Sunday, October 7, 2007

Us Comics vs Manga (wow, long)

So over @ scans daily there was some discussion of American Comics vs Manga and why people prefer one over the other. And of course, each side is ready to throw stones at the other. I stopped to think of what the major differences are and how it may motivate people to choose one over the other. (get comfortable, this is long. Go grab a snack, I'll wait...)

Let's go over the big obvious stuff first.
Printing size and color (how's that for a graphic design nerd start?)
US comics are generally all color, (4 color process I believe). Paper size is 6.9x10.5 and a regular comic book will be between 30-50 pages long and probably glossy. Nice paper and pretty colors drive the cost up quite a bit. To the point where the cost of a trade paperback would be somewhere between 15 to 25 dollars.

Manga, on the other hand, is almost always black and white, with the exception here and there of having the first few pages in color. Tankobon size is 5x7.5, no gloss. Smaller paper, little or no color and no gloss makes the price of these books cheaper even though they have many more pages than American comics (roughly a couple hundred pages) They range from 8.99 to 12.99 but most manga have leveled out at 9.99.

So, when your local geek has ten bucks to spend and every other penny is already invested in bills or sunk into your gas tank, manga volumes become more and more attractive.

Ok, say you're the Daddy Warbucks of geeks (clearly you don't play collectible card games. I respect that) and cost isn't an issue. Here is where it gets tricky. (and the bit where I plagarize myself, but I'm okay with that)

The giant scope of manga available is the key. If it exists, there is a manga about it. It's like Rule 34, but less terrifying. You want a manga about rollerblading and gang fights? Done! (Air Gear) something about good sorcerers hunting down the bad ones and whipping them into submission in a good way? Done! (Sorcerer Hunters) But what if you want a story about a local otaku club sitting around and interacting? Ah, you can have that too (Genshiken). Something with no story whatsoever that is somehow hysterical? Yes! (Azumanga Daioh, Strawberry Marshmallow, Lucky Star)

This is where the division begins in my mind.

The sheer existence of shoujo manga ("girl's manga") is important. The complete emphasis on slice of life/emotion/dialogue is something I didn't find in many American comics when I first got into manga about 15 years ago. The art style is even different. Many shoujo manga don't bother with backgrounds in their panels. Aside from the occasional establishing shot, it's mostly just character interaction and dialogue. Backgrounds are unnecessary. I'm likely to step on toes here, but many comic books were/are not marketed to an audience that wants less ass kicking and more shoe staring and long emotional diatribes. It's quite telling that they're labeled as girl's manga. It's painfully clear that most US comics are not marketed towards girls at all. (yes, this is a larger argument, but let's stay on topic here, ok?)

Now don't get your panties in a bunch over this label. It's not to say that only girls can read girls manga. That's ridiculous. That's akin to saying that girls can't read US comics. We do, lots of us and we're often cranky about it! I know plenty of guys that read non - shonen manga and/or shoujo manga. Let's not get paranoid about how reading manga may somehow magically alter our sexuality and/or preferences. That's obnoxious as well.

I am positive there are American exceptions, but upon visiting the local comics shop, it's all about the spandex and ass kicking. Don't get me wrong, I love my spandex and ass kicking. I adore it. I get vicarious thrills when I read about She Hulk tossing around cars and just punching the hell out of everything. However, there is also the "single female lawyer" side to She Hulk. There's sure to be an audience that wants to see her more as Jen Walters the lawyer and less as Shulkie. The option for a emotional/romantic comedy/ slice of life is an important thing.

As for me, I read everything. I don't discriminate. I love my X-Men, Birds of Prey, & She Hulk. However, I also love the fact that I have options like Mars, Tramps Like Us (great book unfortunate title translation) & Peach Girl.

As they say on the internet(s), Your Mileage May Vary- in other words, it's all about personal preference. You may think I am entirely full of crap and hey, you're entitled to that (although if you think that and read this blog then you confuse me mightily.)

