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Why We Love Manga [Feb. 8th, 2007|02:30 am]

The other day a customer asked me what the best-selling comic right in America right now, and I told him it was probably either Fruits Basket or Naruto. "Right, right," he said, "those probably sell well for manga, but what actually sells the best?" Either Fruits Basket or Naruto, I said. "Manga's got a pretty limited audience," he said, "so it's impressive when one starts to sell. But what I really want to know is what sells the best."

Well, he didn't get it, and a lot of comic-shop regulars don't get it, but the truth is that American comic books haven't been the most popular comics in America in many years (newspaper comics long have been), and now they're not even number two.

People know how to say "manga" now; some use the nasal "American" a and some use the broad "Japanese" a, but they rarely say "magna" the way they pretty much all used to, and I haven't heard a rhymes-with-lasagna pronunciation in months. That's a pretty sure sign of mainstream acceptance, that and the fact that they sell like hotcakes.

I am interested in examining why people have taken to manga so readily, and so without further ado I present:

Why We Love Manga Part 1: The Medium Is the Message

The success of manga is inextricably bound up with its format. Translated manga has been present in the U.S. for years, generally in the same format as American comics, sometimes as perfect-bound books or graphic novels; always a niche manket, available in specialty stores that catered to nerds. But a few years ago (when was this? 2003?) Tokyopop changed the format of manga, making it somewhat smaller (sizing it closer to Japanese collections, incidentally). Manga now fit better on the book store shelves, and chain book stores, which had been growing irate at the lack of success of their graphic novel sections (remember when the Union Square Barnes & Noble got rid of all their graphic novels?), the merchandise of which tended to get damaged rather than sell, now found something sized better for display, and which wouldn't "flop over" the way graphic novels can. (Tokyopop also made manga cheaper, either by cutting corners or preserving authenticity, depending on your point of view.) Book stores pushed them and they sold. Manga's snowballing success in these parts has stemmed from this one decision. Comics haven't had a distribution system this pervasive and professional since all those head shops closed in the 'seventies, crippling the underground comics movement.

This is pretty clear-cut, and I don't think anyone disputes these facts, except maybe Viz's PR department. But why did manga sell so well as soon as it was made available to the public?

a. Manga are not "comic books"

Comic books have long labored under the burden of three stereotypes: 1. Comic books are for kids, 2. Comic books are for mental misfits, 3. Comic books are for nerds. In the Keith's Comics of Dallas obscenity trial, the prosecution stated (and I quote from the goddamn transcript): "Comic books, traditionally what we think of, are for kids. This is in a store directly across from an elementary school and it is put in a medium, in a forum, to directly appeal to kids." I don't think Wertham invented the "only morons and criminals read comics" line, but he's sure the one who brought it before Congress with his scare-book Seduction of the Innocent. And I don't think I need to prove that comic books are for nerds; who else would they be for? Basically, if you read comic books, you are either a loser or a five year old from 1963. Five year olds don't read comic books any more.

Obviously, when a product gets this much negative buzz, people aren't going to consume the product; it would be like chewing that gum that's full of spider eggs. So, realizing this, people have long been at pains to call their comics anything other than comics. EC coined the term "pictofiction" in 1955; Art Spiegelman did not coin but resolutely employed the term "commix" to refer to his Raw and Arcade anthologies: both overt attempts to distance work from the maligned comic book. The long, hard slog that the term "graphic novel" has had dragging itself into the idiolects of the nation is just the latest attempt to pretend that things that obviously are comics are not comics.

One problem pictofiction, commix, and, for a long time, graphic novels, had was that they are not very persuasive. Marvel's idea of what a "graphic novel" should look like ca. 1985 is revealing: it's a lot like a comic, only larger and 75 pages long; in other words, it's more like a Dell Giant from the '40s than any kind of novel. No matter how shrill Spiegelman's protestations got, his duck still looked like a duck, just bigger and artsier. There was little reason for anyone other than an ad-man to call comics anything other than comics. Manga had an advantage here: 100 million people were already calling it manga by the time it hit the bookstores. Obviously different from American comics in many ways, it demanded a term that had, fortuitously, been around for a century.

People who read manga do not read comics. They read manga. There's obviously a lot of crossover at the store, since it is, after all, a comic book store, but see how many shojo readers who aren't already huge nerds go on to pick up X-Men. It really seems that people naturally want to read comics (you know, like Dilbert), and only the stigma attached to the label "comic book" has been preventing them.

