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Eiji Otsuka Workshop Recap: Cinematography in Manga (2)

This is part two of three, recapping the workshop with Eiji Otsuka, manga writer and Kobe Design University professor. Held at Otaku Lounge, Otsuka-sensei and his student Chiharu Nakashima (a professional mangaka in her own right) gave us a two-day crash course on manga storytelling.

Part One can be found here.

Where we left off: Otsuka-sensei had gone through a super-condensed lesson about cinematography devices in manga-storytelling. He then assigned us some homework…

DAY TWO: Homework Assignment Correction, Common Mistakes in Manga Layouting

On Day One, we were given some manga paper, a script, and instructions to create a 3 to 4 page “Name” – a visual script/layout, similar to thumbnailing but in a larger, slightly more detailed scale.

The script we were given was a passage from Shotaro Ishinomori’s Ryuujinnuma, a small section close to the end of the story where the two main protagonists separate (link to the script here, if you are curious).

We were told some background info: our hero Kenichi, a high-school aged boy, has just finished a wild adventure involving mystical dragon lady spirits. This had all come to pass on his yearly summer visit to see his extended family in a small countryside town. Among his relatives is Yumi, his 12-year-old girl cousin, who harbours budding romantic feelings for Kenichi. He is unaware of this because he’s not only in love with a dragon-lady-spirit, he’s only ever considered her a young, little-sister-type to nurture and keep company. As he departs, Yumi almost spills her innermost heart in a fit of juvenile passion, but upon realizing Kenichi’s cluelessness, decides to keep it to herself.

Otsuka-sensei’s homework instructions to us were this:

1) Even though Kenichi is the main character in the story, Yumi is meant to be the main character in this scene, so we were asked to focus particularly on that. We are meant to see her mature a little (whatever that might mean to us) through her decision.

2) We could draw the characters however we imagined them. Drawing detail and skill was secondary to storytelling ability.

3) We were allowed to add our own flair / additions / interpretations to the story, and did not have to faithfully stick to the script as long as the basic actions and same sentiment was there.

4) We were to draw with Right-to-Left reading direction, in the style of usual Japanese manga.

5) Most of all, we were meant to try to apply as many of the devices we’d just learned to our pages – different angle shots, panel sizing, camera/eyeline movement, two-page compositional considerations, etc. We didn’t have to apply every single tool, but if we began to draw something like them instinctively, we were meant to take it even more consciously, seriously, deliberately.

I had a work shift immediately after the workshop so I had to rush off to that, and then late at night, I thumbnailed a bit with saicoink, who was also participating in the workshop. I normally never thumbnail my comics, so I was really trying to put some thought into it. I don’t think you would also normally thumbnail Names, you would just straight up draw them, haha.

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This of course devolved quickly into other comics-making talk (decompression and Kishotenketsu), and then to stupid banter about the characters, and then to us two basically writing the script into ridiculous hilarious scenarios instead of the drama-ful thing it was meant to be. Needless to say we didn’t get too much work done before bed…

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A 4-panel comic birthed out of saicoink’s question: “How do you draw someone leaning out a window?” We also had a really great conversation about how Train Butts look like Human Faces.

I didn’t really get back to it until about the 2 hours between next morning brunch and the second day of workshop (u_u;;;; I… semi-failed to finish in time, but this is what I came up with:

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(Thanks to Saico for the photos!)

We all shlepped our Names back to class and to our surprise, Otsuka-sensei and Nakashima-sensei were all set up with a webcam/projector rig so that she could correct all of our pages live, in front of the whole class! I am pretty sure this hella freaked out the majority of the class, but the whole experience was uber-enlightening, and it was also a delight to see what our fellow participants came up with!

Nakashima and Otsuka said they were overall impressed with the level and quality of the work. There was quite a bit of variety, with some really sad ones, and really cute ones, and hilariously the one at the end was really shiningly optimistic??? It was great because we left off on a very positive note at the end of the workshop, lol.

Nakashima-sensei went through all of the names individually, quite thoroughly at first but then sped up a little midway through because. She would draw on top of our pages in red marker, on acetate, and within a few strokes and a couple seconds would so very rapidly transform the readability and emotional awesomeness. The crowd reaction was basically this:

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(I felt like both presenters really got a kick out of this. Canadian audiences…)

Because I only have my own pages (though I also strongly urge you to pressure Saico into showing you all her pages), I’ll go through some common points that were corrected by Nakashima-sensei across the board.

