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 there’s no way to know if we’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 — 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 “shoujo”, and manga aimed at teenage boys is called “shonen”.) I’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. Let’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 Spain’s Ponent Mon? Likewise, readers interested in seeing what the Anglo translation houses haven’t touch yet might want to have a look at this guide to scanlations. There’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!”

tokyoismygarden.jpg

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:

“My two favourites from Simon and Schuster’s new catalogue are Naruto and Hot Gimmick.”

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?

Tekkon Kinkreet All In One EditionAll 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?

- Christopher
Thanks to Kevin Melrose for the original link.


19 Comments on “Hey, is there any good manga out there?”

You can track this conversation through its atom feed.

  1. Tina says:

    Forgive my intrusion, I don’t normally comment here but…

    the undefinable books

    And there’s the rub phrase…

    I got a rejection recently because my book was ‘undefinable’. In terms of OEL, and writing in the genre I do, if a publisher can’t market it as ‘yaoi’ or ‘BL’ then it’s not something they will publish. “This is great sci-fi, but there not enough male romance *ahem* [male sex] happening here, and so I can’t see us publishing it.” I was amazed.

    It’s frustrating to say this, but if there were more ‘Tokyo Pops’ out there, companies publishing only ‘manga’ and nothing else, then we might see less ‘fast-cash genres’ saturating the market, and more chances taken on the ‘not so easily’ defined. I mean, when DQ said they were going to publish ‘action’, I got little excited—until I saw the first license. 0_o Clearly it’s action…for shojo fans?

    What disturbs me most is, I’ve been the to scanslation sites and read some great material; no they’ll never get picked up here because most companies licensing these days are picking that one genre they like—and going with it, disqualifying anything that doesn’t quite fit into their hole. “Well, we can’t define it as horror, because it’s really a crime manga with some minor horror elements–nah, too hard to try and classify, what else is there that isn’t so hard to classify?” I’ve seen some companies blame the bookstores for this – ‘well the bookstore needs to know what audience to target it at’ which I find to be pure BS, since bookstores don’t divide the ‘manga’ by genre at all. 0_0. It sits on the shelf, in alphabetical order. Am I missing something there? Do bookstores order so many horrors, comedy, teen-titles, or action books, per quarter, and so that’s why this preference for the ‘obvious’ subject-matter is made in licensing? I think it’s down to so many publishers devoting ‘a portion’ of their catalogue to ‘just manga’, and so there no room variety. It’s never going to mainstream until more publishers exist that produce ONLY MANGA. [or OEL GN’s, that look and feel like them. ^_-]

  2. Tina says:

    Oh, and before someone yells this at me: yes I know, VIZ publishes only manga – AND YES, they publish a variety of it to, but all anyone thinks of is- Jump titles and Shojo Beat. :/ It’s the same thing that disappointed me with DQ, a company I work for, that published only manga. They’re actively avoiding marketing [or licensing] diverse genres, for the sake of…what?

  3. Johanna says:

    Thanks for the warning, Chris. And I very much appreciate your leading the charge in this way. You’re so knowledgeable in this area that it’s a great help to those of us still picking out out path.

  4. Hugh Stewart says:

    You may have answered this in your big write-up on it, but I can’t seem to find the information. Is the new TEKKON KINKREET release oversized, like thier Phoenix books? Or, even better, their Nausicaa ‘editor’s choice’ releases?

  5. Chris says:

    Hugh- TEKKON KINKREET is the same size as Nausicaa – Editor’s Choice Edition, yeah. Typical comic trim size f like 7×10. Plus all of the original colour sequences are in full colour here as well. It’s pretty-much perfect.

