“They have big eyes with a persistent gleam, small noses, simple but often exaggerated mouths and names such as Chihiro, Toriyasu and Monkey D. Luffy.”
“Manga bigger than Godzilla,” The St. Petersburg Times, 11 July, 2005
Is there a lead-paragraph generation program somewhere that automatically links the term “big eyes” with the subject “manga?” There must be, given how often print journalists make the association.
Aside from that, I can’t help but notice that mainstream print coverage of manga could be much, much worse. Clunky lead aside, the story above does a pretty solid job looking at manga from a variety of angles – commercial, creative, cultural, and personal.
Generally speaking, manga gets treated not as a fad or something quirky but as a legitimate, burgeoning part of the entertainment culture. It hasn’t come anywhere close to reaching a saturation point like movies or television, but the absence of derision is kind of startling for people who flinch when newspapers cover western comics. There isn’t much in the way of criticism, though industry publications like Publishers Weekly and Library Journalkeep an eye on new titles.
And you know a cultural phenomenon is legitimate – if not even passé – when USA Today gets around to it(“Japanese manga takes humongous step,” 5 July, 2005). The startling thing about this article is that it isn’t the usual Manga 101 piece. Short as it is (this being USA Today), the piece actually summarizes recent developments in audience development and delivery systems for manga. They cover Tokyopop’s deal withCosmoGIRL!, Viz’s Shojo Beat and Fullmetal Alchemistnovelizations, and the Harlequin-Dark Horsecollaboration.
Just compare it to some recent newspaper coverage of the annual comics prom, the San Diego ComiCon. Look at some recent headlines for articles about that event:
• “Hollywood courts geeks at Comic-Con,” UPI, 13 July, 2005
• “Gaggle of geeks gabs at confab,” Daily Variety, 14 July, 2005
• “Comic geeks now a fantastic force,” Los Angeles Times, 16 July, 2005
The underlying message of most of this might be, “It’s an impenetrable niche culture, but at least there’s money to be made.” Sure, there’s still the occasional flurry of “Comics aren’t just for kids.” (This usually draws the on-line response, “It would be more of a story if there werecomics for kids.”) And, when Marvel or DC decides to kill a headliner or break his back or marry him off, that usually generates a bump in column inches.
Mostly, though, when you see western comics mentioned in newspapers or magazines, it’s because somebody has bought the film rights. Occasionally, there will be a follow-up or a sidebar on how the creator, often Alan Moore, isn’t delighted at the prospect.
That isn’t to say that mainstream manga coverage has been entirely free of sensationalism or snark. Certain intrepid reporters have made their way into the lair of the otaku:
“Breach the glass-and-concrete bunker of the Anaheim Convention Center on Expo weekend, and you pass into a parallel dimension populated by pink-haired schoolgirls and DIY ‘droids, portly alien invaders and bespectacled ninja assassins. It’s a place where little things like race and gender and nationality take a backseat to more important distinctions, like whether you prefer dubs or subtitles. A world where an ordinary guy can be a hero, a king — or hell, a magical fairy princess.”
“ASIAN POP: Generation O – Meet the Otaku,” The San Francisco Chronicle, 7 July, 2005
Like overweight Stormtroopers at Wizard World, the outré elements of manga and anime fandom have been getting their moment in the sun lately. That’s hardly unexpected, though. The camera crew at the Pride Parade will spend a lot more time shooting leather chaps and high heels than the Gay and Lesbian Realtors Association.
It’s telling, too, that the recent flurry of interest in otaku is a component of the coverage as opposed to the extent of it. It’s not the whole story, and there are many more quotes from bright, invested young readers than there are shots of some 30-year-old man dressed as a Sailor Scout.
I’m still watching for the first serious wave of “dirty manga” stories. It takes time for themes to make their way from an informed on-line community of fans to the wider culture (hence the lag time prior to the discovery that “Comics aren’t just for kids”). But I’m almost certain it will hit at some point, once the build-up of the medium is complete.
Journalists can’t keep telling the same story over and over – that manga is increasingly ubiquitous, lucrative, and enjoyed by a large and reasonably diverse audience. Sooner or later, someone with a press pass will actually look at a copy of Tenjho Tenge or Negima!
But for now, it’s nice to see manga get a pretty good rap. Now if only journalists could resist mentioning the big eyes…