Manga Friday: Bat-Manga!

Andrew Wheeler

Andrew Wheeler spent 16 years as a book club editor, most notably for the Science Fiction Book Club, and has been a judge for the 2005 World Fantasy Awards and the 2009 Eisner Awards. He is now Marketing Manager for John Wiley & Sons.

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9 Responses

  1. Saul Ferris says:

    I have to come to Chip's and my own defense regarding some of the comments in Andrew's review. Andrew states "Chip Kidd is a fine designer, but I have to admit that it annoys me that he gets top billing on a book made up entirely of someone else’s comics". Bat-manga is not entirely Kuwata's stories. The hardcover contains several stories by Chinese artists and both versions contain about one-third or more of my rare Japanese batman toys. A lot of my fellow toy collectors are buying the book just for the toys and could care less about the manga. Kuwata was tickled that anyone still gave a damn about his stories and he has received a substantial sum of money indirectly from this project which will allow him to live comfortably in his twilight years. He was paid the proper respect in the book. Maybe the legal guys at DC where concerned they would have to pay Kuwata if his name was on the cover for the rights to stories DC already owned. I really take offense to your reference to me as the guy "who paid for " the stories which implies all you have to do is go down to your corner 7-11 and pick up some 1966 Shonen Kings. Collecting vintage Batman is my passion. Everyone has a hobby and this is mine. You have no idea the extent of the effort that went into collecting the material that went into the book. I didn't ask for cover credit but I was happy Chip offered it. Geoff's photography is award winning. I am sorry you can't appreciate it. The book would never have seen the light of day had I not presented the material to Chip and had not Chip pitched it to DC for approval. You also wondered why we couldn't present more complete stories. Again, easier said than done. I have been actively acquiring the bat-manga material for over 10 years. I may never fill the holes in my run so that's why we decided to go with some incomplete stories. I disagree that Kuwata got Fingered. I have the utmost admiration for master Kuwata and he is estatic with the book. To the extent you enjoyed the book, thanks. Saul Ferris, purchaser

    • Andrew Wheeler says:

      If "Bat-manga is not entirely Kuwata's stories," why doesn't it say so? The book's flap copy itself states "actual, authorized Batman comics by and for the Japanese, written and drawn by manga master Jiro Kuwata." Are you folks now saying that some of this work — for which you're taking th vast majority of credit — is by people that you don't even bother to mention?(And you think that makes it better?)

    • Andrew Wheeler says:

      And I do appreciate that collecting Japanese Batman memorabilia is important to you, and something you care deeply about — but I utterly disagree that the fact that you had the money to buy this material and and the time to spend chasing it down gives you some kind of ownership stake in the work itself.Your other argument about credit is just throwing up straw men. Spears is a fine photographer — yes. Kidd is one of the premier book designers of our era — also true. But what they are photographing and designing are comics pages, stories, by Jiro Kuwata (and others — whose work, you say, was only in the hardcover, which I haven't seen). Without those stories, none of the three of you would have anything to do, because none of this would exist. Juro Kuwata comes first; your work is entirely derivative of his.There are some pages of photographs of toys in the book — that's true. But none of them are captioned in any way, so they become purely visual wallpaper — design elements to separate the stories. (Perhaps to high-end toy collectors, they're instantly recognizable — but the majority of the audience for Bat-Manga! will be from the other 99.9999% of the population.) That does go to the heart with my problems with Kidd's art books: they're always about his design rather than the material that he's working with, and the kitchy, pop-culture-saturated stance that he brings to these projects keeps the works themselves at a distance, so that they're seen only as objects from the past rather than as stories. (The perfect example of this is his book on Schulz's Peanuts, which could have been an interesting gallery show, all about Kidd's memories and views of Schulz's work — but it makes a lousy book of Schulz cartoons.) I am glad that you have passion for this material, and that this much of it still exists — and is reaching a wider audience — because of your passion. That's definitely something to be celebrated. But we don't love the Elgin Marbles because of the Earl of Elgin, even though his name is stuck on them for all eternity. And we shouldn't downgrade Jiro Kuwata's name to give greater credit to you, Kidd, and Spear.

  2. Chip Kidd says:

    I would have to say that Saul couldn't have put it better. Look, we have the utmost love and respect for this material, and that's why we took it upon ourselves to pull it out of obscurity, over ten long years. None of us credited are making money off this–we put far more of our own money into it than we'll ever get out, and funnelled anything we got back to Mr. Kuwata. And we're happy to do so, because we helped it finally see the light of day (and the internet, thanks). Had anyone from "Comicmix" bothered to ask us about it, you'd know that. But you didn't. CK

    • Andrew Wheeler says:

      Mr. Kidd, I have a great respect for your work, and I appreciate the time and effort you've put into Bat-Manga!, but…right now, I'm holding in my hand a book Harper published back in 1995, called Pierre, or the Ambiguities: The Kraken Edition. It's the product of years of work by editor Hershel Parker, and of his passion — and of the work and passion of illustrator Maurice Sendak. I doubt either of them made much money from this; they did it because it was a work that spoke to them, and one they wanted to celebrate and explore more deeply. They're both credited on the book; it makes clear just what they put into it.But Pierre, or the Ambiguities: The Kraken Edition is not primarily credited to Parker, who reconstructed the text; it's credited to Herman Melville, who wrote it.Perhaps Kuwata is not Melville; perhaps comics are not novels. But the editor of any edition of someone else's work has a responsibility — to that original creator and to the audience — to be perfectly clear about who is the actual creator, and who is the compiler.You're a novelist yourself — would you like to see your work reprinted in forty years, heavily overlaid by someone else's sensibility and with your own name only appearing buried inside?

  3. Leigh Walton says:

    Great job on all this, Andrew. Thoughtful and fair — though I don't see the note of sexism that you imply with "the men who paid for, took pictures of, and arranged these strips," when discussing Ishii's role. There's hardly a precedent for translators receiving front cover credit in comics, simply because the text is not the key appeal of the work.

    • Andrew Wheeler says:

      I hadn't actually intended to imply sexism, though it does come across that way — I was aiming more at "faceless-suit-ism," like the long early years of comics when creators were credited rarely if at all.Ishii's credit is actually quite reasonable for her role in the book — but I still think Kidd, Spears, and Ferris have very outsized credits, which makes hers look puny by comparison.

  4. JadedOtakuBastard says:

    Mr. Wayne would be ashamed of all of you!Three things:The book is awesome!Most fans (including myself) buy comics for the art and writing.Wheeler you're still the man. Keep up the controversy!PS: Ferris if you're still ranting and raving about that damn Batman Toy Collection when I get back here I'm confiscating it and keeping a bunch for myself and giving the rest to an orphanage Dr. Thompkins told me about.Anyway I hope to see more of such from everyone involved. Thanks all.-A slightly jaded fan

  5. King Uta says:

    While the book is definitely interesting, incompleteness makes it nearly worthless in my eyes.Like the cheap, four episode sets of Batman The Animated Series opposed to the new complete volumes, Bat-Manga lacks enough of the material to deserve to be printed.However, exposing fans like myself may prod the DCP and other collectors to seek out the remaining missing chapters and provoke DC into releasing all the restored material in volumes, as it deserves. I wouldn't mind a few tankoban of Batman… That said, I find that Chip and Saul can take all the credit they want for the book. It's a photo gallery, not a manga book. And guys, don't bitch back at us. We're all fans here. Bitch at people who still think comics are just for kids.