‘Manga’ artist finds feet in Big Apple

by Kakumi Kobayashi

Kyodo News

Misako Takashima, a “manga” comic artist based in New York, worries that many American teenagers she has met during academic art events rely too heavily on the Internet and are reluctant to try anything in the real world.

“I met many children who easily believe that the knowledge they get via the Internet is everything,” Takashima said in an interview, while working on a new book due out next year describing her life, including the tumultuous 11 years since she first went to the United States.

“I want young people to learn nothing can change until they take action,” said Takashima, who goes by the name of Misako Rocks! in U.S. art circles.

The 33-year-old native of the city of Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, is a self-taught manga artist and had no professional career in Japan.

But she has already published three books since 2006, including “Rock and Roll Love,” which was selected by the New York Public Library as a best book for teens after its 2007 release.

Unlike Japan, the United States does not have a giant nationwide market of comic magazines for children.

Takashima said she learned a key to success as a manga artist should be promotional activities at schools and libraries to be recommended by noted librarians and teachers.

Takashima also talked about how U.S.-style manga differs, because of American restrictions on sexual and violent content.

“I was surprised to see editors and others discuss whether it is acceptable to print pictures of a girl wearing a tank top before publishing. It was interesting to learn even that could be a problem in this country,” Takashima said.

Her style of creation is not like that of a typical manga artist who tends to stay in the workplace for weeks at a time. Instead, she likes going out and chatting with American teenagers at schools and libraries as well as events featuring manga and Japanese “anime” animation.

“I can learn a lot, for example, when I go to the cafeteria with children. Sometimes I can see students hanging out with those in the same ethnic group, unintentionally, I guess, and how popular guys behave in the classroom,” she said.

“I want to write about next-door boys and girls so teenagers can get into the stories really deeply,” Takashima said. “I found the plots of many American comic books a bit surreal or very adult-oriented.”

Takashima first went to the United States in August 1999 and spent nearly a year as an exchange student in Kirksville, Mo. After graduating from her university in Tokyo, she went to New York as an aspiring puppeteer.

“But it was hard to get by on my own and I even had difficulties finding a place to live,” Takashima said, looking back on her time New York, which has included drawing cartoons for a popular satirical tabloid, The Onion.