Turning Comics Into Manga, By Dennis O’Neil
If you’re a student, or a teacher, you may not be reading this when Mike Gold posts it. Unless there’s a glitch he’ll be doing digital voodoo-hoodoo that I don’t understand – me and Johnny Mac, Luddites and proud of it – and making these words available to interested parties, if any, on Tuesday morning. The reason you’re not reading this on Tuesday morning, if you’re a teacher or student, may be that you’re in school and presumably putting your laptop to other uses. (I didn’t say “better.” I said other. Let’s not be judgmental.) Here in Rockland County New York, school begins early this year and unless the unforeseen happens, Marifran is, on the Tuesday-to-come, down the hill, beginning her forty-seventh year of teaching and I’m… oh, eating breakfast. Reading the paper. Sleeping. Something. I hope Mari didn’t wake me when she left.
For comics professionals, these fine, crisp September days are often a lull – an easy interval between the frantic, convention-going days of summer and the rush to finish and get to press the upscale books that publishers hope will be under a whole lot of trees on Christmas morning. Not much happening. The only items of interest that have come to my attention recently are the demise of one of the new comics publishers and Marvel’s announcement that it will tailor its superheroes for the Japanese market.
That market has been something of an enigma. The Japanese are, as a nation, the world’s largest comics consumers and have been for decades. Why? One theory is that experiencing narrative through the medium of pictures is natural to many Asians because their written language is pictorial – it may have begun as actual drawings and has evolved into a series of highly stylized glyphs. Neither a new idea, nor one restricted to comics: the great Russian director and theorist Sergei Eisenstein offered a similar explanation for Asia’s quick adoption of movies.
Some American comics guys got pretty interested in the Japanese approach to graphic storytelling as soon as the books and magazines began to be available over here and you don’t have to look hard to see the Japanese influence on a lot of American stuff these days. But the opposite didn’t seem to be true. The Asians didn’t seem very interested in what we were producing. It might be cultural: much of what was coming out of the U.S. featured superheroes and for reasons way, way beyond my ken, the Far East didn’t take to masked and costumed ass-kickers, at least not immediately.
Maybe that’s changing. There’s the Marvel initiative mentioned earlier and, in one of the goody boxes I occasional receive, a Batman story done in the Japanese style by one Yoshinori Natsume, which I guess means that DC is having a run at the East, too.
I wish all parties luck. The more cross-pollination of cultures, the better.
Note to Mari: I hope you have a nice first day and please try to be quiet when you get home in case I’m napping.
RECOMMENDED READING: The Little Zen Companion, by David Schiller.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and The Shadow– among others – as well as many novels, stories and articles. The Question: Epitaph For A Hero, reprinting the third six issues of his classic series with artists Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar, will be on sale in September, and his novelization of the movie The Dark Knightis on sale right now. He’ll be taking another shot at the ol’ Bat in an upcoming story-arc, too.