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Why Does Manga Succeed Where American Comics Fail? 397

Otaku_0245 writes "I read a really interesting article at entitled 'Why Does Manga Succeed Where American Comics Fail?' discussing/comparing the comics industries in Japan and the US. It's basically a 3-way conversation including Frederik Schodt (author of 'Dreamland Japan' - one of my favorite books about Japanese pop culture), and very thought-provoking."
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Why Does Manga Succeed Where American Comics Fail?

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  • Better stories... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by natron 2.0 ( 615149 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {97sretepdn}> on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:13AM (#5248932) Homepage Journal
    IMHO, I think it has to do with the deeper stories about mans plight with technology and how it seems to be taking over our lives. Plus it seems the artistry is a little more alluring. Don't get me wrong, Comics are great in thier own right. It just seems that people can get a little tired of super heroes after a while...

    • Re:Better stories... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:20AM (#5248954)
      I don't think so. I live in Tokyo (lived in Japan for 3 years now) and I can tell you three things for sure:

      1) EVERYONE here reads manga. EVERYONE.
      2) A lot of the art sucks. People here don't read for the art (generally). They read for the stories. Um...pron excluded.
      3) I've read several manga series, and I have to tell you that most of them are totally uninteresting (at least to me) yet my Japanese friends love them (e.g., a manga about a soccer player). And most of them are NOT sci-fi.
      • Trashy pulp fiction (Score:3, Informative)

        by GCP ( 122438 )
        I completely agree. I lived in Japan for a long time and could read well enough to read manga.

        It's just a mindless escape from tedium, like watching endless hours of TV in the US. It's just that the Japanese aren't home to watch TV, for various reasons, so they do the portable equivalent by reading manga.

        And it's like TV: the more you watch, the more you're hooked. There's just enough story, suspense, comedy, or whatever to keep you coming back for more. It feels a lot better than staring at the wall (if you turn the TV off in the US) or at the back of the next train commuter's head (if you don't have your manga in Japan.) (Or, dare I say, than doing your work, you regular Slashdot readers...;-) Ouch.)

        But there's little real substance there. Not none, but not much. Of course there are a few good TV shows and a few good manga stories, but not enough to fill the bottomless demand for mental anesthesia, so the rest is just forumlaic filler....

    • by Caiwyn ( 120510 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:40AM (#5249013)
      I beg to differ. Manga is no deeper than American comics - catgirls with huge chests and people who change gender when water is splashed on them do not high literature make.

      Sure, there are gems, but there are gems in American comics as well. Pick up any run of Cerebus: The Aardvark and you'll find intelligent criticism of politics, religion, or gender issues, mixed with a fair dose of wit and humor. Even the superhero books have done their share of groundbreaking - Superman has become an icon of justice. Spider-Man is possibly the only hero I can think of who never compromised his central ideal of personal responsibility. The X-Men have paralleled race relations in society since their inception.

      People forget these things because they get bored with them. So they find something else for a while. Manga doesn't differ from American comics all that much, conceptually. The real difference is style. As such, I'm inclined to say that the fascination with these things is something of a fad. It may never die out, but it will peak, fall, and plateau, as all things in pop culture do.
      • Re:Better stories... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by leoboiko ( 462141 ) <leoboiko@gmail. c o m> on Friday February 07, 2003 @07:17AM (#5249096) Homepage
        People forget these things because they get bored with them.

        Now thats a point against American superheroes - mangas do end! No matter how good you are, you just cant continue a story forever. Wheres the end of Spiderman? Whats The Punisher grand finale? When will Superman get old?

        Japanese are more smart - the comics eventually finish, sales go high, and if they see potential, theyll make more comics with the same style.
      • First off, don't knock Ranma. Them's fightin' words here. ;)

        Second, it's not supposed to be "high literature" -- it's entertainment reading. Consider manga not to be on the same plane as, say, Myamoto Musashi or T.S. Eliot, but more along the same lines as Clive Cussler, Douglas Adams, or Neil Stephenson.

        Sure, there are a lot more in the way of pictures, but there's also quite a bit of text, and Japanese tends to be quite a bit more compressed than English. The stories in manga can be just as intricate and intertwined as any novel; and just as plain and boring as any novel. It's all in the writer -- not the medium.

        Third, I believe manga is one of the reasons that Japan has a much higher rate of literacy than the U.S.; it's cheap, plentiful, and with the wide variety, it's hard to not find something that will interest you. Personally, I'd rather see a hundred kids reading comic books, than a hundred kids sitting stoned in front of the T.V.
        • don't knock Ranma. Them's fightin' words...

          I believe manga is one of the reasons that Japan has a much higher rate of literacy than the U.S.;

          Frankly I found Ranma boring and juvenile -- it was inflicted on me by an arrested adolescent nephew -- and if you're wanting to suggest something better about it you've got an uphill struggle. It played like an elaborate daydream by a fourth-grader who was starting to think about girls for the first time, and that's about it.

          But I'll agree with you about the literacy thing, not that we could ever prove any one thing causally about such a big societal trait. Comics are a great way for kids to start, and keep, reading. The American tradition of that is moribund; I know plenty of parents who'd be thrilled to have their kids reading Batman under the covers with a flashlight.

          • Frankly I found Ranma boring and juvenile -- it was inflicted on me by an arrested adolescent nephew -- and if you're wanting to suggest something better about it you've got an uphill struggle. It played like an elaborate daydream by a fourth-grader who was starting to think about girls for the first time, and that's about it.

            I've heard people make similar statements about Monty Python. The problem is that if you don't have any exposure to the culture that produced the story, then you can't see any of the irony, so all you come away with is the juvenile or sophomoric jokes.

            If you are interested in Japanese culture, then Anime can provide surprising insights. Look for the depictions of Americans, Japanese, and Chinese, and contrast them with one another. To the Japanese who in some ways mix aspects of Victorian prudishness with a pre suffrage view of women's role in society, Ranma's irony may be as strong in Japan as Woolf's Orlando was to the sensibilities of western culture in the 1930's.

        • but more along the same lines as Clive Cussler, Douglas Adams, or Neil Stephenson.

          Douglas Adams? You're comparing manga to the Douglas Adams??? I help with an online comic [] that is in partly inspired by Hitchhikers (just inspired the story is no where near the same). And even we don't claim to have literacy standards anywhere near Douglas Adams.

          Don't get me wrong while manga is not really a style I enjoy, some of it is quite good in terms of stories and in artwork, but Douglas Adams was perhaps one of the greatest writers in our time, comparing him to manga is like comparing Archie to Shakesphere.
          • Don't get me wrong while manga is not really a style I enjoy, some of it is quite good in terms of stories and in artwork, but Douglas Adams was perhaps one of the greatest writers in our time, comparing him to manga is like comparing Archie to Shakesphere.

            Look, I like Douglas Adams as much as the next man. I've got everything from a hardback of _Last Chance to See_ to a DVD of The Pirate Planet.

            Yes, he was well-educated. Yes, he was a clever writer.

            But if Douglas Adams was one of the greatest writers of our time, that says a lot more about our time than it does about Douglas Adams.

        • Japanese tends to be quite a bit more compressed than English.

          That reminds me, what does "..." mean in Japanese?
      • by Dhericean ( 158757 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @10:06AM (#5249716)
        The article was not about the few the Manga titles that get imported to the USA from Japan. But rather the state of the industry in Japan and how ubiquitous comics are in Japan. Also the fact that the majority of manga is in very thick, low quality, cheap volumes that are read and disposed of (like a newspapers or cheap paperbacks) rather than the expensive pamphlets of the US (oops my WEF roots are showing).

        Also you're dismissal of the entire Manga industry on the basis of Ranma 1/2 is the equivalent of dismissing the publishing industry based upon romance novels, or the film industry based upon childrens movies like "Home Alone" and "Free Willy". If you don't like one example it's not a case for condeming the entire medium. But then I guess straw men are much easier than real opponents to knock down.

        The success of Cerebus is actually similar to that of Manga in that it is the collected volumes not the original comics that are the final repository. Also Dave Sim has control of his creation which is a very rare thing in the US comic industry. His story also has a specific goal and will finish soon. This is extreemly rare in the US industry and more than anything leads to the repetition and unenven quality which is why a large number of people stop reading comics after a certain time.

