Thursday, April 14, 2011

Manga and Me

Since my last post I’ve been asked to comment about why I don’t read Manga.

Disclaimer: I am not immersed in the manga/anime culture so some of my outsider generalizations will reveal my ignorance about the subject. I haven’t read Akira, (I know, I know!) so I might not have the best basis to comment with, but I have yet to find a manga series that I have wanted to read continuously, or spend money on. If you have suggestions about manga that I should read to help me become more enlightened, please leave a comment.

Now, back to the blog.

For those of you who may not know, manga is a comic and cartoon style that originated in Japan, some say as early as the late 19th century. Manga and anime (Japanese animation) started appearing in the American market around the 1970’s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s - 2000s that it really took off as its own subculture. When I was getting into the comic scene, say early 2000s, all that you could find on the shelves were Inuyasha and Sailor Moon. Now manga fills more shelf space than western graphic novels in the big box bookstores.

Manga, like any other art form, has its devote followers and those who can’t stand the sight of it…and those who just don’t care. As I previously stated I don’t read manga anymore, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t find it a credible form of artistic expression. Which is why I started my manga analysis with:

Why Manga is Awesome:

It has variety!: Unlike western comics, manga has no trouble covering topics other than superheroes. Genres appearing in manga include high school drama, romance, fantasy, sci fi, sports, action, adventure, etc.  The one huge flaw in western comics is where Manga really shines.

It’s for girls!: With its stories about high school, romance, and mystery, manga steals the female audience right under western comics’ nose. By reading manga, girls might become more aware of the fact that western comics exist. (Manga was definitely a stop on my road to comic fandom.) There should be comics for women and manga provides for that niche. Seriously, Marvel, step it up! (And that measly adaptation of Pride and Prejudice just isn’t going to cut it.)

It’s for kids!: Surprisingly, for a medium that’s been historically linked to children, western comics are losing some ground. Manga is available in cute little books that are great for younger readers. And you can buy them without ever having to step foot inside a comic shop. (Not all comic shops are kid appropriate.) The art in manga is much more simplistic than in western comics at times, so it can be easier for younger kids to piece together and understand the storyline. You can tell it’s stealing the market when Marvel starts releasing Spider Man in manga format. (Note for parents: Not all comics or manga are suitable for young children. Most bookstores now have a “comics for kids” section to help with the screening process. Remember, just because it has pictures, doesn’t mean its always meant for children.)

It’s competition!: All of the reasons I provided above have given western comic companies (DC, Marvel) the kick in the pants that was needed to help them realize that they need to revaluate their marketing strategies and content choices. (Well...kind of.) Hopefully with manga taking over the graphic novel sections in bookstores they will begin to realize that women like comics too. And require more varied content.

It’s called Manga!: Seriously, western comics need a cool name, so I can stop typing “western comics.” (FYI: I’m using the term ‘western comics,’ instead of ‘American comics’ because some of the comics I will be reviewing on this site were written/released in Europe and other parts of the American continents, including Canada and Brazil.)

Why I don’t read Manga:

Art Style: One thing I absolutely love about American comics is the fact that every artist has a different art style. I love it when I can walk into a comic store and be able to recognize an artist by just glancing at the cover. The art style choices really add to the story that is being told. For example, Eduardo Risso’s art in 100 Bullets is so perfect for the storyline. His use of shadow really emphasizes the intrigue and spookiness that permeates the comic. Just like music in a movie sets the emotional tone of the film, the art sets the tone of the comic book. 100 Bullets just wouldn’t have been the same without the artistic choices that Risso made.

Manga, on the other hand from what I can tell, has only a handful of different styles. The art in manga doesn’t change radically from book to book to help shape the tone of the story. It is generic and conformist, and honestly I get bored looking at the same style of art all the time. Art is a huge part of comic composition and when it isn’t used to enhance the particular story that is being told, then what is the point? When 10 comics, with radically different stories, all share the same art style, what is the art really saying? In my opinion? Not much. Also, sometimes a person should be compelled to pick up a comic based solely on its art style. If it all looks the same, how do I choose one story over another? And different artists appeal to different people. If you don’t like the art in a certain western comic, then find a different artist. If you don’t like the manga style, well you might be out of luck.

