The SILENT MANGA AUDITION (SMA) is an international manga award, aimed at connecting Japan with the world through the power of manga. We invited Russian manga artist and SMA Masterclass member, SIDEBURN004 to talk about her Grand Prix award, along with her other projects.
Artist Profile: Sideburn004
A resident of St. Petersburg, Russia, manga artist SIDEBURN004 has been making comic books and manga for over 15 years. Winning the coveted “Best Manga” prize for her collaborative work “Heart of the Maze” in Russia’s biggest comic competition ComMissiya 2013, SIDEBURN004 capitalized on her success by making it into the final round of Shoen Magazine’s manga competition, earning praise from several Japanese manga editors in the process.
2017 also saw the Russian mangaka win the celebrated Grand Prix Award in one of the world’s biggest international manga competition, the SILENT MANGA AUDITION®. With her award winning work “Checkmate” bringing her to the attention of COAMIX’s manga magazine Monthly Comic Zenon, the host company of the SMA, she was commissioned to collaborate with manga artist Matsuri Mido on an original story, ushering in her Japanese manga debut.
About creative activities
Q: What initially interested you in the Silent Manga Audition?
A: At the time when I started participating in SMA there were not many international manga contests. Usually, participation was required to create a job in English or Japanese, so a competition where words and dialogues were not necessary to use, of course caught my attention. In addition, familiar artists also took part in it and even received prizes, which also prompted me to join.
Q: Silent Manga is all about manga without dialogue. Was this the first time you created a manga without words, and did you have fun conveying a story in this ingenious way?
A: Yes, I think it was the first time I had to draw a story without dialogue. On the one hand, it was much simpler as it was not necessary to think about translating from Russian into other languages. But on the other hand, dialogue is usually a very important part of the narration, the text can be used to complement the image and explain what is happening on the pages, with properly chosen words you can create the right atmosphere and enhance the effect from the moment. In the case of silent manga, it was necessary to convey the development of the plot and emotions through drawings alone, which was quite difficult at first. The best part in working on silent manga is that you don’t need to figure out how to fit the dialogue balloons into the composition of the frame, you focus only on the pictures.
Q: Please tell us about your three Silent Manga Audition award winning works (Checkmate; New Land; Bright Like a Flame, Soft Like a Water). What did you like about them, and what difficulties did you have producing them?
A: Before starting Bright Like a Flame, I drew a few stories with a writer but did not achieve a meaningful result. This was before I ever participated in an SMA extra-round. But I was very touched by the topic of that round with the idea of supporting the prefecture of Kumamoto and giving them smiles and positive emotions. I had never visited Kumamoto, but I was very impressed with photos of its natural beauty. I saw the phrase “Kumamoto is a land of fire,” and I immediately imagined the spirit of fire born in an ancient volcano. But Kumamoto also has a beautiful coast, rivers and waterfalls, so my spirit of fire could not exist without the spirit of water. History is born with this interaction of opposites. I drew everything very quickly without the help of a writer, so was very surprised that my work won a prize!
Inspired by the success of the Kumamoto round, I continued to participate in the main SMA round with Checkmate. When I heard theme was “Fair play”, the first thought that came to my mind was “Fair play with death, when life is at stake”. I understood that such a story could have been too dark for the competition, so I continued to look for other ideas. But as time went on and the deadline neared, I decided to return to the original idea. I wanted to portray a calm game of chess in a dynamic manner, to mix the composition of active characters with movement and a quiet chess game. I tried to add a positive finale, proving that all the efforts of the protagonist were not in vain.
I was fascinated by the process of creating Checkmate. So when I had 5 more days to go, I decided to draw Fair Play. I liked the fairy characters so much that I decided to continue their adventures in a new work for “Wasamon” themed Kumamoto round. Honestly, “Wasamon” was one of the most difficult themes from the SMA!
Note: Wasamon = A Kumamoto dialect for "Someone who likes new things"
I spent a very long time looking for a suitable idea that could combine the themes of innovation, invention and Kumamoto. But this time, as a masterclass participant I could get the help of an editor, so together we tried to create an interesting and understandable story.
Q: You draw comics that read from right to left, in a typical manga reading order. When did you start drawing comics in this format? Also, please let us know if there are any points that you are aware of, or consider important when you draw manga in the Japanese format.
A: This is the eternal question! Which direction should manga be drawn in western countries? We think that if we write the text from left to right, then the story panels should be located in the same direction. Before exploring authentic Japanese manga, I made comics from left to right. But when I started to read a lot of manga, I got used to reading from right to left and now it’s harder to read comics in the opposite direction (for example, “Manhua” or “Manhwa”?).
So it's easier for me to use the Japanese comic format, it's just a matter of habit. When most readers see a black and white comic with a Japanese manga frame arrangement, they automatically read from right to left. So I think this is not a problem, everyone can choose which direction to draw a story.