        In Japan Rumiko Takahashi, responsible (you may prefer culpable) for Ranma, has created 4 major series the first three of which reached conclusions and stopped (the fourth is still ongoing). Rather than the concept becoming stale and repetitive she finished and started another new story. Also her stories are about the characters. Whilst the situations provide the background for the drama and conflict it is the characters which make people want to read them.

        Whilst the best of American comics may reach this level sometimes it is normally in only one small area (superheroes) which do not appeal to a great number of people. In Japan the breadth of the subjects of manga are those of any literature and so most people can find subjects that are interesting to them. So whilst areas of this may go through peaks and troughs as a while it continues in strength.
      • The image of comic books is largely still that of simplisticly written and drawn adventure stories. This hasn't been true for decades now, and some comics have writing that's superb. The X-Men movie sequel is largely based on a Graphic Novel called God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont (longtime X-Men writer). How's that for quality source?

        Plus, I think comics are gaining MORE respect among the public. People in my age group (I'm 34) grew up with quality stories and art, so that explains the mounting acceptance and popularity of superheroes for film matierial. Some of the most popular movies of the past few years were inspired by comics. The first 2 Batman movies, SpiderMan, Men in Black. All great movies with widely diverse audiences. There were some stinkers, too (Tank Girl...Ugghhh), but as a whole, the medium is getting better and some of the public know it.

        As for the continuing lack of respect for comic books as an art and profession....I lay that blame squarely on other writing and artistic professions. It's basically snobbery on their part. Writing comics isn't "real" writing to a novelist, or journalist. Drawing and inking comics isn't good work compared to, oh, I don't know, abstract art that no one outside the academy gives a shit about. I heard an interview with Stan Lee on NPR a while back, and he talked about how depressed he was in the 70's, because other media outlets (newspapers, time magazine, fiction writers) didn't respect what he was doing, and when he tried to branch out, doors were slammed in his face everywhere. Ironically, he made a bigger impact on our culture than anyone from NewsWeek or the New York Times ever did.

        But the respect war is being won. Look at the new crop of comic-based flicks coming out. Daredevil has long been a fan and critical favorite. The Hulk is directed by oscar-winning Ang Lee. And the highly anticipated X-Men sequel is once again directed by Bryan Singer, who is highly respected in Hollywood.

        The Japanese culture is simply different. They were never saddled with the "comics is kid stuff" rap. They have a little more of an open mind about such things.
        • I've started to hate comics.

          The last comic book I picked up cost me 3$. It contained 22 pages. Of those 22 pages 6 contained no text. If the 16 pages which did contain text only 3 pages had any text which actually formed a cohesive story. At the end of the comic I still had NO IDEA what was supposedly happening. There was no self contained story whatsoever. Nothing explained anything. In order to grasp this comic, I knew I was going to need to read the ones before it. Easy you say? I say thee nay! I began my quest for the 5 issues which came before the issue in my hand (One X-Men, Gen13 or something like that), in my quest I first searched the comic book store which I was standing in. Back issues? No... They don't carry anything other than this months release. Off to e-bay! Nope, lots of Old X-men stuff, but nothing recent. Well, how about other websites? Thppt, nothing. I can't find a place to order back issues of comics. And without being able to do that I'm stuck with a loosly bound collection of glaring colored pages with large breasted women in spandex. Not that I don't enjoy large breasted women in spandex, but that's not really why I picked up the comic.

          Manga on the other hand is either easily accessible within each issue (from the dozen or so I've seen) and/or available in large chunks, and/or easily found on the publishers website or a dozen other sources. I never have any trouble finding back issues of Hikaru No Go or Cooking Master Boy.

    • Popgun War, Halo + Sprocket, Acme Novelty, 8 Ball, Promethia, Bone, The Invisibles (i'm just thinking of things off the top of my head, my roommate is the comic book guy in my life)

      There's a LOT more to American comics than just superheros. I think the real problem with the industry is that the only place to buy comics are comicbook stores. Typically scary (especially to parents) overly nerdy places run by bearded fat men with inferiority complexes. The Simpson's Comic Book Guy is hardly a parody. Comics are great these days, the business sucks.

      What's even sadder is the state of American Newspaper comics. It's hard to imagine something as creative and artistic as Calvin and Hobbes, and even less a Krazy Kat, Little Nemo, Pogo, or Peanuts even getting syndication these days.

      I hope that comics as a medium have some life in them in the 21st century.

      "There's a heppy land fur fur away..."
  • by amigaluvr ( 644269 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:15AM (#5248937) Journal
    The answer here is culture. Not so much traditional japanese vs american, but just a level of acceptance.

    In the US comics are still seen as trash. the language of people who aren't bright and have nothing to do with their time better than waste life. This is not true however, the perception remains.

    In the US there is of course a subgroup who appreciate such works, and know there is more to it

    Japanese culture in general appreciates these things a little better. Without judgment on the content, there hasn't been such a strong surge of "these are trash" during the last 40 years.

    Whether or not something is good or bad is often irrelevant. When it is pushed under it becomes a subculture, which in the US is what we have more than Japan
    • by alnapp ( 321260 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:32AM (#5248989) Homepage
      Also, the Japanese have always used "comic books" for serious (sometimes mundane) stuff.

      In US (and here in UK) comics are regarded as "kids Stuff" irrespective of their content.

      I've heard it theorised that this is because of the more visual nature of written Japanese, but don't know if thats true.

    • by Matthias Wiesmann ( 221411 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:53AM (#5249047) Homepage Journal
      The answer here is culture. Not so much traditional japanese vs american, but just a level of acceptance.

      In the US comics are still seen as trash. the language of people who aren't bright and have nothing to do with their time better than waste life. This is not true however, the perception remains.

      Very true, you see a similar phenomena in Europe, and in France in particular. Comics are relatively well accepted, and some of the classics are now a integral part of the culture. Adults read comics and no few people in France will think you are childish for reading Astérix (in fact it took my years to figure out all the jokes).

      The funny thing, is that many of the reasons proposed for the success of manga are not present in France. Comics are not cheap (most of them are real book with some hard cover) and to big to read in the train (standard european comic format is roughly A4). Yet they are very popular.

    • Geek's passion (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      In the U.S., yes comics are either trash or treasure. If you are a mainstream kid, they are cool. Mainstream adult, garbage. Fanboy adult, treasure. An audience of children and fanboys is pretty big, but when your material is not varied enough and prices for each book are high, you will attract zero new readers.

      In Japan, EVERYBODY reads manga. It appeals to everyone. The appeal explains the saturation. The saturation explains the print quality. The print quality explains the cost. The cost explains part of the appeal.

      The disposable manga marketing model is so profitable because of Japan's disposable culture. Don't fix or keep old things, especially at the cost of living/storage space, if newer and better things can be had cheaply. This profitablity attracts publishers big and small, which creates a demand for artists and writers. There's your variety. Think American comics industry in the 1980's on a bigger scale over a much longer period of time (decades).

      The article points out the collector mentality that American comics fans have. I share this mentality, because I like to think of every purchase I make as SOME kind of investment. I also have a huge house and ample storage space for my stuff (in the bay area, it's a wonder I can afford food, but yes, my house is quite respectable and my collection is as well). So comics are expensive, because as a collector, quality media production isn't just a premium, it's a requisite for purchase. Problem here? Joe Blow sees the price tag and walks away from the neewsstand thinking, "I miss my 60 cent Uncanny X-Men books." No new readership? Then regardless of how shiny your book is, you will get no new readership.

      Schodt had the whole thing covered. As I see it, America will never have the same level of saturation for this type of media as Japan. Their culture and the publishers' understanding to their culture facilitate high consumption rates. America isn't Japan. The differences shouldn't cause concern for anybody but Marvel and DC.
    • Trash is perhaps too harsh of word, unless you mean having no artistic or literary merit (sounds like porn), which some people believe, but I think most adults view them as "for kids." I never was much of a comics collector (preferring art to content such as Warlock 5, although I did collect some early TMNT and The Tick comics), but many friends (not always girlfriends) in college asked me "You collect that kid stuff?" when they saw my 2 dozen or so comic books.

