Japan Seeks to Preserve Original Manga Drawings; New Organization Aims to Collect, Store 360,000 Pieces

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Original drawings from the “Tsurikichi Sanpei (Sanpei the Fisher Boy)” manga series by Takao Yaguchi are seen at the Yokote Masuda Manga Museum in Yokote, Akita Prefecture.

The government and members of the publishing industry are increasingly working to preserve original manga drawings — Kodansha Ltd., and other publishers have established an organization to safeguard manga materials, while the Cultural Affairs Agency’s budgetary requests for fiscal 2024 included funds for a model project to establish an appropriate system.

With the destruction and outflow overseas of original manga drawings becoming an issue, the parties involved plan to help a wider range of people learn about the value of such works.

Sold for ¥35 million

“The papers have yellowed year after year, which troubles me,” said Shosuke Tsuge, 47, the eldest son and manager of Yoshiharu Tsuge, 85, a manga artist internationally acclaimed for such surreal works as “Nejishiki (Screw Style).”

When his father’s complete collection was published in 2020, Shosuke organized the original manga drawings at Yoshiharu’s house and took them to the printer.

At that time, he discovered the deterioration of the papers and other problems, which made him seriously think about the preservation of original manga drawings.

“We should preserve original drawings of manga works from my father’s generation, partly to serve as a record of the history of manga, ” Shosuke said.

Original manga drawings are the initial manuscripts used to make plates for printing. In the past, they weren’t treated with much care and some were discarded after magazines and books were printed. For text portions, such as dialogue in speech balloons, typed words printed on another paper were attached directly to the original manuscripts. The glue would become discolored, causing damage to the original drawings.

Original manga drawings are not just popular among fans — they also have drawn attention for their artistic value in recent years, because they contain handwritten drawings and lines. An original drawing from Osamu Tezuka’s work “Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy)” was purchased by a collector in Europe for about ¥35 million at an auction in Paris.

However, facilities to preserve original manga drawings, such as the Kyoto International Manga Museum, are limited.

“We’ve received a number of inquiries about people wanting to submit items, so we now have a waiting list for people wanting to give us materials,” a museum official said.

Cross-industry effort

Amid these circumstances, a general incorporated association called the “manga archive organization” was established by publishers and other parties in May. Its members include an association comprising 15 comics publishers.

Major manga publishing companies including Kodansha, Shueisha Inc., Shogakukan Inc. and Kadokawa Corp. invested ¥10 million each in the organization, which aims to collect and keep 360,000 original manga drawings in cooperation with art museums across Japan over the next five years.

The organization is a cross-industry project resulting from discussions among publishers, the Cultural Affairs Agency, universities and others on the preservation of original manga drawings. For now, it is based out of the Yokote Masuda Manga Museum in Yokote, Akita Prefecture, and there are plans to strengthen its capacity to house original manga drawings in the future.

The museum houses more than 450,000 original drawings of works by 183 manga artists including Yokote-born Takao Yaguchi, who is known for his “Tsurikichi Sanpei (Sanpei the Fisher Boy).” Storage locations of original drawings will be expanded to the Kansai region and other places depending on the situation.

In the global manga market, works from Japan are said to represent nearly 50% of sales. However, unless a proper preservation system for original drawings is established, it could affect international exhibitions and research activities in the future.

“We want to bring the whole industry together so original manga drawings will not end up like ukiyo-e wood prints,” many of which were widely dispersed overseas around the Meiji era (1868 to 1912), said Hiroaki Morita, senior managing director of Kodansha and former chief editor for the company’s Weekly Shonen Magazine.

Animation cels

The Cultural Affairs Agency is now working in earnest to protect Japanese manga culture, and has included funds for a model project to collect and preserve original manga drawings and animation cels in its budgetary request for next fiscal year. The agency is also considering special exhibitions of original manga drawings and building a new national exhibition facility.

Manga has served as a gateway, helping to increase fans of Japanese culture. Chihayafuru, a manga about the competitive karuta card game that was also made into a movie, is said to have helped promote the game to foreign nationals.

“Even the British Museum hosted a large exhibition featuring original drawings of Japanese manga,” said Kaichiro Morikawa, an associate professor of contemporary Japanese culture at Meiji University who is familiar with manga and anime archives.

“The central government should establish a system to preserve these materials from a broader perspective, not solely depending on the current reputation of manga artists or their award-winning backgrounds,” Morikawa said.

Thought must be given to a proper system to systematically preserve and utilize original manga drawings.