OFUNATO, Iwate Prefecture--Yuki Monou was looking forward to her big break in professional manga illustration, the start of her first magazine serial, when the March 11 earthquake hit.
On March 11, 2011, the 25-year-old was busy at home in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, working on a full-color cover illustration for the first installment scheduled to appear in Kodansha Ltd.’s Dessert Magazine the next month.
The house, which was right by the sea, rocked so violently she could hardly stay on her feet. Monou and her older sister got their invalid grandmother into a wheelchair and pushed her up a steep hill near their house.
Monou then went back to the house to get her grandmother’s medicine and grabbed her unfinished illustration. She drove her car back up the hill.
She says she did not see when the tsunami came in, but was soon watching cars and houses being swept away by the water. Only the exterior walls of her home were left standing. She was forced to take refuge with neighbors and relatives and then in a prefabricated hut near her old home.
She lost her aunt and a friend in the disaster, and she says she couldn’t shake off feelings of guilt as she moved into temporary housing in late May and struggled to pick up her career again.
She kept asking herself whether she should be drawing comics when there was so much suffering. Her family of five now had two small rooms, one with six tatami mats, another with four and a half. The smaller room, which she shared with her mother, became her studio. Her mother claimed she could sleep with the lights on and Monou tried to make as little noise as possible as she worked late into the night. Fellow artists from Dessert magazine, in which she had made her professional debut in 2008, sent her pens and ink.
She said she thought about the people who had lost their jobs in the disaster and felt she was lucky to have a job she loved. “Maybe I should pursue it the best I can,” she remembers thinking.
Dessert Magazine’s editor told her that she could start the serial “whenever she got her life back and could draw again.”
Her romantic comedy, titled “Joshibu ni koi!,” eventually started running in the magazine in late August, telling the story of a girls-only club whose members vow to enjoy life without dealing with boys.
Monou says she wants her readers “to enjoy a good laugh, especially because these are difficult times.” She says one reader’s comment particularly encouraged her. It said simply: “I really had fun.”
Four installments have now been published, and the first “Joshibu ni koi!” paperback came out in January.
Monou says: “As for telling the story of the tsunami, I’m not up to the task yet. For now, I think I will stick to creating stories that cheer people up.”
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