THE only Scot to work at a professional level in manga – comics or graphic novels – in Japan has said he wishes more people would get involved in the industry.

Sean Michael Wilson lives in Kumamoto, a city near Nagasaki, which he describes as being “very much like Edinburgh”.

Wilson has had several works published, including a graphic novel adaptation of the school life of George Orwell, and in 2020 was awarded the Scottish Samurai Award, which celebrates the links between Japan and Scotland.

However, being the only Scot to work at a professional level in the country where manga originated isn’t something he’s entirely happy about. He told The National: “I don’t want to show off about that, I honestly think it’s a bad thing.

“If somebody was the only samurai living in Scotland that would be cool. It is special in a way, I suppose, but it would be better if there were a dozen of us. The fact I’m the only one ever, and that there might not be another person for a while isn’t a good thing.”

It might seem surprising that fewer people have taken up a career in manga writing given the rich comic book history which Scotland has.

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The late legendary Alan Grant put a kilt on Batman, Mark Millar has given us the likes of Kick-Ass and Kingsman and author Robbie Morrison has contributed to 2000 AD – the comic which inspired Wilson as a youngster.

Wilson said it was growing up in Edinburgh in the 1970s and 80s where his “childhood dream” of writing stories began. He said: “I went along to my local newsagents and bought a copy of 2000 AD and I remember it having a really cool cover and loving it. I was only 12 and it put a childhood dream into me. Normally, your granny is right and you’re being unrealistic but I’ve managed to make a good go of it.”

Despite it being the industry he makes his living in, manga isn’t actually the focus of the Wilson’s creative process. He said: “It’s a bit surprising but I didn’t have a specific interest in manga.

"When I do my books, I don’t think about them as being manga at all but I work with Japanese artists based all over the world. When they bring it alive, that’s when it becomes manga.”

Wilson has published a variety of books which tackle a range of themes from eco-tragedy The Minamata Story to his autobiographical Once Upon a Time in Morningside.

His latest work, Tale of Genji, was published in June and is an adaptation of what is considered to be the first novel ever written.

Believed to have been published around 1008, it’s a romantic tale which tells the story of Prince Genji, the son of an ancient Japanese emperor, who is demoted to being a commoner for political reasons.

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Wilson said: “Obviously you had the likes of The Iliad and The Odyssey [the Greek epic poems attributed to Homer] but these are not novels in the modern sense of the word. Genji is a psychological novel.”

‘THE big issue we had is that the original is about 2000 pages

long so we had to condense it all down.”

The author struggles to put his finger on why more people haven’t pursued a career in manga writing but knows it is a tough industry, one which can be driven by market factors as much as creativity.

He said: “I just do whatever is interesting to me, which in my case covers a lot, but I have to consider a couple of things. I have to do whatever is interesting but it’s also about what the publisher will give me a contract for.

“The classic issue for any creator is not where you get your ideas from, it’s about getting money for them. I’m not a fan of capitalism as there’s too much power given to the financial gatekeepers and not enough given to the creators.

“I think it holds back creativity – there might be a bunch of things you want to write about but the publisher won’t agree. I have an endless amount of ideas, I just haven’t had the chance to pursue because of the money aspect.”

Wilson says in Japan, they talk of a concept known as ikigai which refers to somebody having a purpose. He wishes the industry offered more of a balance between this and making money. He admits it’s probably a “slightly depressing” truth for those who do want to pursue a writing career to hear but knows from his own experience it’s still possible to give it a go.

Wilson said: “It’s that classic dilemma between art and business. You can be strong and brave in your way of thinking though and give it a good go as long as you realise you need to have that balance.”