Thursday, November 20, 2003

Manga and superheros go "pop"... 

John responds to Intermittent about if manga is getting a free ride on its quality just because kids are reading it.

I pretty much agree with what John has to say. A lot of the manga out there for kids is just fun self-contained works that are easy to get into and have a lot of qualities that kids (and to a degree adults) can enjoy. Just because something is aimed at kids and isn't high art doesn't mean it is "crap" either.

John mentions repetition, but when you're a kid, a certain amount of repetition can actually be comforting. I think of the transformation sequences in Voltron "...and I'll form the HEAD!" or He-Man "I have the POWER!" that happens every episode. It is the kind of thing you might find annoying as an adult but are waiting for as a kid..heh

I think most of the manga I've seen has at least been pretty solid for what it is trying to be (probably due in no small part to truly horrible stuff being weeded out before getting to the US). And while manga is one of the factors people blame for making comics more decompressed and having less self-contained stories, if you look at stuff aimed at younger views like in Jump, they generally do a good job at having something specific happen in each installment and have readers be able to jump in after missing a couple of issues and not be totally lost.

A lot of the superhero stuff suffers from being adult in tone, having a long convoluted back story, and having different stories with similar trappings (see my entry from yesterday). You could argue that the spandex and such is a form of consistant repetition that can work, but I think consistancy is the sort of thing that tends to work better internally in one story, or in terms of basic underlying kinds of stories. Giving a spin on top then gives some variety to stave off boredom..

A lot of people give superhero stuff a hard time, and I do it a lot myself, but I think there is a good amount of it which which not amazing, is at least competent or status quo. I guess my main issue is that if your status quo isn't appealing to anyone but a narrow audience, then maybe you need to try some other formulas to find something that sticks.

I think a lot of the issues come from our perspective because of the past of the industry. The superheros from the big companies for a long time have been the "mainstream", while everything else is "other". Everyone bought into the notion that that was what sold to the most people and that is that. The fact that kids and girls weren't into comics was just that they were too busy with video games or just didn't like to read. Now something else has come along and bam! Kids and girls are eating the stuff up and the traditional superheros are looking more like a stale niche instead of a driving industry force (yes that's orderstating the case, but bear with me in rant mode..heh).

Having something that isn't formulatic and really original is a great thing, but really I don't have a problem with something being formulatic if it is done in a decently solid or at least appealing and fun way. It isn't so much that the manga for kids is in and of itself superior. It is more that now that these new (and greater variety of) formulas are really finding a big varied audience, so some of the flaws that have been in the "mainstream" comics are more obvious now that we realize they aren't necessarily what "people want" as previously thought.

If you think of pop music, sure most of it is not high art, but it is usually at least catchy and well made in a formulatic way. When something hits big, you usually have popular bands and then a lot of knockoffs. Like grunge with Nirvana and Pearl Jam and then a million imitators. Eventually people get tired of it and move on, the generic bands fall off the map, while people still buy Nirvana albums today. But tastes do change in the popular realm.

The manga companies in Japan aren't dummies and have popular titles keep up with times. Obviously individual stories have some of their own style and stories, but you can see definite trends over time. And if someone does a super-amazing basketball story, there'll probably be a bunch of knockoffs for a while. The best stuff gets collected to GN and people buy it as classics and it gets exported to other countries.

The comics industry seems more like how horror was for a while. You had some popular films which pretty much defined the slasher genre. There were many sequels and knockoffs and for a while there it was pretty hard to horror film that varied from it. Jason and Freddy were icons that couldn't stay dead, etc. It seems like it took until recently for there finally be a lot of variety on a regular basis like Blair Witch, The Ring, Sixth Sense, various zombie movies, etc. There are still trends and copycats, but there's more variety and more moving targets.

The superheros went from popular entertainment to a very insular niche over time, and now we're finally getting a lot of "new blood" which is expanding in scope and changing the comics world. The to be "pop" culture, you need to actually be popular and definitions of popular can vary significantly on your perspective, which itself can change quickly.

Obviously traditional superheros aren't dead. The movies wouldn't be working otherwise. There is also something to be said for iconic characters, just as there are iconic movie stars. There's also aspects of format and price and distribution which certainly affect sales. Still, I can't help thinking that the manga companies just have a better idea of what actually appeals to kids, and when you're talking about fun pop art, the pop really matters...

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