Jun 16, 2006

A Rant About Manga, OEL Manga, and Comics

Before I begin, I want to thank you all for keeping patience with me these last couple of weeks. If you've read The X Bridge, you knew that I had to take a hiatus for a while to watch over my grandfather, who's recooperating from a stroke that left him pretty much lethargic and bedridden. He's doing much better now, but he has his good days and bad days, just as always.

Now, for the business at hand.

It's all comics.

That's the moral and lesson of what I'm going to say in this rant of sorts. I'm presenting it loud and clear in case it gets lost in the stream of consciousness that a lot of folks tend to bypass in this type of article. I know I get a little wordy at times, so the overall lesson of why I have to say isn't lost. But if you want to continue reading and wondering what I'm talking about and how I got to that conclusion, go right ahead.

There is a kind of controversy going on in the manga fandom that has kind of torn it asonder. Well, not really, but a lot of otaku are pissed about its emergence in the public eye. What I'm talking about is the rise of "original English language" (OEL) manga. Over the decades, it's also been called AmeriManga (completely ignorant of our northern and southern neighbors who also have a vibrant industry), Western manga, and pseudomanga in North America, but it's all the same. They're North American-made comics inspired by Japanese artists, often emulating and taking influences from titles published in Japan. Well-known examples of OEL titles include Gold Digger, Usagi Yojimbo, Ninja High School, Megatokyo, and anything from Adam Warren, Brian Wood, Becky Cloonen, The Rey, Paul Pope, and countless others, as well as homegrown efforts from EigoManga and TOKYOPOP (who has also published an annual contest anthology called The Rising Stars of Manga since 2002) among others. Artists also take to the internet to tell their stories, and there are a lot of tales out there.

Otakus, who are insulted by the notion of anything Western entering their bubble of entertainment, loathe OEL titles because they're not "true manga." By "true manga," they mean that these titles weren't produced in Japan by Japanese artists and writers, but rather by fans of Japanese titles who felt the need to actually do something and create something original other than pointless rants on message boards, whining about the dangers of Toonami, or lists of edits made for Western consumption. They're fans of anime and manga who are actually creating products worth checking out and not totally waiting for the next best thing.

Critics of OEL titles feel that they are nothing more than North American comics trying to capitalize on the popularity of Japanese manga in North America. Of course, this may be a valid point, but another argument can be made that that the increase of Japanese titles are capitalizing on the popularity of other Japanese titles in North America. Money is money, of course. Truth be told, they're right. OEL manga are comics. But they're also wrong because of one inalienable fact:

Manga are comics too.

It's otaku that segregated manga from comics. Why? Dunno. Hatred of Western culture and industries, I guess. It's the same thing with Japanese animation, which is called anime in nearly all countries. Funny thing though. The Japanese call animation anime, including those from Western countries like the US, Canada, England, and France, and they call all comics manga, including those from Western countries. It's hard to fantom to otaku that manga is nothing more than comics that come from Japan. Then, they try to strike up an argument consisting of the following words:

"Well, manga isn't comics because there are so much variety and so many types, unlike American comics."

To which I would reply:

"You self-hating American wackadoo. When was the last time you actually read an American comic? American comics have always been about more than superheroics. Science-fiction. Romance. Detective and crime stories. Drama. Pop culture. Adventure. Espionage. Fighting. War. Teen/girl-oriented. Comedy. Kids. Religion. And that's just the tip of the iceburg."

American comics, like Japanese comics, are full of variety, which is why they are popular worldwide, as is manga. It's just that a particular segment of society wants to place Japanese comics above all others, and anything that tries to emulate the symbols often found in them is nothing more than a bastardized format. That's what otakus are trying to turn OEL manga into, and that's kind of petty and sad.

Jun 5, 2006

The Other 15 Big Moments in Animation

While I'm pondering the need for a Top Ten Biggest Turning Points in Animation list, I know that Jerry Beck had a lot of material to ponder. He made great choices. Even the questionable ones like Ren and Stimpy and Gerald McBoing Boing made sense if you think long and hard about it.

Here's the list Mr. Beck made:







AKIRA (1988)



TOY STORY (1995)

But ten isn't enough. It should have been a Top 25 Biggest Turning Points in Animation. I'm just taken aback that there Mr. Beck didn't mention any Fleischer, MGM, nor Warner Bros. shorts at all. Perhaps, subconsciously, this was his protest against Time Warner and Cartoon Network for removing those shorts from the more availiable Cartoon Network to Boomerang, almost totally removing Looney Tunes from public view, and failing to put Popeye on DVD.

