Interning in the Manga Industry: My Advice

A few weeks ago, Kate Dacy posted at her blog The Manga Critic about some intern positions opening up at Viz for the summer and mentioned my blog. After reading her post, it occurred to me that while I’ve been posting about my experiences as a comic-book editor, I haven’t posted that much on how my internship experience was. Well kids, tie your shoes tight because this post is going to be a roller coaster of advice that’ll get your hopes up and then sink them to hell. I hope you get something good out of it.

1. Just because you’re interning for them doesn’t mean they’re going to publish your manga– I think this is pretty self-explanatory. You’re not there to draw manga, you’re there to work on the publishing side of manga. While the fact that people at the company will know who you are works in your favor if you ever pitch an idea to them, it does not mean they are just going to make you a star.  (Let’s face it, interning *IS* free labor.)  Now that that’s out of the way…

2. Don’t be afraid to go for it, even if you major in bio-physics– I’ve met a number of interns who were doing something at TOKYOPOP that had NOTHING to do with their college majors. Why did they go for it? Because they had a vested interest in what they were interning in and some skill at it too. Does that mean you should go for it too? If you have that interest and a basic grasp on the tasks you will be asked to do, yes. Everything else is just learning how to adapt to the demands of your job, which I dare say is an ability you want in any work environment. I was totally terrified that I wouldn’t know what to do when I first started too, but then I realized my journalism degree had taught me the skills needed to do my work well even though I wasn’t doing journalism! If your major is comp sci and you want to do a design internship because you like to draw on the side. DO IT! *EDIT* My friend and fellow TP intern, Sumana, added some more great advice in the comments section, the choicest piece being: “be prepared to explain yourself! Because my major isn’t seen often in this industry, one of the first questions during my interview was “why are you here?” I don’t suggest saying “I <3 manga” as your only answer.”

3. Be knowledgeable and care about manga and the industry– During my interview, I was asked what my favorite manga series was. Knowing this question was coming, I went through my library of TOKYOPOP manga and picked out my favorite. I added it in along with my absolute favorite manga of all time and this showed that I knew the manga industry better than most fans (both were kind of off-the-beaten-path manga.) I also told them the truth: I read scanlations, but I preferred having a physical copy. I’ll admit I wasn’t the most informed person at the time, but I showed them that I cared enough about manga to explore less popular releases and that I wanted to learn more about the industry.

4. Work your ass off once you get in-Even if they give you manga to work on that you absolutely HATE, think of it as a learning experience. After all, you are gaining experience by working on it, if nothing else. I got thrown random research projects with the nastiest manga ever, but I read them and I survived. And now I even have some funny stories to tell! I also decided not to get a part-time job for six months and intern for 40+ hours a week at TOKYOPOP. Not because I wanted to be poor or because I was trying to get hired, (OK, I was, but it wasn’t part of the decision process here) but because I really really wanted to be at TOKYOPOP every single day and not to miss a thing while I was there. I was, perhaps, the only one who was crazy enough to do this, but I wanted to milk the experience for all that it was worth. (And hey, I got a job out of it! Yay!) Also, work your hardest to do better than you were before. I asked my mentors every few weeks to give me an overall constructive criticism. It helped me figure out what I was missing in my editing so I could learn and improve on my existing skills.

5. Know your way around social media– I am trying to think of an internship at TOKYOPOP that doesn’t require knowing basic social media skills. There isn’t one. From day one, having a Twitter account was important to my internship. That’s where Stu Levy found me complaining how TOKYOPOP hadn’t gotten back to me yet and directed me to the right person. When other people found out I was tweeting about stuff I was working on, they ENCOURAGED me to keep doing it. (Word of mouth is important to publishers.)  When I started this blog, they not only loved it, but occasionally passed me news to break before anyone else could. If they know you can do this whole Twitter business, they will ask you to tweet on the official Twitter account sometimes. If I didn’t have Twitter and my blog, I don’t think I would have met Ysabet MacFarlene or Athena and Alethea Nibley, who also freelance for TOKYOPOP, or many other industry people I have the pleasure of being acquainted with now. Manga is a community, not just an industry, and social media is where you can get in touch with a lot of these people.