So, the bottom line to all of this? To me, variety. Spice of life and all that.

Much love to: scans daily, Marvel, DC, Tokyopop, and Urban Dictionary.


JIFF said...

I think your post is not biased

I do not really like manga and anime that much, Ranma was the biggest exception and I watched that anime in spanish (almost 10 years ago)

Anf for the most part girls in comics used to be cleavage with attitude, thad trend is finally over but there were only a few options namely Archie and the no gender distinction like Simpson comics

And you are right the number of manga that Japan creates every week is amazing

Sharp said...

Great article you got there. I agree. Personally, I really want to get into reading more manga, because of the variety you speak of. There's just to much of a tendency for US comics to be like each other.

I had also never considered the cost for production issue. I mean, obviously, it's staring me in the face right there, but I never focused on it.

*counting my coins* I really need to shift to more manga...

Princess Jibi said...

hey great blog...

Green eyed Dragon said...

I fully agree and appreciate your post. I've been reading comics for most of my life, I've been reading Manga for almost as long as you (I'm one of those "Daddy Warbucks of geeks" but I do play collectible card games.) and it irritates three types of hell outta me when people think they have to draw that boy/girls line in the book section. I read Shonen and shoujo with pride, sure the other guys give me that look, but some of the ladies think it's cool that I'm not biased. As for American comics, the stories have improved more and more over the last 20 years (I've got over 50 years comic book knowledge in my head) my big problem is nobody stays dead (my thoughts on the subject Blind sight: Death may be the greatest of all human blessings.) One thing i do like are the recent "Girl power" in comics; books like: Birds of prey, secret six and both the JSA and JLA have strong female leaders. i just hope the trend keeps

Richard Melendez said...

Great essay, and I thank you for your insights. However, I do take issue with a point in your overall argument. It sounds like you're equating super hero comics with the whole of the US comics industry's output, which is not the case. True, diversity in manga is much more readily available and apparent (though what we see here in the US is still but a dust mote when compared to all the manga that hasn't made it's way over here yet) than the level of diversity readily apparent in US comics. But... the diversity is there. If one steps outside the confines of the publishing schedules of Marvel or DC (or Image and Dark Horse), you'll see beyond the spandex and sci-fi trappings and come across wonderful and beautful works such as Love and Rockets (and related) by Los Bros. Hernandez, Berlin by Jason Lutes, Mouse Guard, Into The Dust, Parade With Fireworks and Miriam. And this is but a dust mote of what's produced here. If one ventures further into the realm of graphic novels, then the diversity seen is even greater. So while I do see your point, and I understand to a degree what you're trying to express, the biggest difference between Manga and US comics isn't so much the lack of diversity in the latter, but rather the stiffling distribution system and publisher practices which force super heroes to the forefront while strangling other genres out of the spotlight. Most comic book stores either can't afford to diversify their product line, sticking with the comfortable bread-n-butter that super heroes provide, or are unfortunately blinded by their own devotion to Marvel and DC, not caring about the output of other publishers who do not deal with super heroes, and their store shelves reflect that mindset. We do have a long way to go if US comics are to reach the level of penetration that Manga has achieved (in a relatively short period of time, at that), but the problem is not with the comics themselves but rather with the industry that produces and distributes these comics.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I was going to comment about your seeming limitation of US comics to superheroes, but Richard Melendez beat me to it, and probably said it much more eloquently than I would have. But I will concur that there is a large breadth of non-superhero comics produced here, stuff that will appeal to all age ranges and both sexes. I would recommend Scott Pilgrim, Blankets, Bone, Street Angel, East Coast Rising, King City, and Casanova, just off the top of my head. There are many, many others that don't fall into the superhero category, but that's a list for another time. Not that I'm trying to be critical of you or anything; I agree with what you're saying, but I think if you look outside the mainstream superhero companies, you'll find a great deal that you might be interested in.

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