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This interview was published in the fantastic shôjo manga issue of The Comics Journal (issue number #269, July/August 2005), which was masterminded by TCJ editor Dirk Deppey. Check out Dirk's Eisner Award nominated news weblog, ¡Journalista!. You can buy the shôjo manga issue here. I hope to upload the original Japanese interview in the near future, but the transcript still requires a lot of editing and is on the back burner for now.

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The Moto Hagio Interview

TCJ #269 cover
Adam Grano's brilliant cover design for TCJ #269. In the final form, the lettering was printed in silver and the bar code was moved to the bottom of the page.


The Interview Begins
Girl Books and Beyond
Asimov in High School
Breaking In
The O-izumi Salon
Boys' Love
The Forty-Niners and the Shôjo Renaissance
Waiting for the Trade
The Heart of Thomas
Hanshin, Twins and Mothers
Body and Soul
The Poe Clan
Adapted for Theater
Phantoms in the Brain


Anyone who knows me will testify that I am fiercely un-superstitious. I roll my eyes at anything even remotely "paranormal." Living in Japan, this frequently puts me in the awkward position of having to smile and nod as people tell me about their horoscopes or the significance of their blood types or the Chinese characters that comprise their names. Yet even I, who abandoned notions of alien abduction and Sasquatch at the tender age of thirteen, cannot help wondering about the significance of the fact that I share a birthday with Moto Hagio, one of the foremothers of the modern genre of girls and women's manga. After all, Hagio is the creator of the comic that changed my life. If it wasn't for my encounter with The Heart of Thomas some fifteen years ago, I would almost certainly not be teaching in Kyoto Seika University's Department of Comic Art, and I wouldn't be typing this sentence. After reading the first two volumes of Hagio's most recent work, Otherworld Barbara, and spending a day talking with her about matters ranging from the abstract to the intensely personal, I feel even more a sense of... synchronicity. "Synchro" is a word that comes up frequently in conversation with Hagio. Barbara is, in a sense, all about synchronicity, and Doctor Jung's good name is mentioned more than once in that book.

As I type this, in the Bullet Train that is taking me back from Hagio's home in Saitama Prefecture to my own home in Kyoto, I find myself pondering the nature of fate and the place of Hagio's work in contemporary Japanese culture. True, Hagio's manager, Akiko Joh, did pour me three (or was it four?) glasses of wine while I discussed life and art with Hagio, and the nice young woman rolling her cart of goodies down the aisle of the Bullet Train has contributed a couple of beers, so my judgment may be somewhat impaired. Nonetheless, it is objective fact that Hagio occupies a very prominent position in the pantheon of postwar Japanese comics.

For the past 36 years, Hagio has produced one masterpiece after another. Her first hit series, The Poe Clan (1972-1976, 800-plus pages), explored the nature of life and death, growth and aging, joy and grief, all through the eyes of a vampire trapped for eternity in the body of a fourteen year-old boy. It also earned Hagio the Shogakukan Manga Award in 1976. In 1975, she published the gender-bending science-fiction mystery They Were Eleven!(which I translated some ten years ago for a now-out-of-print edition from Viz), and the next year she came out with its sequel, Horizon of the East, Eternity of the West. In the late 1970s, in addition to a string of original short pieces, Hagio did three major “covers”: the first, Ray Bradbury’s “R is for Rocket” and other short stories; the second, Japanese novelist Ryu Mitsuse’s mind-blowing sci-fi epic, Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights; and the third, Jean Cocteau’s disturbing Les Infants Terribles.

As the 1980s dawned, Hagio returned to her own original work with zeal, launching what was to become one of the major series (at 700-plus pages) of her career, Mesh. Portraying a turbulent few months in the life of a teenaged boy determined to kill his drug-dealer father, Mesh became a vehicle for Hagio to purge her own familial demons. In Mesh, as in virtually all Hagio’s works, there are no “normal” families, no “normal” relationships. Human relationships are intense, yet fragile. Trust is hard-earned, and subject to renegotiation at any moment. Catharsis, redemption, revelation, and reconciliation are never cut and dry. Nowhere is this more elegantly captured than in the last scene of the last chapter (titled “The Realistic Death of a Surrealistic Love”), in which the protagonist suddenly finds himself stranded, by his own choice, watching two trains pull away in opposite directions, and then, utterly alone, turns to set off on a new path.

In the meantime, Hagio continued to pursue serious science fiction, such as A, A’ (again, translated by me for Viz, and, again, sadly out of print), as well more fantastic, dreamlike short works. In the latter 1980s, after Mesh, Hagio occupied herself with another major project, her first long (1000-plus pages) science-fiction series, Marginal. Set on a planet where everyone is male except, it seems, for the one “Mother,” who is said to give birth to literally everyone else, and who is periodically reborn, phoenix style. Hagio portrays a rich and convincing culture (strongly reminiscent of Arab culture) in which men take post-pubescent boys to be both their lovers and apprentices. As it turns out, though, there is far more to this planet than meets the eye. “Mother” produces fewer and fewer babies each year, and the population is dwindling. When two nomad men, with the beautiful, confused boy they find and adopt, go in search of an answer to the mystery, they find more than they could ever have imagined, and they also find that the boy, Kira, is the key to the future of the planet.

By now, a clear pattern had begun to emerge in Hagio’s works. The story will center on a remarkable and strange character who, for one reason or another, seems incapable of so-called “normal” human interaction (and who is usually small, beautiful, and androgynous). But we see this character through the eyes of an unremarkable (but invariably handsome, and often long-haired) young man, unsure of his place in the world, and just trying to muddle through. This “straight man,” usually through arbitrary coincidence, forms a unique bond with the “eccentric.” In A, A’, the eccentrics are the so-called “unicorns,” whose unusual genetic makeup is the source of their eccentricity (compounded, in Tacto’s case, by childhood trauma), and the straight men are Regg Bone and Mori. In Mesh, the eccentric is the title character, and the straight man is Miron, the painter of forgeries who takes him in. In the case of Marginal, the eccentric is the boy Kira, and the role of the straight man is split between Assidin and Grinja, the former representing life and hope, the latter representing death and grim resignation.

We also see the coalescing of certain motifs. One, of course, is childhood trauma—including sexual abuse—and dysfunctional families. Another, related motif is genetics (and genetic engineering), heredity, and environmental factors in psychological growth. Also related is the notion of synchronicity, in this case meaning a powerful resonance between two or more characters who often seem to be extremely different from one another. And while the ostensible genre may be science fiction or “realism,” almost all of Hagio’s major works take the form of a mystery.

In her shorter works, though, Hagio pursues every idea and theme that catches her fancy, and in the late eighties, music was one such theme. Hagio, using music by rock musician Yoshihiro Kai, created in 1988 what may be the world’s only “musical graphic novel” (or should that be “graphic novel musical”?), The Perfect Crime: Faerie. It was also around this time that Hagio fell in love with ballet, and began a series of short stories revolving around ballet, most notably the somewhat longer An Ungrateful Man.

Between 1989 and 1993, Hagio created two “psychological sci-fi mysteries,” both of which featured an alien or aliens appearing in unexpected places in contemporary Japan: Aria of the Sea and House on a Dangerous Hill. While Hagio is characteristically careful in her use of science, these tales, like most of Hagio’s are ultimately more about psychological issues, and individuals overcoming trauma, fear, and insecurity in the process of forming bonds with each other.

But Hagio’s career in the 1990s is dominated by her longest (3000-plus pages) and most serious work to date, A Savage God Reigns. The title comes from A. Alvarez’ The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (which in turn, although Hagio did not know it, comes from a diary entry by William Butler Yeats lamenting the rise of what would come to be known as “Modernism”). Beautifully executed, yet brutal in its frankness and often painful to read, A Savage God Reigns is the story of a teenaged boy, Jeremy, who is sexually and psychologically abused by his stepfather, Greg. Although the abusive stepfather dies early in the story, Jeremy is all but incapacitated by his trauma, and also wracked with guilt, since his mother died along with his stepfather in the car crash Jeremy himself orchestrated. The straight man in this story is Jeremy’s blissfully ignorant stepbrother, Ian, who must come to terms with the reality that his father was not the man he had always thought him to be. Ian becomes Jeremy’s de facto guardian, and struggles awkwardly to help Jeremy regain some semblance of sanity and self-esteem, while simultaneously struggling with his own unexpected and frightening feelings of lust for Jeremy. Although the psychological scars of sexual abuse can never be completely healed, Ian and Jeremy manage in the end, after literally coming to the very brink (of a very real cliff), to end the downward spiral and begin to crawl back up again. This amazing contribution to graphic literature was recognized in 1997 when it was awarded the first Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize.

Hagio had time for very little else during the 1990s, and after finishing A Savage God Reigns in 2001, she took a well-earned, year-long vacation. In 2002, understandably wanting to turn to less emotionally draining material, began her most ambitious science fiction work since Marginal. Otherworld Barbara (and, no “Barbara” is not a woman’s name in this story) contains many of the themes and motifs I discussed earlier, as well as Hagio’s most current interests, which she describes in detail in the interview. Though it will probably end up to be less than 600 pages in length, it is one of Hagio’s most complex stories, and is not easily summarized. At the center of story is a teenaged girl who has been in a coma since the age of nine, when she was found with her dead parents. The mother had apparently killed the father, and then killed herself. Oh, and the girl, Aoba, was found to have her dead parents’ hearts in her stomach. The core mystery, of course, is why this girl ate her parents’ hearts, but there are plenty of other mysteries to chew on (if you’ll forgive the metaphor). Why does the presumably imaginary dreamworld—Barbara—that Aoba now inhabits seem to affect the real world, and what is her connection to the boy, Kiriya, who she has never met and who shares her dreams of Barbara? And what does this have to do with a mysterious scientist looking for the secret to eternal youth, or, for that matter, with a long extinct race of Martians? Well, if anyone’s interested in publishing the book in English, here’s one translator who would be happy to provide the answers. The final episode should be hitting the stands in Japan just about the time this issue of TCJ is going to press.

Hagio’s influence is not limited to the world of comics. Hagio’s works have been turned into an animated feature-length film (They Were Eleven!), a movie (Summer Vacation 1999, based loosely on The Heart of Thomas), several plays (Hanshin, The Heart of Thomas, The Visitor, They Were Eleven!, Mesh), radio dramas (The Poe Clan, Marginal), and televisions dramas (They Were Eleven!, Iguana Girl). She has even written a musical for children, Curdken’s Hat: A Jigsaw Puzzle of the Land of Grimm, based loosely on the Grimm Brothers’ story, “The Goose-Girl.” Almost every comic she has ever created remains in print today, in some cases in multiple editions, and her works have been analyzed and written about by dozens of scholars and critics. To quantify Hagio’s popularity in globally meaningful terms, on June 4, 2005, the third volume of Otherworld Barbara was ranked 1,699 on, and the current edition of her 1974 classic The Heart of Thomas was ranked 4,690. (Batman: Year One Deluxe Edition was ranked 1,469 and Blankets was ranked 6,729 on on the same day.)

This interview was conducted on December 6, 2004, at Hagio’s spacious home in the sleepy sub-suburb of Tokyo known as Hanno City. Also present was Hagio’s house mate and manager of many years, Akiko Joh, who was herself a cartoonist for a brief time in the early 1970s. Hagio had just woken up when I arrived at 3:00 p.m., and I stayed till after 8:00 p.m., just barely catching the last bullet train back to Kyoto.

The Interview

Matt Thorn: Let's begin with the beginning, shall we?

Moto Hagio: Okay.

Thorn: You were born on May 12, 1949, so you and I share a birthday.

Hagio: That's right. Florence Nightingale was also born on May 12.

Thorn: This was in Ohmuta City, Fukuoka Prefecture.

Hagio: That's right.

Thorn: Can I start by asking about your childhood?

Hagio: All right. My childhood ...

Thorn: Your father worked for a mining company?

Hagio: Yes. Ohmuta is a mining town, and there are some chemical companies, too. My father worked at the port from which they shipped coal as well as timber products, so the kids in the elementary school were all either children of local shop owners or of mine workers. Our Baby Boom generation was of course very large, so each class in the elementary school had more than 50 children, and I think there were five or six classes in each grade.

Thorn: So it was a pretty big school.

Hagio: Yes. It was a two-story wood-frame school, but they kept adding new buildings to accommodate our generation.

Thorn: And you were one of four children?

Hagio: That's right. My older sister, me, my younger sister, and then my brother came last.

Thorn: And what are your siblings doing now? [Hagio laughs] May I ask?

Hagio: Sure. Ours was something of a matrilineal family. Practically every child born is a girl. My older sister married and gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. Her husband is from a town in Fukuoka called Yanagawa. They live there now with his mother. My younger sister is married and living ... where is it? Off on the edge of Saitama Prefecture. They have three girls. The youngest is married, but the older two girls are still single and working. And my little brother was working for a computer company, but suffers from depression and quit about two or three years ago. Now he just takes it easy, photographing birds and going to hot-spring resorts.

Thorn: I see.

Hagio: And I never married and have done nothing but make comics. [Laughter]

Thorn: So you're married to comics.

Hagio: That's right. Oh, and I have a few cats. [Laughter.]

