Saturday, December 12, 2009

Guest Bible Artist Interview #6

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.


Paul Green said...

Thanks to Kozumi for sharing her experiences. An interesting comment:
"all American people know the bible story, perhaps all western people. You should read it and increase your general bible knowledge."

Sadly this is far from true. Many children and teenagers in America and Europe (in particular) have no idea who Jesus Christ is. Many who own a Bible have never read it in any detail. Some have literally never picked it up to read. It is treated more like a talisman that brings good luck than a book to be read.

Congratulations on the great success of the Manga Messiah. As a professional writer who knows the average distribution of many publishers is in the thousands (or less) reaching a total of 1.5 million is amazing.

Patrick said...

Really good thoughts posted. Sadly, I'll have to agree with Mr. Paul here. Many people in the West nowadays know only little about Jesus or the Bible in general, and most of what they know are fed to them by the popular media: some half-truths and popular (mis)conceptions and a bunch of - dare I say it - rubbish.

I find Kozumi's artstyle very interesting. :) I noted that she once worked as a shojo manga artist, and her drawing style really shows it. There are actually many drawing styles as there are artists in the Japanese manga industry, ranging from the realistic to the cartoonish (so IMHO speaking of a 'manga style' is a bit difficult to comprehend). Her style falls somewhere in the 'normal' shojo style: handsomely-drawn characters with pointed features.

H. S. Ryu said...

Thank you very much for this interview, and video.
I have become a big fan of Manga Messiah.
I love to use this at our church.
Thanks again.

Bible artist said...

Very true Paul, and I can see things getting worse in the UK! The secularists in the media, the education system and the government are all working hard to remove God out of every sphere of life here. They use the tool of 'Political correctness', then lay the blame at the door of religion!

It's a good point that you make about the manga style. We've discussed different drawing styles on the blog before and we place these different styles into very different categories, e.g. cartoon, realistic, european etc. With manga though, whether it's in a cartoon style or a realistic style, we call it a manga style! There's something that's immediately recognizable as Japanese! It's probably because we are not as familiar with manga as we could be. I suppose it's a little like viewing people from a different nation as all looking the same, until you get to know them individually!

Hwa Ryu:
Thanks Hwa! Did you know Kozumi when she lived in NY?

Paul Green said...

When I first came across manga-anime in the 1960s on the animated shows "Marine Boy" and "Gigantor" the main thing that stood out was the large eyes and weak animation. I understand the big eyes used in Walt Disney films such as "Bambi" was a major influence.
But having researched (and watched) many manga-anime TV shows for my latest book I realized just how far the style and animation has progressed.
But most in the West are ignorant of the subtleties and various schools of manga. The main factor that identifies the style is still that of large eyes. And that is a gross simplification of the art of manga.

Bible artist said...

I can remember 'Marine Boy' and 'Gigantor' Paul!
The first time that I saw very stylized manga, which I may have mentioned before, was in the mid to late sixties when my brother wrote to a pen pal in Japan.
He sent lots of his drawings which were very good, but in a style that we had never seen before. I can remember the large glossy eyes, the small pointed noses and tiny mouths! Also very slim bodies. I remember thinking even then that the pictures looked very feminine in style.

I'll have to ask my brother if he can remember his pen pal's name as he's probably a world famous manga-ka now!

deboraw said...

Graham, I like the delicateness of style in her work. I'm sure as has been expressed that it is a feature of the Manga (Japanese) style, but it is very nice. I believe it is a reflection of the Japanese culture, at least of the part of their culture that I have been exposed to.

Patrick said...

Mr. Graham:
I can also feel for that. After all, here I was thinking that all American comic books have the same artstyle. ;p

Ah, 'Gigantor'...those were the days when giant robots were still remote-controlled instead of being controlled from cockpits by pilots!

Bible artist said...

The name of my brother's pen pal was Hiromi Ayami or Ayame. He must be around 50 now. Is this the name of a well known Manga-ka? His artwork was very competent.

Paul Green said...

His name doesn't come up in any searches Graham. Probably ended up working for the Japanese equivalent of World Distributors. LOL

Scot Eaton said...

He might have also used a pen name. That's very common for manga-ka.

Anyway, Shinozawa-san, thanks for the interview. I am one of the English editors of the series, having filled in for Mr. Butler when he had to leave the series during Manga Metamorphosis. I really enjoyed spending time with your art!

And I never would have identified it, but now that you say that you were influenced by Takahashi Rumiko, I can totally see it now. I once saw a child in my church reading a manga that looked like it was drawn by you. I remember that it had a dinosaur in it. Was that you, or was it someone else?

Bible artist said...

Have forwarded your comment on to Kelly Scot.

phifocy-magsino said...

Wow! Praise God for posting this up and I'm a fan of manga messiah! i've been wanting to meet Kozumi and hear about her walk with the Lord and her love for manga and how you can reach out for Christ ^___^

Bible artist said...

Glad you liked it Phifocy!

Neilio said...

Hey guys, I'd like to say the Manga Messiah has greatly helped hype my kids interest in Christ - even myself. I'm fairly new to this and discovered these books on a Christian charity site They were cheaper than Amazon and because it's a charity, my dollars will be will spent:)

Bible artist said...

Thanks Neilio, that site will be of particular interest to Canadian readers wanting to purchase the Manga Bible series.