Interview by Chanmei
The webtoon industry has recently been buzzing with the entry of major corporations and releases worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. Because of their unique format, webtoons are also known as vertical-scrolling manga. Many artists, seeing the success of this format, are itching to try their hand at the genre.
In the world of webtoons, it's not unusual for companies to have a studio system in place where different specialized staff members handle different stages of manga production. In this article, we'll talk about storyboards, which are like a manga's blueprints.
We spoke with Hashimoto Lion, who not only works as a storyboard artist for popular webtoon series such as Level Drain, The Transmigrated Mage Life in Another World, Becoming the Strongest in the World with the Knowledge of the Original Story (hereinafter referred to as The Transmigrated Mage Life), and Toki Shigure Graffiti, but also actively helps aspiring creators through platforms such as FANBOX and YouTube. Let's take a look behind the scenes of storyboard planning and talk about some common mistakes beginners make.
- Hashimoto Lion
He started his career as an illustrator and manga artist. Currently, he works as a storyboard artist for popular webtoon series such as Level Drain, The Transmigrated Mage Life in Another World, Becoming the Strongest in the World with the Knowledge of the Original Story, and Toki Shigure Graffiti, while also focusing on training younger generations through FANBOX and YouTube.
The importance of looking at the script through a camera lens
── Could you describe the process of creating webtoon storyboards? What are the specific tasks involved? Where do you begin?
── Through a camera lens?
── So, the moment you press the shutter is when the storyboard comes together. However, the webtoons you're currently working on, such as Level Drain and The Transmigrated Mage Life are fantasy works. It sounds challenging having to imagine an entire world based only on the script.
Hashimoto: I've always been a fan of fantasy games, so I have a mental stock of scenery. They come to me naturally. I take those ideas and concepts and combine them to create a whole new world. If a setting is unfamiliar to me, I use the internet to get a sense of the atmosphere as I continue reading.
── It's like reading a novel, isn't it? What kind of information is included in the script? Dialogue, stage directions?
── Is there a difference between planning a storyboard for scripts with a lot of stage directions versus scripts with fewer stage directions?
Hashimoto: If there are specific stage directions, I pay attention to them and read the script as if I were looking at the scenes through a camera lens. I also look for ways to make the end result even more interesting. If there are no specific instructions, on the other hand, I just draw what comes to mind when I read the dialogue. It's easier to draw with no stage directions, but having specific instructions can result in compositions I wouldn't have thought of on my own, which can enrich the final work. So, I welcome both styles.
Placing dialogue first for the sake of readability
── Once you finish reading the script, I assume you proceed to draw the storyboard. Where do you start?
Hashimoto: Personally, I start with typesetting. I copy the dialogue from the script and place it into the manuscript, along with the speech bubbles. In Clip Studio Paint, I use a feature called Companion Mode, which displays the storyboard in real-time on my smartphone screen while I work. This allows me to see if the placement of speech bubbles looks natural and if the text is easy to peruse from the reader's point of view. Having that visual confirmation while looking at my smartphone is really convenient.
── And then you start drawing.
Hashimoto: Drawing consists of three main elements: characters, backgrounds, and objects. Objects could be sparks flying during a battle or flower petals to add detail to a scene.
── What are some things you consider when drawing objects?
── After the storyboard, different team members handle the line art and coloring processes. Do you jot down any detailed instructions for color or other details when planning the storyboard?
Hashimoto: If I'm feeling particular about a certain scene, then sometimes I'll jot down some notes in red. However, leaving too many instructions may end up restricting the artists who come after me, resulting in stiff-looking illustrations. So, these scenes aside, I leave it to the creativity of each team member, allowing them to bring their own unique touch to the artwork.
Three great things about webtoons, according to a storyboard artist
── As an accomplished storyboard artist, what do you think are the strong suits of the webtoon format?
── Indeed, that's rarely seen in traditional manga.
Hashimoto: Third is the ability to play around with the panels. For example, in an action scene, scattering objects like bones around the panel can create a sense of depth.
Hashimoto: What's more, we can also draw different panels that match the character's attacks. It's important for webtoons to keep the reader's hand moving. To accomplish this, each panel should be interesting and pleasing to the eye, so that the artwork has a distinct flavor no matter where your gaze stops.
── Based on what you told us, it sounds like traditional manga and webtoons are completely different.
From company employee to creator! Hashimoto's breakthrough as a storyboard artist
── Now that we've learned about your storyboard planning process, could you tell us about your background?
Hashimoto: I've always enjoyed drawing and wanted to pursue an artistic career. I studied illustration at a vocational school, but at the time of graduation, my goals did not quite match my skills... As a result, I ended up working as a company employee, doing sales or labor.
── So you went from being a company employee to being a creator.
── What kinds of jobs have you taken on since becoming a creator?
Hashimoto: I've worked on a variety of projects, including company mascots, manga for company landing pages, one-shot manga, and short series in the traditional format. My longest project, which lasted about two years, was as an illustrator for YouTube manga videos.