Thorn: And you started drawing at a very young age?

Hagio: Yes. I really loved drawing. If there was a piece of paper around, I'd draw on it. I'd draw on the back on advertising flyers, wrapping paper, and for some reason we had this thin, B4-sized paper in our house. My mother would give me one those if I asked her. At the time one sheet of that cost half a yen. [Laughs.] So I would play at drawing pictures stories.

Thorn: What do you think the act of drawing meant to you at the time?

Hagio: Well, all children like to draw. But I was more passionate about it than most. There's something interesting about watching a picture take shape before your eyes as you draw it — a world of pictures drawn in lines, a world of comics. When I started reading comics, I would grow to like the characters, they were interesting to me, so I would draw them myself, making them move in my own way, creating my own stories. It was a game. But I would come up with one story after another. So when I entered elementary school, I bought a notebook for drawing comics in, and proceeded to fill it up with all kinds of stories.

Thorn: What kind of stories?

Hagio:You have to understand the situation in [Japanese] comics in those days. In the girls' comics, you would have stories in which the woman you thought was the mother turns not to be the mother [laughs], and the real mother is actually somewhere else. There was a variety of settings. For example, the poor child in the story turns out to actually come from a rich family, or the child of a rich family turns to have been adopted from a poor family. And one of the standard device was amnesia. [Laughs.] There's a popular Korean drama that's using the same device. It appeared so often, it makes me think that what with the war and the harsh social conditions, people had an unconscious desire to forget everything. So the heroine goes off in search of her real mother, but along the way she develops amnesia, and ends up being taken care of by a string of kind strangers.
Another popular motif was ballet. There was quite a boom in girls' comics about ballet for a while. For example, the heroine would be a girl from a poor family who's really good at ballet, but she loses the lead to an untalented girl from a rich family. [Laughter.] In the standard story, there would be a mean girl and a kind-hearted heroine, and there would be a very clear-cut struggle between good and evil. [Laughter.]
They were very simplistic stories. But the good artists would draw these standard stories with an interesting twist; for example, Miyako Maki and Masako Watanabe. There were only about seven artists drawing girls' comics in those days. Women, I mean; there were plenty of male artists drawing girls' comics then. Tetsuya Chiba's girls' comics were particularly good1.

Thorn: Chiba's first serial, Mama's Violin, was a story like that. The heroine is looking for her mother, who is suffering from amnesia.

Hagio: Right, and the mother regains her memory when she hears her daughter's violin.

Thorn: And of course the heroine goes through all kinds of troubles and is eventually reunited with her mother.

Hagio: Right. Mitsuteru Yokoyama also did a story titled Tomboy Angel, which featured a tomboy as the heroine. I really liked stories like that, in which the heroine was lively.

Thorn: But, generally speaking, most girls' comics of the day featured passive, helpless girls who were cute and sweet and nothing else.

Hagio: Yes, that's the way most of them were. So anyway, as I continued to draw, I found a "comics friend," and one day she said, "Let's make a proper comic." But we were just in our first year of junior high school, and we had no information, no idea how to go about it. Comics are of course printed on both sides of the paper, but one of us had heard that you mustn't draw on both sides of the paper. [Laughter.] And after we had already drawn it, we learned that you're supposed to use a ruler when you draw the panel frame.
[Laughter.] We had drawn them freehand.

Thorn: At the time, there weren't many books available on cartooning, were there?

Hagio: No, there weren't.

Thorn: I think there was Osamu Tezuka's akahon "Cartoon College."2

Hagio: Yes, in fact it was in an akahon that included a solicitation for original work that we learned a lot of the basics. You know, "Use India ink and opaque white. Draw with a crow quill pen; pencil drawings can't be used." [Laughs.] That sort of thing.

Thorn: So that's where you learned.

Hagio: Yes. We had never seen a page of original art, so we wondered what one should look like. [Laughter.]

Thorn: So you read a lot of akahon comics?

Hagio: At the time, in addition to regular book stores, there were also a lot of book rental shops. You could borrow a book for about five yen. So I would help around the house, get five yen, and sometimes use that to rent a book. The scariest were the ones by Kazuo Umezu3. [Laughter.] Seriously. Somebody told me he was good, so I borrowed something, but it was so incredibly scary. The book I borrowed contained serialized stories by various artists, so I never read the rest of the continuation, but most of the stories created this feeling of dread that something creepy was coming.

Thorn: And how old were you then?

Hagio: This was from elementary school to the beginning of junior high school.

Thorn: So you encountered comics rather early in elementary school?

Hagio: My older sister — Well, I started renting comics in about the third grade. And there was a space in the classroom for kids to put old books they had finished reading, and some of them were comics. My sister bought the "grade" magazines, which contained some comics4. And I knew a woman — she was a apparently a distant relative — who had a bookstore, so I would visit her shop on the day a comic was released and ask her to let me read it. Maybe once or twice a year, I would actually buy a comic.

Thorn: Really? So you didn't buy many comics?

Hagio: No. My mother hated comics, so I needed special permission: for example, if my grades went up, some special event like that.

Thorn: So your mother hated comics.

Hagio: Yes. My mother and father both saw comics as something for children not old enough to read. They firmly believed — and still believe — that comics are an impediment to studying.

Thorn: You mean they still believe that even now?

Hagio: Yes. I think human beings cannot easily shake off an idea once it's planted in their head.

Thorn: So what does your mother think of the fact that you became a cartoonist?

Hagio: You know, she seems to think I'm some kind of art teacher. [Laughs.]

Thorn: An art teacher?

Hagio: You know how they are some people who teach art privately to children? She seems to think that's what I do, like someone who teaching tea ceremony or flower arrangement.

Thorn: [Laughs.] All these years? Hasn't she seen your work?

Hagio: Oh, she's seen it, but she seems incapable of comprehending the notion of cartooning as a profession. [Thorn laughs.] She's come with me to the editorial offices, she's been to Shogakukan's End-of-the-Year Party with me, she's seen my books, and she's even seen me working, but ... she just doesn't seem to get it.

Thorn: Wow. That must be hard for you.

Hagio: Yes. Until I was about 30 years old, she constantly told me to stop doing such work.

Thorn: Really? [Laughs.] Until you were 30?

Hagio: [Laughs.] And the reason she stopped was that we had a huge fight about it.

Thorn: Is that so? When you were in your 30s? And had received the [Shogakukan Comics] Award5?

Hagio: Oh, that made no difference at all.

Thorn: That didn't matter?

Hagio: Not at all. Oh, when I won that award, she bragged to all her neighbors that her daughter had won an award. But then she turned around and told me to quit. [Laughs.]

Thorn: Quit and do what? What did she want you to do?

Hagio: Something with a higher status. For example, she said, "If you like making stories, why not write children's literature?" Or "Why don't you appear on television?" [Laughter.] Because I had been interviewed on TV a few times. In the minds of my mother and father, cartooning was the most pathetic and sleazy sort of work, and they apparently thought I would eventually give it up.

Thorn: Is your mother still alive?

Hagio: Alive and well.

Thorn: How old is she?

Hagio: She's about 77.

Thorn: And your father?

Hagio: He's about 83. When he was young, he wanted to be a violinist, and studied with local teachers for many years. He then joined the company orchestra, where he played and even took on students of his own. So in his mind, classical is the peak of beauty. Any other kind of music is worthless, be it enka6, folk, or the Beatles. [Laughter.] So my parents have very clear ideas of what is good and what is bad. And comics are bad.

Thorn: So your parents have never accepted your career?

Hagio: That's right.

Thorn: That must be very difficult for you.

Hagio: Yes. But everyone has their own likes and dislikes, right? There's nothing I can do about that, but I at least want them to keep their mouths shut about my work. [Laughs.] So we now maintain a certain distance on that subject.

Thorn: It must have been very difficult when you first began cartooning.

Hagio: Yes. So I kept it a secret from them for a long time. I would draw comics with friend at school, and then hide what I had drawn. I think they had an inkling of what was going on, but they never confronted me about it. But I hid it all along.
One day my father ran into my friend, and she told him that she and I were working hard to become professional cartoonists. Then he came home and, teasingly, told me what she had said. If I had said, "That's true," a lengthy lecture would be sure to follow, so I lied and said, "That's her own idea, not mine." I betrayed my friend. [Laughs.]
Any comics-related mail would be a problem if it came directly to my house, so I had it all sent to my friend's house and she would give it to me. [Laughs.]

Thorn: So that's what you did when you first began submitting work to publishers?

Hagio: Right. When I remember my parents and comics, my only memories are of being scolded. [Laughs.]

Thorn: Is that so?

Hagio: The only exception was when I first won a prize, and the magazine published a panel from the winning work and sent me a check. I showed it to my mother, and she was taken by surprise and said, "You mean your comics can earn money?" Until then, I had been lectured so many times. "At your age you shouldn't be doing such nonsense."
"But I want to become a cartoonist."
"Well, you can't make a living just doing whatever you want." She would say, "These cartoonists get paid just one hundred yen a page; you can't live on that." [Laughter.] Where did she get that figure from? I once heard in an interview someone say that long ago the page rate was one hundred yen. So I suppose my mother must have heard that, too, way back then. [Laughter.]

Thorn: So what was your page rate when you first began?

Hagio: The page rate for my debut piece was 1,200 yen per page7.

Thorn: 1,200 yen per page?

Hagio: And for my second piece it was 1,500 yen. When I was doing The Heart of Thomas [in 1974], my page rate went from 3,000 yen to 6,000 yen8.

Thorn: Tell me the story about the drawing of the carp streamers you did as a child.

Hagio: [Laughter.] Yeah, well, I don't remember it myself. You see, at the time, my older sister and I were taking private art lessons. When the teacher was telling us how to draw, he used carp streamers as an example9. "Children tend to draw carp streamers standing straight out from the pole," he said, "but do they actually look like that when you see them? No. They're twisted by the breeze, aren't they? You have to draw things as you really see them. The same with a forest. Children draw green leaves and brown branches, but if you look carefully, you see many more colors." This is what he told us. So I thought, "Oh, so I can draw what I see."

Thorn: And how old were you?

Hagio: The first grade. Or maybe kindergarten.

Thorn: So you were taking art lessons?

Hagio: Yes. My older sister was going on Sundays, so I tagged along. We also did calligraphy. It was common for children to take some sort of lesson like that. I can't remember anything about my calligraphy lessons, though.

Thorn: So when you drew a picture of carp streamers for school, you were accused of having an adult draw it for you? [Laughter.]

Hagio: Apparently my teacher contacted my parents about it, yes.

Girl Books and Beyond

Thorn: I understand that you read a lot of literature when you were young.

Hagio: Yes, I would read anything and everything. I started with the books in school. There was a little reading corner in the school. There was a movement at time to get children to read literature. There were biographies of famous people, like Florence Nightingale and Thomas Edison, as well as Japanese folk tales. These could be read pretty quickly, so I'd finish one and start another right away. Then, when I was in the fifth grade, our school got a proper library. I was so happy. I went every day.

Thorn: What kind of books did you like?

Hagio: American writers like Gene Stratton-Porter and Louisa May Alcott, and then there was Lucy Maud Montgomery. The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Women ... all those typical "girl books," in which the protagonist is a girl and has all sorts of adventures. There was a series of all those books, and I read them all. And then there were the Greek and Roman myths. Yeah, there was a series titled "Myths From Around the World," and I particularly liked the volumes on Greek and Roman myths. And for some reason there was a science-fiction corner, too.

Thorn: Really?

Hagio: A dozen or so books geared at boys and girls.

Thorn: Wasn't that unusual for an elementary school library in those days?

Hagio: It was. There was also a Japanese classics corner, but the only thing I read from there was Ikku Jippensha's Shanks Mare. Nothing there really grabbed me. [Laughs.]

Thorn: Why was that?

Hagio: First of all, there weren't many stories that featured women. And I just didn't find the situations in the stories in interesting. For example, there was The Battle of the Minamoto and the Taira10. This can be quite interesting if you know the history, but if you don't, and all of the sudden some guy named Kiyomori appears and he's trying to hide his armor beneath his robes11. ... [Laughter.] I preferred stories that I could dive right into without any prior knowledge.

Thorn: So it was mostly Western literature you were attracted to?

Hagio: Yes. I read some Japanese children's literature, but all I remember of it was that it was preachy. [Laughs.] I think there were a lot of books like that back then, books with moral lessons.

Thorn: And you were attracted to Western literature because ...?

Hagio: I think because it allowed you to use your imagination more. Oh, come to think of it, I really liked Kenji Miyazawa12.

Thorn: I see. So you preferred stories that were more fantastic.

Hagio: Yes, I think so.

Thorn: And as for comics, you liked Tezuka?

Hagio: Osamu Tezuka, Shotaro Ishimori13, Hideko Mizuno14. I was crazy about them. I copied them constantly.

Thorn: Was there any one work in particular that blew you away?

