From “A Perfect Day for Plesiosaur”

Image from Amazon.

Image from Amazon.

「完全なる首長竜の日」(Kanzen Naru Kubinagaryū no Hi) is a 2011 mystery/sci-fi novel by Rokurō INUI, published by Takarajima-sha. The title is translated to English and written on the book’s cover as “A Perfect Day for Plesiosaur,” in reference to a certain J.D. Salinger work.

I picked up this book on a whim before I left Japan. Since there was a Tsutaya next to my gym I’d often go in there after a workout and wander around. There was a monitor playing a trailer for the movie version of the book, titled REAL, and since it seemed like another good ol’ mind-bending story like Vanilla Sky or Inception I grabbed the paperback. Didn’t even have time to read it until I was back in the States!

While I haven’t seen the movie, from the trailer I can say that major plot points were changed for REAL. I recommend NOT watching the movie or even the trailer before reading the book.

For fun and practice, I translated this spoiler-free scene from Chapter 3. I’ll take this page down if the book ever gets an English release.

Chapter 3

“Hey,” I called out to Maki, who was deftly using Copic markers to finish coloring an illustration.

“Oh, sorry!” Maki spoke up worriedly, not knowing what I wanted. “I think I should be finished in about an hour.”

“Not that. How ‘bout a break?”

“Ah, I’ll make some coffee then,” Maki offered, about to get up.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make it. You just keep working.”

Maki bowed her head apologetically and turned back to the drawing.

I looked over toward Maki while standing in front of the espresso machine as it blew out steam. She really was a talented young woman.

I’m bad at coloring, and now I absolutely won’t do it. When I was young I had no choice but to do it myself, using watercolors and color pencils. But the results were so amateurish that once my work started selling, whenever I had to make a full-color illustration for  a magazine or the cover of a manga volume, I would temporarily hire a colorist.

Taking a cup of espresso in each hand, I walked toward Maki and peeked at my own drawing from over her shoulder. That drawing would become the cover of the last volume of my cancelled manga “Luxor,” which had been running in Pansy Extra. Focused on her work, Maki didn’t realize at all that I was standing behind her.

As might be expected, Maki’s artistic ability surpassed mine in all respects, for unlike an entirely self-taught artist like me, she had graduated from the design department of an art school.

Recently, there are more people who scan their line work into a computer and add color digitally to create illustrations and such. But when it came to making manga, both Maki and I were diehard analog types.

The markers Maki was using, Copics, come in many colors and have a brush tip. They’re well-loved in the art community. I ended up buying and supplying Maki with all 322 colors, despite being so poor at using them myself. I just couldn’t ignore Maki’s superior skill handling them.

Gazing with admiration at the nimble movements of Maki’s hands as she worked with several dozen Copics laid out beside her, I thought about what an unfortunate situation this must be for her.

It’s generally thought that rookies aiming to become professional manga artists only work as assistants until they go pro. But among these newcomers, there are many who end up turning into “professional assistants.” Those at risk are young people who, despite having undeniable talent (like Maki), make no effort to create their own work. Before they know it, they’ve become pro assistants, unable to make a living off their own creations. There is a jinx that staying on as an assistant for a long time means you’ll never be able to sell your own work. I myself debuted having almost no experience working as an assistant.

“Say, Maki…” I put the espresso cup down on the desk next to Maki’s, far from the illustration.

“Once this is done, you won’t have work for a while. What’ll you do?”

“Well…I’ll ask Mr. Sawano to introduce me to someone.”

“To be an assistant for another artist?”

“Yes. …Ah,” apparently misunderstanding me, Maki added hurriedly, “but I’ll come back right away when you start a new manga.”

“That’s no good,” I said in a lowered tone.

“Pardon?” Maki worriedly asked.

“You have to make your own manga. Draw anything lately?”

After thinking about my question for a while, Maki lightly shook her head sideways.

Maki had made her debut about three years ago, winning the Newcomer Award in Pansy Extra, the magazine I have a……had a serial in. The editor in charge was Sawano, and with a strong push from him, the prize-winning work was published in the main magazine. Sawano also recommended it to me and I read it. But being frank, the content of the story wasn’t the least bit impressive, a fact made all the more obvious by the strong contrast with the high-level drawing uncharacteristic of a rookie. It made me realize once again that manga isn’t about the pictures.

Contrary to Sawano’s expectations, the response in the reader surveys to Maki’s debut work was unfavorable. Sawano had pushed on fiercely with the intention of turning Maki into a wonder kid, one who could go straight from a one-shot story debut into a serialization deal. He was utterly dejected.

Not long after that, Sawano brought Maki to my place. In his usual manner, he came to me and said, “You’re bad at drawing, so it would really help you out to have an assistant like her. In exchange, I’ll have her learn and steal the storytelling techniques of a popular manga artist. You know, give-and-take.”

It was rude of him to say, but the experience truly did help Maki a lot. And I’ve come to dislike how I depend on her too much. I hired her to assist me exclusively. Save for when there’s a surge in the workload, I stopped using other assistants altogether. I wonder if this made it difficult for her to work on her own manga.

“Once you’ve got something, let me read it before taking it to Sawano.”

Maki nodded her head weakly in response.

According to what I’d heard from Sawano, Maki hasn’t even taken a draft to him in over a year. I think she must have lost her confidence. After having the story checked and critiqued mercilessly, being made to rework it over and over, and finally getting her editor, Sawano, to approve it for submission to the magazine, she had had her work flatly rejected at the editors’ meeting. At some point in that cycle, drawing manga probably stopped being fun, or maybe she just didn’t know what she should draw anymore. I figured this must be what she was going through.

Actually, I was like that too when I was young. Before I could get a manga serialized, I must have drawn no less than one thousand pages’ worth of storyboards with Sugiyama’s help, only to be turned down. Maki seemed to have a good relationship with her editor, so in her case the rest was up to her.

“Anyway, take this as an opportunity to lay off assistant jobs. You should work on your own stuff.”

“Yes, you’re right,” Maki said with eyes still downcast.

“Don’t worry. I’ll keep paying you the same as always for a little while.”

“What?”

“Yeah. For about a year. Get something published in that time, ‘cause I won’t look after you longer than that. Got it?”

Maki looked up surprised, then bowed her head repeatedly.

I myself wouldn’t have work for a while either. But even so, I thought Maki was a charming girl, and what’s more she had contributed that much to my work. Given her ability, it’s not as if she had been getting paid particularly well all this time. Paying one more year’s worth of salary was fair.

Once more instructing Maki to finish coloring the illustration, I took my cup of espresso and went back to my own desk.

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