Manga Is Just Comics

Sorry Sixten.


If Champagne is just the French word for sparkling wine, then maybe you have a point.

I think it doesn’t really matter what is called what as long as it’s consistent and meaningful. What is manga? Is it so hard to see that it could mean both “comics from Japan” as well as “comics drawn in style commonly found in Japanese comics”? Could it be defined as something else, too? I guess so. Why get bent over by the definition? 漫画 in Japan get called “comics” all the time, so are they no longer manga? I don’t see Adam Warren going nuts just because he draws his comics a certain way sometimes. I mean, seriously, unless you are a marketer why does anyone even bother? Bored nerd thing to do, I guess?

To cut to the chase, the ultimate problem (or the horse I have in this race) is one of marketing. Because I buy stuff like this, and marketing directly interacts with my consumption. Lately it’s also because I increasingly have to swim through PR junk from publishing companies (and in some ways thankful that Tokyopop is no longer doing this nonsense). It’s okay to call your artwork manga or manga-styled or whatever, as long as people understand what you are trying to say. But it’s perfectly okay if you don’t, and just say it’s comics from some dude, because that’s what it is (unless this is untrue, I don’t know, maybe it’s not comics or not from some dude).

Do you ever recognize how the same words can mean different things in different languages, let alone different contexts?

It seems that by calling any comics “manga” you are indeed applying what certain French people do with their alcohol. So, why do you do it? Why commit this internal inconsistency in your argument? Why do the same things you implied as “not a good thing”? What is your horse in this race? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say ZUN is one of your influences? Tezuka maybe lol? If “anime” or “manga” is your influence, are you actually serious enough about your influences to at least identify the people and the distinctive contributions they bring to the “genre”? To cut through the skin-deep level of analysis and marketing bullcrap that makes up the bulk of the things we see following this scene?

Because the Japanese government certainly has at least one horse in this race. It uses MANGA in all caps for a reason, when you go look at the page linked there, which is AFAIK an affiliate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yay politics! At least I know when the French government wants to protect the term, they are just interested to protect a brand and their local businesses. They care about $. We understand this clearly. Japan OTOH is up to their usual soft power nonsense, which, in some ways, is much worse. It’s straight-up government propaganda, one that I hope everyone realizes? (And in this case it’s okay to do so–it’s just a pretty sad thing to do so without knowing it. Because nobody really cares that much about what manga is defined as, unless you are a marketer or is affected by it. And Japan is home to far majority of marketers of manga, it makes sense for that island country government to take care of that business.)

And let’s use Dan Kim’s book for example. I am a backer, and the book is a free download for anyone interested. Would I call it manga? No. I think it’s sufficiently format- and genre-blending that it’s just what it is. Most people would probably have their expectations betrayed if they went in only knowing it’s a manga (and not knowing about such twisted nightmares from Kim’s usual magical hole of an imagination). Sure, Kim can surely call it manga, because people would know what he is talking about in the context of Dam Kim saying his work is a manga. But would some guy reading what Omo has to say know the difference? I’m not so sure.

Call it what it is. Manga. Comics. Cartoons. Anime. Webcomic. Butts. Whatever. I guess unlike cartoons, comics today don’t carry precisely that “for kids only” connotation that our western animation still kind of has. Which is okay, as long as we recognize that and communicate clearly.

We see and know the horror of OEL marketing piggybacking on the weeaboo wave. Just talk to its perpetrators. I don’t think anyone prefers that sort of an experience over one where people are judged by the merits of their works, not some gimmick word like “manga.” [And for that matter “gamer” or “geek” or “nerd” or “otaku” or “cosplayer” or “visual novel” or insert your favorite label.] Or that by perpetrating this stylistic illusion, be able to sell a few more books or get some more eyeballs. That’s what’s unfortunate about this situation, about going to these commercial and government entities to look for meaning on what defines your work. There are no authority who is able to sort things out.

So, tl;dr:

  • Please don’t go on and say your work is a manga and cite the Japanese Government >_>
  • Your definition is just one definition in the sea of unsettled definitions. Or mine for that matter. What is my definition? I don’t think I even know.
  • Please respect the fact that in Japan people use Japanese and at times words mean different things than our imported context and are applied differently. To an extent, this applies to Japanese companies operating in English as well.

PS. But you know, is pixiv really interested in this debate? Or do they just want a user-friendly interface that encourages more submissions=more pageviews=more users=more $=etc? You tell me.

11 Responses to “Manga Is Just Comics”

  • Author

    Champaigne is bad enought but at least they aren’t trying to build analogies with “the so-called gay marriage” and how the marriage was demoted into “traditional marriage”. Suddenly everyone who likes manga, er. Japanese manga is a racist. PROFIT!

  • lifesongsoa

    It really is all about marketing in my opinion, but who is marketing it and who they are marketing it to are all important details.

    If an American comic artist says that his comics are manga then all that says to me is please grade this like you would Japanese manga. Western manga fans are not necessarily western comic fans and so it’s simple enough that an artist would want to let his audience know who he is writing for.

