I’d draw pictures of the things I wanted…
I was a mischievous child. I was also on the tall side… to the weak, I was the strong boss brat. (laughs) A tale of heroism? Not for this cheap shot of a boss brat. But I did have good grades. I was even things like class representative and student council president. Back then, I thought I’d become a cartoonist. There was a manga boom, so I read Astro Boy, Osomatsu-kun, and such. But what influenced me the most were things like Popeye and Disney animation. I liked making pictures, so I was made to draw — reluctantly — school posters, class trip itineraries, and such. Also, I didn’t have any money at the time, so if there was something I wanted, I’d sate my desire by drawing pictures of it. If I wanted a horse, I’d draw nothing but horses… I also drew stuff like chimpanzees a lot. For some reason, I wanted one. I guess I probably saw one on TV.
Abusing the Student Council President’s Powers?!
After I started junior high, I came to like regular, non-cartoon movies more, and I became remarkably quiet. My grades also dropped precipitously. I read almost no manga, and watched nothing but movies. I liked giant-monster films and such too, and I often rode my bicycle into Nagoya to go see them. Come to mention it, back in elementary school, there was an event where they showed a movie in the gymnasium; there were several candidates, and it was put to a vote. So one time, I used my position as student council president, and manipulated the vote count to get The Great Monster Battle1 shown. (laughs) I also liked action movies like Westerns and war films; what I saw back then may have made its way into Dragon Ball. However, I was pretty sure I had no talent for shooting video. I tried to make something like a Kung-Fu film with my dad’s 8-millimeter video camera, but the staff consisted of just me and one other person, so only one of us could appear on-screen at a time. (laughs) I tried to make claymation, as well, but it didn’t move one bit the way it should have… I just can’t do stop-motion. I felt firsthand that video was just impossible for me.
From Office Drone to Novice Cartoonist
The first time I submitted [manga] was after I became a member of the workforce. I joined a design firm after I got out of high school, and made nothing but flyers… I hated it, but it was helpful for me as a result. That rumor that I was scouted by an editor who saw one of the posters I made back then? That, right there, is a lie. I had a hard time with mornings, so I quit my job (laughs), and I didn’t have any money, so I thought I’d submit something [to a manga competition]. At first, it wasn’t for Jump, but for Shōnen Magazine. I wanted that ¥500,0002 prize-money, but I didn’t make the deadline when I drew it… it was written that the next [contest] was six months later, so I gave up on that, and switched over to Jump. (laughs) Jump did it every month, although the prize-money was only ¥100,000…… I mean, I entered because I was broke; I couldn’t simply wait half a year, could I? So I sent my manuscript in to Jump. At that time, I had read almost no manga, but I figured, hey, maybe it’ll work out somehow…
The Phantom Pen-Name
What I regret most after becoming a cartoonist is having used my real name. At first, I figured there was no way I’d sell anyhow, so I didn’t even consider using a pen-name. Although I did, as a joke, talk about going with “Nikisaku Mizuta”3
. I thought it sounded nice and countrified… maybe I should have gone ahead and used it. (laughs
Early on, I even showed my face on the pages of Jump. My editor, Torishima-san, told me, “Cartoonists must do things like that!” so I just went along with it, thinking that’s how it was. After that, I’d immediately be found out whenever I’d go shopping at the supermarket, since it was one in the countryside. Now, they don’t run my face [in the magazine] any more, so it’s all right. But… about one person in 100 (?) will come up to me and ask, “Are you Akira Toriyama-san?” Since I use my real name, thinking of my kids, I suppose I’m glad I didn’t do any erotic manga. (laughs) If I were to start using a pen-name now, it’d probably be obvious.
A New Record for Consecutive All-Nighters with Dr. Slump
began about a year after I made my debut in Jump
. I started it, having been deceived by Torishima-san
’s words, “Draw it for 10 weeks, and it’ll be over”. I figured I’d be able to do it if it were about that long. But each chapter was self-contained as a rule, so I had to come up with a punchline and end it every week, and it was tough coming up with material.
I pulled all-nighters a lot, too… Once, I even went six days with only 20 minutes of sleep. This is my record for the longest all-nighter, even now. By the time of Dragon Ball I had almost completely stopped doing all-nighters. Although I did pull an all-nighter on occasion, when I had to do coloring and such.
Thinking back on it now, it’s really something that I was able to do a weekly serial… I had it drilled into me in my office-days that deadlines were absolute, so I kept them religiously. And on top of that, I sent my manuscripts in from Nagoya, so I think maybe I finished up earlier than other people. I even did all the hand-lettering. At the beginning, the most painful thing really was that I wasn’t able to sleep. However, I only did something as absurd as 20 minutes in six days just once, though there were times that came close. The fact that I didn’t collapse in spite of that is the problem. It would have been better if I had collapsed… (laughs)
Drawing to Completion in my Dreams
I would often draw in my sleep. That alone made for twice the work… I couldn’t use the weird stuff I drew while dozing off, so I’d end up having to draw it all over again. It would be better to get a little sleep, really, in terms of effectiveness. And on top of that, when I fell asleep at work, I’d dream that I was drawing what came next. I hated that… in my dreams, I’d finish up while toiling away, and when I woke up, [the paper] would still be completely blank. I had that dream more than a few times. I’m on the tough side, psychologically-speaking, but that really was painful.