Hagio: They all did. In particular, everything by Tezuka blew me away when I was elementary school. Every story I read, I would think, "Wow! So this is what happens? This is what the character thinks?" Particularly the near-future science fiction stories, such as Astro Boy. They were just so imaginative. And I also would think, "So this how you make a story?" It was because the stories were so carefully crafted that it was so easy for me to understand them. Ishimori was more sensually rich. His drawings were beautiful. But his stories weren't as solid. He would jump from one episode to another indiscriminately, and you'd be left wondering, "Whatever happened to that character?" or, "Huh? You mean the story's over?" [Laughter.] A lot of his stories were like that. But they still carried impact.

Thorn: My own impression is that Ishimori liked playing with form.

Hagio: With technique.

Thorn: Right, playing with technique, and theme was a secondary consideration.

Hagio: Yes. I think so. So he knew how to make a scene look cool, and he could draw fight scenes that had real impact. He was good at stunning the reader.
Hideko Mizuno did Harp of the Stars[1960], and then Hello, Teacher [1964] and The White Troika [1964]. She worked with legends and famous historical figures, and looked to other countries [for inspiration]. The lines of the dresses she drew were just so beautiful. I tried so hard to copy the way she drew dresses, but was never able to do it as well as she did. [Laughter.] "How does she do it!?"

Thorn: I just met her for the first time just a few weeks ago.

Hagio: Oh, really?

Thorn: She's so cool.

Hagio: Isn't she?

Thorn: I really liked what she was saying. She was talking about gender discrimination in the comics industry.

Hagio: It must have been particular bad in her time [the 1950s and 1960s].

Thorn: Back then, of course there was Sazae-san creator Machiko Hasegawa, Toshiko Ueda, Mizuno, Watanabe, Maki, and that was about it, wasn't it15?

Hagio: There was also an artist named Setsuko Akamatsu16.

Thorn: And then there was Imamura ...

Hagio: Right, Yoko Imamura17.

Asimov in High School

Thorn: I hear that you moved a lot as a child.

Hagio: That's right.

Thorn: You moved back and forth between Suita City [in Osaka Prefecture] and Ohmuta City several times.

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: Did that have to do with your father's work?

Hagio: That's right. So I went to two elementary schools, two junior high schools, and two high schools.

Thorn: That must have been hard.

Hagio: Yes, because your environment changes so abruptly. In a way, it was interesting. In particular, moving from Ohmuta to Osaka, the language was so different. You know, the Osaka dialect.

Thorn: Right.

Hagio: It was startling. But the most startling thing was the boys in Osaka. They were so stylish. [Laughter.]
One time, my mother asked me to go to my little brother's elementary school to deliver something to him. And these boys come over and ask me where I'm going, so I tell them, and one of them immediately takes my bag and says, "Let me carry that for you," like a real gentleman. [Laughs.] I was bowled over. "So this is what city boys are like!" [Laughter.]

Thorn: Is that so? So, were you able to make friends in Suita?

Hagio: Yes. I became friends with a girl who had just transferred to the school three days before me. It was because of her that I was able to make it through my second year of junior high school. You see, there were these group divisions in the class, and you couldn't just jump right into one of them. Actually, that itself was a surprise to me. Back in the country, the parents of all the kids worked in the same place, and you could become friends with just about anybody quite easily. But in Osaka, the kids divided up into groups of four or five, and wouldn't say hello to or play with the kids of other groups. They wouldn't invite anyone else to play. It took me a while to get used to that. But in my third year in junior high, our school changed. I mean, it was the same school, but we moved from an old school into a new one. The old school was in the hills, and was an old place with real character. But one Monday we went to school, and found that the ceiling in the hallway of the second floor had fallen in. [Laughs.] There was a huge hole in the ceiling. That's how old the place was. The teachers were very upset, and saying, "What if this had happened on a school day?" So we moved to a new school, and all the classes were rearranged. There were two kids from my previous class, and though they had never spoken a word to me before, we suddenly became good friends. And once we became friends I realized they were really nice kids. [Laughs.] Strange, isn't it?

Thorn: Were you a quiet child?

Hagio: Hmm. It's not so much that I was quiet, but now looking back, I think I wasn't good at reading social situations. [Laughter.]

Thorn: That could be a pretty serious problem in junior high school. [Laughter.]

Hagio: Right. If someone came on strong to me, I tended to give in pretty easily.

Thorn: I see. Going back to something we were talking about earlier, was it that reading corner in elementary school that got you interested in science fiction?

Hagio: No. In my second year of junior high, I read Isaac Asimov's The Currents of Space. It's set on a completely alien planet, and you don't find out who the protagonist is until the end of the book. Oh yeah, this is another amnesia story. [Laughter] When he finally gets back his memory at the end, he remembers that he's from Earth. He's a scientist from Earth studying the currents of space. But the nobles from this advanced planet say, "Earth? We've never heard of such a planet." So he's treated as an outlaw, as a foreigner. So I had first assumed this was a story about the Earth, but my assumption turned out to be completely wrong. This was quite a shock to my brain at the time, and it occurred to me for the first time that there could be a future in which the Earth is all but unknown.
So I became fascinated with this genre, and wanted to read more. You know SF Magazine18? I would occasionally find copies in used book stores. Every story interested me. And then these sci-fi paperbacks began to be published, and I just got in deeper and deeper.

Thorn: I also became interested in sci-fi in junior high school, and I particularly liked Robert Heinlein. But then in high school, I began to understand Heinlein's political perspective, and I got to the point where I couldn't read him anymore. [Laughter.]

Hagio: There is that about Heinlein. It's when you have no idea what he's talking about that you can enjoy him the most. [Laughs.]

Thorn: Yeah. Just a few weeks ago, I reread Stranger in a Strange Land for the first time in twenty years. It was a new unabridged edition that came out recently, a real thick book. I don't know if it's been translated into Japanese yet. It was a real disappointment, because I couldn't enjoy it innocently the way I did when I first read it all those years ago.

Hagio: So just what is Heinlein's political perspective?

Thorn: Basically, he's a libertarian. But it's rather right-wing.

Hagio: Yes, it is, isn't it?

Thorn: He was famous for saying that it shouldn't be against the law to shoot pacifists or anarchists, but you have to watch out for the anarchists because they might shoot back. [Laughter.]
So you basically preferred fantastic stories over more mundane dramas?

Hagio: Yes. How should I put it? The only authors of realistic stories I could read were Ryotaro Shiba and Sawako Ariyoshi19. Of course, these days I read all kinds of more realistic novels. But when I was in my teens and twenties, I just had no patience at all for realistic works. I think the reason was that I grew up in a coal mining town. And at the time, there were these fierce labor disputes, so there were often these fights among the grownups. And though children were never hurt in these fights, children saw these people screaming into microphones and running. And they were not spewing abstractions, like the fascists do in their sound trucks. It was rough, raw stuff. It was terrifying.

Thorn: So that reality was just too ...

Hagio: Yes, it was a reality of violence and poverty, and I wanted to escape from it. I wanted to move towards something more beautiful.

Thorn: So you were pursuing an ideal.

Hagio: No, just pursuing an escape. [Laughs.] But, yes.

Breaking In

Thorn: So you said you were drawn to way Tezuka portrayed his characters' psychology?

Hagio: You may remember that the last time I visited Kyoto Seika University, I talked about Tezuka's Shinsengumi in my lecture20. It was this comic that made me decide to become a cartoonist. The protagonist joins the Shinsengumi, and there he becomes very close friends with another young man called Oka-chan. But Oka-chan turns out to be a spy, and the protagonist is obliged to kill him. He has to choose between loyalty to his group, or rescuing his friend. I sympathized so much with the situation of the hero, that I found myself reading the book as if I were him. I completely synchronized with him. When that happens, you become emotionally involved with the story in a strange way that is beyond words. "I know how you feel. I know exactly how you feel!" [Laughs.]
I was surprised at myself, and I realized for the first time that comics were capable of having such an impact on a reader, and I thought, "If you can affect someone in this way, I'd like to take a serious stab at it myself." Before that, I had really liked comics, and I would talk with my friend about how to present work to a publisher and things like that, but I also worried about not being able to sell my work, or even how to go to the publisher's offices. [Laughs.] If I couldn't sell my work, how could I make a living? In other words, I was fretting about things not having directly to do with the comics themselves. And I would think, "I can't really become a pro cartoonist." I was finding reasons to run away from it. "I'll just have to make it a hobby."

Thorn: This was in high school?

Hagio: Right. In my first and second year of high school, when I was beginning to think about my future. And it was just around that time that Ishimori came out with An Introduction to Cartooning and An Introduction to Cartooning, Continued [1965 and 1966]. In those books he talks about how he got to be a cartoonist, and how poor he was when he was younger. He would buy a single daikon radish, and live on that for a week. [Laughs.] Stories like that. And I would think, "Living for a week on daikon!? I hate daikon!" [Laughs.] But after I read Tezuka's Shinsengumi, I thought, “I'll try it even if I have to live on daikon for a week.” I became serious about cartooning. I started looking for publishers and submitting work. I submitted for about two years. About 10 different pieces I sent here and there.

Thorn: "Here and there"?

Hagio: I sent to Kodansha, and once I sent a piece to COM. COM was —

Thorn: the magazine Tezuka was putting out.

Hagio: Right21. And then there was Shueisha. Shueisha had its annual comics awards, but each month on the pages of Special Edition Margaret, they invited submissions of 16-page stories, so I sent stories to them several times.

Thorn: And you were still in high school then?

Hagio: From the time I was in high school till I was a first-year student in design school.

Thorn: And you were reading COM from the time it began?

Hagio: Yes, from the beginning.

Thorn: That was 1967.

Hagio: That's right. From the first issue. And I had to worry about the books and magazines I bought. I had them hidden in the back of my closet. [Laughter.]

Thorn: Is that right? A few years back, Tomoko Naka22 gave me the copy of the first issue of COM that she had kept for all these years.

Hagio: Did she?

Thorn: Yes. So I show that to my students in my History of Manga class and brag that I got it from Tomoko Naka. [Laughter.]
Am I right in thinking that it was serious comics fans who were the core readers of COM?

Hagio: Yes. I remember being excited to see so many comics lovers in one place23. There was another magazine at the time called GARO.

Thorn: Right.

Hagio: It featured Sanpei Shirato24. I suppose you could say it represented the "hardcore." But frankly I never really liked it. I read it, and I thought Shirato's work was great.

Thorn: Other than Shirato's work, what were the comics in GARO like in those days?

Hagio: I must have read a lot of them, but all I have left is a really dark impression. [Laughs.]

Thorn: Gekiga, that sort of thing?25

Hagio: Gekiga, psycho mysteries, that sort of thing. Mostly stories about youthful anguish from a male perspective.

Thorn: I see. My image of GARO is "Screw-Style." The magazine is still around. It's been cancelled and revived a few times. Mostly stuff that lacks mass appeal. [Laughs.]

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: I think it was in 1967 that COM ran a roundtable discussion about girls' comics. The women who participated were mostly really young readers, and these men were basically asking them, "Why would anyone want to read such drivel?" [Laughter.] And just a few years later, they did a special issue on girls' comics, and the gist was that girls' comics were now more interesting than boys' comics.

Hagio: Oh, really.

Thorn: Yes. That issue featured a roundtable with you, Keiko Takemiya26, Toshiko Ueda, and, let's see, Ichijo ...

Hagio: Yukari Ichijo.

Thorn: Right.

Hagio: Oh, really? Now that you mention it, I do have a vague recollection of something like that, but I can't remember the details.

Thorn: It included a photo of you.

Hagio: Oh, really? [Laughter.]

Thorn: I think you were about twenty.

Hagio: That sounds about right.  That was when I was occasionally visiting Tokyo, before I moved there. Anyway, I was raised in a home where comics were completely disparaged. I was so grateful to be able to become a girls' comics artist, and to get to the point where I could do comics professionally, I couldn't have cared less that male cartoonists were saying girls' comics were drivel, because anything they could say would be preferable to what my parents were saying. [Laughter.]

Thorn: I see. At least you were both cartoonists.

Hagio: Right. In a perverse sense, my parents taught me a lot in that respect. [Laughs.]

Thorn: So your debut piece was the short story "Lulu and Mimi." [1969]

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: Weren't you published in COM before that?

Hagio: No, I wasn't.

Thorn: You weren't published in Guracon?

Hagio: What's that?

Thorn: The kind of fanzine that was sometimes included with COM.

Hagio: Oh, right, right. A lot of newcomers got their start there, didn't they?

Thorn: So you were first published by Kodansha.

Hagio: Yes. When I was in my senior year of high school, I moved back to Ohmuta from Osaka, and I heard that there was a cartoonist living in Ohmuta, and I went to visit her. She was a girl named Makiko Hirata. She was being published by Kodansha, and she was the same age as I. She was doing pro work while she was still in high school. After graduation, she moved to Tokyo, and she told me that if I was interested, she would introduce me to her editor. After I graduated, I entered a design school back home, and after I had drawn a few stories, I went to Tokyo and Makiko Hirata took me to Kodansha. The editor there told me to send him something before the end of the month. It was just 15 days or so.

Thorn: How many pages?

Hagio: I think he told me between 20 and 25 pages.

Thorn: All of a sudden. [Laughter.] "Finish it in two weeks."

Hagio: Right. He didn't tell me they'd actually publish it, but since I said "Yes," I had to do it. [Laughs.] So I did.

Thorn: And that was "Lulu and Mimi"?

