So I was reading Journalista yesterday and Dirk made a comment that kind of set me off about manga… Not because anything he said was so heinous that it got my blood boiling, but more that it showed a kind of Stockholm Syndrome-esque behaviour that I think is becoming really problematic amongst comic fans. Here we go:
Guardian blogger Ned Beauman discusses the difficulties that the current wave of English-language manga translations pose for newcomers:
The particular problem with manga, though, is that thereâ€™s no way to know if weâ€™re really getting the best of the medium. Manga comics constitute 40% of the books published in Japan, so of course only a tiny fraction will ever be translated â€” and at the moment, that tends to be the best-selling titles, especially the ones beloved by American teenage girls, who are the main market in the English-speaking world. (Manga aimed at teenage girls is called â€œshoujoâ€, and manga aimed at teenage boys is called â€œshonenâ€.) Iâ€™ve got nothing against American teenage girls, but what if the Japanese were forced to judge western cinema on the basis of nothing but Ashton Kutcher films?
Of course, it helps if a writer introducing the subject to his readership has a good understanding of available works himself. Letâ€™s grant that manga offerings in the U.K. are even more limited than here in the States; still, may I recommend that Beauman take a look at the works available from the collaboration between British publisher Fanfare and Spainâ€™s Ponent Mon? Likewise, readers interested in seeing what the Anglo translation houses havenâ€™t touch yet might want to have a look at this guide to scanlations. Thereâ€™a actually quite a lot out there beyond the usual books for teenagers. (Link via Kevin Melrose.)
(Just so we’re all clear, that goes Dirk, Ned, Dirk).
Dirk’s response is, essentially, “Hey, there are these guys doing low-print run books with poor bookstore distro! And there’s lots of completely illegal material out there! Shucks, there’s tons of manga out there besides Naruto!”
When did we as passionate, intelligent consumers decide to simply take what was given to us? Don’t get me wrong, I like the books by Fanfare/Ponent-Mon a great deal, I think I own better than 3/4 of them. But they aren’t the end-all and be all of manga for grown-ups (particularly not while their print-runs stay small and their bookstore distribution remains… the way it is). I don’t think that it’s a failing on the Guardian blogger’s part for him to go see what manga is all about and then lament that the books that he could find on store shelves is not for him… because they aren’t. There’s no denying that Naruto or Hot Gimmick are not exceptionally drawn, well-told stories in their respective genres… but their respective genres are TEEN FICTION.
And then the suggestion that a guy who wants to go and buy a book–and use his column to tell you what books to buy–should instead go to the internet and download work illegally? WTF? I thought Dirk worked for The Comics Journal, one of the last bastions of writers angry about creator rights and responsibilities… The fact that people steal things and the results are generally good doesn’t immediately absolve you of sending people out to steal… Or mocking those who don’t do the same. Perhaps instead of linking a scanlations site, Dirk could have done some actual work and recommended a book or two by name… Maybe done some actual good for an in-print book that fit the blogger’s criteria.
Why is “Oh, there’s not enough manga for adults, better go to the internet” a legitimate sentiment anyway? Why isn’t any energy being invested in asking/demanding more manga for adults, or better still, showing some support for the material that’s already out there? Why does Shannon Gaerity have to hold the torch alone so much of the time? How much of the time do you spend reading books aimed at your age group, versus reading the ones for children and teenagers?
I think the answer is just laziness, rather than any specific dark intentions, but I could be wrong.
I also want to go back and look at the blogger’s original post too, because there’s something else there:
That’s an interesting new quote, referring to Viz’s output as defined by their bookstore distributor’s catalogue. It makes you wonder how much effort is being put into the grown-up manga, doesn’t it? Was anything with a target-audience above 16 even listed or provided to this reviewer in the first place? I have a lot of friends at Viz who, I’m hoping, don’t get too upset at what I’m saying here, but I honestly don’t think the editorial staff’s love of works like Phoenix, Nausicaa, Uzumaki, et al., really translates to the marketting department, let alone through the marketting department. I mean sure, you can put out something like InuBaka, Crazy For Dogs! and that piece of crap will sell itself, making it look a lot stronger on the bottom line. But the Tezuka stuff, the Miyazaki, the creepy horror, the undefinable books (but the ones that are clearly excellent)… those get much lower orders than their crystal-clear and wide-eyed companions. They don’t get the same push, they don’t get a comperable one. Licensing is licensing and Guardian blogger Ned is right, we’re only getting a tiny fraction of what’s available in Japan, but the playing field isn’t empty, either. I think that any of us who love the manga that we do–the challenging, classic, artful stuff–we need to put a lot more effort in. Because the result if we don’t? Hotlinks to scanlation guides. Who the fuck needs that?
All of the above is one of the big reasons I’ve been pushing the forthcoming release of Taiyo Matsumoto’s TEKKON KINKREET so hard: it’s incredibly important to have this one, perfect collection of material sell well and enter the public consciousness, because it’ll kick open the doors to similar material. I gave a long, rambling telephone interview on the book last week that should be appearing close to the book’s release at the end of September. I hope that any of you writing about manga for adults will pick up a copy (except Johanna: you will not be able to deal with the violence) and talk about it. I just re-read the new book again last night and it’s godaamned incredible, just like I remembered.
I also know that, on this title, Viz has really, really done an outstanding job of promoting the availability of the graphic novel. Tying it into the animated film’s release, making lots of press copies available, talking it up, hell, being willing to work with me is a big deal as far as I’m concerned. They made this the most attractive package they could (you will be amazed when you’re holding it in your hand), they have inserts in the DVD (which should be very big, I think) and as far as I know it’s going to be well positioned in many book and comic stores. On this one I think it all came together, and I hope the results are there for them (and for the rest of us too!).
Oh, and I think I’m allowed to share this good news: All of Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix and all of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind will be coming back into print in the next few weeks, ending the long drought of missing volumes and sad faces. So, in all of this angry questioning, at least there’s some good news for fans of manga for grown-ups, eh?
Thanks to Kevin Melrose for the original link.