Whenever Michael Rodriguez goes to Barnes & Nobles to grab his favorite copy of manga, he never fails to stop by the self-help section and browse through “Techniques in Drawing Female Manga Characters” by Hikaru Hayashi.
“I am hoping that one day, I can create a manga about my life,” says Rodriguez, who has been a manga fan since 2005. Whenever he is free, he will be hiding behind a comic book, which brings him into the fantasy world of wide-eye characters with exaggerated hairstyles and body types.
Yet lately, he has been contemplating taking a step further by learning how to draw manga, thanks to the smorgasbord of books teaching amateurs how to create their own manga. And Rodriguez is not alone.
According to Publishers Weekly, instructional books on manga creation such as Christopher Hart’s book Manga Mania were at the top of Bookscan’s art book sales list for about six months in 2004. For example, Hart’s book remained in that list for 150 weeks.
And sales of manga have been brisk too. Not only is manga dominating the total sales of graphic novels with an estimated record of $200 million in 2006, (the estimated graphic novel sales is $330 million), it has become an influential medium in how youths communicate and is taking the American comic publishing industry by storm.
Like it or not, Manga mania is here to stay.
Tokyopop, one of the largest manga publishers in the USA, sponsors an annual manga competition called Rising Stars of Manga, in which the top three winners’ work will be published in a Tokyopop book. Its marketing strategy is to promote the idea that everyone can produce manga. Every year, they received about 5,000 entries from manga fans.
Not only have Americans jumped on the bandwagon of amateur mangaka (manga-writers), some have used it to express their culture and heritage. Native American Jessica Mofett drew and published her own manga-style comic called Tobias, a story about a boy who was kidnapped by invaders to his culture. The story mirrored the natives’ experience with the European settlers in the 18th century.
“Some parts of the story resemble Native American history – genocide, burning of their crops, destruction of livestock, racism, concentration camps, separation of families and the government forcing young children to attend boarding schools,” Moffett said to the newspaper Indian Country Today.
The influence of Japanese culture does not end with the Native Americans.
The manga craze has seen an influx of Americans taking Japanese classes so that they can read the original manga, said Misako Ito of the Japanese Foundation in an interview with Ronald Kelts, the author of Japanamerica. According to the Washington Post, the number of Americans studying Japanese increased from 127,000 in 1997 to an estimated three million in 2006.
Mark Hughes, a massage therapist in Capitol Hill and an avid manga fan, said he has been learning Japanese for the past two years so that he could read Japanese manga if the English-translated ones get cancelled midway. He reads mostly political manga such as Eagle, a profile of the first American-Japanese president of the USA’s route to office.
Comics such as Eagle appeal to people like Hughes whose taste lies out of the typical American superheros genre. Manga appeals to a wide variety of audience, from teenagers to even a 65-year-old man who got hooked after reading the first issue of “Fullmetal Alchemist”, a science fantasy manga.
“That’s because manga produces a variety of genres that Marvel and DC don’t,” said Aron Tarbuck, the owner of The Dreaming, a comic bookstore in the University District. Marvel and DC comics are the two leading American comic publishers. Tarbuck said that the most popular manga genres include fantasy, comedy, science fiction, horror and romance. And they appeal to girls, especially the romance titles, which Marvel and DC have overlooked. Marvel and DC target the male market segment with their superheroes genre.
In addition, young Americans find manga refreshing. Said Fred Schodt in an interview in Japanamerica: “To many young Americans, Japanese pop culture has a feeling of being ‘fresh’, and it can therefore be perceived as an alternative to native (U.S.) pop-culture traditions”.
Hughes agrees. “The Japanese culture contained in the manga is interesting. Japanese have a different sense of humor. Some things are not shocking to them, but are to us. Some things are funny to them, but not to us. It is always fun to figure that out.”
Manga writers also dare to explore various fantasies and imaginations that may seem socially unacceptable to most Americans. Graphic depiction of sex, rape, unnatural sex with robots and aliens are part and parcel of manga. And some Americans find it more fascinating than Playboy and Penthouse comics.
“When I think about western pornography, it’s not terribly interesting,” says author Susan Napier in Japanamerica, “But I find the Japanese stuff very imaginative. Playboy and Penthouse have their comics, but they’re not well developed. Usually four panels, and that’s it.”
