OSAKA – Two prefectures seeking to promote themselves as “manga meccas” for comic-book enthusiasts are stepping up their efforts to discover future hit artists and develop a thriving local industry by organizing festivals and providing opportunities to meet professionals.
Alhough Kochi and Tottori prefectures are located far from the big cultural centers like Tokyo, the distance poses little challenge to their quest to capture and foster fresh manga talent in the cyberspace age, officials believe.
“If more artists do their work in our region, our manga industry will be invigorated,” a Tottori prefectural official said, pointing out that with the click of a mouse a manga manuscript can be delivered instantly to a publisher in any far corner of the world.
Over the years, the two prefectures have enjoyed a small tourism boom as the native lands of manga doyens Takashi Yanase (Kochi) and Shigeru Mizuki (Tottori).
Yanase’s “Anpanman” animated series has captivated generations of young children, while Mizuki’s “Gegege no Kitaro” is a manga classic featuring “yokai” monsters.
Last autumn, the city of Kochi hosted the “Mansai” manga festival.
In one of the events, children from elementary and junior high schools submitted their drawings of manga and “anime” characters for a “competition” against Masahiro Muraoka, a professional manga artist who lives in Kochi Prefecture.
“I could lose my job to them,” Muraoka joked as he admired the children’s sophisticated drawing skills.
He expressed hope that the experience of having their work subjected to the critical eye of others would encourage children to pursue a professional career in manga.
Meanwhile, Tottori Prefecture has successfully bid to host the 2012 International Manga Summit, a get-together for artists from around the world scheduled for November.
The prefecture is eager to use the international event to find fresh talent.
The two prefectures are aware that to maintain their status as manga hotbeds they can’t rely solely on the popularity of veteran, established artists.
Until a few years ago, a museum in Tottori featuring another popular manga artist hailing from the prefecture, Gosho Aoyama, attracted more than 70,000 visitors annually.
However, yearly attendance has declined to less than 60,000, prompting a flurry of efforts to whip up interest, such as sponsoring manga drawing classes taught by professional artists.
Fostering young talent is an urgent challenge.
Mizuki will soon turn 90 and join Yanase in the ranks of nonagenarians, while Aoyama, whose “Detective Conan” has been successfully adapted into a TV anime series, will turn 50 next year.
Because the Internet allows people to work from anywhere, prefectural and municipal governments see it as important to create a business environment attractive to manga artists so they will continue to stay in their hometowns.
Jobs in the manga industry still center in Tokyo, where publishers are concentrated, but the regional governments are making efforts to provide job opportunities.
For example, as an effort to help put fledgling artists on their feet, Kochi Prefecture is organizing a competition focusing on ideas for game characters and scenarios.
The winners will get the opportunity to commercialize their work under contracts with local companies.
Applications for the competition are accepted exclusively from residents or natives of the prefecture in Shikoku.
Kazuma Yoshimura, head of the International Manga Research Center at Kyoto Seika University, is optimistic about the future of manga.
“In Japan, drawing manga characters is well-entrenched as a children’s pastime,” the researcher said.
“If the right opportunity for professional training is provided, we’ll see the emergence of new generations of talent upon whose shoulders our manga culture can rest.”