Kelly Kozumi Shinozawa
There's no denying the worldwide appeal of Japan's 'Manga' art form, and, in an attempt to appeal to the younger reader, Bible publishers have been quick to respond to the demand by producing Bible based manga! If you check out the manga forums, out of all the various attempts at biblical manga produced, the fans give the 'thumbs up' to the 'Manga Messiah' series of books. The reason for this might be due to the fact that NEXT, (the publisher), have employed genuine Japanese manga-ka's, (manga artists) to produce all the artwork. NEXT is a non profit corporation that was set up in 2006 for the purpose of producing biblically based manga. Three out of the five books planned in the 'Manga Messiah' series are already available, the fourth, 'Manga Melech' , is in production. The first two books, illustrated by Kozumi Shinozawa cover the New Testament, and the remaining three books, 'Manga Mutiny', ' Manga Melech' and 'Manga Messengers' cover the Old Testament. So far these books have been incredibly popular and NEXT have already produced and distributed over 1.5 million copies worldwide, available in 16 languages!
Due to its popularity, Manga is likely to be playing a big part in Bible story telling for some time to come so the Bible illustration blog wouldn't be complete without an interview with a 'Bible Manga-ka'. Many thanks to Nate Butler of Christian Comics International for putting me in touch with Kozumi Shinozawa, illustrator of the first two books in the 'Manga Messiah' series. The interview follows:
Kozumi, Have you always wanted to be a Manga-ka?
Yes. My mother said I started to draw very well when I was in kindergarten. I loved to draw and I especially loved to imitate Anime characters like Takahashi Rumiko's, who is a very famous Manga-ka in Japan. After I graduated elementary school, I was influenced by Hayao Miyazaki's animations.
At that time, my dream was to become a professional Manga-ka. However I thought it was impossible because I knew that it is very difficult to become a Manga-ka.
When did you first become a professional Manga-ka?
When I was 19 years old, still a college student, I became a Shojo Manga-ka which is a Manga artist for girls.
You mentioned Takahashi Rumiko and Hayao Miyazaki. Have they influenced your style?
I have been a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki and Rumiko Takahashi since I was an elementary school student. I was affected and influenced by their pen touch and story but now, my style has become more personal and my own.
How did you first become interested in the Bible?
Actually, I started to read the bible when I was a child. ( about 10 years old) This is very unusual in Japan because our culture is Buddhist. Commonly, children and adults don't know the bible.
However my father was really interested in Western culture because he used to go to the USA for his business. One day, he suddenly gave me a bible and he said,"all American people know the bible story, perhaps all western people. You should read it and increase your general bible knowledge." His idea was just for my education. Actually I couldn't read the bible because it's a very thick book and looks difficult for children. Finally my father gave me a kind of picture bible, so I could understand almost all the stories in the bible.
Were you excited when you were approached to produce a Manga version of the Bible?
I want to tell you about my father again. When I became professional cartoonist, I was 19 years old, and my father said "Why don't you draw comics for the bible?" I said "I don't want to do it because I just became a shojomanga-ka (a Manga for girls) and shojomanga-kas usually draw pretty girls and handsome boys. I don't want to draw old men with beards".
So many years passed, and I became a Christian when I was 33 years old in NY. When I came back to Japan, I was 35 years old. At that time, my father was terminally ill. I still hadn't started drawing Manga again, when suddenly a Christian publishing company contacted me and told me about a Manga bible project. When I heard that news, I remembered what my father had said 16 years before. I was very surprised and I immediately understood that it was God's work.
God has clearly used your father to guide you to where you are now. We have often discussed the question on the blog "What did Jesus look like?" Was it difficult to arrive at a finished design that everyone was happy with?
Yes... I struggled and suffered thinking about how to describe Jesus. I saw many pictures of Jesus but it didn't give me an answer. I was reading the bible and studying Jewish culture.... I didn't want to draw Jesus like a Caucasian man, however I also didn't want to draw Jesus with a long beard in a typical Jewish rabbi style. Many people gave me advice but it made me confused. There was a lot of debating about his appearance. Finally I decided on a Japanese style because my boss said "Draw a real Japanese manga style all children can understand. I agreed with my boss.
Were there any Bible characters or stories that you found difficult to illustrate, and why?
The crucifixion was the most difficult scene for me. When I drew it, I was moved. It was difficult to draw pages 242 to 268 and I could not stop crying. I felt like that I saw a real crucifixion. I said many times "I am sorry Jesus. Your suffering for all of my sin. I am sorry". I could understand how Jesus suffered on the cross because, at that time I had just lost my father from cancer, and he lost a lot of blood from his mouth and he was suffering badly until he died. For several hours I cried thinking about Jesus on the cross and prayed. All of my experiences gave me the energy for drawing the crucifixion. I believe that it was God's timing for drawing Manga Messiah.
Thanks for sharing that Kozumi. As you were designing all the Bible characters and scenery, how did you go about your research?
Of course I researched bible history and culture very diligently. Actually, I went to Israel to study it. I went to all the places in Israel that are mentioned in the Bible. I took a lot of pictures. You can see my photograph on p.276 of the lake of Galilee in the Garden where Peter received His call. Moreover I used many photos for Manga Messiah and I even processed photos in Manga style.
Finally I chose my characters' hair style and color from Japanese Manga style because my priority was that children should like it. Manga is for children. I wanted to draw so more children would like it. Clothing and buildings I tried to draw realistically.
I believe that most Japanese Manga is produced in black and white. Was there a reason why you added color on this occasion, and did you add the color to the pictures yourself?
Yes, my assistant and I added all the color. It was hard work. Usually Japanese manga is black and white, but I heard foreign children like colored manga. My boss decided to add color; however it was not easy for me. Actually I started drawing it April 2004 and finished it in August 2005. Every day I couldn't sleep very well. We spend a lot of time painting and coloring and it took about 1 year to finish Manga Messiah.
I'm glad that you added the color! Do you have any other Bible related projects in the pipeline?
Last summer I went to Finland for manga mission. The Finnish Bible Society and I joined the comic market, called Fincom, and we sold a lot of Manga Messiah to non Christian people. At that time I did a presentation and drew many pictures in front of people. They liked it. It was a good experience for me.
Recently, I talked to the director of Japan campus crusade for Christ. He asked me to draw "four spiritual laws" in manga style. This is a difficult work because the four spiritual laws doesn't have stories. However I tried to study the four spiritual laws. Finally I made an original story that is easy for people to understand.
I look forward to seeing that. When you started work on the 'Manga Messiah' project were you expecting it to be as successful as it has been?
No. I didn't expect it to be so successful.
What advice would you give to a young person reading this interview who wants to become a Manga-ka or Bible Artist?
If someone wants to draw Manga for Christ, I want to say why don't you come to my office? I really want to talk about what we will do for our God and what kind of Manga God wants to produce with young foreign people. I want to work with God and many people.
Thank you so much Kozumi for taking the time to speak to us, and I'm sure that many artists will be lining up to come and visit you!
If you would like to contact Kozumi, (or Kelly), you can visit her blog here.
There is also a wonderful filmed interview with Kozumi (which is sub-titled for English readers) made by Harvest Internet TV in Japan. The interview shows Kozumi at work in her studio and includes her moving testimony. To view the movie Click here.
Look forward to your comments!
All pictures © NEXT 2009. Used with kind permission.