      One (male) friend even said that about an issue of Heavy Metal with a half naked woman in chain mail on the front (Royo)... Playboy collecting hypocrite :P

      I heard the same thing about Magic (the Gathering) when it first came out, then watched the bashers get hooked like crack addicts. I still only have about 200 cards (mostly betas, at that). One of those people (actually, the same guy who bashed my comics above) had about 25000. He did sell a couple of cases to pay for his wedding...
  • Becasuse (Score:2, Funny)

    by Timesprout ( 579035 )
    The female characters have much better/larger personalities
    • Have you not seen the "personalities" on a lot of the female characters in superhero comics (particularly the Image/Wildstorm lines). Also in a number of cases they look like their costumes are simply painted on.

      This does not seem to improve the popularity of these comics outside the central demographic of teenage boys.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:17AM (#5248948)
    it has variety, not afraid to discuss 'taboo' topics, and every series ends, unlike american comics where most of the super-heroes are still alive or are just re-introduced as X "Unlimited".
  • Ummm, what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:19AM (#5248949)
    Since when did American comics fail? Last I looked Spiderman, Superman, Batman, X-Men and many others were on just about every newsstand. Not to mention MAD and other, more satirical comics. I, for one, read hundreds of comics set in the X-Men universe when i was younger (The New Mutants, X-Force, Cable etc). On the other hand I've only read a couple of mangas and wasn't too thrilled. Not to say manga is bad, just it's not very appealing to me. I found the storylines a lot more "real" in the X-Men Marvel universe, ironically. It spoke about real political and environmental issues affecting America today, whereas a lot of manga seems to be more about internal or personal issues... Perhaps traditional "geeks" can identify more with the latter, but for me tackling racism and the political environment head-on was a lot more interesting.

    • Re:Ummm, what? (Score:2, Informative)

      by pzilla ( 530382 )
      On the other hand I've only read a couple of mangas and wasn't too thrilled. Not to say manga is bad, just it's not very appealing to me.

      Just because manga doesn't work for you doesn't mean it doesn't work for others. I, for one, got tired of how usually some good characters from american comics gets screwed because of a bad story, like Electra (reborning everytime comics sales are poor) or spider-man (and his boring clones), or how Marvel screwed Phoenix, or marketing strategies of Super-man's death and rebirth or how badass Wolverine can still be.
    • Re:Ummm, what? (Score:4, Informative)

      by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @09:05AM (#5249379) Homepage
      Since when did American comics fail? Last I looked Spiderman, Superman, Batman, X-Men and many others were on just about every newsstand.

      My god, you haven't looked at newsstands in a LOOOONG time.

      If you are not in a big city where we have real newsstands, or aren't near an airport where fake newsstands inhabit, go into any supermarket or drugstore and look at the newspaper / magazine aisle. Chances are, you won't find any comics, or you will only find children's comics that are badly out of date. MAD is still there, yes, but the serial comic book has fallen greatly from it's 1950's high point of accessability. These days if you want a comic book, you really do have to go to a comic book store or a hip music joint.

      Now trashy romance novels: *Those* are on every newsstand.

  • by WSXWS ( 634940 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:22AM (#5248959)
    It's worth mentioning that here in France there is a very big market for manga-style comic books read by adults and teens - most book stores have big shelves of these comics. Japanese manga and anime is also available and relatively popular. The same situation also exists in Germany and Italy - Japanese manga is very popular in these countries. English-speaking countries really seem to be the exception here in that in these countries manga is virtually unknown and comic books are seen as inferior to text-only books.
  • the binding (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Personally, I think it's all in the binding. In japan, you can get them as books (same size, etc). In america, they are this large thin peice of crap that will tear by looking at it.

    It's people's perception of it.
  • I find it amusing that the title of the post is "why does Manga succeed where American comics fail," and yet the first answer to the first question in the article basically states that the manga industry is falling into decline in exactly the same way that the U.S. comics industry has.

    It's simple, really. Manga is no different from American comics, in terms of writing quality and artwork. It's simply a matter of what's in style. Manga, like Anime, has enjoyed quite a lot of success in foreign markets like the U.S., where it is something of a novelty.

    People enjoy the exotic flavor of things like this. Often times this is augmented by feeling like you're in part of a niche audience - it makes you feel like you're clued into something that everybody else is ignorant of. But these are not good foundations for any business that desires longevity and stability.

    Manga is just the hip new thing, that's all. It's what's in style. But it is already starting to wear thin (Let's face it - there's only so far you can take an industry when everything is drawn with so little variance in art style). So I think this is a loaded question - manga has nothing to teach American comics. If anything, American comics have learned the hard lessons first, having had a lot more experience dealing with a fickle readership. I think they could probably teach the manga industry a lesson or two.
    • I find it amusing that this got moded as highly as it did. Did you even read more than the first question? Yes the manga market is going into decline, but they also stated that publishers in almost any other country would be dumbfounded by the sales and profitability of manga.

      The main thrust of the article had nothing to do with profitability in foreign markets. The article was comparing manga popularity in Japan and comic popularity in the USA and what, if anything comic publishers could pick up from the manga publishers to improve their sales. If you compare the two, manga is orders of magnitude more popular and profitable in it's home market.
    • Manga is no different from American comics, in terms of writing quality and artwork.

      I have to disagree. Manga is completely different. I'm not saying better or worse, just not comparable.

      Manga is just the hip new thing, that's all. It's what's in style. But it is already starting to wear thin (Let's face it - there's only so far you can take an industry when everything is drawn with so little variance in art style).

      Sorry, but you don't know what you're talking about. Japanese graphic fiction is the most visually varied medium you'll come across. It's amazing. If you are interested in graphic design and illustration, your eyes will drop out if you visit a large bookstore in Japan. To say there is "so little variance in art style" is just nonsense.
  • Cultural Stigmas (Score:5, Interesting)

    by silentbozo ( 542534 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:31AM (#5248987) Journal
    Probably because there's a stigma for adults in the U.S. to be reading picture books, just as there's a bias for adults to consider animation kid-fare.

    Doesn't mean that it's right or wrong, but it's there. Aside from shorts, and comic strips, the adult audience in the U.S. is very unlikely to go out and buy serialized graphic novels, or watch 2D animated films, irregardless of quality (unless it's a Disney film.)

    Also, "comic books" in the US has a very specific designation, for a maybe 30 page pulp story, sold in racks. If you broaden the term to include stuff like Doonsbury, Peanuts, and Garfield, then I'd argue that we have a pretty good penetration, which reflects format. The article mentions that japanese will buy manga to pass the time while on the subway - I'd just buy a newspaper, and take a glance at the comics while I browse through the business section. Different media drive different formats, for different audiences.

    If you look at it that way, then US syndicated short format strip comics are not a failure. It's the traditional larger format pulp stuff that isn't selling well, probably because it's so damnned expensive. Hell, $3.00 for a single issue of Usagi Yojimbo []??? For the cost of two comics, I can buy a remaindered copy of a Tom Clancy novel. That'd take up at least a week's worth of commuting on a bus or subway.
  • by John_Booty ( 149925 ) <> on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:37AM (#5249004) Homepage
    I was never a hardcore comic book reader, but there were a bunch of American comic titles that I used to read back in the late 80's and early 90's. Around the early 90's, though, things started getting ridiculous. Comics wanted to be treated as *visual art*, they got much more expensive and "collectible". That first issue of McFarland's Spiderman comic was the beginning of the end. That thing was what, twenty pages long and cost three bucks? But the picture sure were pretty, and the paper sure was glossy. *gag*

    Now, you can't even buy comics at the convenience store any more- at least not many of them. They're marshaled away in specialized comic book stores, where collectors go to peruse.

    Manga, however, has always taken the opposite approach, the one American comics used until the time period I just described. Manga keeps things cheap, fun, and disposable. For the equivalant of a few bucks, you get a couple hundred pages of manga. Easy to pick up and put down, and it's not "collectible", so you can carry it anywhere. The stories are pulpy and fun, and they don't try to be more than they are. Sure, there are some though-provoking plots (Shirow, etc) but it never takes itself too seriously like a lot of American comics do.