6. Be sure you can live wherever your internship is– I promise, this is not impossible despite the fact that most internships are in expensive cities (LA, SF, NYC.) I was lucky enough to have a ton of people I could impose on when I got my TOKYOPOP internship, but I was apparently very close to interning at Viz. San Francisco has a higher cost of living than L.A and I don’t have family there. Still, there are many interns who came to TOKYOPOP from the far reaches of the country, relocating a short period of time. Some of them have family here, but most haven’t and are working part-time jobs or relying on scholarships. Basically, don’t do what I did because I had people to fall back on. You most likely don’t, so get a cheap apartment and a job while you intern, if your school gives you an intern stipend, take it.If it’s too expensive for you still, try taking the internship class at a community college to cut down on tuition costs.

7. Intern in the right department– Every time I tell someone interning at TOKYOPOP that I work in editorial, they say they want my job. Understandable because editorial is totally awesome, but also kind of sad because more than a few of those interns aren’t having a good experience in their department. Did they make the wrong choice or is it just a matter of having a tough time with the work given to them? I don’t know, but at least if it’s the latter it’ll be a learning experience for them, even if they only learn that they don’t want to work in publishing. I learned this lesson by not getting an internship at Viz. When I applied there, I asked if I could apply for both the Magazine and Editorial internship. They made me choose and I chose Magazine. I should have chosen the Editorial one, I probably would have made a better impression on them and gotten the internship! (Ah, but would I be where I am now if I’d gone to Viz?) Choose wisely. Just because the job market is tough doesn’t mean you can’t be a little picky about an unpaid internship.

8. Not everyone is a fan– That’s right, not everyone in the industry is a fan of anime and manga.  Hopefully, all the important people are. I know the people in my department are, but  not everyone in accounting or design are. And that’s OK. A job is a job and hopefully they’re enjoying the work they do anyway. Just don’t assume everyone’s a fan and go fan-crazy. You can be enthusiastic and passionate about manga without scaring people, I promise, and being restrained and professional isn’t going to hurt you.

9. For the love of CLAMP, enjoy yourself– If you’ve gotten yourself a internship,  you’re doing it to learn something. And yes, learning can be SO BORING if you’re in a class you hate. Don’t let that be this class. Make this the one class you take your entire college career that allows you to experiment with something you think you might want to do for the rest of your life. Even if you have convince your advisor that an internship involving graphic novels does not mean you’re dabbling in illustrated porn, (true story.) Do it because this sounds like the most fantastic idea ever and you just also happen to need an internship to graduate! Do it because you live and breathe manga in a totally not creepy way! Do it because you want to have a job you’ll just adore because you get to work with manga ALL THE TIME.

10. Don’t expect a job to fall into your lap– I was extremely lucky that TOKYOPOP hired me. Other interns did not get hired, the majority of them, in fact. If you want that internship to turn into a job in this industry, you have to be exceptional and prove to them that you are worth paying. I can promise you, every company in this industry is keeping a tight grip on their purse right now. You are going to need to work your ass off and have a little luck on your side. I honestly don’t think you can get a job like this without it.

I hope this has helped some of you to take the step to intern in the manga industry. Despite all the negative points I’ve highlighted in this post, I want to say that my internship in manga was fantastic and worth every sacrifice and every mental scar that happened along the way. Obviously, I had the -IDEAL- experience, and you might not have that, but you won’t know that if you go in there thinking to yourself that this internship is going to suck. Go get ’em, everyone!

If you have any burning questions about doing this kind of an internship, I’d  love to answer them. :)

Edit: In case you want a little more, one of Viz’s summer interns posted about her experience at Viz on their Shonen Sunday Blog.

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28 Comments

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28 responses to “Interning in the Manga Industry: My Advice

  1. Sumana

    I saw your link on FB and gave it a click! :)

    I’m thrilled that I’m semi-mentioned in your #2! :D (for those who do not know me.. I’m the one who majored in biophysics and was the Business and Legal Intern at TOKYOPOP this past year)

    In my defense, although my major had nothing to do with the manga industry, I wanted to intern at TP not only because I’m a fan of manga, but also because I wanted to see how the legal side of an entertainment company works since I am currently getting my paralegal certificate.

