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Manga in the funny pages (rant time)

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 2:54 am
by Bustertheclown
Seems the papers are turning Japanese...

Okay, first of all, I'll tell you that I just spent a good hour writing a huge rant that was nothing but tangents, so I'm just going to try to stay calm here, and stick to my point as much as possible. Of course, that means spending another hour, writing a completely different rant. That said, my personal thoughts on the subject:

I can't say that I'm a huge fan of the current crop of cartoon imports. I say this as a guy who grew up with influences like Voltron, RoboTech, Akira, and Nausicaa, and spent my high school and college years actively seeking out the then-obscure artforms of anime and manga. That was ten years ago, after all. Manga wasn't even a word in America, and anime was still called "japanimation". I've watched Japanese cartooning explode in America, and I'll tell you right now that I don't have a problem with the stuff on an artistic level. In fact, I still quite enjoy many of the classics.

But that brings me to my beef. The stuff being imported these days, for the most part, isn't classic stuff. It doesn't even have the makings of classic stuff. A huge percentage of it is trite pop fluff. That's understandable, since publishers like TokyoPOP are in the game to make a healthy profit, which they are. The part I don't like is that now the trite pop fluff is the stuff that's influencing people. Much like the work of teeny-bopper singers and movie stars with their armies of stylists, producers, managers, PR advisors, etc. are influencing talented young musicians and actors to want to become superstars instead of artists, I see a trend of clueless youth shunning the old hat title of cartoonist for the perceived glitz and glamor that is manga-ka.

Believe me, the tactics are there. "Read it backwards! Pretend you're Japanese!" Sorry folks. When I'm reading English, I want to read it from left to right. It gives me a headache otherwise. If I read it in Japanese, I'll read it Japanese style. "Big eyes are more expressive!" Yeah. Bullshit. Big eyes, small eyes, no eyes; if you don't know the rules of caricatured expression, all your characters are just going to look like mannequins. "The page layout is so much more open and fluid!" Fluid, to me, means having a readable narrative sequence, i.e. looking at a given page or strip, and understanding what the hell is going on. I'm sorry, but when it comes to forming a sequential narrative, I'd pick American cartoonists over Japanese manga-ka any day of the week.

The stuff in quotations are all arguments I've heard being fed from publishers and purveyors to readers for the past few years (and, of course, my responses to those arguments). When you dispute them, the standard retort is "you just don't understand Japanese culture!" Well, I understand it well enough to know that I'm not Japanese! I don't understand why, when I yell at a Japanese guy, he's liable to bow at me and thank me for setting him straight (yes, that has happened), because when I yell at an American guy, he's liable to punch me in the throat and thank me for fucking off. I don't understand why, in manga, when a young man sees a girl scantily clad, he either starts crying or gets a gushing nosebleed, because an American comics, when a young man sees a scantily clad girl, he usually starts wrestling with her.

These are cultural differences which have been developed over generations! As a man who's interested in the cultures of the world, enough to try to learn many different languages, and enough to surround himself in the last six months with dozens of new friends form all over the world, I'm very concerned that the cultural sampling that's taking place in the instance of cartoons is not terribly healthy. In bringing in so much manga and anime in so many venues so quickly, and almost ignoring other forms of cartooning, a truly American artform is being diminished at it's core.

The most tragic part of this diminishment is that it is being done in the persuit of the almighty buck.

Founded in 1996, TOKYOPOP has operations in the United States, Japan, Germany and Great Britain, has an annual revenue of about $40 million and sells as many as 10 million books a year, according to Levy, the CEO.

It's no secret that the American comics industry has been languishing for the past decade. It's no secret that manga is a hell of a band-aid for cartooning in America. Not only does it bring in big money, it brings in big money from demographics never seen in comics before, like young women. Many would say that it took something revolutionary like the import of manga to save comics in America. I can't say I wholly disagree with the sentiment. However, to do so at the expense of the American comic, to me, is far more damaging than the slow death that comics were going through beforehand. That's because, when American comics were dying on their own, they would have had to find a way to re-invigorate themselves on their own terms. Now, if a limb of comics is dying, throw it in a kimono and see it grow! We've watched it happen in the comic book mainstream. Now we'll watch it happen in the sunday funnies.

But, hey, there's hope for all of you who have gone and given your life to the way of the brush pen and copic marker. You don't have to be Japanese anymore to be a manga artist in America! Hell, you don't even have to know anything about Japan beyond the stylistic preferences for a popular artform! You may yet become rich, famous, and syndicated, young hopefuls!

Both cartoon strips [soon to be published in major U.S. papers] are by Americans

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 3:24 am
by Dutch!
It seems there must be only two types of comics in the world...Japanese and American.

Actually...I don't even know if there's a proper term for Australian comics...