    (I know there's plenty of exceptions to the things I talked about. I'm talking "in general", not "absolutely and completely")
    • Sounds like an excellent thing to collect! Anything that is so common and cheap that it is disposable can become very valuable indeed if you keep a copy in good condition for a few years. This is because very few other people will do so, and yet the number of people who will appreciate the thing is fairly large. (this has happened in the past with other comics, books, fine art, furniture, etc. so there's no reason to suppose it won't happen again.) And it's not even a difficult or expensive thing to get into doing...
  • Quoth the article: Hell, I didn't even know Ghost In The Shell 2 was out in Japan until I myself saw a guy on the Subway reading it. I remember I nearly blew my wad, then I raced out and bought a copy of my own. Slow down there, sparky. Blowing your wad on the subway could lead to embearessed stares and social stigma.
  • possible reason (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Zork the Almighty ( 599344 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:42AM (#5249019) Journal
    in the grand old slashdot tradition, I didn't even consider reading the article. Manga succeeds commercially in part because of doshinji (sp?). Manga publishers are much more leniant about their copyrights, and they do not automatically persecute everyone who infringes. Allowing others to build on the original work increases the popularity and profitability of the original in ways that American companies just don't understand.

    It could also have to do with North American tendencies to shun anything which requires thought, such as READING.
    • I strongly agree with the copyright argument. Indeed, I think the reason Japanese culture has proved so resilient against the spread of American symbols is that Japanese copyright holders tend to be pleased if someone wants to draw their character, rather than assuming they are under attack.

      If I'm creating a product, a comic, a theme park ride, or even just a personal web page in Japan I have a choice: using Japanese characters/iconography and just doing it, or using American ones and looking forward to complex contracts, stiff fees, and quite possibly crippling legal action.

      In this sphere at least, the 'control' approach has been quite weak compared to the 'spread it if you like it' approach.

      However, the trend globally is toward greater power to lock down intellectual property, and one day I think the Disney model will be the only one.

  • IANAPhD (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nakanai_de ( 647766 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:47AM (#5249029)
    ...but I think there are two major reasons:

    The first is variety. There is manga about everything: Sports (pick your favorite), vampires, giant robots piloted by 14-year olds, biker gangs, romance, religious themes, (and, yes, porn)...the list goes on and on. It's true that US comics aren't just superheroes, but American comics don't exist in the variety of genres that manga does.

    The second is literacy. People like to claim that Japan has a huge literacy rate; I don't have any figures on how true this is. However, most books are damn hard to read, especially if you're interested in something likely to have uncommon kanji like sci-fi. (I recently brought a copy of the Japanese translation of the Heinlein book _The Door Into Summer_ to the school I work at, and many of the teachers had trouble with it.) On the other hand, manga is very easy to read. A lot of the time, you don't even have to worry about the kanji, since it's accompanied by furigana. The fact that the story is a combination of pictures and text makes reading a lot less mental effort (which is good, because it's likely you're already mentally exhausted from school or work). In America, there doesn't seem to be a functional difference in the level of literacy required between a comic and a novel, so there's not as much reason to shell out $2 or $3 for a 20-page comic (with advertisements) when you could get a paperback for twice or thrice as much.

  • porn? yes! somehow. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by colonel.sys ( 525119 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @06:48AM (#5249033) Homepage
    i find that most manga comic characters seem to have that subtle sex appeal that makes them interesting. it's not that i don't like donald duck but he doesn't have that expression on his face that i see with a lot of manga stars.

    and i'm not talking about the pr0n stuff which i personally can't really find very pr0nific.

    my 5 cents and your 5 cents are ten.
  • Its all about story. And having one. And hacking off limbs... and killing main characters and... sex!

    I went into a book store and occaisionally glance through the "manga for girls" (how embarassing, crazy gaijin doesn't know that's the girls section!) and its got as much sex and violence as the stuff for guys!
    Well maybe not as much violence.

    That's what superman's missing... some good graphic sex and cheating on Lois.

  • Japanese ideograms are so numerous that most Japanese can't read a complete newspaper.
    Manga are cheap and easy enough to read for the above-mentioned people.
    So this makes the Mangas a mainstream media which before being exported is financially successful.
    In other countries, comics are as easy to read as literature so most people will read either, hence the subjective lesser acceptance of comics in latin-alphabet-using countries...
  • I guess others will point this out too, but the way young/old males in Japan get their thrills is thru these mags. The mags will expand into other genres, but sex is the bottom line.

    The President of Winnebago motor homes, when asked if a bad economy would hurt his company, remarked "In America, there are two things the general public won't cut back is sex and the other is weekends" - In's soft porn via manga and the buzz from caffiene, cigarettes and of course beer.
  • Quality (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slavemowgli ( 585321 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @07:32AM (#5249124) Homepage
    Even at the risk of being modded down for saying this, I think one of the reasons might be that us-american comics simply lack quality. Of course there are exceptions, but most of them seem to be nothing more than reiterations of the same worn-out themes and stories with the same worn-out character stereotypes - at least that is my own personal impression.
  • Having recently spent time in Japan, I think one simple reason for the difference in "success" is that in Japan, graphic fiction is much more popular in America. I know this is common knowledge, but until I'd actually visited Japan, I didn't know the extent to which it is true.

    On any train journey, you will see a significant proportion of the travellers will be reading graphic fiction. There is graphic fiction aimed at school girls, school boys, younger children, business people, homeworkers - every sector of society. And some of them are as big as telephone directories and weekly! This isn't an exaggeration, you have to see it for yourself.

    In conclusion, graphic fiction is a completely different phenomena in Japan than the USA. To compare them is like comparing chalk and cheese.
  • by EABinGA ( 253382 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @07:48AM (#5249151)
    This may be slightly offtopic, but I have been wondering, why there are no more Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics in the US?

    They still seemt to be very widespread in Europe, but I can't recall seeing any in the US recently.

    • I bump into them in comic book shops every now and then. I don't know why they are still made, but if they sell well in europe... I guess that answers my question.

      Comics here are only sold in Comic book stores. Comic book stores are testosterone soaked things for the 9 to 16 year old demographic, and a place which no self-respecting parent would bring their child... all of which does very poorly with Donald Duck comics.

      Are the ones in Europe new, or just reprinted?
  • its the.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by vertias ( 646708 )
    big eyes I tell ya 0.0 they are like windows to the soul :) Seriously tho.. its socially accepted for a 38 year old man businessman to read sailormoon in Japan on a train.. try doing that on your local train in the states and see how many dodgy glances you'll get.
    • Re:its the.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by An Ominous Cow Erred ( 28892 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @08:16AM (#5249218)
      Not true at all. It is NOT socially acceptable for a middle-aged businessman to read Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon is for preteen and early-teen girls. Not only that, Sailor Moon ended years ago... Nakayoshi (one of a thousand phone-book sized manga anthology magazines that gets printed every week) replaced it with another story.

      The middle-aged businessmen are reading a class of comics made specifically for businessmen. They are aptly called "Business Comics". Now these comics aren't necessarily ABOUT business (although a huge amount of them are), but they are tailored to the businessman market.

      Women have their own kind of comics (Women's Comics). Young men have their own (Youth Comics). Boys, girls, etc. of all ages have comics tailored for their gender and specific age group.

      Basically walk down the aisle of your local Barnes & Noble, and imagine *EVERY* story there done as comic books. All the biographies, the historical fiction, the "true crime", the romance, the mystery, the documentaries... All of them written much as they are, except as comics. THAT is what comics are like in Japan.

      Just about the only thing you WON'T see as comics in Japan are scholarly works -- i.e. things which are meant to be totally informative rather than entertaining... On the non-scholarly end though, even some of the informative stuff like instructional "HOW-TO" books are sometimes made as manga.

      What you see outside of Japan is in fact a very small subset, mostly geared at the "otaku" (geek/freak/fanboy|girl) market (which I am a part of, but have no illusions about).

      • Yes, as loudly proclaimed by myself outside of the sluggy freelance booth at DragonCon, "I AM A LOONY FANBOY! I WORSHIP THE COMIC!" >:)

        I proclaim the same about Hikaru No Go.

  • Comics in the US (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ajs ( 35943 ) <> on Friday February 07, 2003 @08:12AM (#5249207) Homepage Journal
    The reason that comics in the US do not have the wide appeal of manga in Japan is obvious in just listening to a comic fan attempt to describe manga. It usally goes something like, "they're like comics, but they're about anything. Everyone reads them."

