< Piro >
Monday - October 31, 2005
If you had the misfortune* of attending my Naze Nani Megatokyo presentation at Otakon 2005 this year, then you got to hear a bit of my take on the emerging definitions and criteria being used to determine what can validly be called 'manga'. It's a debate that has been around ever since english speaking fans harbored the desire to create works in the genre. In the past year, there has been a lot of talk about manga produced by non-japanese creators who are heavily influenced by Japanese manga... me included. In fact, it is inspiring to see just how much interest there is in such work, and how over time we've even been able to attain some semblance of validity in the world instead of just being dismissed as 'crap' or 'wannabees'. But there is still that problem of what to call ourselves.
Now, most of you know how much i really don't like this overwhelming urge humanity seems to have with putting labels on things. Yet, there is a drawback to this attitude. If you don't take some interest in how you and your work is defined, other people will apply labels for you. So with that in mind, i wanted to take a quick look at these 'labels' and try to find one i'm happy with.
I don't think there are problems with calling Megatokyo a 'webcomic'. It's a comic, it's on the web, it's a webcomic. While there may be people out there that argue that Megatokyo is a poor example of what makes a good webcomic, it's not something i worry about. If anything, the web is an imperfect delivery method for 'manga' style works like mine, but it is one of the best methods in lieu of any workable monthly/weekly print distribution method in the english-speaking world. The rules about what makes a webcomic a good webcomic seem to have been invented after Megatokyo started, so i hope that i at least am allowed to be grandfathered into the term. :)
I guess the most obvious term that most aspiring manga creators would want applied to their work would be to simply call it 'manga'. I don't think this is an appropriate term except in the most general sense (the Megatokyo books, for instance, are located in the 'manga' sections of most bookstores and that seems to be a reasonable place for them). Yet, it is not 'manga' in the truest sense of the word - I am not Japanese, i am not a product of Japanese culture, my work is not distributed and published by japanese companies. So simply calling it 'manga' is not really correct, at least to me. It's like calling yourself an 'artist'. It's presumptuous.
Now, you may note that i use the term 'dounjinshi' (which means 'fan work') in describing Megatokyo. that i feel is valid, because fan works are fan works, and there is such a wide variety of doujin out there that i can claim that label without too much worry about validity. Yet, it's kind of a specialized term, and since what i'm doing is really more an original work... it's not 100% accurate.
Now we get to the meat of the problem. A comic that is produced by an english speaking american who has been to japan twice and has been a huge anime, manga, ren'ai game fan for years, who has been influenced and inspired by manga and anime and is producing his own comic that other fans of Manga and Anime seem to like.
Yikes, that's a mouthful.
One of early terms applied to this kind of work was 'American manga' or 'Amerimanga'. While this could be applied to my work fairly safely, it's really not a good term because there are a lot of very talented creators who are not from Japan, but aren't from America either. It's a little snobbish to claim the entirety of English language Manga as the realm of Americans, and i think this is generally understood, as the term is not really used that much these days. Moving on.
The most recent term that i've been hearing bandied about is the term O.E.L. manga -- Original English Language Manga. Now tell me that wasn't a term developed by a committee. :P It sounds like something you'd find in a car parts store. It's better than "English Language Manga", because the translated stuff we all read backwards falls into that category too. Manga produced initially in english for an english-language audience... yeah, it works. It's a lame sounding term, but... it's descriptive i guess.
Ugh. Can't we come up with something better? There are a lot of bright people out there -- this is the best that we can come up with? That term makes it sound like there is no spirit behind what we do, like its just a business classification. I suppose the problem is the fact that what we do is a little difficult to define in just a few words. Webcomics have it easy - the term is immediately descriptive and clear. OEL Manga has to be explained to people. Thats not the sign of a good term.
See, the thing i hate about all this validity and labeling stuff is how people forget that we don't create work the way we do because we are trying to copy or mimic a foreign style... we are immersed in manga and anime, its as much ours as it is theirs. Our work is influenced and inspired by it. There are many excellent super hero comic artists out there, and they were influenced and inspired by the super hero comics they read for years before they became pros at it. Its the exact same thing for manga-ka in japan. They were influenced by the manga they read, and were inspired to create it.
Just like we are.
It's kinda like the world doesn't know what to do with us right now. Maybe the reason we don't have decent terms to define what we do is because we are still trying to define ourselves. It is not our goal to just produce knock-offs of japanese manga titles. Some belittle our work because we are not true manga artists, we are not japanese, not part of the cutlure that creates manga. I view this as a a potential strength. We are inspired by japanese manga, but we are also inspired by all of the other things in our lives, many things that Japanese creators may not be exposed to. We have viewpoints and ideas and inspirations that are unique to 'manga'... and maybe that is how, over time, we will end up defining ourselves. If you aspire to become a creator, and to do work that is inspired by manga, do not limit your inspiration to just manga. Japanese manga is just a part of it.
See... i do have a rather whimsical silly goal. Nothing serious, and not one that i have to attain to be happy, but it is a silly thought that maybe someday might happen. I want to create a work that you can read in any language, but the particular test being in Japanese, where the reader does not care that the creator was an American and not Japanese. I want to simply create something that people liked, that could appeal to japanese readers and non-japanese readers to the same degree. It's not something i'm setting out to do, it's just something that might just... happen, someday. If it did, it'd make me smile.
Back in the day, when i picked up my first copy of the Marmalade Boy manga and ordered Bannou Bunka Neko Musume drama CDs from the UCI Bookstore (which eventually evolved into TokyoPop), the idea of becoming a 'manga' artist was more fantasy than any sort of reality. It's not so much an unreachable fantasy anymore. With hard work, perseverance, and an unshakable desire to follow your creative soul, you too can become a...
You too can become one.... we just need to figure out what to call it.
(*note: when i talk about the Naze Nani show being a disaster, i am talking about my own performance, not the efforts of all the people who helped me. I owe a big thanks to the Little Gamers guys for their opening act, and to Shaggy for his attempts to add some music to the show - efforts that were thwarted by the sound board guy who would not allow anyone to hear what Shaggy was doing. Long overdue thanks guys.)