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: So you didn't really hit it off with the editors at Kodansha?

Hagio: I think I did about seven stories for them. During that time they gave me a new editor27, but both editors followed company policy, which was not to let artists do whatever they want, but to have artists do something that fits the theme of whatever project they are currently doing. Their idea was that a magazine without such projects or featured themes was no magazine at all. I can understand that as a concept for creating a magazine, but their themes did not fit the kind of thing I wanted to do. [Laughs.] I wanted to do sci-fi, that sort of thing.

Thorn: In those days [Kodansha's girls' magazine] Nakayoshi didn't carry that sort of thing. Or rather, no girls' magazines back then carried that sort of thing, right?

Hagio: Right. At the time, the hot genre was sports stories. [Sighs.] I liked reading those stories, stuff like Star of the Giants and Viva! Volleyball28, but I didn't think I could do such a fast-paced story myself. [Laughter.]

Thorn: No, I don't think you could.

Hagio: So I would send them story ideas that I wanted to do, and every idea was rejected, every finished story I sent was rejected. [Laughter.] So I thought, "How am I going to eat?" [Laughs.] And there's a big gap between what I want to do and what they want me to do. And I thought, "There's no way I can become a pro this way." So I wondered if I should change my direction. But I want to draw what I want to draw, right?

Thorn: Right.

Hagio: So I wondered if I should give up trying to be a pro and just be satisfied doing doing amateur, self-published work. This was about two years that I was in this situation.

The O-izumi Salon

Thorn: You were in Fukuoka during this time?

Hagio: Right. So I would have maybe 10 stories I wanted to do, and I would think, "Of these 10, this one might be accepted," so I'd work on that one. And I thought it would just be that way indefinitely. So during this time, when school was out, I went to Tokyo to give them a piece, and the editor told me that Keiko Takemiya was holed up trying to meet a deadline, and asked if I wouldn't go and help her out. Takemiya had been published in COM, and I think she had also been published in Margaret, or was it Special Edition Margaret? But she was also in Nakayoshi. Anyway, she was all over the place, and was quite a famous rookie.

Thorn: So Takemiya's pro debut preceded your own?

Hagio: Oh, of course. I told the editor, "Yes, I'm familiar with her work," and he said "She's familiar with your work, too." So I went and assisted her.
Takemiya asked me if I was planning to move to Tokyo. I told her that my parents were worried about sending me off to the city by myself, and that first I would have to convince them. I also told her I was having trouble selling my work, and was worried that I wouldn't be able to make a living if I came to Tokyo. So — even though we were both there doing work for Kodansha — she said, "I know an editor at Shogakukan. Would you like me to introduce you?"

Thorn: And that was Junya Yamamoto29.

Hagio: That was Junya Yamamoto. So I sent the roughs of the stories that had been rejected by Kodansha to Takemiya's apartment, and asked if she could show them to Yamamoto. The stories I sent were "Holy Night on Sailor Hill," "The Fife of the White Boy in the White Forest," "Maudlin" and I think there was one other.

Thorn: One of these? [Matt shows her a list of her earliest published works.] Maybe "Bianca"?

Hagio: No, I did "Bianca" for Kodansha. Was it "Poor Mama"? Yes, that was it. I had drawn it as a 16-page story, but Yamamoto said he would publish it, so I turned it into a 32-page story. Anyway, I sent these, and Yamamoto said, "I'll by them all." And I thought, "Great! Now I can eat." [Laughter.]   And then Takemiya contacted me and said, "I'm thinking of moving. Would you like to share an apartment with me?"

Thorn: So you were still in Fukuoka?

Hagio: Right. So I thought, "I can use this to convince my parents to let me go."

Thorn: And it worked?

Hagio: It worked.

Thorn: Did you have a hard time convincing them?

Hagio: They thought I'd be back after about a year. [Laughter.] So I took my savings, and my parents gave me ten thousand yen as a going away present, and I moved to Tokyo. We lived together for about two years in a place called O-izumi. Living caddy-corner to us was a woman named Norie Masuyama who really loved comics.

Thorn: But she wasn't a cartoonist herself?

Hagio: No, she wasn't. For a while I think she worked as what you might call Takemiya's "brain staff." We had so many different people hanging out there. It was a very interesting two years.

Thorn: This was the famous "O-izumi Salon."

Hagio: [Laughs.] It was more like "O-izumi Rowhouse." When I first heard that name, I thought, "Huh? Who came up with that one?" [Laughter.] It's pretty embarrassing, really.

Thorn: Was it an apartment?

Hagio: No, it really was an old rowhouse.

Thorn: Did it have a name?

Hagio: No, no name. It was one building divided into two houses. I can't remember who lived on the house to the left, but we lived on the right. There was a four-and-a-half tatami mat room on the first, and a three-mat room and six-mat room on the second30. It was very small.

Thorn: So you and Takemiya lived there for two years?

Hagio: Right. Originally, we planned for just one year, but at the end of the year we decided to stay for one more year.

Thorn: And who were some of the people who hung out there during those two years?

Hagio: Oh, there were a lot of them. The one who came the most was Nanae Sasaya31. She once came and stayed over for six months. [Laughter.]

Thorn: That's not "staying over." I think the common term for such a person is "freeloader." [Laughter.]

Hagio: But then again, I once visited Sasaya in Hokkaido and stayed for a month. [Laughs.]  She would draw her stories for [Shueisha Publishing's magazine] Ribbon at O-izumi. She did "The Boy from Dartmoor" there. Mineko Yamada32 came to help her out with that work. Ryoko Yamagishi and Jun Morita used to hang out, too33.

Thorn: What about Yasuko Sakata?

Hagio: Oh, that's right. Yasuko Sakata used to come from Kanazawa City [in Ishikawa Prefecture]. And so did Akiko Hatsu34. They came a lot. This was before they became pros. I think they were still college students.

Thorn: And Shio Satoh?

Hagio: Right, she came as an assistant. Well, actually I got a fan letter from her, and it was so interesting I invited her to come visit us. She said she was hoping to become a professional cartoonist, so I asked her to help me.

Thorn: She reminds me of you, personality-wise35.

Hagio: [Laughs.] Yes, I suppose so. And there was a woman named Ikumi Ikeda who later moved back to Hokkaido. And then there was Aiko Itoh36. It was always lively.

Thorn: Were you interested in European literature at the time?

Hagio: At that time, I was into [Hermann] Hesse. I read everything I could find by Hesse. I was also into [Ray] Bradbury for a long time.

Thorn: And [Jean] Cocteau?

Hagio: Cocteau was a shock. If you think about it, his is a pretty sick world. [Laughter.] The protagonist does nothing at all, and everything's so dark.

Thorn: But that's what made it appealing, right.

Hagio: Exactly. [Laughs.]

Thorn: How about movies?

Hagio: There was A Death in Venice. [Laughs.2001: A Space Odyssey came along, too, so I went to see that. The price of a movie suddenly went up to 700 yen, so deciding to see a film was a serious business. [Laughter.]  But it's a lot more than that now, isn't it?

Thorn: It is expensive. 

Boys' Love

Thorn: Now, I may get in trouble for asking about this ... [Laughter.] ... about the whole "boys' love" thing ...

Hagio: Oh! [Laughs.] Go ahead.

Thorn: Some people say it was started by the woman who occupies the office next to mine [Keiko Takemiya] ... others say it was started by you. [Laughter.]

Hagio: Oh, it was Takemiya. The woman who lived across the way, Masuyama, was  something of an expert on homosexuality. She brought a copy of the magazine Clan of the Rose to show us.

Thorn: Was this a European magazine?

Hagio: No, it was Japanese37. It had plenty of personal ads and the such. I'm not sure if it's still around. There were two kinds of publications about gay men. One was for men who are serious about loving other men, and the other was for women who found the idea of men in love to be intriguing. Clan of the Rose was the former, and, I'm sorry, but it didn't do a thing for me. [Laughter.]
So Masuyama introduced us to this stuff, and Takemiya was crazy about it. What was her first story along those lines? "In the Sunroom"? And I was just looking on in puzzlement. [Laughs.] Then one day they invited me to go see Les Amitiés Particulieres [1964, directed by Jean Delannoy, known in English as "Particular Friendships" or "The Special Friendship"]. It was playing in Kichijoji. It stars Didier Haudepin, and is a love story set in a boys' boarding school. It's the kind of story women get excited by. [Laughs.] I thought it was so beautiful. I'm a sucker for anything beautiful. Clan of the Rose, on the other hand, seemed ugly to me. [Laughs.] Maybe "course" is a better word. But this movie was beautiful. That's when I got into this. Until then, Takemiya and Masuyama used to ask me, "Why doesn't this interest you? Why doesn't this turn you on?" and I would say, "No, thanks" and keep my distance. But one movie changed all that. [Laughter.]

Thorn: I see.

Hagio: So Takemiya may wish she had never told me about it. [Laughter.]

Thorn: So "November Gymnasium" was the first story you did that reflected that influence?

Hagio: Well...

Thorn: But you actually came up with the story for The Heart of Thomas first?

Hagio: Yes. After seeing Les Amitiés Particulieres, I began doing The Heart of Thomas on an impulse. You see, I did a lot of stories that I never published.

Thorn: Really?

Hagio: These days I suppose they'd be called doujinshi [self-published comics]. [Laughs.] So I started doing The Heart of Thomas for myself, really. And as I was fiddling with this, it occurred to me that I could make another story using these two characters, and that became "November Gymnasium." [Laughs.]

Thorn: I see.

Hagio: So I made "November Gymnasium" for publication. And the idea in that story was that they were attracted to each other because they were actually brothers, which Masuyama, who loves boys' love stories, thought was terrible. "How could you draw something like this?" [Laughter.] So the idea of actually publishing The Heart of Thomas came some time later.

Thorn: Did you see it as problem at the time to do a story for a girls' magazine in which all the characters are boys?

Hagio: Yes. It had never occurred to me to do an all-boy story unless it was science fiction, so I was concerned. I considered doing it as an all-girl story. When it came to writing the plot, I did two versions: a boys' version — heavily influenced by Les Amitiés Particulieres — and a girls' version. So I thought about it, but I was in for a surprise. When I wrote it as a boys' school story, everything fell into place smoothly. But when I wrote the girls' school version, it came out sort of giggly. Maybe it's because I was a girl myself, but that sort of nastiness distinctive to girls worked its way into the story. So I decided the boys' school version was better. "November Gymnasium: The Boys' School Version." [Laughter.]

Thorn: Did you ever do a complete rough of the girls' version?

Hagio: No, I didn't do a rough, but I did draw a few scenes in a sketch book. For example, the scene in which the protagonist first transfers to the school. She's wearing a checkered miniskirt and carrying a trunk. [Laughter.]

Thorn: Do you still have that sketchbook?

Hagio: It might be around here somewhere. I don't know.

Thorn: If you have it, I'd really love to see it.

Hagio: I might be able to find it, but on the other hand, it may be gone.

Thorn: And it was [Special Edition Girls' Comic Editor-in-Chief] Junya Yamamoto who gave "November Gymnasium" the go ahead.

Hagio: Right. He told me my next story would be forty pages, so I decided to go with this. So he ran the teaser for "November Gymnasium," and he also gave me five more pages, which was a big help.

Thorn: Didn't he say anything about the fact that the characters were all boys?

Hagio: Nothing. After I moved to Shogakukan, and Yamamoto became my editor, he only checked the roughs of my first two or three stories, and after that he would just accept the finished piece.

Thorn: [Laughs.] Really? No discussion, no checking?

Hagio: Only with much longer works would he ask the artists what they were planning to do.

Thorn: In other words, he trusted you that much.

Hagio: I don't know. He seemed to look forward to seeing what I would come up with. Maybe he found my work interesting. So I would take him the finished piece, and he would read it on the spot, but he wouldn't say much about it. And I was so nervous. I would watch every expression on his face, the way he moved his eyebrows [laughs], and think, "Is he thinking this is no good? Is he thinking it's fine?" And he wouldn't say anything when he was done, so I would think "Phew! This one was all right, too." I had to rely on telepathy. [Laughter.]

Thorn: But Yamamoto was unique, wasn't he?

Hagio: Yes, he was. And after he had looked at my piece, he would start talking about movies and books and other artists' comics. But he wouldn't talk about my piece. [Laughter.] But you can tell a person's mood by the way they talk, right?

The Forty-Niners and the Shôjo Renaissance

Thorn: Around that time, the number of female cartoonists grew quite suddenly, didn't it? Right around 1970?

Hagio: That's right. Around the late 1960s. Machiko Satonaka made her debut38. Well, the weekly anthology magazines had been around for a few years before that, but the number increased39. Then Girls' Comic was founded around 1970, which meant one more place for artist's to find work40. It's sort of like the creation of a new baseball team. [Laughs.] So new artists came into the field.

Thorn: Was there an atmosphere of male chauvinism at the time? Actually, I suppose there often still is today.

