Ogawa Burukku is a professional artist and comics creator who has had her skills honed and polishing living and working as an artist for ten years in Japan. She currently lives in Matsuyama where she publishes her own webcomic as well as working on manga and comic translations. She also worked as a manga assistant to artists such as Ishizuka Shinichi while studying at the Nippon Designer Gakuin. In a feat that seems more appropriate of one of the magical girls from her own comic Fallen, she was also managing her role in a Heavy Metal Band and juggling other jobs. It is no surprise then that I could not resist the temptation to ask for time management tips from the talented manga artist and creator when she agreed to an interview. Ogawa was kind enough to give us her timer via email where we discussed the growth in popularity of Magical Girl series, her experiences as a manga assistant, and the importance of healthy body diversity in manga and comics.
Gabe: Fallen is your unique take on the magical girls genre. Did you imagine being a sailor scout as a kid? This question may possibly be coming from someone who owned a toy version of Usagi/Serena's wand as a boy. ( I may also have destroyed all photographic evidence of this, you can not prove anything!)
I was actually about the same age as the sailor scouts when I first saw the DiC dub, so I was a little old to play pretend by then. I do remember playing a really dumb variant of the game H.O.R.S.E with a friend where we would shoot the basketball by mimicking attacks by the girls. Simultaneously humiliating and crazy fun. But I did idolize Sailor Jupiter specifically because she was my age, had my hair color, and was a bit of a tomboy like I was. She, however, embraced her femininity just as much as her tough side, which was an aspect of her that I really admired and wished I could do. I also really liked the color green, which is why Arma (main character of FaLLEN) has green for her Guardian color.
Gabe: You have been to conventions in the U.S. Over the past year and have mentioned the success of Madoka Magica as spurring growth in magical girl Manga and anime in Japan. Have you seen a similar trend with Steven Universe, Zodiac Starforce and more magical girl properties appearing in the west as well?
While I don’t think MadoMagi has had a direct impact on magical girls appearing in the US, I think the fact that people who watched Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura as kids are now adults and impacting the animation and comic scene. There have been a lot of successful titles with female creators in the past few years (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Frozen, Steven Universe, and half of the team behind Zodiac Starforce) that has pushed studios to take notice. Steven Universe was the first series for Cartoon Network created by a woman, in fact, and I don’t think they expected Steven Universe to be the success it’s become. Anime has been creeping its influence into US series for a while now (Avatar, for example) and I think even Korean animation is leaving its mark. I think comics and animation in the US are finally giving women creators a shot and a lot of these titles have themes of girl power that you do see in magical girls series from the nineties. It took a while, but women creators are finally getting their chance to prove themselves!
Gabe: A two part question here. Have you ever considered doing a biographical comic because your life sounds like a Manga? You were balancing school, being a Manga assistant and being in a Heavy Metal band all at the same time. What tips can you give to aspiring artists out there in terms of time management?
Ha! I hear that a lot, actually. I remember an editor once told me he thought my comic I had brought him was boring, but thought my life was very interesting. I have considered a few ideas that would draw heavily from my experiences, but I had always thought I should change the heroine to someone different from myself. What I would rather do, actually, is write an autobiography on my experiences in Japan and just leave any fictional aspects out of it. I think people would be a little shocked to hear some of the things I went through, though. Maybe I should wait until my parents die so that I don’t shame them into hiding…
As for time management, this is something I really struggle with. My best advice is for people to know their limits. If you are slow at drawing, don’t give your webcomic a M-W-F update schedule. Have a buffer. Get used to having eye bags, bad skin, and energy drinks on hand. I don’t know a lot of artists, be it comic or animation artists, who get a lot of sleep. Those who do sacrifice a social life by spending every waking hour on their work. If you like job security and the 9-5 schedule you get at an office building, this is not the career for you. Deadlines are a harsh reality and they can be even harder if they are self-imposed, as they are in my case.
Gabe: There are a variety of body types in Fallen. How important was it for you to showcase characters that were atypical of the mold of most magical girls series? Ultimately do you feel this makes your characters more relatable?
A4. Let me put it this way; it was so important for me that Arma have darker skin, a flat chest, muscular physique, and a more masculine design that I was forced to publish my story independently because very few publishers wanted to deal with such a different female lead. Some told me she should be prettier, have a bigger chest, be blonde, whatever. I wasn’t going to have any of it. While I do keep my girls mostly physically fit, since I think realistically if you were bouncing around fighting monsters you’d have to be in pretty good shape, I have a variety of ages and not everyone has the same cup size. I think it’s more relatable to readers to have characters with flaws to their personality, who maybe aren’t Hollywood’s ideal of beauty. As a kid, I remember most shows featured blonde heroines with perfect bodies and faces with pretty clothes and simple personalities, and I had trouble looking up to them because I felt too different from them. I have never owned a Barbie doll for that reason. I know as a kid I would have loved to get my hands on an Arma doll with grip-action sword slashing! Not that my comic is for kids… but people who felt the same way I did as kids have told me they really enjoyed reading my comic for that reason. I’ve been really blessed to find so many readers, especially male readers, who tell me they can relate to Arma and even find her attractive despite not looking as feminine as some of the other characters. I’ve had a few girls tell me they have a crush on Arma, too! I just think that is too amazing for words. Really makes me happy I followed my convictions instead of giving in to any demands made by big time publishers. Though, a big time paycheck would be nice sometimes, haha.
Gabe: Can you describe your experience as a Manga assistant? And how you felt seeing a Manga you worked on in print for the first time?
Being a manga assistant on and off for a few years was pretty interesting. I worked for guys who were just starting off in the biz themselves and sometimes they weren’t totally sure how to do their jobs, which made it challenging for me as well. The first guy especially had trouble drawing out certain scenes and sometimes he would have me look up pages in manga published by bigger artists for reference artwork! I would definitely say, though, that working as an assistant was better training than the two years I spent at a manga school. As for the print question, I remember it wasn’t so much seeing pages I had worked on in print that were surreal, but seeing mistakes I had made in print form made my stomach churn. One time I had been sleep deprived for a few days when the mangaka turned to me and asked if his English was right in one panel that featured a non-Japanese character. I corrected it, and then realized a week later I had told him something really stupidly wrong, but by then it had already gone to print. I felt so bad about that. Another time I was tired, I drew a line really thick on a girl’s hand. The mangaka was so mad at me, but it still made it to print because the deadline was only hours away, and whenever I see it I feel really embarrassed. Other stuff I don’t really notice, but mistakes stand out really badly to me, even if nobody else catches them.