Girls don't read comics. But I've never heard a tired old bromide claiming girls do not read manga.

b. The "satisfying chunk"

Manga offers what Heidi McDonald call a "satisfying chunk" of story. American comics sure used to, and now they don't, which means that customers are always complaining, after reading an issue, that nothing happened. The reasons for this change are due for their own essay (tentatively titled "What Went Wrong"), but for now let us note that while there was a time when a single issue of a comic would have Spider-man meet a foe, get defeated by the foe, mope around, become inspired, track down the foe, fight him again, defeat him, and then wrap up a subplot involving Aunt May--in other words, when an issue would contain a complete dramatic arc--nowadays Frank Miller can write entire issues in which Batman never leaves the car. We have grown accustomed to paying $2.99 for what is equivalent to three minutes of a movie.

Manga does not move at a faster pace, but there sure is more of it. Unless you're reading certain volumes of Dragonball Z, it's a good chance that something is going to happen by the time you reach the end of the manga. That is to say, whether you like the book or not, you're not going to feel ripped off for your $9.99: you've gotten some story: you've gotten your "satisfying chunk."

This perhaps less a "why people read manga" than a "why people don't not read manga." It's certainly a why people don't read American comics.

Why We Love Manga Part 2: The Message Is the Message

The most obvious appeal of manga is that it offers a diversity of genre and subject matter that American comics once had, and may have again soon, but currently lack. Simply put, most people, if given the choice, would not choose to read about superheroes almost all the time, and other things only on occasion. Although manga is certainly riddled with its own legion of cliches (to an extent that a new reader can scarcely be aware of, and will be, inevitably, disappointed to discover), these cliches appear in disparate genres such as high-school romance or robot fighting. Diversity is a much-trumpeted advantage of manga, and we should not give it short shrift, but there are, I think, other advantages manga offers, to wit:

a. Easy-to-draw

Although manga (of course) comes in a range of styles, and Lone Wolf and Cub does not look like Inu Yasha, let alone Crayon Shinchan, there is a general manga style, which you can learn about in any number of how to draw books. Some say that the style has been popularized by the need to make anime of popular manga, as it's an easy style to animate; it's also an easy style to draw.

When I say it's easy, I don't mean this pejoratively. Junko Mizumo is a much better artist than Michael Turner, but her thick, smooth line and stylized faces are easier to copy than ten thousand little pencil lines obscured by seven layers of computer airbrushing. Although I have not done a scientific study, it certainly seems that a higher percentage of manga fans draw manga characters than American comics fans draw American comic characters. (Although I think of myself as someone who can draw, I never came close to learning how to draw in the Marvel "house style" I loved; I copied Berke Breathed and Peter Bagge.) Every Japanese child is a good artist (isn't it true?). And if you can draw your favorite manga characters, if you do draw your favorite manga characters, that's another level of engagement that American comics rarely offer.

A paranoid reading might hold that American comics began their precipitous decline in popularity when the a hard-to-draw photorealistic style of Neal Adams overtook the simpler Curt Swan style, itself harder to copy than earlier Wayne Boring or Sheldon Moldoff. (Note that I'm not trying to ballyhoo simpler styles here; some of the greatest artists in the medium have been hard to copy, such as Gil Kane and Wally Wood; but who can draw like Wally Wood?)

Anyway, nothing makes for popularity like getting the reader in on the action.

Appeal to authority: Phil Jimenez agrees with me on this.

b. The sex thing

Most manga is, on some level, about sex. This is hardly a revolutionary situation, as a quick glimpse at any picture of Power Girl, or the White Queen, or just about any heroine, will reveal that most American comics are also about sex. But manga offers something different: It offers sex that is either 1. much more perverted or 2. much less perverted.

1. first: It is possible to read tens of thousands of American comics without once stumbling across the idea that people would even want to steal panties. Little Lulu and Nancy (and dozens of other characters) showed their "bloomers" three times a page for years without passers-by getting a single nosebleed. Although you might have thought, after reading Lady Death, that comics had gotten just about as pornographic as they could without actually being pornography, Naru's bowel troubles in Love Hina, the "piss in my eyes" scene from Wounded Man, the "on" switch in Chobits, and maybe and maybe not any number of parts of Strawberry Marshmallow should make you think twice. Even relatively kid-friendly comics regularly contain perverted characters (such as Kimura in Azumanga Daioh or Muten Roshi in Dragnoball); Mr. Weatherbee never makes improper advances on Betty, which may be sufficient evidence that Archie is not manga. If I call yaoi perverted, I'm not being homophobic; while it is perfectly reasonable to expect gay men to be aroused by the sexual escapades of gay men, it's perverted for anyone else to be. (N.B.: In my experience, no one buys just one yaoi title; yaoi is purchased by the pound.)