    The knowledge I gained from my science degree barely (if at all) was useful for the internship, but what I relied on most was my transferrable skills and love of learning to be successful during my experience.

    I do have a suggestion though.. for those who want to intern for a position that is totally different from what you’ve studied: be prepared to explain yourself!

    Because my major isn’t seen often in this industry, one of the first questions during my interview was “why are you here?” I don’t suggest saying “I <3 manga” as your only answer. The purpose of an internship is to provide an opportunity to learn more about the company, the industry, and professional real-world experiences in general. Thus, in my point of view, it’s always important to keep in mind what your career goals are and how you would be able to benefit professionally from the internship!

    Sorry, Daniella! I basically wrote a post within your blog post.. but I wanted to give my two cents because I’m not totally as random as my situation sounds like!

    And, I, too, agree that someone shouldn’t be limited with what one only studied in school. I like to call it- diversifying your portfolio. :)

    P.S. I miss you, Daniella! Lets hang out/go on eating adventures!

    • I’m happy you did! That was great advice and I am going to do an edit to include it. Thank you for sharing, Sumana!

      I miss you too, but I figured I’d go and do something big for my birthday (it’s coming up). I just have to figure out when. ^_^

  2. Great read. I do believe that you really have to hustle to get whatever you want. Combine that with your passion for manga and you got a recipe for success.

    I’ve been using a lot of social media these days to connect with other anime/manga bloggers. I’m slowly moving forward towards psychology bloggers as well.

    What would you recommend if a job doesn’t fall into people’s laps? What other jobs could work out for those who interned in the anime/manga industry?

    • Thank you!

      My advice to people who don’t get jobs out of this, but want to continue to go into similar jobs is first look at other manga or comic book publishing companies or anime companies. It certainly can’t hurt. They can also go to other types of publishing companies too. In fact, it’s almost ideal because you’ve already got some experience. Of course, these jobs will be hard to get too, so I would a) keep at it and b) try to get other internships if possible. There are companies out there that offer paid internships, so if you can find one in a similar field, go for it. There’s no shame in continuing to be an intern, but it does help to be a paid one at least. Of course, since not everyone is an editor like I am, people in design internships can look for design-based jobs or people in marketing can find PR/Marketing jobs outside of the publishing world, etc.

      For anyone looking for some kind of job, the key is definitely to persist and persevere. Unless you are in some kind of ridiculously niche field, (manga is not that niche, you can go into other kinds of publishing too) there will be lots of companies out there where you can seek out jobs.

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  4. I would love to intern, but as you mentioned, I live just way to far (florida) and dont have family there.

    • I wouldn’t let that totally discourage you. If you’re really interested in interning, check out what kind of rent +living expenses you would need for three months and start saving up. Then, once you get an internship, try to get a part-time job in your free time. Also, ask your family (wherever it is they are) to support you if they can and ask your school if they have financial help for unpaid interns.

    • Jenna

      I will second Daniella’s response too.

      I interned at a comic company that was literally 1300 miles away from me. I saved up money like a madman for a couple months, moved out there and found some guys looking for a roommate and spent 8 weeks doing the internship. I couldn’t have spent much more time out there because I ran out of money, but it was definitely, definitely worth it. Even if you can’t stay for six months or a year, if you can only go for a couple months, do it!

      • Jenna here is right! While being at the company a long time is helpful, you can certainly intern for only a shorter period of time. It all depends on what your class’ requirements are. If you worked very hard for about a month, you could probably complete an internship in that amount of time. Then the re-location costs are a lot easier to manage!

  5. Veronica

    Such good advice. I want to intern but I’m having a hard time choosing what department. I’ve been thinking about it since I got out of high school and even planning to major in Business while I’m at community college so that made me think maybe I should try the marketing department but I’m not sure if I’m ready. Or maybe somewhere I can be creative.

