Richard Feynman was born May 11, 1918. This months’ manga donation doodle celebrates this Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist! As always, you can get your hand drawn and signed manga doodle simply by making a donation of any amount.
Buying these science themed drawings not only celebrates a love of great thinkers, but also helps fund an indie artist like myself to keep on creating. Your support means a lot to me.
There was a recent edit war on my wiki page about the use of the term “manga” to describe my work. The wikipedia entry for manga describes it as a Japanese specific term for comics made in Japan, by Japanese creators or publishers. As a Canadian, there was a debate over whether I could truly call my work manga and refer to myself as a mangaka. While it is true that manga is simply the Japanese word for comics, I hope to explain why I find it useful and more accurate to label my series as manga.
In North America, there are differences between comic book readers and manga readers, even though there can be some crossover in the market. Typically, when you talk of comics in North America, people tend to think of Marvel/DC type books. The majority of comic readers are adult males and the most common genres are super hero, sci-fi, fantasy, horror mixes. However, with manga sales in North America, the majority of readers are young women and girls, and includes drama and romance genre series. Take a look in a book store and you’ll likely find different sections for comics and manga, with different kinds of demographics.
As a type of comic, what manga readers are looking for can be on a spectrum, rather than cut-and-dry criteria. The spectrum of art styles that can be included in manga is only one difference—manga tends to rely more on symbolism than the more literal style of American comics, and relies more on emotion and imagery than dialogue or narration. The business models differ as well, with comic series more commonly being owned by the publisher, while manga series are typically owned by the creator (who licenses the publishing rights).
With these differences, if I want to reach the readership most likely to enjoy my work, the easiest way to do that is by calling it manga, and having it in the manga section. My nationality is irrelevant when going through the selling points of my work. “Manga” is quite practical as a marketing label in North America. Only referring to my work as comics simply because of my nationality or what country the work was created in does nothing to help sell it in North America where there are real difference between selling comic books and manga.
I feel like any other term—OEL (Original English Language) manga, Global manga, and the like—only serves as a warning against buying it (for a silly and pretty much prejudice reason), and why would any artist or publisher want that for their product?
I know that there can be books made in a manga-mimicry fashion just to “cash-in” on the popularity of manga, or plenty of fan-created works that are derivative and fueled by pure fandom, but I don’t think these are strong arguments against using “manga” to describe them. You can quickly fall into the No True Scotsman argument. Besides, Japan has plenty of crappy manga, it just doesn’t tend to get licensed here in North America.
The reality is, calling my work manga is the most likely way to get my books into the hands of readers who will like them, no matter what the purists have to say.
note: My series Secrets of Sorcerers was created reading left-to-right, like Western books, but I choose to create my latest series, Legend of the Ztarr, in Japanese right-to-left because it became industry standard and I wanted to avoid any technical problems that might arise (like having the books in print on shelves with other manga, conforming to manga reader apps, or including chapters in anthology style magazines that would run right-to-left).
The cover art for the upcoming chapter of my manga series, Legend of the Ztarr, is now available for download as desktop and iPad wallpaper and for purchase as posters in various sizes. Legend of the Ztarr Chapter 1 is available online and through most ebook retailers like iBooks and Kindle. The second chapter is due to be released this May.
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
And that seems to have been what really lead to the shutdown; a manga publisher not focusing on publishing manga anymore. Granted, the fact that Borders owed them money when they went bankrupt was a big blow, but under the management of company founder Stu Levy Tokyopop began to invest more in his side projects like America’s Greatest Otaku—-a reality series filmed cross country. Levy has state flat-out that he has lost interest in books:
Wow #GDC2011 [Game Developers Conference] is blowing my mind. Why have I been stuck in such an old-school, out-of-touch industry for so long?! (yes I mean books!)
Over at The Manga Critic, Katherine Dacey points out, “Levy’s interest in new media is well-documented, but coming on the heels of the editorial layoffs, his comments suggested a lack of awareness about how consumers viewed TOKYOPOP: as a manga publisher.”
I met Stu while I was a guest at Otakuthon in Montreal; a group of us hung out in old Montreal and he struck me as a very talented and quite nice guy. But if you’re not interested in publishing manga, then don’t run a manga publisher. It’s fine to want to do the Hollywood thing and film documentaries and reality series, but obviously its not going to help business if you’re a manga publisher.
