By Aiko Komai
The Yomiuri Shimbun
TOKYO — One of Japan's largest comics publishers hopes to spur a new generation of female artists by giving them the tools of the trade.
The March issue of Nakayoshi — a girls' magazine devoted to manga, or Japanese comics — contains a special supplement including a tool kit and instruction guide to drawing like a professional artist.
The issue containing the "Super Saikyo Manga-ka Set" (The Ultimate Manga Artist's Kit) is almost sold out, according to publisher Kodansha.
After the issue went on sale in February, the supplement turned into a hot topic on Twitter. Even professional manga artists joined the discussion.
"It's so cool! If you closely follow the instruction guide that comes with the toolkit, your drawing skills will definitely improve," tweeted Keiko Nishi, a manga artist best known for "Koi to Gunkan" (Love and Warships).
Lily Hoshino, creator of "Otome Yokai Zakuro" (Maiden Spirit Zakuro) and various romantic works, also took to Twitter to praise Nakayoshi's kit: "This [supplement] is a fun toy for even a professional manga artist."
The supplement includes sheets of drawing paper and screen tone sheets, which can give manga a highly professional look. It also has templates to help beginners draw human faces and animals more easily.
Nakayoshi's kit also has a tracing tool to draw professional-quality illustrations and a guidebook with tips on topics such as marketing works to publishers.
The March issue also announced an illustration contest for drawings using the kit provided in the supplement. Winners will be chosen in four genres — romance, sensational, comedy and suspense — with beginner, intermediate and advanced levels to encourage more entries.
According to the Nakayoshi editorial department, the supplement was a joint project by the department's supplement team, which is responsible for planning and production, and the new manga artist award team, which finds new talent.
Nakayoshi is trying to stem manga's recent decline in popularity.
Total sales of manga magazines last year decreased by an estimated 5.2 percent from 2011, according to The Research Institute for Publications. Industry circulation fell by an estimated 6.4 percent from the previous year.
"Amid the low birthrate, all manga magazines are going through difficult times now," said Ikuko Nakazato, chief editor of Nakayoshi. "We're the oldest existing manga magazine in Japan, so we want to discover new talent and revitalize the market with a sense of mission."
Based on the value of the contents, the issue with the supplement should have cost at least ¥1,000, or more than $10. However, the March issue carried the normal price tag of ¥580, or about $6, to help entice readers.
The contest was conceived as "[the editorial department] thought that beginners who don't know how to storyboard might want to draw a one-page illustration," according to Nakazato.
Nakayoshi received about 500 entries, nearly five times the usual number for a contest.
The magazine plans further supplements. Its September issue, which goes on sale in August, will be sold with kits for color illustrations, a bonus feature for manga, which are mostly published in black and white. In early autumn, a book on how to get started as a manga artist will be published. The magazine also plans to start online manga classes.