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that there are Korean illustrators who draw manga for a Japanese audience. I don’t think anyone would argue that comics made for Japan are manga no matter where they come from.

    At the end of the day the words “manga” and “comic” might mean the same thing on paper, but “marketing” is largely a crowd effort in the western world when it comes to manga.

    If an artist is drawing a comic for western manga fans then by all means it makes sense for them to call it a manga. If that artist is drawing a comic for the western comic market and was simply influenced by anime and manga, they should just call themselves a comic artist.

    I guess it all gets hairy because fans like to argue over which is the better medium. If an artist doesn’t know who they are marketing too, well… they have bigger problems.

    To put it another way it’s the same thing as going into a Chinese restaurant to get Chinese food only to find the people working there are all Mexican. It’s still Chinese food because “Chinese food” has it’s own meaning to it’s customers and that meaning has absolutely nothing to do with the people cooking it.

    • omo

      I generally agree with your points but I think the issue is a little more idealistic. We are probably beyond the Chinese food analogy at this point.

      A better example is when you said that the same comic artist draws for the “western manga” market it is marketed as manga, where as when it’s marketed to the western comic market it is marketed as a comic. But the clincher here could be that the same artist may draw very similar styles for both of these markets.

      To elaborate, it’s like going to a Chinese restaurant and get Chinese food, only to find the food to be the same as the Mexican restaurant next door.

      In other words, it’s about using the term “manga” to denote some kind of stylistic or content signifier. In the anime context, this is pretty much a joke because anime is an elaborate and multi-faceted work-product and Japan’s process to create it is closer to what defines “what is anime” than any content or origin differences. Comic, on the other hand, can be done with just a single person, and often it’s done this way. So there’s just much more blurring and less of an official way to tell what makes up the country of origin or the style applied to comics in a meaningful way to make a call on what is manga and what is not.

    • lifesongsoa

      Being disingenuous is certainly a problem, but If these creators are borderline both worlds and want to target both markets do we really need to over-think it?

      To go back to my food analogy, If I walked into a place that sold Chinese food and Mexican food, I wouldn’t really have an issue if they had a few dishes that mixed the two flavors. I’d also expect some of the people who don’t like the food they make to create a big deal out of it. Isn’t that the same case here? People are complaining because they want don’t the term manga being applied to something they don’t like?

      The real problem is probably like you say, the term manga doesn’t have the most solid meaning when it comes to style, but it does have one for marketing to the audience that knows the term “manga”. Maybe awareness is more the heart of the issue than the meaning of the term? Maybe that is what you are getting at in the first place?

      For my own part I think it’s pretty pointless to call manga a style and perhaps because of that I don’t really care who uses the term. That said, I think it does have a tangible meaning for marketing, stylistically it’s just a shallow way to look at things.

    • omo

      I think it’s descriptive to say manga has a stylistic aspect to it, even in marketing speak. And by default marketing speak is shallow. However the utility in it is undeniable.

      The issue here is a little more complicated, when it comes to marketing. For example, if some publisher’s marketing guy says so-and-so’s manga won a International MANGA Award, that’s just marketing speak and I won’t think twice about that. But if some fan uses this line to say so-and-so’s work is a manga, I would be like LOLOLOL.

      And you’re right, the hybrid food analogy is appropriate. But if we are going to keep using cuisines as an analogy we will have to respect that, like comics, there are various styles that can be defined (eg., Chinese cooking have these characteristics; Shounen manga have these characteristics), and that is while besides the point kind of describe that on a practical level, the term manga is still can be a useful signifier as a marketing term.

      I think it’s better said that in, for example, NNN’s case, that we just forget about it and come up with a new term.

  • Sixten

    I appreciate your response, and I’m sorry for making such a poor argument. I was aware that “manga” just means “comics” in Japanese, and thought that if the Japanese don’t mind using that term for Western comics even when writing in English, why does the Western use of the term have to be as strict as the French usage of “champagne”?

    I agree that people disagree on what the definition of “manga” should be. I also agree that what really matters to a creator should be the quality of his work, not the label he puts on it.

    Someday I hope to raise the quality of my work to the level of Dan Kim and other elite Western creators with a Japanese influence. When that day comes I hope you will support me like you do him, regardless of our disagreements on terminology.

    • omo

      As far as I’m concerned I’ve already supported you via that US-based doujinshi publisher. I think they owe me a poster or something for buying a set.

      Also as far as I’m concerned, my issue about labeling is somehow your issue in insisting that it should be labeled a certain way. I’m not sure if we actually disagree here.

  • Sixten

    @Omo: My publisher was running out of posters back when we attended Sakura-Con in March, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they were out. But I have some of those posters at my house. Send me an email with your address and I’ll stick one in a cardboard tube and mail it to you.

    By the way, if you like my comics enough to buy them, you can call them whatever you want.

    • omo

      Shameless marketer!

      I don’t even know what the poster was like. I’ll spare you the postage and worry about it once I care enough to look it up.

  • Punk

    I say let it rip! trolol

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