Manga fans want to read manga. They don’t quite care about reality show road trips about otaku across America, they aren’t interested in behind-the-scenes documentaries at conventions (ask Jeff Nimoy, who canned the “Adventures in Anime” web series before it ever really even got started).
Tokyopop’s contributions to the North American manga industry are significant. They released unflipped manga, and took the plunged into publishing original content with their “OEL” line (a label I’ve never liked). But that endeavour shouldn’t take any of the blame whatsoever for the company’s downfall. Their OEL titles and creators never really got the support and attention they deserved. The company’s American-style business model for contracts with these creators gave Tokyopop ownership of the titles, leaving creators with little options when the company ceased publishing of them, even before the closure.
That’s one of my biggest gripes with the company—-their American publishing model. In the Japanese manga industry, ownership of a series lies with the creator, the mangaka. Publishing companies simply have the rights to publish the series. This is not the case in the American comic book industry, where a series like Spider-man is owned by the company, Marvel. This difference has an effect on storytelling—-namely, mangaka have more freedom and control over the creative process. At one time, Viz looked as if they were interested in producing original content using the manga model, but as far as I can tell, never developed anything.
Who knows what will happen to the titles of the OEL creators under contract with Tokyopop, now that the LA office will close. I imagine they are at the mercy of Levy’s ADD whims. The right thing for him to do with be to step out of the way and let what’s good for manga happen—-getting good manga titles into the hands of manga readers.
There’s plenty of discussion in the science-based and secular humanist movements about how to get more women interested in joining and participating in atheist and skeptic organizations. As a writer and artist, an important part of my work is creating stories that are appealing to girls and young women. I thought I’d share some of my influences and the mode of operation I like to call “The She-ra Approach” when it comes to creating a female-friendly atmosphere.
The medium I work in to tell my stories is sequential art, specifically, manga—-a form of comic book storytelling originating from Japan and made popular by its animated counterpart, anime. Some of the appealing characteristics of the manga industry are the prevalence of both female readers and creators; something which sets it apart from the traditional comic book industry. I find that when American comics, movies, and animation attempt to portray positive images of women, they tend to create female characters that are quite masculine. As a young girl, I remember equating “girliness” with weakness, because most examples of strong women didn’t care about things like pretty clothes, makeup, doing your hair, and owning cute things. That is, until I came across anime, and not only discovered main characters that were girly, but that there was an entire genre devoted to female readers: shoujo.
The first anime series I became I fan of was Fushigi Yuugi by a female mangaka named Watase Yuu. The main character of the series was a cute school girl, Miaka, with brown hair and big brown eyes, just like me! She was interested in boys, clothes, and cute hairdos. She could be whiny, clumsy, and require rescue, but somehow, when it came to really important responsibilities, she came through—-she could resolve the story’s conflict without having to be “tough”. She was a different kind of heroine; one that could cry, be love-sick, and need the help of others. Even though she definitely wasn’t a perfect role model, Miaka made me feel it was okay to be girly.
Anime is one of the few forms of entertainment that has a high percentage of stories with female leading characters; Characters that seem powerful because they’ll have special powers, or can wield magic (women in Western storytelling are typically evil witches if they can use magic) but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily good role-models for girls—far from it. There’s plenty of garbage with horrible presentations of girls and women that make the Disney princesses look like feminists.
Luckily for me, I was born in the 80s! For a short time between 1983-86 there was He-Man and The Masters of the Universe and its spin-off, She-ra: The Princess of Power. Indeed, She-ra was the female version of He-man, but here’s why that didn’t make her simply a male character in a female body—-He-man wasn’t your stereotypical macho superhero. Because of concerns by parent groups over He-man’s hyper-macho appearance and the unusual action-based content of the cartoon for the time, He-man’s personality was written to balance his appearance. He was kind, empathetic, and demonstrated emotions and affection. I always got the feeling that his only motivation for being a hero was that he genuinely cared about others. Unlike most superheroes, who seem to need a rationale for using their powers, he didn’t need a justification for doing good, such as a sense of responsibility, a cause like justice, or a motivation like revenge. Being a caring person was reason enough.
The effect this had, when it came to creating He-man’s twin sister, was that a female character was being based off a male character that had traits which would typically be characterized as feminine. The result was a pair of equals who were well balanced human beings. As a small child, I grew up with two heroes who taught me that their traits—-bravery, empathy, strength, kindness—-weren’t exclusive to one gender or the other; these were the traits of good people. Period.
