Better Living Through Graphic Storytelling
A Comics Blog About Shit We Like
08 June 2007
Japan Vs. America... FIGHT!

Yet again, Blog@Newsarama's point/counterpoint column addresses one of the many differences between the Japanese manga market and the American comics market.

On the Manga Johou forum, a translated article by Yoshikazu Hayashida, which basically states that the Japanese manga market is able to produce a lot more groundbreaking material with great frequency due to the weekly anthology format, which publishes maybe tens of short serialized comic stories in one volume. This format, according to Hayashida, allows a handful of proven successful manga stories to bear the brunt of keeping up sales, while allowing other stories to experiment a bit more. Given the sheer quantity of "filler" manga stories not responsible for making or breaking sales of a title, the efficiency with which one of these stories will strike a chord and eventually become successful enough to be the next torchbearer in terms of sales, is that much more likely than a magazine/book that features only one story/creative team on it.

Dave Carter of At Yet Another Comics Blog concedes that Mr. Hayashida is correct in many aspects of his analysis, he strongly disagrees that the American comics offers only the one format adopted by most mainstream publishers for their superhero comics. Carter argues that the American indie/alternative/comix has offered an alternative to the ghettoization of the medium for over 30 years.

At this point, this is not a new argument. American manga fans have been arguing that the manga format offers more possibilities in terms of storytelling than American comics. Non-exclusive manga fans, however, have been arguing that their is plenty of diversity in American comics if you look beyond the superhero genre which tends to take up most of the shelf space in any given local comic book shop.

I think both commentators are missing the point.

Carter is correct in that Hayashida is equating American comics with a single genre (admittedly born and raised here in the states). However, what Hayashida is talking about is not a diversity in experimentation present in American comics, but rather the presence of this diversity and experimentation in a format that is as widely available as the most popular best-selling comics. Imagine, if you will, being able to buy an anthology that not only included Countdown or what have you, but also something a kin to The Invisibles as well as an Anders Nilsen strip or an Ivan Brunetti strip.

For some reason, the anthology format is not one that mainstream publishers have tapped into for a long time. If they do, it's generally in the form of a collection of "indie" renditions of popular properties (see: upcoming Marvel "indie" anthology or Bizarro World by DC). The only other publishes putting out anthologies with any regularity are independent ones, who tend to focus on artists already established within the "indie" or "alternative" comic communities.

There is no cross-breading here.

And that's just the way Americans are.

The fact that we're still having this discussion - the fact that we're still making a hardline distinction between "manga" (usually lumped in with it's other aesthetic brethren man-wha and OEL manga) and "comics" proves that we as a community have not really evolved beyond petty playground territorialism. It's essentially the same argument as "DC vs. Marvel", and I'm astonished that we're still giving this any credence.

Yes there are lessons to be learned from the Japanese manga market, just like there are lessons to be learned from the French BD market. Just because one format is dominating the American market currently, doesn't mean it's the answer to every single problem we have with the medium. It's not a question of aesthetics, and it's not a question of form. It's a question of format and marketability.

Dirk Deppey stated it best in a post when, referring to an old George Carlin joke, stated that comics are "resilient". By this he means the medium, just like printed text or moving images, will continue to surivive any changes in technology or the market. I mean, if your big concern is that when manga takes over the American comics market entirely, you may not be able to get your Superman comics on a monthly schedule anymore, then I'm just going to continue to ignore you and pretend you didn't blog anything.

Getting back to the point, I would also like to make reference to the fact that British comic publishers have been putting out weekly anthologies, much like the Japanese, of comic stories long before 52 or Countdown. I mean, British comics may not have produced any American blockbuster film adaptations like a Spiderman or an Ironman or a Batman or a Ka-ChingMan, but their was a time when this format allowed British comic creators to revolutionize the way in which we interact and thought about the comics medium on a regular basis.

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