Interview With Manga Artist Hiro Mashima
Manga creator Hiro Mashima made his first American comic convention appearance at San Diego Comic-Con 2008 and brought with him the same kind of fun-loving spirit that readers have come to love from his creations Fairy Tail and Rave Master. Mashima met his fans at two autograph sessions and at a spotlight panel appearance, all hosted by his U.S. publisher, Del Rey Manga.
Dressed in a gray Monster Hunter t-shirt, olive cargo pants, and over-sized sunglasses, Mashima bounded into his Saturday panel appearance with a big smile on his face and an enthusiastic “What’s up, guys!” greeting to a room full of fans. “Thank you for coming to see me! I hope you have a rockin’ time!”
At his panel appearance, Mashima answered questions from fans and from Del Rey Manga Associate Publisher Dallas Middaugh. Mashima also demonstrated his speed and skill in drawing that allows him to pump out new episodes of Fairy Tail weekly in addition to monthly installments of Monster Hunter Orage.
Before the panel, we also got a chance to talk with Mashima to ask him a few more questions about his beginnings as a professional manga artist, and his real-life inspirations for his characters. We also got a taste of his mischievous sense of humor that makes Fairy Tail such a blast to read.
“As Long as I Can Remember, I Wanted to Be a Manga Artist”
Q: Where did you grow up and how did you get started with drawing manga?
Hiro Mashima: I grew up in Nagano Prefecture in Japan. As long as I can remember, I wanted to draw manga. When I was younger, my grandfather would find discarded manga for me to read, and I would trace the pictures.
Q: Was there an artist or a particular story that inspired you to become a professional manga artist?
Hiro Mashima: Toriyama Akira, the creator of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. Also, Yudetamago (a.k.a. Yoshinori Nakai and Takashi Shimada), the creators of Ultimate Muscle (a.k.a. Kinnikuman)
Q: What did you love about their art style or stories?
Hiro Mashima: I love that the main character gets in trouble, but somehow always manages to win! I also enjoy the fierce battle scenes.
Q: Did you go to school to learn how to draw manga?
Hiro Mashima: At first, I thought you had to go to school to learn how to draw manga, so I went to an art school after high school. But it just didn’t sit well with me, so I ended up teaching myself.
Q: How did you become a professional manga artist?
Hiro Mashima: I created a 60-page original work that I took into editors to review. Then I won an amateur manga artists’ competition. After a year, I made my official debut in 1999.
Rave Master and the Real-Life Inspirations for Fairy Tail
Q: Your last story Rave Master ran for a long time — 35 volumes. Was it difficult to come up with new stories and keep it fun and fresh?
Hiro Mashima: Hm. That’s true. It was a long series, so there were some difficult times, but now that I look back, I can only remember how much fun I had.
Q: Do you think Fairy Tail will be as long a series as Rave Master?
Hiro Mashima: That’s my goal, but it’s yet to be determined if it will go on for that long.
Q: When you decided to start work on Fairy Tail, was there something that you really wanted to try to accomplish with this new series or a different approach that you wanted to try compared to your work with Rave Master?
Hiro Mashima: Towards the end of Rave Master, the story was a little sentimental, a little sad. So I wanted to make this new story a lot of fun.
The main difference is that in Rave Master, the goal was to save the world. In Fairy Tail, it’s all about this guild of wizards, and the jobs they have to do. It’s about their everyday lives. Over time, this might change, but that’s for the fans to find out as they continue to read this story! (laughs)
Q: One character that has crossed over from Rave Master is Plue. Is there a reason why he appears over and over again?
Hiro Mashima: In my mind, Plue is everywhere. He could actually exist in this world as well. He’s my personal pet! (laughs)
Hiro Mashima: Hm! (pulls out Fairy Tail volume 1 and points to a character -Sieglein) There’s a big secret about Sieglein that’ll be revealed in Fairy Tail Volume 12. So please, keep reading so you can find out about him!
Q: What was the initial inspiration for Fairy Tail — was there a movie you saw, or a book you read that made you think it would be cool to do a story about a guild of wizards?
Hiro Mashima: There weren’t any books or movies per se, but I’ve always love magicians and wizards. So I thought it would be interesting to do a story about a group of wizards.
I might be getting older, but I still like hanging out with my friends, I still play video games with friends until the early morning hours. So just the idea was to draw a community of friends, and how my friends and I would be if we were magicians.
Q: Fairy Tail has a lot of funny, fantastic characters. In Western comics, the plot is the most important thing. Is the plot or the characters more important for you?
Hiro Mashima: Both are very important to me, but I had to choose one, I’d definitely choose characters.
Hiro Mashima: You actually have to think and create a plot, but I have many kinds of characters in my real life.
Q: Are the Fairy Tail characters based on people in real life? Is there a character in Fairy Tail that is most like you?
Hiro Mashima: Definitely Natsu. He’s like me in junior high! (laughs) All the other characters are based on my friends, my editors, people I know through work.
Q: I really enjoy Natsu — he’s really fun, energetic and likable. But one thing that’s unusual about him is that despite being really powerful, his weakness is his motion sickness. Do you get motion sickness yourself?
Hiro Mashima: I’m actually afraid of heights and airplanes, but I don’t have motion sickness. A friend of mine has that. When we take taxis together, he just gets sick. On one hand, it’s bad for him, but on the other hand, it’s kind of hilarious. (laughs)
Q: Since you base characters on people you know, do you have a friend like Grey who likes to take off his clothes?
