my comic as I had hoped. Don't get me wrong, I believe I still had about 2 months to create something but seeing as I had never illustrated for a short comic before (let alone write one!), it was safe to say I was extremely anxious about getting started. But hey, 8 pages is nothing right?? When I think back on it now, it's lucky to think that I was already mulling over a plan to write my own graphic novel. Creating a graphic novel is no mean feat but something I have always wanted to achieve someday. As a result I already had some simple character ideas in my head.
Against the backdrop of major exhibitions on manga happening across the UK, the ongoing Japan UK-Season of Culture, and the upcoming Rugby World Cup/Olympic/Paralympic games in Japan, the theme brought forward by the Embassy for the competition was ‘union’. It consequently fit quite simply with some ideas I was playing with allowing me to get to work on figuring out what kind of story I wanted. My main character for my graphic novel was as good a place to start (Kiyomi) and I began by jotting down as many notes as possible into a moleskin in an attempt to organise my thoughts.
To say my initial process was quite haphazard is quite an understatement. My notes were hasty and unplanned. All I knew is that it would be cool to have a main character that is a shape-shifting kitsune (fox)! The best place I felt to expand on my incessant note making was to do some good old fashion research. I scoured the internet for Japanese myths, characters, yokai etc. But my research didn't limit itself only to Japanese folktales (although it is generally a huge ongoing inspiration for me). I am quite accustomed to enjoying a good myth or two, no matter it's origin. So during a particularly restless and sleepless night, I jolted up, compelled by my concerns for my looming competition deadline, scrolled for hours on my phone to find that specific story that I had suddenly remembered: of Hades and Persephone.
That's right. Those of you well versed in ancient greek mythology will know of this story well. The format of this particular story was a big inspiration for me and 'Kiyomi's Prequel'. For those of you who haven't heard of the story, I shall recount briefly:
After a few iterations and edits to my main story and many, many weeks later, with my deadline approaching ever closer I got to work piecing my storyline into concise pages. And oh boy, was that harder than I had expected? DEFINITELY. Being the person to scrutinise your own work you spent weeks on, only to edit it down to what feels like nothing yet still convey the message in such a short format such as an 8 page comic was challenging to say the least!
By the time I had sorted though my mess of notes to create my concise storyline, I only had about 2.5 more weeks left to actually illustrate the thing. Not to mention my commission work on the side and running my online shop too! I worked pretty tirelessly. I thought, if I have managed to get this far, it would be such a waste to chicken out and quit on applying to the competition altogether.
Wip of linework shown below.
Ironically I never properly gave the criteria list a glance. I didn't even realise that the my entry had to be handed in, in person (to the embassy itself) or via post, in black and white! I spent ages fighting with my colour palette leading me to finally declare my comic finished luckily the night before the final hand in day. Only by reading the competition guidelines on their website late that night did I realise! Naturally I ran around like crazy, managed to print a copy in greyscale from my home computer right before it ran out of ink (I swear, you couldn't make this stuff up!) and slept terribly, full of nerves, ready to head to the embassy myself, in Piccadilly, the next day to hand my entry in at the very last minute.
The Manga Jiman Evening Ceremony
This February 14th, I was invited to the embassy itself to attend the awards ceremony on the pretence of being shortlisted. I tentatively waited as they announced each shortlisted artist and their prizes in descending order. My heart raced as they revealed each name that wasn't mine! 8... 6... 4... I was blown away to receive second place! I walked up in complete shock in front of a frighteningly large amount of people to collected a rather large prize; an incredible ScanSnap top of the range A3 scanner from PFU Fujitsu which I cannot thank them enough for since it seemed to be envied around the room! I am however embarrassed to say it is still sitting in it's box as I am quite intimidated by setting up stuff like this.
It was wonderful speaking with all the other artists after the announcements and I bashfully received many kind words and high praise from everyone around me. It was a remarkable evening I am not likely to forget and I cannot thank the incredible Manga Jiman judges and Japanese embassy enough for the recognition and opportunity. 🖤
Self Publishing My Comic
I edited my 8 page comic into a 12 page version (cover and extra added page) which I decided to self publish after the event. The exhibition they held at the embassy for all the shortlisted comics is now finished but if you haven't already, you can purchase my self published version of my comic, right here on my website. :) This version is the full coloured original version.
Here's the video from the official "Embassy of Japan in the Uk"s youtube account showcasing the announcements of the winners and a little interview/statement from yours truly on the night. 😅