  • She changed many panels where Kenichi was looking back, either to omit him completely or to reduce his overall size. This is to emphasize that Yumi is the focus character– we should be much more concerned about her feelings and thoughts. You can also use Kenichi’s physical distance to be symbolic of his emotional distancing relative to Yumi– with his leaving, he becomes smaller and smaller in her heart as well.
  • In the part where they take each others’ hands, she either further emphasizes the focus on their hands with a zoom, or pull out the shot even farther to a full body. In the former case, it was to toss-up the visual variety in the art– rather than having too many faces, you can show emotions through the hands. You can “act” with other parts than just the face– even a skirt blowing in the wind can be effective if done right. In the latter, it was to establish that the train was leaving, but also sometimes to once again emphasize the reaching distance between Yumi and Kenichi– she can’t quite hang onto him, she’s too young, she’s too small, she has to “let go”.
  • She changed a lot of panel sizes, especially towards the ending of the script, to depict larger vistas or particularly close emotional shots of Yumi’s face/feelings. Adding in long horizontal panels slows down the tension and reading speed. Otsuka-sensei says it’s a good idea to end a scene/story on a large panel, regardless of the content– it allows the reader to rest their focus on one spot, visually breathe a little, and gives the whole thing a kind of “ending” feel.
  • There were a lot of fixes to panel composition as well– changing a half-split into a thirds-split, to make more dynamic compositions. This included shifting around character positions and word bubbles (or in French… phylactères. Isn’t that such a great word). For example, in the hand-shaking part, you can put the characters’ hands on a 1/3rd guideline, and draw the characters around it. In some cases she would also move the characters totally off the guidelines. Kenichi, who is in motion on the train, would be stuck more in a panel corner to emphasize that he’s going away, off-panel. In some cases it would be Yumi that was put off-guide, angled or tilted, to give the reader a better sense that she is really running.
  • Sometimes people would draw in the back of Yumi’s head in a panel, with Kenichi off in the distance, hanging out the window. Nakashima-sensei omitted a lot of these, saying it was sometimes redundant– if Yumi’s face was just shown, the reader has already stepped into her gaze, it is more effective to not show her, and let the reader be her. Yumi therefore isn’t in the panel looking at the Kenichi, because you are. Just like how you do not see the “camera” in film, you don’t need to draw her in.
  • Both presenters talked a lot about “kuhaku”– those big empty spaces in panels that you see all the time in manga. “Kuhaku” is meant to be empty so that the reader can “fill in” the space with the character’s emotion. You could achieve much better by thinking more actively about your overall composition and the rule of thirds thing. Otsuka-sensei also pointed out that psychologically, putting something on the left side of a panel gives off a more positive feeling, and the right side is more negative. For example, if you have a shot of Yumi’s tearful face on the left and “kuhaku” on the right, you would feel as though she is more happy-crying as though she’s self-realizing and maturing over her non-confession. With the opposite you would feel as though it’s a more sad and regrettable action that she was unable to express her true feelings. “Kuhaku” can also be totally empty space inbetween two panels, or when a character is not confined in panel borders at all. This depicts something that’s particularly out of the norm, out of a real life flow, like an inner monologue or special emotions or time-passing.
  • Nakashima-sensei would also sometimes correct the composition according to a two-page spread. She would single out well-drawn, well-emoted, narratively important panels, maybe adjust the size, and stick them in that topmost-left corner that is supposed to attract your eye the most on quick glance. With the most dramatic panel squared away in the “party corner” (I’m gonna just call it that now), sometimes the other panels would magically re-adjust themselves into better size compositions and time-pacing as well!! IT WAS AMAZING.
  • Otsuka-sensei also pointed out that the Party Corner is also on the outer edge of the book– you have the ability to bleed the artwork off the edge of the page. You have much more space as an artist to werk it and make an exciting-looking panel, rather than being shoved into the inner gutter/spine of the middle of the book, where more mundane panels should lie. (I’m sorry if I am getting all the official names for book layout parts wrong, I am stuck on the French terms…) He emphasized the importance of laying out your script in two-page spreads because otherwise you wouldn’t be aware of these kinds of things.

In terms of the corrections to my own Name above, Nakashima-sensei singled out this page particularly:

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As you can see, I fell into some of the same common mistakes from my list.

So, corrections went on for a very intensely enlightening two hours!! After that there was a book-signing session and we were let out into the world having totally leveled up… Onwards to Part 3 when I summarize what I learned most!

BONUS: Some closer shots of my pages, not in spreads but just so you can see my work 🙂

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I really ran out of time and practically left-hand drew the last two panels….! PATHETIC. I’M SORRY. My version of Kenichi is really clueless, he’s all like “Uh, ok whaaat? What’s your deal?? Whatevs!! Seeyah, my tiny silly cousin!!”

Once again I compel you to pressure Saicoink into showing off her pages! She did a very impressive job! Otsuka-sensei praised the style mix between Japanese manga and European BD! She drew in a very elegant post-script with a wordless Yumi nostalgically departing as well 🙂

In summary, I learned a lot!! I hope you all got something out of this scattered long-ass post as well!!!

Originally posted on tumblr.

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