Shirow's Art

Version 1.1- modified 18th Jun. 2001 * Subject to corrections, changes and additions *

A huge portion of Shirow fans are most taken with Shirow Sensei's art or are artists themselves. Therefore, there is plenty of interest and curiosity to know exactly how Sensei Shirow does his artwork. Each manga artist has his / her own style and peculiarity, but in my opinion the way Sensei Shirow produces his artwork is pretty 'normal' except for certain specialist tools. So I came to the conclusion that its pure talent and genius. This page is my attempt at providing a general view of the evolution of Shirow Sensei's art style, how he draws, the tools he uses and some personal opinions + analysis. Information regarding Shirow Sensei's artistic techniques are hard to come by. However, there are some texts and articles in which Sensei Shirow did talk and explain about his how-to-art techniques. This section will also take a quick look at those publications and summarise the relevant contents.

Background: To understand Shirow Sensei's choice of style and tools, one must be aware of the artist's background. Sensei Shirow Masamune is a graduate of the Osaka University of Arts, Oil Painting Department. Much of Shirow Sensei's colour pieces during the 80's to early 90's were done in oil paints and arclyrics to reflect that fact. Shirow Sensei also mentioned that he did teach art at high school sometime early in his pro-carreer (Shirow-Smith Interview- Manga Mania 8, Feb. 94, various Profile sections in his mangas) indicating that his basic art foundations and fundamental skills are solid. As far as manga style art is concerned, Shirow Sensei admits that he is self-taught- leaning more into Shoujo style (girl comics) art early in his carreer and do not read much manga in his young days. However he loves to draw and was even involved in doujinshi and fanzine groups. The only thing he learned and found applicable from the University course was 'the ability to keep a steady hand'. (Intron Depot 1). He is more influenced on the story plots and world settings (the Cyberpunk and Sci Fi genre, military, fantasy, tradition, mythology, insects... the list is endless). His choice of works very much takes his skills to the current direction- an amazing eye for detail, neatness and precision, and of course Utopian female figures. In the 90's, computers became an essential tool for the manga artist. Shirow picked up on this new medium quickly and diligently, producing the most amazing CG pieces ever non-stop since 1995. Another good thing about Sensei Shirow is that he isn't afraid to change, to experiment, to try something new. Shirow's art style is constantly improving, and he sets very high standards for himself. If he isn't satisfied with a particular piece of work, he readily admits it and wouldn't expect his fans to like it either.

1983 ~ 2000 - 17 Years of Shirow Manga: The Evolution of Style

Dunah Typhon
Black Magic 83'
Deunan Knute
Appleseed 85'
Leona Ozaki
Dominion 86'
Deunan Knute
Appleseed 87'
Appleseed 89'
Deunan Knute
Appleseed 90'
Seska Fuzen
Orion 90/91'
Motoko Kusangi
Koukaku 91'
Dominion C1 95'
Deunan Knute
Appleseed 95/96'
Koukaku 2 97'
Koukaku 2 00'
All images Copyrights (Appleseed, Dominion, Orion) Shirow Masamune / Seishinsha, (Koukaku Kidoutai) Shirow Masamune / Kodansha

Sensei Shirow's Art Tools:
A small collection of Shirow Sensei's art tools. Note the Kabura tip pen, the pair of pliers and that weird looking gadget!
Comickers / Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha 1995
Box of Liquitex Arclyrics
Small Box of Liquitex Arclyrics

Shirow's art tools are quite standard pro-manga fare. For pencils, he uses a 0.5B tip (Mitsubishi brand) of both mechanical and conventional type on smooth surface Kent paper. Blue pencils are used as guides (they do not appear on the final printing). Of course, a light box or light table is necessary for tracing. Inking, Shirow sensei uses a Kabura-tip pen (his favourite brand currently out of production), which is shaped like a turnip and is good for doing lines of varying thicknesses. He also mentioned that he makes his own pen holder. This is complimented by technical drawing pens of 0.1 to 0.5 tip. Also essential for manga drawing are the use of screentones, rulers and other precision instruments. Shirow uses various screentone patterns, a common one being those of the Maxon brand (this is very popular among manga artists in Japan). To apply them, he uses various pen-knives and cutters, including certain insect dissecting scalpels (Shirow-Smith Interview, Manga Mania 8 Feb. 94). Rulers, compasses, and other geometric instruments make up another portion of the tool set.