Hagio: I used to go to Shogakukan's offices and be told, "Girls' comics are ten years behind boys' comics." They would ask, "Why don't girls' comics artists draw backgrounds properly?" The implication being that they didn't draw them because they lacked the skill. All kinds of stuff. Oh, you know how you layout a page, and a close-up of a character will spill out over into the next panel? They would say you can't do that sort of thing. So I had to listen to that all the time, but I just became inured to it. I would just think, “I don't care what these old farts think.” [Laughter.]
I've always read boys' comics, too, so I understand their appeal. But if you put a boys' comic and a girls' comic in front of me and ask which one I'll read first, I'll choose the girls' comic, because it's closer to my own sensibilities. Men are going to make smug comments, and that's all there is to it. I knew what they said wasn't true, so I didn't let it bother me.

Thorn: If girls' comics were ten years behind, wasn't it the fault of those middle-aged men? [Laughter.] I mean, they [the male editors] insisted for years that they knew what girls wanted to read.

Hagio: I think there is that, but it also goes both ways. For example, the male characters who appear in girls' comics are a girls' ideal, right? There aren't any boys like that in real life. [Laughs.] In the same way, the female characters who appear in boys' comics are completely unrealistic. [Laughter.]     They are no such girls.
You know, serving as a judge for the Tezuka Awards, I find myself thinking, "Men just are incapable of reading girls' comics." [Laughter.] It's the same when I'm judging the Shogakukan Awards. They have four categories: children's, boys' girls' and adult, or rather "general". In the children's, boys' and general categories, there aren't any major divisions in opinion, but as soon as discussion turns to the girls' comics, more than half of the men say, "I just don't get it. I'll have one of my [female] assistants read them." [Laughs.] "I didn't get it, so I asked my wife for her opinion."

Thorn: Yes, the Tezuka Awards are pretty dominated by middle-aged men.

Hagio: Yeah, there's no helping that. But I'm talking about the Shogakukan Awards, where I've been through this year after year. In a sense, that makes it easier for the women to impose their opinions [in the girls' comics category]. [Laughs.] You can't force people to like something they have an aversion to. But it makes me think that our brains are really structured in different ways.

Thorn: But Yamamoto wasn't like that, was he?

Hagio: Oh, he was. His favorite comics were the GARO type. But even so, he believed that girls' comics had something special to offer. What I admire about him is that he went to the trouble to ask a lot of different people about the genre, and tried to understand just what girls' comics are about. He did a lot of homework.

Thorn: So do you think that Yamamoto was a major factor in the sudden appearance at that time of what is commonly called the Magnificent 24-Year Group, and the kind of, for want of a better word, "literary" girls' comics associated with those artists?

Hagio: Oh, I think he was a major factor, yes. I think it was really Yumiko Ohshima41 who blazed that trail, though. She had been working for [Shueisha's] Margaret, but she moved over to Shogakukan, where she did You Can Hear the Rain [1972] and all those short stories. They were a real shock.

Thorn: Stories like Birth! [1970]?

Hagio: Yes, well, Birth! was one she did for Margaret, and it was incredible, but she appeared in Margaret so irregularly, you never knew when she was going to show up. But when she came to Special Edition Girls' Comic, you knew you could read her every month. The whole "Yumiko Ohshima World" just unfolded in an amazing way. Very poetic. Very philosophical.

Thorn: So you were stunned by her work?

Hagio: I was. It was beautiful.

Thorn: Were you close to Ohshima?

Hagio: No, I didn't meet her until some time later. I remember visiting her in her little flat. The room was so clean and neat, not what you would expect from a cartoonist. [Laughs.] And she had a shelf full of art books, collections of famous paintings, and I thought, "Wow! Instead of comics reprints she's got art books!" [Laughter.]

Thorn: Your own shelves were full of comics reprints.

Hagio: That's right. The complete Astro Boy. [Laughs.]

Waiting for the Trade

Thorn: Speaking of comics reprints, in the old days, instead of the smaller trade paperbacks we have now, reprints were in the same format as the magazines, right?

Hagio: Hmm? Oh, oh, I see what you mean. Yes, in the old days they were like that.

Thorn: Did the kind of paperback we have now first appear in the late 1960s?

Hagio: I think so. I wonder when exactly that started. I think it was actually in girls' comics that they began to put them out regularly in that format. [Riyoko Ikeda's] The Rose of Versailles [1972] came out in paperback, and it sold very well, and I think that was the impetus for them to begin to systematically put out paperbacks of every serialized work. When I was in junior high and high school, Asahi Sonorama Publishing put out a lot of trade paperbacks. But none of the other publishers thought that paperback reprints  would sell well. It all changed in just a few short years, but before that they rarely put out reprints.

Thorn: Today, the magazines are essentially advertisements for the paperbacks42.

Hagio: That's right. So when I was growing, I had no idea what might be reprinted, so I clipped and kept every story I liked. [Laughs.]

Thorn: I heard from Yamamoto that your Poe Clan [1972] was the first girls' trade paperback Shogakukan ever published [in 1974].

Hagio: That's right. So I went to talk with them about putting out the paperback, and they told me the first print run would be 30,000. I said, "Huh!? Do you really think you can sell that many copies?" and they said, "We don't know. But we should be able to sell them a bit at a time over one or two years." [Laughs.] And I said, "Really!? But what if it doesn't sell?" And Yamamoto joked, "You're page rate will be paid by the paperback sales, so you'll just have to go to Ikebukuro and hawk them on the corner." [Laughter.]

Thorn: So until then, you never received royalties?

Hagio: Right. Oh, but they once reprinted a story in the magazine, so I got paid a reprint fee for that. But no royalties.

Thorn: So The Poe Clan ...

Hagio: ... was the first work I received royalties for, yes.

Thorn: Whether or not you get royalties is a huge difference.

Hagio: It sure is, in terms of income.

Thorn: That's probably even more true today.

Hagio: Yes. When you know you'll eventually get royalties for the work you're doing now, you can blow your entire per-page fee on paying assistants without having to worry. It gives you some breathing room.

The Heart of Thomas

Thorn: I'd like to ask about The Heart of Thomas in some detail if I may.

Hagio: Of course.

Thorn: I've told you this before, but the whole reason I'm here in this world [of comics] today is because I read The Heart of Thomas.

Hagio: Yes. [Laughs.]

Thorn: You said that the idea came from the film Les Amitiés Particulieres, but it seems to me the theme is very different, and I'd like to ask about that theme.

Hagio: Yes. The theme is ... hmm ... "When does a person learn love? When does one awake to love?" Something like that. [Laughs.] So the whole crazy premise — a boy leaving a letter and dying right at the start of the story — is something I could only have come up with when I was so young. [Laughter.]

Thorn: The title character dies on page two. [Laughter.]

Hagio: Yeah. if I had written it after the age of thirty, I probably would have worked out some logical reason for the character to die, but at the time I thought, "He doesn't need a reason to die." [Laughs.] I could have said that he died because he was sick and didn't have long to live anyway, or something like that. At the time, I thought, how one lives is important, but how one dies might be important, too, and so that's how I wrote it. In a sense, that mystery of why he had to die is never solved, and I think that unsolved mystery is what sustains the work.

Thorn: Every year I have my first-year students read The Heart of Thomas in my History of Manga class, and it seems to be a difficult read for many of them. [Laughter.]

Hagio: Is that so?

Thorn: Some students say they had to read it twice before they felt they could understand it. Was that published in Special Edition?

Hagio: No, it was in the weekly.

Thorn: So it was read by girls ranging from elementary to high school.

Hagio: In actuality, yes, but on paper the magazine was supposed to be for elementary-school girls, so the editors always told me to make the stories more simple to understand. And after it started, it was unpopular with readers, so they asked me to cut it short. [Laughter.]

Thorn: So you originally planned to make it longer?

Hagio: Yes, at first I had in mind a serial that would run for at least a year. Thirty-three episodes.

Thorn: I see.

Hagio: But midway through the run, the paperback of The Poe Clan came out and was selling well, so the editors decided to take a risk and let me finish The Heart of Thomas. So it was spared the axe.

Thorn: So, from the start you had the whole story plotted out?

Hagio: Yes. The overall arc of the story was planned out, but I only had planned the details of each episode for the first half of the story. When I was first asked to do a weekly serial, they said they wanted a long story, so I told them that the only things I had that could be sustained through a long serial were science fiction [laughs] or Thomas, so they asked me to do Thomas. So I took these episodes I had drawn for myself and used what I could.

Thorn: You had already penned them?

Hagio: Only partially. The rest was pencils. So there are penciled episodes that I never used. [Laughter.] Really, my earlier drawings were not well-proportioned, so I only used the better portions for the serial.

Thorn: I first read Thomas at the age of, I think, twenty-two. And when I read the scene where Juli is explaining how he lost his figurative "wings," I just naturally interpreted it to mean that he had been sexually abused.

Hagio: Yes.

Thorn: So I gave a paper at an academic conference in which I said that, and then I put the paper up on my website. And a Japanese woman, a fan, read it and was furious. "How can you say such a thing!?" [Laughter.]
What do you think of my interpretation?

Hagio: I think it's on target.

Thorn: About eight years ago, when I was still living in Manhattan, I lent Thomas to a Japanese woman friend. Until then, she had never really read any girls' comics. She's the same age as me. And when she returned the book to me, she also gave a letter. In the letter, she said she that reading the book had been cathartic for her. She herself had been sexually abused by her father when she was a child, and reading Thomas helped her to come to terms with that experience, and see how that experience is affecting her life today as an adult. She said she was grateful to me for recommending that book.

Hagio: Is that so?

Thorn: So when I read A Savage God Reigns [1992], I thought, "Oh, this is the adult version of Thomas."

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: Is that right?

Hagio: Yes it is. When I was conceptualizing A Savage God, the characters kept overlapping [with the characters in Thomas], which was a problem, so I had to always consciously strive for a different image. In the beginning, I just couldn't get Julian [the older stepbrother of the sexually abused protagonist] to come to life. I really struggled with that one.

Thorn: It's interesting, because even the name's are similar: "Juli" [pronounced "Yuli," as in the German] and "Julian."

Hagio: I suppose so.

Thorn: The root is the same.

Hagio: Oh! Now that you mention it, that's true! [Laughter.]

Thorn: "The seventh month."  Anyway, that's how I read it.

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: I'm regressing, but I see some recurring themes in your work. One is this theme of an abused character who has to come to terms with and overcome that experience.

Hanshin, Twins and Mothers

Thorn: Another is the motif of twins, which comes up so often in your work. Can you talk about the twins? Is this related to the fact that your sister had twins? [Laughter.]

Hagio: Well, she had the twins after the fact. [Laughs.] When I was in elementary school, there was a set of twin girls in the next class. They wore the same clothes and had the same hairstyle, and you couldn't tell them apart. I thought that was so neat. What I thought at the time, in the first grade, was that to have a twin was to have another of yourself, someone who would understand you perfectly and take seriously everything you said; she would be a sibling you could really have fun with. So I dreamed of having a twin. Masako Watanabe drew a lot of stories about twins, and think that was an influence on me, too. Anyway, there was something enormously appealing to me about twins. Of course, when I got older, I realized that twins are not truly identical. [Laughs.]
I suppose it's a variation of the idea of narcissism, but when you explore the question of what it means to love, you run into various problems. For example, you fall in love with someone who is not yourself, but just how much difference can be accepted? I think there are certain points or aspects you love. The idea of loving a thing completely seems unnatural. But what degree of difference can you accept? It's a difficult question. Cats or dogs are lovable because you love them specifically for being cats or dogs. It's focused. It's not as if they make themselves useful by, say, locking up the house at night or making dinner. [Laughter.] You love them in specific way and don't ask anything more of them. But when it's another human you're in love with, you can't help having a selfish desire for that person to be as much like yourself as possible. And that's where the difficulties arise. So that's why I always come back to twins. [Laughs.]

Thorn: Of your works that involve twins, I think the one that is ... How to put it? ... most highly regarded? is probably "Hanshin."

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: It seems to me that "Hanshin" is very different from what you were just talking about.

Hagio: You're right. "Hanshin" is the other side of the coin. It's the idea that love and hate are in a sense the same. The thing you hate is actually the thing you desire. So after the operation, the protagonist ends up becoming the very thing she had said was the one thing she wanted to destroy. It's an exploration of that feeling.

Thorn: So is it really one character in the end?

Hagio: Yes, maybe it's one person looking first one way and then another. But to express that in a single character is difficult, so I tried separating out the two elements.

Thorn: The one is intelligent, yet by society's standards, ugly. The other is basically empty-headed [laughter] ... and yet loved by everyone. It's an encapsulation of the irrational pressure women are subjected to in society today, isn't it.

Hagio: Yes.

Thorn: I just thought of this as we were talking. These days it's extremely common for women to undergo cosmetic surgery. Were you thinking of that at all when you made "Hanshin"? What does one lose in order to gain beauty? Something like that?

Hagio: I wasn't thinking of cosmetic surgery, no.

Thorn: You see it a lot on TV these days. "Extreme Makeover" kinds of things.

Hagio: You mean in which someone is transformed?

Thorn: A woman who thinks she is ugly undergoes some kind of cosmetic surgery. There's something really creepy about that to me.

Hagio: It's like [Kyoko Okazaki's] Helter Skelter [1995]43.

Thorn: Right.

Hagio: You have to have a real tenacity of purpose to subject yourself to that.

Thorn: Another motif that comes up often is that of "mother."