    There's a perception in the US that comics (the name itself is skewed, which is why so many have tried to use terms like "graphic literature", etc.) can only contain "kids" stories and their only fan-base are otaku.

    This is not true, of course, but it's correct for a majority of comics (getting less so over the past 10 years) and a majority of readers (still quite true). Until both of those change, the stereotypes will remain. There *should* be more comics about everyday life that appeal to everyone.

    If you've been out of the loop and are interested in catching some of the more interesting comics out there, here are some of the ones that I've found interesting (note: not all of these are traditional comics, but some are and the rest are certainly not mainstream literature by any measure):


    * Astro City -- What its like to live with supers
    * TOP10 -- In a world where everyone from the meter-maids to the homeless are super-heros, what are the police like? Odd premise, great book.
    * Rising Stars -- In a midwest town, a meteor strikes causing all in-utero babies in the area (113 of them) to develop unusual abilities when they're born. The 24-issue series follows their lives and deaths and the politics that surrounds them.

    Fantasy / Alternate History:

    * League of Extraordinary Gentlemen -- An amazingly cool look at an alternate history where all of the late 1800s and early 1900s fantasy, adventure and science fiction books are true. Everyone from Sherlock Holmes to Captn. Nemo to Dr Jeckle are in the story, and it works well.
    * Girl Genius -- A fun story about a world that can only do high-tech through magical individuals known as sparks.
    * Lucifer -- The title character is the angel, cast out of heaven and formerly ruler of hell. This is a spin-off of the classic late-80s/early-90s series Sandman.

    These are the books that I read now. Fantasy and super-heros are well established genres for comics, and they're done well in many cases. It's just too bad that there aren't more genres being allowed in. Real science fiction makes an attempt every now and then, and sometimes it works, but often it does not. The slice-of-life stories that really made manga are almost non-existant. In fact, the closest US comics came to that, AFAICT is Archie.
    • I haven't read the rest, but I second the recommendations for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Girl Genius. Both are wonderful examples of graphic storytelling and a lot of fun.

      Mind you these are also the only 'American' comics I collect. I used to do single issues of everthing I liked, but sometimes the series would disapear (Shotgun Mary) and other times I would miss an issue or two and end up buying the collections anyway. So I promised myself I would always wait for the collections.

      But then I sort of know Phil and Kaja, so I started buying Girl Genius from day one after running into them at an SF convention right before they launched it. And, as for LoXG... Well I did wait for the collection for the first set. And it was so amazing I that I went down the local comic store and started a pull list for the new series.

      I am weak, weak person...
    • Other good reads include:
      • Poison Elves (Drew Hayes) -- kind of like a punk version of Tolkein
      • Finder [] (Carla Speed McNeil) -- strange and mystical, too hard to explain
      • Poe (Jason Asala) -- the wacky adventures of Edgar Allen
      • Bone [] (Jeff Smith) -- Shmoo meets Lord of the Rings

      and in the graphic novel arena, try
      • Preacher (Garth Ennis) -- Texas preacher (with a vampire sidekick and his assassin girlfriend) go hunting for God
      • Watchmen (Alan Moore) -- superheroes and the cold war
      • V for Vendetta (Alan Moore) -- a "modern" Guy Fawkes against a Fascist regime
      • The Crow (James O'Barr) -- vengeance from beyond the grave; very touching

      There are good American (et al) comics out there; you just gotta look for them. :-)

  • Not simple (Score:2, Informative)

    by hikousen ( 636819 )
    Manga is literature.

    Comic books are not.

    It's a cultural difference. Reading is discouraged in this society. There is also the fact that manga publishers see markets other than boys 8-15.

    Presenting a shoujo manga to the average U.S. publisher would be like trying to show a medieval fisherman how to use sonar.

    Also, there are more genres in manga. There are sports manga, business manga, sitting in the park and watching the sunset manga. They may all have 0.00001% of the market, but together, it's the most widely published form of literature in Japan, and like anime, it is slowly going to gain popularity in the U.S. until the competition either wakes up or goes out of business.
  • Because they suck... (Score:5, Informative)

    by AdamInParadise ( 257888 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @08:36AM (#5249270) Homepage
    and they suck because American comics are considered as childish, dumb and cheap. Honestly, I don't know why but I'm sure some people have theories.

    So the whole business is seen as unattractive and people buying them are labbelled as dorks. Go to a Borders or BN and ask for the "Graphic Novels" Section, you will see the look they give you.

    In Europe, comics are an art form. It's big business and therefore it attracts lots of creative people like writers and graphic artists. So there is some pretty strong competition going on.

    There're books for every age but there're all pretty good. Usually, parents read comics too, so they can detect crap quite easily.
    Also, it takes a lot more work to produce a volume. Profilic artists release two or three books PER YEAR. Books are also a lot more expensive (goes from $8 to $20), bigger (A4 is the norm), with a good paper quality and a hardcover. Such a book usually survives for 30 years.

    I own a few american comics : the first Alien VS Predator, some Star Wars stuff... The stories, the graphics, the colors can't compare to some middle-quality european comics.

    Of course, we do have our fair share of garbage too. Stories running for 20 books (at $12 at pop).. Computer generate drawings...

    Finally, anecdotal evidence makes me think that the talent is there (the absolutely amazing Strangers In Paradise serie (, strip comics, Will Eisner (The Spirit and some other books), movies...), but it isn't promoted.

    Anyway, Europe's situation 50 years ago was similar to the US' situation today, so there is hope.
    • Um... Actually both Barnes and Noble and Borders have Graphic Novels sections... and had them for some time.

      Sure, they aren't large but they are there. And they usually have a good showing by Manga (I've picked up most of Lone Wolf and Cub there).
  • In Europe, particularly in Belgium and France, both american comics and manga have a wide following, but there is a much larger reader base for other types of 'Bandes Dessinées': cartoons of all sorts that can be entertaining (the well known Asterix, Tintin for instance) as well as thought-provoking, very well written, complex and rich stories anchored in real life, history, politics, fantasy or sci-fi.
    Drawing styles follow very different and wider rules than comics and manga, from the hyper-realistic to the almost impressionistic.
    I really find it a shame that the immense majority of this art form does not find its way into many other languages, I can assure you that the /. crowd would be hooked to the wonderful and intelligent stories of the 9th Art.
  • Staying Fresh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @08:54AM (#5249337) Homepage
    I can think of 3 reasons that haven't been mentioned yet why Comics aren't accepted in the US as compared to Japan.

    1. Overused / unrelatable characters. In the US comic market, there are three types of characters: thoroughly recycled, new but testosterone saturated, and "girl's stuff." The "New" spiderman has been done for so many generations it is hard to get anyone interested. The Maxx was a highly accessable character with a surprising amount of depth... if you could get past the fact that he looked like a van with p3nises coming out of his hands. Most people can't. And if you are only selling comics in bastions of testosterone (comic book shops), how do you plan to sell comics about human issues? Japanese comics come in all flavors, all sizes. They're not as stereotyped, but they don't go out of their way to fit a stereotype. Not every manga cover in Japan involves a big sweaty guy holding a weapon. (Yes, I'm aware that Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is a small sweaty guy holding a weapon. That's why he's more accessable.)

    2. Most American comic books are franchises of a successful main character, while manga are plot-driven stories involving characters. Many comics are written as independent stories by multiple authors, which makes it difficult to change anything canon about the character / world without getting a quorum at a committee. The character is left exactly where he started at the beginning of the comic book having gone nowhere. And there generally is only superficial interaction between the independent stories. Manga seem decidedly more plot driven, with characters serving as focal points rather than subject matter. Kaneda was hardly in Akira in any substantive way, and mostly served to allow the story to unfold. No one in their right mind would suggest an Akira 2 just because you could carry the character over. But such a thing is assumed in American comics all the time.

