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~生まれた町で夢見てきた...~
"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
"OEL manga"...? Is that the politically-correct term? 
8th-Aug-2005 02:30 pm
Twins
An interesting discussion on "Original English Language manga," particularly the variety that will soon becoming out in force from Tokyopop, on the DMP Forums, here and here.

-->Look. If you write a good story, I don't care if your name is "Keiko" or "Katie."

Honestly, I'm sincerely hoping that Tokyopop's experiment in OEL manga will succeed. There's so much untapped potential out there, and I'd really like to see them get their works out there, whether through Tokyopop or some other publisher.

But right now, there are some serious roadblocks, and one of them is the artificial distinction that readers draw between "manga" and "comics," with manga=Japanese and comics=American. I've railed against that distinction for years, but only now is it starting to matter! Shelved as they are in the manga sections in bookstores, many manga fans do, sadly, scorn titles not by Japanese names out of hand and refuse to buy them...but on the same note, people interested in indie and alternative comics might miss these titles as well because they're not interested in manga! I worry that creators will find themselves unable to reach the largest potential audience, and I feel sorry for the readers, who haven't a clue what they may be missing.

Finally, a short note to all creators: While I believe great art is great, if the accompanying story isn't enthralling or at least remotely entertaining, I'm not going to be all that impressed. Moreover, especially when the manga is written *in* English, snappy dialogue and a unique, consistent narrative voice is tremendously important. But most of all, I want to see something *different*. I know we can't all be Alan Moore or Hagio Moto, but I think Western manga should draw upon the strengths and cultural traditions of the West. Do something that *can't* be done in Japan or Korea, and you'll distinguish yourself immediately.
Comments 
8th-Aug-2005 07:49 pm (UTC)
I think one reason some American fans are so quick to draw a line in the sand between American and Japanese stuff is that "comics" still carry a big stigma among some people, who think they're 1) just one-dimensional costumed superheroes spouting simplistic catchphrases and slamming similarly costumed villains, and 2) only read by the nerdiest of male nerds -- see Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

Never mind that some Eastern stuff can be as formula-bound as superhero comics at their worst, and that some American works, like The Crow and Sandman, are as innovative and edgy as manga at its best.
8th-Aug-2005 08:17 pm (UTC)
And so some genius invented the word "manga" for American markets in order to distinguish it from the stereotypical superhero comics? How very shortsighted of them.

What has to happen now, IMO, is for manga to be reabsorbed into the subset of "comics," instead of being a category apart.
9th-Aug-2005 03:36 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's so much an invented word as a borrowed word. It's the Japanese word for comics. I forget the literal meaning, but that's what is it, right? To English speakers, it's been used to mean "Japanese comics" for a while; now that Japanese comics are becoming a phenomenon in the American market, and it's being reinterpreted in a number of different ways, some more bizarre than others.

I used to take the stance that "manga" should be a subset of "comics;" I was a huge fan of comic books as a kid and teen, and that's how I mentally classified manga: just another kind of comic book. Since for me the meaningful thing about the word was that it denoted the Japanese origin of certain comics, I was hostile to the notion of "manga" being used to describe comics not originating from Japan (particularly American works with some superficial Japanese gloss--giant eyes or ninjas--or a peripheral geographic connection on the part of a non-Japanese creator. "My wife's uncle's cousin's son was in jail in Tokyo last year, and it was a transformative experience for me as an artist...")--until it was successfully argued to me that manga is stylistically distinct, and thus that it can be meaningful and useful to have the word refer to the style, not the place of origin, and that that style can be duplicated by non-Japanese creators. (From that perspective, I like "OEL manga," because the publishers get to call it manga, and I get a heads-up about what I'm buying, without feeling like I'm being tricked into it.)

We do actually have umbrella terms besides "comics"--"sequential art" springs to mind, a more pretentious, but more accurate and all-encompassing term than "graphic novels," which remains the phrase of choice for people who know comic books are for children, but liked Sandman anyway--which to my mind gives some leeway to use "comics" to refer specifically to American works created in the illustrative style pioneered by Will Eisner. I've always used "comics" in a broader sense, but there's nothing that says that a word has to retain its most basic meaning in the face of cultural changes. Language shift happens.