  6. Jeff says:

    Here’s a good manga: TRANSLUCENT. It’s from Dark Horse and priced to move (for DH) at $10. It’s a mature read but without the sex and violence or extreme situations. The story is quiet and poignant without overly sacchrine. A bit of LOVE ROMA but more sublime and without the wacky characters. The story is a slow burn but it will stick around in your head for a long time. One of the better surprise found this year. Go check it out. Actually came upon it at Waldenbook (or was it Barnes and Nobles?… one of those indie-bookstore-destroying suburb joints anyway)

  7. MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Manga for grownups says:

    [...] Are there any good manga out there for adults? Yes, says Christopher Butcher, but the quality titles aren’t getting enough attention. He takes Journalista’s Dirk Deppey to task for linking to scanlations and instead suggests mentioning some actual books by name. And then he suits the action to the word by talking about Tekkonkinkreet, which, by the way, is on my stack. I’ll throw in a few suggestions of my own: ES: Eternal Sabbath, Afterlife, by Stormcrow Hayes and Rob Steen, and, on Netcomics, cm0 (first chapter is free). More suggestions, anyone? [...]

  8. Lori Henderson says:

    Try asking/telling a company like Viz that you want more mature manga in the marketplace. You know what their answer will be? “We don’t look at the genre of the story. We just look for good stories.” That’s the answer I got from Marc Weidenbaum, the VP and editor-in-chief of magazines at the San Diego Comic Con. They claim they only want to put out ‘good stories’, but that still just means titles that will sell and can be marketed. And right now, marketing seems to mean having an anime to go with a book. Marketing a book on it’s own merits doesn’t seem to matter to Viz. The example you give of Tekkon Kinkreet is a perfect example. Do you think Viz would be re-releasing this book if the movie wasn’t coming out?

  9. Chris says:

    Lori- Do I think TK would be getting a reprint if the movie weren’t coming out? Hells no. But then I’ve been surprised before… Viz are about to re-release UZUMAKI and GYO, two other books from the PULP line with no specific marketability (other than their quality), so anything is possible.

    I don’t think “We’re looking for good stories” is necessarily an untruth either. They do choose series which may not have a market because they’re worthwhile books. Anything in the “Editor’s Choice/Viz Signature” line, for example, could be held up as being at the top of its genre; English-reading manga fans would certainly be poorer for its absence. There are a lot of manga on the stands today that feel like someone just said “this would be really good.” Hell, 5 years ago no one thought yaoi or bl would sell…

    And as for marketability, no company wants to put out books that fail. It’s depressing (and probably tough to explain to the licensor/original artist as well). Marketing opportunities also take many forms. Saikano had a concurrent anime release, for example. PING PONG was just released on DVD but we’re not getting the Ping Pong manga (yet) (sadly). It’s just the way it goes. Paradise Kiss was considered a commercial failure, but NANA still got licensed (and as a flagship property). I really don’t see the situation as being particularly dire, not when there are so many intelligent, informed fans out there who can make strong cases for series. I know that manga editors and licensor types read the fan message boards looking to see what people want, what might sell… Not all the time (sometimes it’s more of a top-down thing) but our commentary does help, particularly when it’s made in a smart way…

    - Christopher

  10. Simon Jones who is blogless says:

    Mature’s an awkward term though. What are we defining as mature manga? Art Comix style stuff? Airport Book style manga like Monster? Blood and guts like Berserk (Heh. Guts)? Childrens stuff that’s been deemed ‘note worthy’? Sargent Frog is from a magazine for adults, for example. The diversity of the medium makes some of these lables problematic.

  11. Chris says:

    Simon- Does common sense never enter into the equation? “Art Comix, Airport Books, Blood & Guts,” they’d all generally be rated-R type movies, or would be considered general fiction and then genre classified from there. Sargent Frog is in a magazine for adults, but what age are the protagonists? Who is the work for? Is it SOUTH PARK, which is ostensibly for adults but has a huge teen (and younger!) audience? Mature is only problematic as a term so far as people would rather argue dictionary definitions than try and understand one another.