For colouring and reproduction, Shirow traditionally uses his colour Canon Copier (should have been upgraded now I think~) and colours with arclyrics and oil paints. Application is by art brushes, and / or air brush. This requires masking and matting (to make the colours stay). Usually Shirow uses Liquitex brand colouring materials (another popular brand for Japanese manga artists). With the dawning of the digital age, the computer has replaced oils as Shirow's preferred colouring method. Shirow's PC is a Macintosh, a MAC9600/350 and uses the softwares Photoshop 4.0 & 5.0 to do his CGs. Also a big help is his handy colour copier and scanner, which he often uses to scan various type of patterns, sometimes even scanning in the surface of an orange skin, or a bag filled with green watery moss (Intron Depot 2). Shirow now aspires to do a full colour digital manga... and we all strongly hope it will happen! ^_^

...... What? That's all?!? ^_^ Yes, folks. That's about all the tools Sensei Shirow claims he used to produce all those wonderful pictures! Apart from a few weird pieces, they are pretty much what every other artist in the industry would use. Of course Shirow Sensei likes to experiment, and there's no way of knowing what he played with while drawing up a manga or an illustration. However, of late Shirow Sensei has been going almost totally digital, so you can be sure that apart from the initial sketches and line drawings most of the rest is done by computer graphics.

Publications Related to Shirow's Art

1. Comickers 1995: Autumn Sci Fi Special Edition (Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha)

Comickers 95'
Cover of Comickers Autumn 95' Sci-Fi Special
Shirow Masamune / Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha

web Comickers Link
Link to Official Comickers Website
Publisher: Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha.
Date: 10th September 1995.
ISSN 0287-2226
Price: 1000 Yen / Status: Out of Print
Pages: 132 / Shirow 12 pages including Special Gallery Pin-Up.

Comickers Magazine is a seasonal publication which gets four issues per year- Summer, Spring, Autumn and Winter Editions. It is published by one of the most well-known specialist quality artbook publishers in the Japanese manga industry- Bijutsu Shuppan Sha (Bijutsu literally translated as 'beautiful arts'). The publisher publishes high quality art books and how-to-art books, often featuring heavyweights and masters in the Japanese manga industry. Comickers is a magazine aimed at amature or beginner manga artists, where it features a host of topics each issue- ranging from interviews and how-to-art sections from various manga masters, overseas manga / comics scene, to tips for colouring and drawing manga. Its a continuation of an earlier publication of the same nature by Bijutsu, called Manga Technickers (MT). Currently running in its 5th year since the first issue in Summer 95', Comickers continues to be a precious resource for aspiring artists and a priceless collector's item. And it now has an online presence too! Check out web Comickers for news on the latest issue and a host of other interesting stuffs.

Shirow Masamune in Comickers 95' Autumn Sci-Fi Special:

As the feature artist in this issue, Shirow Sensei has 11 pages of articles plus a one-page 'Comickers Original Gallery' pin-up. The picture was collected in Intron Depot 2, Illust. 2069 (another mystery solved! ^_^). The Shirow article section starts with a 7-page feature about Sensei Shirow and his works. This is a really lengthy article about Shirow's background, his influences, history of his previous works, what is he up to at the time... tons of info and also the famous 'digitized' photographs of the Sensei himself (assuming that's actually him! ^_^). This is followed by 2 pages of how-to-art, where Shirow gives a step by step guide on how he produces his illustrations, using the Comickers cover as an example. The guide starts from the rough sketch right down to the final touch-up processes, with brief annotations beneath each thumbnail. This also contains a little interview box where Sensei Shirow speaks about the drawing process and chats with the article author. The last two pages are titled 'Shirow Masamune's World' where all his major works to date are given a brief summary and listed chronologically with all the relevant infos.

Comickers 95' panel
Finishing touches at the end before this pretty girl graces the cover of Comickers! Note: This is just about 1/4 of the full page as there is no way for me to get a good scan of an entire page. This is more than good enough for a preview though.

Personally, I consider this Comickers feature as the most in-depth coverage ever related to Shirow Sensei's art and drawing techniques. While it is pretty outdated now, this article manages to shed some light on how Shirow actually does his work. Here's where I confirmed that Shirow Sensei is amazingly talented, has a great sense of humour, and deserves my highest respects!

Other interesting features in this issue: Feature article on GunM's Yukito Kishiro, another brilliant Sci-Fi manga master. The ever cool and neat manga artist Ms. Yun Kouga takes over the 'Masters of Color' section. A list of highly recommended Sci Fi manga, including Hiroyuki Yutatane's Seraphic Feather, Otomo's Akira, Yukinobu Hoshino's 2001 Space Odyssey, The Five Star Stories to name a few. Also bits and pieces on Astro Boy, probably the most famous in its genre worldwide. The tips section focuses on drawing running motions, and screentoning clouds.

Note: I used to have a translation of the Shirow How-to-Art pages here previously, but decided to remove it for a few reasons. There are other sites on the web which decided to do a similiar thing, so there is no point of the MSHP in continuing it. Might as well do something original and exclusive. Which brings me to the next point, the article was actually translated from a Spanish version done by Josema at the Orion page. My sincerest thanks to Josema for the permission given and for being such a nice and gracious person! ^_^ Keep up the good work promoting Shirow ne?

