Manga's Future

I’m not sure that manga readers here are really manga readers and I would even go so far as to say that they’re not even comics readers. There’s a love for the medium, but only within the shojo or shonen genre. They love the anime, and honestly, while I was watching the Le Chevalier D’eon anime, I couldn’t help but thinking “this is cartoons. It’s for kids.”
- Kai-Ming Cha

I am outright terrified that the North American manga publishing industry is going to turn into a mirror of the superhero publishing industry; comprised of adult fans clamouring for vaguely more mature versions of children’s material, operating in a two-company system, growing steadily more insular and inaccessible to the world at large. I don’t think it has to happen, of course, and I’d like to think I’ve discussed a few of the ways in which it won’t, but there’re my fears. Hopefully they’re never realized.
- Christopher Butcher

Naruto Vol. 1 by Masashi Kishimoto.
Kai-Ming Cha is stating the obvious here, although it's something that tended to get lost in the early heated pro-manga vs. anti-manga debate - Most consumers of any form of entertainment have narrowly defined tastes. Only a minority of readers are ever going to possess a broad and deep love for the medium. It's a lot easier for fans to identify themselves in relation to a certain camp, like superheroes, manga, fantasy, or science fiction. I'm reminded of all the hype about how the Harry Potter series got kids to read again, as if reading those books would eventually lead them to seek out Steinbeck and Shakepeare.

His second point is also equally obvious - People's tastes change over time. The young readers who enjoy or now are not necessarily going to like them when they become adults. This is one reason behind the arguments for a more diverse market: A wider selection of genres and styles attract a greater demographic range. However Kai overstates his case when he worries that the present generation of readers will outgrow manga, leaving only the next batch of incoming readers to take their place. How is the market's youthful bias different from other forms of entertainment? Most film and television is aimed at the lowest common denominator, so it doesn't surprise me that manga publishers market fantasies to a largely young audience. I don't see that changing in the foreseeable future. But one shouldn't underestimate the crossover appeal of some youth-targeted popular entertainment. So to me it's not at all a clear-cut case of manga readers only coming from a certain a juvenile age group.

Fruits Basket Vol. 5 by Natsuki Takaya.
Nevertheless the recent financial troubles of retail chain and publisher have shown that the previous period of spectacular uninterrupted growth has ended. The manga boom has gone on long enough that it can no longer be dismissed as a fad, but this also means that a generation has grown-up reading manga. This raises the question of what will happen to that audience. No doubt some will abandon the comics medium entirely. Some will continue to read manga or other comics on a casual basis, and others will become hardcore adult fans. If the manga market starts to hemorrhage readers and doesn't replenish them with sizable numbers of younger fans, then manga fandom will, as Christopher Butcher fears might happen, resemble the aging superhero fandom that made the direct market a dead end in the nineties before manga infused the western comics industry with a much needed dose of new readers. I'm inclined to believe that manga will continue to be mostly successful in attracting new readers, but Butcher is right in saying that publishers and retailers still need to get better at marketing to an adult audience. I'm inured to the crowds of gawky teenagers blocking my path when I wander the manga shelves of my local Borders, but they must deter a lot of would-be adult readers. There's still no real help for the uninitiated to differentiate between the different genres targeted to different audiences in the graphic novel sections of most bookstores. Further complicating the issue is that cultural differences can cause manga originally aimed at a younger Japanese audience to be repackaged as appropriate material for an adult readership, and vice-versa.

Looking at it from a wider perspective, manga is here to stay. Other countries have been exposed to manga and anime before the English-speaking world caught on, and even if the worst case scenario happens and Japanese comics market collapsed in America, it would continue to thrive elsewhere. Like it or not, manga is at the center of the comics world.


Glamourpuss #1

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"...I want to do photorealism pictures of pretty girls, so that's I'm going to do. The words were an aterthought. Okay, let's stick with that. " - Dave Sim

Glamourpuss #1 by Dave Sim.
Dave Sim isn't the first cartoonist who's wanted to spend time drawing pictures of attractive women, nor will he be the last. Not content with compiling his drawings into an art book, he's chosen to engage his audience in detailed discussion about his work. Hence we have a new series called Glamourpuss. This 1st issue contains Sim's attempts to draw his chosen subjects in the style of , , , and , accompanied by comics-style narrative text explaining the results of his efforts. The desire to document his autodidactic obession is combined with an almost equally strong need to instruct and inform the reader. He knows they'll only glance momentarily at each picture before moving on, so he insists they spend a bit more time marveling at the craft involved in order to draw like these old masters of the medium.

It's a curious project to say the least. Dave Sim is an accomplished comics artist - some would argue he's one of the industry's greatest living practitioners. So it's hard to ignore his retro choice of art style to impersonate from. The results are at first glance, very convincing. Sim uses as his reference various unnamed fashion magazine photos, which he draws in the photorealist manner. He also takes panels from the comic strip out of their original context, redraws them, then juxtaposes them along with his fashion illustrations. Needless to say, the continuity between the pictures is nowhere near as seamless as in a more conventionally constructed comic. But then again Sim seems less interested in telling a story for story's sake than in educating the reader about a bit of comics history. His self-crticism reaches maniacal levels as he attempts to guess what lines to leave in, how to depict certain textures with a brush, or what areas to interpret as pure black.

The centerpiece of the book is a six page sequence entitled The Self-education of N'atashae. It's composed of a series of full page drawings of one fashion model, linked by heavy-handed narration detailing her thoughts and misguided attempts to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Sim is attempting to simultaneously do several things: He's trying to demonstrate the immense difficulty of constructing a story from disparate sources; Provide a kind of secret origin story for the comic; And he's poking fun at the vacuousness of the fashion industry as well as the shallowness of materialistic western consumer culture. Sim just can't help being didactic.

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Glamourpuss is basically a hybrid product - Part black and white comic pamphlet, part illusrated essay, and part fashion magazine parody. Digressions about craft are interrupted by spoof articles and fake ads. While the shop talk will be of interest to history buffs and aspiring artists, the attempts at humor produce mixed results. Dim looking fashion models make an easy target, but Sim's jokes are a heavy blunt weapon he ungainly wields to make his point. One article titled Skanko's Dating Guide might remind people of Sim's past controversial statements.

It's not clear where all of this is headed. While the fashion drawings are beautifully rendered, they also reveal the underlying homogeneity of the source material. There's something cumulatively oppressive about the overall tone of the work that probably arises from the disjointed panels and text's attempts to impress its lessons on the reader. Sim's parody gets a bit tiresome by the end of the issue, but he intends to continue Glamourpuss for more that 20 issues. What more does he have to say? Then again, Dave Sim is the man who delivered on his promise that would die, alone, unmourned and unloved after 300 issues. So I wouldn't be surprised if he has a master plan that will gradually reveal itself as the series unfolds.

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