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Takeshi Miyazawa, known for his teen depictions in the hit series, Mary Jane, has returned to another hit teen series, Runaways, for a two-issue guest spot to pencil. This is Miyazawa’s second time around the Runaways as a guest artist, as he also filled in on the original incarnation of the series. Comic Foundry talked with Miyazawa on his art style and process for both Runaways and Mary Jane and how his art evolved in between.
You’re coming back to Runaways for another two-part arc. How have you grown as an artist since you were last on the title?
I’ve mostly been looking back to my previous run and nitpicking problems and mistakes made then. For example, noticing that some of the faces were a bit off and the angles and shots not as clear. Smooth storytelling is what I focus on and try to improve constantly. That includes facial expressions and subtle body language as well. I think Mary Jane has helped me tighten that aspect of my craft the most. I’ve also gotten a lot more comfortable with perspective and I’ve learned to bend walls, slant edges and implement more diagonal lines to show depth. I rarely use vanishing points and try and freestyle it a bit so that I’m not as bound to the rules as much.
How is drawing this art of Runaways different than the one you previously drew?
I’d say I’m more comfortable with the characters this time around. I’ve been following the book ever since my fill-in and the characters have grown and changed a lot, allowing me to add touches of their respective experiences and traits into the current arc. I like to really know the characters before drawing them since it makes my job a lot easier by adding quirks and physical ticks into the drawings.
How much do you try to differentiate styles on the different books you’re on? (Mary Jane, Runaways, etc)
Not all that much actually. The book and writing set most of the tone. I just try and keep up to what’s happening. Of course, action sequences require more attention in terms of adding speed lines and choosing more dynamic angles and shots but, otherwise, I try to stay as consistent as possible.
As an artist, do you feel like you get pigeonholed into mostly drawing teens?
It’s what I’m good at and most comfortable with. I can’t say I draw the coolest Wolverine or giant robot so I leave that up to the people who can. I’ve always looked to life for inspiration and I base most of my designs from what’s readily available like magazines, photographs and people watching. When I see something I like I’ll make a mental note of it and try to fit it in somewhere while I work. The stories with teens have more to do with everyday issues I can relate to which I enjoy. Events don’t have to be world encompassing to be meaningful and there doesn’t always have to be a villain. With the current push towards comics for girls and younger audiences I feel really lucky to be able to help make these reader-friendly books.
You’ve mentioned that some of your early influences are Captain Tsubasa and Dragonball. What do you think the pros and cons are of the growing manga influence over American comics?
I think it’s a good thing. Any type of cross-referencing and merging of ideas only helps the art to grow into something new. We need more unpredictability and a palette of fresh ideas right now to shake things up and what better way for this to happen than looking to what’s coming out from Japan where it’s more creator-centric. Stylistic stereotypes aside, I like cinematic sequences and storytelling and I’m sure the kids who are reading and consuming this visual language of manga feel the same. Narrative boxes that tell you everything is SO yesterday. Like, c’mon! It’s also been great to see comics shifting towards the book market more which, five years ago, was next to unheard of. The entire art-to-business and distribution aspect of manga has been a great model to learn from for us in North America.
How do you adjust your art to match tones suited for a younger audience?
There are certain rules on all-ages titles like no piercings, exposed belly buttons, cleavage, etc. As long as I follow those rules I pretty much have free reign. Everyone tells me I draw cute girls so I guess that’s a bonus.
The visual aesthetic of Mary Jane is much softer than that of other mainstream books. How does that affect your pencils, if at all?
Not all that much. I’ve never been pressured to draw in a “house” style so I just do what I do, which I feel very fortunate about. Christina Strain has been coloring most of my Marvel work and she has a great grasp of the look I’m going for. She does this cool thing to make solid areas look like dot-toner and adds great life to the characters by using just the right colors. Her work has just as much to do with the success of the art as my pencils.
Mary Jane isn’t exactly a “powers” book. Visually, how do you keep the excitement going for the reader?
When there’s no action you have to rely on storytelling and the more subtle aspects of a scene. I like throwing in visual pauses like a hand reaching for a cup or a quiet stare from the corner of an eye. Letting the reader participate in the quiet moments and work out what he/she is thinking is, to me, part of a successful story.
I just cruised your blog and it seems like you’re pulling some really tough hours. What’s the hardest part about working as an artist in this industry?
Oh, man. Time management! I’ve been pretty terrible at scheduling pretty much my entire life. I’m not one of those “list” people who can prioritize and get things done efficiently, which inevitably leads to me playing catch-up and pulling all-nighters around deadline time. It all seems to work out in the end, though. Motivation has been another big issue for me. When I was in university taking fine arts, I had tons of like-minded creative people to throw ideas around with and get inspired by but now it’s just me. Some days drawing is the last thing I want to do so that’s when I jump on the internet and look for artist Web sites with cool art. Then I look at how young they are and how awesome their work is and the guilt and envy fires me up. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a bigger or separate studio to distinguish between life and work as well. I hear from friends who have made the move that it increases productivity 110 percent.
Do you think girls, in general, like Mary Jane? Does it matter?
Not really, no. The book is only “suggested” for girls to read. It’s not a hard and fast rule. I get a lot of father-daughter combos visiting me at cons and telling me how they appreciate having something they can both share and talk about or fans that have followed my work for years and enjoy anything I do regardless of target audience. It is always humbling when I hear either of those comments.
You live in Vancouver - what type of perspective does that give you on the American comics industry?
It’s pretty boundless as is comics in general. We read all the same comics and news sites up here. There are lots of creators in Vancouver who work for DC, Marvel and other publishers. One of the great things about comics is that nationality and race don’t really apply.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since entering the
This is such a stale answer but how it works. Knowing and understanding the process of creating, marketing and selling a product makes you aware of just how many obstacles there are and how to overcome them with reduced stress. Doing freelance is a bit different since all I have to do is worry about the penciling and staying on schedule but with my webcomic, it has been an upward battle of completing pages, updating the site, maintaining interest and, finally, going to cons and promoting it. There are a bunch of other headaches in between that sorta popup once in a while and a natural reflex to all that crap is disciplining yourself enough to stick with it. Falling behind makes climbing back almost impossible. So, yeah, in short, basically knowing what you’re getting into and having plans to deal with it.
— Interview by Tim Leong