Rehabilitation center’s program is run by professional manga artist.

Creating a manga involves more than just plopping your protagonist and supporting cast into an empty white void, but not everyone with a knack for drawing characters has the time or talent for background artwork. Those looking for help, though, can turn to website Mangaka Honpo.

Mangaka Honpo offers a wide variety of illustrated background art, with everything from castles and shrines to classrooms and train stations. It also has a selection of vehicle interiors and exteriors for cars, motorcycles, and ambulances, all offered at prices as low as 330 yen (US$3.10). And while Mangaka Honpo isn’t the only website in Japan to offer manga background art, it’s the only site where all of the artwork is drawn by prison inmates.

Pictured above is the Mine Rehabilitation Program Center, a real-world prison which opened in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 2007. The facility houses first-time convicts for less serious crimes (no convicted murderers, for example), and has a variety of prison work programs which inmates participate in. Many of these, such as woodworking, printing, clothing making, and metalworking, are similar to those in other correctional institutions in Japan, but one that’s unique to the Mine Rehabilitation Program Center is manga background artwork.

The program is overseen by professional manga artist Ryo Sonoba. Given the circumstances, many of the program participants don’t have any preexisting interest in or affinity for illustration, and Sonoba admits that newcomers’ early progress is often slow, with many submissions being something that the inmate obviously gave up on half-way through. However, with time many of them come to see meaning in sticking with a drawing through to its completion, and this before/after comparison of one inmate’s work after three months in the program is honestly impressive, even if it was produced by tracing a photo reference.

With stock backgrounds, there’s sometimes a tendency to draw them in a very basic perspective, like the backdrop for a stage play, sacrificing dynamism for ease of pasting character artwork over it. However, the data Mangaka Honpo supplies purchasers with allows the artwork to be broken up into layers, meaning that additions can be slid between parts of Mangaka Honpo’s art, such as putting a character between a chair and desk in a conference room background, which allows for more varied angles.

Mangaka Honpo, which currently has more than 100 background available, and roughly another 200 drawn and waiting to be uploaded to the site, can be found here.

Related: Mangaka Honpo, Mine Rehabilitation Program Center
Images: Mangaka Honpo
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