As a young manga artist, M A Joy felt they did not fit in – but learning to identify as neither male nor female opened up both their art and the city
I am a manga artist, M A Joy. I draw manga and illustrations; I also like to make things. During my childhood I lived in Fukagawa, a downtown area of Tokyo. There is a big shrine and a we had a great festival too. I remember the area when it was picturesque and still undeveloped – it had a really beautiful atmosphere.
When I was old enough to read a manga book, my grandmother bought me a one at a small bookstore in the town. Those small bookstores are all disappearing nowadays. I remember the beautiful sunset and there was a stall of sweet baked potatoes on the street. “Do you want one? Let’s share it,” she said. My grandmother was so sweet, and this was the most peaceful and enjoyable moment in my life. This was my first encounter with manga, and I loved it. It made me want to become a manga artist.
I first experienced morning rush hour when I started university. A train comes every two minutes in Tokyo at that time of day, but it is still not enough and there are too many people inside. I really though my internal organs were going to be crushed and it would kill me. I never want to go through it again. It is so stressful to commute every day like this. There is an accident of some sort every day. Nobody cares anymore, because it’s become routine.
I dreamed of becoming a manga artist even more, because then I wouldn’t have to go to an office. No more rush hour train: I could work at home.
In 2007 at the age of 24, Kodansha, the world’s leading manga publisher, chose my web comic above those of 100 other applicants. I had become a real manga artist! I started living alone near Takao Mountain, which is very famous among climbers, in the city of Nishi-hachioji, on the furthest outskirts of Tokyo. My neighbourhood was very peaceful, and the surrounding area had an incredible view of the mountain that the city-centre could never have.
I was immature as a writer and my editor repeatedly rejected my ideas. I started losing confidence and eventually I didn’t understand what I actually wanted to draw. After the 7th episode of my innovative web comic, my life as a manga artist came to an end. It had lasted only three years.
But I did draw again. There is an annual international manga festival at Tokyo Big Site, where many manga artists, especially those work overseas, gather and I started exhibiting my pieces. Japanese publishers accept works but do things only by the book. So I became more interested in foreign manga industries, as they were more free and more open-minded. Tokyo Big Site is known as a sanctuary for Tokyo Otaku (geeks), but the venue has become very important for me, too. It made me confront myself and ask: What do I like? Who am I? What makes me myself?
And then I saw RuPaul’s Drag Race. It made my world turn from black and white to rainbow. When I watched the series, my viewpoint got broader and I became more flexible in my thinking
I love Harajuku. I didn’t go there for a long time, but since I began to identify as queer, I have started to go to this colourful place.
If you are 36 years old, and you still like Harajkuku, many people think you’re strange. But I started communicating with people from many of the shops and exhibiting my artistic work. I also like looking out for the most trendy things here: rainbow food, cosmetics, knick-knacks, photogenic ice-cream. They are all made in Korea, but the origin of Squeez, which you can see everywhere, is Japan. It is an extremely popular object for elementary school students. It’s also very Japanese. It’s soft and comforting. I would like to be an artist who could cause an exciting boom here.
When I told my friend that I am X-gender, they said ‘It happens to lots of people. You are thinking too much.’
I posted my manga about coming out on social media because I wanted to communicate my feeling.
I got many comments from strangers: ‘I really sympathise,’ ‘I’ve never known such a word. I am ashamed ...’ If my work was a reason that someone started thinking about themselves, my work must have meant something. Through my manga I can communicate with many people. I am happy that I kept drawing – and that I am queer. Many people in Tokyo don’t know the word and don’t understand my reality. Many say ‘It’s ok, I’m not biased.” But being queer means the being the target of prejudice.
I would like to communicate to people that we’re just human beings like others and I am an artist who conveys a message. I was born in Japan, that was just a coincidence. I love Tokyo: it has taught me so much. I want to continue to draw Manga riding on a rainbow express train.Continue reading...