Manga Friday: Monkeying Around
I’m often most interested in the decadent phase of an artistic movement, the point when it starts turning on itself. Snarky parody, convoluted derivative plots, art that’s clearly a rip-off of someone else’s style – this and more amuses me. So I’m happy that I finally gave in to temptation and picked up Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga.
I found it on the “how to draw” shelf, which sort-of makes sense: it’s a parody of books about how to draw manga. But I tend to doubt it’ll find many readers over there; I expect the people looking for drawing guides are serious, devoted, dour young folks who won’t be in the mood for zany humor. (The fact that this book was published in 2002, and one lonely copy was still poking around on the shelf, tends to support that idea.)
But, if you do manage to find it, Monkey is quite funny. In it, fictionalized versions of the creators (Koji Aihara, 19 years old and Kentaro Takekuma, 22 years old, as they’re billed in the book) talk about how they’re going to conquer the world of manga, in a very funny overwrought style, full of full-face close-ups. (Which are also essentially the same in every single episode; there’s some very obvious humor and some sly hidden humor in this as well.) Takekuma, the older, seasoned manga pro, then proceeds to teach Aihara the lessons of manga – this book contains the first nineteen of them. (There’s a second volume promised at the end; I don’t know how much more material appeared in Japan.)
The lessons start with the very obvious and basic – drawing borders, facial expressions, and then figures. (Takekuma recommends copying from other artists to do that last one, gleefully insisting that everyone does it.) Then Takekuma moves on to explaining where ideas and stories come from – everyone else’s stories and ideas, of course. After that, there are a series of lessons about particular manga genres, which are in turn shows to be completely cliché-ridden and obvious.
This all might be depressing, if it weren’t done so gleefully – the message is, yes, even a monkey can create a successful manga series. The emphasis isn’t that the then-current crop of popular series are fit only for idiot, it’s that anyone – literally anyone – could be the next big manga star. There’s certainly a critical subtext, but the obvious level is so single-mindedly focused on success that it’s all very charming and happy…even when it’s also disgusting and/or pornographic. (Two different varieties of sex comics – for men and for women – are discussed.)
The other thing that makes Monkey charming is the fact that it’s now a time capsule – it was originally created in 1989, so it’s a snapshot of the Japanese manga industry at its peak. So the styles being parodied are not necessarily still current. (One whole episode is about how ninja comics have been completely supplanted by psychics…which would come as a surprise to Masashi Kishimoto.)
You have to know a bit about manga to appreciate Monkey, but not all that much – in fact, a sense that most manga is crap could aid in your appreciation of it. And, without this book, you’ll never know the true significance of “shwing” and “no, boom.” Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga is frivolous, mean-spirited and rude – I loved it.
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga, Vol. 1
Koji Aihara & Kentaro Takekuma
Pulp, 2002, $15.95
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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