One of the real thrills of running this website is that I get to speak with some legendary creators. They don't come much more legendary than Kazuo Koike, the amazing creator of Lone Wolf and Cub, along with dozens of other manga. As if it's not enough to have created all of those greate series, Koike also runs a school that has brought his deep learning to the next generation of manga cartoonists, is a national celebrity and has helped to create anime, games, and much much more.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: We're talking at San Diego Comicon. You mentioned that there are similar conventions in Japan. Do the young people who come to those conventions know your work?
Kazuo Koike: Yes, everyone knows me. I'm always on the internet or the news media. I've been teaching manga on the internet online.
CB: I have a thirteen year old daughter, and she loves Japanese material much more than the American material. She sits and draws them all day long. Are there certain hints that she should remember certain core principles for drawing good manga?
Koike: The point of drawing and writing the story is to make the evil character first, and then the main character. If you make the evil one first, the main character has to go to the evil character, right? If you make the main one first, the evil one has to go- it’s hard to make them battle the main one first. This comes from experience in data.
With Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, evil comes first. The bad things happen, and then the hero comes, right? The mean one, the mean character is important.
CB: Is that true for all types of manga? I know you’ve done golf manga, mahjong manga, other types of things. Is that true for that kind of material?
Koike: Almost. Almost all of them are like that.
CB: Is there a certain way that you create an evil character that makes them more interesting? I mean it’s easy to have someone that is just a bad person, but there is something about the certain type of evil character that people really do love.
Koike: The main character and the evil one don’t talk much. The people that are around that character talk rumors about the evil one.
CB: That’s very different from the American version of evil. Usually they’ll be the opposite of the person. The Batman is very logical, and the Joker is very illogical and that’s what makes them such great enemies, but they’re very opposed to each other.
I know you’re doing a new book. Is that the way you approach that book as well? To create an evil character first? Can you tell me something about the evil character in this book?
Koike: In Japan, they don’t talk about kinship, but in America they talk a lot about that. So the way that Japanese relationships are managed; he is very happy about the way that we like that story.
CB: Because they’re relating without talking. Their intimate relationship without talking about how they feel?
Koike: That’s the part that’s right.
CB: It’s very interesting to read as an American because you see the cultural influences come through as a reflection of Japan as a world that’s very different than what I’m used to anyway. We have a saying here “Write from your heart, write what you know.” obviously that’s what this is in a lot of levels. How do you create your fictional worlds? Your worlds always seem very rich and very complicated. Do you make a point of basing them on history, or do you create them yourselves from your imagination? How is that process work for you?
Koike: From real life! My father was in the War. He was a General.
CB: Oh! So that’s a very complicated thing in Japan, too with your history? How does he feel about you getting into art instead of following him in someway?
Koike: I didn’t know my father during the war.
CB: I see. Did your mother re-marry or were you raised by her? This lone wolf and cub in some way filling in or?
Koike: My mother passed away when he was three. And my father went to war, so my grandfather and grandmother raised him.
CB: Oh I see. Did they respect you in pursuing your art career?
Koike: Not at all! When I was small I had an art dream and couldn’t draw. I never thought of art when I was small. While the Americans occupied Japan after the war, they banned martial arts and archery, and that’s why I got into doing art.
When I started doing something like drawing, I would like drawing. At that age I was a teenager.
CB: Okay. You’re really one of the first people to make manga popular in Japan, too. It must be incredibly gratifying to know how popular it is now to know that you really started this thing that’s become really the most popular type of reading in Japan. I’m told that we only have one more question, I do know that you work in a bunch of different art. Movies, poetry, comics, is there one that you love more than others?
Koike: I likes manga the most. I'm 78 years old right now, so I like the original.
CB: That makes me so happy. So many great cartoonists worked well into their seventies and eighties –Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, now it’s great to see that you follow that tradition. I’m really looking forward to reading your new book. Thank you so much.