  12. Travis McGee says:

    Simon – I’m quite curious as to why you regard Monster as a “airport book style” manga (outside of the superficial observation that it is a murder-mystery). I think that’s a rather cruel comparison, especially when I (perhaps without evidence, but that’s another debate entirely) regard most airport books as trash.

  13. Lori Henderson says:

    No one’s said that Viz doesn’t look for good stories. I do enjoy all the manga I get from Viz, but their signature line, for the most part, are filled with manga I’m not interested in. Same goes for Dark Horse and their seinen lines. And I do realize that in the past, having an anime didn’t matter. It’s just that now I’m starting to see it as a trend. Nana got to be a flagship property because it was SUCH a phenomenon. It had nothing to do with Paradise Kiss. But really good stories should at least allow for something that didn’t just originate in Shonen Jump, or have blood, guts or death at it’s core.

    I know the situation’s not dire. We’re just starting (hopefully) to see manga aimed at an older audience come out. I just don’t want to see it get pegged into a specific genre. Manga has succeeded so far because it has such a wide variety. It would be nice to see more of it for older audiences.

  14. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Sept. 4, 2007: It’s Celebrate Spanish Royalty Week! says:

    [...] [Commentary] Christopher Butcher declares that scanlations are wrong and even the mildest of snark is unacceptable in a Comics Journal blog. Duly chastised, I also learned something else: Recommending Fanfare/Ponent Mon releases earns you fewer critic’s-choice points than, of all things, Taiyo Matsumoto’s flashy but shallow Tekkon Kinkreet. [...]

  15. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Sept. 4, 2007: It’s Celebrate Spanish Royalty Week! says:

    [...] [Commentary] Christopher Butcher declares that scanlations are wrong and even the mildest of snark is unacceptable in a Comics Journal blog. Duly chastised, I also learned something else: Recommending Fanfare/Ponent Mon releases earns you fewer critic’s-choice points than, of all things, Taiyo Matsumoto’s flashy but shallow Tekkon Kinkreet. [...]

  16. Ned says:

    I’m the writer of the column that started this exchange. I’ve unfortunately only just come across this post, and I know that probably no one will ever see this comment, but I just thought I’d clarify, even though I agree with pretty much everything that Christopher Butcher has written above.

    The selection of available manga in the US may be narrow, but the selection in the UK is even narrower. In my column, I was specifically reviewing Simon & Schuster’s new UK range, which will probably be the first manga titles to have reliable nationwide distribution in the UK. As far as I remember, it comprises a dozen titles at most, all of them aimed at teenagers. That’s a shame, but it’s probably good business sense on the part of Viz and Simon & Schuster.

    I’m grateful that my attention has been drawn to this Fanfare/Ponent-Mon stuff, and I’ll try to review some in a future column, but, realistically, very few of my readers are going to make the effort to track it down. That’s why it would be awesome if they could just go into a chain book shop and get something aimed at adults – the fact that they can’t is what I was originally complaining about. (And you’re right, I have no interest in linking to illegal scanlations.)

  17. Simon Jones who is blogless says:

    In regards to the airport book thing, take a look at monster. It’s one of my favourite manga. But, honestly? Is there really that much difference between it and Brick Thick Thriller #344 beyond the fact that it is manga? I personally actually view this as a good thing. It highlights the diversity of the medium.

  18. comics212 - never safe for work. » Blog Archive » Mature Manga: I missed this as I was in Japan says:

    [...] From Dirk Deppey at Journalista: [Commentary] Christopher Butcher declares that scanlations are wrong and even the mildest of snark is unacceptable in a Comics Journal blog. Duly chastised, I also learned something else: Recommending Fanfare/Ponent Mon releases earns you fewer critic’s-choice points than, of all things, Taiyo Matsumoto’s flashy but shallow Tekkon Kinkreet. [...]

  19. Leusoj says:

    You should give Monster and 20th Century Boys a try. Definitely one of the best mangas out there. :)

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