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.


Melon which rhymes with said...

I'm glad your grandfather is recooperating. Strokes are very scary. My grandma had one as well. It may take him a couple of weeks but he should feel much better soon.

On to the comment:

I haven't felt the total wrath of OEL haters in the web communities for published books. The only reason I think people may deter from OEL books is because their jealous. I felt this as well lol. Sometimes the books they published could be polished more. Dramacon is the only one so far that I've read that was truly worthy of a book deal.

American comics today are as varied as Japanese comics. Now if you asked this years ago probably not. I admit manga such as Basara (really great series) was enjoyable because woman with huge knockers didn't grace the page. When I looked at comics when I was kid, except for comic strips, all I saw was scantly clad woman lol.
Japan has this problem too, probably even more.

So I guess my comment is truly just saying:
Nothing wrong with OEl except for the occasional jealousy :p

American comics are great and is becoming more revolutionary. A wider audience and more issues create better comics. Most men probably like the cleavage though lol.

You make great posts Jeff.

Keith Gallistel said...

I'm glad to hear your grandfather is recovering.

Now on my statement:

Garbage from the Western comics industry is called "comics" because they are all spandex superhero, kiddy junk. "Comics" are, by definition, a product. "Comics" are regulated by soccer moms and Christian fundie nutcases, so as to be all graphics and no story with no character development.

The art that comes from the Japanese manga shops and Japanese animation studios is called, respectively, "manga" and "anime" because, by definition, they are art forms designed to be appreciated and not stamped out. Both "manga" and "anime" don't worry about the moral views religious nuts and Western views of children - don't - know -any - better - so - we - have - to - protect - them.

I think that OEL manga is a good idea. As with the view of copyleft and free/open source software, we all win when we can build off one another. Also, anything in Western society that breaks away from the concept of "comics" and promotes the growth of art is a good thing.

Emperor Fred said...

They made the same arguments when Teen Titans hit the air. Just because an American-made title utilizes a similar look or characteristics of Japanese-made anime or manga does not automatically mean that they're trying to "cash in" on a popular trend.

It could just be that the artists involved are fans of anime and manga and they - surprise surprise - influence their work.

Enoch Allen said...

I can only pray for your grandfather's recovery, and hope that he has many more good days than bad.

I agree with Melon on one thing. I appreciate shots of gratuitous cleavage.

Michael said...

Hi, Jeff.

I'm a manga/anime fan also. I read OEL manga also, and I like some of them. I know this rants is 2 years old. But I'm using this as a tool to prove OEL haters and critics to prove that manga are comic book also. I'm telling these people that manga are comic but with their own style. Do you have a ANN (Anime News Network) account? Can you help me with this flame war on OEL manga? I love your rants on OEL manga.

Anonymous said...

You are so right. As a part time job I want to create Manga. Of course I'm American so it would be called OEL Manga. I don't think it's fair that some people think that Manga is superior to other forms of graphic novels. I wonder what they would think if an English speaking man wrote a comic in Japan written in Japanese! What could they say then! All art should be appreciated, not hated. Saying that English speaking people ( and anyone else that is not japanese) cannot create comics or cartoons with manga style characteristics is RACIST! I am so glad that SOME PEOPLE actually defend OEL Manga. Good job sir. This is the first time I've read one of your blogs.