Manga artistry is not a new industry, by any means. It has been there since before the dawn of the century and has been a popular medium of storytelling in Japan for even longer. The process of line art, inking, and shading to tell intricate stories can be time-consuming, but that’s what makes the traditional style of creating manga so beautiful. But could manga artists be shifting gears into the digital realm?
It wouldn’t be a novel thing. For years now animators and artists have been trading in paper and pen for tablets and computer screens. It’s convenient when you can have all your tools in a single computer program. It’s more compact because it doesn’t take up as much room. It also tends to be faster, easy to edit, etc.
But it has been a slow trend amongst mangaka, who still prefer ink over pixels. Hand-drawn manga is still the standard in the industry, with most artists creating every painstaking detail without the use of an entire team of apprentices. There are, of course, mangakas who do digital work, but it isn’t very common because it’s considered hard to make the shift.
However, there is something to be said about authenticity and how that plays into the dichotomy between hand-drawn art and digital art, even if one is more difficult than the other. But is the argument just as simple as saying ‘mangakas prefer the hard work’? Not quite. There are merits to both art styles, so let’s discuss them.
Hand-Drawn Manga Art: Traditional And Accessible
Drawing manga by hand has been the style most preferred by mangakas over history for a reason. As stated before, the art style is much, much older than previously believed but the definitive style was established somewhere around the 19th century.
That style has since persevered, being adopted by everyone, from beginner manga artists to seasoned industry giants. There’s a reason why hand-drawn is so popular, and the main factor is how accessible it is to people just starting in the field. Maybe you’re a hobbyist and can’t afford expensive digital art tools or the space for them just to try something out. But everyone can get access to some pen, paper, and ink.
Most artists are very accustomed to the traditional method because that’s what they start with. That’s what they have the strongest hold in. For them, the feel of the drawing also matters, to know that they are creating a physical product. It also helps that it’s the industry’s default standard, whereas any other way is considered not as good or ‘authentic’.
Digital Manga Art: Polished and Convenient
I wouldn’t say digital drawing is considered to be frowned upon in the manga industry but there is a certain brown-nosing shoved at it. This is understandable, considering how Japan values tradition over modernization.
Digital artistry is certainly more convenient, with its ability to work in layers and rework aspects that would get an entire page thrown in the bin if done through traditional ink and paper. It’s easier to erase mistakes and polish the art in digital thanks to how the medium works.
But the biggest issue that works to its detriment is affordability. Tablets are not cheap and getting a setup for something like that isn’t easy. Not to mention how there is a significant learning curve from one art style to the other. It’s not as simple as just drawing normally, there is a certain hand-to-eye disconnect that happens because tablets aren’t made to be looked upon while drawing to see the progress.
That makes it a foreign and uncomfortable process to adjust yourself to when you’re already fluent in another, no matter what convenience it allows.
Could There Be A Compromise?
Some mangaka works predominantly with traditional hand-drawn art and then some have wholeheartedly adopted the digital art wave. But there is a middle ground between the two.
While hand-drawn art has its charm, it also has its setbacks when it comes to correcting mistakes, creating consistent backgrounds, and the time it takes to finesse the final product. With digital, it’s about the disconnect from the norm and how it isn’t accessible for everyone to both buy an expensive system and also spend time relearning an entirely new method.
Perhaps that’s why many big manga houses and artists have adopted a sort of hybrid method, where they utilize both art styles to their best abilities and combine them to create the ultimate work of art. With digital art, it is easier to render the backgrounds and clean up things after the mangaka sends in the detailed hand-drawn panels. This amalgamation of the two is a little tricky to get working in routine, but when it does it both cuts the time crunch and the pressure.
So, yes, mangakas do often work and experiment using digital art methods, but the medium is very dependent on hand-drawn manga over anything.