Q: Japanese and Russian manga is very different, so could you tell us about the common differences and similarities between Japanese and Russian manga?
A: Difficult question! At first glance, they may look alike, so you wouldn’t immediately distinguish a black and white European comic from an authentic manga. But as Russia is both a Western and Eastern country in terms of its location and “character”, manga created in Russia is defiantly influenced by both Western and Eastern comic book traditions.
Many readers believe that Russian manga is still developing, that it can't be called a manga.
But as our interest in manga is relatively recent, it is generally made by young artists and therefore it's no surprise that they have no experiencein creating good stories.
We practically have no manga schools where students can officially gain an education in manga making. Most often, young artists can attend various master classes, where they get basic knowledge from artists and more experienced mangaka. Or the author himself can search for information about creating manga on the Internet (for example, watch the short video lessons from SMA). The most important difference is that we do not have professional manga editors. Usually manga in Russia is created by one person or a group of co-authors, but there isn’t anyone who would be willing to lead the author in the right direction and develop their talent.
Q: As this is your first experience of working with a Japanese publisher, how do you communicate with the editor in charge? Please tell us in detail about the workflow of creating comics remotely. Specifically, were the meetings and original storyboards supplied in English?
A: Yes, all communication takes place in English using SNS. Due to the time difference of 6 hours, we can communicate productively for just a few hours a day, so it is very important to discuss all the issues quickly otherwise you will have to wait until the next morning. It is very beneficial to discuss work with my editor, as I always receive professional opinions about my ideas. If I don’t have any new ideas at all, my editor suggests story concepts or offers me clues of where to look for them, which is a great help for inspiration.
Q: You created a manga set in a Japan, so how did you find and collect reference materials?
A: If I need to portray real place locations, Google maps help a lot! For the Kumamoto round of SMA, the organizers of the competition provided participants with photos of Kumamoto Prefecture, which helped to visualize locations. Sometimes I use my own photos that I have taken during my travels around Japan.
About Sideburn 004
Q: When did you realize you wanted to become a manga artist? And when did you first start drawing?
A: As far as I can remember, I first began to draw from early childhood. That is why at around 9 or 10 years old, I began to attend a local art school where, for 5 years I studied the basics of painting, graphics and composition. I think I got to know comics around the same time.
I always loved to write my own stories, but I always wanted to add more illustrations to the text. So I decided that comics was the perfect form for creating my own stories. I first discovered manga around 16 or 17, when the first official Russian translation of Ranma ½ by Rumiko Takahashi. From there, I would collect Russian manga in children's magazines, and on the Internet, where I could see even more manga.
The first thing that impressed me was the way manga depicted emotions, drawn in incredible black and white. At that time I was already familiar with anime, and it was because of the bright emotions of the characters that I wanted to know more about this medium. When I realized that drawing manga in black and white was relatively quick, I decided that I would develop my skill in this medium - yes, I’m a very lazy person!
Q: When was the first time you completed a manga for submission, and what was the subject?
A: I do not remember when I completed my first story ... Most likely it was a short manga for a local art contest. I love manga series very much and become easily attached to the characters, so it was very difficult to draw a short story and part with the characters. As for the SMA competition, my first round had the theme “Smile”, so I created a story about an orphan girl who had never seen a smile before. But the ending of the story was happy!
Q: Do you read Japanese manga or manga from other countries? Which writers do you respect and are especially influenced by?
A: Of course I read Japanese manga! I love shonen-genre very much, so my most favorite works were published in Shonen Jump magazine, including Bleach; My Hero Academia; Naruto; One-Piece and others. I also read a lot of shonen and shoujo Manga from other magazines too, but they are published much less frequently which is why it is so difficult to wait for the sequel!
As for manga from other countries, the French “Radiant” work by Tony Valente has had the strongest impression on me lately. I was impressed by its spirit of classic shonen story, humor and interesting characters. Not surprisingly, this work even received an anime adaptation!
Q: Several stages of production are required to make a manga, including story structuring, frame division, pen and finishing. Which is your favorite stage?
A: Every stage of manga creation brings pain and suffering! Yet at the same time, each stage is interesting and loved in its own way. Every stage has its own level of complexity - though they are very different.
At the stage of creating a concept and characters, you need to approach with a maximum level of fantasy, and then sort through a whole bunch of options. At the stage of creating the script and storyboarding, it is necessary to think with the text of the dialogues in mind, along with the location of frames and other details. In the process of creating lines, it is already possible “not to include the head” — this is mechanical work, but it also requires some concentration. At the final stage of adding screenshots and text, you are already waiting for the result of the work; you cannot wait to see how it all will look as a whole.
Q: What is essential when making manga? Such as certain drinks, types of background music etc.
