Pacing a story for an OEL manga is something I’ve wanted to talk about but never got a chance to — it’s never come up in interviews — but it’s something I’ve been struggling with and have many thoughts on.
NOTE: MILD SPOILERS FOR YOKAIDEN 1 & 2
Some of the best manga series take a few tankoubon volumes for the story to start getting really good. I always tell people to give my favourite series Hoshin Engi a chance until volume 4, because that’s how long it takes for the meat of the plot to begin. A bit slow paced, but only because it’s so complex, multi-layered, and the cast of characters is huge — you have to be introduced to quite a few before the author can begin to push the plot forwards. Monster is another complex story of a different kind with a large cast, but its basic premise is set up by the end of the first volume; it ends with the protagonist and the readers finding out the “big problem”. However, even with Monster, the main story doesn’t begin until volume two, when the protagonist decides to take care of the “big problem” with his own hands.
One big difference between manga published in Japan and OEL manga, however:
Japanese manga is published chapter per chapter in a comic magazine like Shonen Jump either every week or every month, then collected and published as tankoubon books. The schedule is tight, and to meet the deadlines, a professional mangaka will employ a team of assistants to help with inking, toning and backgrounds — and even then, they get very little time to rest.
OEL manga is published in book form first, and correct me if I’m wrong but I believe the typical OEL manga artist has no assistants (asides from maybe having a toner) and do everything themselves (at least, that’s the case with me; I do pencils, inks, backgrounds, foregrounds, speech bubbles, lettering, tones, etc.). That’s why it takes longer to produce. A year or more can pass by between volumes, and the reader can’t simply read the comic magazine it’s serialized in because the typical OEL manga isn’t serialized anywhere.
Herein lies the problem. A Japanese manga artist can pace their stories liberally, taking a generous amount of time to set up the plot, setting and characters, but the OEL manga artist doesn’t have such a luxury because readers have to wait so long to continue the story after the first few chapters.
When I began to plot out Yokaiden vol 1, I realized this problem and had to think about the pacing very carefully. The first volume had to have enough in it to keep readers interested for an entire year, but at the same time I didn’t want to rush the story. (I know I had the option of making each book a self-contained story, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted my manga to have the look and feel of a Japanese tankoubon as much as possible.)
Asides from the extra long first chapter, each chapter of Yokaiden is exactly 20 pages long. I decided seven chapters was a good amount for the first book. After lots of thinking, I decided that in just seven chapters, the following has to be shown:
-Hamachi’s love of yokai and how people around him react to it
-Kyuumon’s entrance and his conflict with Hamachi
-Grandma’s death and the setup for Hamachi wanting to enter the yokai realm
-Hamachi searching for the yokai realm
-Hamachi entering the yokai realm
-Hamachi having some sort of adventure in the yokai realm
I’m telling you now: this pacing is much faster than what I would’ve preferred.
In a perfect world where I have the ability to produce a chapter per week and Del Rey didn’t have to spend several months preparing a volume, I would have Hamachi entering the yokai realm at the very end of the book. I may’ve paced it even slower and put Grandma’s death at the end of the book. I would’ve liked to explore Hamachi’s character and his relationship with Grandma more and show more instances of how much of a yokai enthusiast he is. I prefer to take time introducing readers to the characters before the big “reveal” of what the main story is. But with a year between volumes, I knew I couldn’t do that.
Here’s how I vaguely planned the series book by book in my head:
Volume 1: “The yokai realm must be shown! And I can’t end it there — I must show some yokai and Hamachi exploring the realm, because that’s the main draw of the series. The readers have to see what the yokai realm is like. Kyuumon should be shown in the last few pages to give readers a taste of what’s to come.”
volume 2: “By this volume, readers are familiar with Hamachi and Lumi so I can have fun with them and put them through various episodic adventures. Kyuumon should have a presence, but not too much — readers should see more of Hamachi and Lumi before Kyuumon steps in to ruin the fun (so to speak).”
Volume 3: “Readers should be familiar enough with how Hamachi deals with yokai and vice versa by this point, so now Kyuumon can catch up with him. The plot can advance more with Kyuumon in the picture, and if we’re to see any new side to Hamachi, it should begin here.”
Volume 4 and beyond: [CLASSIFIED INFORMATION]
I put a lot of thought into how to divide the story into different books without making the story too fast-paced or slow-paced. This being my first published series, I’m new to it and it’s been rather difficult. (Deciding how much each volume should be dedicated to character development, plot development, and teaching readers about yokai is a whole nother juggling act…)
After all the thought and pre-planning, what has reader reception been like? Some people think the pacing in volume 1 is too fast. Some — though in the minority — think it’s too slow (one reviewer thought it was excruciatingly so). Some think it’s just right. It’s impossible to please everyone, so I’m going to keep doing what I do: pace Yokaiden the best I can within the restrictions brought on by it being an OEL manga series. And me not having a team of assistants. Man, having some assistants would be sweet.