do people really know what they’re saying when they call something ‘Manga’?

I just read an awesome entry on the blog of Paul Duffield (brilliant artist behind Freakangels and Signal). You can read it here It’s all about the definition and usage of the word ‘Manga’ and how often its used and how little it’s understood. It’s a problem I have encountered a lot too having a Japanese inspired art style like Paul.

Quite often we hear this phrase:

‘It’s a big manga-y isn’t it?’

And the funniest thing about this comment is that it’s a question. The very thing they are driving at they are unsure about. It is manga… isn’t it? What the people who say this are actually often saying is:

‘It’s a bit rubbish and not at all what I wanted but I’ll say its manga-ish because that’s just rubbish comic book art right?’

Most people don’t truly know what Manga is. For most, the only experience of Manga they will have had is what 14 year olds draw in the back of their exercise books. It’s violent and over sexualised and usually badly drawn as these young people are only starting out on their artistic journey and have discovered something they think is very fresh new and exciting. The wide bracket that ‘Manga’ is seen to cover means that all of these themes come under a huge umbrella of legitimacy. Its Manga, it’s a style, so massive boobs and orphanage explosions are ok.

Most people who say this won’t have seen the technically brilliant work of Osamu Tezuka or Katsuhiro Otomo. They would be utterly unaware of the fact that Tezuka’s work bears more than a handsome nod to Disney and Otomo’s work has influenced the west and made ‘Western Comics’ look as good as they do. These two and many other Japanese artists have defined comics worldwide and in turn influenced animation and film.

Now I don’t expect everyone to know about this, I only expect those who make comments like the one at the top, to know about this. They think of Legend of the Overfiend and Pokemon’s drawing style and content and decide that ‘Manga’ is rubbish, low brow and perverse.

The thing is, manga isn’t a style, it means COMICS in Japanese.

You wouldn’t say to comic book artist you employed to draw in a comics style;

‘It’s a bit too comics-y isn’t it?’

You might say I want less ‘Masashi Kishimoto’ and more ‘Frank Quitely’, or you might say ‘I like the spiky line work but I would like a more realistic approach to the faces.’ Just shouting a huge word with many subjective connotations is both useless and insulting.

Not only that, it infers an annoyance with the ‘style’ that they think the word represents. It lumps my work into a pile of crap in their mind and instantly cuts it off from them. A more open mind would see my work for what it is, Japanese influenced. (as well as many other influences too)

And they do it to the big stuff too. Huge epic series are looked over and scoffed at as manga/anime. Just because they have pointy noses does NOT mean they can’t have some of the greatest stories and character writing out there.

It has become a term in the west for a Japanese style and I understand that. When it comes to the fit of work to a brief, the style or the quality of the work though, it is a term that can no longer be used that way.

It is an insult to Manga and to the person saying it (and the artist too as it is a critique-less, baseless way of saying they don’t like your stuff)

So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re in the business to know, and to employ or even just to like and comment, on artists like me and Mr Duffield, we need you to have a handle on what you need and want from comics. And that means understanding the words you’re using.

It’s all comics out there. There’s just the good and the bad.


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