A: At the first stages of creating a concept and a script, I prefer to think in silence and alone - I need to use maximum mental effort and nothing should interfere. At the further stages of the sketches and the line, you can already relax - anything can be used for background noise - music, TV shows etc. But when I am involved in work, I can sit at the table for many hours without thinking about food or drinks, so there are no preferences there either.
Q: Other than drawing manga, what else do you enjoy?
A: I love watching blockbusters on the big screen. I’m a very “visual person”, so watching IMAX movies plays a big part in inspiring me.
Q: We hear you also work as a writer of manga. What challenges do you face drawing and writing a story? Also, what advice would you give to team (writer and artist)?
A: On the one hand, it is difficult to coordinate the script and drawing at the same time, as it takes a lot of time. But often I see scripted moments in a finished storyboard and think how I can simplify the work.
The peculiarity of working with the writer is that you may not think about the plot and characters, as you are only focused on the visual elements. But I would advise the artist and the writer to agree everything in advance, such as can the artist make any corrections to the script and the appearance of the characters, can the writer interfere with the artwork, if he imagined a particular scene differently ... Often, the great difficulty is that the writer does not imagine how his textual narrative will look on a storyboard, yet there is a difference between text for a book and a script for a comic / movie. Therefore, I would recommend the writer try to present his or her work to the artist in the form of a storyboard, even if they does not know how to draw at all.
Digital Drawing and Clip Studio Paint
Q: Please tell us a little about how you work. What tools do you use?
A: For work, I prefer Wacom Cintiq graphic tablets with a PC on Windows and Ipad Pro - these tools are very convenient for professional work, as you can create and not think about technical problems.
Q: When did you start drawing comics and illustrations digitally? Why did you switch to digital manga creation?
A: I bought my first graphics tablet more than 10 years ago, which I used to draw illustrations and add screentones and text to manga pages (screentones are difficult and expensive to get in Russia, therefore the most convenient way is to use graphic programs). I started drawing manga completely digitally only after I had a Wacom Cintiq, which allows me to control the pen line just like on paper. Also, Clip Studio Paint allows you to select the “real G-pen” tool for the line, which is really similar to a “paper” ink line. Now I often use a mixed traditional and digital way in creating manga which is the perfect balance for me.
Q: You said you use analog and digital work separately. Which process do you apply digitally? Please tell us your work procedure.
A: Usually I do most of the work with traditional paper materials. After creating the script, I draw small thumbnails about 3x5 cm with a rough storyboard, then I sketch on the standard sheets. Then I can do the lines on paper with ink or on a PC using a graphics tablet. Sometimes I do the final sketches on the tablet as well, but for me it is not very comfortable, because it is difficult to perceive the entire sheet as a whole and to arrange the composition correctly. The final stage I always spend in digital form - add screentones, effects and text on the PC.
Q: Why did you decide to use analog and digital together?
A: I love the feeling of working with traditional materials - the smoothness of paper, the sound that a pen and ink makes when drawing a line, some unevenness and roughness of the line from the pen, the smell and the sound of drawing markers on paper. With digital drawing, I like the ability to quickly correct something in the drawing and use a variety of materials to add atmosphere and effects. It is also often not always convenient to use paints / markers / ink somewhere, and the tablet can be used for work everywhere.
Q: Have there been any major changes in the way of work, or the pace of work since digital methods were introduced?
A: I do not think that the speed of work has changed a lot. I still can’t call myself a completely digital person, so some steps like creating a sketch page can take as much time as working on paper. I think that inking on paper is sometimes even faster than on PC.
Q: Do you use Clip Studio Paint for your digital work? If so, please tell us the reasons why you choose this product.
A: Clip Studio Paint is my favorite program for creating manga! It has everything you need, from creating a page sketch to adding text. It is very convenient to select the desired page size and set the required sheet boundaries requested by the publisher. In addition, the program has a large selection of tools for work.
Q: Please tell us your three favorite functions of Clip Studio Paint!
A: I really like using the “real G-pen” tool to create the “most vibrant” lines. With the help of rulers and perspectives it is very convenient to draw “speedlines” and backgrounds. For screentones, I mostly use the ability to apply a tone to the entire image layer at once, this greatly speeds up the work.
Q: What subjects would you like to tackle in your next manga?
A: I always have lots of ideas, so let's see which of them I’ll be allowed to develop in the near future. No spoilers though, haha!!
- Thank you so much for your time!
SILENT MANGA AUDITION®
One of the biggest and most successful manga competitions in the world, the SILENT MANGA AUDITION® has been encouraging the making of international manga for 7 years. Organized by Coamix, Inc., a company founded by some of Japan's most iconic manga creators, the competition aims to find, nurture and publish the next generation of international manga creators for an eventual debut in the Japanese manga industry.