    3. Comic books are unsatisfyingly short. After actively searching out a source, finding a comic book shop, and driving to it to get the latest copy of Big Sweaty Guy with a Gun: Reborn, you would expect to be have at least some entertainment from it... right? Well, unless you found that rarity of American comics, the compilation, chances are it is 20 pages long, 1/2 of which are action tiles and need no reading, and which can be finished in about 7 minutes. And don't forget to tune in again next month when they release the next 7 minutes of the story. Either your story is going to have a plot that wouldn't challenge the teletubbies, or your reader is going to get bored and move on in the year and a half it takes to finish your storyline. In japan, compilations seem to be far more common than they are here, with many, many more pages to read. I have never seen a japanese comic anywhere near as short as ours, page for page. It's just not worth bothering to spend 20 minutes every month for a year picking up a comic that you are going to read in 7... but picking up one of those ubiquitous manga in 30 seconds while shopping, and reading it for 2 hours? That's not a bad deal.

    Sadly, none of the above seem to be changing any time soon. Plot driven comics with accessable characters served out in meals not bites? Sadly, not while the big two are still in charge.

    • A point that you missed (which is related to your point 2) is that in the main the ownership of the material in a Manga title is with the author. The rights and publication model used by Manga is much closer to that of the book publishing industry with the magazines buying publication rights (and providing editors to help polish/direct the material) but with the final control being in the hands of the author.

      This is why stories can grow and develop ... and finish. The creator(s) are interested in telling a story not normally in creating a franchise (there are exceptions). Unfortunately without self-publishing it is not at all easy to reach this point in the US market.
  • Manga is better... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DarklordJonnyDigital ( 522978 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @09:02AM (#5249368) Homepage Journal
    Because it's not an American comic.

    Seriously. A lot of people will prefer Japanese stuff to similar American, simply because it's different. Why? Because it's more interesting. When we perceive something as different to what we're used to, we can either find it intimidating (if it scares us or we don't understand it) or interesting (if it seems harmless enough and there's a chance we'll grow to like it). When it comes to anime and manga, it's rare that a person will find themself frightened by a mere foreign comic book.

    There's also the fact that anime and manga are gaining popularity, and with good reason - they're generally rather good. Anime is an art form - the drawing of the characters, colouring, shading, movement, balance, character design, sound and storyline are all well thought out and well implemented. Compare this to a western cartoons which are very often unsatisfying in their portrayals of characters - they're just too flat and hard to empathize with.

    The best manga and anime are most often the ones ported to the english language, which reinforces the idea that anime is good. Not to mention its wide range and the huge audience it can reach. Once someone finds an anime they like (many people start on a dub of something like Dragonball Z []), they are much more likely to gain an interest in other series of a similar style.

    I don't think I have to mention the fact that while American comics and cartoons target kids who are used to watching costumed superheroes and anthropomorphic animals in their daily six hours of watching TV, Japanese animation has Dragonball-style dirty humour, Evangelion's depth and confusingness, and Ghost in the Shell's commentary on what it means to be human.
  • Furuhon-ya (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mowph ( 642278 )

    It seems to me that one other major factor was overlooked - furuhon-ya, or used book stores. Generally more than half-full of manga (which reportedly is half ot the published material in Japan,) these tend to be large, brightly lit, extremely efficient, and amusingly named. (Perhaps the best example: Book Off []. [link in Japanese])

    In the article, Tamai mentions that the price point of tankouban, or collected volumes of manga, is around 500 - 1200 yen. Most people I know in Japan who buy tankouban do so exclusively at used book shops, for much less than half of that price. It's not uncommon to be able to buy an older series for 100 yen per book, especially when buying many volumes together in a set. Of course, you can sell the books back after your done, again at a fraction of the price you paid.

    The point is when you think "used comic shop" in the states, you imagine paying $10 a pop for some plastic-encased hard-to-find issue. In Japan, the idea of paying more than the original sale price is almost ludicrous. Anything that is even remotely successful will be published to death, and republished as long as any demand exists. In the meanwhile, it will be mercilessly imitated by other artists. Only a few classic writers (Tezuka, Shirow, Miyazaki...) have unimitable style that retains its market value years later.

    I'm not sure whether these shops actually benefit the manga industry or not, but I would imagine so, as there doesn't seem to be any attempt to shut them down. Over the last few years, video game manufacturers started printing "Not for Resale" notices on their packages. This was overturned in Japanese court [], thank god... in rental-forbidden Japan, used book stores are about the only sane way to try and buy games.

    At any rate, this is another interesting aspect of the "recycling" motif that is prevalent in manga but completely missed by the American comic market.

  • I think an important factor that none of the panelsists even looked at is what are Americans spending their money on besides comic books, that mostly fills the same niche that manga do in Japan? The answer is the dime novel.

    And the tendency I've observed in half a life spent reading this suckers (in addition to price inflation from $2 to $8) is dramatic lengthening of the story. If I look at the older items in my sf collection, the before-my-time stuff of late 60's / 1970's vintage, they generally weigh in as these near-pamphlets seldom more than 200 pages long. Today, the average trade paperback in sf runs around 400 pages, thrillers are about the same, fantasy runs a bit longer. Even mysteries are beginning to get thick, leaving romances as the only lightweights on the genre fiction bookshelf.

    I think the average American dime novel reader is looking for longer, more involved stories. Or at least that's what sells. And art takes up a lot of space. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, this does not imply that any block of one thousand words might be well-represented by a picture. Once the story is shortened to allow for artwork, I don't know that it holds much appeal for most American readers.
  • I buy American, French and Manga comics and there ares several things that I notice that make a differnce:
    • American comics tend to be very black and white in their stories, where it good vs evil, hero vs anti-hero. And it is often about the down trodden rising up. On the other hand Japanese Manga and European comics tend be written more like a graphic novel. The stories are more adult, in the sense that they are more cynical, philosphical, etc. They are also deeper and are more grey in their stories, it is not a simple good vs evil.

      I have read Manga that appeared childish on the outside, but once you read it you notice that it was designed for adults, as the philosophy and cynicsm would only have been understood by adults. Sure there is also Manga written for kids, but that is not what we are talking about here.

    • Their format. American comics are sold monthly and are only about 20 pages long. There are Japanese comics, in Japan, that are sold monthly, but they are sold together with other comics in a book the size of a small phone book. In Europe, the comics books are hard back and sold once a year. In Europe, even in Quebec, you can walk into a book store, something equivalent to Barns and Nobles, and find a section dedicated to European style comics and Manga. If you do ever see the American comics (translated), then it tends to be the collected editions, as people don't want to be reading a rag.

    • Culture makes a big difference, but then again when you see the way American comics are written and sold, then it is its own worst enemy, though not that it effect the usual American comic reader ;). The problem is that for once the stereotype about comics here is true and that the stories are unlikely to attract a 'more sophisticated' readership, until the format changes and the sales location changes. European and Japanese comics are written for adults, packaged in a way that is appealing and acceptable to adults and sold in places that is easily accessible, not some back street where you average Joe wouldn't think of going.

  • by sielwolf ( 246764 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @09:19AM (#5249447) Homepage Journal
    Donald Richie has lived in Japan for over 40 years and is a well known cultural critic, specifically movies (I believe he did the commentary track on the Criterion Seven Samurai DVD and was interviewed extensively for the Kurosawa documentary on 20th Century Masters on PBS). He has also written several books on Japanese film and its stylistic differences from the rest of the world.

    I think a very specific point in his A Hundred Years of Japanese Film (which I recommend regardless) might answer this. Richie says that one of the fundamental differences between Japanese and Western (specifically American) cinema is the drama that they are derived from: Japanese plays (Noh, Kabuki) are presentational while Western plays are realistic.

    Ok so what does that mean? Well in Western drama (and which was then carried over into Western cinema), there is an assumption of naturalism: things are as they seem, as they are in the Real World. Japanese drama though, with its stylized movements, its paramount importance of placement means that in many ways the form of the style dictates much of the logic.

    This has meant that many things that are considered avant-garde (i.e. Adult) in the West (Expressionism, Surealism) are actually incorporated into all levels of entertainment in Japan.

    An example would be a sword fight. In the West when someone is hit with a sword they are expected to bleed normally, scream out, and fall down dead.

    In Japan you can have someone hit in the throat with a sword, stand there, say something ("The irony... to hear it from my own neck"), then a gyser of blood shoots out, and they tip over silently (ala Lone Wolf and Cub). Where in the West this would be seen as an experimental choice, in Japan it is commonly accepted.

