Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I have become a Manga Fan

I have always been a fan of comic books. In the last few years, manga (or Japanese comics) have become quite a craze. The word actually consists of three syllables and the correct pronunciation is (Maw – nnnnn – gah). To illustrate how popular they are, go into any Barnes and Noble. You might find one shelf dedicated to American comics, while at least four (if not more) is packed with manga. It’s obviously selling much better!

I’ve been reading arguments for years from American comics publishers and others that there was no market for comics for kids today. Then why is so much manga being sold? In an attempt to jump on the bandwagon, Marvel will periodically come out with a comic in which the artists try to imitate the style of manga artists. They’re missing the point.

Firstly, I think manga is popular because of the simplicity of the drawing style. When I was a kid, one of the things about comics that appealed was just that. A kid could look at a Spider-man drawing by Steve Ditko and think, “You know, I bet I could draw that.” American comics today are packed with realistically drawn and computer colored images. It is a marvel to look at, but far beyond the reach of the adolescent artist. Even the comics made for kids is illustrated that way.

To show what I mean, I'm going to post two pages from a recent Marvel Adventures Iron Man digest to compare it to two pages of Dragonball Z. I found the Iron Man pages to be quite murky and hard to follow. Compare that to the clean dynamic line of the manga pages.

Secondly, kids can get a lot of story for cheap. The books are printed in black and white on cheap paper. The American comics are obviously much more expensive to produce and cost much more. It also frequently happens that not very much happens in a three dollar comic book. For ten dollars, a kid can get a heck of a lot of story in a manga digest.

Thirdly, there is a great variety of different types of stories being told. There are manga stories about romance, relationships, tennis, and of course, fighting. Shonen manga is typically for boys, and Shojo manga for girls.

I think one of the things about manga that appeals to kids is this return to simplicity. I have to admit, I’ve been reluctant to attempt to read it. As an adult, it was a chore to learn to read “backwards”, since they are written from right to left in Japanese, and even after being translated, American readers need to learn to read that way. Incidentally, the kids don’t seem to have any problem at all with this. It’s us old dogs that need to learn new tricks. With three teenagers in the house, I’ve noticed they can’t get enough of it. I’ve noticed a lot of school kids who weren’t crazy about reading become big fans of reading manga.

I picked up DragonBallZ by Akira Toriyama. It’s the first manga book I’ve read all the way through, and I enjoyed it very much. This is a VizBig edition, meaning the format is bigger than the small digest edition, and collects Volume 1-3 in one big book. It’s what’s known as humorous manga, with some very goofy and silly characters who do a lot of fighting -- page after page after page of supernatural “martial arts” attacks.

I’ve also noticed that every manga book carries an accurate ratings description letting the buyer know what they’re getting – this is something American comics publishers would be wise to emulate. DragonballZ is “all ages” – but does have stylized cartoon violence and even death. But then again, so did the Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons.

With the current financial climate, I think American publishers would be wise to learn some lessons manga can teach. Make it simple, make it fun, make it cheap.


gia said...

Always happy to see more people jump on board with manga! :)

It's been interesting to watch American-made manga develop from wannabe knockoffs from comickers to artists who grew up with a manga style and developed their own naturally; there's some very good American-made stuff out there that's a fusion of the two. I highly recommend the award-winning "Hollow Fields," by Madeleine Rosca.

On your tangent-- it's really a shame that the old Looney Tunes cartoons are too racy to be shown on regular TV anymore. :/

Andrew Wales said...


Thanks for visitting and for commenting. I think a natural flow would be nice -- influences can come from anywhere. I'm wondering as I absorb this, how is it going to influence me. However, a lot of what is made in comics turns me off because it looks like something someone is doing because they think it's the thing that's going to make them a lot of money. It doesn't have a lot of heart. On the other hand, there is stuff that looks like: this is what this person was born to do -- I can tell they are having a blast doing it. I will keep an eye out for Hollow Fields. Scott Pilgrim would probably be another example. And I will continue pining for the original Looney Tunes!

