Opinion Prone

My opinions, let me tell them to you.

You know, I’ve never quite understood the hubbub about global/OEL manga and the subsequent praise of, rejection of, and indignation at those terms.

Personally, I’ve never really considered “manga” to be much more than the Japanese term for comics. Because of the general public consensus that “manga” is narrowed to mean only comics of Japanese origin though, I usually won’t call comics of other origins by the term. But I’ll still use “comics” to refer to manga as no one seems to disagree that it carries a broader definition. No one says that “comic” can only refer to American or English-language sequential art. Yes, there are differences in Japanese and overseas comics, but in modern times, I don’t think that these differences are divisive enough to be rousing such heated debates. After all, within both Japan and the United States, styles vary greatly between artists and titles. Batman has been drawn a hundred different ways and has never looked anything like Jughead. Major Motoko Kusanagi, thankfully, looks nothing like Astro Boy.

Definitions are a funny thing, especially since they aren’t nearly as concrete as most people would like (including myself). In grade school, we read the book Frindle. I still own my copy of it at home, and I still think it addresses an interesting topic. After all, what is anyone to do when the population that uses the word doesn’t agree with itself about what it means? This seems to happen a lot within the anime/manga community because of the high number of originally Japanese terms that we’ve come to adopt (“otaku” and “yaoi” are two other controversial terms that immediately come to mind).

So OEL — Original English Language — manga, or global manga, for those that aren’t in English. Should we be calling them manga at all if it isn’t coming from Japan? Since I don’t believe that all Japanese comics fit under an overarching style, I don’t really believe in the argument that “manga” is simply an artistic style. Thus, no matter how manga-influenced a comic is, under the general consensus that manga = Japanese comics, OEL doesn’t need to have the term manga attached to it. But still, it doesn’t bother me that much because, like I said, to me personally, manga is less “Japanese comics” than it is “the Japanese word for comics.” And under the latter definition, “OEL manga” is fine.

Of course, then one might wonder, if it’s English language, why use a Japanese term at all? Well, it’s like Frindle, I suppose. Regardless of origins, “manga” has more or less been adopted into our language, and most people who like comics knows what it means. It’s like rendezvous and coup d’état and a billion other words in the “English” language. Manga has become accepted. Kind of. It brings us back to the first point of what its definition really is. Is it synonymous with “comic”? Or is it specifically “Japanese comics”?

Even if it does mean just Japanese comics, I don’t see the need to throw fits over it. I think a lot of manga-influenced artists (and promoters and marketers) were just looking for a new term to fit themselves under because “manga-influenced” makes them sound like wannabes and because they felt otherwise outcasted in the Western comic world where many people still consider manga to be “the enemy.” The manga-influenced would try to cater to the manga-readers because the Western comic-readers shun them. I’m tired of this divide. All artists draw influences from all over the place, and as I reject the idea that manga has a cohesive style, it doesn’t make sense to me that “manga-influenced” should be demeaning or limiting.

Yes, there are broad generalizations that people accept — Western-style is more angular and manga/Eastern-style is more rounded and fluid; panel layouts and angles are approached differently, and there are different sets of symbolism, but these things are so damn general that they shouldn’t even matter at all. As long as you can tell a story, who cares? Why does it matter whether you look up to Frank Miller or Kubo Tite? Manga-influenced artists shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re less original or less creative somehow because they prefer One Piece to Iron Man.

Besides, it isn’t like you could ever mistake an OEL title for a Japanese comic. So… in conclusion… I dunno. I don’t really think we need a term for OEL other than “comic,” but I’m not entirely against it either. If the term makes marketing and promotion more manageable and allows them to find the right audience, then it’s all worth it in the end, I guess. Most likely, I’m indifferent to the whole thing and just want people to stop arguing about it.

Our manga generation has broken a lot of new ground though. What would you call a comic by a Japanese-American artist? Would it depend on where it’s published first? Or better yet, what would you call a Japanese-American collaboration that’s released simultaneously in both countries like TOKYOPOP’s Princess Ai? These sorts of crossovers will only become more common as both manga and comics in general continue to expand their reach globally, so I think it would be easiest to just accept all our differences and bill everything as a comic, plain and simple. (Or even as “manga,” if there’s ever a consensus for manga to be 100% synonymous with “comic.”)