2. Comickers 98' October (No.10) Edition (Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha)

Comickers 98'
Cover of Comickers No.10 98'
Shirow Masamune / Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha

The sample to the right is just a partial scan from a full page. It is difficult for me to make a good scan for aa whole page but the panel is more than good enough as a Preview of the article's contents.

This would make a wicked door poster!
Publisher: Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha.
Date: 1st October 1998.
ISSN 1343-8883
Price: 980 Yen
Status: Out of Print
Pages: 154 / Shirow 8 pages including Special Comickers Gift Post Cards.

Shirow made it again on the cover and as the main feature artist in October 1998's issue of Comickers. This time around, the article was done in conjunction with the recent release of Intron Depot 2: Blades, Shirow's second illustration collection. This issue is more of a 'Gallery' type, featuring Shirow's digital pictures from ID2 with different variations in colour schemes and backgrounds. The illustration series featured are the cover illust., no.048, no.2200 & 2202, no.2207, and no.2209. The article is concluded with a message from Sensei Shirow and a set of 3 variation postcards were included as gifts (featuring the cover illust.).

Other interesting features in this issue: A 5-page Daijiro Morohoshi vs. Yukinobu Hoshino dialogue / chat session - two of Japan's most renowned Sci Fi manga masters! Free a booklet mini Comickers 20 questions about markers. Suemi Jun's original paintings exhibition at the Tokyo Pastel Museum in August 98'. Captivating and talented shoujo style artist Ms. Yuri Narushima. Lessons on manga panel layout arrangements, how to draw sword slashes, and some very nifty fan art / CG contributions!

3. Intron Depot 1 & Intron Depot 2: Blades (Seishinsha / Dark Horse / Studio Proteus)

Probably the most important set of books for those who are really curious about Sensei Shirow's artwork. The illustration collection books Intron Depot 1 and Intron Depot 2: Blades contain vast amounts of information about Shirow's artistic techniques- explained by the artist himself in his own words. Better still, its on a picture by picture basis. In his accompanying commentary in the collections, Sensei Shirow sometimes elaborate extensively on the creation process of certain pieces of pictures, especially those that he did something unusual or special to achieve the desired effect. In ID 1 Shirow doesn't elaborate much on art techniques as the collection is mostly based on his manga works (so there is really a lot to talk about ^_^) whereas in ID2:Blades, the information on techniques used are very detailed, even with a 'Data Block' of media used for each picture.

Details of both books and their CD-Rom versions can be found at the Intron Depot Page.

4. Super Manga Technique Course (Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha)

Book coverShirow's desk
The book cover (left) and Shirow's impression of his own work desk (right)
Shirow Masamune / Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha
Publisher: Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha.
Date: 30th June 1989.
ISBN4-568-50098-2 C2070
Price: 1600 Yen
Status: Unknown
Pages: 160 / Shirow 2 pages.

This is a part manga technique book and part artist biography. The lessons in the book were written by famous artists themselves and others talk about their art. The 'My Works' section in this book features 32 manga artists including Shirow. Here, Shirow only contributed a 2 page essay about his artworks, at the time on the verge of releasing Appleseed 4.

5. Shirow - Smith Interview 'Future Tense' - Manga Mania 8, Feb. 94 (Dark Horse)

Manga Mania 8
Cover of Manga Mania 8, Feb 94'
Many pages of manga and a classic interview
Publisher: Dark Horse International
Date: February 1994 (Volume 1 Number 8)
Price: 1.95 GBP (British Pounds)
Status: Out of Print
Pages: 128 / Shirow article + interview 6 pages

In the early days of Manga Mania (now known as Manga Max) the president of Studio Proteus, Mr. Toren Smith did an interview with Shirow Masamune along with Seishinsha's Harumichi Aoki (Seishinsha president) and Shigehiko Ogasawara (Shirow's long-time editor and friend). A good 50% of the interview touches on the topic of Shirow Sensei's artistic techniques and tools. The topics touched on includes paper type, screentones, pens, erasers, colour copiers, layouts, to throwing away finished inked pages (Urk!)... The rest of the interview is mainly about Shirow's current works and plans for the future. The introductory article prior to the interview by Mr. Peter J. Evans and Mr Cefn Ridout compliments the interview wonderfully. Otherwise the rest of the magazine is full of translated manga episodes including Appleseed, Akira and Godzilla, to name a few. While nothing like the present day Manga Max, the Shirow interview itself is a great read.

The interview in its original, unedited form is also available online via Studio Proteus Online. Do a search for it.

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