Masters of the Universe was one of the most successful cartoon franchises of all time, pioneering the production of animated series broadcasted daily, as opposed to the standard weekly Saturday morning schedule. When Mattel decided to create a spinoff geared towards a girl audience, the writers at Filmation approached the issue of expanding the He-man universe into one which appealed more to girls in a manner which has influenced not only my childhood, but my work as a storyteller as well. Although the aesthetics of the She-ra series clearly differs from Masters of the Universe with a more stereotypical “girl look” and its pastel palette (though MotU main character, Prince Adam, was dressed in a fabulous palette of light pink and purple) the content of the series kept what made Masters of the Universe popular: magic mixed with sci-fi action.
She-ra: Princess of Power had more female characters than Masters of the Universe but what’s most important is how they presented the higher ratio of women, the key ingredient to “The She-ra Approach”. The plot never drew any attention to the fact that She-ra, or any other female character, was a woman. She-ra was amazing for many reasons, but never because she was a woman. The lesson was never “Look, girls, She-ra saved the day and she’s a girl! She can do anything a boy can, and so can you!” I grew up knowing that women and men were equals because it never occurred to me to think otherwise.
Sure, She-ra was a series that looked more “girly” than Masters of the Universe. Many of She-ra’s friends were princesses, just like her. There was more emphasis on nature and magic than there was in He-man’s world. But, unlike most of the Disney princesses, She-ra (aka Princess Adora) and her friends were princesses because they were daughters of Queens, and not because they married a prince. When it came to the battle between Princess Adora’s nature-loving rebellion and Hordak’s destructive high-tech regime, there were men and women on both sides. Good and evil, caring or oppressive, these weren’t things that had any attachment to one gender over the other.
You don’t have to go out of your way to appeal to girls. I think there’s a danger in over-thinking what changes to make in order to have something be female-friendly. You run the risk of creating something that is so stereotypically feminine that it sends the message that girls can’t handle anything remotely masculine, or trying to stay away from stereotypically feminine traits so much as to give the message that anything feminine is undesirable.
There’s a short moment in the She-ra origin story, The Secret of the Sword (a film which is also the first five episodes of the series), which I find to be a good example of achieving this balance. Glimmer, the leader of The Great Rebellion, is introduced to Prince Adam for the first time (at about the 12:30 mark). She appears to be going over plans, but when Bow appears with Adam she takes the briefest moment to show her interest in seeing this new handsome friend, then immediately switches back to leader mode to check out the commotion going on outside, and even scolding Bow for causing a ruckus. I like this tiny detail because it shows that Glimmer is a leader, but isn’t stone-cold. Taking a moment to “Ooooh” over a cute guy isn’t associated with weakness.
The success of this approach is that the core contents of what was appealing about the franchise wasn’t changed just because they wanted to expand their product to girls. Boys loved He-man because it combined sword-fighting action with magic and space ships. There was no reason to take any of those things away when making She-ra. In fact, because the series didn’t alter that winning combination, the She-ra series had a strong following of boy fans tuning into the show as well. If you make something that’s good it won’t matter if it’s meant for boys or girls. As a little girl, the dark colour palette and castles shaped like giant skulls didn’t deter me from watching He-man, and She-ra proved boys would tune in to a show with a cast of women and scenery painted with pinks and pastels. The result was a franchise that not only gave girls good female role models, but exposed boys to them as well.
Some geeky side notes: Masters of the Universe had strong female characters as well. Teela was captain of the Royal Guard, Queen Marlena (He-man’s mom) was a talented pilot and astronaut from Earth, and The Sorceress ruled Castle Grayskull and constantly gave guidance to He-man. Before you point out that the women in both He-man and She-ra were scantily clad, it should be noted that nearly every character was. Only a few characters wore armor (like Man-at-Arms, but c’mon, that was his name!) and pantslessness was nearly universal. I can’t count how many random background characters are old men wearing tunics sans-pants. This probably was due to the characters being modeled after the template for the action figures the cartoon was based on.
My American beau and his family are celebrating Thanksgiving (I’m still in Canader), so I thought I’d write a light-hearted post. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I rarely watch anime anymore, so there are plenty of series I haven’t watched, but I thought I’d write about some of my all-time favourites.
Itazura na Kiss
This 2008 anime is based on the 1991 shoujo manga series by Kaoru Tada. It’s a romantic comedy about a highschool girl’s fight to be with her crush, who is apparently waaay out of her league—-she’s in the bottom of their grade and he’s the top of the class. It’s a cute series, but sometimes it’s hard to watch the fixation she has on the guy she loves—-reminds me of how stupid I was in highschool!