Kyle McDaniel, a Samurai (Japanese warrior) comic fan, said that the manga writers trust readers to understand the complexities in the plot, and have less inhibition, which the American writers are restricted to.
“I’m not afraid of seeing pubic hair, I have pubic hair everywhere!” McDaniel said, pointing to his beard.
American comics content is governed by a strict comics code approved by the Comics Code Authority in which “Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed.” and “Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.”
Thus, manga is fresh and bold in the eyes of the Americans, who have years been deprived of explicit and daring story plots.
Manga’s popularity has spurred American publishers to produce their own versions of manga called Original English Language (OEL) manga. The Publishers Weekly predicted in 2005 that the OEL manga was to be “a growing and potentially significant phenomenon in the U.S. comics market”, and Tokyopop had plans to “publish 50 titles in the next two years.”
These mangas are produced by American comic writers, and have story plots and illustrations very similar to manga. Crossing midnight, a manga about the spiritual aftermath of Hiroshima by Mike Carey, Jim Fern and Mark Pennington, is an example of OEL that tries to emulate manga. Tarbuck explains that one of the dominant themes in manga is the Japanese culture and World War II aftermath.
Manga has its roots back in post-war Japan, where the Japanese used comics to make sense of what was happening after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Yet, on the contrary, manga is not entirely “Made in Japan”. USA has been Japan’s main source of economic and cultural influence after World War II. Hence, the transfer of culture between two nations has been rather porous.
Syracuse University pop-culture guru Robert Thompson said in an email to The Florida Times Union in 2005: “Since the occupation after the Second World War, Japan absorbed enormous quantities of American pop culture. . . Japanese Samurai movies borrowed heavily from American westerns, just as Pokemon borrowed from American comic traditions, but in both cases what they added made these forms seem excited and different.”
“It’s kind of like rock ‘n’ roll music: It starts in the U.S., heads overseas for some cultural laundering and comes back again in the form of the British invasion.”
For instance, Walt Disney influenced “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy. Otomo Katsuhiro’s Akira dealt with Western ideas and cultures such as the big bang theory that made it easy for his work to be exported to Western countries. Both types of comics deal with the superheroes theme.
The popularity of manga has awakened the two sleeping giants in the American comics publishing industry. In the recent two years, DC comics obtained licenses to publish a series of manga called CMX. Marvel has started a manga series called Mangaverse, which features superhero icons such as Spiderman as part of a Ninja clan. The illustrations in Mangaverse resembled the manga styles. These manga titles are however, not popular with the American fan base.
“I don’t know who the creators are, and no customers ordered these titles,” said Tarbuck, referring to the CMX series.
Nathan Oliver, a manga and Japanese anime fan, criticized the OEL, saying, “the creators don’t have the vision, they should just leave it alone.”
Hughes, who got a free copy of OEL at a manga convention, described it as “pretty dumb and boring.”
Even if their manga titles are still in their infancy stages, Marvel and DC have their back-up plans. Frank Miller, the creator of Batman, has injected a new twist to the story plot by making batman into a Ninja. In addition, Kia Asamiya, a Japanese manga artist, was asked to illustrate Batman in the manga fashion. Batman has also been made into an anime.
“It’s interesting to see our culture tied together in Literature,” said McDaniel.
While it seems that manga has infiltrated the American culture and comics, Leonard Rifas, the first republisher of manga in USA, doubts that the superheroes will disappear from the comics world.
Tarbuck agrees. “Superman is the icon of America and DC comics will always strive to maintain that by continuously propagating the character in movies and merchandise.”
“And that’s stopping manga from crashing totally through the door,” he added.
Rodriguez, though a manga fanatic, does not want to see Superman die. “I still want my superheroes, they are who I grew up with.”
View photos here: https://huifenh.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/361_mangaphotos.ppt
“Good reporting here, Faith. I’m impressed by the range of sources and aware that you’ve looked at the subject from several different angles. You really need what I’ve called a “nut paragraph” in the piece, about where you begin, “Like it or not” The nut graf shows that you are going to examine the origins of the style, look at issues related to its pre-emption by U.S. comics, and other matters. The richness of your reporting isn’t immediately obvious without the nut graf. Come by sometime and let me show how that would work.
The art is impressive. Thanks for doing that.
4.0-“Roger Simpson, instructor for University of Washington COM 361 Advanced reporting and newsriting Winter Qtr 2008
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