    Any ideas?

    • This depends on how serious you are about the business side of things. I know the business/legal interns do lots and of lots of things that seem a little un-business-like, but are actually quite vital to keeping the office functioning and if they’re hard and capable workers, they are given more challenging tasks as well.

      My advice for right now is to wait a little while. It seems like you haven’t even started college yet and, speaking from personal experience, you don’t know what you want to do yet. Give it a year or two (I’m pretty sure that the companies will still be there and doing internships), and then start thinking about what you’d prefer the most. I know I wouldn’t have done an internship in the manga industry right before I started college because I wanted to go into JOURNALISM. Now, I wouldn’t get a job as a journalist unless I was really desperate. It took me nearly four years of college for me to figure this out, so explore what you’d think you’d enjoy doing for the rest of your life and then find an appropriate internship. If it doesn’t quite fit your major, go for it anyway. You should be doing what you love, not what you loathe, for a living.

      Also, my apologies for getting back to you so late. I was at Comic-Con this weekend with limited internet access and I was very busy! Best of luck with college!

      • Veronica

        well actually I have been in community college for a year now but yeah I think I should wait too. I really do want to be sure of what I want to do. Thanks so much for helping me out. Don’t worry about the late reply, I’m sorry for any trouble. I hope comic-con was fun and thanks again

        • Even so, most majors don’t want you to intern until you’re at least an upperclassman. (Basically they want to imbue you with enough smarts that you’ll have the know-how to complete your tasks while you learn what the real-life job is like.) I would give it another half a year at least and then try an internship if you have an idea where you want to go and what you want to do. If that winds up not being the right place, you can always do more internships elsewhere. They don’t hurt and they pad your resume nicely.

          Don’t worry, you’re no trouble. I want to help the people interested as much as I can, but Comic-Con was so busy I couldn’t reply until I got home. It was a fantastic convention as usual. ^_^ Again, best of luck to you!

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  7. z.a.

    Hi daniella, I actually have an interview with VIZ pretty soon I was wondering if I can get some advice: What is the difference between editorial and magazine department? Is editorial more concerned with direct contact with the mangaka’s works themselves, and critically examining them for content/grammar? VS Magazine work which consists of putting Shonen Jump/or whatever magazine together? Also, shoot, I don’t speak Japanese, or read it…(I”ve applied for the editorial internship) do you think I’m doomed? How important is a knowledge of Japanese? Should I apply to the Magazine department instead, since I don’t know Japanese?

    • I don’t know too much about Viz’s practices since I never interned with them, but here’s what I know:
      Editorial internships will be about working with the volumes of manga that are published. I don’t know how much they will let you do, but they will probably want you to copy edit (check them over for grammar, how well the sentences flow, how the art looks, making sure all the fonts are correct and other inconsistencies.) You won’t have direct contact with the mangaka themselves.
      Magazine internships will likely involve copy editing the manga chapters that appear in Shounen Jump and preparing them for print and/or digital. You also might have to write content for the magazine or copy edit that content.
      You don’t necessarily need to know Japanese, although I don’t know what Viz would prefer first hand. I know other Viz editors who don’t, but I would suggest brushing up on your English first. From reading your comment, I wouldn’t have hired you as an editorial intern if I was in charge. You didn’t capitalize some proper nouns or at the beginning of sentences, but capitalized things that didn’t need capitalizing. You left out words, inserted commas where they weren’t needed and your sentence structure is poor. I know it sounds harsh, but when you’re applying, you need to be as perfect as possible. Treat this seriously, like a job. If you actually get a job in this field, it’s likely you’ll be accidentally copy editing everything for the rest of your life. Make yourself unable to accept poor grammar. You will be better at this internship or this kind of job if you do.

  8. z

    Thanks for the information! Well, that was a rushed post and the nature of blogs are a bit informal so I wasn’t consciously trying (vs. an email with a potential employer…). But thanks for the warning, I’ll make sure I’m on my game 24/7.