If people want to use "comics" to mean American stuff modeled on American-style page layouts and story themes and "manga" to mean Japanese or American works created in or significantly influenced a traditional Japanese style, the descriptivist in me says, "let 'em!" To me, they used to be the same thing, but they're becoming distinct in my mind, and they're already distinctly different things to thousands of new readers. Why should manga and comics have to be the same thing? Why should readers be pressured to cross over from one to the other?

(Caveat: I say this from the perspective of a disenchanted comics fan, who has steadily lost interest in superhero books over the last ten years; I feel like there's not that much to sell new readers on in mainstream American comics. Indies and non-cape books are another matter, but A) I know not whereof I speak, having minimal experience beyond stuff like Phil Foglio and Elfquest, and B) that's not what the Direct Market wants to sell to newcomers anyway.)

There seems to be a lot of talk at the moment about how American comics publishers can/should/won't/can't learn to grab the manga market, as if they should have been the means by which Americans discovered manga, that they had a divine right to do so, as publishers of comics, and that it's only by tunnel vision and incompetance that they didn't. It's not that it's such a strange thing to think--expecting a new kind of art to be brought into a culture via that culture's own artists--but clearly, that's not happening. So why do we need to push in that direction? Why do we have to fold manga and comics in together? Is there any artistic merit to it, or is it really just about the market, i.e. the money?
9th-Aug-2005 05:17 pm (UTC)
Is there any artistic merit to it, or is it really just about the market, i.e. the money?

I think right now it's about the market. But in my optimistic opinion, it shouldn't matter and they should all be blended together so all graphic novels have a chance. Realistically, it's about the money for the comic industry.

Honestly, I think it shouldn't matter about if you read the OEL manga or not. But still, I probably won't buy any until one is mind-blowing good. I find that the OEL manga are a little too paneled and slow for my tastes. And I blame that on the fact that they have a volume to make an impression, where as with manga they have to make an impression with the first chapter that is published in an anthology.

American comics on the otherhand, I'd like to see survive. Most people, even if they aren't fans, would like to see them survive because they're nostalgia. Or some other reason, because superhero movies are doing well at the box-office.
9th-Aug-2005 06:02 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I think it shouldn't matter about if you read the OEL manga or not. But still, I probably won't buy any until one is mind-blowing good.

And I probably won't, not with any gusto. But it's a new industry, and there's a lot of very talented people out there; who knows where it will go? Since I established that I do indeed enjoy manga as much for the form as for the exotic flavor, I'm willing to give this a chance.

American comics on the otherhand, I'd like to see survive.

So would I--both for nostalgia and because American comics, super-hero books and otherwise, have produced amazing works of art and richly detailed, shared universes, and that's reason enough. But I don't see why the survival of American comics should or will depend on comics swallowing manga audiences. Are comics audiences significantly in decline? All I know is that I stopped reading comics not because they aren't manga-like enough, but because the prevailing editorial vision at Marvel and DC is...very much at odds with my own.
9th-Aug-2005 06:14 pm (UTC)
Wow, what wonderful comments! I'm still digesting them. Thank you very much. ^_^

Why do we have to fold manga and comics in together? Is there any artistic merit to it, or is it really just about the market, i.e. the money?

I agree with obviouslyanon here--but with a corollary. If publishers can't recoup a profit from the publishing of OEL manga, by marketing it as manga or as something else, then that means that there will be less of it. I worry, as I said in my original entry, that the notion of calling Western-made products "manga" might turn away the "manga fans," and at the same time turning away the "comics fans" who think manga are silly and immature. And, if there's less of it, that's bad for the readers as well, because it means that the work of gifted creators will never see the light of day. As it is, even with the graphic novel renaissance fueled by Japanese manga, there really isn't much in the way of innovative, new domestic titles...and certainly next to none that are reaching a wide audience!