Hagio: Yes.

Thorn: Is that your own mother? [Laughter.]

Hagio: Yes, it is. Once I was working on a story and someone watching commented, "There are always mothers dying in your stories." [Laughter.] Scary mothers. And I thought, "Come to think of it, that's true." Basically, I'm afraid of my mother. [Laughs.]

Thorn: A lot of your mothers seem incapable of loving their own children in the ordinary way.

Hagio: Yes. The mother in "Iguana Girl" [1991] is a typical case. I had various faults when I was a child, so I suppose our relationship when I was small couldn't be helped, but as an adult I tried in various ways to make peace with her. All different ways. And every one failed. [Laughs.]

Thorn: Oh, my. But you see the same themes in Yumiko Ohshima's works. [Hagio laughs.] Maybe she had the same kind of problems?

Hagio: Maybe.

Thorn: Is [your manager and roommate Akiko] Joh your twin44?

Hagio: [Laughs.] Not at all.

Joh: What's that?

Hagio: We were talking about twins.

Thorn: [To Joh] Are you twins?

Joh: We couldn't be more different. [Laughter.]

Thorn: How long have you known each other?

Hagio: Since the age of about twenty one? She came to O-izumi to help with cooking and also as an assistant.

Thorn: Through what sort of connection?

Joh: I was invited by Takemiya.

Thorn: Oh, really?

Joh: You see, I was a fan of Shotaro Ishimori, and was involved in a sort of fanzine that he was overseeing. So the leader of this group took me to visit Ishimori, and Ishimori told me there was a young cartoonist the same age as me, Keiko Takemiya. So I looked at her work, and it was just around the time she had done "In the Sunroom." And since I was crazy about this whole boys' love thing, I was thrilled to find a kindred spirit. [Laughter.] So I sent her a fan letter with a caricature of myself, and she replied with an invitation to visit her at O-izumi. So I went, and Hagio came through the cabbage patch to meet me. I think she was putting her cat out.

Hagio: I had a cat then, too. So that was our first meeting, but she was still a full-time employee in a company at that time.

Thorn: In Tokyo?

Hagio: No, in Fukuoka. She worked in a bank.

Thorn: So you're from Fukuoka, too?

Joh: That's right.

Thorn: But that was just a coincidence, right?

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: I see. And Joh was hoping to become a cartoonist, too.

Hagio: That's right.

Joh: Yes.

Hagio: And she did become a cartoonist.

Joh: Just once, yes. [Laughter.]

Hagio: So after that, she worked as Takemiya's assistant and drew her own comics which she sent to publishers. There was another cartoonist named Yuko Kishi, and originally Joh moved to Tokyo with the intention of becoming her assistant, but she injured her eye, so we invited Joh to come live with me. Then I went on a long trip to Europe, and I asked her to take care of my home while I was gone. This was my flat here in Hanno City. But then she decided she couldn't stand living out here in the country, and she ended up staying in Takemiya's place in Tokyo. It's all very complicated. [Laughs.]

Thorn: But she ended up back here in Hanno anyway. [Laughs.]

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: And how did she end up as your manager?

Hagio: She became my manager after she quit cartooning. Or rather I asked her to become my manager.

Body and Soul

Thorn: If I can go back to an earlier subject ...

Hagio: Please.

Thorn: About "boys' love." We lump these together as "boys' love," but it seems to me, reading your The Heart of Thomas and Takemiya's The Song of the Wind and the Trees that they are completely different. The Heart of Thomas seems to me to be about spiritual or mental love.

Hagio: That's right.

Thorn: The body has little to do with anything. But Takemiya's work, on the contrary, is specifically about physical love.

Hagio: Yes.

Thorn: Even in the case of A Savage God Reigns, the body obviously plays an important role [laughter], but it's still basically about the mind.

Hagio: Yes.

Thorn: You said that as a child, you were drawn to the fantastic or the ideal. Do you think that is still reflected in your work today? Is that at the core?

Hagio: Yes, you could say it's the result of an internal fantasy. As I write these kinds of stories, I'm sometimes asked why I don't make more realistic stories. "Aren't you just running away from reality?" they ask. They suggest that I go off in that direction because I cannot face reality. The genre of fiction itself is that way. The genre of science fiction itself is that way. The genre of fantasy itself is that way. This is the kind of thing people say. How can I put this? I wonder if what they call "reality" is actually reality. [Laughs.]

Thorn: I've never thought of your work as being escapist at all. On the contrary, I see you as addressing reality from these different perspectives. For example, if you were doing escapism, you would never write a story like A Savage God Reigns. [Laughs.] You're addressing reality straight on. No, not straight on. But you're addressing the question of how Jeremy can make sense of his experience; how he can go on with his life after his abuse.

Hagio: Right. From my point of view, I'm not avoiding reality. What I'm trying to do — and this sounds so pretentious — is trying to get at the truth, at what is real. That's why I prefer those kind of situations and settings.

The Poe Clan

Thorn: The Poe Clan — pardon me for suddenly changing the topic — but The Poe Clan is of course a fantastic story, but it explores fundamental questions of human existence.

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: What kind of theme were you pursuing there?

Hagio: Stories about monsters, about vampires, whether they're movies or comics, portray vampires as zombies, as villains who attack human beings. And when I read stories like that [as a child], I was afraid of the vampires and didn't like them at all, but then I read a story by Shotaro Ishimori titled "Mist, Roses and Stars." It's just 40 pages or so, but it's a sort of omnibus that follows the life of a vampire girl from the past to the present and into the future, a science-fiction future. It was quite beautiful. The heroine is of course a vampire, so, for example, if she falls in love with someone, she worries that he'll hate her if he finds out she's a vampire. In other words, she thinks in a very human way. It seemed very beautiful to me, and around that time I was thinking I wanted to draw something that involved costumes, so I put the two together and decided to draw a beautiful vampire story. So I put myself in the shoes of a vampire and tried to see from a vampire's eyes. A vampire doesn't ask to become a vampire. He may long to return to a normal human existence, but he's rejected by humanity. He is hated unconditionally by all, and told he should not exist. But he does exist, so what is he supposed to do? In my own case, I was told by mother that comics were utterly unacceptable, and yet I had drawn comics. So what am I supposed to do? [Laughter.]

Joh: Run away from home. [Laughter.]

Hagio: That's what it comes down to, yes. Ever since the third grade, I had planned on how to run away from home, but I never put my plans into action.

Thorn: But in the end, you did put your plans into action.

Hagio: Yes, I suppose I finally did, didn't I? I always wanted to portray my frustration towards my mother in comics form, and I tried to think of all different kinds of situations, but the problem is, in real life I am frustrated with my mother, so if I were to portray it straightforwardly, it would just end up as nothing but an expression of resentment. So I would think of story, then decide it was too ugly and scrap it. And I did this over and over, until I hit upon the idea of the Iguana Girl. I thought, now this I can write, and can make interesting.

Thorn: Oh! So you came up with that idea quite a long time ago?

Hagio: The idea of making the daughter an iguana, yes, I came up with it a long time ago. When you don't like someone, you can come up with all kinds of reasons, right? The mother is so responsible but the daughter is so irresponsible, so she hates her daughter. Something like that. I wanted to try to make things work with my parents for so long, I read all sorts of psychology books, but could never find a solution, so I finally turned to a book on fortune telling, and according to the book, we are just incompatible. [Laughs.] "Oh, so we're just incompatible!" Redeemed by fortune telling. [Laughter.]

Thorn: I see. So, going back to The Poe Clan, why did you make the protagonist a young boy?

Hagio: Doing "November Gymnasium" made me want to keep drawing boys. So I came up with the "boy version" of my vampire idea. And that became The Poe Clan. It's interesting you can have a girl and a boy say the same line, but though the girl sounds so cheeky when she says it, the boy can sound so cool.

Joh: That's because the readers are girls. They are ruthless in judging female characters, but they forgive male characters for just about anything. [Laughter.]

Hagio: That's true. So when I started making The Poe Clan, I found that the boy characters could say what I wanted to say so easily. They were standing in for me. It went very smoothly. It was so easy to make Poe. But once I had done that, I found that when I created a female character, I would put myself into her, and I was told that I was imposing my own notions of what a woman is on the character. I thought, "Ouch!" I was surprised at myself. [Laughter.]    It made me realize that I am still bound by stereotypes.

Thorn: Why do you suppose that's the case?

Hagio: That's a good question.

Joh: We complain about discrimination, and then we do it ourselves. [Laughter.]

Hagio: That's true. I suppose we all have a powerful desire to not be hated by society or those around us, so even though I'd love to create a completely selfish female character, I don't think that's what the readers really want.

Thorn: Is there a particular reason you made the protagonist a young boy? I mean, I think it's perfect myself. He's not a child, he's a not an adult, he can never become and adult.

Hagio: First of all, I wanted to make him non-sexual, so I thought it would be best to have a character whose body had not yet changed in that way. But also, that was just about the average age of the readers at the time, so it seemed just right. Long afterwards, it occurred to me that if I had made him slightly older, I could have had more story options available to me.

Joh: But then again, you didn't know anything about men. [Laughter.]

Hagio: Well, I knew about middle-aged men. [Laughter.]

Thorn: But then it would have become an adult comic. There would be sex involved.

Hagio: That's true. There's the difficulty.


Thorn: Forgive me for suddenly changing the subject again, but I'd like to ask you about page layouts, about how you use a page.

Hagio: All right.

Thorn: The kind of page layouts you and Takemiya did back in those days was very different from anything that came before, wasn't it? Was that a conscious thing?

Hagio: When you say, "anything that came before," what do you mean?

Thorn: Well, this is an obvious example, but [Suiho Tagawa's] Norakuro (1931) always had three panels per page, stacked, and each was the same size45Tezuka, and particularly Ishimori, introduced more interesting and dramatic page layouts, but in your early works, each page is composed almost like a single painting.

Hagio: Do you mean a page that consists of a single large panel?

Thorn: Well, for example, this page here.

Hagio: Oh, I see what you mean.

Thorn: In an ordinary boys' comic, the focus is on the action, and the page is laid out to show the flow of the action. "First this happens, then this happens." But in a page like this, the flow of the panels has nothing to do with action, does it?

Hagio: Right, it's the atmosphere that's important.

Thorn: It's about the atmosphere and the relationships between the characters.  Did you consciously choose this sort of unconventional layout?

Hagio: That's a good question. Now that you mention it ... [Thorn laughs.] I suppose, as I was drawing, I found that bigger images worked better, and I could express what I wanted to better without clear panel divisions. In those days, in girls' comics, too, you wouldn't use standard panel divisions in the first or last pages. I think this was a variation on or extension of that.  You could also use, say, the bottom half of a two-page spread as a single panel, and divide up the upper half normally. It changed gradually.

Thorn: In the old girls' comics, back in the 1950s, the artist would sometimes use, say, the left one-third or so of a page for a head-to-toe portrait of a character that had nothing to do with the scene on the page. What's the word for that?

Hagio: It was a sort of picture for the reader to color in if she wanted to, I think.

Thorn: Did this grow as an extension of that sort of thing?

Hagio: No, When I was young, I found those coloring pictures quite jarring. You'd be absorbed in the story and all of a sudden here's this big picture that has nothing to do with anything. It was quite annoying. [Laughter.] I mean, I liked the pictures, but I wanted them to put them somewhere else.

Thorn: As I said earlier, we recently had Hideko Mizuno at our university, along with Akira Mochizuki and Sato Tomoe, and the three of them were talking about the early days of postwar girls' comics. One interesting thing Mizuno said was that she would always work that coloring picture into the scene portrayed on the page.

Hagio: Oh, that's right. Her comics weren't jarring in that way. The heroine would be standing there in a dress, maybe with flowers, but it was part of the scene.

Thorn: Was that an influence?

Hagio: Yes, I think it was, because it showed us how to use a large image effectively in a scene.

Thorn: [Looking through the original pages of The Heart of Thomas] This is great. I'd like to use this one in the magazine.

Hagio: Are you sure? The hand is too small, and for some reasons he's got two lines on his neck. [Laughter.] But if you want to, feel free.

Joh: Is that the hand of the character in close up?

Hagio: Apparently.

Joh: Whoa.

Hagio: Whoa indeed. [Laughter.] Scary, isn't it?

Thorn: This is the sort of the I bug my students about. "The proportions are off!" [Laughter.]

Hagio: "Work on your draftsmanship!"

Thorn: I'd love to get a scan of this if I could.

Hagio: All right.  I'll scan it and e-mail it to you.

Joh: And maybe she'll fix that hand. [Laughter.]

Hagio: Right. I'll send a revised version.

Thorn: This is incredible for me to see these with my own eyes. It's no exaggeration when I say that this work changed my life.

Hagio: Really?

Thorn: Yeah, but when I say that to my students, they think, "Oh! So Professor Matt is gay!" "No, it didn't change my life in that way." [Laughter.]

Joh: The paper we used in those days was so thin.

Thorn: This was the paper you used for the final work!?

Hagio: Yes. That's what I used for my first ten or so stories. That's the paper they sold at the time. After that, then, we would buy uncut paper and cut it ourselves. Heavier paper, 300 pound weight. We did that a lot.

