Many times our best talents have to make a living outside of Spain to find their place in the world. From scientists to doctors, the case at hand is dedicated to art but in a different way from what is normally understood by “art”.
He is not a sculptor or a painter, although he does have to do with this last facet. TO José María Ken Niimura del Barrio he is best known by his stage name: Ken Niimura, and his passion is illustration, that is, drawing. Graduated in Fine Arts, he resides in Japan, where he has great success, he has been on Weekend with Cristina to review his impressive career, which includes the Eisner Award in 2019, one of the most important awards in the comic industry.
Ken is in Tokyo, where he has lived for a long time, something that he relates in an amusing way: “With the foolishness you sit down to draw and, when you get up, ten years have passed.” His passion began “with some pencils, some papers and scribbling at home, the difference is that, in my case, I was lucky that it was fun and I have been able to continue doing it over time, I ended up doing Artistic Baccalaureate, Fine Arts and Although there were options to do more serious work, let’s say, it was always a ‘what if I can make a living from making comics?’, and I’ve been lucky that it has been possible to this day ”.
Ken is asked how the comic market is there, although he admits that what he does “because of the style of drawing and the way of telling is a little different from Japanese comics. There is always an element that makes you notice that I have taken things from other places ”.
Regarding the Japanese way of working, Ken acknowledges that, “right now and for many years one has teleworked. We have cases of Spanish cartoonists working for the US, France, me here … but I also do work for the US and other markets. I am Spanish, Spanish Japanese, and I have never seen it as a limitation, that is, it is true that I was born and raised in Spain, where the comics market is not very large and that is why those of us who make a living from it have to work to foreign markets, but I think that being Spanish and living here has always played in my favor ”.
What’s Japanese and Spanish about it? Ken assures Cristina that, when he asks himself about it, he realizes that he works “like a Japanese” but has fun “like a Spaniard”: “I am always 100 percent in all aspects of life, but it is difficult to say. These types of multicultural families are a mixture of many things. In the end, if you are lucky enough to grow up knowing both cultures closely, there comes a time that is difficult to differentiate ”.
Regarding the social and cultural differences between Spain and Japan, Ken tells Cristina that he is going to tell her “one thing I do every morning and you tell me what you think”: “With the issue of covid it is a little less Strict than what you have in Spain, but I usually go to a cafe to work, I take a computer, I work for a couple of hours and at one point I get up to buy another drink. And I leave the computer, the mobile and everything on the table and I am going to ask myself, and when I come back … it is still there because it has to be there because it is not going anywhere because it does not have to go anywhere. That, for example, and the problem I have right now is that I’m used to that, so when I visit Spain I have to be much more careful because I leave things everywhere. We are talking about a place where someone else’s property is not touched ”.
Ken emphasizes that the detail, order and punctuality are very Japanese details: “It comes from a way of living, they become a different question. They see a mobile phone in a place on the ground and they say to themselves ‘if it’s not mine, I won’t touch it’, and in the case of punctuality it is ‘if I have an appointment at 6 I will go at 6’, it is a very logical thing. There are delays, of course, but in general people are very punctual and also respectful in things like queuing because it is taken for granted that it is the social convention and why it is going to be done differently ”.
In any case, Ken explains that in Spain there is a lot of room to improvise, which is not the case in Japan: “You can tell that in everyday life there are many rules, but once you take time you learn them and there is no problem. For everything there is a specific way to do it and, therefore, you do not ask yourself how to do that. In Spain, as there are no such guidelines, everyone wonders how to do it, and that means that whatever comes, you have an answer ”.
Our cartoonist, with great grace, recognizes what he misses: “I would like to have a Tokyo-Sol Metro line, it would be very comfortable. In the end I go, at least once a year, and technologies help a lot, but in the end it is being with family and friends, enjoying Madrid, a city that is very good ”.
On the comic and its differences between Spanish and Japanese, Ken explains that “the basis is the same in both since there are drawings, vignettes, sandwiches, dialogues… the difference does exist in the cinema, where the American has a standard way of telling stories and others can approach it, however in comics there has never been, until very recently, a hegemonic type in the whole world, so the US, France and Japan have developed their comics in their own way, and that gives you gives rise to that, from the form of the books to the way of reading, it is completely different. They have come up with different solutions with the same elements, and the advantage we have in the 21st century is that, having access to all kinds of comics all over the world, you simply have more possibilities to choose from ”.
For the layman, Ken explains the difference between comic, anime and manga: “How easy is manga to say that it is Japanese comic, made in Japan, and anime is Japanese animation. There are many manga, comics, that are adapted to animated television series, and that is anime. Heidi would be an anime, as are the Miyazaki films, Dragon Ball … animes that come from the comic.
Niimura also has advice for someone who wants to start in the comic: “If I could travel in time and tell someone… the first thing is that you have to like it and you have to have a good time. For me the beauty of the comic is that it is a sheet of paper and a pencil and, suddenly, with that you can create history, universes with which you can dazzle your readers, and something similar you can do in cinema but you need many more media. The comic, in that sense, is much simpler. But the reality is that, compared to other sectors, we are not so well paid, the world of comics is quite precarious. I am lucky to make a living from it but I cannot compare myself with the salary of other people, I have been lucky and I wish I was luckier and earned more. What moves me is that it is an activity that I enjoy and that is necessary for me, but if it were not the case it would not make any sense to get into comics, it would make more sense to make video games or movies or be a broker on the stock market. If you like to stand in front of the sheet of paper and create things with it, why not, it’s worth it ”.