I’ve sat back and watched conversation after conversation over global manga; should it be called manga? Is it all garbage? A lot of these same statements and arguments have resurfaced in full-force recently due to the Tokyopop fiasco. Well I finally sat down to write down my views, and for what it’s worth, I’m sharing them with you. It’s long and feels like it turned into a bit of rant so apologies in advance (?). I welcome relevant, mature comments so feel free to share your thoughts at the end!
First, let’s get this out of the way first. Do I think that manga-styled books drawn out of Japan should be called manga? Yes, yes I do, personal preferrance. If it’s drawn with the style and intent to be like a manga, then call it a manga. I save the term authentic manga for that which comes out of Japan if more distinction is required. Manga has very distinct styles, pacing and appearances, and though diverse, it remains a type of graphic art all to itself. Excluding global manga because the artist isn’t Japanese is treatment that I don’t believe in.
So what if an artist lives in Japan and publishes their work? Even if they were English born, German-born, from anywhere in world, but initially published in Japan, would that then make it manga? Is a person of Japanese descent who publishes their work, but is living elsewhere, thus not count as a manga artist? There’s also Korean manga, often referred to as mahn-wa, but ultimately referred to as manga by most with much less complaint. Things like this should not boil down to race and location; it’s the art and the story that should matter.
So many times on forums and blogs have I seen statements like these:
“If I see an English name on the cover, I know it’s crap and I’ll put it down right away. At least with a Japanese artist, I know I’m getting quality.”
You don’t get much more rude and disrespectful than that. You’re not making an assumption based on the artist or author themselves, you’re making assumptions based on their name, race and where they live. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and I’m not saying that people aren’t allowed to dislike something, but in this case you’re not basing your issues on something, you’re basing it on someone; someone you’ve probably never met, someone you’ve never seen put hours and hours into what they love, someone who knowing they live on the same continent as you, in your mind, makes them inferior.
Another thought shared by many is that anything not produced in Japan is terrible, no exception: bad writing, bad drawing.
“I’ve never read a manga I didn’t like at least a little, but I know I don’t like any manga stuff made here because it all sucks. In Japan they atleast know how to do it right!”
You have to love these statements, the ones that make it sound like every manga out there is a piece of gold. First of all, there have been millions of mangas published over the last thirty years; originals, doujinshis, one-shots, long series… do you honestly believe that they are all brilliant or good because the artist holding the pen was Japanese? Like with any other medium, the bad will generally always out weigh the good but it doesn’t mean the good isn’t there.
Keep in mind that what we see translated to English isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of this huge industry. What gets released is filtered, it’s chosen based on past selling records, popularity and demand. Publishers release what they believe will sell, something that’s proven to sell or already has a fan base, be it for the series or the artist.
As the manga phenomenon has only really taken off globally in the last decade, so too has the appearance of global manga. You’re reading stories found and released from a much smaller pool. While admittedly, yes, a lot of it is cheap, rushed material that is more about capitalizing on the ‘manga craze’ (like the hundred-and-one how to draw books out there), than really getting a new artist out there, there are still those who have definitely earned their praises.
Despite Tokyopop’s issues, past and prior, regarding their manga pilot program, Rising Star competition and publishing agreements, they have put out some great work by some very talented people. Svetlana Chmakova’s Dramacon, Jen Lee Quick’s Off*Beat, Rivkah’s Steady Beat; these are just some of the global mangas that I love and think are more than worth their space on any store shelf. Aoi House in Love by Adam Arnold and Shei, published by Seven Seas, is a hilarious well-written and superbly drawn comedic drama, and even Yaoi Press, despite a lot of its negative stigma, has been putting out some amazing work by the Spanish duo KOSEN, among some other newcomers. Even if these were hypothetically the only ‘good’ global manga out there today, they make up an impressive ratio to the number of lesser-quality books for such a new, up and coming global industry.
Another aspect that seems to get global manga artists a lot of grief is the treatment their books receive from publishers. As a prime example, I’ve come across a lot of annoyance from people on Tokyopop’s often over zealous advertising of Princess Ai, while series that people hold in much higher regard are left in the backdrop, nary a word about them and lost in TP’s mess of a website. Now allow me to remind people that I’m not in the industry so forgive me for this uneducated assumption, but it seems a safe assumption that artists don’t have this sort of commercial power. The power to say what gets promoted, hyped and focused on falls to the company, those in charge and the publicity and advertising staff. So when so-and-so’s such-and-such a series seems to be getting all this positive attention, maybe it actually means it’s worth checking out and reviewers want you to know or maybe it is just a pushy marketing scheme. Either way, in this case you should (proverbially) shoot the messenger, not hate the message.
What also comes on a more personal note is the artists themselves, these people who often put their hearts, sweat and blood into these works that they work to share with you, often needing to work around full-time jobs or school. There are those who’re so quick to judge, so quick to insult. But as it’s been put so simply over a million things before, could you do better? Could you put your pencil where your mouth is? As an occasional art dabbler myself, the amount of work that I know has to go into each and every book is amazing and whether I like it personally or not, many still earn my respect for that alone.
Also through the wonders of the internet, and with less language barrier, we as readers are able to join these creators on their journeys: their inspirations, their roughs, their hard work, their dealing with publishers and their responses to our questions and comments. I love that aspect of global manga, so many opportunities to watch these stories and artists grow, instead of just receiving something that’s already seen publication long ago with very little chance of interaction with the creator. It adds a whole new element to the reading experience and I love it!
So there you have it, some of my thoughts. Do I think you have to like global manga or else be labelled as ignorant? Not at all. Am I saying you shouldn’t judge purely based on race and where they live? Simply put, but yes. It’s a story and an art form so let those be the judged. No, you obviously aren’t going to like it all (heck, you may not even like any), but you should give it as much of a chance as anything else, even if it’s so much as a good look at the cover art instead of the name tacked below it.