A Comics Artist Pursues Happiness
IN THE early 1970’s, I was a leading comics artist with Kodansha, a prestigious publishing firm in Japan. I was only 23, but I had a monthly income of from 300,000 to 400,000 yen, three or four times what was earned by a male college graduate with several years of experience in a major company. Also, after two years of courtship, my love for a promising young man seemed about to blossom into marriage.
What propelled me to national prominence was the comic serial entitled Happiness, which started in February 1972. Its theme was “An underprivileged girl, Shima, pursues happiness.” I extolled dramatically the preciousness of human love. My objective, however, was not to enhance the spiritual welfare of young readers but, rather, to create a successful serial.
I never dreamed then that I was yet to learn the meaning of true happiness and start a new life when the serial concluded after 46 weeks. What was that new start? First, let me tell you how I became a comics artist.
Road to Becoming a Comics Artist
Although my parents were poor, they valued education and did not skimp on money for books. Besides those books, I also read monthly magazines for girls. I was captivated by the comics they contained. Not satisfied with just reading, I started to draw comic characters.
When I was young, only three monthly comic books for girls were available. However, times changed. Even university students and adults began to read comic books openly. The Asahi Evening News observed recently: “What kind of book can be so influential that even television has trouble competing? In Japan, the answer is the comic book. There’s a type of ‘manga,’ or comic book, for everyone in Japan.”
The Mainichi Daily News reported in 1986: “Nearly one-third of all books and magazines published in Japan are Manga—in a 300 billion yen industry with an annual circulation reaching 1.5 billion.” And early last year the paper said: “As of August 1986, 21 different comic books for adult female readers were on sale, with a combined monthly circulation of 58 million copies.”
As I was growing up, new comics artists were in demand. While I was a senior in high school, one of the biggest publishing firms in Japan ran the very first contest in search of new cartoonists. Delighted, I entered the contest but failed. The following year my work made the final selection. The third year I received notice from the publishing company: “You won the 1969 Third Kodansha Award for the Rookie Cartoonist for Children’s Comics.” These words had a magical effect on me, causing me to throw myself completely into my work.
For an artist to have work published in a commercial magazine requires rigid training. Every week I had to incorporate an exciting climax to the serial, as well as conclude in a way that compelled readers to buy the next issue. This is not easy. Editorial staff go over the work with critical eyes. In businesslike tones lacking sympathy, they say, “This here, that there—not at all publishable quality!”
Being a novice, I could not refute them. “I’ll adjust those immediately,” I would say dejectedly. Then I would rush home and work all night. Even after obediently adjusting the work four or five times, the editors still would not be satisfied. I often wept alone, being at a loss as to where and how I should make changes.
Yet, I liked this work. So I did my best to comply with the editor’s wishes. Yielding to the staff, who were thoroughly aware of readers’ reactions, contributed to my success. Soon I ranked high in popularity polls, which was unusual for a novice. In time, I was competing for first place in popularity votes with the very cartoonists who had been the objects of my admiration. The comic serial Happiness, which started in the third year of my debut, was from its beginning ranked the most popular of all the comics.
The characters I drew made the covers of Girls’ Friend, one of the two major comic magazines for girls in Japan. This meant my name sold the magazine. But, sadly, I was not really achieving the happiness that I wrote about.
What Was Life Like?
As I became popular, my life-style changed, especially after I moved to Tokyo and started living in an apartment. I behaved just like the other popular cartoonists, who would go out after work to bars and clubs till the wee hours of the morning, only to sleep during the daytime.
In order to maintain popularity, I had to draw more sensational pictures and at the same time produce more. I never had enough time because I was not a fast worker and would not compromise when it came to quality. Not taking a bath for days and not cleaning my room for a month were not at all unusual. I would sometimes work 30 or 40 hours straight to meet deadlines. I sacrificed everything for my work.
This resulted in the frustration of having money but not having time to spend it. So I began squandering money, buying a new dress every month yet seldom wearing it. I used taxis wherever I went and started spending tens of thousands of yen at a time on records. This only enhanced the emptiness I felt.
In this world where popularity counts, vicious rivalry intensifies as popularity increases. Somebody stepping up the ladder means somebody else is going down. Once you reach the top, the other cartoonists become your enemies seeking to topple you from that position. What if your popularity decreases? Once the copy money, or payment for your work goes up, it seldom comes down. So when your popularity dwindles and your copy money remains high, no work comes in. You are then forgotten.
Even though my feeling of accomplishment was great, in the world of successful comics artists, I found emptiness and restlessness, like a wind blowing through my heart. Yet, I did not want to admit it.
Source of True Happiness?
In October 1971 a presentable young man knocked on my door. He was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After a few visits, he introduced his mother, saying, “My mother will now take over.”