── And how did you get your big break as a storyboard artist?
Finding the differences between the storyboard and the finished product: a habit that continues to this day
── What was your first job?
Hashimoto: There was actually a trial period before I was hired as a storyboard artist. They wanted me to create a webtoon storyboard in my own style based on the first three pages of a particular work, which amounted to about 15 panels.
── Although you had experience with traditional manga, this was your first time working on webtoon storyboards, right?
── What are you doing nowadays to hone your skills?
── So you keep an eye on the final product even after your part of the job is done. You're very dedicated!
Common beginner mistakes: forcing vertical layout and a lack of white space
── You're also critiquing other people's webtoons on your FANBOX. What are some of the most common mistakes that beginners make?
── How can this particular aspect be improved?
Hashimoto: The most important thing, in my opinion, is to think about what you want to show. Do you want to highlight the artwork, the dialogue, or the background? And how can you showcase that element effectively? If you want to emphasize the dialogue, you should consider its placement as well as the size of the speech bubbles and font. There are numerous ways to emphasize dialogue, even in smaller sizes.
── You mentioned that you had trouble deciding how much white space to leave between panels at first, correct?
Hashimoto: Yes, not leaving enough space between panels is another common beginner mistake. During critiques, I often add white space and move speech bubbles around. In this storyboard, for example, the girl is partially hidden by the speech bubble.
Hashimoto: This illustration of an apple pie is also confined within a very narrow panel, isn't it?
── How does one grow as a storyboard artist?
── That's advice that applies to all creators.
Money talk: about royalties and compensation
── We've talked about the behind-the-scenes of storyboard planning and some common beginner mistakes, but are there any specific traits that make someone a good webtoon storyboard artist?
── People who want to be storyboard artists may also be interested in the compensation and employment status. For example, since webtoons are often made in a studio, are artists typically employed by a specific company?
Hashimoto: I work as a freelance contractor, but there are also company-employed storyboard artists. The compensation is usually based on around 70 panels per episode.
── Are there any bonuses or additional rewards if a work ranks first or if the number of views increases significantly?
Hashimoto: There are royalties based on the number of views for each platform where the work is published, but there are no additional bonuses. Also, it can take a while for the creators to get their royalties. This is because the publishing platform sends the royalties to the production company, which then distributes them to the creators. Companies also have accounting closing dates, so it can take more than six months for the royalties to be processed and paid. But the manuscript fee is usually settled at the end of the month and paid the following month, so there isn't a big delay in getting that.
The current state and future prospects of the webtoon industry
── The webtoon industry has garnered a lot of attention due to the entry of major corporations and the raising of hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. What are your thoughts on this recent boom?
Hashimoto: I think it's a really positive trend. Even though there may be some negative opinions among all the excitement, the fact that the industry is getting so much attention, even from critics, shows that it's moving in a good direction overall.
── Hearing that from you, a storyboard artist who is on the cutting edge of your field, gives us hope.
Hashimoto: In the future, though, I think there will be a significant divide between successful companies and those that withdraw, most likely within a year or so. For example, we often see companies enter the webtoon industry believing that it is extremely profitable, a "blue ocean" in business terms. But the reality is that webtoon production is extremely expensive. Even before a work is published, production costs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, if the company succeeds, everything is fine; if it fails, its very existence is in jeopardy.
── So, which companies should creators collaborate with if they want to get into webtoons?
Hashimoto: I think there are several factors to consider, including financial strength. Personally, I wouldn't join companies that are just following the latest trends. For example, companies that aim to mass-produce villainess or reincarnation stories only because they are popular... It's true that they're all the rage right now, but it usually takes about a year from production to actual release.
── Indeed, we don't know if villainess or reincarnation stories will be popular a year from now.
Hashimoto: It's good to keep an eye on trends, but if I were a new author, I'd knock on the doors of companies that are trying something different.
── It's good for creators to also learn to identify the right companies to work for too. Lastly, could you share what you think the future of webtoons will look like?
── You have already done a lot to help the next generation through FANBOX and YouTube.
Hashimoto: That's right. Critiquing other people's storyboards on FANBOX and making YouTube videos is not only for my own benefit, but also for the benefit of the industry. In terms of personal goals, I'd like to try my hand at inking in the future, even though I'm currently working on storyboards. As I said before, storyboard artists have a difficult time when the final artwork does not match their intended direction. So, by working as both a storyboard artist and an inker, I hope to provide the audience with a complete picture of the world I want to show. It would also make me very happy if something I worked on received a lot of attention and was turned into an anime or video game.
Hashimoto Lion is on FANBOX and YouTube!
Hashimoto Lion's works
Hashimoto Lion has worked on the storyboards for Level Drain and The Transmigrated Mage Life in Another World, Becoming the Strongest in the World with the Knowledge of the Original Story, both serialized on HykeComic. His latest work, Toki Shigure Graffiti, is currently being serialized on LINE Manga.