Traditionally, American comics that are just perverted fantasies are clearly nothing but a comic about perverted fantasies (such as Tarot), while most or all of the manga mentioned above mixes pervert content with long stretched of, you know, content. Even Wounded Man has lots of fighting. It's one thing to take Hard Cocks Comics out on the bus; it's another thing to take out Antique Bakery. Bodice-ripper romance novels (alternately: Maxim) are clearly pornography, but they contain enough foofaraw that you can convince yourself when reading it that you are not reading pornography; same goes for Negima; and sometimes people want to pretend they are not reading porn.

Of course, American comic artists could simply start making comics that mix coprophagia with a healthy dose of soap opera (and doubtless they will). But I think manga was necessary to open this can of worms. For yaoi: put it this way: it's a little embarrassing to admit that what you really want to read about is two boys kissing, in the same way that it's embarrassing for me to admit that what I really want to see is two girls kissing. It's less embarrassing in manga format; the fact that it comes from another country makes it more acceptable. We will return to this theme as we address:

2. The idea that a story can be about two people who fall in love at the tender age of, say, eight, and then meet each other when older, fall in love, true soul mates, and, after many obstacles, get married--this narrative was already obsolete in the West by the end of World War I. It is, frankly, a saccharine embarrassment. A story about two virgins who share a first kiss and TLF!!! would be laughed out of any venue in America. Any lingering inertia this motif had was completely destroyed by the 'seventies.

Except that it happens all the time in manga. Apparently the Victorian ideals we had thought dispatched by the sexual revolution still have some kind of appeal (see the upcoming essay "The Case Against Sex"); but it is not in American texts that they survive. These are stories of sexuality without sex, and although I"s may depict innumerable lovingly-rendered two-page spreads of Iori's camel toes, how many volumes must pass before she even kisses anyone? I see the people who read Ai Yori Aoshi, and I assure you they are not people who could stomach this kind of story if it came from any "sweet" or "romantic" American comic. But when reading a text in translation one has to grant certain things to the text. For example, Finnish poetry relies heavily on doubled phrases, such as "he bore a shield of gold, a shield of silver." Ordinarily, the reader would be within his rights to demand to know which it was a shield of gold, or of silver, or possibly of electrum, but it's really not a valid complaint when reading the Kalevala; it's something you grant. Well, when reading certain comics translated from the Japanese, you have to grant that true love will never die, and despite all the misunderstandings Naru and Kaitaru, or Aoi and Kaoru, or Mugi and Yuu really have been saving themselves for each other.

Of course, you simultaneously have to grant that a string of semi-naked co-ed bathers are going to walk in on each other, oops!, which explains 1. above. It's not just a parade of fetish objects; it's simply the convention of the Japanese harem manga genre. You've got to grant the convention. You've got to grant this yaoi.

So how about that manga, huh? Some crazy stuff there. Anyway, that's why it's so dang popular. Also the robots.

[User Picture]From: sunseenli
2007-02-08 04:12 pm (UTC)
You've brought up a LOT of interesting points, most of which I agree with, which unfortunately doesn't make for very good commenting. :) But I did want to bring up one other thing I'd love your thoughts on: one of the reasons I don't collect the popular comics, and one of the reasons I do collect the comics that I do (including manga) is the never-endingness of comics, which is bad in two ways. One, you never get the resolution you really crave, no matter how many issues you buy. Comics are like soap operas, they NEED to introduce new plots right before they wrap up old ones, to make you desperate to buy the next issue. If you're lucky, the plotline itself might have a really good ending...but, probably not. After all, you know who the "contract players" are. You can't kill off Batman, Superman, the Joker, or Spiderman, because if you do, that will end the comic. So some of the suspense is gone. Jean Gray will always come back to life, and that makes the deaths of other characters less moving, because you're not convinced it's permanent.

