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.
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.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.
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