Hiro Mashima: Me! (laughs)
Q: Is there a reason why you name your characters after the seasons?
Hiro Mashima: For my Japanese audience, I thought western fantasy names would be unfamiliar. Haru means “spring,” so he’s is a warm character. Natsu means “summer,” so he’s a fiery guy.
Q: What will you do when you run out of seasons?
Hiro Mashima: I’ve already used Fuyu (winter) in one episode a while back and used up Shiki which means “seasons” in Monster Hunter, so I’ve already run out! (laughs) I do have a name thought up, “Seison,” which is French for seasons!
Q: Is there an anime version of Fairy Tail in the works?
Hiro Mashima: We’ve been receiving offers and getting a lot of interest from anime studios, but we’ve not confirmed anything yet.
Q: Is there an animation studio that you would you most like to work with?
Hiro Mashima: Pixar!
Q: If a live-action version of Fairy Tail was made, how would you cast it in America?
Hiro Mashima: The one that comes to mind is Johnny Depp for Happy (the blue cat)! (laughs) Having this turn into a live action film would be a dream come true for me.
The Busy, Busy Life of a Manga Artist
Q: What kind of environment do you work in while you’re drawing your manga?
Hiro Mashima: I work in an 8,000 sq. feet area with seven desks with a sofa and TV where I can play video games with my assistants.
Q: How many assistants do you have? Have they ever given you ideas that you’ve used in Fairy Tail?
Hiro Mashima: I currently have six assistants. The storyline is basically fleshed out between me and my editor, but I appreciate how my assistants help me do my work.
Q: It must be a lot of work to pump out a new story every week! What is the most challenging aspect of being a professional manga artist? And what’s the most fun thing?
Hiro Mashima: The fun thing is about being a manga artist is being able to travel and meet my fans. I’ve been to France, Guam, Taiwan, Italy, and New Zealand, but other than this event, the only other convention-type event was in Taiwan.
The hardest part is that I’m not able to see my daughter as much as I’d like. She’s about 2 years old.
Q: How long does it take you to sketch, draw a chapter of Fairy Tail, from beginning to end?
Hiro Mashima: It takes about five days. On Monday, I work on the script and storyboards. On Tuesday, I work on the rough sketches. Then Wednesday through Friday, I finish the drawing and inking. On the other two days, I work on Monster Hunter, which is a monthly series for Shonen Rival. I work on a quarter of the story each weekend, and by the end of the month, I’ve finished a chapter.
Q: You do TWO series? How do you do that? When do you sleep?
Hiro Mashima: Whenever I can! (laughs)
Q: So what’s Monster Hunter about?
Hiro Mashima: It’s a video game from Capcom that’s exceptionally popular in Japan. Capcom knew that I was a big fan of the game, and there was a new magazine coming out in Japan. So when the editors approached me, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.
Q: How far in advance do you create your stories (before they’re published in Shonen Magazine)?
Hiro Mashima: Generally speaking, I tend to think of the next episode as I’m creating the current one. Sometimes I get writer’s block. Sometimes inspiration just comes when you’re sitting down at the toilet. I like to think of that as just an inspiration from heaven. (laughs)
Q: What do you like do to when you’re not drawing manga?
Hiro Mashima: I love movies, I like to play games and read books. I really like Braveheart, Lord of the Rings… I do love to listen to music when I work, but my favorite band is Green Day.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring manga artists?
Hiro Mashima: Just enjoy yourself! Obviously, it’s extremely important that you’re passionate about manga. But, it’s also important to watch movies, play games, read books and get inspiration from those forms of entertainment too.
Impressions of America and Comic-Con
Q: Is this your first visit to the U.S.? Is it your first visit to an American comic convention?
Hiro Mashima: This is my third visit to America, but my first visit to an American comic convention. I see a lot of cosplayers walking around, so I’m really thrilled to see so many manga fans in the United States. The fans here have a lot of passion, a lot of enthusiasm for comics. But comparing the fans in Japan and America — there’s no difference in their love for manga. But one difference is that here, fans can get much closer to the artists. In Japan, the security is very strict — they keep the fans much farther away at events like this.
Q: Have you had any memorable experiences from meeting your American fans so far?
Hiro Mashima: Hmm! I really enjoyed meeting my fans, but I thought they were quite bashful!
Q: Do you cosplay?
Hiro Mashima: I’d love to try, but I haven’t just yet. If I did, I would like to be Happy. I’ll paint my face blue, and rock it! (laughs)
Q: Was there anything you’ve seen in the convention hall downstairs that made you think, ‘Wow! This is amazing!’?
Hiro Mashima: (thinks a bit) Yes. Crying Macho-Man (by Jose Cabrera) That was interesting!
Q: Wow! Really? I didn’t expect that answer! Is there anything that Japanese manga artists can learn from American comics artists, and vice-versa?
Hiro Mashima: Well, it depends on the artist. But American comic artists do much more with color than Japanese artists do. The character designs are very creative, so I admire that. Also, the way panels are composed and the way stories are told are very different, so that would be interesting to compare notes.
Q: If you had a chance to talk to a reader who hasn’t read Fairy Tail yet, how would you convince them to pick it up and give it a try?
Hiro Mashima: I guess I want to encourage readers to just have fun reading this story, and not think too deeply about it. Just come along with Natsu and enjoy the adventure! I also want people to wait for Volumes 10 and 11 — those volumes will kick butt!