Second, there's the physical satisfaction of completion. I own all of Love Hina. I can look at the numbers on their spines obediently marching up to 14 in neat little rows on my shelf. Whereas, it is not physically possible to own all of Superman. It's just not. That'd drive me crazy. Plus, there's another bonus to this: once one manga ends, I can start a new one. That's kind of nice--no matter how much I like a story. And it helps out with money, too: I'm okay with the fact that my weekly comic budget is going to Deathnote right now, because I know that, too, will eventually end. Whereas it's a bit harder to add new comics that you like if you're already collecting X-Men, Ultimate X-Men, and Uncanny X-Men, because your budget is already maxed out, so you'd have to either expand your budget (which is going to hit a limit eventually) or drop a title from your lineup, which has a whole new slew of implications.

None of this was as well explained as I would've like, but I think that's why I'm throwing it at you, you seem to have a real flair for organizing arguments, that I really like.

Oh, wait, one last thing about American perversion in comics: it seems much more...furtive, for lack of a better word. Japanese perversion is either unabashedly blatant (sex scenes, and whatnot) or...bashedly blatant, for lack of a better word (where the characters are embarrassed) but they're almost always, you know, blatant. Whereas American comics are all just T&A and Freudian innuendos. Now, I like cleavage as much as the next pervert, but it's all a tease, and it's all utterly unrealistic. I like my sex a little more honest, thank you.
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[User Picture]From: halifax_slasher
2007-02-09 06:42 am (UTC)
I should have thought of, and am tempted to go back and add a section about, the continuity problem. (But no, it would spoil the symmetry.) In short, I couldn't agree more.

Manga is still wed to at least the appearance of representing a single creative vision, while no one expects an American comic to be by anything other than a series of whores for hire. And while a single creative vision can come to an end, whoring is infinite.

Obviously this subject calls for a "Case against Continuity."

But from a purely practical standpoint, American comics have the advantage of stringing readers along potentially forever, but they have the disadvantage that a disgruntled reader can stop at any time; while a manga reader might keep going to the end to "see how it turns out," no one could possibly believe that it will ever "turn out" for Batman.
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[User Picture]From: ericbuttface2
2007-02-08 06:07 pm (UTC)
>the "piss in my eyes" scene from Wounded Man

I'm so happy to see someone else reference this. Don't forget the time he injected cement into a corpse's penis and told a women to fuck it or the "we'll die of thirst unless we feed each other our piss" scenerio or all those times he had to rape a girl but didn't really want to.

>Except that it happens all the time in manga. Apparently the Victorian ideals we had thought dispatched by the sexual revolution still have some kind of appeal

There is a habit of fetishizing the other when it comes to consuming texts. Part of this is an unfamiliarity with the cliches of other cultures, but it's more than that as people are often able to forgive the use of familiar cliches. Maybe it's that foriegn equals cultured, so they don't have to feel ashamed to like a film that would otherwise be hollywood garbage.

The serial aspect is really important and not just limited to comics. In Korea the big dramas are all mini-series with a definite story and an ending and I'm always surprised that they stop a show while it is still profitable, but it clearly makes for better stories in the long run. Lots of American dramas end up writing themselves into a corner once the original premise no longer holds (eg, Beverly Hills 90210 when the characters are adults) or the original conflict has been solved (eg, Twin Peaks post Laura Palmer)

>The reasons for this change are due for their own essay (tentatively titled "What Went Wrong"),

I cannot wait for you to write this essay. I'm not entirely sure what went wrong or even when it went wrong. I would say that by the bronze age, superhero comics are no longer worth caring about.

Judging from http://superman.ws/tales2/strangedeath/ Marvel had killed DC by the late sixties. (Superboy feeling teen angst? My god he's Superboy not spiderman. Why doesn't he go hang out with his army of robot clones or his mermaid girlfriend?) I don't know when Marvel comics stopped being bad.

I think part of it is comics becoming more adult (and I don't mean that as in Powerman being an anal sex enthusiast, but in less fun adventures with Billy Batson, more listening to Ben Grimm complain about how he'll never be normal) and compllicated continuities that are impossible to follow and that take the character away from what he began as (I know you've complained about Spider-Man being some sort of everyman with powers after he's taught the Beyonder how to defecate and had everyone in his family be replaced by a robot or clone at one point or another). There's also a bunch of other reasons why modern comics suck, but those seem to be just reasons for why they suck more, not why they initially stopped being good.
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[User Picture]From: erinfinnegan
2007-02-09 05:56 am (UTC)
And if you can draw your favorite manga characters, if you do draw your favorite manga characters, that's another level of engagement that American comics rarely offer.

