In Japan, the word manga refers broadly to the art form we know in English as comics. But as used in the West, it refers to a comic art style with distinctive aesthetic and storytelling conventions of its own, originating from but now no longer limited to Japan. Just as the past century or so has seen the emergence of Western masters of such things thoroughly Japanese as sushi, judo, and even tea ceremony, the past few decades brought us the work of the Western mangaka, or manga artist. Mark Crilley stands as one of the best-known practitioners of that short tradition, thanks not only to his art but to his efforts to teach fans how to draw in the style of Japanese manga themselves as well.
Apart from comic-book series like Akiko, Miki Falls, and Brody's Ghost, the Detroit-born Crilley has also published a trilogy of Mastering Manga instructional books. In an interview with Wired, he frames his own manga-mastering process as a project similar to language-learning: "When I went to Taiwan to teach English after graduating from college, I threw myself into learning Chinese with a real 'tunnel vision' kind of dedication. As a result I became conversational in Mandarin within about a year. More recently I decided to teach myself how to draw in a manga-influenced style and thus focused exclusively on that for many months."
Crilley first took to Youtube to promote his then-new manga series, but he "soon found that people were watching my videos as drawing lessons. As more people watched I got hooked on passing on drawing tips to the next generation, and so I continued producing more and more instructional videos."
More youngsters seem to have an interest in drawing in the style of Japanese comics and animation than ever (at least if my friends' kids are generationally representative), and Crilley finds that they "appreciate having an art teacher who takes manga seriously, and doesn’t dismiss it as an inferior art form. I’m sure plenty of art teachers are all, 'Stop drawing those saucer-eyed characters! Draw this still life instead!'"
Not to say that Crilley doesn't appreciate realism: he's put out a whole book on the subject, and some of his instructional videos cover how to draw lifelike eyes (a tutorial that has drawn 27 million views and counting), leopards, mushrooms, and much else besides. But for the aspiring mangaka of any nationality, his Youtube channel offers a wealth of lessons on how to draw everything from faces to clothes to figures in motion to big eyes in the manga aesthetic. But as he surely knows — having cited in the Wired interview a wide range of influences from Star Wars to Mad magazine to Monty Python's Flying Circus — if you want to truly find your own style, you can't limit yourself to any one source of inspiration. Acquire the skills, of course, but then take them to new places.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.