Interview with Usamaru Furuya

Read our exclusive interview with the manga creator of Genkaku Picasso, Usamaru Furuya!
By January 24, 2012

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Last year, Genkaku Picasso creator Usamaru Furuya came to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival as a featured guest.

The presence of one of the most established, unique and artistic mangaka from Japan at TCAF merged the North American comics scene, which emphasizes good stories and art, with the true mindset of what manga is all about. Between a very busy schedule of panels and autograph events, Furuya Sensei kindly agreed to do an interview with SHONEN JUMP. At the top floor of the event site, Furuya Sensei quietly sat down and shared his thoughts on Genkaku Picasso and some very useful tips for aspiring mangaka dreamers from overseas.

About Usamaru Furuya

Usamaru Furuya made a splash with his 1994 manga debut in the legendary “underground” manga magazine Garo with his the four-panel series Palepoli, which appeared in the English-language anthology Secret Comics Japan. He also created a gag series called Short Cuts for Young Sunday magazine, which was serialized in the English-language manga magazine Pulp and then published by VIZ. His other works include Jisatsu Circle, The Chronicle of the Clueless Age and Happiness. Genkaku Picasso is Furuya’s first series for Jump SQ.

Teach Me Furuya Sensei!
Next Step on How to Become a Mangaka

Q: There are many people outside of Japan who grew up reading manga and wish to become a mangaka themselves. As a professional mangaka from Japan, could you give them any advice on how to get to the “next level” in creating manga?

Usamaru Furuya (UF): One piece of advice is to practice the “names” [ed. note: a rough storyboard]. In the creation of manga, the skill of drawing is like a muscle. The more you train, the more strength you can achieve. On the other hand, the skill of making a name is like the body’s reflexes. Every person has a limit on how much their reflexes can improve. But in actuality, they can be improved beyond your limit by practicing.

Someone once said “you can master any kind of skill with 10,000 hours of practice.” I also find this to be true. Making names was hard for me in the early stages of my career, but about five years ago I learned how to embrace myself and learned how to flow with the story. It took me fifteen years of practice until I was comfortable with that.

Furuya Sensei’s refined art style is rooted in a lot of practice and analysis.

Of course, there are a few stylistic techniques that are unique to manga that every mangaka pays attention to. For example, every manga page is considered a spread image. In every last panel of the spread there’s an image that makes you want to turn the page. Also, the speech bubbles in manga are placed to help the reader’s eyes navigate from panel to panel.

If you are interested in drawing manga, I would recommend you to try mosha (imitative drawing) of your favorite manga. Start with a rough sketch of a chapter. If you are focused, you can copy the entire chapter in one week or so. The more you use this process, the more you will understand manga.

It’s also important when you are doing mosha to pay attention to every detail and the intent of the drawing. When you actively involve yourself this way, you will realize completely different things about that manga—panels, flow, how much details are drawn in the background, etc. When you analyze the manga, you will be able to incorporate it into yourself and your own work.

Drawing manga consists of half aesthesics and half analysis­­. It’s like a puzzle. You must use both sides of your brain to draw manga. Your right half comes up with a story, and your left half constructs it. At first, this is really painful because it’s hard. But if you go through this struggle, you will be able to master it at some point. It’s like the strengths of the “muscle” and the “reflexes” finally coming together.

Genkaku Picasso: A life of a troubled kid

Q: Genkaku Picasso manga volume 3 debuted at TCAF, and the complete series is now available. To those who haven’t read Genkaku Picasso yet, how would you describe the series?

UF: It might be a little difficult for young kids to get into, but I would recommend it to junior high and high school readers. But I think Genkaku Picasso is appropriate for anybody who has experienced troubles in their life or has troubled friends at school. If you don’t have any problems in your life, you don’t need to read it. You can probably live happily for the rest of your life. But the truth is, there is nobody who doesn’t have any problems in his or her life. [laughs] So if you even once felt this way about your love, or parents or friends, or about yourself, you will probably get it.

The original work is written in Japanese, but I believe that these kinds of topics and feelings are universal. You will come across these problems anywhere in the world regardless of where you are. So instead of thinking that Genkaku Picasso is a story about a distant place, think of it as a story of your own life and classroom. There’s got to be kids like Picasso in America too. [laughs]

Hikari Hamura a.k.a. Picasso is the protagonist of Genkaku Picasso. He never really cared about anybody until he was blessed with the power to draw and help his troubled classmates by diving into drawings of their psyche.

Q: Before you became a mangaka, you used to be an art teacher at a high school. If you were Picasso’s teacher, how would you describe Picasso or interact with him?

UF: A student like Picasso would usually never open up, especially to a teacher. So it would be difficult to give any kind of advice to kids like him. But I could teach art to a student like him, because he is serious about art. If I could help him solve one problem with art, that would take away at least one of his troubles.

Q: What about if you were Picasso’s friend? How would you describe him?

UJ: Actually… Picasso is myself. I was the kind of student who was always drawing. I didn’t have any friends, and I was hoping that if I get better at art, maybe girls would like me, which was totally not the case. [laughs] Even then, I was hoping that if I get better at drawing, I could somehow connect with somebody through it. And it did help me find good friends at art school, and now it is my career, which allows me to connect with so many people in the world. If I was Picasso, I would be very happy about that.

Q: Thank you very much for taking the time on giving great advice and personal insight into Genkaku Picasso. And thank you for always coming up with such wonderful manga!

Special message from Furuya Sensei to SJ readers: "Genkaku Picasso vol. 1–3 is available now!"

Buy all three volumes of Genkaku Picasso, available at!

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Interview by Misaki C. Kido (@Onnabancho_J