Is this repeated for effect, or did you mean to say "anime" one time?


1. much more perverted or 1. much less perverted.

1 or 1?
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[User Picture]From: halifax_slasher
2007-02-09 06:44 am (UTC)
The variation was between "can" and "do." The number error I have duly corrected.
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[User Picture]From: erinfinnegan
2007-02-09 06:15 am (UTC)
Can you add a "C" onto there:
c. You can buy manga in a bookstore
There are some who would say that the death of American comics occurred when you could no longer buy them at newsstands. One of the triumphant successes of the manga boom of recent years is that you can buy it in Barnes & Noble, or Borders, or even the smallest Waldenbooks in the crappiest mall in the middle of the Midwest. There's no need to brave the chauvinistic scary comicbook store that's going under soon anyway (and as Evan Dorkin depicts - it's located in the ghetto to boot).

Only little boys, pimply teenagers, and fat 30-something bearded guys shop at comic book stores! Your average teenage girl can be dropped off at the mall, and sit on the floor of B. Dalton's to read for an afternoon, and aren't malls cooler than the library? Comic book stores don't let you sit and read!
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From: colleenyligo
2008-07-16 10:05 pm (UTC)
I tell you, Frank, you're gonna die if you don't just let your mind blow up. Just let it fuckin explode I tell you.
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From: briankoussad
2008-10-17 08:08 am (UTC)
Hey man, i'm just talking about dirty frank ok i think that's enough BROTHER Instrumental BEE GIRL bee girl, you're gonna die you don't wanna be famous, you wanna be shy do your dances alone in your room becoming a star will become your doom bee girl, be a girl.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-02-10 04:35 am (UTC)

Excellent essay!

The funny thing is, most of this has been breathtakingly obvious for quite some time now to anyone who thought about it. I wrote a similarly themed essay well over a year ago (http://www.tcj.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=339&Itemid=48), and yet the principal result was to cement my reputation among some portions of comics fandom as someone who "hated comics," and prompted one critic (http://mildmanneredreporter.blogspot.com/2005/08/manga-not-comics-salvation.html) to attempt to refute me by arguing that manga weren't even comics to begin with. It was an... educational experience.

I interviewed Del Rey Manga VP Dallas Middaugh (http://www.tcj.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=368&Itemid=48) some seven months ago, and he made the argument that there were structural impediments in the Direct Market that prevented Western comics from ever generating the same public interest that manga has attained. I'm curious: As a retailer who clearly has a better understanding of why various forms of comics do and do not sell, do you think there's a way out of this sandbox? How could American comics beat the odds and transform the medium into an actual growth industry?

Dirk Deppey,
Online Editor, The Comics Journal (http://tcj.com/)
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[User Picture]From: halifax_slasher
2007-02-10 06:18 pm (UTC)

Re: Excellent essay!

I almost referenced "She's Got Her Own Thing Now" in the intro paragraph, but couldn't remember the actual title (I thought it was "She's Just Not into You") and was too lazy to dig through back issues.

Whether manga is the salvation of the comics medium and whether it is the salvation of the comics industry are two different issues. If the direct market collapses and comics have made a headway in other venues, such as bookstores, then we will, at least, still be able to get comics (although I'll be out of a job).

That said, it's going to be difficult for American comics companies to do what manga does. Some of their attempts have been laughably clueless (Marvel's Tsunami line) but Runaways does well in manga form, and all they've done is change the size of the collections. Frankly, graphic novels have a lot of the same appeal as manga: they offer a satisfying chunk, they lack a lot of the stigma of comic books, they can be sold in a store normal people shop at, etc.

If DC & Marvel learn from the lesson of manga, it won't be by Paul Levitz having some kind of revelation: it'll be from a second generation of fans producing American "manga" in sufficient quantities and of sufficient quality that fans have a domestic option. Ben Dunn and Adam Warren have been doing this since the 'eighties; and while I don't necessarily want the future of American comics to be Gold Digger, this is perhaps the way we'll be headed.

There are a lot of problems, though: Manga is resource being consumed at non-sustainable levels. It's easy to churn out Kare Kano on a bi-monthly basis when Tsuda already wrote and drew the whole thing years ago. It's much harder to put out a graphic novel's worth of original material every two months. Fans of Scott Pilgrim, a book doing very well in manga format, are learning how long the wait is going to be (heck, American artists can't produce pamphlet comics on a monthly schedule). In Japan, phonebook anthologies like Shonen Jump can keep the impatient going with small fixes, but there's no such fallback in the US. And people complain all the time about even the relatively modest wait for manga; there's probably only so long an audience will sit around between installments of a serialized story. (You'll notice that most "manga" of domestic material is much thinner than any genuine manga volume.)

