the Little Red Reviewer

Interview with author Danica Davidson and mangaka Rena Saiya

Posted on: November 26, 2018

Author Danica Davidson and Manga author Rena Saiya have recently released Manga Art for Intermediates.    When Danica told me about this new book, I had a million questions for her – How did she know what text would work best with Rena’s pictures? How did Rena know what artwork would go best with the text? How did the two of them collaborate? How did they find each other? Was it fun?  Instead of trying to answer my million questions over lunch one day, Danica suggested I interview the both of them. Excellent idea!

Danica Davidson is most famous for her series of unofficial Minecrafter adventure novels for middle grade readers.  She’s written articles for MTV, The Onion, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and about fifty other publications.  You can learn more about her work here.

Rena Saiya is a Mangaka (manga author) living in the Tokyo area.  Her flexible artwork style has allowed her to publish manga in a variety of genres, and she has also taught manga-creation in vocational schools in Japan. Click here to visit Rena’s website.

Danica and Rena were kind enough to answer all my questions about their new manga art book,  how they collaborated,  their backgrounds, and more!  If you know someone who is dabbling in drawing manga fan-art, Manga Art for Intermediates is for them!

My Q&A with Danica Davidson:

Little Red Reviewer: This is your second Manga Art step-by-step book. What did you want to accomplish in this book that you hadn’t already accomplished in the first book?

Danica Davidson: The first book was more basic. If you want to draw manga-style characters in your notebook but don’t know how to start, that book has you covered. It starts with how to draw faces, eyes, bodies, really going piece by piece, then gets into how to draw common character types. So we have schoolgirl, schoolboy, chibi, ninja, magical girl, etc. Each character is drawn in maybe 15 or so steps, making it much more detailed than any other how-to-draw manga books I’m aware of on the market.

If you’ve gone through that book or have some background in art, then Manga Art for Intermediates ups the ante. It still shows how to draw common character types in many more steps (this time around we have characters like bride and groom, kendo player, seme and uke, Heian man, nekojin and even some yokai). But we also talk about what sort of papers, pens, inks and software real, professional manga creators in Japan like to use. It goes into screentones and how to use brushes to make black hair look shiny. All of this information comes thanks to Rena, who has a background in manga.

Danica Davidson

LRR: How did you first get involved with manga step-by-step guides?

DD: It happened because of my background in manga. I started reading manga as a teenager, and not long afterward I started writing about it professionally. The first glossy magazine I freelanced for was Anime Insider, and that led me to writing about manga for Booklist and Publishers Weekly, and that led me to writing about manga for MTV, CNN, The Onion and other places. I adapted manga into English for Digital Manga Publishing and have helped in the editing process for Yen Press. I love a good story, and manga is a great medium. Then a publisher reached out to me based on my manga knowledge and experience, saying they wanted to do an art book. That led to Manga Art for Beginners.

LRR: You’ve worked on a variety of Manga how-to guides, books, and graphic novels (most famously, your Minecrafter novels for mid-grade readers). When it comes to writing and storytelling, where do your personal passions lie?

DD: It can vary. I get obsessed with different topics and then I want to know all about them, then I want to write all about them. But ultimately I just want a good story.

LRR: You’ve always loved writing, and you have an excellent writing advice area on your website. What’s your quick advice for writers who are just getting started?

DD: Write what you want to write. Before you edit, before you share, before you get published, you just have to write. There are a lot of people out there who say, “You can’t write about such-and-such” or “Don’t write about this.” There are so many naysayers in anything, and especially in writing. And sometimes the biggest naysayer is yourself. We’ve all been there. When you’re passionate about your writing topic, though, that will come through. Rewrite after you’ve gotten your ideas down to make it sound stronger, but don’t stifle yourself.

My Q & A with Rena Saiya

LRR: I love the “Manga Author’s Unknown Daily Life” series on your blog! What is something you wish American readers knew about what it’s really like to be a Japanese mangaka? What is something you wish more Japanese people knew about what it’s really like be a mangaka?

Rena Saiya: What I’d like both American readers and Japanese readers to know is that mangaka create manga in a hard situation. Since it’s an occupation dependent on public favor, it requires mangaka to struggle in a high competitive ratio. Mangaka always have to try to create attractive works by the deadline, so it’s hard mentally and physically.

However, the difficulty is not bad because this is one of the biggest factors of the great popularity of Japanese manga. As a general rule, excellent creation is done through hard situations.

LRR: One of your most valuable talents is that you have a flexible style that allows you to create manga in different styles and genres. Do you have any favorite or preferred styles or genres?

RS: My favorite genre is “Shonen-manga”(manga for boys). Therefore, I prefer Shonen-manga-like pictures and stories.

LRR: You mentioned on your website that you have taught manga-making in vocation schools. Can you tell our readers a little about your experiences with teaching? Any funny stories to share?

RS: Usually such vocational schools collect teachers who have experiences as a professional mangaka or assistant. There are a lot unique people in manga or assistants and sometimes they are too unique to be a teacher…

When I was teaching at some vocational school, some new teacher came whose role was to teach basics of manga creation to the students, but I noticed that they were not teaching it at all. To our surprise, she was doing palm line reading of the students during the lessons.

Of course the school ordered her to do “normal lessons” but she quit the school because of the strong stress of “behaving normally.”
She was one of the unique mangaka I met before.

Questions for both Danica and Rena:

LRR: Can you tell our readers a little about your working relationship? This was your first time working together, how did you get to know each other?

DD:  I found Rena on LinkedIn. I had been looking on deviantArt and found some artist samples I really liked, but my concern was I might get an artist who was really good but who might not make deadlines. LinkedIn is more businesslike, and I was able to see Rena had a background in manga. I’d really wanted to work with a Japanese mangka for Manga Art for Beginners, but it didn’t work out that way. I’m really excited to be working with someone like Rena who knows manga so well and knows the Japanese business side of it.

RS:  Danica was looking for an artist who can work with the book Manga art for Intermediates and found me on the internet. I got to know the detailed information about the plan by exchanging emails with her, and then, I decided to work with her for the book.

LRR: Rena, how did you know what kinds of images Danica would need? Danica, how did you know what text would work best with Rena’s images?

RS:  First, Danica gave me a list of characters which would be suitable for Manga Art for Intermediates. After we decided on which characters we should use for the book, I designed each character and got her OK.

DD:  I did the outline of what the book would show, and when Rena sent me her art, I would write descriptions with it.

LRR: What was something that surprised you both about working on this book?

RS: For me, the difficulty of working together in a different time zone because of the time difference between Japan and America. Danica’s patience was really good and supportive.

DD: I learned some things about how publishing in Japan works, things that I hadn’t known before. All this came from Rena’s knowledge. Some of that stuff goes into the book, like what specific paper, software and pens Japanese mangaka like to use. I wouldn’t say any of it surprised me, but it educated me and I think it will educate many readers.


LRR:  Thanks for letting me interview you!  This has been one of the more fascinating and educational interviews I’ve done.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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