It’s best to look at Hirohiko Araki’s Manga in Theory and Practice as an anecdotal pep talk given by a coach whose team of Jojos have had a twenty-five year run. If you are looking for a step by step anatomization of a mangaka’s secret formula, you might be disappointed, but if you’re willing to let yourself be pumped up by Araki’s chalk talk, in which he not only marks the goalposts for struggling creators, but details his own fumbles and touchdowns, then you will find Manga in Theory and Practice immensely and intensely valuable.
And even if your creative ambitions lie in a different field entirely, you may find some valuable insight in Manga in Theory and Practice, just as Araki found Hitchcock/Truffaud, a series of interviews between two famous filmmakers, to be a renewable reservoir in his own artist’s journey. This anecdote is one of two key passages that detail what is the hardest–and at the same time, the subtlest–lesson Araki has for creators. While his overt message is following The Golden Way or The Royal Road to Manga, Araki’s secondary message is how to find your voice or personal style, a journey which may take you to completely different areas than your studies have prepared you for. This secondary message is more universal, illustrated with anecdotes suited for the most general audience imaginable. Following this anecdote on how his lifelong appreciation for a book of film theory was one of his primary guideposts to creating manga, the second key passage in his journey to finding his voice describes an epiphany from looking at Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne in Italy. Araki takes pains to describe these important stops in his creative journey so that hopefully other creators will recognize those idiosyncratic elements and moments that they must syncretize into their own thought.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t good practical advice in Manga in Theory and Practice. Here’s some of the highlights:
1) Make editors turn the first page.
2) Make character sheets (RPG fans take note) for all your characters, to ensure they stay consistent throughout their long story arcs, and to make their impact on the narrative more real. When actions have causes, even though those causes might not be known or seen, they are felt by the reader.
3) The style of great mangaka can be recognized from across the room, an excellent observation that can be applied across the visual arts, and even literary arts, if you replace “across the room” with “the page in front of you.” Like a person, great art has both a recognizable face and a distinct signature. Comic/manga fans: think “Jack Kirby” or “Osamu Tezuka” and you will know what he means by recognizable across the room. Basically, Araki is telling artists to hone their personal signature until you’d recognize the briefest glimpse of it at Starbucks or the airport.
4) Manga is a little different from prose fiction structure. In “ki-sho-ten-ketsu, or Introduction (ki), development (sho), twist (ten) and resolution (ketsu),” twist replaces climax, and that marks a great observation. In manga, the moment of climax not only can change the hero’s direction but the reader’s perception of the tale.
Araki is also such a consummate entertainer that though this is a non-fiction textbook, and a relatively short read, the pages fly with not only tons of fun, but tons of content. There are observations on America, which mirror Jean Baudrillard (“it’s impossible to comprehend the feeling of scale in the midwestern United States…stretches on forever and unchanging”); plenty of Jojo anecdotes, such as why did Jonathan die?; and, amazing rough drafts that look like someone scribbled in my book, but through the power of Hamon, end up having the life of a Joestar breathed into them.
That Araki deals primarily in universals may frustrate some readers that are expecting to open Manga in Theory and Practice and see the secret formula laid bare, but I found Hirohiko Araki’s creative confessional an extremely engaging kind of biography; not an artist’s biography, but an attempt of the artist to tell the life story of their art, a biography of the art itself, if you will. Manga in Theory and Practice is not only a wonderful book for those trying to break into comics, but an invaluable self-study for creators of all kinds, and I highly recommend it. My only big complaint is that with such an anecdotal style, given to numerous references from manga, as well as high art and pop culture, there should have been an index.
Manga in Theory and Practice arrived in stores on June 13th, 2017, and if you find it sold out, here’s the portal to Viz Media.
Viz Media sent the review copy.