Well written rant there too. I watched Astro and Voltron when I was a kid too, but other than that when I was young and dumb, I've never seen the interest in Japanese work.

Mind you...what comes around goes around. Not many others have seen the interest in mine either :)

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 3:29 am
by Pillywiggin
Dutch! wrote:Well written rant there too.

I'd say something more but my brain is on the fritz due to attempting to concieve of a comic/"manga" based off of Nancy Drew


PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 3:36 am
by Blackaby
Why not look at it as a way to rejuvenate the comic industry? Obviously these stories will be American, since the authors aren't Japanese (or know anything about Japan...), so it will be a nice blend of both comic styles/storytelling techniques/characters... hopefully.

That said I hate manga. :(

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 3:46 am
by Princess
I'm never quite sure if I draw manga or not?

oh who am I trying to kid his eyes are the size of a small pacific island.


PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 4:02 am
by Bustertheclown
princess wrote:I'm never quite sure if I draw manga or not?

oh who am I trying to kid his eyes are the size of a small pacific island.


By the way, Mimo, I spent last night reading your entire archive. I think I've fallen madly in love with you. Or lust. Whatever.

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 4:07 am
by Princess
Thanks :D ....but now you can't wear white on your wedding day!

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 4:12 am
by Reinder
Can't say I agree with your nationalistic agenda, Buster, but man are you right about the shallowness and slavishness of much manga-influenced work out there. There's so much that people could learn from looking at Japanese cartoonists, but what too many of them take away from it is the lame stuff: the nosebleeds, the character profiles with blood types in them, the big sweat drops and other superficial stylistic characteristics. It drives me up the wall when I'm looking out for new comics.

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 4:24 am
by Joel Fagin
I don't much care either way but I do think it's typical of the American entertainment industry. They go to extraordinary lengths never to do anything truly new. They recycle their own stuff until it's tasteless and the original stuff they use are already successfull works from other cultures or genres. The rare occassion someone actually manages to slip a new idea - or even an old idea with a new flavour to it - past them, they cancel it after fourteen episodes.*

- Joel Fagin

* Er... Not that I'm bitter about any particular example here or anything.

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 4:41 am
by Keffria
I'm sure this is going to turn into another anime/manga-bashing thread. I guess we need one of these every few months. Anyway...

I find it irritating that it's not even actual manga that they're putting into the funnies, it's a couple of derivative knock-offs made by people who won a contest. (Though I kind of liked Van Von Hunter when it was a webcomic... Is it still around?) That Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys idea really pisses me off, too; I feel like a classic from my childhood is being horribly violated for the sake of cashing in on a trend.

That being said, you have to admit that manga is better able to appeal to a variety of audiences. Sure, there are (for example) American comics aimed at teen girls, but not in the ridiculous volume that one sees on the manga shelf of any comic book store -- "shoujo" comics make up 75% of all imported manga, I bet. The problem with American comics is that while there are comics for every niche imaginable if you look hard enough (e.g. up to the top shelves in a comic book store... :p), the focus has been on the superhero comics for so long that it's all people think of when they think about "American comics". Few self-respecting girls want to delve into that sort of stuff.

That being said... I rather liked American comic books when I was little (I'd never heard of manga; also, I still read them, though not the superhero ones...), but I was always nervous about going into the comic book shop for fear of meeting someone like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, or being laughed at by all the boys who frequented the shops, so I would surreptitiously buy things from the magazine rack in the variety store down the street. It is still horrendously geeky to enjoy American comics, but there is more social acceptance of "mangaholics" in North America, as Japanese art is the latest fad.

Finally, I'll admit that I read a number of manga-style webcomics, or at least I bookmark them ... but the ones I keep coming back to tend to be of a more distinctive style (or else they belong to friends ;)).

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 4:58 am
by Joel Fagin
Keffria wrote:I'm sure this is going to turn into another anime/manga-bashing thread.

Well, I did my part. I tried to turn it into an American entertainment industry bashing thread instead. Image

- Joel Fagin

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 5:02 am
by Spriteville, USA
Stuart Levy, chief executive of TOKYOPOP Inc., responds to a question during an interview...

I think that kind of shows the kind of people who run the entertainment industry on most levels. And the reason why I take little interest in it.

That's a very well written rant and you bring up a lot of good points but personally I just can't care enough. The truth is it doesn't matter in the least what people are defiling, copying, stealing, abusing, ect. It's going to happen. I can't make the world have taste. I can't make them read only the good comics, pay for the good movies, listen to good music. People are always going to lap up the bullshit that executives will want to feed us. Hell I have enough time watching my own buying patterns to worry about what everyone is being corrupted by.

