Hidetsugu Yoshioka is an illustrator who has been involved with the Transformers brand nearly since its beginning, often lending his skills to e-HOBBY releases. In Part 1 of this special interview, e-HOBBY’s Andrew Hall learns about the background of his works, his illustration methods, and his thoughts about the Transformers. It’s a 3-part extended interview that could only be brought to you by e-HOBBY Magazine!
Calm outer shells hide the crazy fans inside!
To begin, could you tell us about the TV shows or toys you enjoyed as a kid?
Yoshioka: I basically watched everything that was on TV for kids. If two shows were on at once, I’d jump between them. Or I’d decide to watch one show this week, but another show next week, so I was kind of a couch potato.
Do you think that the TV shows and toys you watched then had an influence on your work?
Yoshioka: They contributed to it. Of course, the things that I liked would end up changing every year. (Laughter) I might have liked something as a kid, but as an adult, not so much. I thought I liked “Ultraseven” back then…
Looking back, you didn’t like it that much?
Yoshioka: When I reached my 20’s, I realized it was “Ultraman Returns” and “Ultraman Ace” that I liked more.
So, you like live-action shows in addition to anime. Were there a lot shows from overseas on the air back then, as well?
Yoshioka: I did watch a lot of TV shows from overseas, “Superman,” “Superboy” and all. It was when the publisher Kobunsha had been promoting American comics, like “Monthly Superman,” trying to start a boom in comics. The movie had been a big hit at the time. Japanese artists were also publishing their own adaptations of titles like Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, and Moon Knight. These weren’t from Kobunsha, but in the “Magazine” publications. Naturally, I read them. (Laughter) Reading “Captain America,” Jack Kirby’s art had a big impact on me.
Kobunsha’s American comic anthologies
So there was a surge in popularity of comics at the time?
Yoshioka: Looking back on it, I don’t think it was even what you could call a “boom.”
The publishers just wanted to start this phenomenon, so they started releasing US comics or doing original versions of them, all around when I was in elementary school. Aside from that, I read the manga in “TV Magazine” and “Adventure King.”
It’s interesting to note that over a decade later, you’d be doing illustrations for the same TV Magazine.
Yoshioka: It’s surreal, isn’t it?
In regard to your art for Transformers, your first experience with the brand was around the time of “Super God Masterforce,” wasn’t it? I heard that you also provided the box art for the Mega Pretenders.
Yoshioka: I did do the line art for the Mega Pretenders. As for Masterforce itself, I didn’t have a lot to do with it. I just drew Thunderwing and Crossblades for release overseas. I think I did several rough sketches of Ginrai for a catalog. I also remember redrawing part of the instructions for Lightfoot, or something. (Laughter)
I’m not sure whether it ended up being put into use. I seem to recall that it didn’t.
When the series shifted to “Victory,” did your work continue to focus on art for the foreign market?
Yoshioka: I did a little bit of work for Victory. The first thing I drew for it was the Pretender shells of Dinoforce. I also built the diorama for the photo on Star Saber’s first box. That was the one they stopped production on right away.
So you built actual, three-dimensional dioramas?
Yoshioka: I made a lot of dioramas for package photos. For Star Saber’s, we cut acryl masking tape and shined light on it from below.
Before you worked on Transformers, I heard that your first professional work was on “Samurai Troopers” (known as “Ronin Warriors” in America).
Yoshioka: That was my first printed work. As an actual job, the first thing they had me do was do some rough sketches of the Wildfire Punch.
Comparing the work on Transformers and Samurai Troopers at the time, did you find one or the other to be more challenging?
Yoshioka: Since I had the product on hand, it wasn’t so different. During Victory, my work was still focused more on other illustrations than it was on Transformers.
Was your work on Samurai Troopers also done through the design company Part One?
Yoshioka: That’s right. It was when I was still attending design college. My friends saw the recruitment offer and decided to apply, so I said, “count me in, too!” (Laughter) Three of us applied together.
Did you originally move from Tottori prefecture to Tokyo to attend design college？
Yoshioka: Yeah, without any real direction. (Laughter) I didn’t have much of a plan. This was a quarter-century ago, after all.
When you were in design college, did you want to be a manga artist, or was there a certain kind of illustration you wanted to do?
