Friday, September 26, 2003

A bit more on Nouvelle and manga and other topics... 

JW Hastings at Forager 23 has weighed in on my previous mention of Frédéric Boilet's article. He has some good commments, but I just wanted to clarify on a couple of things.

First, I definitely agree that he seems way too down on fantasy. I think that most of us are into escapism, so that aspect of his arguing is kind of BLAH. He IS French, though, so perhaps he has an excuse.. ;)

While I'd agree to a degree that most manga might focus more on characters versus plot compared to american titles, manga certainly has plenty of so-so and bad mainstream stuff out there, so I agree with JW on that point.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that for all of his praise, he seems down on a lot of manga as well. Notice how he talks about the limited titles translated in France:

Most of the manga that have been translated in French over the past ten years have been COMMERCIAL MANGA AIMED AT TEENAGERS, to follow on from the ANIMATED SERIES which preceded them on French TV screens. Their themes are adventure or Sci-Fi, featuring heroes... As in Japan, this very focused type of manga generates its own otaku phenomenon : specialized press, 'cosplay' (costume-play), etc. A number of daily-life manga are also being translated, but again they are primarily aimed at teenagers, with daily life often being treated in an often over-dramatic and caricatured way : a daily life closer to "Hélène et les garçons" or to the domestic dramas of Japanese television than to "Chacun cherche son chat" or "Omohide Poroporo" (4).

In that paragraph, he pretty much dismisses almost all of the manga translated in the US. ;) Stuff like DBZ or Shaman King falls under the heroes, and things like Marmalade Boy or Peach Girl falls under the soap-opera umbrella. Kare Kano is deeper than most, but I'm not sure that he'd even go for that..heh..

The manga authors he mentions by name seem to be almost totally unknown over here, let alone translated by companies. Osaka gives a little information on some of these titles in this thread I started, but it seems like info. is hard to come by.

I'm also not entirely sure where JW is coming from in terms of Scott McClould. I'm only going by Scott's two books, so I may be missing personal comments to the contrary, but Understanding Comics seems to devote quite a lot of energy into describing different techniques in artwork and how important they are to storytelling. He goes to great lengths to talk about the divide that tends to happen of a writer on one side and an artist on the other and how important both are to the process. I certainly got no sense from it that drawing wasn't important...

As far as manga creators starting as storytellers rather than artists, while it is certainly too broad a statement, I do think there is some grain of truth in it. Something to consider is just how the setup in Japan is different from the US. Primarily the facts that a single person is usually writer/artist on a title (perhaps with helpers on background artwork or an editor giving story advice) and the lack of iconic characters.

Both of these I think would tend to focus people on stories. Why? Well, first, without the writer/artist split, you are a lot less likely to focus entirely on one aspect. Consider in the US where you have a kid reading a comic book and they go "Wow! Jim Lee is so cool! When I grow up I want to be as good an artist as he is...". And that is an OK career choice. He doesn't have to worry about being a writer becuase there are a comic writers to take care of it. Also, with the iconic characters in the US, there is all of the backstory to draw on. Even if you aren't amazingly creative, you may be able to get away with keeping the status quo going for a while. In Japan, you might be inspired by YuYu Hakusho to make a fighting comic of your own, but you'd never consider actually writing the title itself except in a fanfiction "doujinshi" comic (of which there is a huge industry in Japan that is allowed by the companies without lawsuits, which IMO helps get this kind of thing out of their system a bit..heh).

Certainly I'm not totally against image-centric stories that might even sacrifice some story. I'm coming up blanks on specific comic titles, but for instance I like some of the old Dario Argento movies with his amazing set pieces and dreamlike plots that don't totally make sense. But overall I guess maybe I am a story-centric kind of person and that kind of colors my opinions on this subject...

Still, in manga I wouldn't say that the artwork is so much subserviant to the writing, but to the artistic methods of telling a story that have developed over there. JW mentions that frequently a person that does something like write a play without being a fan of plays frequently doesn't do a good job, and that may be true, but I'm not sure that the analogy totally works. While I think many manga creators start off as wanting to tell a story as opposed to being an artist, I don't think they start off as a writer either. What I mean is that these people grow up with comics (and comics usually with a single artist/writer driving it), and so they start off wanting to make a manga story, with the combination of writing and art from the very beginning. While I'm sure there are manga creators who were art majors or writing majors and get into comics later, a lot of these people start by not just copying images of their favorite creators or writing up plots, but making their own comics at an early age. So, I think for most manga, it isn't so much that they want to write a story and the art doesn't matter. I think it is more that they are using the art just as a tool to tell the story as opposed to art for art's sake. Art that is streamlined to the process rather than bad art per se... On the flip side, you're also less likely to see huge passages of text. This isn't just the decompresion factor but that overall a lot of manga just seems to take writing and artwork as a practical tool to tell the story instead of indulging too much in one side or the other (or both). Like anything, some start off with a cool concept and rough art, improving it later on, and some start with a flashy art style an ok story which might get more complex later. But even those that are rough around the edges seem to usually have a good handle on the basics of comics from being so immersed in them for so long.

Since a lot of the US mini-comic people may be coming in from less of a comic background or by definition are trying to be experimental with the artwork or format, you can come up with some truly original things, but also a lot of stuff that just doesn't work. A lot of people complain about mainstream manga and US comics having somewhat uniform stylings, but I do think that some uniformity of artwork style or page presentation or even storyline can help someone get up and running quicker in the beginning, from which they can jump off to other more experimental stuff later on...

Anyway... aparantly JW isn't the only one who needs to put a warning at the bottom of his posts about rambling.. ;)

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