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Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011

Doctor trades scalpel for art in fulfilling her manga dream


JAKARTA — Vivian Wijaya is a medical doctor, but that career left her with a feeling that something was missing.

News photo
Tools of the trade: Indonesian doctor and manga author Vivian Wijaya works on a drawing at her Jakarta home Nov. 10. KYODO

Although her passion since childhood had been for manga, it was not until she finally took a leap of faith — to become a comic-book author — that she was able to fill that hole in her life.

Last month, she debuted in Japan when Shogakukan Inc.'s "Club Sunday" manga website published her work. Her debut was declared the first in Japan by an Indonesian female manga author.

Consisting of 16 pages, "Kokkyonaki Gakuen," or "Campus Dwellers Without Borders," tells the story of Hajime Tomono, an ordinary 15-year-old boy who faces cultural gaps when going to an international boarding school alongside students from more than 50 countries.

"It was inspired by my own experience during my high school days in the United Kingdom," Wijaya said in the small manga studio in her South Jakarta home.

"My editor proposed the story because of my unique background," she said.

Born in Tokyo 33 years ago, her love of "anime" and manga started when she was 6, when her parents moved back to Indonesia.

"My parents bought me many manga so I wouldn't forget my Japanese language," she said.

Wijaya said she is a huge fan of "Doraemon," the popular manga about a robotic cat that inspired her to start drawing her own — her first when she was still in elementary school.

"Becoming a comic or manga author has been my dream since I was a kid," she said.

But coming from a family of doctors, Wijaya's parents opposed that aspiration and instead pushed her to enter the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland in Dublin.

Her work as a doctor left her feeling unfulfilled.

"For me, a doctor works like a machine. I feel alive, as a human being, when drawing manga," she said.

Unhappy with the medical field, she finally took the big leap.

Hoping to learn how to draw comic books more professionally, she joined the Jakarta-based Machiko Manga School founded by manga author Machiko Maeyama when she returned from Ireland in 2005.

A year later, inspired by an Indonesian legend, her first manga, "Prambanana," was published by the Indonesian manga magazine Splash.

Since then, Wijaya has authored comic books under the pen name DrVee.

In 2007, she continued her manga study at the Nippon Designers School in Tokyo, where she received top marks for three terms.

But after graduation she was shocked when her teachers told her that the prospects of becoming a professional manga author weren't very bright.

"They said I was good, but to become a professional manga author, my prospects were dim. My drawings could not be sold, could not be commercialized," she said.

She nearly gave up, but due to her deep love of the manga world she persevered.

"I had to find a way to get out of this problem, so my efforts would not be in vain," she said.

She applied and was hired to be an assistant to Kenjiro Hata, known for creating the "Hayate, the Combat Butler" series, which tells the story of a boy who is employed as both a butler and bodyguard of a wealthy family.

"I honestly told Hata-san that I wanted to steal his techniques and learn how to commercialize my manga," Wijaya said.

And from Hata she learned more about her weaknesses.

He helped her to better understand the industry, teaching her that in the manga world change is continuous and the ability to adapt to those changes is necessary.

Putting this knowledge to work, Wijaya was on her way to debuting as a manga author.

Now, while taking care of her ailing mother, Wijaya is working on her next project, a work targeting high school students. But the details of that project remain under wraps.

"Just wait for D-Day," she laughed.

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