Why should manga and comics have to be the same thing? Why should readers be pressured to cross over from one to the other?

As a personal aside, I have a knee-jerk reaction against this for a few of reasons. 1) Manga does not mean "Japanese comics" in Japanese; it simply means "comics." To a Japanese person, Batman is manga too. 2) The spiraling idiocy of calling Chinese comics "manhua" and Korean comics "manhwa." These words do not bear any connotation of nation or origin in their original language, either! 3) There is no such thing as a "manga style," and if you believe there is, you haven't read enough Japanese comics. *sighs*

Not to mention my concern that "manga" might prove to be a fad in the US...
9th-Aug-2005 06:46 pm (UTC)
1) I know. I was referring to the English usage of the word. Loanwords rarely retain their original meaning. English speakers will not use "manga" to refer to all comics just because the Japanese do, and there's absolutely no reason why they should. The argument about whether or not the word comics should continue to be the umbrella term for all sequential art is a different one.

3) While I am not prepared to hunt down the dozens of arguments made to me to bring me around to this position (I'm a reader of comics, not a professional or even amateur artist, and not an expert), I respectfully beg to differ. No, there is no one single art style used by all comics ever produced in Japan. That doesn't mean you can't make any generalizations about manga at all. Please don't condescend to me.
9th-Aug-2005 10:20 pm (UTC)
I don't mean to butt in, but from what I've seen, Japanese people do distingush "their comics" and "our comics" with the word "amekomi" (アメコミ). I've never been to a Japanese webpage devoted to American comics without that phrase being used, though, admittedly, I don't surf them every day.

While they might use the word "comic" (コミック) to describe Japanese comics, there is also a clear division not unlike what you see in the US. When I go to boards, I don't see "X-men" in the manga section, I see it in the "amekomi" section. When someone shops on Yahoo Auctions, they don't find "amekomi" in the manga section, it has its ownsection set aside from the rest of the comics.

Yes, technically everything is "comics". But it's not like we're the only ones that catagorize them differently based on where they comes from. So I don't think there's that much merit in the "well, to Japanses people our comics are manga!", because from my experience they're, well, not.
9th-Aug-2005 04:36 pm (UTC)
Takuhai, Tokyopop's magazine, is filled with OEL manga. (That term sounds so much more better than some other ones thrown around.) I agree with the artificial line between manga and comics. But I think what Tokyopop is hoping is that the "I don't care where it comes so long as it's good" feeling sinks in after the 'trendyness' of manga goes away.
9th-Aug-2005 04:53 pm (UTC)
I am happy about the term "OEL manga" because it replaces the hideous "Amerimanga." Whether the concept should actually exist or not ... different question.

I tend to think of manga as a subset of comics, because it tends to tell the stories using slightly different techniques than most American comics (I'm not really familiar with European ones, so I can't compare them), and thus I feel in part that I'm making manga, rather than just 'comics' because I am consciously attempting to adapt these techniques. (However, I mostly feel that I'm making manga because I'm attempting to sell to a company that calls it manga, and I'm willing to call it anything you want if you'll give me a check for it.)
9th-Aug-2005 06:18 pm (UTC)
it tends to tell the stories using slightly different techniques than most American comics

Just playing Devil's Advocate here...

So what if a Korean comic or an American comic reproduces a common Japanese narrative style so well that it is indistinguishable from a Japanese comic? Is it manga or something else?

What about a Japanese comic that uses American comic book conventions? (It happens; artists like Kia Asamiya and Masamune Shirow do it to very good effect.) Is that still "manga"? What about Japanese comics that use completely unique narrative coventions? Are they "manga" or something else entirely?

However, I mostly feel that I'm making manga because I'm attempting to sell to a company that calls it manga, and I'm willing to call it anything you want if you'll give me a check for it.

Yep, it's a big marketing ploy. I'm just wondering if it won't eventually backfire on them, leaving both companies and fans the poorer for it.
9th-Aug-2005 06:42 pm (UTC)
So what if a Korean comic or an American comic reproduces a common Japanese narrative style so well that it is indistinguishable from a Japanese comic? Is it manga or something else?

