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Interview with Hara Tetsuo
Interview with Hara Tetsuo
Author: raijin comics Date: 11/19/2003
Pen Name: Hara Tetsuo
Born: 1961 in Tokyo, Japan.
Debut Manga: Tetsuo No Don Quixote (Iron Don Quixote)

In 1983, his masterpiece Fist of the North Star (Story: Buronson, Art: Hara Tetsuo) became a classic, setting unprecedented records in Japan. Even today, many Japanese are familiar with Fist of the North Star and the popular phrase, "You're already dead!"
The Life of a Manga Artist : Hara Tetsuo
- excerpts from RAIJIN COMICS 37 &38

"I think I was about 9 years old when I decided to make my living as an artist."

RAIJIN COMICS (RC) interviewed Hara Tetsuo, the face behind Fist of the North Star - one of the most popular manga of all time. His recent work, Fist of the Blue Sky, runs concurrently in Japan's Weekly Comic Bunch and U.S.'s RAIJIN COMICS. Hara's sudden rise to becoming a top manga artist obscures his long struggle for success. Now let's get to know the man behind the pen.

In the Beginning...

(RC): Your famed portfolio includes work as an assistant to Takahashi Yoshihiro (Ginga Legend Weed) and your serial manga debut in Weekly Shonen Jump with Tetsuno No Don Quixote (Iron Don Quixote). The fact that you were an assistant to such a prominent manga artist at such an early age suggests you had training early on. When and how did your manga study begin?

Hara: Hmm... I think I was about 9 years old when I decided to make my living as an artist. That was the start of everything.

RC: So when did you first pick up manga?

Hara: A friend lent me one when I was in the 4th or 5th grade. I didn't like still drawings and didn't find them very interesting. Then I read Tensai Bakabon by Akatsuka Fujio and it totally blew me away.

RC: That's a real surprise, since Akatsuka's work differs so much from your own.

Hara: Up to then, I'd only seen TV anime. That's why simple pictures bored me. Tensai Bakabon was something else 3-dimensional, with really convincing movement. I was amazed at what could be done on paper and it completely changed my view of manga.

Being strong-willed is helpful, but ambition and diligence are the two most important keys to success.

RC: We heard you had a lot of advice and training from your second editor. What sort of training was it?

Hara: Storyboarding under the editor's guidance and other training needed to debut as a professional.

RC: Was this all while you were still working as Takahashi Yoshihiro's assistant?

Hara: Yes. I wasn't going to be an assistant forever, though, and I wanted to do my own manga. I spent all my free time making storyboards and going to manga classes supervised by Koike Kazuo (Lone Wolf and Cub). Then storyboard for Tetsu No Don Quixote was accepted.

RC: But your serial was canceled after 10 weeks.

Hara: An artist starting a serial in Weekly Shonen can get axed as early as 3 weeks into the series, depending on the results of the reader survey. And, I got axed after 10 weeks. What a let down! Once artists are dropped in a debut in Shonen Jump, they rarely get a second chance. I thought my career was over, and that I didn't have what it took to be a professional.

RC: So what got you to create Fist of the North Star?

Hara: After 8 episodes of Iron Don Quixote, my editor Horie Nobuhiko said to me, "You want to write a manga about Chinese martial arts, right? Since you know a little bit about acupuncture points, how about doing something on a martial artist who destroys his opponents by striking their acupressure points?" I wasn't sure what kind of a story that'd be, but I nearly cried, I was so happy he wanted me to work on another story. Talk about a second chance! Fist of the North Star debuted a year later. Without my editor and his acupressure points idea, I wouldn't be here today.

Hard Work and Dedication

RC: So, Tetsu No Don Quixote went down in flames, but your editor gave you a second chance with a new storyline that became the foundation for Fist of the North Star, right?

Hara: Yes. My one-part version of Fist of the North Star in a special edition of Weekly Shonen Jump was a hit and its success opened doors for me to write a serial for Jump. That was just a year after the demise of Tetsu No Don Quixote.

RC: You must have been under tremendous pressure while writing Fist of the North Star.

Hara: That's an understatement! When I started Tetsu No Don Quixote, I thought I had to put in 100% of myself into my work. I later realized that wasn't enough. What I really had to do was put 120% of myself into it.

RC: That was when the fad of light-hearted young male manga gave way to dramatic sagas like Fist of the North Star.

Hara: Yes. Creating Fist of the North Star was a lot of work and took a lot of time. Sleeping was out of the question.

RC: Your work was drawing raves from the start. That must mean you went straight without a break from the very beginning.