Of course, comic books fans have grown used to saying "I'll wait for the trade," so maybe they will be able to put up with the delays. How many artists can exist six months between paychecks is another question.

Manga is, I believe, a bubble waiting to burst, though--there's a manga glut, and even B&N must find it difficult to make shelf space for two feet of new product every week. A manga store in Japan--shelf after shelf filled with manga, taking up an entire store--is a vision of what an American store would have to become in order to keep up with all the manga product being out out. But manga is big enough here that it will, I'm sure, survive the inevitable implosion.

And so many maga readers draw their own comics that a manga-inspired future for comics is probably inevitable. Perhaps all American comics can do is make sure their own future is tied somehow to manga's, so when American mangaka end up producing and selling their own comics, American comics get some crossover dollars. The hard part won't be convincing the Mild-Mannered Reporter that manga are like unto comics; the hard part will be convincing otaku that comics are like unto manga.

Or American comics companies could put out good mainstream comics. That might help as well. It's not hard to get someone hooked on Invincible.

By the way, if Fantagraphics wants a jump on the ostensible future by publishing American manga, might I recommend Chronin?
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[User Picture]From: erinfinnegan
2007-02-10 07:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Excellent essay!

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[User Picture]From: crocolyle
2007-02-11 09:36 pm (UTC)

Re: Excellent essay!

That said, it's going to be difficult for American comics companies to do what manga does. Some of their attempts have been laughably clueless (Marvel's Tsunami line) but Runaways does well in manga form, and all they've done is change the size of the collections

I have to disagree, here, to some degree. Overall, I found the Tsunami line hit-and-miss in terms of its mission, but with titles like Runaways (Sentinel also comes to mind) I've been impressed at how many of the pitfalls of superhero comics those titles have avoided. The continuity is there, but is more of a carrot than a stick, there's a good amount of forward movement in each volume (with each title feeling more like a story with a potential end than a franchise) and the stories tend to be more genuinely emotional like manga. Runways has lost some of those qualities since the second volume, but I think it's succeeded on more than just a size change.

One other thing I would nitpick in your excellent analysis. I think the genre diversity of manga is a big part of its success. For years I used to say I liked manga in theory because when I read about what was available it all sounded so cool, but the only manga title I'd actually spend money on was Banana Fish. Once they got into bookstores, I think Tokyopop's boom was fueled by the fact that they put out a large number of comics that you couldn't find elsewhere. I frequently point to how well shoujo sells when the American publishers just threw up their hands and decided that romance comics couldn't work anymore.

(Side note, boy was there a tough transitional period for me when I went from wishing there were more shoujo titles being published based on my enjoyment of Banana Fish and the first couple waves of shoujo that came out.)

I agree there's a manga glut out there, but I still say there's a promising future for the publisher who can look at their backlist and figure out which series could become more successful with the right marketing effort.
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[User Picture]From: halifax_slasher
2007-02-12 06:10 am (UTC)

Re: Excellent essay!

I'd forgotten that Runaways was part of the Tsunami lineup, probably since I still don't see what it has to do with any manga, aside from being good, and had thought I was mentioning it as just another example of an attempt by Marvel to cash in on manga; thanks for reminding me that Runaways was at least supposed to be mangaesque from the get-go. (Sentinel was probably the only Tsunami title to be in the least bit manga-inspired; since then, Marvel has managed to put out Mary Jane books that are closer to the manga mold than, say, Mystique ever was). And you're certainly right that Runaways manages to avoid many (although by no means all) of the superhero "pitfalls." It's nice to see that it's still possible to write a good superhero book, and Marvel's slim manga-sized trades deserve the success they've had. Of course, now they're going to shot themselves in the foot a second time by replacing Vaughn...

Furthermore, I agree that an important aspect of manga's appeal lies in its multiple genres (although not too multiple; it sometimes feels like there are five, and two of them are pornographic), but I do believe this aspect is somewhat overrated. Back in 1986 DC's Angel Love comic covered genre ground we might call shojo today, but nobody read it at all. Nevertheless, genre should not be given short shrift.