Jeff said...

hey andrew...tarfang here...i also just started reading manga...and started with the vizbig dragonball (no z). its so much like a cartoon...i have also read a couple other books, project x challengers: cup noodle (about the invention and roll out of the cup noodle in japan) and project x challengers:7/11 (about the introduction of convenience stores in japan), both by digital manga publishing...good stuff, apparently bussiness oriented manga is big in japan!

sorry the DWWP project on the forum sort of died...sone of these days i am going to try and bring it back! just too much going on lately to keep up with it...but i have started drawing new strips on my blog, if you are interested i checking them out, i always value your feed back!

have a good holiday!


Andrew Wales said...

I am also sorry the Drawing Words/Writing Pictures forum died out. My school year has been very intense, and I'm taking classes for my Phd. It's getting harder and harder to carve out time for art in my life!

I picked up Dragonball Z at Walmart cheap. I guess that's why I started with that one. Now I'm kind of sorry I didn't start with the other Dragonball, since that comes first. I am going to check out someof the other titles you mentioned. I don't know what's taken me so long. It took me a long time to get past the big eyes and pointy hair.

I'll be checking out your latest strips soon. Glad you're staying with it!

Ben said...

I have yet to jump into manga for exactly the reason you specify; when I see the thirty volumes of one series arranged on a shelf, I get very intimidated. As a teenager of the first generation of Americans to be exposed to anime, I'm also very picky about what I would consider reading (just as I was picky about what anime I would watch).

What I do find interesting about Japanese comics is how popular they are in Japan! Everyone reads comics there, and it isn't exactly an embarrassment to say, "I write/draw/publish comics," there the way it can be here. Consequently, I think they do it much better than we do.

On a side note, a student in one of my comics/Composition II classes who was never really interested in the subject was intrigued by the idea that girls read these comics in America, let alone Japan. So she decided to write her final Research Paper on the topic. Consequently, she felt it would be advisable (begrudgingly) to educate herself in the genre. She is no a full-fledged manga-freak! At the end of the semester, she was telling me that her friends come by her dorm, see the pile of manga on her desk, and eye her suspiciously :-)

Andrew Wales said...

It is intimidating to see that many volumes to finish the saga! Our comic shop is going to start a lending library. That would be a great way to read some things that I don't necessarily want to buy.

I discovered a lot of articles in reading journals on the study of manga reading habits among adolescents. I think there's territory to do a lot of research on this phenomenon.

You're right about the popularity. I saw some articles about how the younger senators (if that's what they're called there) were spoken to about sitting there reading manga during debates!

Paul Bozzo said...

I enjoyed your observations about comics here and in Japan. Now I think that I have to read/look at some "manga"! I like your logic - maybe many of our "mass market" comics are too slick and the images too complex for youngsters. I'll try remember that. Merry Christmas!!

Marek Bennett said...

A --

I picked up a bunch of manga from the town library book sale. They sold them by the inch, stacked... very good value.

Wow, that IronMan artwork clearly assumes you're going to work through the page... as if you're sitting in a dark room, watching a movie screen. You have to force your mind to put the un-articulated panels into sequence.

However, I think it might be a bit unfair to compare IRONMAN with DRAGONBALL-Z, since they're clearly aimed at radically different ages. (That fact alone highlights a big difference between manga and americomics -- manga's diversity of audiences!) How about, say, APPLESEED ( Oh heck, it's late, here's the wikipedia link: ) as an example of manga aimed at an older, technophilic readership?

I heartily recommend a subscription to a manga digest, as it seems they're really meant to be read in juxtaposition with other stories, in overlapping sequences.

Also, here's my own manga resource page, with links to lots of online (and possibly illegal?) lo-res scan collections to introduce you to other titles.

Anonymous said...


loved the blog post about manga. Personally, I've never been motivated to read manga. Every time I'd see a manga comic, I would look through it and not be excited. The pictures were too simple and not dynamic, in my opinion. Maybe it's because I wanted to focus more on the anatomy and realism. I'm not sure. However, reading your blog about them, it has inspired me to think differently. Additionally, it has helped me understand why manga is so popular. I've been trying so hard to be at par with many of the major comic book companies' talents that I've forgotten that keeping it simple is more. This is great for me because I can now focus more on the story while keeping the art work more simplified than overly detailed. Perhaps this will save me time. Instead of working hard I can work smarter.

Thanks again, Wayne