Thorn: This is the kind off paper my students use for doing roughs. I can't believe you can ink this kind of paper. Doesn't the nib catch on the paper?

Hagio: No, but when you use Zipatone, the exacto knife goes right through the page. [Laughter.]

Thorn: I would think so.

Hagio: But we didn't use much Zipatone in those days.

Joh: These days, they make the Zipatone so you can scratch it off in exactly the way you want to. Back then, you could only cut it.

Thorn: My students use Zipatone as a way to cut corners. Not just my students, even the young pros do the same thing. I look at the stuff they publish in girls' magazines like Ribbon and Nakayoshi these days and think, "You can actually get shoddy work like this published?"

Joh: It's true. When Yamamoto was still editing, all these young artists would bring him their work to look at, and he would say, "Don't use Zipatone! Draw everything yourself!"

Thorn: You couldn't say that today. On the contrary, the young editors today encourage artists to use more of the stuff, because the readers are used to it.

Joh: Yamamoto wanted them to learn the skills to draw anything. Shadows, too, he would tell them to draw themselves.

Thorn: At Seika, we all tell our students the same thing. First-year students have to submit a piece, at least eight pages long, by the end of their freshman year in order to be allowed to move on to the next year, but they're not allowed to use any Zipatone in that.

Joh: Once you've learned to do that, that know-how stays with you even if you do use zipatone, and it makes a difference. Without that, you could spend ten years slapping on zipatone for shadows without growing at all as an artist.

Thorn: Are there any comics anthology magazines you read regularly these days?

Hagio: I read Feel Young, and Afternoon for [Hitoshi Iwaaki's] Historie. And I read Be-Love, and Kiss for [Tomoko Ninomiya's] Nodame Cantabile. And I read Morning. [Laughs.] Come to think of it, these are all magazines the publisher sends me for free.

Thorn: What is the theme of your current story, Otherworld Barbara?

Hagio: I was thinking that I wanted to do something about meat.

Thorn: Meat?

Hagio: Yes, meat. As in meat as food. When I first thought of it, I was thinking of something much shorter. But it turned into a long piece, and the theme became pretty heavy, and I thought, "Eek! What am I going to do with this?" [Laughs.]

Thorn: So you're reconsidering it?

Hagio: Well, there are about four more episodes, and then it's done. [The final episode should be hitting the stands about the time this issue of TCJ goes to press.]

Joh: Human hearts get eaten in this story.

Hagio: I originally had in mind something more fantastic. But it turned out kind of gross.

Joh: What do you expect when you've got people eating hearts? [Laughter]

Hagio: That's true.

Thorn: I felt like my brain was going to explode after I read the first volume. It's an incredible story.

Adapted for Theater

Joh: [Comes back with pamphlets from the all-male theater group "Studio Life," who have performed stage versions of The Heart of Thomas and its prequel, The Visitor.] Hanging out with these people, we learned that not all beautiful boys are the same. [Laughter.]

Hagio: That's true. This is a pamphlet for The Heart of Thomas.

Thorn: These are all men, right?

Hagio: That's right.

Thorn: Did they approach you about doing this, or what?

Hagio: Yes, it was around 1995, I think, when Yamamoto was still at Shogakukan. He went to see them perform, and came back and said they were quite good, and recommended that I accept the proposal. So I said yes. It was apparently only supposed to be a one-shot deal, but it went over very well, so they performed it again. It was this second performance that I saw. They're not the greatest actors in the world, but they have a clear concept of the kind of performance they want to create on stage, and [director] Kurata's image of the world she wants to create is really beautiful. The music, for example, is just right.

Thorn: [Laughs.] They look look women dressed as men.

Hagio: Don't they?

Thorn: It's like the Takarazuka Revue46.

Hagio: They're straight out a girls' comic.

Thorn: It really reminds me of Takarazuka.

Hagio: A male version of Takarazuka?

Thorn: I wonder why they thought of making a troupe like this?

Joh: Apparently, there used to be women in the troupe. They had no money, and the actors had to work on the sets themselves late into the night. They had to send the women home earlier [for safety reasons], but they also required all the actors to do this hard labor, so one by one the women all left the troupe, saying they couldn't handle it. [Laughter.]

Thorn: So there was no profound reason behind it.

Joh: None at all. So they panicked. They had a performance coming up, and the director said to one of the prettier young men, "You play the woman." And the audience liked it. And that's how it all started. [Laughter.]

Thorn: How long have they been around?

Joh: Since 1985. There were women in the troupe then.

Thorn: But they're so young. Do they kick them out when then get to a certain age and bring in new younger actors, the way they do in Takarazuka?

Joh: I think the oldest actor is 36.

Thorn: So it is like Takarazuka.

Joh: Now that you mention it, yes, I suppose it is.

Thorn: Is there some connection with gay culture?

Hagio: Yes, there is. Kurata is interested in gay culture, and ever since they did The Heart of Thomas, they've specialized in works with those sorts of themes. They do another play, titled Lilies [by Michel Marc Bouchard], that's set in a men's prison and is more realistic. Like an adult version of Les Amitiés Particulieres. It revolves around revealing the truth behind a murder. It's an amazing story.

Thorn: I still haven't seen the play [The Heart of Thomas]. Every time I've planned to see it, something has come up. They performed it in Osaka a couple of years ago, but I just couldn't make it. Some of my women students went to see it and were so excited about it.

Joh: Yamamoto [who also taught at Seika at the time] took them. Since he was the one who made it possible for them to do Thomas, he has special privileges, so I think he went to them and said, "Let my students see it." [Laughter.]

Thorn: For free!?

Joh: Not for free, but I think they got a discount.

Hagio: When Studio Life performed it in Fukuoka, my parents, sister, and niece came to see it. So I went to say hello during the intermission, and my parents eyes were glazed over. They had no idea what the play was about. But my niece's eyes were sparkling. [Laughter.]

Phantoms in the Brain

Thorn: When you came to Seika three years ago, you gave a talk about differences between the left and right brain, and how you believe these related to the reading of comics. Is there any subject you're particularly interested in these days?

Hagio: I'm interested in the development of language in the human race, when human beings first began to develop a consciousness of words. For example, cats call to their own offspring, and birds sing mating calls, right? I was thinking about at what point humans went beyond that and developed conscious language, when I discovered a book by Noam Chomsky titled The Generative Enterprise Revisited.  In this book, he argues that abstract thinking, language, and mathematical thinking all developed together as a set. I'm not finished reading it yet, but it's very  interesting.

Joh: And then there's the thing about food.

Hagio: Right. Depending on a species' eating practices, it's brain can grow dramatically over time.

Joh: In other words, they learn how to divide food evenly. It was only recently in human history that food became plentiful.

Hagio: Right. And there's a scholar named Kenichiro Mogi who studies the relationship between the brain and how humans perceive God. Every human society throughout history has had some concept of a god or gods, and the notion that when you die, you go to heaven or you go to some different world. And it seems to me that this is something distinctive to the human brain. What got me interested in this was a book titled Phantoms in the Brain, by V.S. Ramachandran. He talks about a variety of brain disorders. It's quite interesting.

Thorn: May I ask a very personal question?

Hagio: Certainly.

Thorn: In The Heart of Thomas, A Savage God Reigns and some other works, the theme of sexual abuse comes up again and again. Is that based on your own experience?

Hagio: Hmm ... No, I don't have any experience like that ... but I do understand very well what it's like to be subjected to psychological abuse to a degree that leads to a collapse of one's personality.

Thorn: Because of your own childhood experiences?

Hagio: Yes, I think so. My parents aren't bad people ... but I wonder if something bad didn't happen to them. For example, my father's parents died when he was very young, and he was raised by his uncle and grandfather. So he had a home, and didn't want for anything, and yet he was not raised with a family's love. So my father had this ideal of creating a warm family life. But he had never known such a family life, so all he had was an image. And we spent everyday trying to live up to Father's image.

Thorn: I see. And what kind of image was that?

Hagio: Whatever it is, we were far from it. We children fought amongst ourselves, we would forget our homework, we didn't get straight A's.

Joh: You're father never lived with his siblings.

Hagio: That's right. And my mother wanted to make a home that was as close to Father's image as possible. Her own childhood was hardly ideal, so she wanted to create a such a home and get revenge in that way. She had that burning in her, so there was no room for relaxation in our home, not emotionally. And of course children have energy, so they become unruly sometimes, right? The tension was hard to bear, so I escaped into the world of comics, the world of stories. [Laughs.]

Thorn: Is your brother's depression connected to this in any way?

Hagio: He was fine while he was succeeding in his job, but at one point he was transferred to some obscure post, and that's when his depression started. He felt that he wasn't needed in his company anymore. Ever since he was small, he was very bright. He got into the best private junior high school in the area, and went on to the best high school in the area. So to my parents, he was the ideal child of an ideal home. [Laughter.]

Thorn: It's a pretty simple-minded ideal, isn't it?

Hagio: Isn't it? Isn't it just? And they even carefully selected his friends. When he was in junior high, my mother went to the school and said "I hear my son is in a mountain-climbing club, but I want him taken out because it's interfering with his studies." And his teacher said, "Your son is extremely quiet in class, but in the club he has friends and he's talking, so please let him stay in the club." My mother came back extremely disappointed. That was a rare case of her backing down, but normally she would never back down.

Thorn: So your mother wanted to provide your father with this ideal family?

Hagio: Right. So, for example, I have an argument with my mother. Well, I don't argue with her these days, but when I did, I would at least be able to understand her reasoning. She has this certain idea of how she wants to do things, and to achieve that I have to get good grades or whatever. But my father is like an eel. There's nothing to grab onto.

Thorn: So your mother had it hardest.

Hagio: Maybe, yes.

Thorn: She wants to make your father happy, but if it fails, it comes back to her.

Hagio: Right.

Thorn: Is that how it is?

Hagio: Yes.

Thorn: So she becomes neurotic.

Hagio: I think so, yes. But she would say, "I don't know about men, and I don't know about the company," so she was at least able to avoid all that. So it seems like things were pretty hard for a few years when the children had all grown up and left the house and it was just my mother and father left at home. Before, in trying to build the perfect home, she would take out all her frustration on the children, but when the children left that all landed on my father.

Thorn: I see.

Hagio: There's a psychiatrist named Judith Herman who wrote a big book titled "Trauma and Recovery." In it she talks a great deal about sexual abuse. She talks about what happens when a family hides such abuse, and what happens when it is revealed. She talks about cases in which the father shows sexual interest in his daughter but the mother is too strong and won't let him. She talks about all different variations. It was so interesting, and I really got into it. Or rather I learned a lot from it. I really can understand the mind set of a family or daughter who feels pushed to the brink, and loses faith in humanity, or runs away from home, or becomes bulimic or anorexic or just becomes crazy. So we had no sexual abuse in our family, but the tension that was in our family was very much like what she describes.

Thorn: From a child's point, one might be as bad as the other.

Hagio: Yes.

Thorn: As I said earlier, I have students read The Heart of Thomas every year, and many say it's hard to understand, but there are also a few who get it immediately.

Hagio: Oh, really?

Thorn: Most of them are pretty eccentric. [Laughter.]

Hagio: Is that so?

Thorn: It seems that the people who grasp it immediately are eccentrics like me. [Laughter.] Both Thomas and A Savage God can be painful to read, but I think to a reader who feels unworthy of love, they can be tremendously empowering. That was certainly the case with the friend I talked about earlier.

Hagio: Thank you very much.

Postscript: The day after our interview, I received the following e-mail from Hagio:
During the course of yesterday's interview, I came to a fresh realization. My father and mother, in an attempt to create the ideal family, disciplined us in various ways. Accepting us as we were was out of the question. In their minds, the proper way was to force the children into the form the parents desired. In fact, I accepted my parents' way of disciplining us and forcing us into a mold as reality. But now I wonder if that discipline itself was not un-reality, was not a fiction. I can't explain myself well, but I wonder if my parents, too, did not mistake the fiction of "creating the ideal family" for reality? Would you call such a situation a "self-contained domestic illusion"? And I, in order to escape from this "self-contained domestic illusion," fled to the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. Hmm ...


