Japanese Manga Culture: Original Drawings Have Value, Should Be Preserved

Original drawings for manga books and magazines are highly valuable as works of art and cultural assets. Publishers and others concerned should establish a system for collecting and preserving them to prevent the drawings from being scattered or sent overseas.

The original drawings created by manga authors are used to make plates when printing the magazines and books. In the past, they were discarded once the printing was done.

In recent years, manga has become recognized, not only as a form of entertainment for children, but also as a cultural art form that can be enjoyed by adults. It has also gained attention overseas and has become one of Japan’s most well-known forms of content.

As a result of its popularity, the value of original manga drawings is being reevaluated as they retain the authors’ hand-drawn images.

In 2018, original drawings of Osamu Tezuka’s masterpiece “Astro Boy” were put up for auction in Paris, and a European collector bought them for about ¥35 million.

It has been said that manga artists have received offers directly from overseas buyers to purchase their original drawings.

At the British Museum’s “Manga” exhibition in London in 2019, about 240 original drawings by 50 popular manga artists were displayed, among other items. Similar exhibitions have also been held in various cities across Japan.

While the value of original manga drawings is being reevaluated in Japan and abroad, measures to collect and preserve them have not moved as quickly. This is due to many of them being kept by the manga authors themselves or their surviving families. If nothing is done, the drawings might be lost or sent overseas.

In May 2023, 15 domestic publishers worked together to establish the Manga Archive Center, which aims to preserve and pass on original drawings and other materials, with the goal of collecting 360,000 original drawings over the next five years.

It is estimated that more than 60 million original drawings are still in Japan. The first step is to find out who is preserving the originals and what condition they are in.

Securing facilities to store the originals is also an issue. Currently, the Yokote Masuda Manga Museum in Yokote, Akita Prefecture, the hometown of Takao Yaguchi, who is the creator of “Tsurikichi Sanpei” (“Fisherman Sanpei”), is one of only a few facilities that can store a large amount of original drawings.

In addition to establishing such facilities in areas associated with manga artists, it would be a good idea for galleries and museums in Japan to collect and exhibit the valuable original artworks.

Such a move would provide more opportunities for people other than manga fans to see the appeal of the original art, and it would also help increase efforts to collect them.

There is also a movement to reevaluate the value of weekly and monthly manga magazines. The pages that include letters from readers and advertisements in these magazines provide a snapshot of the social climate and culture of when they were published.

Last year, Kumamoto University established a new facility to collect manga books and magazines. The facility reportedly will accept submissions from outside parties to add to their collections. Attention should be paid to such steady efforts.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 6, 2024)