In that case, yes it would indeed be manga as the term is used in America. From what I understand, in Japan, it's all manga.

What about a Japanese comic that uses American comic book conventions? (It happens; artists like Kia Asamiya and Masamune Shirow do it to very good effect.) Is that still "manga"?

According to the way 'manga' is used in America (strict defintion), no. But only if they don't also use the Japanese stoyteling techniques.

But,r eally, attemtping to pin down anything that ahs to do with art is about as easy as nailing Jello to the ceiling. You can't. I'm OK with assembling things into rough groups and labeling this group 'manga' and this group 'American comics' and this other group 'indie comics' - and once I figue out what the stylistic and storytelling differences between manga, manhua, and manwha, adding a couple more 'manhua' and 'manwha' categories.

The reason these are useful as general categories is that when someone likes something and wants to read "more like this," it gives them a place to start. Manga also supplies things - genres, characterizations, stylistic techniques - that aren't found in American comics yet, so there's another way to categorize them. Maybe in five or ten years there will be enough cross-fertilization that these categories aren't meaningful, but that hasn't yet happened.

Let me also point out that I'm a librarian, and categorizing items to hell and back is what I do. The majority of people out there don't find it useful other than as rough guidelines, unless they're bookstore owners trying to shelve books where people who want to buy [blah] can find lots of it.

Yep, it's a big marketing ploy. I'm just wondering if it won't eventually backfire on them, leaving both companies and fans the poorer for it.

Because something's a marketing ploy doesn't automatically mean it's negative, and I don't actually see anything that could make it backfire - it's targeting a market that doesn't actually read traditional American comics, and still wouldn't read traditional American comics if the manga companies called them "comics."
9th-Aug-2005 07:14 pm (UTC)
Let me also point out that I'm a librarian, and categorizing items to hell and back is what I do.

*laughs* Maybe because I'm anal, I'm very concerned about categories and whether or not they have both internal and external consistency.

As a slight aside, I've been trying to figure out if there's a way to tell the difference between Korean sunjeong manhwa and Japanese shoujo manga, beyond the obvious differences in language (text and sound effects), page orientation, and any specific cultural oddities. Thus far, I haven't hit on anything concrete that would work inductively, but it's definitely something I've been thinking about.

Because something's a marketing ploy doesn't automatically mean it's negative, and I don't actually see anything that could make it backfire

I'm just concerned that if Tokyopop can't convince manga fans that it's "manga," these OEL titles will be utterly without readers. What what little I've tested the waters thus far with people on various forums, they tend to be very suspicious of anything not Japanese (even extended to Korean titles, sometimes) and are not swallowing the "OEL manga" line.

Dismiss me as a doomsayer if you like >_<, but my track record is pretty good...
9th-Aug-2005 07:25 pm (UTC)
The few manwha I've read tend to have more of a certain fluidity of line than manga, but that's a crass generalization and I haven't read enough to say for certain.

I'm not convinced that the vocal online fans and the convention attendees are the majority of the manga market over here.

I think the real problem with selling OEL manga is not the fact that people are staying away from it in droves because it's not Japanese, it's that you don't have the team system working, so it's much longer between volumes - a year in many cases - than it is between the manga volumes, which range from two to four months apart, on average. You can't build up a really good audience hungry for the next yearly installment unless you put out absolutely outstanding work. This sort of thing might work better in a well-marketed monthly anthology, especially if it's a mix of Japanese and OEL.
9th-Aug-2005 07:01 pm (UTC)
Yep, it's a big marketing ploy.

I once complained about that in my own journal, and telophase said the same thing to me--it's marketing ploy, but as an artist trying to break into the business, she's willing to play along. Which I confess, made me stop and think. It's a grab at new readers by using manga as a buzzword, yes--and it's also an opening for aspiring writers and artists who never wanted to make American-style comics. That is not necessarily a bad thing.
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