Between the storyboards and the art, the storyboards were more of a pain. Now, I prefer the storyboards, but at first, it was tiring to come up with a story. Now, I suppose drawing the art is more of a pain. Back during Dragon Ball… to be completely frank, I hated both. (laughs) Well, the inking was really the worst out of those things, for Dragon Ball.
From Gag-Manga to Story-Manga
I was incredibly happy that Dr. Slump became popular, but at any rate, weekly serialization is hard, and coming up with material got more and more difficult… I was always wondering how I’d be able to end it. Then, I was told, “You can end it as long as you start a new serial three months after it’s ended.” So, while drawing the end of Slump, I drew a Kung-Fu one shot since I liked Kung-Fu movies.4 I firmed up the material for Dragon Ball from there. I think that, by nature, I’m more inclined towards gag[-manga]… but solely because it meant I wouldn’t have to make each chapter self-contained, I decided to do a story-manga.
Jackie Chan & Bruce Lee
I’ve liked Kung-Fu movies since way back, and I saw a lot of them, but the number of boring ones steadily increased, and before long, I stopped watching. After marrying, my wife recommended Jackie Chan’s movies to me, saying “[their] take on things is different, so they’re interesting”… and when I saw them, I got majorly hooked. I love Drunken Master. Either Drunken Master or Enter the Dragon is the best at giving me thrills out of the movies I’ve seen. I’ve seen Drunken Master over 100 times, already. Enter the Dragon is a bit heavier in terms of the subject matter, so not so much… maybe 70-80 times. (laughs) As for movies I put on while I’m working, I prefer Jackie’s. Lightheartedly; just reaching my ears is enough. Even now, I still watch a lot of movies, but I don’t go to the theater much anymore. I’ll buy videos and DVDs instead. [Movies] showing on TV, even really stupid ones, I’ll at least put on. I’m generally OK with watching any genre but romance. While I’m working, I can’t relax if the TV’s not on… I’m the kind of person who has to have something playing in the background. For that, I prefer something I’ve already seen at least once. Something I’m watching for the first time is no good; I get caught up in the story developments.
Early Chapters Placed 15th in the Survey?!
To be honest, when I drew the Kanzenban covers, I read the Tankōbon of my own work for the first time. Up until then, I hadn’t read it even once. I’d basically just use it to check the colors when doing color artwork… Anyway, I thought in re-reading it that I really put a lot more thought into drawing it than I had believed. (laughs) Or rather, [to think] I really drew all that. I think I really put a lot of consideration into the reasons for a variety of things, even though I did so much after the fact. In the beginning, Dragon Ball really wasn’t popular at all. At first, there were anticipation votes, which was good, but they gradually fell off… If I remember correctly, I heard that there were times when it came in 15th in the reader survey.5 From around the Tenka’ichi Budōkai onwards, its ranking improved… but I’d be lying if I said the Jump reader surveys didn’t bother me.
For more in-depth stories from the serialization, tune in next time…
The following translator notes are included for the benefit of the reader as supplemental information.
There is no film by the title he uses (Kaijū Dai-Kessen
); he appears to be misremembering The Great Monster War
), retitled Invasion of Astro-Monster
In 1978, ¥500,000 was worth between $2,000-$2,500 and ¥100,000 was roughly $400-$500.
Or perhaps “Kisaku Mizutani”; in Japanese, it reads as “Mizutanikisaku”, with the kanji that make it up being “suiden
” meaning “water-filled rice paddy”, and “nikisaku
“, “semiannual crop”.
Toriyama is referring to Dragon Boy
, a two-part manga that ran in the August and October 1983 issues of Fresh Jump
, towards the end of Dr. Slump
and prior to the start of Dragon Ball
. Thematically and stylistically, it is similar to early Dragon Ball
, although the characters are different and there is only one “Dragon Ball”, which produces a small (and relatively pointless) dragon.
This appears to be a bit of an exaggeration. Going by the order of the table of contents, which is determined by the results of the popularity polls included with each issue (excepting color chapters and new series, which always get top billing), Dragon Ball
’s absolute worst showing in its first two years was 12th out of 16 in issue 1985 #31, with Chapter 31
; since the reader survey’s effect is felt roughly eight weeks after the issue it reflects, one can surmise that Dragon Ball
’s absolute nadir in terms of popularity was around Chapter 23
. This is perhaps unsurprising, since Chapter 23 marked the end of the first story arc and gave little indication as to where the story would go from there. In general, however, early chapters of Dragon Ball
fell into the middle third of Jump
series: popular, but not especially
popular. The series did not break into the top five consistently until the Red Ribbon arc.