Saikano (Saishuu Heiki Kanojo)
I haven’t seen this series in a long time, but I remember really loving it. The art is adorable and if I remember correctly, the series is only 13 episodes long.
This series has a special place for me because it’s the first anime series I watched–sort of my gateway drug into anime. I think it was the first time I saw a girly heroine. The main character, Miaka, cares about boys, clothes, and all sorts of other “girly” things, but isn’t stupid or completely useless. I’m a big fan of Yuu Watase’s work; she combines shoujo themes with some pretty great action sequences. Although it’s nice to have a very feminine main character at the center of a story, I wouldn’t consider Miaka a terrific role model. She’s completely obsessed with leading man, Tamahome, and has an unsettling fixation with eating (isn’t being skinny but constantly obsessing with eating large quantities of food a warning sign for a eating disorder?). Also, I’m not comfortable with the main premise of the story—-since Miaka is the Priestess of Suzaku importance is placed on her remaining a virgin to satisfy the god of Suzaku. And so, it was nice to be exposed to a girly main character back when I was still a tomboy, but the series isn’t exactly an example of a story that empowers women.
Ayashi no Ceres
Another Yuu Watase series, but this time, there is an element of critique towards the impossibly high standards when it comes to the portrayal of love and relationships in storytelling. A lot is said about the treatment of women in what the series has to say about masculinity.
This shounen series is another one of my “firsts”. This series has some of the most beautiful fight sequences in anime (although they can be frequently interrupted with monologues). Kenshin is a great character and the series has a nice story. It’s a bit long at 95 episodes, but to be honest, I lost interest in the mid 60s when the the first story arc ends and then stops following the plot of the manga. There’s a weird second arc about some lame Christian character—-he’s not lame because he’s Christian but because he’s sort of another Battousai, like Kenshin, and is trained in the same style; this was pretty much the key plot point of the first story arc with Kenshin’s nemesis Shishiwhatever-zombieman. Dudeman, if you’re a Kenshin fan don’t send me angry emails—-you know just as well as I do that long-haired crucifix man is boring and redundant.
This series is just adorable and hilarious and you should watch it!
I loved this series—-OH NO WAIT, I forgot…I hated hated hated this series. This series is frustrating horrible fluff. Horrible fluffy CRACK. I don’t know why I couldn’t stop watching and ended up seeing the entire series. The ending made me hate it even more. Arrrgh~! I dare you to watch all 25 episodes of crappyness. Look, Funimation offers an even more annoying version online—-the entire series, translated into an annoying dub.
All girls need NANA. This is the motto of the series’ website. This is absolutely my favourite series. Storytelling at its finest! The creator, Ai Yazawa, is a genius of character and plot development. It has a very honest feel about it. I find quite often that many anime series make an attempt to be meaningful and mature storytelling simply end up feeling pretentious. Either that, or they layer the plot with absurd amounts of symbolism so they can impress fans in a post-modernesque faux-academic manner. NANA doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not—-anime, after all, is entertainment. But it entertains while presenting its situations and character interactions in a wonderfully believable manner. Yazawa has a knack for making you relate to her characters. With the incredibly successful manga still ongoing, the anime awaits a second season.
Anime I’m still planning on finishing:
When I do find time to watch some anime, I continue to watch Honey and Clover. I remember liking but not finishing Skip Beat and would really like to finish Paradise Kiss, another Yazawa title. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave it in the comments.
Join me, this Friday, Aug. 13th at 9pm for my presentation, “Skepticism Through Manga”, at the Palais des Congress de Montreal during Otakuthon. I’ll be a guest at the anime convention, which takes place Aug.13th-15th. In addition to my skepticism talk, I’ll also be doing a panel called “Manga Storytelling: Writing and Illustration” on Saturday, for those interested in the process of creating manga.
For those interested in skepticism, I’m organizing a meetup after my panel, which runs 9pm-10pm on Friday night. The plan is to meet at the nearby Suite 701 Lounge. So come check out my talk and hang out for more discussion about science, skepticism, anime, manga and more!
I’ll be signing copies of my first graphic novel, Secrets of Sorcerers, at my table throughout the weekend. I’ll also be at the autograph sessions for my lovely beau, Quinton Flynn. We’ll be selling his headshots and I’ll have my books handy as well!