Agreeing with people is boring, and I am on much more comfortable ground fighting. "Only a lost cause can interest a gentleman." -Borges. The tragedy of people being reasonable.

One more thing about manga: I am always surprised that an Anerican audience, which has traditionally shunned black and white comics, should have accepted manga so readily; and indeed a frequent complaint I hear from Marvel/DC customers is that they don't want to read manga because it's not in color. Maybe a mainstream audience can accept black and white comics better than a comics-schooled audience (after all, Garfield is on black and white 6/7 of the time)? Would colorizing manga lead to an even greater audience? Or would it just ruin what's left of the "authenticity" appeal?
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[User Picture]From: crocolyle
2007-02-13 05:06 pm (UTC)

Re: Excellent essay!

Hm, Mystique. Marvel showed some good judgment when that one didn't get collected as a digest. Emma Frost, minus the worst of the Greg Horn covers, was more manga-esque than Mystique.

I'm not sure about Angel Love, in hindsight that series strikes me as being like almost every other modern age series to step out of the superhero boundaries (though at the time the boundaries were starting to settle in) in that it got undermarketed and the only lesson taken from it was "Don't try" When an indie publisher finally did create a hit romance comic in Strangers in Paradise, there wasn't much of an effort to duplicate the success aside from a few struggling indies like The Waiting Place.

So, I guess I'm thinking that an important factor in manga having diverse genres was that Tokyopop and Viz were putting out enough titles in different generes to keep new readers addicted when they said "That was great, what else do you have?"

Good point about the color/BW dynamic. I'm surprised, as well, that the antipathy towards black and white found with superhero comic readers isn't duplicated outside the Direct Market audience.

Still, I'd love it if manga publishers spent a few extra coins and went back to printing the color pages in color. I feel old remembering such a thing.

BTW, I keep re-reading the first part of your entry when people link to this post... the part where people dismiss your assessment of the best selling comic. On further re-readings, it reminds me of Heidi MacDonald's story of telling people that DC's best selling comic when she worked there was MAD Magazine, only to get a response of "But that's not a real comic."
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[User Picture]From: halifax_slasher
2007-02-13 06:35 pm (UTC)

Re: Excellent essay!

At the time I thought Angel Love was ridiculously over-marketed, since it got plenty of house ads in all of DC's books, and as far as I was concerned this was space that could have been spent hyping Todd McFarlane's Infinity Inc. But now I realize that you can't market to a non-comics audience by putting ads in comic books. So although I give DC credit for trying to push Angel Love, their efforts were clearly in vain.

I do agree about the color section in manga. It's always disconcerting to have clean line art in most of the manga and four pages in half-tones--I imagine this must be inexplicable to most manga readers.
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From: celiahuthwait
2008-10-09 05:29 pm (UTC)
Don't see no halos, never do in here, least for long. I don't think any chums notice me, which is half the point.
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[User Picture]From: hirovox
2007-02-12 12:48 pm (UTC)

Why do Haligonians rule?

I think I love this essay, and you for writing it. *Smooch!*
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[User Picture]From: andydiggle101
2007-02-12 01:04 pm (UTC)
ESPECIALLY the robots.
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[User Picture]From: phthoggos
2007-02-12 03:24 pm (UTC)
I wish I'd been able to see the look on the guy's face!
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[User Picture]From: eviltofu
2007-02-13 02:44 am (UTC)
Also, manga comes in novel sized paperbacks which is more satisfying to consume at one sitting.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-02-13 02:36 pm (UTC)

Nice Entry

Very nice entry. In my opinion, the real cancer of American comics are the corporate owned titles from DC and Marvel. The above mentioned continuity problems, and crossover fever, have really turned me off to them.

I now buy creator owned books.

Jeff Flowers
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[User Picture]From: halifax_slasher
2007-02-13 05:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Nice Entry

I can't deny that creator-owned, one-creator comics like Age of Bronze or Palookaville rank higher than anything DC or Marvel is managing to put out. Crossovers are especially a blot on the current market--it's like the Big Two learned nothing from the '90s, when they, you know, almost died.

Although enough good corporate-whore comics have been put out in the past (all my Silver-Age loves, e.g.) that I can't dismiss them all. And just how creator-owned are manga anyway?
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[User Picture]From: halifax_slasher
2007-02-14 07:55 am (UTC)
Yeah, this is something sunseenli touched upon above. American comics, like American TV shows, limp along forever, and it drives me nuts. When I read a Superman comic I read it to learn what happens to Superman, not what happens to one of several characters whose continuity has been wiped clean four or five times since 1938. If I can't pretend that a Superman story is really happening to the character, why bother? Every superhero issue is like an out-of-canon OAV.