    Of course I’m treating this very seriously. I’ll dedicate my weekend to researching the company and looking over my writing samples. The woman I spoke to asked me if I had any, but without specific mention of bringing them to the interview. You think I should?

    Also, you wrote of interning at TOKYOPOP for six months; was that the duration of your original internship or did you have it extended? You said you worked 40+ hours, was this through a university or community college internship program for credit? Did you earn quite a bit of credit? I’m concerned the cost for the internship will be high if I decide to work an extensive number of hours…

    • The idea that a blog like this is informal is outdated. I mean this blog to be a serious source of news and opinion on manga, comics and related hobbies and since I’m a professional in this business, it’s very serious to me. This isn’t my personal blog to tell people how my day’s been going. Plus, like all things on the internet, people can find what you said here and use it to judge you like all those horror stories you hear about employers finding you on Facebook. You should be extremely careful in all things that you post online.

      I would bring copies of your writing samples and your resume with you. Even if you don’t wind up using them, it will impress your interviewers that you came prepared to show them your stuff.

      I interned twice over the course of two separate quarters, for three months each at a time. I worked 40+ hours a week of my own accord and did not receive any extra credit for doing more work. I don’t remember exactly how many credits I received, but it was 3-4 credits each quarter I did an internship. The cost of the internship should remain the same no matter what hours you work, unless you give up hours where you could be paid at a part-time job or something like that. Basically, do what feels right. If you want to put your all into it and not be able to work a part-time job due to the energy you’re putting into the internship, do just that. If you need to also work somewhere and earn money to survive that quarter, the people at Viz will understand you are putting whatever time you can for them. Aside from commuting expenses (ask, once you get the internship, if they will compensate you) and cost of time that could have been spent earning money elsewhere, it will really only cost you the amount of tuition you have to pay.

      Any company that you intern for wants to see not only how well you are at your job, but how dedicated you are. I believe the way I got my job is because I gave myself up to Tokyopop for those six months and did everything they threw at me to the best of my ability. Of course, there were other factors, like expressing my desire to work for them and asking for feedback, but it wouldn’t have meant much to the company if the dedication wasn’t there too.

      Best of luck to you.

      • z

        Now I feel self-conscious about that ill-written post (wish you could erase it? ) :P

        Yes, I was thinking along the same lines; since I’m interning I want to work and absorb as much as I possibly can. Thanks for the feedback, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

        • Sorry, I won’t erase it at this point in the game, but I’m sure Viz won’t be THAT thorough just for an intern. I just wanted you to keep it in mind. (Besides, it’s important if you’re interested in becoming an editor, writer or a similar profession.)

          • z.a.

            Hi again, one last question: when you went in to interview at TOKYOPOP did you express your hope to ultimately work for them during the interview or after you got hired?

            • I can’t remember exactly, but I may have expressed a desire to work in the industry during the interview. Specifically because I came to know they did internships through a close friend who did internships and got a freelance position at another company and that’s how I decided to do one myself. I repeatedly expressed my desire to work in the industry while I was interning. I got asked a lot how I was enjoying my internship and I was nothing short of genuinely enthusiastic.

                • You’re very welcome. I hope you feel more prepared and confident, and that you get the internship.

                  • z

                    Yes, I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog. I’m structuring the interview in my head…although I am a bit pessimistic about working at VIZ in the future. Just did some research and discovered they had laid off around 40% of their workforce in the SF branch (~55 people) and the NY branch had shut down altogether :( This was in May/June ’10. So, I’m not certain if they are in the financial position to hire new staff. So depressing…it’s as if all angles I am trying are giving me dead ends.

                    • Don’t get too down. There is always freelancing, which Viz might be more willing to do nowadays because it’s cheaper for them. It’s not a full-time job and all the benefits that comes with that, but it’s still gainful employment in an industry you want to break into. It will take time to build up the clientele that will give you full-time job wages, but I know it’s possible. ^_^

  9. z

    Yes! I was considering that too. There’s some speculation (and some concrete names) that the lay-offs were primarily focused in the marketing and public relations departments. So, I’m hoping the editorial sector is somewhat safe.

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