1.Miyako Maki (born 1935) and Masako Watanabe (born 1929)were two of a handful of female artists working in comics in Japan in the 1950s and early 1960s, and were both enormously popular among girls of the day. The illustrious careerof Tetsuya Chiba (born 1939) spans nearly half a century and includes a great many hits, such as the boxing classic Tomorrow's Joe, which he co-created with writer Ikki Kajiwara. Mitsuteru Yokoyama (born 1934) is another of the most successful cartoonists of the 1950s and 1960s, in both girls' and boys' comics. [BACK]

2."Akahon" were a genre of hardcover comics, printed on cheap paper, that enjoyed popularity after World War II, when the better paper on which "proper" children's magazines was rationed and expensive. Osamu Tezuka's first full-length "story manga," New Treasure Island, was published as an akahon in 1948. Akahon are described in some detail in Frederik Schodt's classic, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. [BACK]

3.Kazuo Umezu (born 1936) is the best-known horror cartoonist in the history of Japanese comics. Among his classics are the terrifying Snake Girl (1968), and the deeply disturbing Floating Classroom (1972-1974), which can be seen as a harsh and heart-rending critique of the Japanese education system of the day. His Orochi--Blood is available in English from Viz. [BACK]

4.Shogakukan Publishing's "grade" magazines (First Grader, Second Grader, etc.) have been standard reading for Japanese children for decades. [BACK]

5.Hagio received the 1975 Shogakukan Comics Award for They Were Eleven! and The Poe Clan. She also received the first ever Osamu Tezuka Culture Award in 1997 for The Savage God Reigns. She now serves as a judge for the latter award (as does Matt Thorn). [BACK]

6.Enka is a genre of sentimental Japanese folk song that is popular with working-class and elderly Japanese, and in some ways parallels American Country-Western music. [BACK]

7. During that time (the late 1960s), the yen was fixed at 360 yen per dollar. Since a dollar was worth about one-eighth what it is now, that would work out to about US $25 per page in today's money. A reasonable starting page rate today is about 3,000 yen, or roughly $30 per page. [NOTE: This information was out of date. 5000 yen is considered a standard starting page rate 2007, though depending on the publisher a new artist can earn more than 10,000 yen per page.] Page rates in Japan tend be much less than those in the U.S., but creators generally receive 10% royalties from sales of subsequent paperback reprints, and thus end up earning significantly more, on average, than do their American counterparts. [BACK]

8. This sounds like a huge leap, but the yen was "unmoored" from the dollar in 1971, and it's value rose rapidly. In 1974, 3,000 yen was worth about US $40 in today's money, and 6,000 yen would be about US $85 today. Still, Hagio's page rate more than tripled in buying power in the first five years of her professional career. [BACK]

9. Carp streamers, or koinobori, are colorful, wind-sock-like streamers, made to look like carp, that are hung on a sort of flagpole in front of the home in early May to celebrate Children's Day. [BACK]

10. One version of this tale has been translated by Helen C. McCullough as The Tale of the Heike. [BACK]

11. This is reference to a famous scene in the tale, which would of course be meaningless to child with no background knowledge of the characters and events. [BACK]

12. Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) is Japan's most famous creator of so-called "children's literature." His best-known work, Milky Way Railroad (also translated as Night of the Milky Way Railway), was made into a brilliant feature-length animation by director Gisaburo Sugii, available in English under the title Night on the Galactic Railroad. [BACK]

13. Shotaro Ishimori (1938-1998), known to some English readers as the creator of Japan, Inc., is best known for such "hero" works as Cyborg 009 (1964), Mutant Sub (1965), Masked Rider (1971), and Kikaider (1972), as well as his experimental Fantasy World Jun (1967). The famous Power Rangers are direct (and authorized) descendants of his Go Ranger (1975). Very early in his career, he did a lot of work in girls' magazines, and was one of the first cartoonists to create science fiction stories for girls. [BACK]

14. Hideko Mizuno (born 1939), herself a tomboy, disliked the melodramatic "mother" stories described earlier, and instead pursued fantasy (Harp of the Stars, 1960), westerns ("Red Pony," 1956), and comedy (Honey-Honey's Wonderful Adventure, 1966). She was also the only woman cartoonist to live (in 1958)in the now-famous Tokiwaso Apartments that became a (literally) low-rent Mecca for struggling young artists who would go on to define the style of the modern manga. The more famous residents included Ishimori, Hiroshi Fujimoto (1933-1996) & Motoh Abiko (born 1934)--a pair better known by the pen name "Fujiko Fujio", Fujio Akatsuka (born 1935), and Jiro Tsunoda (born 1936), as well as animator Shinichi Suzuki (born 1933). [BACK]

15. Machiko Hasegawa's (1920-1992) four-panel newspaper strip, Sazae-san, was hugely popular in postwar Japan, and is still seen today as encapsulating the essence of postwar Japanese culture and family. Toshiko Ueda (born 1916) is best known for Fuichin-san (1957), a story of a lanky and lively Chinese girl set in prewar Manchuria. [BACK]

16. Setsuko Akamatsu (date of birth unknown) was extremely active in the "rental comics" scene of the late 1950s and 1960s, but even experts on this genre seem to know nothing about her, except that she was (is?) married to another obscure cartoonist, Kazuma Maki, who is still listed as a member of the Japan Cartoonists Association. [BACK]

17. Yoko Imamura (born 1935), also got her start in rental comics, but moved on to mainstream girls' magazines where she created comedies, such as Little Chako's Diary (1959), usually featuring children in the upper grades of elementary school. [BACK]

18. SF Magazine was and remains Japan's leading science fiction magazine, and has introduced countless science fiction authors from around the world to Japanese readers. [BACK]

19. Two of the most famous postwar Japanese novelists, the former a man, the latter a woman. Ariyoshi's The Twilight Years is available in English. Shiba's works available in English include Drunk as a Lord: Samurai Stories and The Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu. [BACK]

20. Shinsengumi was a group of samurai, all skilled swordsmen, dedicated to the defense of the embattled Shogunate in the middle of the 19th century. For more information, see [BACK]

21. COM was Osamu Tezuka's anthology "Magazine for the comics elite" (according to the copy on the cover) and ran from 1967 to 1972. It was begun partly as a forum for Tezuka's now-classic Phoenix series, but became a forum for young artists eager to break free of the limitations of the children's magazines. Ishimori's Fantasy World Jun was serialized in COM. [BACK]

22. Tomoko Naka (probably born around 1955)is an artist whose work is frequently described as tanbi, which directly translates as "a fondness for beautiful things," but which is specifically associated with images of elegant and handsome yet effeminate men, and with homoeroticism. She creates stories of rich, idle, yet nonetheless lovable European nobility who get themselves into and out of a variety of personal and sometimes public troubles. [BACK]

23. COM had a lively letters column, and occasionally included an extra volume that was a collection of work by young, unknown amateurs. In addition to the comics, there were essays and articles, and roundtable discussions about various topics in comics. [BACK]

24. Sanpei Shirato (born 1932) is best known for the Marxist-inspired Legend of Kamui and The Ninja Book of Martial Arts. The former was the centerpiece of the anthology GARO throughout the magazine's early years, but Yoshiharu Tsuge's short classic "Screw-Style" is more representative of the underground flavor the magazine is famous for. [BACK]

25. Gekiga is a term that came to be used in the late 1950s to distinguish comics done in a somewhat realistic style and featuring more mature themes (such as crime and violence) from "manga," which were defined until the late 1960s as comics for children done a in cute, cartoony style, and featuring more "juvenile appropriate" content. By the early 1970s, though, manga were no longer defined as being exclusively for children, and gekiga came to be seen as a genre of manga that featured realistic drawings and little comic relief. [BACK]

26. Keiko Takemiya (born 1950) See the article on the Magnificent 24-Year Group. [BACK]

27. Japanese anthology magazines have a number of editors, and each artist is assigned an editor. The editor-in-chief can change the editor at any time, and in a big publishing house, editors are regularly moved from one magazine to another, the idea being that they can get a variety of experience within the company, making them more useful when they are eventually (if ever) promoted to positions of greater authority. [BACK]

28. Star of the Giants (1966, Ikki Kajiwara and Noboru Kawasaki) was a hugely popular (and in retrospect, comically over-the-top) boys' baseball story, and Viva! Volleyball (1968, Chikae Ide) was a girls' comics by an artist famous for drawing eyes that were dazzling even by the standards of girls' comics of the day. [BACK]

29. Junya Yamamoto (born 1938)See the article on the Magnificent 24-Year Group. [BACK]

30. A tatami mat is about 180 X 90 cm (6' X 3'), so the rooms would be 270 X 270 cm (8' 10" X 8' 10"), 270 X 180 (8' 10" X 6'), and 270 X 360 cm (8' 10" X 12'), respectively. [BACK]

31. Nanae Sasaya (born 1950) See the article on the Magnificent 24-Year Group. [BACK]

32. Mineko Yamada (year of birth not known, but probably around 1950)See the article on the Magnificent 24-Year Group. [BACK]

33. Ryoko Yamagishi (born 1947)See the article on the Magnificent 24-Year Group. Jun Morita (born 1948) was famous for romantic comedies, and for her unusually sexy female characters. Drawing characters with hourglass figures in a genre where "test-tube figures" were and are the norm garnered Morita a good many male fans. In recent years she has worked mainly in the genre of "ladies' comics." [BACK]

34. Yasuko Sakata (born 1953) is often categorized as a member of the "Post 24-Year Group." She began working professionally in 1975, and remains active today. She is one of a very small number of Japanese cartoonists who, despite specializing in short works, has maintained high name-recogition throughout her career. Akiko Hatsu (born ) began her professional career in 1980, and her style is often described as tanbi, which directly translates as "a fondness for beautiful things," but which is specifically associated with images of elegant and handsome yet effeminate men, and with homoeroticism. Hatsu is the younger sister of the late Yukiko Kai, another member of the "Post 24-Year Group" whose brief but impressive career came to an end when she died of stomach cancer in 1980. Hatsu was also a popular adjunct instructor in Kyoto Seika University's Department of Comic Art until health problems forced her to resign that post this year. [BACK]

35. Shio Satoh (probably born around 1952) is another artist often categorized as a "Post 24-Year Group" member. Though not as prolific as most of her contemporaries, her carefully crafted science fiction has a solid following. Her "Changeling" (1989) was translated into English by Matt Thorn for Viz Comics in 1995, but she is better known in Japan for her longer works, The Dreaming Planet (1980) and One Zero (1984). [BACK]

36. Aiko Itoh (probably born around 1949) was fairly active in the 1970s, and though she has kept a low profile, she continues to work professionally in the genre of "ladies' comics." [BACK]

37. Clan of the Rose was founded in 1971 by the remarkable Bungaku Itoh, and was Japan's first serious gay magazine. It continues to this day, but in response to declining sales, and also in response to a rapidly aging society, it has narrowed its target audience to older gay men. [BACK]

38. Machiko Satonaka (born 1948) began her professional career in 1964, when she was in her junior year of high school. After a long and successful career, she is now something of a manga ambassador, involved in a wide variety of organizations and activities. [BACK]

39. The first girls' weekly anthologies, Kodansha Publishing's Weekly Girls' Friend and Shueisha's Margaret, appeared in 1963, four years after the first boys' weeklies were founded. [BACK]

40. Actually, Shogakukan Publishing's Girls' Comic was founded as a monthly anthology in 1968, and became Weekly Girls' Comic in 1970, at the same time that the monthly Special Edition Girls' Comic was founded. [BACK]

41. Yumiko Ohshima (born 1947) See the article on the Magnificent 24-Year Group. [BACK]

42. With few exceptions, comics anthology magazines in Japan today are not intended to make a profit. They are printed on cheap paper and sold almost at cost in order to generate interest in works that are then sold for a profit in paperback form. But while magazines do not directly generate profit, they are extremely important in promoting the paperbacks, so publishers are acutely sensitive to fluctuations in magazine sales. [BACK]

43. Helter Skelter, by Kyoko Okazaki. Okazaki was close to finishing this disturbing fantasy of cosmetic surgery when she was struck by a drunk driver in 1995 and left a quadriplegic, unable even to speak.In 2003, Okazaki's former assistant, Moyoko Anno (who had gone on to be a bestselling cartoonist herself) finished the story by working with Okazaki's roughs and painstakingly consulting with Okazaki. The book was awarded the 2004 Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize, nearly ten years after Okazaki had been forced to abandon it. [BACK]

44. Akiko Joh (born 1951) worked as a professional cartoonist for several years, until she developed a stomach ulcer and quit cartooning to become Hagio's full-time manager. The two have lived together ever since. This combined with the fact that both women have never married has led to some curious whispering, but a student of mine who accompanied me on one of my visits, and who has recently come out as a lesbian, came straight out and asked Hagio if she was one, too. Hagio, never one to be offended by a sincere question, answered "No." [BACK]

45. Norakuro, by Suiho Tagawa, ran in the magazine Boys' Club from 1931 to 1939 and was Japan's most popular serialized comic for children until the appearance of Tezuka after World War II. [BACK]

46. The Takarazuka Revue is an all-female musical theatre troupe. They are the subject of the documentary film Dream Girls, and also the subject of a book by cultural anthropologist. [BACK]

©Matt Thorn 2007

Comments page 1 of 1
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Posted 395 days ago
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Posted 408 days ago
Beasi discusses three of her favotire female manga creators and cheers on Erica Friedman at Manga Bookshelf, and she teams up with Michelle Smith to look at artwork that fails at Soliloquy
Posted 409 days ago
and the famous siengr was in there but Caculus wasn't.I would like to see The Caculus Affair mixed with the broken ear or Tintin and the Congo and Tin tin in America.
Posted 871 days ago
Thank you for this very interesting interview
Posted 932 days ago
Thank You very much for posting this interview! It is really hard to find material related to Hagio Moto or her works here in Brazil. I came to know her work this year and became a great fan of hers. Thank you!
Posted 2086 days ago
Thanks to your translation of Moto Hagio's "They Were Eleven", I became interested in her works. It's been a while since I first read it, but I'm looking forward to discovering them. I just hope I can find an English translation.

Matt Thorn ()
Cultural Anthropologist
Associate Professor
Faculty of Manga
Kyoto Seika University