When I met Felipe Smith some weeks ago, he instantly became one of the persons I most admire among those I’ve met in Japan.
Let me explain myself. I’ve been asked lots of time about how to become a manga artist and work in Japan for the big Japanese publishers by many manga-style Western artists. I always told them that it was a nearly impossible task.
One thing is to publish a single manga, a short story or even a full volume (which could be possible), the other is to publish weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, during a long period of time.
See, Japanese manga publishers are really difficult to approach to. They have they own way of working and, first of all, they hardly master any language other than Japanese. So, this would be the first big obstacle: you need to understand, read, write and speak the language. And this is no easy task.
But let’s imagine you know the language. Then you’d need to compete against thousands of Japanese artists who also want to become professional mangaka. And you’d need to beat them. Needless to say, this is not an easy task.
Then, there is the working visa barrier. It’s not easy to get a visa for working in Japan. And then you need to move to Japan and adapt to their way of life in a land where, at first, you virtually don’t know anybody.
And even when you’ve overcome all the obstacles, you have to get used to work really long hours for long periods of time (years!) and be ready to become a virtual slave of your work.
And this is no guarantee that you’ll become rich and famous! Once you’ve done all this, then you need to create a fanbase. You need the readers to pick your books from the store in order to get enough money to pay for your expenses. Easy task? Ask that to the thousands of Japanese mangaka who barely make a living out of their work.
However, Felipe proved that this could be done.
He did not only learn the language, he also convinced a main Japanese publisher as Kôdansha that he would be able to move and work in Japan, to work long hours and get a series –Peepo Choo– going on for a year and a half.
He is really worth admiring, isn’t he?
Now let’s see what advices he has for those who want to follow his steps:
(By the way, if you understand Spanish, also see him in the Spanish version as he says some other interesting stuff. Felipe is from the US, but his father is Jamaican and his mother Argentinian, and he spent years in Argentina, so he speaks native-level Spanish).
(Also on Vimeo)