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 5:37 am
by The Neko
The reason manga does so well in the US seems to be that it targets women, who have been almost completely ignored by the American comics industry. When searching out new titles, and there is almost always an emphasis on Shoujo. However, there is also a lot of variety in the comics intended for boys; there is plenty of comedy and romance. This sort of variety isn't found in the US.

However, I am sad to see so many imitators who don't really understand the basic aesthetics nor the cultural background of the style they're trying to imitate. Hell, they usually can't draw for shit in the first place, but believe that adding the stylization somehow makes it better. Most of them can't even speak a word of Japanese, and yet try to make it read from right to left and insert random Japanese words in an attempt to reach this nebulous concept of "authenticity". They are ruining an art form because of their own ignorance and incompetence.

America is losing the battle to retain our style because we pidgeon-holed ourselves into the superhero genre, and defined comics as children's literature and/or intended for losers in their 30's. The only comics that go outside that style are found on the independent publishing market, which is hardly popularized or as accessible.

We don't have any "Pogo"s anymore. And it is likely we will never have it again.

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 5:55 am
by Black Sparrow
I agree with Keffria. When I was little, I was fortunate enough to have a father with a large archive if classic Superman, Batman, and Archie comics all for my perusal. I loved X-Men and Spiderman almost as much as the next comic book geek.

But I loved manga too.

I think I must have been about 10 when Pokemon came out in the US, and it became "the thing" going around in geek circles. After that came the Anime boom and mangas started flooding the comic shelves of my local bookstore. I was intrigued, so I checked it out, and liked the stuff.

The truth is, I'd read very few American comics that had been geared toward me, a girl. I found quite a few women in American comics either intimidating (although Storm was always my favorite) or incredibly lame (Save yourself for once, Lois!). Manga was geared toward my interests, and I developed a taste for it.

Now, I'll admit that, after the Pokemon craze, the media started force-feeding us Japanese everything. I didn't even realize was being so bombarded with Japanese culture until I looked at it in hindsight. And I was affected by that, so that now I find it hard to get away from.

I had a point when I started this... Give me a while to find it again. :-?

How about this: Hello, my name is Sparrow, and I like manga.

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 6:06 am
by McDuffies
Neko nailed it right there.

I myself am not very concearned with the future of American comics, being that I don't think that there is much to be preserved right now as it is. I've seen a few cases of manga leaking out into European ground. Marini started out as manga artist (and I guess you could call that a core manga artist because he left the teardrops and stuff out and kept to realism) but, strange enough, his art progressed into rather classic French school style.
The thing with them it, if they want manga, they won't look for their own manga artists, they'll simply import manga. If they want superheroes, they won't look for the local superhero comic, they'll just import the American comics. So if you're French and you want to draw a superhero comic, tough luck. I can't say whether that's fair or not. I guess it's not, but in a way, I am happy that French comics aren't too Americanized, which would happen if the editor's policy was different (just like it happened to French cinema).

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 6:15 am
by Reinder
mcDuffies wrote: So if you're French and you want to draw a superhero comic, tough luck.

Unless you're Moebius, of course. Or the guys who made Superdupont :)

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 6:35 am
by RemusShepherd
Pillywiggin wrote:I'd say something more but my brain is on the fritz due to attempting to concieve of a comic/"manga" based off of Nancy Drew

"Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Tentacle Monster"?

I'd read it. :)

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 6:52 am
by Darzoni
Well, what to say.

From the other side of things, the japanese cartoonists probably don't like american cartoonists cheapening their work by imitating it.

EDIT: Okay, I got more.

There was a time, I remember, in the mid-90's, when our local comic shop started carrying Japanese comics and animation. They died a horrible miserable death. Why? Well, at the time, fans of the traditional American comic book refused to buy that "Japanese crap" (even though the shop had had a wall scroll of Lum for years). They're no longer in business because they alienated their customer base. These... imitators will probably succeed or fail on the same grounds. I don't think they'll do very well because most people I know who read Japanese comics don't read the newspaper.

Incidentally, most of the employees at that comic shop were chicks.

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 7:31 am
by PieceOfSkunk
Are you really surprised that the comics page people are doing what it takes to make a dollar? I mean, it's not like they shrunk the comics over the years to miniscule sizes to save newsprint, and it's not like they keep older comics that aren't even funny anymore and are written by a committee rather than bringing in something of quality.

PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 7:32 am
by Mvmarcz
all I can say is with the internet now if you really want comics you go online and find what you like. Hell you can even get garfeild online. So at this point it feels like a futile attempt by the papers to get readers and they probably won't. if manga is what you're REALLY into and you just want a small peice of one periodically you'll go buy shonen jump or whatever latest type like that they have out their.

I like manga...but I like regular comics too. I stopped reading the sunday funnies 2 or 3 years ago.