Yoshioka: My major was industrial design, but I was more interested in the toy industry. I wasn’t interested in being a manga creator at the time. I wanted to be an illustrator, but at first I wasn’t sure whether I had talent in that field, either. I doubt I could have been much of an industrial designer, anyway. (Laughter)
So you felt from the start that you wanted to be an illustrator rather than a manga artist.
Yoshioka: It was pretty vague at the time. My school was full of guys who liked manga, anime, live-action shows, and all that, so we’d build model kits and sell them at Wonder Festival.
Next is a question we received on Twitter: “I heard that you worked on a lot of package art. Do you have a favorite piece of art that you did?”
Yoshioka: No, my past works just embarrass me. (Laughter) All of them.
I suppose artists often feel that way because their skill is constantly growing and evolving?
Yoshioka: I really can’t say whether my skill has grown. I suppose it’s evolved, but I’m not sure it’s advanced. (Laughter) That’s probably not growth.
So, no particular favorite, or something you’re most fond of, then?
Yoshioka: No, I mean it when I say I’m embarrassed to look at my old work. It’s just that the faults in it stand out to me. It’s the standard I hold myself to. I focus in on the good points in the work of others, and the bad points in my own.
We received a question from Twitter asking whether you’d like to do more designs similar to those of the Mega Pretenders. They did have a unique design aesthetic, didn’t they?
Yoshioka: I’d say it’s a pretty odd one, with the human faces on them and all. (Laughter)
But you did make a point of including the Pretenders in the e-HOBBY comics, so were they very memorable to you?
Yoshioka: I just like the American premise for the Pretenders, as well as the toys. I couldn’t really tell you why.
Were you very familiar with Transformers before you began working with them during Masterforce?
Yoshioka: I was, being that I watched the show. I was a typical fan.
How did you react to the show after having seen it for the first time?
Yoshioka: Simply put, there were already lots of Japanese anime on TV, so I enjoyed the unfamiliar sensation of the odd foreign cartoon being mixed in. (Laughter) That’s why I liked “G.I. Joe” too.
Looking at your unused works in particular, it seems like you centered a lot of them on characters from the Marvel Transformers comics. Did you have much knowledge of those, as well?
Yoshioka: If you can call it knowledge, during the 90’s a lot of imported US Transformers comics were sold in shops around here. You could pick them up at Manga Forest or the Parco Book Center. These days, you have to go to specialty shops. They had all the issues of G2 at a shop right near here.
Thunderwing and Megatron drawn after their comic scenes
G2 definitely left an impression as a series.
Yoshioka: That’s true in a lot of ways.
To Americans, it was very representative of the 1990’s. (Laughter)
This also relates to Transformers comics, but I read elsewhere where you mentioned the comic artist Herb Trimpe. Are there some foreign comic artists such as him that might have had a strong impact on you? There were a lot of memorable TF artists, like Andrew Wildman…
Yoshioka: I don’t think my work evokes Wildman, visually speaking. When I had been working on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” my style was influenced by Jim Lee, but what should I compare it to now…? It’s kind of a mix between Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. I knew about Herb Trimpe because I’d also seen his work in the Japanese editions of “The Incredible Hulk.” One of the few names I was familiar with. There was plenty of art that impressed me, but it’s not as if I could have replicated those styles even if I’d wanted to. I do enjoy homaging other artists, though. Asserting “your own style” is really the hardest thing. Doing things like imitating the style of Jack Kirby is a lot of fun for me.
“The Incredible Hulk,” illustrated by Trimpe
Are there Japanese artists that you’re fond of?
Yoshioka: That would be the manga artist Toshiro Narui. Kids of that era read his “Space Champion Kyodyne” and “Go Go Goku” in “TV Magazine.” Also, Yoshihiro Morito, who wrote the Microman manga in “TV Magazine.” It was Narui who wrote the manga for Diaclone. All of the otaku from my generation were crazy about “Go Go Goku.” I’d go so far as to say that it was one of the most influential works in the history of manga.
So, today’s mechanical designers must have all read it back then.
Yoshioka: With the major impact it had on the manga that followed, a lot of manga today owes to Toshiro Narui. It has nothing to do with Transformers, though. (Laughter)
In the next installment, the secrets of Yoshioka’s artistic techniques! In-depth discussion of the Transformers comics! International work on the horizon?!
Part 2 goes public on Wednesday, August 8th, 2012!