Thursday, August 19, 2010

Manga! Manga!:The World of Japanese Comics Review

U.S. bookstores did not always have sprawling manga sections and crowds of teens and adults reading manga from right-to-left. The fact that we do now is in part responsible to Frederik L. Schodt’s classic book from 1983 entitled Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics (Kodansha International, 1983).

In the book’s foreward, manga and anime superstar Osamu Tezuka laments that in the 1980s “information about Japan’s vast comics culture is hardly available in the West” (p.10) due to language, Japanese subject matter, and the reversed reading patterns. Tezuka credits Japanese animation with paving the way for manga by creating interest in comic books about favorite characters such as Tezuka’s own Kimba, the White Lion and Astroboy.

Schodt, who translated several manga including Tezuka’s The Phoenix, opens Manga! Manga! with photos of manga books that are thicker than the San Francisco telephone book. Manga began as a children’s art form, but as children matured and became adults they still wanted to read stories in the comic book format with adult subject matter. Schodt affirms that in the 1980s, manga had “as much to say about life as novels or films.” (p.14)

Manga are written with gender and age in mind, but there is crossover reading despite differences in subjects, theme, and artistic treatment. The general presentation includes a glossy color cover with black and white pages inside Schodt writes. Sometimes red ink may show up as in some manga that are printed in Osaka.

Four general types of manga exist:

· Shonen (boys’ manga):

In the 1980s, Schodt writes that shonen manga alone sold over three million copies per week. The shonen subject matter “balance[s] suspense with humor; dramatic stories of sports, adventure, ghosts, science fiction and school life are interspliced with outrageous gag and pun strips.” (p.15)

· Shojo (girls’ manga):

Shojo manga contain “tales of idealized love, featuring stylized heroes and heroines, many of
whom look Caucasian.” (p. 14)

· Seinen (men’s comics):
· Josei (women’s comics):

Themes for adult manga feature everything from religious topics to risqué ones Schodt tells readers and includes subgenres related to gambling and stories of homosexual love written for and by women.

The cinematic treatment of the subject matter in manga may account for the initial and continued popularity of the format. Using frames to create tension by speeding up or slowing down action and montage techniques as well as camera-shot-drawing bring the motion picture to the flat page. For instance, in the excerpt from Tezuka’s The Phoenix readers can see a tortoise getting netted, having its head chopped off, and existing as a tortoise shell comb in its afterlife in one frame that filmmaker and montage specialist Sergei Eisenstein could have composed.

Schodt deals with all aspects of the manga industry and history up to the 1980s. His chapter entitled “A Thousand Years of Manga” details the subject matter that manga artists draw upon in Japanese culture and the British, French, and American contributions to the comic strip format in Japan.

For anyone interested in understanding the appeal of manga, Schodt’s Manga! Manga! still delivers the answers.

By Ruth Paget, Author of Marrying France