Here are my picks for "The Other 15 Big Turning Points in Animation:" And yes, in case you're wondering, I do have a Westernized view of animation for the most part.

Popeye The Sailor (Fleischer/Paramount, 1933): A Betty Boop cartoon that introduced a cultural icon who would become worlds more popular than she ever was.

A Wild Hare (Avery/WB, 1940): Although not the first cartoon to feature the rabbit that would become known as Bugs Bunny, the short cemented the character dynamics of the franchise and elevating the studio to greatness.

Superman (Fleischer/Paramount, 1941): One of the costliest productions of its time, this series brought a comic book icon into full-color motion setting a standard still held for generations.

Red Hot Riding Hood (Avery/MGM, 1943): Tex Avery's break from Warner Bros. actually let his comic genius truly shine at MGM, and this is the master at work.

Astro Boy (Tezuka/Mushi, 1964): Already a popular comic book in Japan, Osamu Tezuka brought his creation to the small screen, literally creating an industry out of Japanese animation.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Melendez, 1965): A special that didn't adhere to the commercialistic attitudes of Christmas (which How The Grinch Stole Christmas would echo a year later) and actually celebrating what Christmas is really all about.

Schoolhouse Rock (ABC, 1972): Every producer who wants to make an entertaining E/I series should watch every one of these shorts A Clockwork Orange style.

A Grand Day Out (Park/Aardman, 1989): Nick Park did what Closkey and Vinton tried, but couldn't totally accomplish . . . create enduring, entertaining characters out of plasticine and making them worth watching again and again.

Beauty and the Beast (Trousdale/Wise/Disney, 1991): The reason why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to separate animated films from the Best Picture category.

Batman: The Animated Series (Dini/Timm/Burnett/WB, 1992): What Dave Fleischer started in 1941 with the Superman series, the team of Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Alan Burnett exceeded with their Batman series, wiping away decades of campiness that persisted since the 1960s and creating something worth watching. Something that was truly revolutionary.

Animaniacs (Warner Bros., 1993): One of the few Warner Bros. productions to adhere to the comedic and themetic spirit of the original Looney Tunes shorts (it's spinoff, Pinky and the Brain is the other), Animaniacs created comic mischief for five good years, introducing new characters, spoofing pop culture without making it a throwaway, non-connected joke, and making background music, arranged by the late Richard Stone, a real character ala what Carl Stalling did in the original theatrical shorts.

ReBoot (Mainframe, 1994): Before Toy Story, there was ReBoot, the first computer-animated production to be seen on a weekly basis. In 1994, that's saying a lot. It became ABC's highest-rated series, and the only reason it was cancelled was because Disney took over the network. But the series' creation convinced others that 3D animation could work on a weekly basis.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast (Cartoon Network, 1994): The idea of splicing scenes into a new production wasn't a new practice (Woody Allen and Carl Reiner did it in What's Up, Tiger Lilly? and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, respectedly). Americanized series from Japan such as Voltron and Robotech were built from many unconnected series. When Space Ghost Coast to Coast came around, it transformed one of Hanna-Barbera's B-level characters, an intergalactic law keeper of sorts, into a pompous talk-show host, interviewing many celebrities, large and small over the years. It was also the first production to come from Williams Street Productions, producers of The Rudy and Gogo Cartoon Show, Cartoon Planet, Toonami, and Miguzi. But their most popular project was Adult Swim, which engineered new shows similar to SGC2C and completely originally-animated ones.

What A Cartoon!/Oh Yeah! Cartoons (Seibert/Cartoon Network [WAC!]/Nickelodeon [OY!C], 1995 [WAC!]/1998[OY!C]) and yes, I am grouping them together: Dexter's Laboratory. The Powerpuff Girls. Cow and Chicken. Johnny Bravo. Mina and the Count. The Fairly Oddparents. ChalkZone. My Life As A Teenaged Robot. All of these series were spawned by the creator-guided animation endeavors launched by Fred Seibert. This underappreciated genius was the guy who introduced the creators behind these shorts to the world courtesy of Hanna-Barbera and his own Studio Frederator. It's because of these shorts that kids are now entertained by more original characters that have lasting entertainment (and merchandising) power.

Homestar Runner (The Brothers Chaps, 2000): The most recent moment is something that's still going on. Homestar Runner utilizes Flash animation and creating something of an oddity on the interweb . . . a funny, well-written series that attracts college-aged viewers and little kids. For a series that was intended on being a children's book, Homestar has become something of a phenominon in the world of animation.