Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Mailbag Marches On

Got a reply from Mr. James Smith on our recent Manga debate. (Incidentally, for those who keep track of these things, Mr. Smith has his own peachy keen neato website here.)

I mistook your comment about manga presence here to mean there was none at all. Yeah, it wasn't exactly what I would call market penetration. I'd argue though, that the creation of Viz and TokyoPop were a direct result of the influence of those first few books. But that doesn't disprove your point.

Oh, yeah. I'm sure there are many older otaku who remember buying Robotech and Lone Wolf & Cub back in the day - or there might not be, I don't really know. I do know that nowadays a great deal of the manga fandom in America has no overlap with the American mainstream, and it would be interesting if we had any way of ascertaining whether or not this was historically true as well. In any event, from a business point of view, those titles are undoubtedly the trailblazers. Hell, Lone Wolf was around for the first Manga wave in the late 80's/early 90's, and it was still around (albeit with a different publisher) in time for the manga tsunami of the early 21st century (apologies to Bill Jemas).

(Incidentally, I just found out that apperantly otaku is actually a horrible insult in Japan. Is it kinda like with how black people appropriated the "N" word, and how gay people appropriated the "F" word - or is it just another instance of people being stupid?)

I've finally been able to read the article. I find it odd, but not unique. I've also read articles where Japanese people decry animation, despite the fact that the 2nd highest-grossing movie there was a cartoon. So it cuts both ways, apparently. Obviously, many people there despise comics. But looking back over your previous post, you did say conventional wisdom was "partially" wrong. So I guess I can't find fault with that assessment.

Well, there's still the kind of market penetration/saturation that any American publisher would kill for. But, I think this article implies that there is still stigma attached ot the genre by some in Japanese culture. Its not quite the wonderland that the bright eyed fanboys have been prognosticating for a decade. I still would rather have American comics follow a more European model, but fat chance of that happening.

Over on Newsarama recently, there were a couple articles about manga's US invasion. In one of them, a Japanese publisher stated that they generally find American comic art to be boring. One man's opinion-- apply salt liberally. Paul Pope was a member of a group of American artists (I can't recall any others) who were asked to go over and create for the Japanese market. At the last moment, they were all fired. The publisher decided they only wanted to publish Japanese artists.

Oh, one last bit. Colleen Doran described on Comicon once how she was favorably greeted at a Japanese comic convention, because her work was so obviously inspired by manga. She then went on to explain how she had been doing A Distant Soil for years before she'd ever even seen a Japanese comic. Like you, I always get a little laugh at Conventional Wisdom when people assume she's an example of "American Manga."

You know, looking at Doran's current work I cannot possibly conceive how she was ever labeled "American Manga". Admittedly, I am not that familiar with ADS, but from what I do know of her work it just seems a stretch.

I remember reading a while back, I think it was actually in the Journal's big Erik Larsen interview, how he and a few other American cartoonists (notably Lynn Johnston of 'For Better or For Worse') were invited over there by some sort of manga association for some sort of conference/convention. They were apperantly treated like royalty on the trip.

But regardless, I guess there must be as ingrained a prejudice among domestic Manga fans in Japan towards the "American style" as there still is in certain fanboy quarters towards the "Manga style". It unfortunate, but as I said, I still believe there are probably some market openings that a savvy publisher could take advantage of.

There are any number of properties - say, long-running and popular stuff like Love & Rockets or Savage Dragon - that could easily be repackaged and sold in that market. You could have nice, thick digest size books just like they like over there. (If Crossgen taught us anything, its that you can print some really nice color at a smaller size for a comperable price.) Maybe I'm wrong, I don't know. But it seems to me that if at least some American creators and publishers weren't trying to get some reciprocal business from the Land of the Rising Sun, there's a definite opening here.

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