Story: This is the section that I might start digging my own grave, so stick with me. It’s been years since I’ve really read manga, so I’ll be drawing on my experience with anime for support. This is not a comment on composition in Japanese comics, because I haven’t analyzed that in any depth in the same way that I have with my own collection of western comics. This is about the type of stories being told and the manner in which they are told.

First of all, no story that I’ve read or seen in manga or anime has intrigued me the same way that, say, Gaiman’s Sandman or Willingham’s Fables has. Some have caught my attention enough to make me sit down and pay attention, but none have succeeded in retaining my attention. Sometimes I get confused, sometimes bored, sometimes the endings aren’t satisfying, and sometimes the same thing just keeps happening over and over and over…some don’t even end. Example: I really tried to like Death Note, but after the climax with L, the fact that the story continued for like a whole other season just didn’t work for me. It felt like the story wasn’t thought out as a whole. (And it wasn’t that long to begin with. Jumping the sharking as an excuse just doesn’t cut it for me.) And could someone please explain to me the ending of Evangelion.

Second of all, sometimes strange things happen and I just don’t get it. I’m a rational person and when strange things happen I like to know why. And sometimes crazy ice skating ninjas appear out of nowhere and challenge the protagonist to a duel. For no reason.  I can only take so many crazy ice skating ninja types of scenarios. (It’s these types of scenarios that keep me from reading superhero comics as well.)

Thirdly, for the most part I don’t like giant robots, ninjas, superheroes, crazy samurai, car racing, dudes with big swords or girls with huge knockers. Or pretty much anything supernatural for supernatural’s sake. (I know, I’m no fun.)

Outside of these subjects I’ve found it difficult to find more mature, more intellectual Japanese comics. Most of the manga I’m familiar with, and it might just be the types of manga that are being translated and published in the States, are targeted toward junior high and high schoolers. As a twenty something, I prefer stories with a little more depth. (Comics? Depth? Keep reading my blog posts and you’ll see. You’ll see.) As I said, I’ve been out of the manga game for a while now so maybe there is something out there for me. I honesty haven’t looked in a long time.

It might just be me, though. It might be because of my background. Going to school in the States I’ve read a lot of English literature and my various English classes have taught me a lot about western story structure. I know very little about Japanese culture and literature. That might be a huge barrier in me understanding and appreciating manga to its fullest. Whatever the reason, I find little pleasure in reading it, but that might change someday. We’ll just have to see.


There will always be some sort of division in comic culture. Take the Marvel vs. DC argument for example. Most comic readers will choose one side and stay loyal. It’s just the way we’re built as a culture. (I choose DC by the way.) The Manga vs. western comics stems from a clash of cultures more than anything. I feel more comfortable in the classic western comic, Archie and Superman culture. That's just a part of who I am. Manga has a rich culture that I just don't fit into.

I’m not saying any of this to dissuade anyone from reading manga. I’m just making rationalizations about why I don’t read it. I could make similar rationalizations about why I don’t read superhero comics or Frank Miller. If I tried to be well read in all types of comics I wouldn’t get anything done. There are gems in every medium (Jeff Loeb’s Batman or Superman: Red Son for example if you want to dig into the superhero category.) I’ve just happened to have already found some gems in the western comics non-superhero category that I would like to share. If you out there would, in turn, like to educate me on the manga gems that you have found, I would be very interested in learning about them.

The whole point of this blog, after all, is to try to erase prejudices against the comic medium in general and try to garner it some respect. I can start doing this by helping people to realize that comics are more than just superheroes and content for intended for children. (Non-superhero western comics are also easier for people outside of the medium to start reading, since there is no long back story or universe for them to catch up to and understand.) But if there are other comics out there, past my scope of American and western storytelling, please pass them my way.

They’re all still comics in the end.

Peace, guys.

(BTW, if you haven’t heard of some, or any, of my references to other comics, look them up or wait for future blog posts!)

DEMO review, next time. I promise!

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