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  1. Miyu on June 28, 2008 11:52 pm

    ^^ There needs to be a new terminology, since there’s already such a split between the main groups. I mean, think about Korean manga – it is “manhwa”, because it too has a distinct style of layouts and such (but is still more Eastern than Western). I’ve also heard the somewhat derogatory term “amerimanga”, which is also too much of a mouthful to be anything but an insult… -_-

    I tire of the divide too, because as artists, it basically halves our audience whichever way you go, and it’s already a pretty specific target group of people. The only way I see to really bridge the gap is to actually produce some good manga-influenced stuff, so that both sides will be happy and make up. Kinda like with superhero movies – if it’s well done, you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy it as a film, but if you are a fan, it will mean that much more to you.

    It’s an interesting topic, and I love language so I like to ramble about this word and that. In older publications, there was a much more distinct difference between Eastern and Western styles. Modern stuff is starting to blur those lines, and it’s about time they diffuse a little. I just hope that the bastard children of “comics” and “manga” grow up to look a little better than the current RSoM titles.

    (Oh wait, Tokyopop is killing most of those anyway. =_= So much for the revolution. Or evolution?)

  2. Kiriska on June 29, 2008 1:08 am

    I find the terms for Korean “manwha” and Chinese “manhua” pretty pointless considering the kanji for all of them are identical (well, Chinese and Japanese use the same characters; Koreans are weird). They all mean COMICS, goddamnit. Just call them COMICS. We don’t need new terms, we just need to realize that our old ones have always been pretty inclusive.

    And I dunno. There are a few OEL titles out there that are pretty decent, I think. Like Vampire Kisses, which I haven’t read myself, but it’s illustrated by rem, who is um, amazing. And Princess Ai, which is in that weird grey area right now, is also really pretty looking. (Unfortunately, both of the stories there seem much less immpressive.) It’s just that most manga-influenced artists still fall short of looking genuinely Japanese, which is fine, really, since they aren’t, but that’s what makes them look like wannabes. I just think it’s stupid that people come down so hard on them, but when someone fails at trying to be Michael Turner, no one says anything. :/

    And… yeah, I need to write a post about TP’s killing half their OEL line, lololololol.

  3. Miyu on June 29, 2008 11:10 am

    No, more words – because “comics” is already split into “funnies” and “superhero stuff”. Within “manga” there are “4-koma”, “shoujo”, “shounen”, etcetera. The American comic industry is used to one main genre, and that’s why there isn’t much variety in their descriptions. Now with the influx of titles for girls, mecha, drama (even porn), can you really have one blanket word encompass it all? Even I find myself trying to clarify when I inevitably degrade “Sequential Art major” into “I draw comics”, because the next question is not “eastern or western”, but rather, “Marvel versus DC”. (And my response is an awkward, “err, no, I draw other stuff. Like Japanese stuff.”)

    There are a few decent OEL titles, but that’s the thing – only a few, out of many. “Princess Ai” didn’t do much for me, but I appreciate the collaborative effort. I like “Mark of the Succubus”, personally, and I really loved the artwork in “Sea Princess Azuri”… *sigh* But those are really diamonds in the rough. It needs more time to develop into something good, and I’m not sure if that window of opportunity will be kept open long enough for that to happen. At this point, it’s not looking good at all. (Time for a career change…?)

    I think I’m impressed that you can keep coming up with topics to discuss. :3 I think if I started a blog, as witty and amusing as I am, I would completely run out of things to ramble about…

  4. Kiriska on June 29, 2008 3:55 pm

    Well, there will always be further genre splitting when you come down to it. We already have terms for all those things though, “superhero,” “mystery,” “noir,” “daily strip,” or whathaveyou. Those subcategories are all fine because they are all umbrella’d under “comics.” My problem is just that “manga” and “OEL” aren’t accepted as being contained under “comics,” which is stupid.

    I also think the DC v. Marvel debate is severely outdated considering how much artist crossover there is there. And these days, the smaller and indy companies are getting more and more marketshare.

    I’m sure there’re a lot of really good OEL works out there that haven’t been able to find publishers. There’re a good number of webcomics, anyway. But you’re right — the state of that industry seems to be floundering right now since TOKYOPOP was the forerunner and they’re cutting titles, which definitely won’t be encouraging anyone else to do what they did any time soon.

    Coming up with stuff to talk about isn’t hard. Finding the time to write everything is what’s hard. D;