Conducting research for a new book (more on that later), I stumbled across an amazing series of video interviews conducted by Go Nagai with various celebrities of subculture, including manga legends Shigeru ("Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro") Mizuki and Monkey ("Lupin III") Punch. It's all sponsored by Moura ("Total Coverage"), an "online portal" of content culled from various Kodansha magazines. Anyway, I've been translating some of the Monkey Punch interview in my spare time -- check out a short excerpt by clicking below. I'll try to post more when I get a chance.
Go Nagai: The first time I heard about you was when you were working as Shotaro Ishimori’s assistant. At the time there were barely any manga magazines targeting the young adult audience. So when “Weekly Manga Action” debuted (in 1967), I remember everyone I knew was wondering just who had drawn the cover. I didn’t know anything about your kashi-bon (rental) manga days.
Monkey Punch: That’s because I had a big blank on my resume between my kashi-bon debut and when I started drawing for Action. The comic-lending shops were on the skids and it was hell for everyone, including myself, who worked as a comic artist. I thought I’d try working as someone’s assistant and applied at Osamu Tezuka’s studio. I ended up not working there in the end though.
Go Nagai: You know how back then, Tezuka-sensei’s linework pretty much defined manga style at the time? Your linework was totally different. Very unique. It was the first time I’d ever seen someone with your kind of personal touch. It felt like it came from a totally different place than comics had up to that point.
Monkey Punch: That’s because rather than making sure everything looked beautiful I figured I didn’t have to portray every little detail for the reader. Because when it comes to manga, you’re targeting people with a certain degree of familiarity with the medium anyway. Like Fumito Shimizu (note: then-editor of “Weekly Manga Action”) always used to tell me, “just make it crazy fun!”
Go Nagai: I see. When it comes to that kind of manga, you don’t have any competition. You’re the only one. That’s what I liked. I couldn’t figure out your influences, so I was imagining that maybe you were a foreigner or something! (Laughs)
Monkey Punch: I got that a lot because of my pen name. Actually that was Shimizu-san’s idea too. So that people wouldn’t have any clue as to what kind of a person I was. (Laughs)
Go Nagai: I think of you as an aesthete. Someone who’s more interested in emotions than logic. I really like that. Crazy stories that somehow pull together in the end because you're so good at manipulating human emotions. (Laughs)
Monkey Punch: I don’t think they pull together in the end! (Laughs) My stories always end with the characters just running. I’d just be drawing and drawing without thinking about it, and then I’d realize the page count’s getting tight. “Uh oh. Time for ‘em to run!”
Go Nagai: Yeah, but running away’s a conclusion! That’s another great thing about your work.
Monkey Punch: The times I couldn’t wrap things up by running away, I’d just draw more than the pages I was allotted, and cut out what I’d drawn at beginning. (Laughs)
Go Nagai: Interesting. I tend to improvise when I’m plotting out my stories, too, and the second halves always tend to be more exciting than the beginnings.
Monkey Punch: These days the old comics are all released in compilations. I stumble across old ones I’ve forgotten and think, “wow, I drew this!?” I think my art was more alive back then. Fresher, or something.
Go Nagai: Young artists make up for what they lack in skill with energy. Some of the drawing I did under tight deadlines is really messed up. Looking at it now I get embarrassed, but it does have a weird energy.
Monkey Punch: Harenchi Gakuen (“Shameless School”) really shocked me when I first read it. It was the first time I ever thought “man, I can't believe he took it this far!” when I was reading another person’s manga.
Go Nagai: But your manga were sexy from the get-go! (Laughs) Sexy, but with definite quality.
Monkey Punch: The furor over your Harenchi Gakuen was incredible. I never had that sort of thing happen to me. PTA protest campaigns and such. Though some of my work was branded as “manga [kids] shouldn’t read.”
Go Nagai: Yeah, I bet. (Laughs)
Monkey Punch: It might have been something that shouldn’t be read but nobody ever protested it. (Laughs)
Go Nagai: I was bombarded with interview requests from newspapers, magazines, and TV. Eventually I was like, “I can’t take this, I’m taking all my art and going into hiding.” I’d take a plane somewhere far away but when I got off, the TV cameras were right there. (Laughs) I wonder how they knew where I was going. I was branded a “nuisance,” an “enemy of society,” even. In spite of the fact I that what I’d done wasn’t any big deal. I would watch movies and things and had a very clear sense about not crossing the line, about what I could do and shouldn’t do. To make sure the police would never show up at my door.
Monkey Punch: My case was different because I drew for adults from the get-go. At the time I was constantly copying and studying the drawings of girls in the American magazine “Mad,” and the photos of women from Playboy magazine.
Go Nagai: I copied a lot of photographs for practice, too. You always were able to draw the female form well, but that wasn’t the case for me. I’d got most of it from sculpture... No, actually I probably learned more from manga. Like Osamu Tezuka’s works. Was Fujiko Mine based on a real woman?
Monkey Punch: Sure, I took inspiration from pin-up girls. But she isn’t based on any one person, so she wasn’t fixed in my mind when I first started drawing her. Her hairstyle didn’t “gel” until later. Lupin was the same. When I first drew him he had a big cleft chin that looked like Popeye’s. (Laughs) I finally figured out his face after the series ended. (Laughs)
To be continued...