    This is important for anima as animation is a stylistic choice. So fans of Japanese cinema would have no problem accepting it while a standard Western audience, with their realism indoctrination, have trouble accepting such a Fantastical step is Adult entertainment. The touching adult morality of Neon Genesis: Evangelion is thus less than the realistic dopiness of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, based purely on how the form of each is perceived.
  • by elliotj ( 519297 ) <slashdot.elliotjohnson@com> on Friday February 07, 2003 @09:41AM (#5249593) Homepage
    No joke, the Japanese read more comics because of their lower rates of literacy.

    No, this isn't because they're stupid or their education system is poor, it's because of the complexities of their written alphabets. The Japanese have 4 written alphabets in regular use: 2 phonetic ones, hiragana and katakana; the chinese alphabet, kanji; and the english alphabet, romanji.

    The problem is that the more high-brow the text, the more likely it is to be written in kanji. Kanji is a one-symbol-is-one-word system. You have to have a bloody large vocabulary to make any sense of it.

    These comics tend to be written in one of the phonetic kanas (hiragana or katakana), so they're easy to read and accessible to anybody with a gradeschool education. This makes them more popular.

    Just imagine if all English books were written in Shakespearean english, or worse Old English. How popular would comic books be with adults then?
    • The manga are actually written in Kanji, but will sometimes have furigana (the little phonetic letters) beside the Kanji. This is certainly not true for all manga, though. I imagine that literacy levels aren't nearly as important for this as are cultural tradition and values.

      Japan has HIGHER literacy rates than the US does... perhaps Japaneese comics are actually well written, rather than the banal crap that US media companies puch out?? I don't know, I have never read Japaneese comics, but I just couldn't watch while someone who blatantly bullshits his facts gets modded up as 'insightful'
  • If you want to see how good a serious novel in comic form can be, get yourself a copy of The Watchmen []. It's a fascinating book.
  • Culture bias... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by badasscat ( 563442 ) <> on Friday February 07, 2003 @10:45AM (#5249991)
    Even those who purport to understand Japanese culture around here (and then proceed to talk about manga as child porn) are so off base I just had to act...

    The Japanese consider their culture to be nearly impenetrable to westerners. Even if you go in with an extremely open mind, there are many aspects to the culture that we, as westerners, could probably never understand. Simple direct observation of the culture from within (yes, you have to actually *go* to Japan to understand this) along with said open mind doesn't hurt, though, and having a Japanese wife certainly helps too.

    Looking at manga in terms of western comics is completely misguided from the start. Manga in Japan is simply the way quite a lot of literature is presented to the public; it's the accepted method of reading most less serious fiction and non-fiction for both children *and* adults. How-to books, instruction manuals, even novels come packaged in the same artful style and the variety of subjects is endless. There's not what you would even call a "manga industry" in Japan in the same way as there is a "comic industry" in the US - the manga industry is simply the Japanese publishing industry. They obviously have non-illustrated books too, but illustrated literature is a standard, accepted form of literature in a way that it is not here. Manga in Japan is quite literally everywhere - it's not something you go to the "manga shop" to buy. You couldn't get away from it if you tried.

    Many of the causes for manga's success listed in the linked article are actually effects. The fact that there is so much variety in subject matter is less a reason for success than it is an effect of the cultural acceptance of the legitimacy of illustrated literature. The Japanese are very visual people, and I would argue that their alphabet itself - which is itself entirely symbolic - is one of the root causes for this. In other Asian countries you see similar phenomena (illustrated literature is very popular in Korea as well, for example). The Japanese are used to looking at iconography and determining meaning from it - it is necessary for them to get through life - whereas we largely are not. I would argue our brains are wired more for conceptual analysis than iconographic analysis; we assign meaning from text and speech rather than visuals.

    It's also completely untrue that there's no collector culture in Japan. The fact that many "manga" books are disposable doesn't mean they all are. You may buy a disposable paperback at an airpot to read on an airplane here but that doesn't mean that hardcover first printing of "A Farewall to Arms" you've got at home is in the same category. Again, this just shows a lack of understanding and acknowledgement of the fact that the "manga industry" is simply the publishing industry in Japan - the variety in manga extends not just to the subject matter but also to the durability of the literature. My wife has illustrated books of Miyazaki stories that she's had since she was a kid, and most Japanese people I know are the same way. And these are not even otaku - hardcore fans - who actively collect as much of this stuff as they can.

    Anyway, the main point is that it's a mistake to look at anything in Japan through western eyes. You need to at least *try* to look through Japanese eyes, as impossible as that is. There are things you can at least begin to understand if you attempt to delve deeply into the culture, but you'll never get close if you insist on looking through our perspective.
  • 'Slices of Time' (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tsu-na-mi ( 88576 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @10:54AM (#5250052) Homepage
    Japan is a nation that relies almost entirely on mass transit. People spend a lot of time on the train, or the bus, or waiting for the train or bus. Rather than sit around and be totally bored, many fill the time with reading manga. More recently, people are just as likely to sit and play games or message friends on their cell phones.

    For the same reason the super-high-tech japanese cell phones and DoCoMo features haven't really caught on here in the US. While this might also work in New York City, the vast majority of the US is much more spread out. Most Americans own cars, and few outside major cities use mass transit. Even less use it for trips longer than a half-hour/hour (which is common in Japan). The critical mass for this sort of thing just isn't there.
  • The interviewees seemed to have forgotten some aspects of American comic book history. First off, the "other genres" besides superheroes were certainly in full swing from the 40s to the 60s, and comic-book renditions of "the classics" were the cliffnotes of the time, helping many a kid scrape his way through high school english classes. However, those died out for the same reason comics today are 1) expensive, and 2) a collector's hobby only. They don't seem to realize that the collectibility and financial factor of comic books changed everything. Kids might as youngsters still get "archie", but as kids learned of the history of comics and what the old ones fetch nowadays, it makes them very choosy over what from the current selection they get. Its not like music or movies where there are thousands of releases, but only a few sell millions of copies/dollars. Its more like real book publishing here. Either it sells well enough because people think its quality will make it collectible, or its utterly forgotten and never talked about again...and that decision is made within 4 issues, or even within a "preview" of the material as guests or 2nd stories in other comics. Thus, comic publishing companies have in a sense more at risk than the movie studios. To keep that quality up takes time (hence the monthly release schedule), and money. Collectors want stuff that will survive over time (how many copies of Action #38 were lost just because they fell apart?), and thus will pay the higher price for the higher quality paper and ink. Add to that the fact that this expense, which shrunk the customer base, has led to a reduction in the # and size of comic book stores (and thus, reduced shelf space for holding more "latest issues"); the retail stores are also very heavily hit by distribution costs -- the gas price rise of the '91 gulf war and '92 recession hit the market fairly hard. The price is set by the distributor/publisher, and incorporates shipping costs into it. But when the price doesn't change in reflection of the increase in shipping costs, the retailer is the one that eats the loss. Many couldn't afford it and had to diversify into carrying toys and games, especially the collectable card games ("Magic", et al) in order to stay afloat during the 90s. Cheap distribution is a BIG deal in Japan. Americans get quite worked up with how "cheap" things are in other countries like England, France, Japan, Italy, etc, and forget that those places are TINY compared to us. Its a day's drive to deliver things in most european countries, compared to a week or more for coast to coast, more than 7-10 times the cost regardless of the gas prices. Like with "clerks" as a movie, or other low-budget works in other media, its possible that a "high quality product" can come out of a low budget release (i.e., trying to put a comic book out for less than $1 an issue), but one has to be absolutely sure of the product to manage it. Truthfully, one really can only sell as many issues as the best selling comic out there, and if you can't make a profit on that #, you can't enter the market. Joe
  • It seems that comics in the U.S. peaked in the 1940's. They seemed to be rapidly picking up popularity, and branching out in strange new (often gross, but hey) directions. I truly believe that comic books would have bloomed into a much large industry, if it weren't for the dastardly deeds of Concerned Parents(tm), and their puppeteers Big Media(tm).