Hara: I couldn't even imagine taking a break. My editor Horie Nobu was strict - he wanted good work, and he was really pushing me to my limit. It was grueling. Like, I finished Episode 2 of the Fist of the North Star just under the deadline and he made me do 7 straight pages all over - right then and there.

RC: Was that the episode with the line "For the first time in a while, I feel as though I have met a real human being"?

Hara: Yes, that was one of the scenes I rewrote. Talk about hard, man! After I finished, Horie took me out to eat and lectured me big time. I was happy I'd produced my best work, but at the same time really ashamed that I couldn't get it right the first time. The next thing I knew, I was crying... in public.

RC: How did you feel about your editor Horie?

Hara: I was willing to give 120%, but I think he was way out of line. I hated him. Sure, I wanted to produce number-one work, but I didn't want to destroy myself as a human being.

RC: But Fist of the North Star ran 5 years! That's an amazing achievement!

Hara: Once you're popular, the publishers won't let go. The original deal was a 3-year run. I know something that popular should continue, but I wasn't sure it was going to be worth all the stress and pain in the long run.

RC: That's interesting because even after you finished Fist of the North Star, you continued to produce top work. Does this mean you could continue indefinitely?

Hara: It's my destiny as a manga artist. I just can't stop writing.

RC: How long was Horie your editor?

Hara: Until I began working on Hana no Keiji (Keiji). But that's when I found out how really valuable a strict editor was. My new editor would just tell me the general flow for the next episode. Horie was the complete opposite extremely specific about everything he'd give me specific scenes from movies that he wanted me to study before I started writing. He told me what to emphasize and what circumstances the hero should be put in. When I did things like he said, he chewed me out for not being creative enough. He was giving me a springboard for ideas and wanted me to take it a step further.

RC: So that's how a blockbuster is built?

Hara: It's the only way to do it. To put top-caliber manga in a weekly read by thousands, the writing, rewriting, critiquing and rewriting again and again can't be avoided. Writers are always striving to do better. I found this out when my editor was switched. Without this combination of the storyline writer, the editor and the artist, the manga just won't cut it.

RC: So how have things gone since?

Hara: I've worked with many editors, but Horie was the most driven. Sometime later, he asked me to do another title.

RC: What was that?

Hara: It was Kokenryoku Oryo Sosakan Nakabo Rintaro. And this has a story to go along with it.

RC: Tell us.

Hara: The editor-in-chief at Shueisha told me to keep away from Horie. He said that Horie had no status at work. He told me I'd regret it if I considered working with him again. I couldn't believe my ears! What part does office politics have in the manga process!? Horie was the reason behind the success of Fist of the North Star. He gave me a second chance. He made me see manga was my true calling. After what the editor-in-chief said about not working with him, I began thinking about my career and goals and the choices I would have to make. I finally decided that if editors I worked with were trapped in office politics, I could do without the company. I decided to work on Nakabo.

RC: Did Nakabo give you the confidence to work for another magazine?

Hara: The timing was critical. I was seriously thinking about my future and where I wanted to go. I was saved once again by Horie. When he left Shueisha, I went with him and we began publishing an entirely new magazine. It still continues to run today - you know, Weekly Comic Bunch.

RC: So what's been the secret to your successes?

Hara: One thing is for sure: For the manga process to succeed, the company has to put manga first, above and beyond anything else. It goes back to what I said about ambition and diligence. Thanks to ambition and diligence, Horie and I were able to create a company capable of producing Fist of the Blue Sky.

RC: Your eyes have been giving you trouble in producing Fist of the Blue Sky. Could you say something about that?

Hara: I have what's called conical cornea*. It means I can barely see out of one eye. This means I can't focus. I'm not trying to excuse it, but it makes it really difficult to draw. Even so, I remain dedicated in producing top-quality manga to readers. That's why we started the company. I feel bad when I have to postpone an episode or it doesn't turn out as well as I had hoped, but I intend to keep on as long as possible especially for my fans who give me my greatest hope.

RC: We're sure the readers out there appreciate all the hard work and dedication you put into your work. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to talk to us. We know you're pressed for time and have a deadline coming up.

Hara: It was my pleasure. Thank you.

* Conical cornea, or keratoconus, is a rare condition in which the cornea, or "clear window" at the font of the eye, thins and bows outward. It mainly affects people in their early 20s. It may be correctable with specialized contact lenses but requires cornea-replacement surgery if scarring occurs.

For more action and the full compelete interview, pick up RAIJIN COMICS issue 37 & 38.

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