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Yaoi Love: An Interview with Makoto Tateno

 Makoto Tateno debuted as a manga creator in 1986. Since then, she has created over 30 series, most in the shojo (girls) and yaoi (boys love) genres. Many of her boys love series have been released in the United States and her title Yellow (from Juné/Digital Manga) is a fan favorite. Recently, she was an industry guest at Yaoi Con 2009, where Graphic Novel Reporter was able to speak with her about her work.

You’ve been working in manga for more than 20 years now. How do you feel that you have changed as an artist over that time? Has your art gone in directions that you never expected?
I started working in manga doing shojo. But I wanted to do BL [boys love manga], so I became freelance so I could do BL—which was something I enjoy doing.
What’s your usual work schedule? Do you just focus on one series at a time or do you usually have more than one story in progress?
I usually do about one chapter per week; two days for the story. Currently, I’m working on five series: for [Japanese boys love manga publisher] Libre, a title called Muse Gakuen; for Shinshokan, a title called RomeoxRomeo. I’m working on another Blue Sheep Reverie, the Yellow cell-phone manga, and another manga for cell phones in Japan called Knocking on Heaven’s Door, which is a Dutch movie I’m adapting as a manga.
How much time do you spend getting ready to start a new project? Do you find that you have to start by doing a lot of research or do you simply dive into the story?
I spend about a month or two thinking about a work (which I do while working on other things). But I always start with the story first.
When you’re working, do you find that you have to work harder on the art or the plot? Is there one that you prefer over the other? What aspects of your work are you happiest to leave to your assistants?
Hmmm. (Pauses) I think I work hardest on the story, because that has to come first. But I love getting to draw scenes; that is my favorite part of doing manga, doing the art. I like leaving the writing of the text [the lettering/sound effects] to my assistants. [Tateno’s assistant interjects that Tateno still ends up doing a lot of it anyways.]
Yellow has been a yaoi fan favorite in America since it was published here in 2005. Is it as popular in Japan or are there other titles of yours that are bigger hits in your home country? Do you have a particular favorite of your works?
When [Yellow] came out in Japan, it was popular, but it’s been out in America longer and the fans have held onto it longer here. I love all my works, but if I had to pick one favorite, I would pick Yellow.
Where do you see the boys love market heading? Do you think that stories will become more realistic, more reflective of the reality of homosexuality? Is there a type of boys love story—fantasy or paranormal or historical, for example—that you see becoming more popular?
I think more people will start drawing their own BL and we’ll start to see more stories coming out. There are people who draw more realistic BL, but I don’t see it becoming a trend, because girls like fiction more than realism. I think personification-type BL—i.e., Hetalia” [a manga somewhat resembling World War II, except that every country is a very pretty, very stereotypical boy]—will start becoming more popular.
Do you think that you’ll always write boys love and shojo, or are there other types of manga that you would like to create?
I would love to do a crime manga.
Do you get a lot of feedback from American fans? Have you noticed any difference between yaoi or shonen-ai fans in Japan versus those in America?
I very much enjoy meeting with American fans. American fans are more outgoing, while Japanese fans are more reserved. I love that more and more fans are becoming interested in BL.
How do you feel about fan translations of your stories being distributed via the Internet without the books having been officially licensed in America?
Buy books. Buy, buy, buy. [Smiles]
Who are some of your favorite manga-ka? Is there anyone who has been a big influence on your work? Are there any new artists that you are excited about?
Wow. [Pause] There are so many to choose from. I would have to say Go Nagai-sensei has been a big influence. I love Cutie Honey. Tezuka-sensei as well. For new artists, I don’t have any in particular, but there are so many new talented people. I think they’re all great.
(Editor’s note: Eva Volin contributed to this story.)

-- Snow Wildsmith