Manga is, in some way, much closer to the American indy comics scene than it is to so-called maistream comics: black and white, finite series, single creator the rule (although Kazuo Koike has written a good half dozen manga series drawn by People Who Aren't Him), emphasis on graphic novel collections; many genres. Although mangaka don't seem to have to deal with cries of "sell-out" when they hire an inker or, say, forty assistants...
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[User Picture]From: ayyu
2009-06-20 02:37 pm (UTC)
I always figured it was because Japanese do not get moral hang ups about what they find sexy and cool. They just bloody well DO IT. Unfortunately that means plenty of sexist/non-con/other-ist content gets through, but in the end it delivers people much more powerful and erotic entertainment. The truth is what we find entertaining isn't necessarily something we would like to admit. I don't just mean we get turned on by sadistic sex scenes and not-barely legal porn. I mean "moral" in a broader sense. What is moral is defined not just by law but by what a certain cultural, with its corresponding traditional/religious beliefs, deems right, and the west, compared with Japan, has a hell of a lot of them. Depiction of gays is considered "immoral" even though they're not hurting anybody. Men appearing beautiful is "immoral" in some unspoken sense I've encountered everywhere, but is never talked about. All these invisible rules make a lot of the "sexy" stuff in western culture...not quite deliver for me. Japanese stuff goes exactly where I want it to go.

By the way, I'd like to nitpick a little - yaoi isn't necessarily about gays - the men in them are often straight or of undefined orientation, and just happened to like each other as not men, but human beings. I think this is what Japanese women find so attractive about yaoi - a world without gender constraints and without the limits of a woman's body.
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[User Picture]From: ayyu
2009-06-20 02:41 pm (UTC)
What I mean by lack of constraints in Japan is while there are a hell of a lot of social constraints, they aren't of a religious or absolute nature, right is not irrevocably and universally right. Right and wrong depends entirely on the circumstance, and if you fulfil your duties in work and family, you are free to do what you want in the realm of play.
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[User Picture]From: ayyu
2009-06-20 02:46 pm (UTC)
And I should really edit these posts beforehand - yes, morality is also defined by suffering - I'd say that's the fundamental measure of morality - but you will find people imposing some particular ideology to define morality as pertaining to 1) obedience to god 2) obedience to your role in life as a man/woman/adult/child/whatever.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-06-17 01:36 pm (UTC)

Reasons why I love manga

I love manga because it is an easy read.
I love manga because it's black and white. Outline makes the picture easy to understand and makes the characters stand out more. Colours only shift your attention elsewhere.
I love manga because manga is manga; quite a common line in manga, don't you think? (Eg: Mokona is Mokona, Watanuki is Watanuki)
I love manga because there's always a cool character that stands out more than the rest because of their cold personality, the type that most girl readers find quite sexy. (Not to mention, these characters always frown but when they smile, the fans melt)
I like manga because most of the time, you will find out even the evil in the manga have their own reasons to be evil or at least had been a good guy.
I like manga because the box layout, especially in Shoujo story, are not entirely sharp edged.
But most of all, I like manga because everytime I read, it isn't always about a character trying to be a hero. Sometimes, even when they don't want to fight, -Gundam ZZ for example-, they have to because putting an end to everything and going with the flow is better than leaving the world condemned to its end without even trying to do anything. Also, most of the characters potray actual human behaviours (gentle, courageous, stingy, perverted) and their action can sometimes trigger our inner desire (you know like wanting to do all that weird stuffs and still not call yourself a whore). And their conversation always gives a hint about the real life. For example, even the cleverest human (like Light for example) have weakness of their own and can be very stupid when he think he is really smart. Superman hardly potrays that.
Sometimes, there are characters that touches your heart because of their effort even though they know that there are possibilities that they are going to die or lose something. It makes you want to be strong like them emotionally (no matter how many times your friend manage to escape when you are so close to getting them back) and never give up. Even if you manage to get the person back or love you, you have to go through all the challenge first, cry your eyes out and realise not everytime you will get what you want. I learn a lot from manga. And now I know how life is comparable to a manga story.
Not all the time though. You don't get to be Shinigami even if you try to knock your soul out by running into the wall.
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