“OEL Manga” Should Die

The news broke recently that Tokyopop is closing its North American publishing division. Many are wondering what position that leaves the creators under contract with Tokyopop’s OEL line, which had already been cancelled by the company before the closure and slew of layoffs last February. I for one, hope that “OEL” dies along with Tokypop.

That’s not to say that I don’t want to see those creators move forward, gain the rights to their creations back. I’m talking about the term “OEL” itself, not the business of having non-Japanese creators making manga.

I’ve voiced my dislike for the term OEL and Global Manga before, in a post called “What Is Manga?”. Many fans will argue that the term “manga” is simply the Japanese word for comic book, and they’re right. But that doesn’t mean that there’s “no such thing as manga” (and therefore either anything or nothing can be considered manga). Others believe the term should only be used for comics created in Japan; using it for non-Japanese works implies that “manga” is one genre or art style and any manga reader will tell you that there is a diverse range of genres and styles within what is sold as manga. But what, then, do you call comics created outside of Japan aimed towards the market of manga readers? This is how the labels “OEL” and “Global Manga” were born.

As a non-Japanese ¬†creator of manga, I can tell you that I feel very uncomfortable with the notion of labeling my work “OEL” or “Global manga”. The reason comes down to this; the term “manga” is a useful marketing label. There are people looking to buy comics which fall withing a wide spectrum called manga. What interests them in this spectrum are the different types of stories and the various art styles they find within it. If I want to create a series which will appeal to those readers the best thing I can do to help them find it is to simply call it “manga”.

No reader cares about what nationality the creators are as long as the series fits generally withing this spectrum and is, y’know, good. Actually, that’s not completely true, and gets to heart of why I hope the habit of labeling non-Japanese manga into a subcategory. The only manga readers who care about whether or not a manga series was created in Japan have a negative association with manga produced outside of Japan—-automatically dismissing it based on the creator’s nationality. This makes it a really bad business move to give your product line a label which will only serve to drive certain readers away.

A few years ago, Viz considered publishing content from non-Japanese creators. Not only did they seem to have creator-friendly contracts (no taking ownership like Tokyopop did), but they had a really nice label for this endeavour: their “original content” line. This was a perfectly fine distinction, since Viz deals with licensed manga, but was interested in seeking potential original content to publish. Although they never did, I imagine perhaps this was even just a way to advertise to creators that they were accepting submissions; it’s possible that if they had picked up a series that they would simply publish it along with the rest of their manga, making no labeled distinction between licensed manga and original content manga. We can’t say for sure, but I think that would be the most logical business move.

I create comics that are most likely to be enjoyed most frequently by people who enjoy reading manga. So calling my comics “manga” helps readers find my work. Distinguishing it from other manga based solely on my nationality will either have no impact or a negative impact on readership, so why bother?

I’ll change my mind when there’s evidence that large masses of manga fans are looking specifically to read manga created by Canadians¬†


2 Responses

  1. JJR Says:

    I basically agree, and your fellow Mangaka, Svetlana Chmakova (Russo-Canadian writer) makes basically the same argument in-story using a clearly audiobiographically based character in her series DRAMACON.

    DRAMACON is a manga about Anime/Manga convention culture, specifically a group of friends who are artists and writers trying to break into the profession producing their own Dojinshi. I love the series and wound up buying the omnibus edition in hardback.

    I consider myself an Otaku, and to me, Manga is an artistic style, or range of familiar styles with its own visual language, etc. I’m a big fan of MEGATOKYO, which was ground breaking insofar as it has been translated from English into Japanese and sold in Japan.

    I also like Anime dubbed into English–prefer it, in fact, especially if the story being told is an American or British one. I become weary of my fellow otaku who dismiss all dubs out of hand with the blanket statement: “Dubs suck”…maybe in the 80s and 90s they had a point–yes, some of *those* dubs from *that* era were truly awful. But since the early 2000s, I don’t think that kind of blanket dismissal is really fair. Some dubs are quite well done, and the success of quality English dubs has gone a long way to making Anime/Manga more and more mainstream and profitable and recognized and popular among young viewers/readers. I’ve started to branch out, but initially the only Manga I would read would be from shows I’d already seen the Anime for.

    I think there will always be purists among otaku who will always be dismissive of Manga written by non-Japanese and they are the same people who still diss dubs in Anime, no matter how well done…it will never be good enough for these folks.

    As an amateur critic (I blog very infrequently about Anime/Manga), I will probably keep the distinction OEM/OEL, but I can understand why as an artist it is a no-win scenario for you in working with publishers.

    One small request/question…I am a listener of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe and heard your interview, and I have bought the iTunes versions of the Legend of Ztarr…but I am disappointed you haven’t yet published this two-part Manga in print yet. If the online version is a success, do please try to pitch it to an actual print publisher. I would definitely buy it.

    As it stands, I will have to wait until I buy my first iPad to enjoy your series (probably this Xmas). It’s a little to hard to read just on my iPhone at the moment, and I can’t open it up in iTunes either–or if there is a way I haven’t figured it out yet.

    Anyway, wish you all the best and continued success in your artistic career.

  2. Leah Says:

    I found that your article was well thought out and definitely makes people think. I would have to agree with everything as I am an aspiring sequential artist with my art based in the direction of manga, so i wondered what it would be like for non-japanese artists. On another note, any advice from you would help. Did you go to college for graphic storytelling or sequential manga art? I’m having a hard time trying to pick out a college on such a hard major, so i would like to know where you went to get an idea.

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