Not 'Made In Japan'
To coincide with the Daiwa Foundation’s exhibition of the winners and runners-up in Tokyopop’s 2nd Rising Stars Of Manga: UK & Ireland competition, Paul Gravett considers whether manga can be made outside of Japan. The Rising Stars exhibition can be viewed between 8 March and 17 May, 2007 at Japan House in London. Full exhibition details can be found here…
Fears that the manga invasion was an unstoppable tsunami that would sweep away all local products have proved unfounded. Instead, Japan’s exported comics are actually stimulating domestic markets worldwide. In Britain, the knock-on effects of the success of manga and of a plethora of manuals on how to draw them are a young generation of talents eager to create their own and publishers who are snapping them up.
Pioneers here at original English-language manga are Tokyopop, now distributed by Pan MacMillan. Sales director Dennis McGuirk confirms that "these have done exceptionally well this year in the UK, some highlights being Bizenghast, Dramacon, Warcraft, I Luv Halloween and of course the Rising Stars Of Manga Volume 1." The latter showcases nine winners of their first annual UK & Ireland talent search, a strategy begun in the USA six years ago which has resulted in more than half of the winners signing book deals with TokyoPop and other companies.
A few purist fans once moaned that anything not from Japan is “pseudo-manga”, but McGuirk is getting "no detrimental comments about original manga, in fact just lots of support from people who like the idea of TokyoPop pushing this area, and offering a viable outlet for local talent." So much so that TokyoPop’s new website allows newcomers to upload their samples for all to see and comment on.
Peter Duncan explains that “the upsurge of interest in manga made graphic Mammoths the obvious answer." The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga, a truly mammoth 544-page anthology, is not so much Western manga, since contributors come from as far afield as Thailand and Libya, as truly global manga. Editor Ilya wanted it "to reflect the full breadth of real manga, which come in every style. This should be the crossover title to take it to the true mainstream." Already one contributor, 21-year old Asia Alfasi, has been signed by Bloomsbury to create a graphic novel about her childhood in Libya and her life as an Arab Muslim in Birmingham.
Manga no longer need to be "made in Japan" to appeal to readers. To adapt the British action movie Stormbreaker into comics, Walker Books cleverly teamed a British scripter with an Anglo-Japanese art team, the sisters Kanako and Yuzuru. Fanfare/Ponent Mon‘s “nouvelle manga “translations of Yukiko’s Spinach by Frenchman-in-Tokyo Frédéric Boilet and The Building Opposite by Parisian Vanyda demonstrate how sophisticated and hybrid manga are becoming. Meanwhile, British collective Sweatdrop‘s Blue For Boys and Pink For Girls compilations playfully subvert gender-specific expectations.
Even the Bard himself is joining in with the launch of SelfMadeHero‘s stylish homegrown Manga Shakespeare series, opening next February with Romeo and Juliet set among warring Yakuza clans in today’s Tokyo, and Hamlet transplanted to a postapocalyptic cyberworld. Rebuffing complaints of "dumbing down", publisher Emma Hayley asserts that although the series "will appeal to reluctant readers, they should be held up as highly imaginative examples of reinventing Shakespeare. While the text isn’t complete, it has been skilfully adapted, abridged but not modernised, by editor Richard Appignanesi. Shakespeare is an important part of our literary heritage and if we can capture the imagination of teenagers through manga versions, that’s a good thing."
In November 2006, London’s County Hall hosted the third free International Manga and Animation Festival (IMAF), whose $85,000 competition attracts entries from all over the world. As Ms. Chigusa Ogino from the Tuttle-Mori Agency, prime movers in the spread of Japan’s comics, summed up perfectly in Frankfurt: "You don’t have to have a Japanese passport to do manga."
Posted: March 18, 2007
The original version of this article appeared in The Bookseller in October 2006.