I had the fame and money that I desired, but I looked neither as wealthy nor as happy as Mrs. Satogami, who helped me with my Bible study. Even my feelings toward my steady boyfriend did not sparkle as much as the joy she displayed when she talked about her God, Jehovah. What made the difference? I wanted to find out if the Bible was the key.
But finding time to study was difficult, especially with my routine of going to bed at noon, getting up at six p.m. and working till noon the next day. I often woke up at the sound of the doorbell, washed, and then started the study.
Eventually, I began to talk to my assistants and my boyfriend about what I was learning. ‘They should all know this,’ I thought. Above all, I wanted my boyfriend to study. He did not, however, show any interest, and every time the subject came up, he turned sullen. I was baffled and felt uneasy. Am I being deceived just as he says? Would I lose him someday if I continued? The thought of losing him was unbearable. We had fallen intensely in love, or so we thought, and I did not even feel like working if he did not telephone me. To be his bride was my cherished dream.
As I progressed in my study, other things started to disturb me. My life and my outlook on life were far removed from the Bible’s standards. Considering that comics reflect the author’s opinions and that they influence tens of thousands of sensitive children, I trembled at the seriousness of my responsibility. My confidence fled as I realized that through the dialogues of my comic characters, I might be advocating things that are wrong. Just from reading the fan letters that came in every week, I knew exactly how young minds react to those short dialogues.
As a professional, however, I had to write comics that would sell. What sells well is obvious from the immoral and violent comics now flourishing. Being a leading comics artist, I was expected to cater to the demand of such readers. I had the knack of stirring dreamy girls’ feelings because I depicted in a pleasant way teenagers’ falling in love and having relationships. In fact, that was the major reason for my early success.
I faced a dilemma. What I had studied in the Bible prompted me to want to change, but I lacked a strong motivating force. I believed in evolution and did not recognize the existence of a Creator. On the other hand, I could not deny that what I was studying sounded logical and reasonable.
Oh, how I wished my boyfriend would look into this with me! But he never agreed to do that. Finally, he said one day, “I’m scared to examine it.” What a coward! I started to doubt whether he really loved me. And myself? Could it be that I was in love with love itself?
A Turning Point
In May 1972, when I attended a public meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses for the second time, I was introduced to another young Bible student of Mrs. Satogami. We took a liking to each other, and I promised to visit her apartment later that day. On my way, I slipped and sprained my ankle. This compelled me to stay with her overnight.
That evening I happened to pick up a book from her bookshelf. It was entitled Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation? I wanted to know what was in that book. Though the curtain was closed, dim street light seeped in. I concealed myself behind the curtain, and trying very hard not to let the light fall in my sleeping friend’s direction, I began reading the book.
What a wonderful book that was! Many times tears interrupted my reading. When day dawned, I had almost gone through the whole book. I could not hold back my tears. The evolution theory is wrong! A grand Creator of the universe and of mankind exists! That was the most touching night I have ever experienced in my life. There is a God! Logical evidences are right here at hand. How could I shy away from serving almighty God any longer?
As I started to associate with others having the same desire to serve God, what had seemed so enjoyable—going out to drink and indulging in empty conversation—now appeared vain. I was now disgusted with my friends’ filthy language and their bragging about their obscene escapades.
As individuals, the editorial staff and fellow cartoonists were very nice people. But waves of Satan’s permissive spirit had swept into our comic book world and eroded it. People speak out of the abundance of their hearts. (Matthew 12:34) Immoral comics reflect the values of those who offer them. Who can successfully deny that Satan has subtly used some comic books as a powerful weapon to encourage immoral and violent conduct? I myself had to admit that, week after week, I had promoted immoral thinking through my comics.
After considering the type of person I am, I decided that it was impossible to put God first in my life and continue to work as a popular comics artist. I told the editorial staff that I was going to quit. I also ended the relationship with my boyfriend.
The Way of Happiness
The comic serial entitled Happiness concluded in December 1972, with Shima starting a new life filled with hope. I too started on a new way of life a week after completing the serial. I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah God.
In June 1973, when my contract ran out, I quit my work as a comics artist, and in September I became a full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the meantime, I had the joy of helping two of my assistants learn the way to true happiness. Since 1975 I have been spending more than 140 hours every month in the Christian ministry.
Has it been a way of happiness? I no longer have a large income, but I have a satisfaction I did not enjoy as a comics artist. I work at helping others find the way to everlasting happiness. And this work is far more creative than that of a comics artist. Also, I am surrounded by fellow believers, who show true brotherly affection. Above all, I have the wonderful privilege of knowing and serving the Grand Creator of the universe and have the hope of praising him forever in a paradise earth.—As told by Yumiko Fujii.
[Picture on page 23]
The characters I drew made the covers of a major comic magazine
[Pictures on page 24]
Winning an award for novice cartoonists, I stepped into the world of comics artists
[Picture on page 26]
Now I share in the public preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses