[From July Issue 2015]
“Japan is an inspirational country for manga artists,” says Swedish-born Asa EKSTROM. Asa depicts her experience of living in Japan in four panel comic strips she posts on her blog. The blog became so popular that these short comic strips were compiled into a book. There is even a sequel in the works.
Asa became a fan of Japanese anime at the age of 13 after watching the anime series “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon” at home in Sweden. “I was fascinated by these brave female heroines fighting battles. And I liked the fact that the emotional growth of the main characters adds depth to the story,” she says. She then got her hands on the French version of “The Roses of Versailles” and read it with the help of a dictionary.
Asa made up her mind to become a manga artist and began studying. In 2007 she came to Japan for a nine month stay. “I went to a Japanese language school, but still wasn’t able to converse in Japanese. Thinking I had to speak perfectly, I tended to remain silent, which wasn’t good,” she says, with a bitter smile.
She made her debut as a cartoon artist in Sweden with the story manga “Sayonara, September.” She also worked as an illustrator drawing illustrations for fabrics used in Ikea products. She would always yearn, however, to live in Japan again and on March 10, 2011, she returned.
The next day, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. “The Swedish media reported that the nuclear accident would be the end of Japan. But a Japanese friend translated reports in a Japanese newspaper for me, which stated that it wasn’t that serious.” I didn’t know which information was correct. It was very unsettling, so I briefly returned to Sweden.”
Asa returned in October that year and has been living in Japan ever since. “I want to live in Japan permanently, if possible. That’s as long as I can get hold of a visa. But I don’t want to talk about visas because it’s very difficult to get one as a manga artist,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. When she stayed in Japan for the second time, she lived in a shared house with others and attended a vocational school specializing in graphic design. She even donned a formal suit to experience the Japanese recruitment process.
Now she can communicate in Japanese. “Since I started posting my manga on my blog, I’ve been reading the comments left behind by readers and memorizing new vocabulary. In formal situations, I just attach “desu” to the end of a sentence,” she laughs.
“I like drawing four panel manga about my everyday life here in Japan, because as a foreigner, it’s a subject that’s close to me. I also want to do more manga with an extended storyline,” she says. “I look forward to meeting my fans at book signings,” she smiles.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo