A gold award for Israeli manga

The award was created in 2007 by then-foreign minister Taro Aso as part of his efforts to use Japanese culture as a diplomatic tool.

A gold award for Israeli manga (photo credit: Courtesy)
A gold award for Israeli manga
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Awarded every year by the Japanese Foreign Ministry, the International Manga Awards seek to promote international cultural exchange between Japan and the rest of the world, and is considered the most prestigious award for non-Japanese comic creators. This year, the winners of the 13th iteration of the awards’ top prize were Israeli comic creators Nimrod Frydman and Guy Lenman for their work Piece of Mind.
'Piece of Mind,' by Nimrod Frydman and Guy Lenman. (Photo credit: Courtesy)'Piece of Mind,' by Nimrod Frydman and Guy Lenman. (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The two were awarded the prize at a special ceremony in Japan in February, attended several members of the Selection and Executive Committee as well as Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
The award was created in 2007 by then-foreign minister Taro Aso as part of his efforts to use Japanese culture as a diplomatic tool.
“The world of manga is a great forum that fosters discussions on culture and philosophy and expressions of feeling and sensibilities,” Selection Committee chairperson Satonaka Machiko said at the ceremony.
“Manga provides an influential platform for the development of global cultures,” Motegi said. “We received a large number of entries from many countries and regions for this year’s Manga Award. The entries varied greatly both in their styles and messaging and helped us to once again realize the broad expressive power of manga.”
The selection this year was very diverse, including over 345 entries from 66 countries.
“Winning the award is a dream come true,” Lenman, the artist behind Piece of Mind, told The Jerusalem Post Magazine. “It felt like winning the lottery, I was so excited.”
“I’m mostly shocked, to be honest. We didn’t expect a major win, maybe a third place at best,” Frydman, the author told the Magazine. “Going to Japan is sort of a funny coincidence because my family and I were planning on going there for my father’s 60 birthday anyway around the same time the award ceremony takes place.”
The duo have been friends for years, having met in middle school playing Dungeons and Dragons together.
“We clicked, and we started working on ideas together,” Lenman explained. “In high school, we started throwing lots of ideas together, and when we were in the army, we started to work on Eardor.”
Eardor, a manga-inspired fantasy story published in English and Hebrew, is another series the two worked on together. Currently numbering only five issues, the manga-inspired influence in the series clearly shows, with the biggest artistic influence of the first five issues being the acclaimed manga series Fullmetal Alchemist.
The inspiration makes sense, with both Frydman and Lenman being avid fans of Manga and comics from their youth.
However, Piece of Mind is a markedly different work than Eardor, both in artistic influence and overall tone.
Unlike Eardor, which is set in a fantasy world, Piece of Mind is a far more grounded work, focusing on a man named Itzik who dies and goes to limbo, a frustratingly bureaucratic realm where souls wait in lines to apply before a committee for a transfer to heaven. His attempts at getting sent to heaven, however, are continuously rejected due to the apathy he had in life.
Likewise, the artistic influence is very different, with Lenman citing Neil Gaiman’s Sandman as a big influence. However, other influences are still there.
“We actually took a lot of inspiration from Kabbalah,” Lenman explained. “The whole idea of, for example, how the soul works and how you kind of replace part of it, the kabbalah tree. I know a lot of artists sometimes just put the tree in, but we actually researched it, how it works, and a lot more.
“Even with the visual aspects [and not just the story and themes], I took inspiration from how the soul works.”
Many have interpreted the frustrating bureaucracy in Piece of Mind to be a commentary on Israeli bureaucracy.
“There is some truth to this,” Frydman explained to the Magazine. “The entire premise was based on current world events and trends, so it was important that the world feels a lot like our own. Because of that, we needed to use elements that could ground down the afterlife, which is a setting that is usually seen as a mystical, and often idyllic place.“
“The bureaucracy was a fun way to convey the core theme of self-discovery and dealing with people’s negative qualities that Piece of Mind was trying to explore,” Lenman added. “The bureaucracy is shown to be an outside wall, an obstacle that keeps Itzik from ascending.”
“Eardor plays around different themes other than crippling bureaucracy,” Frydman said. “There are touches of Israeli life, culture, and history in the story, but nothing too obvious.”
Though the two have worked together for years, it has been somewhat difficult due to location, as Lenman lives in Ramat Gan, but Frydman lives in Finland.
“My day job is a game designer, and sadly there aren’t as many job opportunities in that field in Israel as there is in Finland. So I moved there half a year ago,” he told the Magazine.
“The move didn’t make the collaboration more difficult. We share our work through the net and communicate frequently through WhatsApp.
“The only real issue is having to divide my attention between these two fields. But I will say that game design helped me a lot with producing comic books. Game design taught me how to work in a team, deliver before the deadline and prioritize tasks.”
Interestingly enough, the two are not the first Israelis to have won the International Manga Award’s top prize, with The Divine – by Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka and Boaz Lavie – winning the top prize in 2015.
“Funny story, Piece of Mind was my final graduation project for Shenkar College of Engineering and Design… and Asaf Hanuka was my teacher and adviser for the project,” Lenman said. “He didn’t know it was going to submit it for the award, but when I won, it was really poetic, the student following his teacher.”
Both Lenman and Frydman hope that their win will help bolster the still-growing comic scene in Israel, as well as adding more weight to Israeli comics around the world.
Their big project right now, however, is continuing Eardor, and attempting to market it to a big publisher abroad.
“We’re actually trying now to re-do the first issues, work on the art more and pitch it to a big company,” Lenman told the Magazine, explaining why further issues haven’t been released.
The two have worked hard on the world of Eardor and have planned several story arcs in what they hope to be a long series. “Eardor is really our passion. We started development almost 10 years ago.
“Selling it in Israel is nice, we love our fans and we got tons of positive feedback,” Lenman continued. “But if we want to make it a career, we need to get a broader market and sell it to a bigger audience.”
Having the award under the belt is sure to be a benefit in promoting their work, but publishing abroad isn’t easy.
“We need to do it by respecting the culture,” Lenman explained. “For example, in the United States, we need to go through the agent, we can’t just go to the big companies ourselves.”
Of course, while Piece of Mind is a finished story, Lenman believes there is still room to explore the world of Limbo further, if there is a demand for it.
But in the current culture, now may be the best time for the duo to break out.
“Lots of shows and movies adapt comics today, and people love them and they don’t even know they’re comics,” Lenman said. “For example, the movie 300 is an adaptation of a comic, and so is V for Vendetta. It’s not just super hero stuff.
“I really hope this will bring Israel more attention. Think about it, 13 manga awards and Israel wins twice. That’s a really high ratio when you consider how small of a country we are, so I hope it brings Israel more attention, but I also hope it helps make comics more popular in Israel, gets them to go to the stores and pick up comics.” Laughing, he added that “there is a problem in Israel. Lots of people love comics, but not many people love to buy comics.
“This is a worldwide problem, but if you don’t buy them, you don’t support the artists, and they can’t make more comics. You need to support the industry, so I really hope the industry here would flourish more.”
In addition to work on comics, both Lenman and Frydman have other projects, with Lenman working on other illustration work and teaching, while Frydman is working on his own narrative-based video game.
“Nothing too big,” he told the Magazine. “Just a chance for me to flex my narrative muscles in a game instead of a comic book.”