Saturday, July 30, 2005

Teenage Boys and Teenage Girls

Dirk Deppey has a great editorial in the new Comics Journal, which you can also read online, called "She's Got Her Own Thing Now." The issue, and the article, are about shoujo manga, Japanese graphic novels for for teenage girls:

Speaking for myself, the straw that broke the camel's back fell during this year's Emerald City Con in Seattle. I'd stepped out to smoke a cigarette and was watching the passersby. I noticed a family leaving the convention -- a Mom, a Dad, and a little girl no older than eight years of age. The girl was decked out in a beautiful, elaborate kimono and clearly distressed by what she'd just encountered. "But they didn't hardly have any manga at all!" she said as they walked away.

When I was done with my cigarette, I went back inside and relayed this story to an acquaintance prominent in the art-comics publishing scene. "I hate to say it, but good," was his reply. Indeed, I told the story several more times that day, to both indy-comics and superhero-comics professionals, and the reaction was more or less the same each time. A young reader disappointed by the selection offered to her? Good. The future of comics walks out the door, unable to find what she wants? Good. I left the convention early, lost in a foul mood. I swear: I love the comics art form with a passion, but my utter contempt for the American comics industry grows like a cancer with each passing day.

Every July or August I get to really thinking about comics and graphic novels, creatively and professionally; I also get to thinking about manga. How manga reaches a much broader audience, both in Japan and the US, then American comics do, and about how Japanese storytelling hits certain beats that aren't as embedded in my brain as Western storytelling moments are. Going to see Howl's Moving Castle made me think of this--even though it's based on a Western novel, it's adapted and directing by a Japanese filmmaker, and I just didn't know where the story was going or how it would unfold at times. It still has that classic three-act structure, sure, but that's just the bare-bones of it. The muscle and flesh built on top of the skeleton does things that surprise me in ways Western stories and movies usually don't, even the unconventional ones.

But whenever I get that itch to explore manga, I go to the local bookshop or comic store and stand before the racks and racks of manga--the local borders has about four times as many manga titles as American super-hero books--and I just get lost. There's so much, and I don't know the nuances of it all. I can flip open a super-hero title and get the gist of it, recognize the artist or the kind of story being told, know the era the comic is from and probably the company that put it out. I know genres, sub-genres and tendencies of the artists and writers involved, and I know whether or not I want to keep reading. But with manga, I just don't know what's what--I'm not educated in it, I don't recognize the patterns that are surely there to see, I don't know what to start with, what to move on to, where to go. So I tend to skink away, promise to come back a little later, and then never do.

But after reading the TCJ article, I went out and picked up a copy of Shonen Jump, the monthly American version of the popular Japanese weekly magazine that serializes a good 300-pages worth of new manga with each issue. Shonen means to boys what shoujo means to girls--they're comics for teenage boys. Yu-Gi-Oh! is one of the serialized stories in the current American version, for example. But I thought it would be a good place to start--a fat packet of culture for five bucks, right?

And Wizard World Chicago is next weekend, so I'll be headed to the 50% off trade-paperback boxes to grab whatever manga looks interesting--girl stuff, boy stuff, adult stuff, all of it. I'm not sure if that thinking-out-loud warrants its own entry here, except to say if anyone has some manga recommendations leave them here in the comments--I'll be keeping my eyes open.


Juan Navarro said...

But is that not the problem, universally?
I mean in American comics, we have our huge fill, and I mean huge fill, of crap. 90 percent of comics suck, they're junk food at most, and only if you’re a fan of something (look at my review of the Demon) could it be at all better than entertaining.
But that fine that's what it should be.
I think what your talking about is that people don't take chances, don't really go out of the way, and say "hey let me pick up this that i have seen before," or "This shit is weird, let me take a look"
People want something familiar 90% of the time so the sellers do the same.
It's up to us, the mutants, who bring anything of worth other than that to the fold.

Matthew Jent said...

Maybe that's so--it just seems the mainstream comics folks are so resistant to change, or to the appearance of anything new. It's not like printing more comics for teen girls will take paper away from the Fantastic Four, you know?

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