    But seriously, it was the ridiculous public outcry (comic books are warping out kids' minds!) that led to the censorship and neutering of our fledgling comic book industry. Let me show a quote from The Media Violence Myth []:

    "If it were my task, Mr. Chairman, to teach children delinquency," he [psychiatrist Frederic Wertham] testified before a Congressional committee in 1954, "to tell them how to rape and seduce girls, how to hurt people, how to break into stores, how to cheat, how to forge, how to do any known crime, if it were my task to teach that, I would have to enlist the crime comic book industry. Formerly to impair the morals of a minor was a punishable offense. It has now become a mass industry. I will say that every crime of delinquency is described in detail and that if you teach somebody the technique of something you, of course, seduce him into it. Nobody would believe that you teach a boy homosexuality without introducing him to it. The same thing with crime."

    Listen to that fucker go. Can you believe this was a man who defined public policy? Can you believe he even had a degree in psychiatry? If I didn't believe in free speech, I'd want all perpetrators of this incessant Blame Game hanged, drawn, and quartered.
  • A few years ago I had the privledge to be in Tokyo for a couple of weeks. Riding the subway system I was delighted to see that the majority of japanese riders were reading comic books.

    In japan, many of the comics are sold in huge very very thick oversize magazine style books. Some of these are several inches thick and larger than our normal magazine footprint.

    Whereas, in America (and elsewhere) you really don't see adults reading comics in public often, in Japan adults were reading comics everywhere.

    Personally, I prefer to get my political insights from the sunday comics in my local newspaper - rather than the liars on FAUX and SEE'NN News who merely parrot what the fucked up Bushie administration pays them to.

  • All the horrible sensorship that daily strips have to deal with in the states should be a clue to why there isn't more mainstream comics. There is either the toothless moronic-religious-compliant stuff (Free speech, good one) or the much more mature stuff (ooh boobies, etc).

    How come Bone by Jeff Smith isn't owned by more people, great stuff, but sadly that is not the case.

    So why won't the US have the same success as Manga has in Japan? Take a guess...
  • 1) There is a much wider range of subject matter in manga. 80% or more of American comics are about superheroes, superpowers, and similar themes. In contrast, there is a manga reflecting almost every aspect of Japanese society.

    2) Consistency. American monthly comics practice a certain bait-and-switch. A good team will come in on a title and establish a readership. They will stay with that comic for a length of time, and then move to a different title to help boost numbers. A new (usually inferior) team takes over, and the series will coast on the reputation of the first team. In manga, a comic series almost always stays in the hands of it's creator and his/her studio.

    3) Maturity level. Manga are geared towards adult readers more often than American comics. That is not to say there are no American comics written for adults, but that it is more the norm in manga. And by adult, I don't mean only T&A. Manga is often times smartly written and executed.

    4) Manga takes more influences from American cinema than from American comics. And the best American comic writers and artists are learning key lessons from manga. More thought goes into "camera angles", motion, background art, prop design, and many things that manga has long been very strong on. "The Ultimates" (Marvel's Avengers re-boot) is a good example of an American title using manga style.
  • Excuse me? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @01:17PM (#5251369) Homepage
    Where exactly are American comics failing? I've been collecting for over twenty years. I trained up as an artist. So I know what I'm talking about when I say that the comics have never been more creative, better written, professionally crafted.

    Manga? I just don't get the obsession. The plotlines are derivative of bad pulp sci-fi, pre-Campbell. The artwork is adequate for the most part, just as "American" comics are. The best art is fantastic, the worst abysmal.

    The plotlines in the majority of manga and anime are hackneyed, especially painful since they are run through a language and cultural translation.

    I realize manga and anime (I have to lump them together) have become a religion amongst geeks and kids, but its not because of quality -- they're cool because they're cool. Literature, they are not. For the most part. Just like comics.

    I can't understand why bunny girls or twenty years out of date cybercowboys ripped from Gibson are more interesting than the tortured old man in "The Dark Knight Returns", or the reinvented heroes in "The Watchmen". Love and Rockets. Dork Tower. Men in Black. Liberty Meadows. Silly and sublime, ten cent junk or graphic novels, American comics have grown up in spite of great resistance from the public at large.

    One can argue that manga can be capable of interesting stories, but that doesn't make it more successful. Remember, there is a large amount of manga that doesn't make it in the mass market -- misogynistic, violent, xenophobic, and adored by Japanese of all ages, byt not suited for our culture. We only see the tip of the iceberg, sort of comparable to thinking Brit TV is all Masterpiece Theater, when it's mostly bad game shows.

    IMO, altho I've seen incredible artwork done by Japanese artists when relieved of the more everyday restrictions of manga, the comics I see daily are dull, unimaginatively drawn, with bad, bad, and I mean BAD writing with insipid plots. Remember Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is shit.

    Manga... the characters all look the same. This is not a generalization -- they are intended to look alike. There's something weird about how the eyes are never drawn with epicanthic folds, considering that they are drawn for a Japanese audience. Running through the genre an obsession with young girls that would get you talked about, not to mention tracked by Ashcroft's goons, if you were drawing in the U.S.

    I realize young fanboys and fangirls devour manga the way I used to chow down on Marvel, but that doesn't make American comics "bad". Young people like simpler stories. Manga returns to old comic roots by simplifying the artwork on one level yet showing sophistication in execution. American comics have evolved for an older audience now --there's no help for it.

    I've listened patiently to plot breakdowns from rabid fans, and had my eyes glaze over. Let's see: a lone hero(ine) starts out from everyday origins to discover their hidden power that can defeat the demon which yadda yadda... essentially old Japanese folk stories rewritten, just as American comics repeat the Rugged Individualist meme from the old west. But cowboy stories have been done to death, and so has the Lone Ronin, whatever blue hair he wears.
  • by TrentC ( 11023 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @03:23PM (#5252508) Homepage
    American comics "fail" because American comic book publishers are hopelessly wedded to the superhero genre and are generally unwilling to take risks that will alienate their core "fanboy" market, a market that is predominantly male and ranges from teenagers to young adults. This is the conclusion I've come to after reading comics for nineteen years, reading trade publications for fourteen years, and actually running a comic book store for two and a half years.

    They are stuck on the 22- to 32-page format that currently runs for about $3 each. $3 a pop for 32 pages? Even with the price of novels rising, a 200- to 300-page novel is still only about double that price. Granted, the paper quality is better in a comic book, but even though I can finish a 300-page novel in three to four hours of uninterrupted reading, it takes me about 15 to 20 minutes to read the typical comic book -- less if half of the pages are full-page "splash" panels.

    The state of the industry for writers and artists at the big publishers isn't much better than the state of the industry for the music artists that Slashdot seems to rally behind whenever the RIAA opens its collective mouth. Writers and artists are seen as interchangeable cogs, to be hired and dismissed at the editor's discretion. In the 90's, creator-owned projects were starting to gain widespread acceptance in the comic book market; before then, creator-owned projects were thought of the purview of people who didn't have the talent to do "real" comic book work ("If he's such a great artist, why hasn't he ever drawn X-Men?") but now the trend is starting to backslide. There are small publishers that are willing to do primarily non-superhero, creator-owned books. Also note that I refer to these as "small" publishers.

    Comic book publishers are unwilling to do any serious marketing or distribution outside of the circle of comic book retailers. In an essay, one comic book writer wondered how many copies of Fury (a recent revival of James Bond-esque Marvel Comics superspy Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.) Marvel Comics could sell if they stripped all of the comic-book art off of the cover of the book, put "FURY" in big bold letters on the cover with a .45 pistol and a tattered bullet-ridden American flag on the front, published in a normal novel-sized trade paperback form instead of the oversized comic-book TPB form, and got it into traditional bookstores under "Military Fiction" where people interested in military fiction might actually go to look for it.

    Where are the Harry Potter-style comics for younger readers? What about comics for girls, like the Nancy Drew books my wife used to read incessantly when she was a child? There was a great comic back in the 90's called The Second Life of Doctor Mirage which had such a strong female readership that it actually had a soap opera actor as a guest character in the book. It died shortly after the publisher Valiant Comics decided it had to revamp its line to appeal to the fanboy market; now Valiant is owned by Acclaim which just uses the characters for videogames like X-O Manowar, the Turok series and Shadowman.

    The only reason I still read and love comics is because there are stories there I can't find anywhere else. And I'm not talking about the superhero stuff, either.


"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger