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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Manga Message for the Young

May 27, 2015

Some young Japanese are losing their taste for adventure. Fewer and fewer are going abroad to study or take vacations. Their generation is getting a reputation for being inward-looking, but one Japanese manga artist is trying to change that mindset. Misako Rocks made her name in New York and is one of the few Japanese to break through in the United States with English-language manga. But she is hoping to encourage young people in her home country to get out into the world.

When she attended a book signing at a Tokyo bookstore to promote the Japan release of her latest comic, fans lined up to meet her. Her most famous work, called “Rock and Roll Love”, was based on her personal relationships and experiences as a student in the United States. It became a cult favorite among American teens.

“Comics are supposed to be entertainment, fun to read,” she says. “My comics have more of a purpose or method. If kids can get the message, if they can also carry on, that would make me really happy.”

Misako went to the United States in 1999 and spent a year as a university exchange student. She’d admired the American way of life since watching Hollywood movies as a child.

After graduating in Japan, she returned to the US as an intern puppeteer, but couldn’t make a living. She married an American, but later got divorced. “At that time my marriage didn't work out and I moved to a little town,” she recalls. “I didn't have my own friends, so I felt really lonely. And I looked at myself as a third person, and I noticed I didn't do anything. I never accomplished anything in my life, I realized.”

She uses these real experiences as the basis for her Japanese works.

She discovered that many Americans loved Japanese manga and anime and sat down to study how to become a manga artist. She told herself at the time, “I'm going to make manga in America, and if they like it, I’m going to stay. Otherwise, I’m going to move back to Japan. I had only two choices. Since I was at the lowest point in my life, I didn’t feel like I was going to fall anymore.”

Misako had no connections in the US publishing industry, so she had to market herself, making lots of telephone calls. Her work was often rejected, and she rewrote her stories over and over again. Her efforts finally bore fruit in 2006 when a publishing company owned by Disney offered to publish her work.

Two years later, the New York Public Library put “Rock and Roll Love” on its list of the best books for teenagers. Misako broke with the tendency of US publishers to target boys. Instead, she took a cue from manga back in Japan and created stories that appeal to girls.

Misako is also reaching out to Japanese students. She wants to show them the importance of expanding their horizons abroad. “When I try and fail again and again, I always find some kind of breakthrough,” she told students at a recent lecture. “That’s probably because I never stand still.”

Shukutoku University invited Misako to help students think about careers. She says she thinks many young Japanese people today tend to be introverted and apathetic. “In the United States, everything is DIY, do it yourself,” she says. “What counts is whether you can be independent and market yourself without being afraid of embarrassing yourself. It’s important to have a sense of the big picture. You should have an ultimate goal of who you want to be. If you’re working toward that goal, you won’t care how people look at you or what they say."

Misako is also using manga to take on the issue of bullying. The main character of one of her works is a girl who moved with her family to the US from Japan. She only gets along with the geeks at school and the other students bully her and her friends.

Misako says she suffered similar discrimination while studying in the US and thinks she can offer something special because she’s gone through that plight. “It's just okay to be who you are,” she says. “Just keep doing what you're doing. Because in the future that's going to be your weapon.”