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.”)